THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS – Review
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TWILIGHT PRINCESS is a videogame developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo GameCube. The Nintendo Wii version was played for this review. It was directed by EIJI AONUMA.
This article contains the following types of spoilers:
We from the Nightmare Mode would also like to spoil the following review and say that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a good game and you should play it if you can.
The trick about reviewing a game is realizing that the value of the opinion you once stated will depreciate as fast as the more games you play. Case in point is the Legend of Zelda franchise. After finishing I played Ocarina of Time (OoT), I was pretty sure I had just experienced the best game of all time. Then along came Majora’s Mask (MM) and blew me away. While returning to OoT after playing MM certainly didn’t erase the strong impression I once had, I cannot say OoT is the best game of all time anymore. As I write this, I believe Majora’s Mask is still one of the greatest games of all time, while Ocarina of Time, which became the standard for these kinds of 3rd person adventure games, is one of the genre’s greatest.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is technologically superior to both games and yet it’s neither a great game nor a genre great. It is just a good game. This may be funny considering I recently said a technologically flawed game like No More Heroes was great, while a technologically perfect game like Twilight Princess (TP) is not; but then again, that only shows that, for me, games are more than its graphics, sounds and gameplay capabilities combined. I will explain that later, though. Right now I believe I’m supposed to describe how the game is played.
Here is where I tell you what the game is about
TP, like any other Zelda game, stars the chosen hero Link in a quest to save the kingdom. His quest consists of finding something called a dungeon, which is a self-conscious puzzle populated by enemies. Inside, he must find a new item for his arsenal, find and defeat the dungeon’s boss and collect a trinket (thus beating the dungeon). By doing that, he will liberate the passage for the next dungeon. This process is iterated until, instead of a trinket, you find the game’s ending. By finding a new arsenal item at each dungeon, you can access more places of the kingdom, which allows you to find more upgrades. And that’s that.
The main gameplay difference this time is that you can transform into a wolf. Unlike boat sailing in Wind Waker, and the time traveling in OoT and MM, your lycanthropy doesn’t substantially change how you play the game: you merely receive new abilities and lose your capability to make other people talk to you.
Here is where I tell you why I think about the game the way I do
The biggest problem of TP is that was clearly a game made for fans. This is a bad policy. If you are a fan, then it’s because there was something in the original game that you liked and it’s only natural that you will ask for more of that in a sequel. Thus, fans will always want more of the same, which is a no-win situation. Since you are not expanding the game’s mythos, the best you can hope for is a tie, simply because you would be unable to surprise your fans with stuff that they didn’t know they wanted. After the last Zelda game for a console, Wind Waker (WW), fans wanted a more realistic approach, similar to what they had found in OoT. That’s what they got with TP and that’s why TP is not a great game. It is merely an exercise in repetition.
The frustration I felt playing the game wasn’t because of its repetitive nature itself. Rather, it was because Nintendo sabotaged the few moments where the game was trying something new. This is like an actor feeling stage fright at the SECOND act of a play. The actor is too much of a coward to continue and goes home, while I’m left watching some stand-in at the theater.
The soul of Twilight Princess is Midna. While your previous quest companion, Navi of OoT, didn’t have an existence of her own (she exists in function of Link’s quest and, as the quest ends, so does she); Midna is a deeper and darker character. She starts the game with an agenda of her own and little regard for Link, but changes through the game (even though the trigger for such change is a bit unrefined). Twilight Princess is about the development of your relationship with Midna. Her opposite is Zant, who is a very strong character himself – but the developers didn’t appear to think the same. Therefore, in the middle of the game, he is upstaged by Ganon, a villain whose main attribute is being better known. The worse part is that this isn’t the humanized Ganondorf from WW, that gave soliloquies to children clearly too young to comprehend it. The creature that usurps TP is Ganon as force of nature wearing the I’m evil sign on his neck. Gone are the ambiguous shades of gray consisting of Midna’s and Zant’s motivations. We then find ourselves back to the land of black and white.
Rusl‘s resistance group is one more sabotaged idea. The resistance that was supposed to give the player the impression he is not fighting alone, and that are others in Hyrule unhappy with the current state of affairs. But this goes to naught as the only moment they actually help you is in a non-consequential cutscene – which is a step backwards after the way more substantial help you received from characters of WW during dungeons.
Another interesting aspect of the game is the beginning. I’m not talking about how crazy the village cat acts when you first try to give him a fish, leaving you to wonder on the reasons why the feline didn’t accept it (the easy answer: cats are stupid like that). I’m talking about its unusual length. The original The Legend of Zelda starts with some old guy giving you a sword from the get-go, because it simply was too dangerous to go alone; Zelda II simply starts with your motivation: there is a princess lying inside a temple and off you go to face monsters; The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (aLttP) opens with you hearing a princess in your sleep, your uncle gone and then you must sneak in a castle under a thunderstorm. Twilight Princess, on the other hand, starts with… your normal life: a lengthy routine of Link’s daily activities. Only after the occurrence of an odd kidnapping, that doesn’t feel very related with the rest of the game, is when Link finally embarks on his journey. It’s not a compelling start.
Many times, I wondered why that prologue was so long. I first thought it was for the player to create a better bond with Ilia, but the game quickly takes her predicament out of the way. This is a pity because without Ilia, the game lacks a good damsel in distress, which is the series’ main motivational factor once Link doesn’t have anybody else but the final boss to defeat. Zelda’s appearances are distanced and rare and Midna is pretty independent on her own, so neither of them serves the part. Perhaps the village represented the lifestyle Link was trying to defend, but the classic Zelda ending (the hero must ride on…) proves that false as well. In the end, I think the beginning is long only for the sake of being long. It ends up creating the perfect motivation for Link to go adventuring: because he is bored.
The Legend of Zelda series can be explained as an ever-going Hero’s Journey. Link receives his call to adventure as soon as some crazy spirit calls him the Chosen One, he rides forth, never looking back. There are no revelations to be atoned, ergo Link never changes, which is why you must always ride away at the end of any recent Zelda game. Maybe Link is destined to always find new adventures because he is destined never to find that revelatory moment. Or perhaps he is just really really sick of being a farmer.
From the point of view of the game’s design, the reason Link was always and will forever be the chosen one is to avoid giving him more layers – thus making him an avatar more able to “merge” with different types of players. Link is a man of obvious emotions because he should only be reflecting what the gamer was obviously supposed to feel. Because our protagonist is only a reactor, this places the burden of the entire game on the NPCs’ shoulders, and while Midna is able to rise to the occasion at some moments, the rest of the cast falls flat. This brings another problem that became explicitly evident in TP (because repetition makes what was annoying even more annoying): the fact that Link is so unable to display anything but the most obvious emotions makes him the perfect village idiot.
Everybody in Hyrule exists only to ask for favors they could easily do themselves – but why would them, when there is the perfect village idiot running around thinking he is the chosen one to do it for them? TP, in fact, comes one step closer to the evil tenet of pointless labor, perfected in Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64: make every favor longer and dragged on while reducing the reward.
There are some steps in the right direction though. Some more care is shown to try to justify the existence of some dungeons – instead of simply reusing clichÃ©s themes whose existence itself is random. For instance, the Arbiter’s Grounds dungeon was supposed to be a prison (with no cells?), while Snowpeak Ruins is a mansion where a NPC lives. More arbitrarily themed dungeons like the [Name of an Element] Temples are there to evoke their counterparts of OoT (which were also almost never justified). Now why the trinket you have to collect to advance the game is hidden inside those dungeons is anyone’s guess.
Another high point is some of the bosses. They are not particularly hard, but still are delightful to confront. I enjoyed how elegant and unique some of the fighting mechanics were designed. On the other hand, the bosses’ theatrical introduction and presence is better done in other recent games.
Also good is the Cave of Ordeals dungeon. This is this game’s Pit of 100 Challenges where you must fight one enemy after the next until you reach the goal, die trying or retreat and restart all over again. This segment breaks the normal exploration pacing of the game and returns to the source of difficulty of dungeons from the original Zelda: the path to follow is quite clear – but can you make it? As you go deeper into the cave’s bowels, your potions are used, your arrows and bombs arsenal grows thin, you life is hanging on a single heart and the harder enemies are still ahead! This is an almost cathartic moment that due to the cave’s optional nature, suffers the risk of being passed by unnoticed.
Finally, the minigame Rollgoal is pretty fun. I spent a LOT of time with that thing.
Here is where I tell you my opinions about what others said about the game
In general, all other reviews from the interwebs for Twilight Princess quickly realized the nature of the beast: that this ride was meant to evoke Ocarina of Time and draws its fuel mostly from fulfilling a feeling of nostalgia. They differed mostly on how they condemned or praised the game for it and the degree of scrutiny over the new Wii controls. Myself, I wasn’t bothered or marveled enough by them to make any related comment.
Jeremy Parish from 1up, for example, was very forgiving with TP’s formulaic approach, and dismissed it by implying this is what the game should be as a successor to Ocarina of Time and that, although it gives a sense of dÃ©vÃ -vu, the game never feels lazy. I agree that the problem with the game is certainly not laziness – Aonuma’s team clearly poured their hearts out on the design of each dungeon – but the game’s problem is another: lack of courage. Jeremy also feels the game is strongly reminiscent of aLttP’s Dark World because of the Twilight Realm, but I just didn’t see that, as both places differ in both function and nature. Their main (and perhaps only, I believe) similarity is their darker color palette.
From Gamespot, Jeff Gerstmann delivered a very odd review. It was built mainly on complains, and yet the score they gave the game was oddly high. The sheer arbitrarity of a score disguised as fake science is the reason why I am loath to use them. His review is otherwise pretty vanilla, which is something that bothers me about the Gamespot reviews in general: I have often the impression they are written by following some review questionnaire that directs them to what they should look after in a game. The result is a review with no personality.
Matt Casamassina‘s review from IGN is something else altogether. Casamassina wrote very passionately about the game, but it sometimes felt like borderline fellatio with him going out of his way to defend the game’s apparent shortcomings. This defensiveness is interesting as it gives the impression Matt was still trying to convince himself of the game’s greatness. Example: Matt addresses possible complaints about TP’s similarity with OoT firstly by saying that the complaint would only be made because the basic play style is familiar and because some faces and places return and then by concluding that such criticisms are unfounded because they seem to suggest that Zelda’s masterful control mechanics should be changed simply for the sake of being different. I respond by saying that the similarity with OoT goes beyond play style and characters – the pacing, the objectives, how you battle the final enemy among other things is almost identical. What I don’t see how that criticism is unfounded as I’m yet to grasp the leap of logic necessary to suggest a problem with the game’s control mechanics. He then proceeds to highlight all the points the game brought something new: arsenal, temples, locations and the new gimmick (lycanthropy). I feel that these are the stuff that obviously must be different for the game to be considering a new Zelda game. I mean, how could we even call the next Zelda game new, if it had exactly the same arsenal, temples and locations, as well as Link’s wolf mechanics of Twilight Princess?
His biggest complain is part from the usual Matt Casamassina fare: the game lacked voice-acting. I’m not sure about that. I think the game needed more interesting characters like Midna first. However, I don’t deny that, when well-done, voice acting is always an interesting asset (even with foreign languages).
Project COE‘s Ahmad Mosly also wrote an overly positive review. I agree with it regarding how Midna is a great improvement from WW’s King of the Red Lions as Nintendo’s tag-along character, but I don’t quite agree when it when it says TP is an evolution of OoT. Sure, graphics are better and, by definition, it is already implied that every next-gen game must be an evolution of some sort over the current-gen game; but Mosly justifies this statement by asserting that Twilight Princess dwarfs all the past installments in terms of size – and this is not what evolution is! This is simply what happens when you eat a lot of cake!
In the end, Mosly thanks Nintendo for listening to the fans and making a legend, which made me feel embarrassingly uncomfortable – just like being sober at the karaoke bar.
I hope Nintendo doesn’t listen to fans for the next Zelda. I don’t want the next Zelda to be another Ocarina of Time, another Twilight Princess or another Majora’s Mask. What I want is the next Majora’s Mask.
Other reviews for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that were citied: