January 7, 2019
It’s been a while since my last article; working GameStop during the holidays eats up more time than you might think. A surprise hot seller during this holiday though was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, so I figured that’d serve as a good launch point for me to get back into this. Now as the title suggests, Twilight Princess is one of my favorite Zelda games, and impacted how I judge Zelda games both on the mechanics and design side of things. Give me just a moment of your time (or a few, I tend to write a lot), and I’ll show you what I mean.
The story of TP is a common basis for Zelda games, as they tend to go hand-in-hand with world ending scenarios (see: Breath of the Wild). This game starts in your sleepy little town of Ordon, painting a feel-good picture of Link’s quaint life as a farm hand. A sudden introduction to monsters and the Twilight Realm is a jarring transition that has a stark contrast to what you’ve seen thus far. Upon escaping the twilight and returning home, your once peaceful home is on its last leg, people are broken and injured, and it becomes very clear this isn’t the sunshine and pastels Wind Waker had before.
Your ensuing crusade against the twilight to reclaim your home feels like actual progress as you watch Hyrule return to relative normal, giving a sense of satisfaction. All the while you learn about this world’s lore of the legendary hero, fulfilling the prophecy now not just of your own realm, but that of the Twili as well. The only thing I wish was that the Twilight Realm was bigger and more fleshed out, letting us learn about it’s people like we can about the inhabitants of Hyrule outside of what little Midna decides to share with us.
Now we should address one of the elephants in the room: the graphics can at times be a bit… lackluster. As I addressed in my last article, some of the models of this game show the toll this world’s suffering is taking on them a little more than others, who look just as great as the world aesthetics (Hena from the Fishing pond?). The world itself though is absolutely gorgeous, with large imposing mountains and lush wondrous forests. The waterways of the world look so crisp and clear, especially in the spirit shrines, it makes even the water temple more bearable. Fast forward to the HD release on the Wii U, and everything looks beautiful, ESPECIALLY the Twilight and lighting effects.
Along with good visuals, you need good audio to elevate something from just a game to an experience. Twilight Princess was a game that, from a music standpoint, was good but not fantastic, when compared to other games. All of the soundtracks worked well, adding to the feel of the temple, town, or region you were in. However, for a game built to be wide and sprawling and “epic”, I feel it could’ve benefited from an orchestral track. Koji Kondo himself stated he initially wanted to make the game with an orchestra, so perhaps in a future release? Music aside, the ambient sounds fit TP’s world magically, making dungeons feel cramped and ominous, fields felt wild, and Castle Town actually felt like a busy town! The sounds of Twilight Princess make you feel more involved in the game, and it is consistent across the game.
The world that they crafted stood as a benchmark for future Zelda games as well: huge, diverse, and plenty of life. Sure, it started constricted by the blanket of twilight, but breaking that down and opening up more and more served as part of the story. The finished product of massive sprawling fields and plenty of places to find on foot or horseback has become a staple for the franchise (look at what Breath of the Wild did with it). They were able to hide all kinds of goodies in the world: great puzzles like the Ice Cavern, mini-games aplenty (I enjoyed the Clawshot cage, fight me), and all the enemies you can slay. Ocarina of Time introduced this world-type, and BoTW really expanded upon it, but TP really innovated on it first.
The biggest thing playing to TP’s advantage was their dungeons, which included some of the best puzzles. The Forest Temple, Arbiter’s Grounds, and Snowpeak Ruins all felt creepy, Temple of Time and the City in the Sky felt majestic and ancient, I didn’t hate the Lakebed Temple (which is a statement considering the traditionally frustrating Zelda water temples). The Palace of Twilight and Hyrule Castle had good, somber end-game feels to them with some epic fights. However, they also felt like teasers to what could’ve been, and maybe could still be if they decide to expand upon them in some future sequel (an idea discussed on our Discord that you can join via the link down below). The two things I loved more than those two, though, were the Cave of Ordeals and Cave of Shadows. Skill-test dungeons and boss rushes are fun to me, and a good test of your mettle to prove to yourself and others how strong you have become (Wind Waker has a good one too).
Now on the topic of combat and skills, I have to gush about the depth of the fighting introduced in Twilight Princess. Beforehand, Zelda combat was defined largely by straightforward swordplay, and a few items that you CAN use to vary it up. Now we have introduced a solid arsenal of items, some unique and powerful (Ball & Chain), and some just for fun (Spinner, I enjoy it, don’t @ me). More than that though, swordplay has expanded so much it is fascinating, and no other game in the franchise has yet shown as much variation in combat, even BoTW. The seven “Hidden Skills” range from basics that feel natural, to completely epic and worth every risk (i.e. Mortal Draw). Oh yeah, you can also do the uber cool spinning sword sheath after a killing blow and it makes you feel like a god at any point in the game.
Speaking of epic fights, what would make a Zelda game more of a Zelda game than big, intense, epic battles? Fyrus and Stallord were raging beasts, Morpheel was a monstrous beast straight out of Shadow of the Colossus, two shadow kings in Zant and Ganon, and let’s not forget…. A DRAGON! And not an overgrown tapeworm named Volvagia, a real, bona fide, fire breathing tyrant of the skies; the very definition of epic. Even beyond the bosses, you’ve got powerful and intense mini-boss fights in the back half of the game with Death Sword, Darkhammer, Darknut, and Aeralfos (who is frustrating). The reoccurring enemy in King Bulbin was also a nice touch; a powerful force who just refuses to die, and in the end acknowledges your strength as the hero. The final two bosses served as such strong contrasts but both suited their characters perfectly. Zant was a spoiled and wild brat, very unpredictable and changed his fighting style with each new setting. My only real complaint with him was that he didn’t use more magic, being the big bad and usurper king of the Twilight Realm, I was hoping for some ancient and forbidden magic of his people.
Ganon however, was everything I had hoped for in a final boss fight, taking everything Nintendo had learned thus far and making him the true King of Darkness he was meant to be. Controlling Zelda and forcing us to fight the princess with restraint (though it would’ve had more meaning if we could’ve established more connection with her). Dark Beast Ganon giving us a chance to fight him with our wolf form was a cool change of pace and a nice way to tie in a mechanic which at times felt left behind. A horseback battle that ensued was something that is often missing from the franchise, and while the archer fire was annoying, it was fitting to feel like you were a pair standing against an army. The final fight though, an epic no-holds-barred sword clash against Ganondorf, with epic sword clashes, intense dodges and parries, it was amazing. I spent more time goading Ganon into a sword clash to stroke my ego and fuel my head-cannon than anything else in the entire sequence. He is the final fight, the last obstacle, so it’s only right that the most powerful enemy in the game have a multi-tiered battle that forces you to pull out all the stops and drag you to your limit.
Now as with any game, Twilight Princess is not a perfect, infallible work, so it’s only fair we look at the major glaring drawbacks as well (aside from cannon shop guy). I really only have three major gripes with this game, and one of them is a love/hate relationship: Wolf Link. Transformation was a fantastic concept, and at times it felt integral to the game both in exploration and puzzle solving and in combat. HOWEVER, it did not always feel necessary, and getting into the late game it started to become less useful as compared to using your items, so when I tried tackling the end of the Cave of Shadows, I almost felt disadvantaged with it. A Link Between Worlds integrated the wall merge ability perfectly to the point of feeling natural, and that’s what the game needs for Wolf Link.
My second major gripe is more wishful thinking: they missed a HUGE opportunity to add Dark Link. He could’ve served as a perfect, PERFECT enemy for either of the end castles, or a final trial before reaching the Master Sword. Lastly, and this is one of the most common criticisms of the game: the economy is incredibly broken in TP. The end game shows nothing to use rupees on, aside from the Magic Armor which, while useful, feels more like a (not-so) cheap escape from it. Fix all of that, and Twilight Princess becomes a masterful game telling an epic story from start to finish (well, maybe the end with Ganon was rushed a bit).
All in all Twilight Princess ranks among my favorites for many reasons, and I could gush about this game all day long. This game released on three different consoles for good reason, being one of the greatest entries in the series. Now this doesn’t top Breath of the Wild for me by any means, but if Nintendo takes the strengths of this game and uses them to improve upon it we could see one of the best titles to date. If you have differing opinions or want to discuss more at length, follow me on Twitter or join the TGPZ Discord server, we can talk about this stuff all day!