Review: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

 A tale of dark and light.

Console: Nintendo Wii

There is a lot of The Legend of Zelda coming up in the next year or so. We've got the 'prequel' to Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, coming up this November for starters. We know that the proper sequel to that game is in development and the franchises 35th anniversary is also coming up next year. With all of this Zelda on the horizon, it got me into the mood to play another game in the series. Luckily for me, I still had a Zelda game on my shelf that I never finished: Twilight Princess.

Let's dive in.

 

The game opens with Link's calm life in a small forest village named Ordon. His peaceful life isrudely interrupted when a group of Bulbins storm the village and kidnap all of the children, Link's best friend/sort-of girlfriend Ilia included. Link goes in pursuit of the Bulbins but is pulled into the Twilight. Waking up a dungeon below, Link finds himself transformed into a Wolf. Link doesn't have much time to contemplate everything that has happened though as an imp-like creature, Midna, shows up. Midnaoffers to free Link from his predicament as long as he will do everything she tells her to. Not having any other option, Link agrees and together they make their escape and two meet an imprioned Princess Zelda. She informs them that the evil Twilight King Zant has taken over Hyrule and that the Bulbins are taking advantage of the chaos this brought. Link and Midna set out to save Hyrule from Zant, hoping to turn Link back to human and save the kidnapped children along the way.

The story of Twilight Princess is perfectly fine, it just doesn't live up to its fullest potential. The structure is as you would expect from a Zelda game. You start out with the more relaxed opening/tutorial section after which the first half of the game tasks you with finding three "things". After that's done, the plot quicks into high gear when something much more ominous happens. To combat this new danger, you obtain the Master Sword and go on a longer second quest. Once you've completed that, you storm the castle, defeat the final boss and let the credits roll. Again, standard Zelda fare, but that's not a bad thing. This structure lends itself very well to a game and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Doesn't mean I don't have some issues with the story though! Twilight Princess is a long game, even for Zelda standards. Now that's not the problem, just something you have to be aware of. The real problem is the pacing. The first half is fine I'd say, the plot-beats follow each other up in a reasonable amount of time but the second half feels a bit bare. There are some long stretches in which not a lot of story happens and what does occur is very formulaic. You can perfectly fit the games side-quests in during this time but I would have rather seen the game focusing a bit more on the main story during this time. The final is pretty epic though, testing all of the skills you had to learn throughout the game and the final boss fight is a lot of fun. All in all, the game ends on a high note.

Midna & Link during one the games cut-scenes.

Twilight Princess also throws in elements that, on paper, makes the story much more interesting but fails to utilize them to the fullest. It puts a heavier focus on the side- characters. It zooms in on your sort-of girlfriend Ilia, characters popping back up more frequently (a villain included) & a slightly different role for Zelda herself. It sets all of this up but doesn't take advantage of it. The game doesn't go further than scratching the surface with all of this. Who doesn't fall into these pitfalls is Midna, you companion throughout your adventure. Being around for the entire game, having a distinct personality and a personal story that's tied into the game's main plot helps a lot in making here memorable. She's also as snarky as snarky can be and I love it!

What I also love about Twilight Princess is its atmosphere. Alongside Majora's Mask, it's one of the 'dark' Zelda games. This is made clear through not just the story, but also the music, world and general atmosphere which are all wonderful. The world of Hyrule in Twilight Princess if both full of life and empty at the same time. There are a decent amount of settlements in the game and a great number of unique people. The towns and landmarks are all well designed, however, there's a lot of emptiness to be found within its map, especially Hyrule field which makes said field not as memorable.

This isn't helped by the game's visual style. Twilight Princess goes a very realistic route with its art style. It's certainly something we hadn't seen in Zelda up to that point. However, the realistic approach doesn't really work in my opinion. The colours are washed out, resulting in the visual elements being less distinctive from one and other and thus less memorable. In short, while not bad, the realistic art style the game strives for is not as pleasing as it could have been.

Due to the Wii's motion controls, which I'll get to later, the game's map is different between the GameCube/Wii U and Wii versions. What was left on the GameCube is right on the Wii. There wasn't enough time for the development team to rework the gameplay for a right-handed Link, so they chose to this mirroring instead. Not an elegant solution, but it works.

One of Twilight Princess's defining features is Wolf Link. When entering a zone that's covered in Twilight, Link will automatically turn into a wolf changing up the gameplay. As a Wolf, you don't have access to any of your items and must rely on your fangs, nose and Midna. Link can run very fast, latch onto and bite enemies, sniff out hidden path and objects and can count on Midna to give him a jumping boost and use her hair as a giant hand. It's a nice change of pace and opens up some fun gameplay sections here and there.

When it comes to just normal Link, his control scheme, the way he plays, has been vastly improved over previous titles. The magic meter is gone, no magic-based weapons in this game, but in return Link's move set is much greater then it has ever been. During the game, you will encounter the 'Hero's Shade' an undead warrior who will teach seven hidden skills throughout the game. These range from a finisher move, to a shield bash to a head cleaver. These moves give Link much more options in battle, make them more tactical, and are a lot of fun to pull off. No magic also means that Link is much more reliant on his tools this time around, of which there are a lot off. From the traditional bow & arrow and hook shot to newcomers like the spinner and ball & chain. Their use is fun and oftentimes creative though some of them do feel underutilized.

When playing the Wii version, some of the controls have been remapped as simple motion controls. What I mean with 'simple' is that none of these motion controls is very intricate. You swing the Wii remote to swing your sword, you push the Nunchuck forward to do a shield bash etc. They are essentially just glorified button presses which and it's fine. It makes it easy to pull off with less error. Multiple items also use gyro aiming and while my arms did get tired, the precision in aiming it gives you is worth the trade-off.

It is only fitting to have an image of Wolf Link & Midna as well!

One of, if not the, most important aspect of a Zelda game are the dungeons. I'm happy to report that those of Twilight Princess is a definitive step-up from those in previous titles. They are much more elaborate than those of, say, Ocarina of Time and put a new twist on familiar settings and themes. There are even Dungeons here whose set-up is so different from the norm, you won't even notice you're in one initially! They are a bit on the long side of things, but the game does allow you to leave and enter each dungeon without losing any progress or having to do too much backtracking so can take breaks.

The bosses are definitely a highlight in all of them. While they're not as challenging as you might expect, that's found in the mid-bosses. They're epic, well thought out affairs that are a lot of fun to do and satisfying to complete. My personal highlight boss of the second to the final dungeon, though I can't sadly go into many details without spoiling anything. All I can say here is that your wise not to forget the lessons you've been taught in the first half of the game.

Conclusion

All in all, while I have some gripes here or there, Twilight Princess is a great game. It has a much bigger world than any Zelda game that came before it with very well crafted dungeons and bosses. Controlling Link, as both a normal Hylian and a wolf, is much more intuitive this time around and opens the game up to much more strategy. Its visuals are a bit washed out and the story could have definitely benefited from some more polish. It's also on the long side of things, so keep that mind as well. If you can pick Twilight Princess up, you should. If you pick the remastered Wii U version, you'll not only have updated visuals but also an extra challenge in the Cave of Ordeals. If your one of the few people who have a Wii U then that's the version to go.

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