Let’s start from the very beginning (and don’t worry, I’ve linked the full opening courtesy of GameXplain at the bottom of this post so that you can live it with me). A pitch-black screen. In a small white font the words “Nintendo presents” appear in the centre. A dissonant chord rises in the score, accompanied by a slow, heartbeat-like bass drum as the words are replaced by “The Legend of Zelda”. Two more beats of the drum. “Tears of the Kingdom”. The words fade from the screen, revealing your reflection as you sit gawping at the TV. Am I about to watch a movie? Wasn’t that the Goodfellas font? Where’s the plinky piano? I need a hug.
And just like that, we’re straight into a cutscene of Link and Zelda exploring the passageways beneath Hyrule castle. A cold open! In a Zelda game! It oozes the kind of confidence that all games in the series should as if to say, we’re not holding your hand in this one, let’s get down to business.
Princess Zelda cues you up and the camera transitions into the third-person view behind Link. Wait, am I in the cutscene? Oh lord, they’ve given me control already! Yes, I briefly ran up the walls and sprinted around every corner as I once again got to grips with the dash and jump buttons, but I quickly settled into walking slowly alongside the Princess — there was an ominous vibe to match, and I wasn’t about to ruin it with Link’s grunts and yelps.
My walk through the tunnels continued in such a spooky manner, walking solemnly along next to Zelda, occasionally interrupting the atmosphere to work through every dialogue option that she had available — what can I say? I didn’t want to miss anything. The traditional lore dump is present in this sequence, but delivered by Zelda geeking out over the Imprisoning War murals, it kept me engaged from start to finish. There was no scrambling for the skip button here.
And so we journeyed on through the tunnels as the mysterious Gloom grew around our feet. No longer was I the active ‘player’, controlling the speed of the story that played in front of me, instead I felt strangely passive yet absorbed in the reality of the scene, walking at the exact speed that the game wanted me to and soaking up the tension with every step. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was ‘living it’ at this moment, but if Princess Zelda had sneezed I wouldn’t have been surprised if I, sitting on my sofa, had replied “bless you”.
The dissonant piano keys continue to get louder, now accompanied by those backwards choral notes that had played such a prominent role in the trailers until finally, I reached the climactic cutscene. First of all, an opening cutscene with a climax? You have got to be joking me. But more importantly, wow.
Who would have thought that all of the ominous atmosphere was leading up to something? Well, anyone who watched the initial reveal trailer, in fact. I had seen the clip of dehydrated Ganondorf turning his head countless times by this point, but there was something about seeing the full-length version which just got me grinning from ear to ear (maybe it’s because I now know how good he looks in his fully-hydrated form, who can say?).
In fact, seeing all of these clips play to their full length was a strangely uplifting experience. Zelda falling down a hole, Link getting his gnarly arm, pre-buff Ganondorf coming to life one strand of muscle tissue at a time. These are all things that I, like everyone else, knew were coming, and then there they were! In their correct order! Perhaps I am a man of simple tastes, but seeing all of that anticipation pay off in the context of the game itself was huge.
What starts as a contradiction to your classic Zelda opening, finishes with exactly the same mission. This is not a conclusion of a legend, but rather the start of a story. Link loses (almost) all of his hearts, the Master Sword is gone, Hyrule Castle is floating in the sky. I was going into the main game in a worse-off position than when I first started having lost all my abilities (wait, is TOTK a Metroid-like?). This isn’t my normal uplifting Zelda. I was sad, nervous, curious and, most of all, very, very excited for the many hours of adventuring to come.
At the end of the day, could you ask for anything more from the opening 15 minutes of your game?
What did you make of the opening for Tears of the Kingdom? Venture down into the dark tunnels of the comments below and let us know.
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