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‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ is already breaking records. What to know about the much-hyped video game

<i>From Nintendo of America/YouTube</i><br/>Link takes to the skies in
From Nintendo of America/YouTube
Link takes to the skies in "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom."

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

(CNN) — “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” is perhaps the most highly anticipated video game of the year. (In fact, it won that very award in 2022 – the wait has been long.)

And by all accounts, it’s living up to the hype: “Tears of the Kingdom,” released May 12, has already broken sales records, earned raves from experts like IGN and longtime “Zelda” fans, and driven some fans to take time off from work to dive into its intricate, enveloping world.

The very first “Zelda” game was released in 1986, and almost 40 years later, Link’s adventures are still enchanting gamers and infuriating those who don’t have over 100 hours to spend discovering the game’s many hidden treasures. Here’s what you need to know about the newest installment in the “Zelda” franchise, sans spoilers.

The quest is familiar, with surprises aplenty

Link, now a knight of the kingdom of Hyrule, just got done saving Hyrule in 2017’s acclaimed game, “Breath of the Wild.” But just when he thought he could hand up his green tunic, super-villain Ganondorf returns to wreak havoc, taking the wise Princess Zelda with him. Link sets out to find her – and to once again save Hyrule from one of its most prevalent threats.

But oh! Zelda has some surprises up her billowy sleeves: In the last trailer before “Kingdom’s” release, Zelda is seen wielding the Master Sword, Link’s famous weapon, and says ominously, “I know why I am here – it’s something only I can do.” Maybe she’ll be the one to save her kingdom? In its perfect-10 review, IGN said the plot is taken in “buck wild” directions at some points, with reveals and plot twists that would shock even the most devoted “Zelda” fan (the typical plot is: save Zelda, defeat Ganondorf, repeat).

There are other surprises in terms of gameplay and Link’s new powers. In an appearance on NPR, the Guardian’s video game editor Keza McDonald said that the game “lets you mess around with everything that you can find in the world.” That kind of open exploration and creative freedom is new for “Zelda.”

The game has already made history

Hype for “Tears of the Kingdom” was astronomical after “Breath of the Wild,” which received rapturous reviews upon its 2017 release. Critics praised it for its expansive world, impressive graphics and seemingly endless ways to die, survive and ultimately complete the game.

But “Tears of the Kingdom” seems to have surpassed its predecessor in terms of popularity and critical acclaim: It sold 10 million units in its first three days, Nintendo said, making it the fastest-selling “Zelda” game yet. It’s already the fastest-selling Nintendo game of any game system in the Americas (take that, Mario and “Animal Crossing”!).

‘Tears of the Kingdom’ is a time commitment

This game is a behemoth that demands your time: The main story takes about 51 hours to complete, IGN estimates. And if you’re a completionist, get ready to devote well over 100 hours to finish all the side quests and extras. As with several of the recent “Zelda” games, its creators expect its players to be somewhat well-versed in its complex world. Casual gamers, be warned.

The ‘legend’ itself is complex

Maybe you’ve never played “Zelda” before but this latest game and its astronomical hype have finally piqued your interest. Its lore is a bit knotty, but the gist of the titular “legend” goes like this, per the official “Zelda” site:

Three goddesses of power, wisdom and courage created the fictional world in which “Zelda” takes place. These goddesses made an object called the “Triforce,” with three triangles representing each of their virtues. Link was gifted the Triforce of Courage; Zelda possesses the Triforce of Wisdom. Villainous Ganondorf has the final Triforce: Power.

Link is tasked throughout the games with protecting Zelda, princess of Hyrule, usually from Ganondorf, who frequently tries to take over Zelda’s kingdom. (And yes, Link and Zelda’s relationship is vaguely romantic but mostly focused on the business of kingdom-keeping.) Characters are killed then reincarnated, and we meet them as young people and then adults in two timelines, depending on the game. It makes more sense when you play, but even then, it’s still a bit nebulous.

As for the specifics of this game and how it builds on the “Zelda” legend, we’ll save those surprises for players to discover some 50 hours in.

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