Here’s why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t living up to any of my expectations – Screen Shot
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Here’s why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t living up to any of my expectations

When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild dropped back in 2017 it not only heralded in the age of the Nintendo Switch but it also (pardon the pun) breathed new life back into the 37-year-old Zelda franchise—a series that was long overdue for a makeover.

Nintendo managed to reinvent the wheel with BotW, but with the release of the highly anticipated sequel finally here, I can’t help but wonder if the internet is viewing this new game through rose tinted glasses…

How The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild changed the series

For those unaware, BotW  took the series to the open world, a game format that saw a meteoric rise throughout the 2010s. Although some argued that Nintendo was late to the party, others were thankful that the gaming giant was finally ready to show everyone how it was done.

No longer was series protagonist Link, confined to traversing linear locations and several sprawling dungeons in sequence on his quest to save princess Zelda.In BotW, the entire world was your oyster. Nintendo had finally given players the freedom to explore and tackle at a pace that suited you.

Although gamers are often critical of open worlds with too much fluff content, Nintendo was met with immense praise for its interpretation of the format. The game featured a stripped back soundtrack to let you appreciate the games immaculate sound design and breathtaking, hand-crafted world. There were also secrets and puzzles scattered all over the world, most of which felt relevant and carefully thought out.

With a staggering score of 97 on the critic review aggregate site Metacritic, it’s safe to say that it was well received by fans and professionals alike. Even my Dad was playing BotW.

The problem with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

It’s hard to follow up games that were met with such universal acclaim as this, and apparently Nintendo were aware of this, delaying the sequel several times before its eventual release on 12 May 2023 to try and get things as polished as possible.

To say the internet was hyped for the release was an understatement—every new Nintendo Direct saw fans spamming the comments, clamouring for a Zelda trailer, and the artistic corners of the internet have been filled with art of Princess Zelda sporting her new short haircut ever since it was unveiled in a teaser trailer back in 2019. Reports are also surfacing, revealing that since the release of the sequel, searches for “Zelda Porn” have skyrocketed. Real classy guys.

And now that we all finally have our hands on the game, I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the direction Nintendo has pulled in for the new entry. The red flags were there in the trailers but I shut my eyes and pretended not to see it, I wanted to buy into the hype. But I can’t delude myself any longer like the rest of the internet. I have a really massive gripe with the game: why oh why did Nintendo choose to implement vehicle building into The Legend of Zelda?

Seasoned gamers will remember the car crash that was the 2009 Rare game Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. This black sheep entry into the long beloved Banjo-Kazooie 3D platforming franchise saw the game turn to focus on vehicle building and driving, a move that has long puzzled gamers, and is said to have killed the Rare franchise.

And now it’s Zelda’s turn to let players build cars (among other basic structures) with the new ‘Ultrahand’ ability—because you know, that’s exactly what I wanted out of a fantasy game filled with monsters and princesses. I really wanted to be able to build a car out of a plank of wood and four wheels…

I’m sure some fans were over the moon when they spotted this new feature. I can only imagine that Nintendo were spurred on by the viral, rule breaking clips that caught the internet’s attention during the release of the first game that saw players exploit the tools that had been bestowed upon them. I remember being amazed at players using the time stop and momentum mechanics to fly across the map at record speeds on a metal cube. I didn’t actually care to do it myself though!

Among the new abilities is a new fuse mechanic that sees The Hero of the Wild able to attach virtually any item in the game world to his weapons for damage bonuses or for different status effects. While a neat concept, this slows down the pace of the game tremendously and forces you to sift through finicky menus for ages as you look for different bits and bobs to stick to your weapons and arrows.

We’re even further from traditional Zelda than we’ve ever been, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. BotW’s success is solid proof of that. But, the emphasis on attaching and building in TotK as part of its core gameplay loop was not what I was hoping for out of a sequel.

Additionally, very quickly the status-quo is reset back to what it essentially was in the last game. 10 hours into the game and I’ve been presented with the same list of chores as last timeShrines: Check. Korok puzzles: Check. Towers to unveil the map: Check.

Also lacking in a refresh is the enemies available for battle in the game. Zelda’s iconic Bokoblins and Lizalfos are back en-masse, with very little variation from BotW. I like thematic consistency but didn’t we all already spend hundreds of hours fighting them in the first game? For four years of development, I would have liked to see a little more variety in the monsters being put to death by Link.

Not to say that there’s no new content. The land of Hyrule (the same area you will have explored tirelessly in BotW) has seen numerous little changes, as well as the introduction of  a sky map and an underground level to explore.

TotK feels like much more of an evolution, rather than the revolution that the previous entry was. That’s fine, not everything has to be flipped on its head, but the £60 price tag for a game that is essentially BotW 2.0 feels like a slap in the face. Especially when so much of the content is a repetition of things we did in the previous game, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.

TotK is set to smash the charts and critics are already decorating the game with 10/10 ratings, as well as glittering reviews. However not everyone online is happy with the final product—myself included.

The Legend of Zelda subreddit’s first impressions thread is filled with a plethora of players questioning the direction that Nintendo have chosen to take the series in.

by u/Shinro_BE from discussion [TotK] Tears of the Kingdom First Impressions Megathread: Discuss the first 15 hours of the game
in zelda

It’s not just on Reddit either, user reviews on Metacritic are sharing similar frustrations. TotK is already sitting on a 96 score from the review aggregation site, whereas its user reviews are hanging around an 8.6, with most of the gamers complaining about a lack of new things to do, or fight, as well as complaints that the game’s new powers feel out of place.

So why are so many gaming publications overlooking all these issues and shortcuts the new entry has taken? Is this the infamous Nintendo effect in action? While Western developers are often subject to harsh criticism and expectations, Nintendo is infamous for getting away with bad practices like this online.

There is a clear dissonance between what is being experienced by publishers, and the score these games are getting. Eurogamer Germany calls the game a perfect 10/10 despite admitting in their review that “it doesn’t quite deliver the punch of its predecessor.” Make it make sense.

It may be because of Nintendo’s overall integrity that it gets passes on things like this. When it comes to this Japanese gaming titan, the standard is definitely lowered. When Call of Duty releases annually, there’s a clear expectation regarding what you’re going to get. I think I just hoped they’d show up a little stronger after blowing everyone away the last time. Was I simply anticipating too much from Link’s latest outing?

The adventure has just begun, and while there is plenty of fun to be had, maybe gamers need to take a step back and reconsider the incessant praising of Japan’s most famous game developer.On the other hand, it might be the general lack of integrity that games in the West so often perpetuate that have made audiences so forgiving when it comes to Nintendo.

Elden Ring’s lack of POC hairstyles highlights a wider issue few are trying to solve

On 7 December 2022, Elden Ring—the hit title from Japanese developer FromSoftware—released a free update, complete with a colosseum arena for players to battle in and a series of small balance changes. The update was well received, but fans have pointed out a glaring flaw in the release of new hairstyles: its sole emphasis on euro-centric cuts. This oversight by FromSoftware and publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment is indicative of a wider issue in gaming, one that needs meticulous unpacking.

Following the Elden Ring update, a number of publications, notably The Verge, began highlighting the severe lack of diverse hairstyles in the game. Not having enough options in a video game where you customise your character is always annoying, and missing diverse hairstyles is not only frustrating but irresponsible.

Though Elden Ring features an extensive create-your-own-character system, one which is infamous for giving players the ability to make their characters look silly and outrageous if they wanted, it continues to be heavily lacking in options for ethnic minorities.

These omissions—whether intentional or not—reflect a systemic issue that the gaming industry needs to rectify. On top of being a thoughtless and insensitive move, it also overlooks the growing diversity of today’s gamers. Gaming is a medium that has absolutely skyrocketed in the last decade, and shows no signs of slowing down.

A 2015 study found that, while 72 per cent of white children play games, that number was higher in black, non-hispanic children at 83 per cent and slightly lower in hispanic children at 69 per cent. Another study from the same year outlined that the amount of adult gamers across all ethnicities is growing, with over half of black and hispanic adults stating that they play video games. These numbers show just how much the industry is expanding and how important it is to make sure that games are accessible to all.

However, this exponential growth has unfortunately uncovered persistent inequality within video games—particularly in a lack of options for gamers who aren’t from a white background, and a growing issue with toxic and racist gamers in voice chats.

SCREENSHOT reached out to publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment for a comment on the aforementioned issues regarding the game’s update. In response, the company stated that it would pass on the feedback to the developers. Whether or not we’ll actually witness an addition of new hairstyles any time soon remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Bandai Namco also suggested that we share our feelings on social media to “generate some traction.”

Although I believed the comment had a tinge of sarcasm to it at first, it’s not exactly easy to digest the fact that this was the publisher’s official comment. After thinking about it for a moment, it’s clear this response is directly emblematic of the issue at hand. Weak and noncommittal.

How is the gaming industry failing to represent?

Looking back, this is not the first time the gaming industry has faced accusations regarding a lack of diversity. In November 2022, Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida addressed the lack of representation in the game, stating: “Ultimately, we felt that while incorporating ethnic diversity into Valisthea [the setting of the game] was important, an over-incorporation into this single corner of a much larger world could end up causing a violation of those narrative boundaries we originally set for ourselves. The story we are telling is fantasy, yes, but it is also rooted in reality.”

Final Fantasy XIV is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG or more commonly MMO) for those that don’t know. It’s a combat-filled, fantastical sort of take on Second Life. MMOs are arguably the most important genre to represent people in, given that you are self-inserting your own created character into a virtual world. So, while Yoshida’s statement may seem earnest, it quickly crumbles when placed under any scrutiny or context.

In Yoshida’s game, you’re telling me that the line between mediaeval fantasy and reality only needs firm boundaries when it comes to race. The game features playable bunny characters and giant chickens you ride around on, but decent black and diverse representation crosses a line for the team? Make it make sense. Fans and critics on Twitter clapped back with scathing yet hilarious responses to the Final Fantasy news.

It should be noted that the games which come out of Japan aren’t often the bastions of diversity, given that the country is very ethnically homogenous, but when so many of their games reach such a global audience, it’s frustrating to see that these issues still get overlooked. The Pokémon Company for example—another team from Japan—does an excellent job at showcasing a diverse and varied cast of characters, often to widespread acclaim.

And the problem doesn’t stop at Elden Ring and Final Fantasy XIV either. A lack of diverse hairstyles can also be seen in other titles like Monster Hunter: World (which only got more POC options after its second expansion), and in 2021’s flop title Outriders, which only had four options for black gamers. The notoriously expensive Star Citizen also makes the list—you’d think some of that budget could have been spent on a few more hairstyles…

The studios and video games spearheading the diversity movement

While Japan may have been slow on progress, the West has done a lot for diversity in gaming during our roaring 20s. Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate III and CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077 were examples that showcased an excellent and varied representation in their customisation and character cast, allowing the player a myriad of options when it came to POC hairstyles specifically.

EA’s The Sims 4 is another great example with a slew of options, especially from its modding community. A special shoutout also to Nintendo’s 2020 pandemic saviour Animal Crossing: New Horizons, yet another game with inclusive and diverse options for users. It even had wonderfully progressive attitudes to gender expression and identity.

Let’s give you a little bit of a deeper dive into the options some of these games offer when making your character. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you’re met with a plethora of options, from a balanced variety of hairstyles and accurate skin tones to a positive and free expression of gender identity—no ageism either. In a step up from previous titles, the game lets you change your appearance whenever you want too, really honing in on its aims to allow users to freely express themselves.

Elden Ring’s lack of POC hairstyles highlights a wider issue few are trying to solve

The Sims 4 has similarly excellent character creation options, a system that EA has continually supported long since the game’s initial release. There are endless skin tone options and pages upon pages of hairstyles and inclusive features to choose from. And if that isn’t enough for you, you can easily mod The Sims 4, a system which allows you to import player-made creations into your own game.

Although some of these next titles don’t include options for creating your own character, it’s worth highlighting how much the industry has worked on improving its representation as a whole. Arkane Studios’ POC-led Deathloop and Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends are great examples of developers that get it right, with the latter being the most diverse game on the market right now, as highlighted by a study from DiamondLobby.

Riot GamesValorant has excellent representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds too. And of course, Blizzard’s Overwatch 2 continues to push a diverse cast of characters from all over the world.

All that being said, for me, the highlight in the industry has to be Supergiant Games’ Hades—a roguelike game steeped in a rich tapestry of Greek mythology. The indie hit effortlessly represents a wide range of ethnicities and orientations through its vibrant and engaging visuals, making it a treat and a must-play for anyone with an itch for mythology.

Elden Ring’s lack of POC hairstyles highlights a wider issue few are trying to solve

Gaming appears to fail the most when it comes to options in titles where you’re customising the character. A big issue in games is also the actual quality of the black hairstyles offered. It’s been such a persistent problem that you have independent creators setting up libraries to help teach and educate, like the amazing Open Source Afro Hair Library which is full of references and tutorials on how to improve the quality of black hair modelled for games.

Although the gaming industry is moving forward to be as progressive as it can be, other facets of society are beginning to slug behind, with recent news that the CROWN act—a US bill aiming to stop black hair discrimination—failed to clear the senate in the American courts on 14 December.

The blocking, although shocking, should come as no surprise and reminds us that no matter how many steps forward we take, someone will always try to gatekeep progress. I’m just glad things are looking a bit brighter for the future of inclusivity in the gaming industry and hope we’ll see it continue to spill over into the rest of our lives.