"There comes a point when Link gains the ability to transform at will, which does wonders to rid Twilight of its biggest flaw. Not only does this keep the game from forcing players into lengthy non-human segments, but it allows you to more delicately appreciate the simple joys that the wolf provides, like following scent trails and digging holes through walls. It is at this point that the wolf mechanic works for the game, not against it, and that’s when Twilight becomes the full-blown masterpiece it was meant to be."
The first time you step into the allegedly enormous overworld of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, you won’t be too impressed. There was a lot of hype surrounding this release, mainly in that it was supposed to be the biggest Zelda game ever made. Yet your initial glimpse at Hyrule Field proves most deceiving, only a hair larger than the one we so merrily trotted across in Ocarina of Time. It’s only later that you realize that you were only looking at a mere fraction of Hyrule Field, which, in its entirety, is larger than many sandbox games. It’s no wonder your horse, Epona, is granted to you right from the get-go. Mounting a horse is no longer a neat little privilege like it was in Ocarina. Here, in this bigger, better Zelda, it’s a necessity.
Twilight was more or less made for the fans, starting with the canning of that cel-shaded visual style in favor of a more mature look, albeit one that cannot accurately be called “realistic.” It’s the biggest Zelda game ever made, both length-wise – with side quests taken into account, I tallied over fifty hours by the time I was done – and in terms of physical size. (We are of course excluding The Wind Waker, because 99% of that game world was made up of nondescript ocean.) And as a Zelda title, the game has certain roles to fill. There are many, many dungeons, and they are punctuated with arguably the most devious and thought-provoking dungeons the series has yet seen. There is also a plot that has you running all over the map collecting pieces of the yada-yada, and there is a nagging female companion to provide “support.” You know how this works.
This also means that Twilight comes with the usual flaws many would expect: Survival is still all too easy; many of the most interesting items are only really put to good use in the dungeons from which you acquire them; the adventure is heavy on fetch quests; any attempts at cinematic storytelling are set back by the lack of voice acting; etc., etc. The intended audience for Twilight is so specific, so predictable, that it almost makes a review unnecessary. All I can really do is assure my fellow Zelda fans that everything is still the way we like it… Although, unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.
The plot has farmer boy Link setting out from his quiet fishing village to rid the land of Hyrule from the plague of a wicked Twilight Realm, a play on the light/dark world theme we’ve seen in so many other games. It is in this Twilight Realm that the game is at its most eye-catching, with a stark color palette and excessive bloom lighting painting a distinct image. It is also here that Link, for whatever reason, transforms into a wolf.
This is where Twilight stumbles, at least initially. Most of Hyrule has also already been engulfed by the Twilight Realm, you see, and you first order of business is to free it. Playing as a wolf is an interesting mechanic, especially in a game series so hesitant to employ new ideas, but it gets old when we’re forced to bolt around on all fours for an hour or two at a time, completing dull fetch quests that feel like an obligatory attempt to stretch out the game’s running time. Combat as a wolf is a nice change of pace thanks to the help of your new friend Midna (who, um, has a giant hand coming out of her head), but these segments still felt overlong, and I always found myself yearning for some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling, with a sword and a shield.
But the stuff that does work, works as fantastically as ever, with little or no fault once you get over the initial hump, that being the first ten hours or so. There comes a point when Link gains the ability to transform at will, which does wonders to rid Twilight of its biggest flaw. Not only does this keep the game from forcing players into lengthy non-human segments, but it allows you to more delicately appreciate the simple joys that the wolf provides, like following scent trails and digging holes through walls. It is at this point that the wolf mechanic works for the game, not against it, and that’s when Twilight becomes the full-blown masterpiece it was meant to be.
Ocarina’s most notorious dungeon was the Water Temple, which had players continuously changing water levels to get to the finish line. I could probably complete the dungeon blindfolded at this point, and yet I still marvel at the mastery of its design, and wondered if Nintendo would try to outdo it in what could loosely be called the sequel. Ladies and gentlemen, Nintendo has created a water temple to end all water temples. This one, which is located in roughly the same place, is a nightmarish labyrinth of rotating stairways and crisscrossing canals. That it’s only the third dungeon in the game (out of around ten) is quite an omen; later dungeons have you scaling the walls with a device not unlike Metroid’s spider ball, slinging across bottomless abysses like Spider-man, and participating in the most epic boss battles the Zelda series has ever seen.
It’s also worth noting that the battle system has been taken to a new level thanks to an array of unlockable sword techniques that help the combat evolve beyond the simple button-mashing that (realistically) it was before. Counter attacks – which turn a well timed button press into a dazzling one-hit kill – are back and come in several varieties, along with a shield bash and that sweet downward stab Link always used in Super Smash Bros. And with all this emphasis on Epona, it’s only appropriate that Link is made to draw his sword on horseback for the first time as well, and there are a number of well executed sequences that take advantage of this new mechanic.
Basically, every area of the Zelda universe has been magnified with Twilight. On a visual level, the game proves you don’t have to blow Link’s head out of proportion to give his world character; aurally, the lack of voice acting is made up for by the stellar soundtrack, which seamlessly mixes classic themes with bold new ones. It is, in nearly every way, a bigger, longer, deeper, and more beautiful experience than Zelda has ever provided for us.
The only exception is the plot, which unfortunately feels like a step backwards. Here you’re given two of the most potentially interesting characters in the history of the series – Midna, the compassionate ally, and Zant, the brooding, Sith-like villain – and they’re given nothing to do. What do we get instead? Hours upon hours of downtime, and some predictable misdirection when it comes to the final boss. (Hint: It might be Ganondorf.) A few moments of cinematic brilliance don’t make up for all this dead space. Get to work on that, Nintendo, and maybe then you’ll have that perfect Zelda game we’ve all been waiting for. Until then, well, I sure feel like an asshole for complaining.
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