fatigue of the kingdom
when breath of the wild released alongside the switch in 2017, it was one of the most exciting moments in my personal history with games. seeing a game so huge, so vast, so good, all running on a handheld i could take with me to school, was a mindblowing experience. it did so much with the formula of the zelda series that broke new ground not just for nintendo, but for games overall. at the time it was hailed as the best game ever made, it won all sortsa awards, and remains considered a masterpiece among masterpieces. obviously, nintendo had to follow that up.
when the E3 2019 teaser trailer for "THE SEQUEL TO THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD" (working title) was livestreamed, i was immediately thinking about the possibilities of how much they could add. while people loved breath of the wild, i did feel like something was missing - its story is bare, its setting is a barren postapocalyptic fantasy world, and in my opinion the game was at its best during the numerous shrines scattered everywhere. when i played the game, taking over a year between april 2017 and december 2018 to do so, i refused to think of it as anything other than perfect. but, if that was the case, why did i take so long?
i don't really remember much from my breath of the wild playthrough, but upon reminiscing about it i realise maybe i didn't enjoy it as much as other zelda games. in order to afford a nintendo switch, i sold my wii u. this meant i lost access to any and all virtual console games, as the switch confusingly launched without that, as well as my wii and wii u games. for a solid year or so i was limited to playing breath of the wild, mariokart, splatoon 2 and mario odyssey. unlike the wii u or 3DS, there was no included software to keep you occupied - no miiverse, no cute apps, no system music. it didn't even have youtube at first!
but fast forward six years, and suddenly the switch has a load of options. nintendo online members have access to games from the NES through N64 along with the mega drive and gameboy, so virtual console is technically covered there. third parties also have a good number of re-released games, as it's become somewhat of a trend for any and all games to be remastered or re-released or included in a collection. we still see old games being advertised as upcoming switch titles, the latest examples of which being a 1:1 port of RED DEAD REDEMPTION, the METAL GEAR SOLID collection and a remaster of QUAKE II. switch games are so overabundant that i've had an eshop wishlist of 100+ games for some time now, and even with speculation of a new nintendo console releasing next year, the effort to put everything ever made onto the switch doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
nintendo themselves release games for the console pretty much monthly, some entirely new and some ports of older titles, but it's safe to say that they've got most bases covered with the switch. with everything they've done since the release of breath of the wild in 2017, how would a sequel to that game hold up? if you've heard anything about it, then you know it's holding up incredibly well with enormous sales and praise-ridden reviews wherever you go. it does so much with the formula of breath of the wild that breaks new ground not just for nintendo, but for games overall. it's hailed as one of the best games ever made. it really is the sequel to the legend of zelda: breath of the wild. if you wanted more breath of the wild, then tears of the kingdom is precisely what you're looking for.
my problem is that i didn't exactly Want more breath of the wild. i wanted a new zelda game, that takes advantage of the gameplay developments made with breath of the wild but with characters i actually care about, an environment that doesn't feel barren, and a story that expands on what was already set up. what we actually got with tears of the kingdom was major improvements to its gameplay, with enormous new features that totally overhaul the puzzle mechanics seen beforehand, but also the same exact setting and characters and even huge similarities in story. you're still in hyrule, you're still going to each of the four regions to do one of the four temples and get one of the four doodads, you're still finding shrines everywhere, and now there's also sky islands and deep caves. when the first previews for tears of the kingdom were released, i feared it would be an expansion of breath of the wild and not a whole new game. i viewed breath of the wild like a template for things to come, and i'm a little let down that the "things to come" were just more of the same.
tears of the kingdom released in may, on the same week i finished my final art project for college. i knew i'd have a load of spare time, and i wanted to spend a large chunk of that spare time immersing myself in the game. i streamed the first four hours of my time playing it, i was impressed the entire time, but in the weeks that followed i just worried about how much i enjoyed it. everyone else was saying it was perfect, streamers i follow would play it for numerous hours every day, and after about a month i saw posts of folks who'd beaten it expressing their joy with the whole experience.
over three months later, i still only have about 25 hours in the game. not long after i started, i discovered that the game truly is more of breath of the wild and not much else. i've found a good number of shrines, uncovered a majority of the map, but only beaten one temple and my motivation to keep going is miniscule. the more time passes, and the more games i play other than this one, i think more and more about whether i truly enjoy tears of the kingdom or, in retrospect, even breath of the wild. of course i KNOW they're both good, but do i really enjoy them? i've seen online criticism alongside praise, with numerous claims of it being too open and too barren and too aimless, and i'm not even sure THAT's the problem because i do really love the exploration and finding all sorts of secrets on your own is very rewarding. my problem lies mainly with how tears of the kingdom is, intrinsically, a repeat of breath of the wild in many ways. perhaps nintendo were too cautious to attempt anything wild and new, because they knew breath of the wild worked so well and got such high praise - but the irony is that that game received praise because it was so subversive after a repeated formula of 3D zelda games. they don't take it in any new directions aside from adding to what was already there.
i'd imagine folks in the year 2000 were upset about how similar majora's mask was to ocarina of time, using the same engine (a first for the zelda series) and being a direct followup (a third for the zelda series) instead of a whole new game. except... majora's mask is still very different! it's set in a whole new world, contrasting ocarina of time's hero story with a much more dire and urgent tone that forced you to look deeper at the various NPCs and towns you traverse due to its overall theme of tragedy and death. i don't think tears of the kingdom should have followed suit to be "breath of the wild but edgier", though i would have hoped for a new world with new characters and a story less static and plain than breath of the wild's. the duology of breath of the wild and tears of the kingdom contain everything i love about zelda's gameplay, but none of what i adore about its worldbuilding. minish cap, a gameboy game not even developed by nintendo, has more character in my opinion.
looking back on the legacy of the nintendo switch as a whole, i think breath of the wild is the perfect game to represent it and tears of the kingdom is a perfect followup. both games have all the quality gameplay but very little story. the switch has a butt-ton of quality games but, if you look at the system menu or promotional material or even the console itself, it's all very plain. it screams "YOU WILL ENJOY THESE GAMES" at you, and while i do enjoy said games, i just kinda wish the eshop had cute original music, man.