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Game of the Year: Zelda Takes the Top Spot

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In 2023, Nintendo launched long-awaited sequels in multiple revered franchises. May brought their biggest launch of the year as the gaming giant dropped the direct sequel to Breath of the Wild. With one of the stronger years in video games now in the rearview mirror, what better way to kick off the new year than with a final look at the Hernando Sun 2023 Game of the Year – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom?

The follow-up to 2017’s game of the year, the newest Zelda game, has garnered its fair share of accolades over the last seven months. Within days of its release on May 12, Tears rocketed up the sales charts and instantly became one of the ten best-selling video games on the Nintendo Switch. As of this posting, the game has sold 19.5 million units, according to Nintendo and appeared to push the Switch to another strong year despite the console being in its waning stages. While Tears would not win the coveted Game of the Year Award from Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards, it did take home the honor for Best Action/Adventure Game on Dec. 7. Zelda was not snubbed entirely from the top spot, though, as it was named Game of the Year for 2023 by IGN.

The release of Tears of the Kingdom was the culmination of a nearly four-year-long hype cycle that began with a teaser trailer in June of 2019. Fans of the Big N were treated with glimpses of the desiccated corpse of the franchise’s big bad, Ganondorf, and imagery that implied a heavy connection to the Zonai. An ancient race of beings with supernatural powers, the Zonai were only hinted at in Breath of the Wild. In Tears, the Zonai and their creations would take center stage in Link’s newest and grandest quest to take down the Demon King.

Here are the top 3 reasons why Tears defeated every other game this year:

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1. The Right Hand of… Goat?

This is truly what the game is about. In the opening moments of Tears, the now-deceased first king of Hyrule, who himself is a Zonai, grants Link his right arm and the supernatural abilities that come with it. Once our protagonist obtains the goat-like Rauru’s arm, Link is then doled out a handful of powers over the game’s initial hours: Ultrahand, Fuse, Ascend, Recall, and Autobuild. Ultrahand steals the show as it acts like a souped-up Magnesis Rune from Breath of the Wild and then some. Through this ability, Link is able to pick up, manipulate, and attach essentially any object in the environment that is not nailed down. Combine this with Autobuild, which allows the player to instantly recreate any saved contraption in exchange for a resource known as Zonaite, and Link has access to tanks and laser drones at a moment’s notice. The robustness of Ultrahand has led to the posting of countless videos displaying builds of ever-increasing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts-esque wackiness.

Ascend and Recall are a bit more utilitarian, but they allow Link to rise through most ceilings and rewind time on objects, respectively. Recall even has strong narrative importance in the main story.

Despite the other skills’ myriad of uses, Fuse is a personal favorite as it takes the already deep character customization offered by Breath of Wild and increases it tenfold. Do you want a glider shield that basically enables bullet time on command? You got it. How about a one-handed chainsaw with double the power? No problem. There are a nearly limitless number of combinations one can create by combining materials with either shields, weapons, or arrows and it is addicting to search for your preferred permutation.

2. Breath of the Wild 2.0

One of the most intriguing parts of the experience was seeing how the developers would take the world they had already created and tweak it for their second outing. While there were a couple of stumbles, Tears of the Kingdom adjusted and improved nearly every aspect of the game. In the predecessor, Link can purchase and refurbish a house in the idyllic Hateno Village. In Tears, the player can construct a customizable home by Ultrahand on the outskirts of the expanded Tarrey Town.

On the slopes of the no-longer-molten Death Mountain, dozens of Rock Octoroks are lying in wait with a renewed purpose. Instead of simply rejuvenating rusty weapons like in Breath, the sequel allows players to throw weapons with low durability at the enemy for it to be spat back out with max durability and a new bonus. There are hundreds of other changes across Hyrule’s ground layer just waiting to be found by new and old players alike.

3. The Zonai and That Ending

Having hands down the best ending in the franchise, Tears of the Kingdom owes its late-game twists and turns to its focus on the god-like Zonai and their “secret stones.” Multiple characters brandish and utilize these stones in terrifying and majestic ways. In a fun turn of events, Ganondorf uses one during the final fight to extend his health bar nearly off the screen. Once each of these lost talismans is returned to its respective sage, Link can summon the ethereal avatar of each warrior to aid him in battle throughout his adventure.

The fully revealed existence of the Zonai also grants the hero of Hyrule access to two extra layers of world to explore: the majesty of the sky and the gloom of the depths. These areas feature puzzles, dungeons, gear, and materials aplenty. Lore implications and exciting traversal options helped tie together a phenomenal experience that suffered from a few loose ends. Fortunately, the issues were minimal and did not drag down the experience too much. For fans of time travel plots and Mesoamerican inspiration, the newest Zelda ticks these boxes as well. Countless more discoveries await at home or on the go in Nintendo’s open world mechanical masterpiece for the Nintendo Switch.

Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He’s written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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