2nd Quest: Twilight Princess

This was supposed to be 4 Swords Adventures, but that has been put on hold indefinitely. (I have misplaced the disc. I was playing 4 Swords with the Wii, my brother wanted to play Smash Bros, so he took out 4 Swords and I am fairly sure he put it in the Smash Bros case. The problem is I don’t know where he put the Smash Bros case, so I can’t play anymore 4 Swords.) I turned to the next game on the list, Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess has a strange reputation; for a game that earned such high review scores and has such high sales, no one seems to like it all that much. After playing it through for the first time since it was brand new, that doesn’t seem fair. Twilight Princess is a flawed game, but it is also an incredibly ambitious game and largely well made.

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More so than any other game in the series, Twilight Princess follows in the footsteps of Ocarina of Time. That was something that fans claimed to want and something that the Zelda series withheld for a long time. The games following Ocarina played mostly the same, but the structure and tone were quite different. Instead of Ocarina’s Hyrulian epic, Majora’s Mask was a nightmare sidestory and Wind Waker was a nautical cartoon. Both are fun games, but they didn’t feel much like Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past. Twilight Princess, despite its lupine digressions, was built on that model. It takes place in the traditional Hyrule, it follows the traditional structure. It is consciously a Zelda game. It feels a little like Nintendo saying goodbye to that kind of Zelda game. It had already moved away from that limiting structure, but they gave the fans one last romp through Hyrule.

In a move unusual for Nintendo, the game heavily invests in its story. It is full of scripted events and puts supreme effort into telling its tale, which it does well, with a few exceptions. Some reviewers lambast Nintendo for refusing to get in step with modern standards in regards to things like voice acting. Unlike most developers, Nintendo never embraced idea of the interactive experience; instead they continued to make games. The long time lack of voice acting in their games stems from that. Twilight Princess is one of the few times I really felt the lack. This game does have tremendous storytelling pretensions, but it doesn’t quite have the ability to realize them. The problem is not in the story it tries to tell; that is suitably epic and grandiose. It needs more than the grunts and slow moving dialogue that it has to tell that story.

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It starts with young Link in the small village of Ordon; really letting the player get to know the inhabitants of the village while simultaneously learning the basics of how to play the game. That is the classic start to a Legend of Zelda game, essentially a tutorial that also does a lot of work narratively. From there it sticks largely to the same formula as usual, but greatly expanded. Each area of the game is bursting with new and intriguing characters, not the least of which is Midna, the replacement for Navi. She is an amazing character; strongly motivated and both mischievous and courageous. Outside of the big three of Link, Zelda and Ganon, I would call Midna the greatest creation in the series. Also great is the new villain Zant, though he falters greatly after his excellent introduction.  There are tons of side quests and extra secrets to find.  Some of this extra stuff is good, like the fun bug hunting mini-game, while some are not, like switching from 4 pieces of a heart to 5.  While the story never really goes far from being a Zelda story, it delivers it with a sense of grandeur that is only present in the most well regarded entries in the series.

The game is full of little compromises like the lack of voice acting. It adds the wolf transformation, but the player loses one of the item slots. While switching equipped items has been streamlined, the game makes the player switch them far more often. The context sensitive stuff, like picking up things off the ground or throwing vs dropping seems too finicky and somewhat imprecise. In all the controls in the Gamecube version feel just a little off, as though it lost some precision when the adapted it to the Wii control scheme. The controls are far from bad, but there are just enough times where things don’t seem to work right that it is worth distracting. The hunt the light bug segments are somewhat annoying, but they are also oddly paced. The areas where the bugs are hidden get progressively bigger and the hunt becomes more frustrating.

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One part where the game absolutely doesn’t falter is in the dungeons. The game doesn’t have the usual easy starter dungeon; it gets right into the meat. There are a lot of them in this game and they are almost uniformly great. They are expansive and challenging. Puzzles span multiple rooms and require creative uses of all Link’s abilities. While they largely follow Ocarina’s set up of themes, but the dungeons are greatly different from their predecessors. Like much the rest of the game, the dungeons are at their best when they echo Ocarina without copying it directly. Despite Nintendo’s own word on the matter, I would say any Zelda timeline is at best nebulous. However, this game is clearly a sequel to Ocarina, albeit a distant one. The world of Twilight Princess is a decayed echo of Ocarina of Time. That comes through in the dungeons. Like the Temple of Time that seems to be built on the ruins of the Forest Temple. In all they are some truly excellent dungeons.

There are enough niggling problems that I can’t really call Twilight Princess one of the better Legend of Zelda games. I rank it just on the bottom side of the middle of the pack. None of its flaws are especially big, they are all small things. Unfortunately, there are just enough of them that it occasionally makes playing the thing a horrible chore. These flaws hold back what is truly and excellent game underneath them.

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4 thoughts on “2nd Quest: Twilight Princess

  1. Interesting review. I haven’t replayed Twilight Princess since it came out, but it’s been long enough ago now that I’m considering it. I had very high expectations at the time and the game didn’t live up to them – not because the game was bad or even average, but it’s just so long. The first three dungeons are so easy and slow, I didn’t feel like the game really picked up until very close to the end. There’s some good moments and good ideas, but I felt like it was too by the book.

    • It is by the book, consciously so. Nintendo was reacting to fans that didn’t like the digressions of the previous games. The biggest problem, to me, is that it seems like a lot of just general polishing got missed while they spent a year turning it into a Wii game. That contributes to it feeling too long. A lot of little annoyances creep up and get more visible the longer the game goes on.

      • I also think a big issue (and you’re right that it gets more obvious as the game goes on) is the lifeless overworld. It looks nice, but I remember being very disappointed at how little there was to interact with in it, especially when it is so big. The spinner I thought was so original and cool, and it was one of those items that – a bit like the transforming masks in Majora’s Mask – significantly changes the way you interact with Link and with the world. That dungeon was great, but then afterwards, to only use the item in one or maybe two spots in the overworld and other dungeons felt like a wasted opportunity. I could write about the Zelda games and my complaints all day so I’ll shut up now.

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