As I have made clear in one of my previous features, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was a gaming phenomenon. So much so, I rated it in my top 3 (canon) Zelda games of all time. It really took some of the best aspects of Breath of the Wild and combined it with a flavor of the traditional Zelda games, not to mention, bringing back the King of Evil Ganondorf in all his glory.
Which is precisely why a sentiment of disappointment consumed me upon the announcement of Baldur’s Gate 3 as Game of the Year back on December 7th. Although I haven’t played it myself, I’m sure BG3 is a tremendous game and a worthy winner of the title. However, I can’t help but think, despite all the deserved acclaim, TOTK missed the opportunity to secure the title.
And for me, there were obvious aspects of the game that fell short, and had this not been the case, then we’d all be talking about TOTK being the winner of the prestigious title. Thus, let me go through five things which would indeed have bagged TOTK the award.
A much more present Ganondorf
Arguably the most exciting concept before release was the impending return of Ganondorf himself. Many theories bombarded the minds of Zelda fans. Was this the same Ganondorf seen in games such as Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker or Twilight Princess?
Why was Ganondorf sealed in some mysterious underground chamber? And how was he able to conjure up Calamity Ganons over millennia at a time?
The opening scene revealing Ganondorf’s reawakening promised much. However, if we take out the cutscenes (which are in fact optional), the next time we actually see Ganondorf in the flesh is during the final battle.
We could go the entire game only encountering the menace of the Zelda franchise a mere two times. And when you take into account the cutscenes with Ganondorf, he was arguably the most intimidating, conniving and threatening iteration of the character ever seen.
Before the game launched, I truly expected Ganondorf to make his presence known to all in Hyrule. Problem is, other than a handful of people, including Link, the Sages and some Sheikah, no one had a clue who Ganondorf even was. And that, despite the turmoil caused by the Regional Phenomena.
But even if we ignore the Lanayru, Eldin and Hebra regions, we could have gotten a compelling story where Ganondorf returns home to the Gerudo Desert. Seeing his people becoming “pacifist cowards”, he would try to regain control of the Gerudo by force. This would serve as massive character development for Riju, the current child ruler up against the ancient evil king.
A battle with the existence of the Gerudo at stake. This would have been Riju’s opportunity to be the Gerudo ruler who, once and for all, completed redemption for her people. Speaking of character arcs, one of my main disappointments included Sidon. After all, Ganondorf was the one truly responsible for his sister’s death. Upon his first encounter of Ganondorf, the new Zora King could have been sparked into a moment of unfettered rage and potential weakness, making him do something reckless in the process, causing something of a hindrance in the mission to expunge the Demon King.
So taking all this into account, one can only conclude that the game wasted a lot of Ganondorf’s potential, and subsequently, we can only tease our brains with what could have been!
Rauru as the traditional companion character
The more I think about this, the more I grit my teeth. The game had everything in place for Rauru to be the first companion character for Link since Fi in Skyward Sword. This was a no brainer. Link had a literal body part of the Zonai ruler attached to him.
We also saw Rauru in his spirit form on the Sky Islands. And also, it’s not as if the series hasn’t had a former King of Hyrule as a companion character before in the King of Red Lions in the Wind Waker!
Rauru was acting as an impeccable mentor for Link early in the game, so much so, that I was almost certain he would be the companion character throughout the game, and it caused immediate disappointment for me when his spirit disappeared.
Rauru as the companion would have hugely enriched the game. He would have been able to guide Link throughout the land, imparting his knowledge around areas such as the Sky Islands, the Depths and the Temples, whilst himself learning about how Hyrule has changed over thousands of years.
He could have provided the new Sages with inspirational mentions of their ancient ancestors and most significantly, have his long-awaited encounter against Ganondorf, which would have made for memorable dialogues between the former Hyrule King and the resurrected Demon King, and a desire of revenge within the former.
Additionally, whilst I found myself lacking in emotional investment at Mineru getting a farewell in the final scene, replacing Mineru with Rauru in this moment would have amplified the emotion of this scene manifold. For us to be saying goodbye to the character who was with us throughout our journey would already have made the moment on par with the emotions sparked during the farewell scenes of the likes of King Daphnes, Midna and Fi.
However, the spirit of Sonia appearing and reuniting with her beloved husband after thousands of years to take him to the afterlife would have well and truly surpassed any farewell scene from past Zelda games. Whenever I play such a scene in my mind, it reinforces my utter disbelief how Nintendo deprived us of something like this!
A time travel mechanic
Pretty much everyone knew from the trailers that the game would have an element of time travel brought into it. People conjured up exciting theories, one or two going as far as saying there would be time travel to eras such as OOT and TP, but I always knew that would be a little far-fetched.
However, although a story heavily influenced by time was confirmed, again, it was more fertile ground for missed opportunities. What we got was almost a carbon copy of the game’s predecessor Breath of the Wild, where we were only shown glimpses of past events through (optional) memories scattered around Hyrule as Dragon Tears.
The cutscenes were well made, but what really could have amplified the game was that, instead of Link seeing visions of the past through these Dragon Tears, they should have been portals to the past. Portals only Link could enter and exit.
We could have had a first-hand (no pun intended!) experience of Hyrule during the time of Rauru. Link could have alternated between having Rauru’s spirit as his companion in the present, whilst interacting with his physical body in the past.
And he could well have encountered Ganondorf in the past when he’d stolen the secret stone to become the Demon King, be heavily beaten by the Gerudo King, and have to flee back to the present, truly understanding the beast he was up against and needing Rauru to guide him to be strong enough for his rematch thousands of years later.
How amazing would it have been to see the final battle be a rematch between Link and Ganondorf, and for Ganondorf to realize that Link wasn’t the weakling he’d so easily swatted away all those years ago! And imagine Link being present for Zelda’s dragonification? Would have been a scene almost mirroring Zelda’s slumber back in Skyward Sword!
Prominence of the Zonai as a race
(Featured image: Kamabokobun (Zelda Dungeon))
If all members of the Zelda fandom earned a pound or dollar for every Zonai-related theory since the time of BOTW, we’d be very rich people indeed!
There was, however, a sort of consensus based off of the evidence found in the Faron Woods, that the Zonai were a mysterious barbarian tribe originating from the woods with possibly sinister undertones.
I really don’t believe there could be many who’d prognosticated almost the entire opposite, the Zonai instead being a peace-loving, powerful and highly advanced alien civilization descending “from the heavens”.
Their dynamic and highly sophisticated technology would endure for generations to come and provide direct inspiration for the Sheikah tech.
Despite all of this, it still feels as if we don’t know much about the Zonai. The race remains almost as mysterious as before TOTK’s release. Even in the ancient past, the Zonai were pretty much extinct, with Rauru and Mineru as the only survivors/settlers.
Did the Zonai get wiped out through war or disease? Did they just up and leave to return back “to the heavens”? And why did Rauru and Mineru survive/stay behind?
Were they from a Zonai “Royal Family”? Or were they much more intelligent than the races of pre-Hyrule, making them de-facto the rulers of Hyrule after (re)founding it?
We definitely should have experienced a fully functioning Zonai race, with Rauru founding a Hyrule where the Zonai peacefully co-existed with the other races. This could have been a golden opportunity to further flesh out Ganondorf’s character.
Maybe his lust for power over Hyrule could have stemmed from jealousy and a sense of inferiority in the face of this alien race, and his stealing the secret stone to become the Demon King was what turned the tide in his favor, using it to exterminate the Zonai, only to be stopped by Rauru and the Sages like the storyline already goes.
This would amplify Rauru’s crucial role as the companion character, where helping Link in the present would not only mean saving Hyrule and avenging Sonia, but also avenging his extinct race.
Return of Sword Skills
The fifth and final one is from a gameplay perspective. One of the main reasons I cannot stop talking about Twilight Princess (even 16 years post-release) was the Hidden Skills training.
To date, TP remains the only game where Link is able to learn and use certain sword techniques which are both awesome and badass in name (Helm Splitter and Mortal Draw to name a few). It’s obviously been 5-7 years since the events of BOTW, and I can’t believe that Link would be sitting around twiddling his thumbs all this time.
He should have been polishing his skills as a swordsman and Zelda’s Royal bodyguard. And we should have seen this in TOTK. A Link with new sword techniques, inspired by the moves Link learned from the Hero’s Shade in TP.
And it would have served as development for this iteration of Link, his swordsmanship being put to the test in the face of adversities such as losing the Master Sword and his right arm.
New button sequences could have been introduced, and he could have gone training in places such as Kakariko and Hateno Villages to adapt his skills with Rauru’s arm. It would certainly have provided a genuine contrast from BOTW.
In conclusion, TOTK was rightly a serious contender for GOTY, but had these elements been in the game, I don’t care how good a game BG3 is, there would have been no stopping TOTK. Disagree? Let me know below!