The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild cemented the Nintendo Switch as a must-have system the day it released. Link’s awakening in the cave on the Great Plateau, followed by the reveal of an expansive Hyrule with curiosities in every corner, combined with the hands-off approach to progression, are at the heart of the 2017 game’s success. That creates high expectations for the sequel, and so The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has to follow up through creative story threads like focusing on Zelda‘s religion.
It’s hard to find ways to improve on what came before as Breath of the Wild did almost everything right; weapon degradation proved to be polarizing, and the dungeons weren’t as epic as previous entries, but the story received some criticism too. The memories that can be collected in a number of obscure locations reveal a vague backstory, but it’s easy to miss them all together, and the tale told through gameplay is deliberately minimal. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has to be more committed to telling a great story, and a religious spin could match the tone of the series while also placing a spotlight on the Royal Family of Hyrule.
Religion is Everywhere in Zelda
The emphasis of each Zelda title is on the sense of adventure and the bravery of the hero they present. Good versus evil is the fundamental format that Zelda has used for years, as Link desperately grapples with the likes of Ganondorf, Ghirahim, Yuga, and Shadow Link. The underlying theme of religion and the goddess’ influence has always been important for the tone of the franchise, however. Skyward Sword leans on it heavily throughout, and the opening few hours including a memorable backstory introduction shows that the people of Skyloft are dedicated to living a life in the goddess Hylia’s honor.
Breath of the Wild rarely mentions the goddess, but her presence is felt all over Hyrule. Progression is intrinsically linked to her, as stamina and life can be extended by visiting a Goddess Statue in one of the many towns in the game. It’s a small but significant inclusion as the benefits feel like a blessing and, more importantly, a reminder that the goddess is on Link’s side in banishing the evil. Tears of the Kingdom has the means to place more emphasis on religion as the setting is ripe for a deeper story to be told, especially given how Breath of the Wild handled its open-world story.
Religion Can Benefit a Video Game Story
Religious aspects can join a story in a number of different ways. Games like Far Cry 5 and Guardians of the Galaxy present a religious angle that is inherently negative, showing the followers of the faith to be irrational and antagonistic. However, Zelda has always presented it in a more uplifting and hopeful way that steers away from making it feel like an evil, overbearing entity. As Ganon brings darkness to Hyrule, the goddess and Link do what they can to push back, and Zelda herself is tied to the deeds of the goddess, so it feels like the Hyrule Royal Family are an extension of her grace.
Religion can provoke interesting plot points that can elevate a story to new heights. The Universal Church of Truth in Guardians of the Galaxy was menacing because it’s far harder to defeat an idea than a person. Crystal Dynamics’ offering was far much better for it, and as The Legend of Zelda has such a longstanding relationship with religion, both in storytelling and atmosphere, Tears of the Kingdom should capitalize on the benefits it can bring. This could be the key to making the sequel to one of the best games of the century feel entirely different to its predecessor, but also faithful to the greater franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom releases May 12, 2023, on Nintendo Switch.