February 11, 2018
Good evening, good morning, or whenever you happen to be reading this. It might even be good Twilight. Probably not, but that would be more appropriate since this week I am going to take a look at Twilight Princess and its ups and downs. This will include both versions of the dual release, as they were the same game, but still I feel like when each version did something different, it’s worth noting. As usual, we will start with the graphics, then work our way through sound, gameplay, story, and then give an overall summary of why this game was/was not awesome. Don’t worry, though, most of it was pretty darn awesome.
While a few years previously Wind Waker had thrown us for a loop with its sudden shift to a cartoony, cel-shaded world, Twilight Princess felt more like what naturally should have come next after Ocarina of Time, as far as home console games are concerned. While I still personally prefer the art style in Ocarina, this felt like a more grown-up version of what I had been growing up with over the past ten years or so.
Overall the tone of all the artwork, as well as ingame aesthetics, was much darker than we had seen. I think the artwork in Majora’s Mask was the only one darker up to this point, however this did not show through within the game itself, whereas Twilight Princess managed to. I would honestly like to see the series return to this art style.
My one criticism is that the game did not age particularly well graphically. It’s still passable and playable, but I think the real issue was with the lighting. At the time, many games going for a darker feel suffered from this problem as well; in large parts of the game, they made it too dark. It was normal at the time, however going back after ten years, it is a shock to be unable to find yourself in a circular room. This one little nitpick bumps the game’s graphics down to a nine out of ten.
Who’s back? Koji Kondo is back. Along with Toru Minegishi, who had previously worked with Kondo on Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, the soundtrack came along quite nicely. This game has long been criticized for its lack of an orchestrated soundtrack, but I don’t think it suffered a bit. This was a transitional period wherein many franchises were going that direction, however the hardware at the time was not really capable of conveying the minutiae that differentiated orchestral and digital music. The few games I know had orchestrated soundtracks back in those days sounded great, but so did this game, so I don’t see it as a big deal. Once more powerful hardware came along, I feel like music jumped forward, but considering the limitations of the big three consoles at the time, (Playstation 2, Xbox, and GameCube) there was little distinguishable difference between this soundtrack’s quality and that of Halo 2.
Beyond that, the music was incredible. Every piece set the tone for what was going on, and through sheer magic, nearly every piece was the same tune just rearranged. If you listen to Midna’s Lament on the soundtrack alongside the theme in Gerudo Valley or the Snowpeak mountains, you’ll find that these are the same tune with different instrumentation and slight rhythm to match the tone and setting. Such a clever presentation has not been used in a game before or since, to my knowledge.
I also enjoyed that this game had very little reused music. Up until this point, the series had remade tunes to fit the same scenarios they did in games past for larger chunks of their score. Every piece I can think of in this game was one hundred percent original, and that gives it some extra points in my book. As much as I love the classics, the fact that they made a soundtrack just as memorable without using these is astounding in its own right. Perfect ten.
Remember how awesome I said the new sword techniques were in Wind Waker and Minish Cap? This game took everything from both of those games one step further. In addition to the simple-yet-satisfying parry controls, this game added a slew of other tactical techniques such as the shield bash, which could daze foes for a few seconds, and the mortal draw, which was a high-risk, high-reward one hit KO. Each addition felt fresh for the series, and again they were all a ton of fun to execute because of how badass Link looked while doing them, despite the simple controls.
Speaking of controls, this is the only portion of the game which differed drastically between the Wii and GameCube versions. I barely think it’s even worth noting, since both control schemes presented equally viable methods of slaying your foes. While I prefer the button presses on a traditional setup, I felt like the gimmick of actually swinging my sword and bashing with my shield (especially with add-on peripherals for my Wii remote and nunchuk) brought me a step closer to Hyrule. It wasn’t as precise as the commercials made it out to be, but it did end up aiding immersion. Swinging the Wii remote like mad added to the chaos of being attacked by a bajillion Bokoblins, and just felt really satisfying even if it was a gimmick. They both have their ups and downs, but really neither one is better than the other. For functionality, they may as well be treated as the same.
Something I have not noted in the past few articles in the series is the item selection. Not to say that any of these games had a terrible item selection, just few compare to the sheer number of unique items you find in Twilight Princess. Between the Ball and Chain, Spinner, and several others, this game brought several new items to life, and had perfect Zelda style puzzles to go with them. In addition, it made several key changes to old items to make them feel new. Fishing anywhere, while mind-numbingly easy, was kind of fun to see what species of fish dwelled within the various areas around Hyrule. I even once caught a skeleton fish in the Lakebed Temple. Try it sometime, you’ll thank me. Likewise, the double Clawshots made you feel like Spider Man zipping from one ledge to the next, improving on the already awesome Hookshot concept. No game has really mastered items like this one. Whether old or new, they were all uniquely employed to create the most versatile weapon set Link has ever seen in a 3D game, and arguably ever.
So as much as it sticks to what was great about the series and improved upon combat and items here and there, could this game do any wrong? I have a hard time criticizing it, because when it came out it was literally everything I wanted in a Zelda game except for having an open world. Still, on my second and every subsequent playthrough, the game just feels easy. Not like Kirby’s Epic Yarn easy, but certainly easier than the average Kirby title. My familiarity with the game after only a single run made it so that literally no foe was challenging, even on my first time attempting a three-heart run, which I accidentally made into an Iron Man challenge as well. If a game can’t kill me when I only have three hearts, it feels like a little bit of a let down. Largely the key to this was simply that enemies don’t deal much damage. In Ocarina of Time, Iron Knuckles had regular attacks that would deal four hearts worth of damage. Fighting an Iron Knuckle in Majora’s Mask, this damage would double to eight hearts. These are regular enemies! In Twilight Princess, literally nothing in the game can kill you in one shot, even on a three-heart run. After taking a hit, if you are clever with your item retrieval, there are always plenty of hearts around the room to keep you going.
It’s not really a major issue, but it still bugged me how easy this game was after only a few times through, especially relative to other games in the series. Not a huge gripe, but I would still bump it down to a nine out of ten.
Darkness, darkness, darkness. Oh wait, we’re talking about the story now, not the graphics. Hah! Seriously, though, this game did have some dark tones, and some harder hitting political intrigue thrown in, which really made it feel like a more “adult” version of Zelda. As an angsty teenager, this is exactly what I wanted at the time, and it quickly became my favorite story, but how does that hold up ten years later? Well I can safely say I still like the story a lot, but I have come to realize that I had a thing for any kind of story with evil spirits, occult dealings, or vampires, as long as it wasn’t Twilight. Still, after replaying the whole story when Twilight Princess HD released, I couldn’t help but be moved by its wonderful writing.
Political intrigue comes up seldom in the series, and when it does it’s usually just a dash thrown in to make a fun plot point for about five seconds and then everybody forgets there’s any kind of governing body around Hyrule. In this game, the politics of two realms were on the line constantly.
Our titular princess Zelda showed a very deep character, who attempted to do what she believed to be right in the name of her people, but made a grave mistake along the way. This seems very plausible for a young leader, and her grief at what she saw to be the death of the world made for a very moving scene. Despite just the moniker I just used for Zelda, I suppose Midna, the Twilight Princess, could also be considered the “titular princess.” Hers was a character that I did not like at first; brash, spiteful, even downright douchey. Over time, we saw how she had come to such a place in her life that those qualities seem to be a given, and her character grows over the course of the story. While I was not crazy about her as a companion, I did enjoy her very much as a character.
How about the villain, though? Did Zant make a great replacement for Ganon? What’s that? Oh, he would have but at the last minute Ganon stole the show and he didn’t matter anymore? Well that’s just a little awkward.
Ganon was great, and I loved the backstory he was given, especially with how it relates back to Ocarina of Time. There were so many incredible timeline theories back in the day trying to nail down just how things all pieced together, and this game (tied by Wind Waker) gave the most insight. Still, Zant had a compelling backstory and motivation, and was overall a cool villain until the last ten minutes of the game where suddenly he’s revealed to have been Ganon’s lackey the entire time. I feel like the unused potential for Zant as a final boss will forever haunt the cult fans of this title. Again, a minor gripe brings this down to a nine out of ten.
Well there we go, thirty-seven out of forty. A great game with so few gripes that I can’t help but enjoy it every time I play it, but just shy of perfection puts this in sixth place so far. What do you think? Did I give the music too much credit? Was the story’s one gripe made up for by how cute Agitha was? By all means, shout out to me on Twitter or in the comments below and we’ll keep the conversation paddling!
Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons: 40/40
Ocarina of Time: 40/40
Link’s Awakening: 40/40
A Link to the Past: 39/40
Wind Waker: 39/40
Twilight Princess: 37/40
Majora’s Mask: 33/40
Minish Cap: 31/40
The Legend of Zelda: 30/40
Four Swords: 28/40
Four Swords Adventures: 26/40
The Adventure of Link: 19/40