Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Good: Brilliant dungeons, great new weapons, beautiful art style, best story in the series, variety of enemies, soundtrack, sound effects, epic boss fights
Bad: Visually, you can tell it was made for the Gamecube
Definitely: One of the greatest gaming experiences of all time
In the history of launch titles, there has never been a single one that comes remotely close to the quality and excellence of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Considering this franchise is home to several regulars on "Best Games of All Time" lists, there is a monumental standard to live up to. After the mixed reactions from Majora's Mask and the much-maligned sailing from Wind Waker, Zelda fans have been anxiously awaiting a true spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time. If you belong in this group, rest easy. Twilight Princess is that title.
First and foremost, this is easily the darkest Zelda title yet. It has always been a series that is heralded for its gameplay, but now it features a story that will keep you guessing until the next surreal, creepy cutscene. I won't spoil anything in this review, but there are some events in the narrative that blow away anything seen before in the Zelda universe.
I will admit, however, that it can be extremely confusing at times. For the first several hours, you'll find yourself in "what the hell is going on?" mode more often than not. One second you're herding goats in a small village named Ordon, and in the next, you're a wolf that has a devious imp-like creature on its back. Nothing major is revealed for quite a while, and you'll still be confused after multiple dungeons.
All of the game is based upon two realms: the world of light and the world of shadow. The light world is the Hyrule we've all come to expect. It's filled with merchants, courtyards, fields, and some familiar locales (Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, Kakariko Village). When you visit these areas in the Twilight Realm, all of the life and joy is nowhere to be found. Normal citizens turn into terrified spirits, dangerous twilight creatures drop from the sky, and Link can not (initially) exist in his human form.
The early dungeons are opened by collecting tears of light from invisible insects to fill a vessel. It's as weird as it sounds, and I didn't particularly enjoy these segments. Once you collect all the required tears, the twilight lifts from the land and you can return to your human form.
A lot of people are concerned with how Link controls as the wolf. Many speculated that it would be similar to Okami, but it feels more like a faster-paced version of Link. In addition to its ability to jump to high places, it can also dig and sense hidden spirits. It's fun at first, but I started looking forward to getting the tears just so I could become human Link again. It's far more entertaining to play the game with his items and various attacks. After the first few dungeons, you'll gain the ability to switch between human and wolf forms at will. With just a press of the d-pad, you can choose the form better suited for the specific situation.
Staples of the Zelda inventory return, including the bow, slingshot, boomerang, and hookshot. Some of these have been upgraded from previous installments, such as the wind-producing Gale Boomerang and the Double Clawshot. Several great new items are also introduced throughout your quest. My favorite dungeon was probably Arbiter's Grounds, as it acts as a virtual playground for the Spinner item. By jumping onto this top-like item and heading towards a groove in the wall, it's possible to fly around the edges of rooms at lightning speed. Another great item is the Dominion Rod, which lets Link control statues.
Polish and development mastery are extremely evident in Twilight Princess. Even minor annoyances from previous installments have been avoided. How many times have you had a full wallet in Ocarina of Time, only to open a treasure chest and receive a rare rupee worth 100? You probably worked hard to get to it, and you can't even reap the rewards. Twilight Princess avoids this problem by simply saying "It won't fit in your wallet now, so let's put it back." That way, you can always return for it rather than have it disappear forever.
On one occasion, I was shocked because I thought I had encountered a glitch in a Zelda game. This series is absolutely known for its polish, and I couldn't believe it would have any glitches. I was walking through quicksand, and then got out onto stable land. Despite being on solid ground, Link was still walking very slow and awkward, like he was still in the sand. For a moment, I wondered if I'd have to restart the game. After a moment, however, I switched to wolf form and turned on my senses. It wasn't a glitch at all my character was covered by invisible rats.
No other game in the series features such a wide variety of enemies. Every dungeon seems to be absolutely crawling with original and interesting creature designs. The Arbiter's Ground temple throws literally hundreds of tiny bugs at you, as well as armies of miniature skeleton soldiers. You've never been thankful for the spin attack as much as you will be when dozens of spider babies surround you.
Spectacular boss fights are a given in this franchise, but TP absolutely went above and beyond my expectations. Without a doubt, these are the most epic and intense end-dungeon baddies you've ever seen. Certain ones (the underwater creature, the amazing battle with a giant dragon) make me think that the development team played a bit of Shadow of the Colossus in their spare time. The climactic battle sequences are some of the most visually striking and fascinating experiences I've encountered in a videogame.
Obviously, the visuals are a source of much debate with this game (and the Wii in general). Yes, it is obvious that the game was first developed for the Gamecube. You'll find no high-definition forearm veins, hair strands, or clothing textures here. What you will find, however, is some of the most beautiful art design you'll ever see. Whether you're in a horseback battle in a thunderstorm or watching giant birds circle Hyrule Castle, you'll see a level of true art in a way most games could never dream of reaching.
Since there is no primary musical instrument to play in TP, there isn't quite as many immediately-hummable jingles like the Song of Storms. Despite this, the soundtrack constantly acts as a perfect complement to the onscreen action. The main "danger" music in the Twilight Realm is unlike anything you've ever heard in the series, and really does add to the surreal atmosphere. While I never once heard the classic Overworld theme, many classics from Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time make their returns.
In addition to the fantastic soundtrack, you'll hear plenty of audio coming out of the Wiimote's built-in speaker. From the palm of your hand, you'll hear the sounds of your sword unsheathing, your fishing line reeling in, your Clawshot extending, and even the classic Zelda chime. Just prepare to get a little creeped out when you hear Midna's otherworldly giggle emit from your controller.
Is it truly a contender for "greatest game of all-time"? It's certainly a possibility, but I want to take a few months for the experience to settle before throwing out such a loaded statement. Keep in mind, I played this game for over ten hours a day for the better part of a week. Most gamers will probably play through this game leisurely, putting in 2-3 hours a day, savoring the game for weeks, even months. I didn't speed-run through it at all (I did almost every sidequest I encountered), but it was constant gameplay with constant note-taking, and I'm worried that I got "used to" the greatness, if that makes any sense. I think that I'll have an even greater appreciation of this title once I go back to reviewing run-of-the-mill, churned-out generic crap like Just Cause.
We've waited (sometimes impatiently) for this day since we saw Link ride across Hyrule Field in that surprise trailer at E3 2004. After some mixed reactions for the last two main Zelda adventures, gamers can now cherish what is truly the spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time. Hyrule is once again a world of hugely enjoyable gameplay around every turn, and Twilight Princess features the best story in the heralded series' history. Every once in a while, a game comes out that reminds you of why you spend hours with controller in hand, or why you invest hundreds of your hard-earned dollars in the latest game console. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is without a doubt one of the greatest achievements in the history of the industry, and it would be a crime to go without this experience.
First Play: 10
Replay Value: 9.5