Skip to main content

One year on, Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom still doesn't feel like a sequel – it's a second act

Breath of the Wild was just the beginning.

Key art of Link from both Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild superimposed over landscape shots of Hyrule.
Image credit: Nintendo

Over the several years that Nintendo spent marketing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, it never felt particularly clear just how the game differed from Breath of the Wild. Eventually we were made privy to a few tidbits about how mechanics worked, but there was still so much hidden from us, namely what the story even would be. Once the game finally made it into everyone's hands, it quickly became clear how different it was from its predecessor. Weirdly though, it didn't feel different in the typical way a sequel might.

Some fans of the first game found frustration in the fact that the game doesn't wholly acknowledge the events of Breath of the Wild, to the point theories formed around what happened to the Divine Beasts and all of the old ancient Sheikah technology, though the answer was it ultimately disappeared for… some reason. In one way it's a bit of a cop out answer, sure, but if we're being honest the lack of direct discussion over the events of Breath of the Wild was simply to make it easier for new players to get into.

Personally, I never had much issue with this admittedly odd narrative choice, mostly because of the small nods you can find to Breath of the Wild, and the way that it connects to Tears of the Kingdom in interesting ways (ways that are maybe a bit too lore-heavy to get in to). But for me, it made Tears of the Kingdom not really feel like a sequel. For a while, I've been trying to figure out what it does feel like to me. Maybe a do-over? Another chance to really offer a unique Hyrule to play around in? Hmm, no, that's not quite it. Maybe, as my partner theorises, it's a retelling of Ocarina of Time - some of those plot beats really do line up with the classic N64 game, and I'm not opposed to that idea, but that didn't feel like the solution to my personal conundrum.

As I approached the game's first anniversary, though, it hit me: it isn't a sequel. It's a second act. To me, these two games feel pretty inseparable. One can't really exist without the other, but in particular Tears of the Kingdom builds upon what was there before, an evolutionary path that feels so natural that you can only view them as part of a whole experience. Hell, if I was Nintendo, I'd even go so far as to release a version of both games put together to really solidify this feeling, but I know that that'll never be the case.

I think the reason why people found it so jarring that people didn't talk about what happened with Breath of the Wild is because for them it felt so fresh, but in the canon of the story years had passed. Time moved forwards, characters moved in, and in a world like Zelda's, more pressing matters needed attending to. Why spend time dwelling on the past when there's something urgent to attend to now?

Watch on YouTube

That's part of why it feels more like a second act, to me. We've seen everything we need to in the first, we know how our characters got to where they are, but this is where the real meat and potatoes takes place. It's not to say Breath of the Wild isn't important, like I said Tears of the Kingdom can't exist without it, but ultimately it's the latter where things really get to flourish.

I love the story that Breath of the Wild almost doesn't tell, the implied moments, the emergent narratives you tell yourself, but Tears of the Kingdom has all of that and more. It's a culmination of the ideas of what came before, distilled into something more narratively impactful, ultimately giving us one of the best final boss fights in Zelda's history.

Now, you might assume that as part of the third act of this piece I'll start talking about that very same thing for Zelda, but no, I think in this case Nintendo are keeping it to two. And I'm glad that they are, because, even if they aren't for everyone, I think these pair of Zelda titles make for an experience within the series unlike any other. Well, except for maybe Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, which could be argued to follow that same two act structure - but that's for another day.

Read this next