I love Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s new Hyrule Field theme, with the warmth of its full chords, and then that beautiful single synth note that always feels like just emerging, like the first morning rays but sustained. It’s not exactly a melody, but a sustained note that colors your playing with something charming and almost lyrical, without leaving you stuck in lonely super-silence between piano notes.
I first heard it in a little clip before it came out and Had A Good Feeling. It’s the kind of little thing that can change the whole key of a game – maybe I could really like this Zelda?
And how! It turns out that this game is all about chords and fullness all the way down (and then all the way up). It’s so lovingly, sumptuously fat and full – but also so luscious and greedy – that I kind of played (and please don’t tell the exam I was revising for in June ) more than 200 hours.
Many things – as in fact do the dungeons, say, or even the final battle – feeling like centuries ago. The game is almost its own sequel, big enough to house its own seasons and eras – the Do All The Stables phase, the Flower-Petal-Island phase, currently the Where The Hell Are The Wells phase – each with a unique flavor. But within all this abundance, I definitely felt two different, discreet types of love.
The first is the many moments of dopamine surprise and awe during the main journey, en route to Purah’s final quest: oh my God to the weird suspension when you first cruise a Zonai wing on the edge of a cliff (before the paper plane descended). Or the no fucking way to drop an arrow into the depths and watch it trail up and down and downstairs. Or the I can’t believe how much fun it is, driving a vehicle made of ball-jointed pots and pans. Nevermind This Colgera choir drop, or the Stable Trotters’ Serenade that I now listen to in the car (and by listening I mean ‘well up’).
Oh and the shrines! Like in the Shrine Vibes. I could live in the blessing of a Rauru, all the serene greens of white stone and the northern lights versus the harsher digital blue of Breath of the Wild. And let me tell you, after getting used to the seaside pebbles with their entrances, to go back and see the old design is quite a shock. That shit looks like a gut from HR Giger.
And can I quickly mention how wonderfully busy the world looks this time around, not just in the way the draw distance and detail gives it a kind of vivid clarity (like Breath of the Wild with glasses – believe me, I made the comparisons), or in real the agitation of all the enemy camps and the comings and goings of the Hyrulians. But also the way the landscape swathes are now broken up by all that angular Sky Islands debris, giving it a more approachable video game focus and specificity (even a bit of an urban grass-edge vibe , No?). A little less Blank Indifference of (normie) Nature.
So much surprise and awe and chords and fulfillment and I literally kept thinking to myself while playing; it’s a miracle of a game.
It’s almost certainly a problem of my own pace – I’m not one of them leave the rest of the milkshake in the fridge for later people – but this world was so molasses-dense with distraction, it sometimes felt a bit asterix and footnote, with an underlying dread of things to do. You’re still somehow in a Venn diagram of distractions, which gives me a low-level helping hand in resolving the (ever-increasing) tension of defeat. A general scatter that came from kablooming out of sky towers and moving quickly between shrines and having to use weird real-life skills of prioritization and focus (sorry to all the camping Koroks I ‘ve marked for later!).
So when I got to that final quest, I still felt like the adventure didn’t have hoopoe Again. It didn’t look rounded: I only scratched the surface! I haven’t even fought a Gleeok yet! (We see it a lot on the forums)
It’s when the other love began to emerge. At the end of the adventure proper, I had to cross a critical threshold of Undone after all the main dungeons and story beats, and suddenly there was space – like Link bursting through the cloudy ceiling to that silent bird above, free to actually see the edges and feel the game as a whole. There was some pressure and the game was on.
Only then did I take Link’s abilities for a appropriate stretch out with skydiving contests and nifty Lynel Coliseums (and that surprisingly tight mine cart target shooting on Death-Mountain because I wanted to get all 20s). I soaked up all the flavor on the periphery, airbiking (with a Brightbloom on the front) to do all the Lightroots and enjoying the attention and commitment to finding the cave entrances in the nearby shrines. I killed one plot from Gleeoks and did a bit of a machine massacre on those Lurelin pirates (but I’m guessing a fanciful massacre because it’s Zelda?).
I’ve already mentioned that Zelda adventures are ones I like to play, but also have played: this post-Zelda full satisfaction. And this one is so playful – all that sense of object-throwing responsiveness, hand-sticking, and merging randomly into the world – and so full that I kept going. Even now I’m combing the surface, basically playing BOTW+, and there’s still a felt dimensionality of having been through all those bespoke caves and dark depths, seeing the peaks of Hyrule look like a small airplane window from an island high in the sky (then jumping and pressing R to dive with that little tweak which I can’t get enough of).
So I think I enjoyed my second hundred hours more than the first. That extended encore, where the game has already reached so many peaks of surprise and delight (that ending!) that its place is sealed, deserved goodwill. Everything now flexed out of tenderness. All of the earlier caveats are now moot. All the suddenly interesting little details – slowly moving the camera around to admire the Zonai shield rippling like a dorky relative counting freckles.
(I have no idea if counting freckles is something parents actually do.)
Now when I sit down to play, I check off side quests not as something freakish or productive, but receptive, replenishment. Another excuse to engage in something brilliant, all in harmony and fullness. But I can’t find the last well.