This accessibility review for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will attempt to avoid spoilers wherever possible. There may be some minor mention of locations or mechanics, but only where necessary to discuss an aspect of accessibility in the title.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is somewhat of a bookend title for the Nintendo Switch, releasing toward the end of the system’s life in contrast to Breath of the Wild at the system’s launch.
While some small improvements have been made with regards to accessibility in Tears of the Kingdom compared to Breath of the Wild, the improvements seen are incredibly minor, and stand to highlight how little has changed in the past six years, with regards to Nintendo’s approach to supporting disabled players.
Let’s start off with a positive – Tears of the Kingdom does not feature mandatory motion controls. Where Breath of the Wild occasionally featured Shrines containing “apparatus” that needed the player to use motion controls to rotate an object in 3D space, often quickly and accurately, Tears of the Kingdom does away with this mechanic entirely.
For players who benefit from motion controls when aiming, that is still an option that’s available in Tears of the Kingdom, but motion control aiming can be switched off if it causes problems for you personally.
In the place of motion controlled object rotation, Tears of the Kingdom allows players to rotate objects in 3D space, usually while orienting them to fuse together with the new UltraHand ability, by using the four D-Pad directional inputs to rotate the object in 45 degree increments.
I really struggled with object rotation in Tears of the Kingdom at first, finding it cumbersome and a barrier to play. This did get easier once I realised that there is an option to invert an item’s horizontal and vertical rotation directions independently. For me, inverting horizontal rotation helped make the system mentally click.
That said, there is still a learning curve to rotating objects using the D-Pad. You have to get used to rotating an object around only two axis of rotation, which sometimes requires rotating into a position that will allow manipulation of a diagonal plane, then rotating back to where you were. It gets easier with practice, but it can be an initial hurdle to overcome. You have to learn how to think about object rotation with a limited number of axis that you can rotate on.
Camera rotation direction can also be inverted, and camera sensitivity can both be increased and decreased.
There is now also a recipe book available in Tears of the Kingdom, allowing players to look up how to make any meal that they’ve previously made in game, which can be useful if you struggle with memory sometimes like I do.
This is, unfortunately, where I have to talk about some of the areas of Tears of the Kingdom’s design that are less accessibility friendly, and are liable to be barriers to progression for a number of players.
The first thing that I want to highlight, a major issue that Nintendo is repeatedly guilty of perpetuating, is the presence of at least one sidequest in Tears of the Kingdom that is designed to be solved using audio, which does not provide a visual alternative method to solve it.
This particular quest involves following the sound of a voice by rotating Link, and walking, and seeing which direction and which movements make the voice louder as you approach your destination.
The quest is theoretically able to be brute force solved, you can simply wander around the general area until you by luck stumble upon the solution, but the fact that no visual clues were given to the player is really disappointing. I cannot confirm if there are more instances of this in the game, but it does happen at least once, as part of a quest with narrative implications and that is required to unlock a valuable piece of equipment.
Much like Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom lacks an option seen in past Zelda games, to switch enemy lock-on from a button hold to a toggle. This used to be a mainstay feature of the 3D Zelda series, and seeing that feature go away is disappointing.
Your in-game HUD can be made less cluttered, hiding visual elements from view, but it cannot be made any larger or more clear.
Message windows, thankfully, can be given a darker and less transparent background.
Talking in vague terms about an area in Tears of the Kingdom that wasn’t shown in great detail before release, there is a pretty large area of the Tears of the Kingdom map that is, by design, deliberately very dark, and visually difficult to navigate at first, even for players with strong eyesight. If you have reduced vision strength, this area may well cause some issues during play. There are items that can help increase visibility in this area, as well as steps that can be taken to improve general visibility, but these options are balanced in such a way as to make the area still somewhat dark, even with mitigation in place.
Moving on to a location shown off much more in trailers, the Sky Islands in Tears of the Kingdom often offer a really enjoyable degree of puzzle platforming challenge, but can cause some issues for players who, like myself, struggle with hand-eye coordination.
Some sections of the Sky islands, particularly lengthy climbs to major objectives or rare rewards, can involve traversing over multiple large gaps without any kind of safety net. Missing one jump, or stepping off a ledge accidently, doesn’t result in you taking damage and being reset to the last piece of land you stood on, the game seamlessly sees you fall back down toward Hyrule’s surface. While you can warp back to the nearest shrine or fast travel point in the sky, this will sometimes be a considerable trek away from where you fell.
There are a couple of potential ways this can be mitigated, but they’re both a little bit of an investment of time for the player.
Tears of the Kingdom does feature very generous autosaves, but also allows for manual save points to be created. If you save before a major jump, or each time you reach a new sky island successfully, you can reload a save upon falling off of a ledge to put you back where you were.
Alternatively, there is an option to unlock a movable custom fast travel point, which can be set on the ground before you attempt a leap between islands, and be fast travelled to upon failure. However, this custom fast travel point is locked behind a quest, and not clearly signposted. It can be found fairly early in the game, but it’s not obvious in how it’s unlocked.
If you want info on where the custom fast travel item can be found, feel free to Tweet @ LauraKBuzz for information.
Finally, I want to talk about something a bit more subjective, the implementation of Weapon Durability in Tears of the Kingdom.
For players who struggled with Breath of the Wild’s weapon durability system, because it incentivised not using your strongest weapons, and definately disincentivised ever using any unique or one of a kind weapons, Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t remove the Weapon Durability system, but does change it in ways that may help to reduce some of the choice paralysis present in Breath of the Wild.
Tears of the Kingdom moves away from unique one of a kind weapons that you’re afraid to use because they’re irreplaceable, and instead toward providing the player with a constant stream of replaceable franken-weapons.
The game’s new Fuse mechanic, which allows for fusing any in-game item within reason to your sword, shield, or arrows, serves to make every weapon in the game feel more disposable, and quickly replaceable on the fly. The base weapon that you’re using is, ultimately, a lot less important than the equipment that you choose to attach to it in the heat of the moment. Your in game inventory is likely to be packed before long with weapon blade horns, which are a near guaranteed drop from many monsters, meaning that if your weapon breaks mid fight, a tree branch picked up off the floor and a monster horn that’s shaped like a blade and is already in your inventory should make for a durable enough and decently strong weapon in a pinch. Throughout the whole adventure you’re constantly picking up pockets full of essentially weapon type modifiers that can add bludgeoning, elemental magic, or just raw damage numbers to a weapon. Even if your weapon base is weak, having something strong in your pockets to add onto it should get you out of many situations.
Weapons in Tears of the Kingdom are more customisable, but in my opinion they’re more disposable. I found it personally easier to avoid stressing over perfection with Tears of the Kingdom’s implementation of weapon durability, but I can see that this solution isn’t going to suit everyone, or universally fix the issue for every kind of person who found it stressful in Breath of the Wild. Weapons will still inevitably break, and there is still a degree of incentive to save your best weapons for later rather than simply using them now. But, the knowledge that a broken weapon frees up a slot to try something new, like seeing if putting Meat on a magic wand will let you cast Meat Magic or not, makes weapon breaking to me feel like an exciting opportunity rather than simply a punishment.
At the time of making this video, I feel like I’m only just starting to scratch the surface of what Tears of the Kingdom has to offer. There may well be things that I have missed in my short time with the game, but right now these are the aspects of the game that stand out from an accessibility perspective.
While I am glad that Tears of the Kingdom does feature some ways to mitigate design elements from Breath of the Wild that caused issues for some disabled players, i’s still somewhat disappointing to see some of the major issues this game has for disabled players. In particular, the presence of a puzzle intended to be solved using audio, without any visual alternative solving method, is the kind of thing that any game developer at this point should know not to be repeating.