The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Introduction

Within a year of the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in 2003, Nintendo announced that a new installment for the GameCube was undergoing development. In the following year during the Game Developers Conference, Eiji Aonuma, the man who had directed the previous three console The Legend of Zelda installments, inadvertently revealed the projects working title: The Wind Waker 2. However, before any promotional materials could be released, one factor got in the way of these plans. Though The Wind Waker had little trouble becoming a critical favorite like its predecessors, winning the highly desired “Game of the Year” award in various publications, it didn’t fare quite as well among fans. Nintendo of America informed Mr. Aonuma of how its cartoonish visuals lent the impression that The Wind Waker was designed for a younger audience. This perception was fueled by preconceived notion regarding animation in the United States at the time. Whether a cartoon was indeed intended for kids or intentionally made as raunchy and irreverent as possible, people generally considered the medium sophomoric and therefore didn’t take it seriously. Because of this, The Wind Waker experienced sluggish sales compared to Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask.

Mr. Aonuma, concerned that its sequel would run into similar problems, expressed his doubts to producer Shigeru Miyamoto. He said that he wanted to create a realistic look for the next Zelda installment in an effort to appeal to their North American fanbase where the series historically had the most success. Mr. Miyamoto was a little hesitant about this proposition, believing the team’s focus be on innovative gameplay than aesthetics. Nonetheless, he advised Mr. Aonuma that should he and his team settle on a more realistic art style, the best place to start would be to attempt what couldn’t be done in Ocarina of Time. Four months later, Mr. Aonuma and his team managed to produce a short clip featuring gameplay, which was later revealed to the public with a trailer during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2004. Slated to be released in 2005, it was here that the game being produced had a name: Twilight Princess. It was also revealed that it would not be a follow-up to The Wind Waker as originally planned, placating the vocal, skeptical fans who expressed annoyance over its art style.

The scenario of Twilight Princess was conceived by Mr. Aonuma himself, though it underwent several changes courtesy of scenario writers Mitsuhiro Takano and Aya Kyogoku. Leaving the task of working with the new ideas to his subordinates, he oversaw development of The Minish Cap, the then-upcoming Game Boy Advance Zelda installment. To his dismay, he found that the Twilight Princess team was struggling when he returned. Many of the ideas regarding Link made his character unbelievable. Furthermore, a third Zelda installment was being developed for the Nintendo DS: Phantom Hourglass. This game would have players exclusively use the DS’s touch screen to control the protagonist’s actions, and Mr. Aonuma wished for Twilight Princess to boast a similar caliber of innovation.

His answer seemed to arrive in the form of Nintendo’s newest console – codenamed “Revolution” at the time. Mr. Miyamoto thought the infrared pointer embedded in the Revolution’s controller was well suited for firing arrows from a bow, and suggested Mr. Aonuma to consider the idea. When the console was in its earliest planning phases, Mr. Aonuma had anticipated creating a Zelda title for it, but assumed he would need to finish Twilight Princess first. He began to change his mind when he used the console’s pointer to aim at the screen, believing that it would give the game a new feel – just like Phantom Hourglass. Suddenly, he felt that releasing Twilight Princess on this new console, later named the Wii, was the only way to proceed.

However, things weren’t quite that straightforward. By the time he considered having his project jump platforms, Nintendo had already heavily promoted Twilight Princess. Consequently, consumers were anticipating a GameCube release. Here, Mr. Aonuma reached something of an impasse. Making the game unavailable to those expecting its release on the GameCube would have assuredly resulted in a loss of goodwill. Meanwhile, had they attempted to develop two separate versions of the game, it would have no chance of meeting its previously announced 2005 release. It seemed as though no matter what he did, he would disappoint his audience. It was Satoru Iwata who felt having both versions would satisfy users in the end – even it meant waiting a bit longer for the game’s release. This way, those who expected it to be released on the GameCube wouldn’t miss the opportunity to play it. At the same time, the Wii now had a highly anticipated launch title, incentivizing their audience to become early adopters.

As the Wii was backwards compatible with the GameCube, transferring assets between the two platforms proved to be relatively simple. Developing a control scheme to fit this experimental platform was a more difficult task. Mr. Aonuma thought it was strange to swing the remote with the right hand to mimic the sword slashes of the traditionally left-handed Link. To make matters worse, when playable demos began circulating, many new problems arose. Nintendo’s staff reported that demo users complained about the difficulty of the control scheme. Mr. Aonuma realized from this that he and his team implemented the controls with the mindset of forcing users to adapt to them rather than making the system intuitive. More talks with Mr. Miyamoto ensued, and the team proceeded to address these issues.

At long last, Twilight Princess saw its release in November of 2006 for both the GameCube and the Wii. It didn’t seem to matter which version critics played, for it proceeded to win “Game of the Year” awards from several publications. At the time, fans felt it was the return to form the series needed after The Wind Waker. Was Twilight Princess able to ascend a series no stranger to critical acclaim to the next level?

Playing the Game

WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for Twilight Princess and the series thus far.

The protagonist of this story is a young adult named Link. He lives a simple life as a ranch hand in the remote village of Ordon. One day, his mentor, Rusl, asks him to present a gift to the royal family of Hyrule in his stead. The gift consists of a sword and shield crafted by the villagers of Ordon. Excited at the prospect of Link getting to meet the royal family, children from the village, Beth, Malo, and Talo, ask him how to use a sword and slingshot. After his demonstration, Talo spots a monkey and proceeds to chase it into the Faron Woods. Link and the rest of the children give chase.

It is during these sequences that you’re properly introduced to the gameplay. How the game is played depends on the version. As the game was built on a modified version of the engine used to craft The Wind Waker, the GameCube version features a very similar interface. Once again, the “B” button is exclusively used for swordplay. Pressing it once executes a normal attack. Tapping it multiple times in rapid succession allows Link to perform a combination attack. By holding down the button and releasing it after the sword makes a metallic sound effect, Link will perform his famous spin attack. Once again, holding down the “L” button allows Link to target an enemy. As long as it’s held down, he will face the enemy at all times and the camera will automatically shift to accommodate this. You can assign the slingshot’s usage to either the “X” or “Y” buttons. These buttons are later used to equip any two items you may find on your journey.

One of the biggest draws of the Nintendo Wii back in 2006 was its decidedly unconventional controller. The console utilized a remote with an infrared sensor. For most games, an attachment to the Wii Remote loosely modeled on and named after the nunchaku was also required. Because of this, the Wii version’s interface is wildly different. If one were to compare versions for themselves, one of the first things they would notice is that the Wii version has something resembling a point-and-click feature. A fairy icon adorns the screen where the Wii Remote is pointing during gameplay. Navigating menus is done by pointing at the appropriate options rather than using the control stick or control pad to highlight them.

Another immediately obvious difference from the GameCube version or any other game in the series thus far is the lack of a sword button. Instead, sword attacks are executed by swinging the Wii Remote. By making a slashing motion with the remote in hand, Link will accordingly execute an attack. To use his spin attack, the player must shake the nunchaku side-to-side horizontally. Item management also functions differently. Only the “B” button, which is located on the back of the Wii Remote, permits the use of a secondary item. In exchange, three additional items can be assigned to the left, right, and down position on the directional pad. By pressing the appropriate direction, players can freely exchange these items with the one currently assigned to the “B” button.

One of Link’s defining traits was his left-handedness. This seemingly minor decision was in response to the fact that the original games portrayed three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional plane. The designers thought it made more sense for Link’s sword to appear on the right-hand side, but because of the unique top-down perspective, the left-right axes are flipped. This means in those games, Link’s left is the player’s right. When the series broke into 3D with Ocarina of Time, this character design trait was retained as a nod to its predecessors. Because a majority of the people attempting to use the Wii Remote would be right-handed, Link’s dominant hand was changed for this version. As the team did not have enough time to rework Link’s character model, this was done by flipping the entire game on a west-east axis for the Wii version.

Attempting to use the slingshot reveals another innovation. Aiming the weapon is unchanged from previous 3D titles in the GameCube version. In the Wii version, on the other hand, you aim the slingshot by pointing the remote at the screen. Link’s movements match yours and pressing the appropriate button causes him to launch a projectile where the cursor points.

Venturing deep into the woods, Link finds Talo and the monkey trapped in a cage surrounded by imp-like creatures called Bokoblins. He easily defeats the monsters, freeing the pair. When they return to the village, Rusl informs Link that he is to depart for Hyrule the following day. The moment the dawn breaks, Link is asked to finish his goat-herding duties for the day. He accomplishes this by riding on his horse, Epona, and directing them to the barn’s entrance.

When you select a new save file, you’re asked to name the protagonist as is standard for this series. Immediately afterwards, you’re then asked to name a second character: the protagonist’s horse. A horse named Epona has existed in one form or another throughout the series. Ocarina of Time marked her first appearance; she was obtainable as a reward for completing an elaborate sidequest. With her, Link had a much easier time traversing the vast Hyrule Field. In Majora’s Mask, she was Link’s companion from the beginning of his journey, though they are quickly separated. Her greater importance to the plot is reflected by the fact that, unlike in Ocarina of Time, the game could not be completed without her.

Here in Twilight Princess, the simple act of being able to name her instantly signifies just how much her role has been expanded before you’re even granted control of the game. This is reinforced as the game progresses and she and Link are thrust into elaborate combat sequences. In Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, any horseback combat was rendered trivial, for Link could not take damage while riding her and she simply trampled enemies to death upon contact. That he could use a bow on horseback was more for the purpose of completing minigames or sidequests than as a means of defense.

This is not the case with Twilight Princess. He can use several different weapons in addition to the bow while mounted – including his sword. Though Epona can damage enemies by rearing back and then crushing anything unfortunate enough to get in her path, Link must take a proactive role to have any kind of success. Simply attempting to trample enemies is not a viable tactic anymore. You usually don’t have to worry about Epona’s safety, but Link will take damage if they are struck. It’s even possible for him to get knocked off balance or fall off his horse entirely under certain circumstances.

After herding the goats, Link’s childhood friend, Ilia, notices that Epona’s leg is injured and scolds him for pushing her too much. Ilia takes Epona to the Ordon Spring to heal her. When Link meets up with her, Colin, another kid from the village, tells her how Link saved Talo the day before. Ilia apologizes and asks him to promise to come home safely. At that exact moment, strange beasts break through the spring’s gate and knock the three of them unconscious. When Link comes to, he finds that Colin, Ilia, and Epona are missing.

He runs to the forest to find them only to find an imposing black wall blocking the path. As he approaches, a large hand reaches out from the wall and pulls him into the darkness. On the other side, he finds himself in the grasp of a menacing creature. A symbol on the back of Link’s hand glows, causing the beast to let go of him. When Link lands on the ground, a sharp pain runs through him. Just before he passes out, he transforms into a wolf. After some time passes, he wakes up inside a dungeon. Though initially shocked over his new form, he quickly realizes a more pressing issue; he has been chained up and there is no way out. As he helplessly struggles, he is greeted by Midna, an imp with mysterious powers. Though her motives seem dubious, she helps Link make his escape.

Throughout the series, various installments have experimented with the idea of having two separate worlds that shared an esoteric connection. This could be seen in both Ocarina of Time and Oracle of Ages – both of which extensively used time travel. In these games, the passage of time is what gave the two worlds separate identities. However, the game that started the trend, A Link to the Past, had gone in a different direction with the idea. Roughly one-third of the way into the experience, Link was made to venture the Dark World. This gloomy realm was presented as a dark shadow of the Light World and of Hyrule specifically. In the place of a thriving village existed a crime-ridden town of thieves in the Dark World. While a sprawling desert dominated the southwest portions of the Light World, there was an enclosed, claustrophobic swamp that couldn’t be entered on foot in the Dark World.

Before you could fully explore the Dark World, Link needed to obtain the Master Sword. This is to where the idea behind Link’s inexplicable metamorphosis in Twilight Princess can be traced. Reaching the third dungeon required Link to travel to the Dark World for a brief moment. When he does, he transforms into a rabbit. Only by obtaining the treasure from the dungeon, the Moon Pearl, is he immune to the transformative effects of the Dark World. Similarly, this version of Link transforms into a wolf whenever he enters the strange realm.

However, it’s clear after a few seconds of playing as Link’s lupine form that the team went in a new direction with the idea. In A Link to the Past, Link’s rabbit form rendered him completely helpless, preventing him from using any of his inventory – the sole exception being the one item capable of allowing him to escape the Dark World. It’s obvious that this form served no higher purpose than to impede Link until he receives the Moon Pearl. In fact, you could potentially go the entire rest of the game without ever seeing it again.

Meanwhile, though Link is similarly forbidden from using his inventory items as a wolf, “helpless” is the last word that would come to a player’s mind when asked to describe his new form. He may have lost his sword in the chaos, but it’s a minor setback, as he can simply tear into his enemies with a devastating bite. How one would use the sword translates to this newfound method of attack. He can even execute a spin attack in this form.

As a wolf, he has enhanced visual and olfactory senses. They can be utilized by pressing the appropriate button. When in use, his overall visual range is reduced, but enemies and otherwise invisible objects are revealed to him. This ability is made known to Link as they’re exploring the sewers beneath the castle. Here, spirits abound, appearing as a floating green flame. By using his senses, he can see their true form, allowing him to listen to their thoughts. He cannot directly communicate with these spirits, but he can gain useful information from them as though he were speaking to NPCs normally. This allows Link and Midna to learn of recent events.

With his enhanced sense of smell, Wolf Link can track down certain characters or enemies. You can tell if an item has a distinct scent if a colored mist emanates from it in Sense Mode. When Link picks up a scent, a colored trail appears, which will guide Link to the character or enemy to whom it belongs. He can only recall a single scent at a time; when a new one is discovered, the old one is forgotten.

Making their way to the castle’s tallest tower, they find a cloaked young woman. Recognizing Link for who he is, she introduces herself as Princess Zelda and proceeds to explain the nature of Hyrule’s current state. The kingdom was prosperous until one day when King Zant invaded the land. He and his cohorts hail from an alternation dimension known as the Twilight Realm. Zelda attempted to instigate an armed resistance, but surrendered when she faced impossible odds, knowing that the Hylians would suffer heavy causalities for nothing.

Once Zant ascended to the throne, the Twilight spread across the kingdom. Anyone unfortunate to be caught in its vicinity transforms into a wandering spirit with no physical form. Denizens of the Twilight Realm, such as Midna herself, are immune from these effects. It is because of Link’s status as the destined bearer of the Triforce of Courage that he is able to retain his physical form, albeit at the price of it being significantly altered. Bidding Zelda farewell, Link and Midna return to the World of Light. It is here that the game can be said to begin in earnest.

When it comes to the task of parsing the gameplay of Twilight Princess, it’s easy to dismiss it as a carbon copy of Ocarina of Time. From a superficial standpoint, this is what it entails, but fully immersing yourself in experience reveals there’s much more to it than that. Though I have little doubt that Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and The Wind Waker were, and remain, classics, one could formulate a mental checklist of stock Zelda items when the series reached a certain age. When playing The Wind Waker for the first time, I remember trying to guess which dungeon housed the bow and later being surprised that Link doesn’t receive the hookshot until fairly late in the game. It started off giving Link entirely new items such only to fall back on classic ones in the second half.

Why do I choose to mention this? The reason is because when I played Twilight Princess for the first time, I realized just how excited I was to see what awaited me in the next dungeon. This sense of discovery formed the basis of the series’ identity from the beginning, and though past installments achieved it through their superb level design, Twilight Princess could be said to have achieved this with its array of dungeon treasures. In the first dungeon, the Forest Temple, Link finds the enchanted Gale Boomerang. Though similar in function to the classic boomerang in how it can transport objects, it can also be used to extinguish torches and activate fan-powered switches. Later on, he will find a rod capable of letting him control certain statues, a heavy ball-and-chain, and a ridable machine that resembles a top. In fact, the last of these treasures is extensively used in one of the series’ best boss fights.

In a way, I liken Twilight Princess to the Capcom-developed Oracle duology wherein very few classic Zelda weapons reappeared. Of the few that did, Capcom allowed players to retrieve them outside of dungeons. Alternatively, they invented new ones that served the same overall purpose, yet had distinct enough applications to the point where it would be difficult to say they are simply the old items with a fresh coat of paint. To wit, much like how Capcom gave us the Switch Hook in Oracle of Ages, Mr. Aonuma and his team saw fit to replace the familiar Hookshot with the Clawshot. The latter is like a fusion of the Hookshot and the Grappling Hook from The Wind Waker in how Link can use it to latch onto any craggy surface. He can also opt to stay on the spot and lower himself down. He even finds a second one later on, which allows him to fire at targets while latching onto a surface.

There is a slight catch to these new items in how a lot of them aren’t terribly useful outside of the dungeon in which you find them. In the most extreme example of this, the rod capable of taking control of statues outright loses its power outside of its dungeon. When you restore it, you only have to use it one more time to complete the game. I can see why some fans would find this aspect disappointing, but I feel it doesn’t even come close to being a deal-breaker. Strategically placing obstacles on the overworld that could only be removed using dungeon items worked fine most of the time. Otherwise, it made overworld exploration feel like an overly mechanical process wherein you would make a little bit of progress on one path only to hit a dead-end because you needed an item you did not yet possess. Without looking at a map, there was no way of knowing, and it only served to waste the player’s time if they guessed wrong.

Otherwise, as a counterargument, I propose the fact that quite a few items are only used in their corresponding dungeon is less of a commentary on how useless they are and more of a testament to the amount of variety this game boasts. In the span of one game, you shoot exploding arrows to weaken a tough enemy, ride on a top-like mechanism while dodging attacks from an undead creature, and use a pair of iron boots to traverse a magnetic path. One would be hard-pressed to find a game with one action sequence even half as impressive as these; in Twilight Princess, they seem to occur naturally.

One of the most drastic changes to the gameplay is that there is no magic meter. Though the magic meter was also eschewed in the Oracle duology and The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess is the first console installment to have done so since its introduction in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I can imagine fans of the preceding installments lamented its absence, for it means the potions you can obtain are only used to restore Link’s health. Personally, I didn’t really mind that it was excised. In fact, doing so made me realize in hindsight how annoying the magic meter could be.

Its most likely reason for existing was to prevent players from spamming the most powerful items in the game. A Link to the Past, the first traditional Zelda installment to feature a magic meter, featured two items capable of making Link invulnerable. Dealing with it never proved overly annoying, and after meeting a character capable of halving Link’s magic consumption, managing the meter was a largely trivial matter. However, in the 3D installments, several mandatory items drained a large portion of the meter when in use. The designers did have the foresight to place an abundance of magic jars in areas that necessitated the use of such items. There was still the odd situation here and there in which you would run out of magic power quickly and waste time having to find more. Bosses that required magic power to defeat were rather awkward, for you simply couldn’t defeat them if you ran out. None of this was particularly untoward; if anything, it taught players the importance of managing resources properly. That being said, it’s more reassuring knowing you can experiment with the various items you may find without having to worry about the game forbidding you from using them. As solutions to puzzles aren’t always clear, this is greatly appreciated.

As an interesting side effect to this development, Mr. Aonuma and his team managed to resolve the series’ reoccurring issue regarding the usefulness of money. In many previous games, one would easily find stockpiles of rupees, only to learn there’s nothing worth spending them on. At the end of many playthroughs, Link’s wallet would be filled to its capacity, never decreasing for any reason. While there was the odd instance wherein you needed rupees to purchase something from a store to advance, an overwhelming majority of the substantial upgrades were found in dungeons for free. Though saving money isn’t exactly a pressing issue in Twilight Princess, you’ll always want some on hand. One major reason is because bombs aren’t dropped by enemies. They can be found in the occasional treasure chest, but otherwise, you will need to purchase them from stores.

There also exists a set of magic armor that nullifies damage when worn. Because the similarly named item ran off of Link’s magic meter in The Wind Waker, it draws power from a different source in Twilight Princess: rupees. If Link takes damage while wearing the magic armor, his rupees are drained instead of his health. Should he run out of them, the armor becomes heavy, significantly impeding his movement. Although completing the game without ever using the magic armor isn’t terribly difficult, I do like that rupees are never rendered useless at any point. It makes the sidequest that rewards you with an infinite supply of money actually worth seeing through to the end unlike in Ocarina of Time.

Speaking of which, I once again applaud Twilight Princess for its fun sidequests. A small problem I had with The Wind Waker concerned how it was a little too demanding for those seeking one-hundred percent completion. In Twilight Princess, the sidequests are still numerous in quantity, yet the longest ones are introduced early enough that the odds of you missing on content are much slimmer. Though still not as extensive as the sidequests in Majora’s Mask, the ones that run throughout the game seem to lend a degree of surrealism to the setting. Among other things, you may find yourself helping a young girl with her bug collection, undoing a curse placed upon an greedy man that turned him into a golden statue, and investing money into a venture started by Malo when the young child amusingly proves to be a quite a ruthless businessperson.

Even better, by making one small change, the developers were able to conceive several short sidequests without stifling the number of dungeons. Specifically, it now takes five Heart Pieces to form a Heart Container rather than four. Because completing a dungeon rewards Link with a Heart Container, it seemed as though the developers had create fewer dungeons if they wanted a large number of sidequests. When they opted for the former, it had mixed results. While Majora’s Mask featured sidequests that were arguably more interesting than any of its dungeons, this premise didn’t quite work for The Wind Waker. Fortunately, by splitting heart containers into five units, we get the best of both worlds. There are a lot of sidequests, yet they don’t get in the way of series’ main appeal.

Indeed, if there’s one field in which the series as a whole has always excelled, it’s level design. Twilight Princess is no exception. Considering the amount of effort it takes to even reach the Forest Temple, a player is going to be wary of whether or not it lives up to expectations. Despite being only one story high, it does not disappoint. With its dark atmosphere and giant spiders waiting to jump out at Link, exploring it when in possession of only three heart containers makes the game feel more like a survival horror than an action-adventure title.

As with the items, I was legitimately intrigued to see what dungeon awaited me next, and the game never disappointed. Whether Link explores the mines of the Goron tribe, a floating city, or a desert temple, Mr. Aonuma and his team always managed to put interesting spins on what were are superficially standard video game areas. They even demonstrated that they learned from their mistakes in Ocarina of Time by creating the Lakebed Temple, which was the best underwater level the series had offered thus far.

Analyzing the Story

 

By 2006, Ocarina of Time was one of the most iconic games in the medium. Mr. Aonuma therefore had the daunting task of creating something that could surpass it. One the subtle ways in which he and his team succeeded occurs when Link sets foot in Hyrule Field. At first, it seems to directly parallel the corresponding moment from Ocarina of Time in how you’re introduced to a sprawling region after exploring enclosed areas. The field even seems to be exactly as large as its Ocarina of Time counterpart. About an hour later, you’ll realize that section of land was only about one-sixth of the entire field. What I like about this moment is how much it signposts to the player the game’s grander sense of scale. It’s as though Ocarina of Time was a mere stepping stone to this installment.

What I admire about the idea of the Twilight Realm is how much it expands on the Light-Dark World dichotomy in A Link to the Past. In that installment, the narrative didn’t present the Dark World as anything other than an evil dimension. The only good people who took up residence in the Dark World were Light World citizens who wandered into a transporter either accidently or regretfully and found themselves trapped. As the world was specifically stated to be shaped by Ganon’s evil desires, it’s only natural that a select few of its inhabitants are not immediately hostile to Link.

With Twilight Princess, it would appear that from the onset, Mr. Aonuma and his team set to craft a similar scenario. With the encroaching Twilight robbing Hyrule’s citizens of their physical agency and the invasion being planned by the other realm’s king, it’s easy to get the impression that the story presents its conflict in shades of black and white. The peaceful kingdom of Hyrule is being invaded and it’s up to the heroic Link to drive off the Twilight.

This only seems to be enforced when Midna is introduced. Though her first action is to free Link from his cell, her less-than-forthcoming nature makes trusting her difficult. When she and Link encounter Zelda, her dialogue suggests she seeing nothing wrong with the Twilight engulfing Hyrule. Zelda does convince her to help Link, but even so, that conversation is enough cast her motivations in a dubious light despite playing an important role in gameplay. Their first goal is to find three Fused Shadows – artifacts shown to corrupt any being that comes into contact with them. Even if it’s for a good cause, there is a sense of dread to be felt when collecting each one.

As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Twilight Princess has a more nuanced take on the light-dark world trope than A Link to the Past or many other works of fiction. As it turns out, Midna belongs to a race of shadow beings called the Twili. They are descendants of a tribe of sorcerers known as the Dark Interlopers. Eons ago, they were condemned to the Twilight Realm by the three goddesses who created Hyrule as a punishment for their misgoverned attempt to claim the Triforce for themselves using the Fused Shadows. They thus lived in the shadows, accepting their fate after becoming used to their surroundings. This peace came to an end when Zant instigated a rebellion against the Twilight Princess, Midna, and took the throne for himself. Using the power of the Fused Shadows, he transformed his own subjects into shadow beasts, which he then used to stage an interdimensional invasion of Hyrule.

Even after all of this comes to light, the narrative goes out of its way to present the Twili as good people. When Link finally enters the Twilight Realm, most of its residents seem friendly enough. They don’t speak to Link, but they’re not hostile to him either, content on watching his actions from a distance. I really enjoyed this development because it gives an unorthodox answer to the question of what happens to a group of evil beings after they’re permanently banished. Rather than having them plan their revenge for the past eons, they simply learned to adapt to their new environment and live in peace. It was only through Zant’s machinations that they considered taking revenge on the World of Light – and he needed to brainwash them into cooperating.

Indeed, at the beginning of the game, Midna is a lot like Tatl from Majora’s Mask in how she feels obligated to help Link simply because they have overlapping goals. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to belittle Link until one point in which Zelda sacrifices herself to save Midna’s life. From that point onward, she makes it clear she wants to save both worlds as much as he does. Midna’s arc is a lot like Tatl’s, but I find the former’s character to be far more intriguing because of how much relevance she has to the backstory coupled with her actively assisting Link in battle.

Throughout his journey, Link meets a skeletal warrior from Ghostly Ether called the Hero’s Shade who teaches him new sword techniques with each encounter. Because these techniques utilized motion controls in the Wii version, I was especially excited whenever this spiritual teacher imparted his knowledge onto Link. Because he appears in the form of a wolf and states that he regrets never having been able to pass down his knowledge, it’s heavily implied he is actually the Link who saved Hyrule from Ganondorf several generations ago. It was very poignant seeing an older incarnation of Link teaching the newer one the art of combat. It makes one wonder what kind of fate befell the character players guided to success in Ocarina of Time.

For all of the praises I can give Twilight Princess, there are a few problems that emerge during the third act. One of the biggest sources of criticism lodged toward this installment concerns the character of Zant. When he and Link meet for the first time, he quickly proves to be an intimidating foe. He effortlessly steals the Fused Shadows, critically wounds Midna, and traps Link in his wolf form, preventing him from receiving assistance from the townspeople. Coupled with his creepy design, it seems as though he should stand out among Zelda villains as a ruthlessly pragmatic foe. As it stands, he does stand out, but for many players, it’s for the wrong reasons.

When Link encounters him in the Twilight Realm, his dialogue suggests his previous characterization was a façade, and that his true self is an immature, egotistical madman. This is only reinforced during his boss battle wherein he dances around the arena and laughs at an anomalously high pitch. Considering his preceding scenes, this is jarring to say the least. Exacerbating matters is when it’s ultimately revealed that Ganondorf was the source of his power. After returning from a grim future, a previous Link informed Princess Zelda of Ganondorf’s plan. The sorcerer was sentenced to death shortly thereafter, but thanks to the Triforce of Power, he clung to life. As a last resort, he was banished to the Twilight Realm where he eventually received a powerful servant in the form of Zant. Once he is defeated by Link, Ganondorf disposes of the self-proclaimed Twilight King and takes up residence in Hyrule Castle. Though greatly admired, the Zelda series became notorious for having Ganondorf or his bestial variant, Ganon, usurp the advertised antagonist and declare he was behind them all along. In fairness to Twilight Princess, this development was foreshadowed properly, but I fully understand why many people were unimpressed. It’s difficult to bring a popular villain back at the last minute without being accused of blatantly pandering to the fans.

In the end, though, I don’t think it matters because they even with his limited screentime, Mr. Aonuma and his team managed to take Ganondorf’s character in an interesting direction. Because of how the Zelda timeline is structured, this version of Ganondorf never fought the Hero of Time. As a result, he doesn’t consider the current Link a threat. Instead, he treats defeating him as an impersonal step toward his ultimate goal of conquering Hyrule. This is a far cry from his incarnations in The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, and The Wind Waker, who all had a deep-seated resentment toward the hero, and it’s laudable how much Mr. Aonuma and his team thought this through.

Twilight Princess manages to bring one aspect from the original game back that I had sorely missed. That is, you actually fight the final boss at the end of a dungeon. Technically speaking, this was true in games such as Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, but their respective dungeons felt like lesser levels by comparison. I didn’t get this feeling when exploring Hyrule Castle; it is complete with puzzles and the standard three navigational items one would find in a dungeon: a map, a compass, and the boss key. The final encounter itself is an excellently crafted, dynamic fight that has the two combatants engage each other in beast forms at one point. From there, it transitions into a horseback battle before they decide to settle it with a savage sword duel in the middle of Hyrule Field. Capped off with an emotionally resonant ending wherein Midna says goodbye to her new friends, and you get a game that manages to stick the landing despite appearing to falter just moments before.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Excellent level design
  • Great cast of characters
  • Intriguing premise
  • Good art style
  • Creative, new items
  • Wide array of sidequests
  • Horse plays much more of a substantial role in gameplay
  • Wii version had a novel control scheme for its time
  • Superb presentation
  • Memorable boss fights
Cons:

  • |Underwhelming antagonist|

Was Twilight Princess an excellent swansong to the sixth generation of consoles or is it better to think of it as Nintendo’s thunderous entrance into the seventh? Personally, I think the answer to both inquiries is a resounding yes. Twilight Princess was an excellent addition to the series, using Ocarina of Time as a jumping-off place to explore new ideas, creating something with a bit more polish and intrigue. Though the motion controls are a bit limited compared to what was to come, they were a novel idea for their time that added to the Wii version’s appeal. However, I believe that even without them, the game is easy to appreciate as a solid effort from Mr. Aonuma and Nintendo.

Analyzing how Twilight Princess has fared in hindsight compared to its direct predecessor is a strangely complicated matter. By the series’ own standards, The Wind Waker didn’t fare well commercially. It wasn’t until years after the fact that it received retroactive vindication with many people declaring it one of best games of its decade. By contrast, everyone was looking forward to Twilight Princess. When it was released, it fared well both with critics and fans, yet in the long run, it didn’t seem to amass the same dedicated following as The Wind Waker. On some level I can understand this. The cel-shaded, animated look of The Wind Waker always had a better chance of surviving the test of time from a visual standpoint than the sixth generation’s best attempts at realism. At the end of the day, much like how those who vouch for the quality of The Wind Waker said the detractors shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover, I would use the same argument in the defense of Twilight Princess. Though the graphics are more noticeably dated than that of The Wind Waker, it doesn’t stop the game’s appeal from shining through. It doesn’t matter which version you decide to try out. Between its unique mechanics, atmospheric presentation, memorable leads, and superb level design, Twilight Princess stands as both one of the series’ hallmarks and one of the finest efforts of the 2000s.

Final Score: 9/10

28 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

  1. I thought it was genius the first time I ran through it in 2008 on the Wii. I got the HD Wii U version in 2016 and still think it’s brilliant. Arguably the darkest Zelda of the lot – Midna is such an inspired character, too. Plus the whole Link/Wolf alongside the soundtrack and emotive story. Right, I think I want to have another run through this game now.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Indeed, when I played this game for the first time back in 2006, I knew that as impressive as the installments leading up to it were, I hadn’t seen anything yet. Granted, I now feel Majora’s Mask is better, but I have little doubt Twilight Princess has the better set of dungeons. And you’re right; Midna is a major reason why the game is so good. I would go as far as saying that she is my favorite partner character. It’s a really solid game through and through – it’s either my second or third favorite in the series in tandem with Breath of the Wild.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favourites in the Zelda series! I loved the tone and aesthetic, as well as the soundtrack. Zant was incredibly interesting, though his end battle felt underwhelming and gimmicky. For some reason, I didn’t like TP at first on the Wii. It was only until buying it on the Wii U that I realised just how good it was. Midna’s lament still brings back memories.

    Probably in my top five Zelda games – behind Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Zant’s boss fight was rather underwhelming. Fortunately, the fight against Ganondorf more than made up for it. Like The Wind Waker, I think it took some time for people to realize how good it was – that the hype wasn’t for nothing. And I still remember how good that ending was even all these years later.

      We actually have a very similar top five – just replace A Link to the Past with Majora’s Mask and you have my personal top five. Then again, this series is so good that even the sixth best game is better than the best certain other series have to offer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While I think Twilight Princess is an exceptional game in most respects, I always felt it was a step backwards from Wind Waker. Though Wind Waker had its flaws, it actually felt like it pushed the series forward, whereas Twilight Princess almost pandered to the people who (stupidly) cried fowl at Wind Waker’s art style and basically just gave them exactly what they wanted, instead of being something more. Again, still a great game in its own right (and Midna is an infinitely better character than Fi ever could be), but I think this was the point when I started feeling like Zelda games got an easier ride than other Nintendo titles. I remember Game Informer giving it a 10 (which is fine), and more or less saying it was the best Nintendo game ever (eh…no), but then the next year Super Mario Galaxy ‘only’ got a 9.75, even though it was a far more forward thinking (and fun) game for its series. A great Zelda game, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s quite one of Nintendo’s greatest achievements, but it seems like many people think Zelda titles are the only ones which deserve that praise.

    Still, the ‘snow level’ (the yeti guy’s mansion) is probably my favorite dungeon in the whole series, so there’s that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would argue that Twilight Princess was, at worst, a step to the side rather than a material step back. While one could argue that this game pandered to that vocal minority (and to be honest, it’s a fairly defensible case), I’d say the important thing is that it was a step forward for the series in terms of level design. By this point, they really began experimenting with dungeon conventions, and the effort really shows.

      And I’m going to be honest – between Super Mario Galaxy and Twilight Princess, I feel the latter is the better effort. That said, Twilight Princess not quite the best game Nintendo has made (for me, that’s Majora’s Mask). Though the argument can be made that the Zelda series is more conservative than the Mario series, I say even if that’s true, both innovate far more than other series have in their entire lifetime.

      Even so, I think you’re on to something – the critics are a little too easy on the Zelda series, and while it’s a safe assumption that they’re always going to be at least decent, if you took the critical consensus at face value, you would be forgiven for believing that every installment is among the best games ever made and that is absolutely not true (as I intend to demonstrate in my next Zelda review).

      Also, I agree. The snow mansion? Easily one of the best dungeons in the series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, maybe saying a step “backwards” is wording it wrong. But I do feel that it’s a pretty safe entry, though a great one.

        The thing is, Zelda games are mostly great (Trips Force Heroes was an off day for the series), and I don’t have an issue with them receiving praise, since they usually earn it. But it is a little irritating whenever you see (for the obvious example) Game Informer give every Zelda game (except Tri Force Heroes) a perfect 10, while it seems like no other Nintendo series is allowed one (Mario always has to settle for 9.75 at best, and Galaxy 2 didn’t even get that, when that’s an an easy 10).

        I definitely agree that Mario and Zelda have certainly done more innovation on their own pretty much every other series, so choosing between the two is basically splitting hairs, though I do think Mario has proven the bigger risk-taker between them and has a few more games that just feel “perfect”, but again, that’s basically just saying Zelda is a close second. Not exactly a complaint.

        And yes, the snow mansion is exceptional level design (with a unique setting, placing a dungeon in someone’s house). It would be awesome if the next Zelda game were like Breath of the Wild, but included some dungeons like the snow mansion. It would be incredible to have a dungeon of that caliber be some optional side quest.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is an entirely valid point, and I won’t argue against it.

          Yeah no, having played both Phantom Hourglass and Skyward Sword, I can say giving perfect tens to every game in the series is a failure on the critics’ part. Granted, if it’s any series that critics can blindly give tens to without putting any real critical thought into, Zelda is probably the best one to pick (certainly more than Naughty Dog’s output – that’s for sure). But as we’ve learned over the years, even doing that with this series leads to multiple critical misfires.

          I can see why you’d say that. What other gaming series can say they followed up a summer vacation with not one but two tours of the galaxy? Mario really makes other gaming series seem downright slow by comparison.

          Also, I haven’t played Tri Force Heroes, but I intend to review every game in the series barring the CD-i installments because acquiring them and playing through them would be more trouble than it’s worth. Next one will be Phantom Hourglass, and depending on whether or not I have finished Spirit Tracks by July, that will be the one to follow.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Twilight Princess is definitely one of the more creative Zelda games, I feel. The items and level designs are the best examples. It always felt I was seeing something completely new and out there. The minigames had some fantastic variety too. Yet it all came from a very Zelda feel. They feel very appropriate to the game and the series, a natural progression. The horse combat was a fantastic addition too, and I wish there was more to do with it.

    I also love Zelda in this game. She’s a warrior in her own right, who needs Link but isn’t completely reliant on him. She doesn’t end up making a whole lot of impact, but I actually felt more for her with the distance she maintained from Link than I have with a lot of the other Zelda’s out there.

    This is one of my favorite games in the series. But I have a huge bone to pick with them for making Link right-handed. One of the biggest left-handed icons out there, and not only did they change him here, but he’s stayed right handed on consoles ever since. I always play the games with the Wiimote in my left hand to protest.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely agree. Even twelve years ago, I could tell there was a lot of effort put into this game. They did a good job adopting a different art style while staying true to what the series does best and never betraying its identity. Even if the horse combat wasn’t as utilized as much as it could have been, I really liked how it played a role in the final battle, and I think it was used enough to the point where I never thought it was outright abandoned at any point (unlike the Loftwings in Skyward Sword).

      I remember being impressed that Zelda was shown carrying a rapier at one point; even if she surrenders in the end, there’s an impressive amount of characterization in that one scene. Plus from there, she manages to engineer Zant’s (and later Ganondorf’s) defeat from the shadows. To me, the narrative did an excellent job making it clear that Zelda’s getting captured was more of an unlucky break, and that it could’ve just as easily have been Link who got possessed had the circumstances been slightly different.

      I think I heard somewhere that he’s actually ambidextrous, but fret not, for they made him left-handed once more in the HD remake!

      Like

  5. I always loved the idea of Twilight Princess, but I only got to play it for a short while. It seemed darker and a bit on the gritty side, though that was probably amplified in contrast to Wind Waker coming out just before like you said. This was one I always wanted to revisit since I sadly didn’t fall off of playing it for lack of interest but due to life constraints at the time. While the wolf form and Wii motion controls didn’t exactly thrill me at the time, I was always curious how they played out over the course of the game. It sounds like I should reconsider my hesitations!

    Seriously, your passion for this series and the information you’ve been giving on it has been lighting a fire under me to go back and revisit the past entries I missed out on growing up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You have a point there. It was quite a risk to follow up a bright, cartoony game like The Wind Waker with the gritty Twilight Princess (even if the latter is what the fans wanted)!

      And thanks – I’m glad you’ve been enjoying this retrospective so much! These reviews have been so fun to write that I’m in the process of revisiting the installments I’ve skipped with the intent of reviewing the entire series (other than the CD-I ones or that Japan-exclusive one that relied on that satellite radio service). If I’ve gotten you interested in checking these games out, I consider that a job well done.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fantastic work there!

    I have always loved Twilight Princess. I don’t think that, so far, there has been a Zelda game with better dungeon design than it. And although its overworld was indeed empty, which is a frequent complaint regarding it, I loved exploring it.

    I fully agree with your take on how the items are quite creative, with most of them being unique within the franchise itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Mr. Aonuma and his team really stepped up their game when it came to dungeon design, didn’t they? The snow mansion and that desert temple were especially interesting. I even liked the Lakebed Temple, which some cite as their least favorite dungeon.

      I really enjoyed exploring the overworld in this game. It almost seemed to foreshadow the expansive, open-world design of Breath of the Wild.

      What really strikes me as remarkable about the items is how they’re unique, yet we never seem to run into that one item that seemed innovative on paper only to become a total pain to use.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was disappointed with Twilight Princess back when it came out – of course we’re talking within the context of the Zelda series so I hold it to a very high standard. I’ve only returned to it once, but certainly back on the Wii when it came out there were a lot of things that held it back for me. I do suspect that playing the Wii U remaster might help with some of the smaller stuff, but I doubt it’ll fix the deeper problem. Overall while there were great individual characters, dungeons and aspects of gameplay, I never felt like they came together to make a truly great game. Twilight Princess just seemed to lack a certain focus and cohesion, and dragged on far too long (even if the final sections were excellent). I also never forgave that absurdly long opening. I have much more fondness for Skyward Sword, even though it too has its flaws.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have heard some people say that Twilight Princess pads things out, but in all honesty, that never bothered me because I was really on board with what it was doing. At the very least, that’s a problem that became worse with AAA gaming in the following decade, and because of that, Twilight Princess didn’t seem so bad in hindsight. Indeed, I would argue that many of the complaints lodged toward Twilight Princess ended up being far more applicable to Skyward Sword. Those trials Link had to go through to access the final dungeon were just plain annoying – especially the one that took all his items away. Between the two games, Twilight Princess feels like a much more cohesive product whereas Skyward Sword seemed like it had a lot of cool ideas, but the lack of focus rendered it a fairly middle-of-the-road experience with a few flashes of brilliance. Plus, there’s something to be said for being able to stick the landing.

      Like

  8. Great retrospective Red Metal!

    In all honesty, Twilight Princess was never my favorite Zelda. I know you addressed this, but I felt like the lengthy traveling between places and revisiting areas and some of the side quests made this one feel a bit padded out.

    That said, you point out all the good stuff – the dungeon design and the characters – and this makes me want to go back and replay Twilight Princess from the start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I have to say that a lot of the complaints one may have had about this game aren’t as much of an issue in hindsight. Most of them ended up being far more applicable towards Phantom Hourglass and Skyward Sword. None of the padding in Twilight Princess is as annoying as the Temple of the Ocean King or the endgame sequences of Skyward Sword. This isn’t even getting into the ridiculous extent to which AAA developers padded out their games in the 2010s (e.g. Metal Gear Solid V).

      I hope you end up enjoying it more upon replaying it! Twilight Princess’s dungeons stuck out to me more than those of The Wind Waker (not that it’s dungeons were bad, mind you).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Very well written and thorough review! I personally loved Twilight Princess and it was actually my first Zelda game. At the time, I remember many saying it was very similar to Ocarina of Time. In terms of the setting and game design, but after playing that game a few years later. I still found the story and temples different enough, for them both to be regarded as two separate excellent games.

    I really enjoyed the dark theme and realistic tone of the game too. While I didn’t enjoy the wolf combat I enjoyed the twilight realm sections overall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I found this to be a somewhat difficult review to write because I had a lot to say about it. I’m glad it turned out well and that you enjoyed reading it.

      Yes, the game does appear to ride off of Ocarina of Time’s success from a distance, but actually playing Twilight Princess and giving it the time of day reveals there’s quite a lot of innovation to be found, and the story beats are pretty clever as well. Ganondorf barely acknowledging Link was an interesting touch that makes perfect sense when you consider how the Zelda timeline works.

      I can see why you didn’t like the wolf portions even if I didn’t have a problem with it. Luckily, they’re well-designed enough that even if people don’t like them, they don’t have to put up with them for too long.

      The irony is that this once highly desired game is now something of a controversial pick for the best game in the series (or second/third best in my case), but there’s no denying that the team brought their A-game when creating dungeons this time around, and the effort really shows. As for giving it such a high score, all I can say is “I regret nothing”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember playing it for the first time, and the thought of Ganondorf never really crossed my mind till his reveal. Which I think did wonders for the story.

        I actually think the dungeons in this games was some of the best in the series, and I loved the mini games in it too. From the snowboarding, fishing to even sumo wrestling. It had a ton of character to it still. I played it on the Nintendo Wii too, so the motion controls actually worked quite well. I think its in the top 3 Zelda games thats for sure!

        Liked by 1 person

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