I have a long history with Zelda. My first encounter with it was in the mid-90s when my family had acquired an NES and we were looking for new games to rent. Though to this day he won't admit to it, my dad chose Zelda as his rental option on a particular rental trip. I don't think he played much, but my brothers and I were hooked. Since then, Zelda has been a cornerstone of our gaming lives, staying on top of most every release (main line releases, at least). To this day, I consider the SNES's A Link to the Past to be one of the greatest games ever made. As a kid, it took a whole year to complete that game. Zelda was all the time ever time. In adulthood, Zelda was not quite as all consuming as a kid, but still there. A new game would come out, I'd play it to completion for two or three dozen hours, and then I'd move one.
Then Nintendo releasd Breath of the Wild.
In some ways, it's barely a Zelda game. It has various proper nouns that have been a part of the series since forever, but the refined narrative and gameplay mechanics that took root in the SNES/N64 era of games was mostly gone. But, it's also the most Zelda-like game, the OG Zeldas where you roam around and discover the vast world you've been set in. There's a reason it took a year to finish ALttP (beyond being limited to playing twenty minutes at a time): there's a lot of nooks and crannies to check out. Somehow, Breath of the Wild had successfully translated this to a modern setting. Run towards a tower you haven't actived but be distracted by ten cool looking things on the way there until you've wandered so far off course, you don't even remember what you were doing originally. And it manageed to keep doing that for dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay. I played that game for over a hundred hours before I finally threw up my hands and decided to actually finish the main story. I could've done that at any point, but there was just so much to see.
And then they released a sequel to that game.
Surely, lightning could not strike twice. But, as I look at the play time for Tears of the Kingdom, I've put in a load more hours than I did Breath of the Wild. Not only is there that giant world from the original game to re-explore with all the changes that come with the narratives big Upheaval, but an entire uverground of the same size and a vast amount of stuff floating around in the sky. It's easy enough to get in the zone running around chasing down shrines, then doing light root exploration underground, or floating around from island to island tracking down god knows what. You can do that for five minutes or hours. Some of the best video game playing I've ever done and I really don't want to finish the main story line, even though all I have left is to defeat the big baddie.
And yet, I don't know if I'll ever feel the same way about Tears of the Kingdom or its predecessor how I feel about A Link to the Past. While it's come close to giving me a sense of the child-like wonder I felt playing that game in the 90s, it doesn't consume my every thought.
Probably because everything as a kid is a million times more magical and all I want now is to sleep and take an adequate shit.