Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom: Seven Years of Zelda on the Switch

I ought to preface this post with a nod to the game that didn’t make the title: Link’s Awakening. The remake of the Gameboy classic was a good game, if also an example of how Nintendo fell into the trap of increasingly linear Zelda games. In terms of new games, and new approaches to the Zelda franchise, the Switch has been all about Breath of the Wild, and Tears of the Kingdom.

With the Switch now seven years old, arguably showing its age, and what with persistent rumours of a new console coming soon, it’s worth reflecting upon what the Switch did for the Zelda series. OK, let’s grant the Wii U some credit here too; Breath of the Wild started out as a game for that console, even if it would ultimately be the Switch that was the chief vehicle for the game. So, after seven years of this new, open-world Hyrule, with the emphasis very much on exploration and curiosity, what are the biggest takeaways from it all? What fond memories do I have of roaming Hyrule’s colourful and varied landscape?

Breath of the Wild immediately presented itself as a sweeping epic.

With Breath of the Wild, so much of the experience was trial and error. As already alluded to, previous Zelda games had followed an increasingly linear path. Those games constantly instructed you on what to find and where to go. They effectively held your hand for most of the journey, whereas Breath of the Wild more or less chucked you in at the deep end. If you were inclined (I wasn’t!) to go straight to the final boss, you could, though that would be a huge challenge. Instead, you’d be rewarded for exploring, and as you successfully completed more shrines, you’d improve Link’s stamina and health. Poking around the various corners of the map would unlock details of the story, and gain you new weapons and equipment. You had a freedom that hadn’t been felt in Zelda games since arguably the very first game.

Let’s make a bridge for ourselves!

If Breath of the Wild had a flaw, it would be that I wanted more actual dungeons. The shrines – over a hundred or so of them – were mini dungeons, and quite fun, but a proper, meaty dungeon can be a proper, epic Zelda experience, and Breath of the Wild didn’t really offer that. Still, the Divine Beasts did provide some unique challenges, and a few frustrations!

Bosses were a curious hybrid of goo and machines.

I will say that confronting Ganon at the end felt quite dramatic. The final fight was intense, though not perhaps the most ferocious final battle of the franchise.

Calamity Ganon looked terrifying.

Once completed, Breath of the Wild continued to offer targets and goals. It took me a while to find all the shrines. I still haven’t found all 900 or so Korok seeds. There’s a host of side-quests. The scope of the game is mind-boggling, so when Nintendo revealed a brief teaser in 2019, giving us the first glimpse at the sequel, a lot of fans – myself included – were wondering how they would top the first game. The answer? They raised the bar.

Once again, the dungeons were limited in quantity, but bigger in scope.
Link never forgets his courage.
Zelda and Ganon, along with Link, are bound together in endless battle.

Tears of the Kingdom added depth to Hyrule, and I mean that literally and figuratively. The trailers revealed sky islands, but the huge underworld… well, I for one hadn’t expected that, until I found it. Huge, powerful enemies lurked in the darkness, and above ground, chaos had overcome the land. Exploring this vast world was a lot of fun, though sometimes it all felt a little… superfluous? There were some complex challenges, that I expected to carry an impact for the story, that were merely side-quests, however that doesn’t detract from how the game was tremendous.

What I discovered was how much attention to detail Nintendo had paid. There were seemingly unimportant points on the map in Breath of the Wild that proved fundamentally important in Tears of the Kingdom. Reusing the same map had the potential to render exploration mute, yet the tweaks were enough to have everything feel vibrant once again.

Poor Billy, er, Link, fell down the well!

The sum of all the adventuring would eventually lead to a huge challenge, just to reach Ganon. You had to venture to the depths at Hyrule Castle, and descend past some of the game’s most difficult enemies, and then square off against hordes of soldiers, before you could fight Ganon. The final battle was one of the toughest final battles I’ve faced in a Zelda game, and it was exhilarating to finally beat him.

What’s next for the Zelda series, following these two epic, sweeping, and beautiful adventures?

The formula has proven to be a commercial and critical hit, with both games receiving rave reviews, and raking in huge wads of cash for Nintendo. The issue now is that any further means of expanding this version of Hyrule will depend upon new, more powerful hardware. The Switch was never a powerhouse to start with, and seven years on, it is far behind the likes of the PlayStation 5, and the XBox Series consoles. Graphically, Nintendo have done extremely well to get Tears of the Kingdom to look as amazing as it does, but to produce another game even more tremendous in scale will require new hardware.

What format might Nintendo take? Would they build upon this world and narrative, or would they switch things up? Might we see a move back in the direction of Ocarina of Time, which was a highly linear, dungeon-filled world? Might they try something that was a sort of hybrid, like A Link to the Past (which had linear elements, but a lot of opportunities to roam as well)? Will they seek to exploit the formula of Breath of the Wild for a third time?

With all of that, what about other franchises? The Switch delivered new Mario, Smash Bros, and Pokemon titles. I would dare say that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best open-world Mario games, and Super Mario Wonder is a great edition to Mario’s array of platformers. Seven years of the Switch has seen so many great and wonderful games, and you know what? It will sad to say goodbye.

There are many expectations for the next console. One thing fans want – and that it needs – is backwards compatibility. Fans who have recently bought Tears of the Kingdom and/or Super Mario Wonder will be extremely aggravated if they have to buy those games again, or if they cannot be played on the new hardware. Improved all-round performance is a must, and it’s expected. The option to play in handheld mode again would be nice, and that concept has clearly been successful, but Nintendo have been known to be unpredictable, so who knows if they’ll retain that feature?

I’m going to conclude this post with a set of lovely pictures, providing a comparison of various locations from Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. Consider it a love letter to the wonderful Zelda games on the Switch.

Hateno Village, from Breath of the Wild.
Hateno Village, from Tears of the Kingdom.
Lake Hylia Bridge, from Breath of the Wild.
Lake Hylia Bridge, from Tears of the Kingdom.
When I played Tears of the Kingdom, I had to return to where it all began, the Great Plateau.
Where it started. The Great Plateau, from Breath of the Wild.
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