“The apocalypse has had an apocalypse,” stated Far Cry: Blood Dragon’s reveal trailer roughly 10 years ago. Whether it’s done for laughs or to help build out a serious setting, I wish we’d have more worlds in video games that are facing a second major destructive event when everyone hasn’t been able to pick up the pieces from the last cataclysm. In the case of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo EPD has used this supposedly grim premise to tell a charming and uplifting story about collective endurance.
There are mild spoilers for the early game of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom ahead.
Once you get down from Tears of the Kingdom’s starting zone, the game tries to steer players towards the area in front of Hyrule Castle. What once was a death zone full of corrupted guardians is now the center of operations for the community that is trying to rebuild the kingdom to its former glory. In case you haven’t played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (you should), it must be noted that Tears of the Kingdom takes place only two-to-three years after its predecessor, so folks have barely started to get over Calamity Ganon’s reign of terror, which had already kept Hyrule in a post-apocalyptic state for around 100 years.
Even if Hyrule Castle weren’t lifted into the sky and chunks of mysterious ruins didn’t start falling from the heavens, Tears of the Kingdom’s post-post-apocalyptic setting would’ve been lovely to explore on its own; recent video games have started to explore in depth the melancholic beauty of trying to safeguard and regrow the little innocence and nature left in such scenarios. But Tears of the Kingdom goes even further when Hyrule is basically thrown into another dark age right after a brief prologue.
Back to the aforementioned base of operations, we find a colorful group of characters who are dealing as best they can with the many mysteries currently popping up all over the land, all while they search for Zelda. I was quickly struck by how chill most characters and random NPCs were about the rather depressing situation, but then I remembered this ain’t their first rodeo with a world-ending threat. In fact, demonic terrors sprawling from holes in the ground and ancient rocks falling from the sky aren’t even the worst they’ve faced over several generations.
The camaraderie, patience, and rock-solid fortitude that Hyrule’s people exhibit despite not knowing what’s going on is truly comforting. At the moment, we can’t know for sure how much of the development team’s experiences during the COVID pandemic made it into the game, but it’s not hard to draw some real-life parallels after a few hours strolling through a kingdom that, much like us, can’t get back on its feet for one reason or another, and not for lack of trying. Moreover, scientists adopt a more prominent role this time around, demonstrating there’s no good replacement for good research and experimentation in the face of an overwhelming catastrophe.
Sadly, good ol’ capitalism hasn’t gone anywhere either. As soon as I took a few steps out of the base and towards the floating castle, I came across this guy who couldn’t let go of a signpost because his boss would get mad (or at least that’s what he believed). The solution to his problem was a nice little puzzle that only required taking a step back and analyzing the issue from a different angle, but I’m sure he’ll pop up somewhere later, still stuck with the same shitty job. Oh well…
This is just one example of many. The yurt-like stables haven’t been crushed by giant chunks of debris and are still doing okay financially. Traders are hitting the roads as often as they did before. And adventurers still talk of walking into spooky caves alone because someone had told another someone about some treasure. No one thinks their current predicament has worsened the situation that much. In fact, things are arguably better now that Link is a famous hero known to roam the land fixing folks’ problems.
Once Link is tasked with finding out the strangest occurrences happening across Hyrule, a good place to visit first is the Rito Village, now led by Teba, who helped Link fight one of the four Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild. Their most pressing issue is a strange meteorological occurrence that has covered their region with clouds and a seemingly endless snowfall. Commerce is frozen, and gathering food is becoming increasingly hard. Nobody but Tulin (Teba’s brave son) appears to be in a rush to explore the weird storm at the center of the problem though.
The ensuing adventure is even less subtle about the real-world disasters we have faced and are currently fighting. This main quest is about climate change and inaction. Of course, magical sky boats and floating ruins aren’t part of Earth’s worrying climate change, but there’s a cautionary tale here about an entire society considering every possibility but the one in front of them. (Floating ships? That’s just a legend!) To be fair, however, the Rito don’t stop Link and Tulin from chasing answers.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, the overall vibe Tears of the Kingdom seems to be gunning for is positive, but I don’t think every person I’ve come across (so far) in my journeys has the right attitude. And that’s okay, as it paints an oddly realistic picture of a fairy tale world in disarray. Some people are looking to make quick money, and entire groups refuse to grapple with the gravity of the second cataclysm, yet perseverance and smart collaboration are keeping the entire kingdom glued together when things appear to be more fragmented than ever.