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Great Games: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Zelda’s revolutionary debut on the Wii

Photo by Laurent Espitallier. Some rights reserved. Source: Flickr

SPOILER WARNING: Plot details for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess follow.

PLEASE NOTE: For the purposes of this review, I played the Nintendo Wii version of Twilight Princess.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is one of the few Wii games that fully utilized the revolutionary motion controls of that system. While you could feasibly play Twilight Princess on the Gamecube or the Wii U, without the Wii Remote, you’re missing out on pivotal part of what made Twilight Princess such a memorable experience.

The coming release of the Nintendo Wii was one of the most exciting events of the 2000s. While the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 emphasized graphics, the Wii’s main attraction was its unique, motion-control gameplay. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck boasted a degree of physical exercise which was so easy to use that even seniors in nursing homes were playing it. What most excited many people about the Wii, however, was the return of Nintendo’s classic franchises: Super Mario Bros, Super Smash Bros, and of course, The Legend of Zelda.

E3’s reaction to the first “Twilight Princess” trailer in 2004. Note that the music used here, Basil Poledouris’ “Riders of Doom”, is the very same used in one of the original “Ocarina of Time” commercials.

Twilight Princess felt like a return to the realism of Ocarina of Time and the darker tone of Majora’s Mask, eschewing the cartoonish cel-shading of Wind Waker. Twilight Princess also drew upon A Link to the Past’s concept of a “dark world” which parallels the light one. The visual style of Twilight Princess felt like a cross between Tim Burton’s gothic horror and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. It certainly had the grandest scope of any Zelda game up to that point and still holds up as a game of great depth.

Twilight Princess opens with Link as a humble ranch-hand at Ordon Village. This opening level can feel a bit slow, with chasing cats and whatnot, but it helps ease the player into the new controls of the Wii. This peaceful life is eventually disrupted by dark forces, and Link finds himself trapped in a prison cell as a wolf. He manages to get out of the prison, but only on the condition that he obey the orders of a mischievous imp named Midna. Twilight Princess’s director, Eiji Aonuma, has said that he came up with the idea of Link being a wolf after a dream he had. He also noted that Link could previously transform into a rabbit in A Link to the Past, but that a wolf transformation felt more fitting for this game’s tone.

The wolf gameplay is quite fun. You can move much faster on four legs than on two. You also have a new ability that allows you see scents. This ability is particularly useful for hunting Poes or finding special spots to dig. As a wolf, Midna often aids you directly, with her hair able to turn into a giant arm that climb up difficult spots. Midna can also help you perform a charged-attack that let’s you strike multiple enemies at once. This is very useful against the creepy Shadow Beasts, who will come at you in groups of three or five. You will often be a wolf when restoring the areas of Hyrule lost to shadow, hunting for Shadow Insects.

The core of the gameplay, though, is as a human. I was curious about how the Wii-remote and Nunchuck-based controls would work. The swordplay, thankfully, does not consist of lazy or thoughtless swipes with the remote. It requires specific and subtle combinations that have to be learned from an ancient warrior (whom many speculate is the “Link” from Ocarina). They may seem a little daunting at first, but these moves quickly become second-nature to your hands and wrists. I always felt aerial and fluid when performing the attacks.

Using Link’s various other items also took some getting used to, but similarly became second-nature. With the Gale Boomerang, you can target up to five enemies in a row. The Bow and Arrow can be combined with bombs for a deadly effect. My favorite item, by far, was the Double Clawshot, simply for the pure joy of swinging around various walls like Spider-Man.

The Ocarina of Time’s Epona also makes a return. Riding her is very helpful for those long distances. In lieu of an ocarina, you can use the Horse Call, which brings her to you. While on Epona, you can fight other Bulbins by either arrows or your sword. There are scenes where you have to confront the Bulbin King, one-on-one, are especially fun.

Being the fourth Zelda game to be directed by the great Eiji Aonuma, the dungeons do not disappoint. The Lakebed Temple, this Zelda’s water dungeon, is naturally quite tricky, with its changing water levels and shifting staircases. The Snowpeak Ruins defy the conventional idea of a “dungeon”, as it takes place in the Yeti couple’s mansion, but manages to be an intricate labyrinth in and of itself. My favorite dungeon has to be the Arbiter’s Grounds. I loved using the Spinner to zoom around from place to place and wished that it had more use elsewhere. A convenient new feature of the dungeons are the strange birds known as the Ooccoo. If you ever need to exit a dungeon, you can leave the mother inside and bring the baby with you. So when you return to the dungeon, the baby can fly you back to its mother, allowing you to pick up where you left off.

The bosses are as epic as they get. Morpheel is a slimy creature who you must defeat underwater with your Clawshot. Stallord is the most intimidating, a massive, skeletal monster who must be struck in the skull by your Spinner. Blizzetta spins around in a massive crystal of ice, and must be taken down with the unwieldy Ball and Chain. My favorite boss, though, has to be the flying dragon Argorok. With your Clawshot, you have to chase him through the skies and strike the weak spot on his back.

Many of the side quests require exploration throughout Hyrule. These include going far and wide in search of Poes or glittering bugs. You can also help Malmo grow her shop which allows you to purchase new items, like the immensely useful Magic Armor. You will often find hidden spots by simply looking around and using a bomb or two.

A remix of Twilight Princess’s “Midna’s Lament”, done by Marble Pawns, who had earlier done remixes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask’s soundtracks through “Zeldawave” and “Zeldawave II”.

The music was composed by Toru Minegishi and Asuka Ohta. Koji Kondo, Zelda’s longtime composer, served as a sound supervisor. With a delightful mix of old themes and new, Twilight Princess’s soundtrack achieves similar heights of brilliance as The Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. My favorite theme is the “Hyrule Field”, which draws some clear inspiration from the Ocarina’s version, but manages to stand as its own epic piece. The new “Ordon Village” theme and the re-done “Zora’s Domain” are sweet melodies that almost make you want to put down the controller and take a nap. I also love the exciting “Advantageous Theme” that plays whenever you have exposed a bosses’ weak point.

Marble Pawns’s remix of “Ordon Village” from Twilight Princess.

The story is definitely on the darker side of Zelda, in the same vein as Majora’s Mask. After all these years, the Twilight Realm and its denizens still retain their creepiness. The more unsettling scenes are when you have to enter the parts of Hyrule devoured by Twilight. Those trapped within are like ghosts that don’t know they’re dead. The early wolf scenes, where you’re running through the Twilit Hyrule Castle, are like something out of a horror movie. The Twilight Dungeon has a dark, futuristic look, with many sleek blues and lines if red, but it still has its creepy elements, like the giant, floating hands out to grab your orb.

The relationship at the heart of this game is that between Link and Midna. Midna starts off as a more spunky version of Navi, ordering you around and making snide comments. Her attitude starts to change when she is cursed by Zant, who usurped the throne of the Twilight Realm. Zelda gives herself up to heal Midna. This act, alongside Link’s constant help, makes her respect Link and care a bit more for Hyrule. Midna’s adorable, but enigmatic voice was the fascinating result of her Japanese voice actress, Akiko Komoto, speaking in scrambled English.

The makers of Twilight Princess describe working on the game and fan reaction to the early trailers.

Other colorful characters include the denizens of Ordon Village, from the spunky kids to the charming Mayor Bo to his sweet daughter Ilia. There’s also motherly (and sultry) Telma, who runs a bar in Castle Town and provides a lot of flirtatious humor. Aonuma himself has named Telma as his favorite character in the game. I also enjoyed speaking with Telma’s cat as a wolf.

The cutscenes are excellent thanks to the use of motion-capture, which makes the movements of the models seem more lifelike. There is one particularly nightmarish scene that sticks out in my mind. Lanryu, the water spirit, is warning Link about the powers of darkness that he wants to restore to Midna. Lanryu tells him that these powers can tempt you to do terrible things. We then see scenes of Ilia trying to stab Link with a dagger, a possessed Link with eyes that are completely white, and hundreds of giggling Ilias slowly falling into the dark.

Makers of Twilight Princess discuss the characters.

Zant is also quite creepy due to his bizarre helmet and his frog-like movements. His boss fight is a mix of all the past bosses thus far and is insanely fun. Zant, however, like Agahnim in A Link to the Past, finds himself to be little more than a tool for Ganondorf’s bidding. Before Twilight Princess came out, I remember there being speculation as to whether or not Ganondorf would even appear. His reveal at the time was quite the surprise.

The final fight with him is reminiscent of that from The Ocarina of Time. You must battle both his human form and his beast form, Ganon. In Ocarina, he shoots balls of lightning at you, which you must bounce back at him. In Twilight Princess, this electric ping-pong is done by a possessed Zelda. When he transforms into Ganon, you must also become a beast, rushing him head-on and then toppling him over on his side. You have to fight him next on horseback, using Princess Zelda’s light arrows to make him vulnerable. Then at long last is the one-on-one sword fight, where you have to use all of your sword skills to triumph over him. These four stages, taken together, may compromise my favorite final battle in any Zelda game.

Makers of Twilight Princess describe crafting the dungeons.

My only issue with Twilight Princess is that it is a little too easy. You almost don’t even need a strategy guide, which is unheard of for most Zelda games. This unironically makes Twilight Princess a great entry-level game for gamers who have never played Zelda before. Though it is a little darker than most entries, it is a basic introduction into the type of exploration that is expected for Zelda.

Photo by the author

As with The Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, the manga duo Akira Himekawa also did a manga adaptation of Twilight Princess. This particular adaptation currently consists of ten volumes. As always, the art is dynamic and faithful to the original designs. A major difference, however, is that Midna’s identity as the beautiful Twilight Princess is revealed from the get-go. This change, however, adds to her character, as we see her internal struggle over the state of her realm. The manga also spends quite a bit of time in Ordon Village, which greatly develops Link’s relationships with the villagers. The style is also quite dark, reflecting the horrors of the game to a macabre degree. There is a lot of blood and even a near suicide attempt from Ilia. In lieu of dungeon-crawling, Link confronts the major bosses directly in each level. This helps to streamline the story and prevent it from feeling too repetitive or meandering. Having read most of Himekawa’s other Zelda mangas, I can comfortably conclude that Twilight Princess is their finest achievement to date. Like the game, it is a true epic of the fantasy genre.

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Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

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I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com