Highly satisfying evolution without the revolution.
Originally released: 2007
Reviewed on: Nintendo GameCube
When The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was first unveiled at E3 in 2004, it was a priceless moment that had fans besides themselves with joy at what they were witnessing. The clip itself will likely be referenced for years to come as one of the great E3 moments, but how does the game itself shape up after huge backlash and low sales as a result of the graphical style for the (superb) Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker? It seems as if Nintendo has decided to listen to the public by crafting a loving but slightly conservative game that enjoys many excellent moments mixed in with areas of inconsistencies.
Small (and Slow) Beginnings
Inevitably, each Zelda game will get instantly compared to previous titles in the series and although Wind Waker is the last entry, once you play Twilight Princess the most obvious comparison will be Ocarina of Time. The beginning of TP, in all honesty, is rather disappointing regardless of if you have played Ocarina of Time or not. The game shares many similarities with OOT throughout and the tutorial prompted start is no exception, although TP lacks the charm – and the impact that it had at its time of release – that OOT has in it first moments. You are likely to notice that there is a large amount that is inspired by or very closely reflected in TP’s gameplay design. However, rather than make this a constant comparison with previous games, let’s look at this as its own game and simply point out that TP uses OOT as a template from which it operates. Instead of Kokiri Forest, TP starts Link off in Ordon Village; a place with a friendly setting in which you can learn some basic gameplay functions. Disappointingly, going through some of these functions can feel a little dry and is hampered by its linearity. Whilst the option of taking simple routes in order to tease out gameplay elements does not need to be prosaic in itself, the setting can at times be uninspired and is likely to speed up your urgency to leave the village rather than enjoy it.
Despite these misgivings, you will eventually learn / relearn the basics for what you need to set forth on your adventure. In the midst of doing this, you will meet several of the village folk and are likely to warm to them in due course. There are some interesting conversational exchanges between the characters and the impression of creating a living world is helped with some pleasing character animation. Link displays a variety of emotions that always feel in keeping with his character and fit the mood nicely. In terms of moving around, the controls are responsive and there feels like a satisfying weight to each action that is made. Whilst not tailor made for a game like this, the excellent GameCube controller more than ably performs what you need and is comfortable for the long duration that you are likely to be playing this for.
The story properly begins as the village is attacked by a group of bulbins and one of the villagers is taken prisoner. This is when TP hints at its cinematic quality and gets you excited to see more of what it has to offer. The graphical style is rather restrained around Ordon Village and can look a bit ‘muddy’ in some parts but this does not show the true quality of what the game has to offer. The decision to go with the public’s demands and aim for a realistic art style has given the developers many challenges but has not completely limited the creativity. Upon Link’s efforts to chase after his kidnapped friend, he is instead pulled into a twilight realm which results in his transformation into a wolf. This also marks your first encounter with the mysterious creature, Midna. After another (more brief) tutorial section to familiarise you with the controls for the wolf, you’re treated to a lovely cut scene to open up a grander story and leave you wanting to find out more.
You’ll soon be set off into the traditional Zelda structure involving completion of dungeons interspersed with discovering new towns / villages whilst opening up new side quests. Whilst this might not sound revolutionary (it’s not), once TP gets into its stride it works to this formula remarkably well. Midna acts as this entry’s guide and, for the best part, is an excellent companion. There’s an edge to the dynamic between Link and Midna that can leave you mistrusting of her on occasion but, with no other option, the pair work in unison throughout the game and develop a rewarding companionship with genuinely interesting story progression.
TP is not a complex story with shocking twists, but it does the best job yet of creating cinematic moments that wrap you up in its plot and engage you with its world. For this reason, I’ll avoid unwrapping story specifics and keep it to the basics in that Hyrule has been invaded by a major threat from another realm – the ‘Twilight’ realm. This force is led by an unknown (to Link) character named Zant. This has resulted in the kingdom of Hyrule becoming encased in twilight, and it is up to Link and Midna to reverse this process. Link’s eventual ability to switch between wolf and human form opens up some useful and fun gameplay mechanics that act as the main ‘gimmick’ driving this game. But to use the word gimmick makes the game sound cheap in a way that it certainly is not. The game feels like a blockbuster and more epic than any other Zelda game to date.
This feeling is often demonstrated when navigating and concluding your journeys in each of the game’s dungeons. The layouts are thoughtfully constructed and present puzzles to enhance your experience as opposed to obstacles or hindrances to fill your time. Nothing is put in your way to slow your journey for the sake of being there. Instead, puzzles are centred around particular themes executed to give you a great gaming experience. It is within this, however, that I will highlight a minor criticism in that some items that are gained within dungeons are useful mostly only to that dungeon and there is little need or incentive to use them again in the game. Whilst this makes their use slightly more fun when solving puzzles in that dungeon, it does fill your inventory with items that may later appear more decorative than useful. This observation does not significantly detract from the gameplay however, and the items that you find are either satisfyingly refined versions of older staples or creative new ones that introduce exciting new mechanics. The Arbiter’s Grounds is an example of a very well designed dungeon with a creative new item that drastically alters parts of the setting and also how you fight the main boss. This is one of my favourite parts of the game and hints at how creative Zelda’s developers can still be even when working to a relatively set formula.
In addition to the dungeons themselves, each dungeon boss is a strength of TP. I feel that this is where Nintendo have married a more realistic style with inventive mechanics that blend to create a pleasingly cinematic and fun experience for the player. The ‘igniter’ boss Fyrus does a great job of giving you this feeling whilst arachnid Armogohma gives you nostalgic pleasure in an updated battle sequence and Stallord from the aforementioned Arbiter’s Grounds is another fantastic set piece. This is before I mention the grand scale of a fight with the dragon Argorok or even the fittingly epic climactic battle at Hyrule Castle. I’m sure that you can gather that I was more than happy with how the developers handled each of the game’s bosses. In terms of challenge, the aim appears to be solving how to defeat each boss as opposed to enduring a nerve-wrecking marathon of a playthrough. This keeps things fun and holds true to a the cinematic feel of the game, but may not appease hardcore gamers seeking sadistic pleasure!
Even if you were to complete boss fights quickly and solve dungeon puzzles without too much trouble then you will still get a great amount of content through TP. There are numerous side quests to keep you occupied and, whilst some fetch quests can feel a tiny bit more of a chore than you’d like for a Zelda game, most feel refreshingly varied and fun to complete. The howling stones found throughout the map provide the series’ latest ‘musical’ foray by utilising the howling of Link in wolf form. After each stone is activated then you will be given the location of a golden wolf on your map. When you find this wolf you can unlock new fighting skills by training with an ancient warrior. Have fun making your own guesses as to who this mysterious warrior might be. In addition to earning new skills, you’ll spend some time enjoying various flight based activities (yes, cucco flight might also be involved!), canoeing, playing mini games and a whole lot of fishing! Technically, each of these are optional quests but it’s very likely that you’ll find most of them fun enough that you’ll want to complete them out of appreciation for their own merit, rather than feeling like you have an obligation to do them for completion’s sake. All in all, the content outside of the main quest is impressive and suitably enhances the enjoyment of the core story by providing gameplay that appropriately contrasts some of the more serious aspects of Link’s journey.
Whilst a lot of care and attention has clearly gone into ensuring a grand adventure for Link in the gameplay mechanics, what about the music? Does it complement the story and is it fitting to the graphical stylings? Personally, I would say that the answers are mostly yes, although I feel that there are some minor areas where the music could have been more specifically tailored or built upon to match the cinematic quality of the set pieces. This, however, I critique to be fussy and I should state that I feel, for the most part, that TP’s music is satisfying and will add to your enjoyment of the game. For example, Midna’s theme is very pleasing and the music associated with Zelda and Ilia also strike the right notes in terms of guiding your emotions with the story. The music involving a certain mountain and a hidden village are great examples of the variety of accompaniments throughout your play, although I’m sure that each of you will pick out different favourite musical pieces on your own play throughs. On specific occasions, cued musical pieces can cut into one another and this can take you out of the moment slightly, but it must be noted that this happens rarely. Generally speaking, the soundtrack will enhance your experience of Hyrule and give you plenty to enjoy whilst not pushing the boundaries in the way that Zelda music has in the past (e.g. the Overworld Theme in A Link to the Past or the Title Theme in Wind Waker).
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is an excellent game and a worthy entry to the Zelda series. In many ways it feels like an accumulation of some of the best ideas from previous games whilst adding a few new ideas of its own. The decision to appease fans with the more realistic graphical style has set the tone somewhat for a game that pays much fan service and perhaps this factor has prevented it from being an exceptional Zelda game, as opposed to an excellent one. Nevertheless, the experience as a whole will likely leave you highly satisfied and wanting to replay once you have completed the main quest so that you can explore all the nooks and crannies of a varied and encapsulating game.
17 / 20