Since starting The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said some combination of the words, “That probably wasn’t the way I was supposed to do it.” I’ve scaled mountains, catching my breath at barely-there ledges, and I’ve waded the entire length of a river to keep cool rather than dress appropriately for the Gerudo Desert’s unrelenting heat. I’ve pieced together bits and bobs, springs and stabilizers, and bombs and batteries to circumvent challenges, and desperately hit Ascend whilst running through barren rooms in hopes a shallow ceiling or narrow lip might grant me passage to the area above. There have been times my antics felt clever, and other times where they felt foolish. Wrong. Deceitful, even.
I find myself thinking this way a lot–throughout dungeons, as I fling myself through the air, when I assemble rickety vehicles–but I grapple with these feelings the most in shrines. It is in these sterile chambers that my tendencies to overthink, underthink, and second-guess myself rear their heads like Lynels. When I accomplish something in a way that feels right, I worry I lack the creativity and inventiveness seemingly everyone else who plays this game has. When it takes me a bit more time, or I conjure up a more roundabout solution, my victory comes with a peculiar sense of shame. And when I simply can’t figure it out and am forced to leave? The feeling then is failure. And of course all these feelings and judgments are all just in my head, but like all things that are just in our heads, they eat at me a bit.
Tears of the Kingdom is hardly the first game to inspire these feelings. When I played Elden Ring last year, I remember regretting my decision to even purchase it when I struggled with the first boss fight. Yet, after I had persevered, sunk over 100 hours exploring the Lands Between, and beat one of the game’s most difficult bosses with relative ease, I found every possible way to discredit what I had accomplished. I got lucky, I told myself. My spirit ashes did the heavy lifting.
However, with Tears of the Kingdom I’ve started to realize just how much this bleak mentality extends beyond my Switch screen and controls every aspect of my life. For example, when I got this position at GameSpot–after years of enduring, writing, and pouring myself into games and my work–I felt like I had cheated. Like there must have been an error in some paperwork somewhere that led to this moment because nothing I had done could have resulted in this. In fact, I was quick to add up all the things I had done “wrong” in life, or were “wrong” with me. I began to mentally wrangle a long list of people I deemed more qualified for my job, as if they were witnesses I would soon have to call upon. It was as if I were preparing to go to trial against myself, something I now realize I do just about every day.
Link and Zelda explore underneath Hyrule Castle.
In short, I have a very bad habit of demolishing myself with unfavorable comparisons–of looking at my peers and chastising myself for not being as smart, attractive, or at the same place in my life or career. And I do this all while not taking into account our very different life circumstances or the many wonderful parts of my life and being. But the more hours I pour into Tears of the Kingdom, the more I begin to second-guess my propensity to, well, second-guess. Instead, I’ve begun to appreciate my resourcefulness and the liberation that comes with creating my own path.
One of the most interesting parts of Tears of the Kingdom is how eagerly the developers give you the tools to break the game they created through Link’s various abilities. With Ascend, you can pass through firmly established boundaries with ease. With Recall, you can disrupt time and use entropy against itself, climbing aboard bits of crumbling debris to reach once-lost lands. With Ultrahand and Fuse, you can assemble and disassemble countless objects in as crude a fashion as you’d like. And with Autobuild, you can completely bypass doing the labor required to create those objects, which even Yiga Clan leader Kohga refers to as “cheating.”
But is it cheating when it’s an ability available to Link? Are we truly “breaking the game” when we utilize creative thinking and the tools given to us? Is doing what we can with what we have something to feel bad about? The only conclusion I can come to for any of these questions is no. Tears of the Kingdom, then, presents a freeing notion: When going to the place you want to be, however you get there is the way you were meant to get there.
In the opening scene of Tears of the Kingdom, Link loses both Zelda and his right arm. While Zelda remains missing, his arm is replaced by one covered in black fur and punctuated by sharp nails. If Link had looked down at this new appendage and chosen to see something foreign, unexpected, and grotesque–if he had rejected his new powers and shirked away from his desire to save both Hyrule and Zelda–Tears of the Kingdom would be a short and sad experience. Instead, he picks himself up and rebuilds (figuratively and literally) using the hand he is dealt (weirdly enough also figuratively and literally). These circumstances and powers were not what he expected, but he isn’t any lesser for seeking to accomplish his goals by using them rather than rejecting them. And neither are we.
There’s a very human urge for control and stability that makes us believe there is a “right path.” And to make matters worse, I think we all tend to envision that path as incredibly narrow. But while every puzzle has its intended solution, this predefined path–constructed by cultural norms, parents, peers, and ourselves–is all too often a vision we cling too tightly to.
Link in a golden field.
The reality is that, much like my self-doubt and overly complex feelings towards shrines, the idea that there is a right path exists only in our head. Sure, there can be places we’d like to get to and ways in which we’d prefer to get to them, but we’re going to be a whole lot more satisfied and at peace if we are willing to embrace the journey and the fact that our options are unfathomably vast, complex, and messy, just as we are ourselves. And if that’s not enough to reassure you, it’s also worth mentioning that, in both Tears of the Kingdom and real life, simply doing what’s expected or what others are doing is just plain old boring. What’s the point in longing for a one-size-fits-all solution or life when you (or Cece) can create something beautiful and perfectly tailored to you?
At times, our troubles will be self-inflicted–much like electing to try to scale a rocky cliff with no stamina upgrades and rain in the forecast. Other times, misfortune will be out of our control, and sometimes, things will go far better than we ever could have anticipated. The real challenge will then be to savor that feeling rather than question it–to fight off guilt, imposter syndrome, and all the other thieves that occupy our mind. Throughout everything, your journey, what it has given you, and how you use these pieces of yourself, are nothing to be ashamed of.
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors.
GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.