2023 game of the year: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

The mark of an incredible game is the ability to return to it in different moods and stages of life and have the experience be as exhilarating as the first time it was played. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has just that.

Link’s enhanced arm gives players brand-new abilities. Image courtesy of Nintendo.

The open-world fantasy game is the crowning jewel of Nintendo and the Zelda franchise, which began in 1986. The protagonist, Link, journeys across the land of Hyrule to stamp out evil and solve the mystery of scientist and fellow-adventurer Princess Zelda’s disappearance. Along the way, players must solve hundreds of puzzles, battle monsters and make allies among seven unique peoples. Also, there’s a fair bit of arson involved.

The size of the open world is a feat in itself. Players soar between floating islands; explore the cities, ecosystems and hidden caves, tunnels, sandpits and whirlpools of the main map; and lose themselves in an alien underworld reminiscent of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Combining nearly endless adventure with gorgeous music and graphics and a plotline that breaks your heart and inspires you to pummel the 10,000-year-old embodiment of evil in a fit of rage at four in the morning — ahem, not that I’m speaking from experience — Tears of the Kingdom is a game people will be playing until the inevitable heat death of the universe.

Nintendo released TotK’s predecessor Breath of the Wild in 2017; and, given the game’s popularity, it didn’t take long for rumors of a sequel to spread. It wasn’t until 2019 that the first teaser trailer dropped, and TotK finally took over the world in May 2023. It was technically finished in 2022; however, Nintendo delayed the release to perfect it.

Princess Zelda investigates the evil “gloom.” Image courtesy of Nintendo.

I spent six long years — half of high school and all of my undergraduate degree — feeling anticipation akin to someone scratching off the final number on a winning lottery ticket.

TotK did not disappoint.

CNN estimates that it takes between 50 to 60 hours to complete the main quest, and more than 100 hours to experience everything the game has to offer. After too many weekends spent munching gummy worms and foregoing things like food, water and sunlight, I can say that that’s a conservative estimate. I still find hidden gems in Breath of the Wild, and I’m sure TotK will be the same.

Part of the longevity stems from the player’s ability to build almost anything. Link can collect and combine everything from planks of wood to flamethrowers to create traps, motorcycles and flaming, laser-filled airplanes of destruction. I reiterate: arson.

Fans have used this new power for evil, spending hundreds of hours creating elaborate death-traps for Koroks — cute forest spirits scattered around Hyrule that periodically ask for a lift to visit their friends.

Players must also use common sense — or not — to create their own weapons by adhering precious stones, monster parts or food to any branch or rusty sword they find lying around. Rubies give weapons fire powers, while mushrooms make them bouncy, which isn’t helpful at all.

Rolling Stone said, “Addressing every complaint leveled at its predecessor, turning up everything else to 11, and tripling down on the core philosophy of discovery, Nintendo has created what might be its magnum opus.”

TotK sold more than 10 million copies in the first three days of its release and likely increased Japan’s gross domestic product by 2.8%, according to Mainichi Shimbun via Forbes.

Metacritic, which consolidates critics’ reviews, stated that TotK received “universal acclaim.” Thus far, it’s won seven coveted awards from institutions like the Golden Joystick Awards, and was declared “Game of the Year” by the likes of IGN, Edge, Game Informer, Giant Bomb, Destructoid, ComicBook.com and Polygon. Five of their additional 18 nominations remain pending.

Such is the beauty of Nintendo — anyone over 10 and under 200 years old will love Tears of the Kingdom. It won’t be tossed aside as technology advances; because, when the novelty of its innovative gameplay and animation wears off, its core philosophies of exploration, experimentation and the importance of community will still speak to players the world over.

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