I love Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom's new Hyrule Field theme, with the warmth of its full chords and then that gorgeous single synth note that always feels like it's just emerging, like the first rays of morning but sustained. It's not exactly a melody, but a held note that colours your gameplay with something lovely and almost lyrical, without leaving you stranded in lonely super-silence between piano notes.
I first heard it in a small clip before release and Had A Good Feeling. It's the kind of small thing that's enough to change the whole key of a game - maybe I could properly love this Zelda?
And how! Turns out this game is chords and fullness all the way down (and then all the way back up again). It's so lovingly, lavishly full fat and replete - yet also so snacky and moreish - that I've somehow played (and please don't tell the exam I was revising for in June) more than 200 hours.
Many things - like actually doing the dungeons, say, or even the final battle - feel like ages ago. The game is almost its own sequel, big enough to house its own seasons and epochs - the Do All The Stables phase, the Flower-Petal-Island phase, currently the Where The Hell Are The Wells phase - each a unique flavour. But within all this much-ness I've definitely felt two different, discrete kinds of love.
The first is the many dopamine moments of surprise and awe during the main journey, en route to Purah's final quest: The oh my god at the uncanny suspension as you first sail a Zonai Wing off a cliff edge (before that paperplane-lilt downwards). Or the no fucking way of loosing an arrow into the depths and watching it contrail down and down and down. Or the I cannot believe how fun this is, driving a vehicle made with pots and pans for ball-and-socket joints. Never mind that Colgera choir drop, or the Stable Trotters' Serenade that I now listen to in the car (and by listen I mean 'well up').
Oh and the Shrines! As in the Shrine Vibes. I could live in a Rauru's Blessing, all white-stone serene and northern lights greens compared to Breath of the Wild's harsher digital blue. And let me tell you, after getting used to the sea-shore pebble thing going on with their entrances, going back and seeing the old design is genuinely a bit of a shock. That shit looks like an HR Giger intestine.
And can I quickly mention how wonderfully busy the world looks this time round, not just in the way the draw distance and detail give it a sort of vivid clarity (like Breath of the Wild with glasses on - trust me, I've done the comparisons), or in the actual busyness of all the enemy camps and Hyrulians to-and-fro-ing. But also the way the landscape swathes are now broken up by all that angular debris of Sky Islands, giving it a more approachable videogame-y focus and specificity (even a bit of urban grass-verge-on-curb vibes, no?). A bit less Blank Indifference of (normie) Nature.
Just so much surprise and awe and chords and fullness and I literally kept thinking to myself while playing; this is a miracle of a game.
It's almost certainly a problem of my own self-pacing - I am not one of these leave the rest of the milkshake in the fridge for later people - but this world was so treacle-dense with distraction, it sometimes felt a bit asterix-and-footnote, with an undertug angst of to-dos. You're always somehow in a Venn diagram of distractions, giving me a low-level nag to resolve the tension of the (ever-growing) undone. A general scattered-ness that came from kablooming out of sky towers and fast-travelling between shrines and having to use weirdly Real Life skills of prioritisation and focus (sorry to all the camping Koroks I marked for later!).
So when I actually got to that final quest, I still felt like the adventure hadn't crested yet. It didn't feel rounded: I've only scratched the surface! I've not even fought a Gleeok Yet! (You see this a lot on forums)
This is when the other love started emerging. At the end of the adventure proper, I must've passed some critical threshold of Undone after all the main dungeons and story beats, and all at once there was space - like Link bursting through the cloud-ceiling to that bird's-eye quiet above, free to actually see the edges and feel the game out whole. Some pressure was off and the play was on.
Only then did I take Link's abilities for a proper stretch with skydive contests and tricksy Lynel Coliseums (and that surprisingly tight mine-cart target shoot on Death-Mountain because I wanted to get all 20). I soaked up all the flavour at the fringes, air-biking (with a Brightbloom on the front) around to do all the Lightroots and enjoying the close attention and engagement needed to find cave entrances to nearby shrines. I killed a lot of Gleeoks and committed a bit of a machine massacre on those Lurelin pirates (but I guess a whimsical massacre because this is Zelda?).
I've mentioned before that Zelda adventures are ones I love to play, but also to have played: that after-Zelda replete satisfaction. And this one is so playful - all that item-throwing, Ultra-hand-sticking, random-rock-fusing sense of responsiveness in the world - and just so full-full that I've kept on going. Even now I'm combing the surface, basically playing BOTW+, and there's still a felt dimensionality from having been through all those bespoke caves and darkened depths, from seeing Hyrule's peaks look aeroplane-window-small from an island high in the sky (then jumping off and squeezing R to plunge with that little focus pull that I cannot get enough of).
So I think I've enjoyed my second hundred hours more than the first. This extended encore, where the game has already hit so many peaks of surprise and delight (that ending!) that its place is sealed, the goodwill earned. Everything now inflected by affection. Any early caveats now moot. All small details suddenly interesting - slowly moving the camera around to admire the Zonai shield ripple like a besotted parent counting freckles.
(I have no idea if counting freckles is something parents actually do.)
Now when I sit down to play, I'm ticking off side quests not as something panicky or somehow productive but receptive, replenishing. Another excuse to engage with something brilliant, all chords and fullness. But I can't find the last well.