"The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is [...] everything I could have possibly wanted from a follow-up to Ocarina of Time."
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a tricky game to review. Yes, it's true that the Wii's first (and the GameCube's last) Zelda title bears more than a passing resemblance to Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but if a developer is going to pay homage to a game that won countless "Best Game of All Time" awards, it doesn't seem like the worst idea, does it? Twilight Princess doesn't have as strong of a "new" feeling as Wind Waker, but instead aims to be a bigger, better version of something we've grown familiar with through the likes of Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past.
As per series tradition, the game opens in a small village (Ordon in this case) outside of Hyrule proper, where the villagers – our hero Link included – live simple lives, mostly disconnected from the world at large. Like us as players, they've no idea of the darkness that's enshrouding the world, or how it relates to the very creation of Hyrule itself.
By following some simple quests designed to teach you the game's mechanics, you soon find yourself in the Twilight Realm, where Link takes on the form of a wolf due to the magical effects of the realm. It's here where Link is introduced to Midna, a being from the Twilight Realm that will help him adapt to his new form and return to the world of light – as long as he helps her get what she wants in return.
Twilight Princess can be broken up into two main chapters across the 30-40 hours you'll likely be playing it. The first chapter follows a pattern of restoring light to the areas of Hyrule that have been overtaken by the Twilight and defeating the dungeon boss in each area. There's plenty of other things to do in between each dungeon, such as treasures to find and caverns to explore. The second chapter is much more involved, and between the remaining five dungeons and how much more of the world becomes available to you, this is the bulk of the game.
Throughout the adventure, you meet plenty of colorful characters, such as the postman who hums the classic Zelda "get item" theme upon delivering a letter. Or the oddly adorable "Princess" Agitha who asks Link to collect 24 golden bugs for her. Unlike many RPGs, there aren't many "throwaway" characters, random townspeople with little to say. Most of the characters in which you have a decent level of interaction with play a real role in the game's story, and each has his or her own (often quirky) personality. While there's no supporting character I disliked, none of them shine as much as Midna. Since the Zelda games star a silent protagonist, they're not often known for character development, but Midna is a shining exception to this tradition. She grows immensely over the course of the game, providing us with possibly the richest character in the series' history. Gameplay-wise, she's this game's Navi – your always-present sidekick. And while she's brimming with confidence and snide comments, she's wholly more charming, infinitely less annoying, and above all, she's not Navi.
As always, obstacles, puzzles, enemies, and bosses are overcome through Link's ever-expanding inventory. Much of these items aren't new to Zelda: the bow and arrows, bombs, boomerang and Clawshot (formerly the Hookshot) are things we've seen before, but they're still welcome here. Some of these have been with Link since the NES days, so while they're not new, they feel required. There are several new items and tools as well, though some of them are of limited use outside specific scenarios. It's the "classic" items that will see the most use in general. The ranged items such as the bow are one of the best reasons to play this game on the Wii. It's never been as easy or fun to take aim at far-off targets (or crows) as it is here; by using the Wii Remote's pointing capabilities, archery feels fluid and intuitive, and grappling things with the Clawshot is equally effortless. The return of the "bomb arrow" combo from Link's Awakening is not only quite welcome, but one of the best weapons at your disposal as well.
While the game isn't generally difficult, the boss battles usually offer the most challenge, at least until you learn their weaknesses. Most bosses are impressively gargantuan, something that always feels a little retro to me. Back in the NES and SNES days, it was common to fight a boss that would take up half your screen. It was daunting, and really made these big battles feel like important events. I don't think that happens nearly as much anymore (Shadow of the Colossus aside), so I love when it does. Every boss is unique and can only be defeated a certain way, so you never simply run into a room and swing your sword until they die.
Unsurprisingly, as a Wii launch title, the 'waggle' mechanic is present here in regards to attacking with your sword and performing a spin attack. Besides being one of the first Wii games, this can likely also be attributed to the fact that Twilight Princess was developed as a GameCube game first. It's also telling that of the various special skills you learn during the game, only one of them relies on motion technology. There's also a certain mini-game that uses motion controls to steer a large bird, and it feels more than a little unresponsive. It would be less frustrating if you weren't required to do the sequence twice, though at least it isn't overly time-consuming.
Learning new sword skills is certainly nothing new to video games in general, but it's a great new addition to the Zelda series. Battling enemies in Zelda games has almost always been about what tools to use, whether it was feeding bombs to Dodongos, or shooting an arrow at a specific weak point. Having both these tools at your disposal along with several new sword-based skills keeps combat interesting. Some of these skills are inspired by the contextual attacks in Wind Waker; the difference here is that you control when to use each attack. By the end of the game, you encounter foes that can only be taken out through clever use of these abilities. The other noteworthy combat addition is horseback battles. Now that you can use your sword while riding on Epona, there are several battle scenarios that take advantage of this. It's quite fun and makes traversing Hyrule Field much more engaging than in Ocarina of Time, where the mostly-empty field was just a way to connect each zone.
Twilight Princess is a big game. Wind Waker may have it beat by square miles, but most of that is ocean; compared to other non-ocean-covered Zelda games, you definitely won't find yourself disappointed at the size of Hyrule or the sheer amount of things to discover and explore. There are nooks and crannies everywhere that house anything from Pieces of Heart (since five Pieces are now required to make a Heart Container, there's more than ever), Rupees, and more. While all of this is well and good, it does contribute to one well-intentioned flaw in the game. In Ocarina of Time, there was nothing more frustrating than discovering a 200-Rupee prize when you were near capacity in your wallet, as most of them would go to waste. In Twilight Princess, if you're unable to store a high-valued Rupee, it gets put back in the chest. The problem? The wallet is way too small, and money is everywhere
. It's nice to not waste money, but it's so ridiculously easy to get (and there's little to spend it on) that it's common to end up with unopened chests everywhere. It makes tracking down "real" treasures like Pieces of Heart harder, unless you can remember the location of every Rupee chest.
Essentially a GameCube game at heart, Twilight Princess is nonetheless impressive to look at. It's exactly what you would imagine Ocarina of Time looking like running on more powerful hardware. Link's tunic is impressively detailed, each area and dungeon is uniquely designed, and the game's lighting goes a long way in conveying a mood, especially at sunset. While he doesn't talk, Link has enough detailed facial expressions to make him come alive. Of course, the game can't compare, resolution-wise, with a PS3 or Xbox 360 game. I don't expect it to, and firmly believe that good design is far more important than the number of polygons displayed, but it's because
the design is so great that I'd love to see it in 720p or 1080p.
The music is some of the best in the series thanks in part to some beautifully-arranged classic themes. As you'd imagine, there are new versions of several tracks from Ocarina of Time, but there are also some nods to A Link the Past here, which brought a smile to my face when they materialized. Combat music is appropriately high-energy, Lake Hylia's theme is as serene as its clear waters, and Twilight Realm tracks are as bizarre as some of its creatures (seriously, those faceless birds and their haunting cries freak me out). It saddens me that by the time Twilight Princess released, Nintendo stopped putting out soundtracks for its games. As someone who happily imported Wind Waker's soundtrack, I was all ready to buy this one as well.
As long as this review has become, there's much I intentionally left out. There are scenes, music tracks and locations that will make any Zelda fan giddy that I wouldn't dare spoil, and I feel these are best experienced with no prior knowledge. As I said above, Twilight Princess is in many ways a bigger, prettier Ocarina of Time. It's a tough act to follow: The latter brought the series into 3D, so it could be a long time before any game can make so massive a leap in innovation. I don't exactly know why people would take issue with it; perhaps because Wind Waker went in a very new direction abd Twilight Princess almost reverted back to something 'safer.' It was also stated by the developers that this would be the last Zelda of its kind. Perhaps this is why it presents so many tributes to the past, as a way of saying goodbye to things we may not see again.
Comparisons or regressions aside, judging Twilight Princess on its own merits leaves us with an epic adventure that's pure joy to play. There's so much to see and do that even playing again five years later I learned new things. It's beautiful both visually and aurally. It's not easy to die, though there's plenty of challenge for your mind in the game's puzzles, and solving a puzzle or reaching a new area brings with it a warm fuzzy sense of accomplishment. The final battle, for me, was at least on par with Ocarina of Time's, which I've long held as my favorite battle in any video game. The game is not without its missteps, but these are such minor complaints when compared to the whole of the experience. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is, right now, my favorite in the series, and everything I could have possibly wanted from a follow-up to Ocarina of Time.