Zelda: Twilight Princess — my thoughts on the beast

Zelda: Twilight Princess A pre-emptive warning: This is a really long post. I feel I may just be talking to myself as I really have gone overboard, but hey, it’s my first proper post in ages – I might as well restart with a bang. If you’re only interested in the Twilight Princess pros/cons section, skip down to the bullet points.

As those who read my last post will be aware, I’ve finally started making some headway last week into the latest Zelda, Twilight Princess. It’s been a long road to get this far. The game arrived through my letterbox in early December and should have been accompanied by a Wii; unfortunately, stocks were way too thin for this to become a reality so it sat on my shelf for months. Then at the beginning of March, I walked into a Nottingham game shop and they’d just by chance had a delivery. People were already grabbing them and walking out the door, so I immediately pounced and asked them to save me one while I ran across to the bank. They obliged, and I had myself a Wii. Yay!

Sadly I realised I had no working TV in my room beyond a terrible 14-inch portable, so for a further month the Wii sat in the lounge being largely unplayed by myself due to being at work all day and having a family more interested in watching Sky TV all evening than watching me play Zelda. Weirdos. But then, a couple of weeks ago I saw that Samsung were offering a new range of CRT televisions (the ones with the fat backs) called “SlimFits”, which knock a third off the depth and thus make them easier to fit into fairly confined areas. Like my room, for example. So I grabbed myself a 21-inch one and set everything up.

Now, at first I was excited about Twilight Princess. But like many others, the opening turned me off quite a bit. Although the opening to Twilight Princess isn’t unexciting or lacking substance per se, it just doesn’t seem to draw you in that effectively. It takes a good while to get to the first dungeon, and everything before then is more based around setting up what is quite a complex storyline concept to understand – even by Zelda standards.

However, now that I’ve stuck with it and logged around 12 hours of (leisurely) play, I feel confident enough to write a fairly detailed round-up of my thoughts and make some comments on what’s right and wrong about it.

Zelda: Twilight Princess There’s one thing I want to address from the outset. Despite Twilight Princess’ sweeping excellent reviews, and despite it being a Zelda game, a lot of people seem kind of indifferent about the game – especially if they’ve only played a bit of the introductory sequence (which actually lasts a few hours). I was the same. But let me just assert this point: if you think this game isn’t going to be at least as good as Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, you’re wrong. Okay? Wrong.

This is a true Zelda game. It includes everything that’s always been loved in the series, yet does it better. A lot of reviews obsess over the fact that it doesn’t do much beyond perfect what’s been done before, and that’s an understandable criticism. But make no mistake, it really does perfect the mechanics. This is Zelda at its absolute best, regardless of whether or not it’s only fine-tuning past gameplay styles (which Wind Waker also did, incidentally). Don’t let the introduction put you off – play the game. Once you get out of that pleasant but decidedly boring opening area and hit the Hyrule Fields you’ll start to get excited. Unless you have no soul.

With that said, let me go into the details. As I haven’t played enough of the game to give a full-blown review but have played enough to make a lot of strong observations, I’ll structure it as a list. I’ve also taken care not to really spoil anything, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate.

What’s good about Twilight Princess:

  • It feels a lot like Ocarina of Time, yet crafts its own atmosphere which seems to reside somewhere between Ocarina-esque fantasy magic and a Wild West tone. Whatever influenced it, it works well.
  • Nostalgic locations such as Kakariko Village make their return, complete with Death Mountain and Gorons. Places that aren’t the same by name also look and are geographically familiar.
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess Despite some criticism for not having a live orchestral soundtrack, the music does sound great nonetheless and while there aren’t too many hugely memorable melodies to hum, when playing the music fits in beautifully – arguably more so than ever before. It also makes plentiful use of blending between tracks (people familiar with iMuse know the score), which is something that’d be harder to do as gracefully with live performances.
  • Classic elements are back, ranging from the obvious ones such as Epona (who now rides way better than before) and your items, although they pretty much all have their own unique twists that differentiate them from previous games’ renditions.
  • Cinematic presentation is frequent, with cut-scenes that seem much better than they have often been in the past. There’re also good, brief ‘setting’ camera pans when you walk into many areas. The whole game just generally seems a little less awkward than its predecessors when presenting story elements and puzzles.
  • The game world is incredibly vast. At first I was a little worried that Hyrule Fields seemed to be split into areas rather than being wide open (a much celebrated feature of Ocarina of Time), but it seems that was just for storytelling purposes. Once you do a certain thing which I can’t reveal without spoiling, Hyrule Fields is an absolutely gigantic area that is presumably stitched together in a streamed fashion much like the world in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While I can’t confirm this, taking half an hour as rumoured last year to get from one absolute end of the world to the other seems kind of believable.
  • You often step into a world that is very much unlike the normal world. It’s interesting to see the contrast between areas in the two worlds, showing what the main game world would be like after evil has prevailed. It’s worth noting that both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker did this same trick in their own ways, the former with time travel and the latter with an undersea adventure. Great stuff.
  • There is a lot of world interaction and it changes quite frequently, so if walking around and talking to characters in villages and such is your thing you’re in for a great time. Similarly, there’re loads of little secrets and nuggets to stumble across.
  • The dungeons are damned good. New themes seem to be in store such as snow, but the ones I’ve seen so far are the classic Forest Temple and a very hot volcanic place. The Forest Temple was a fantastic choice as it has a quirky tone to it that the past games have featured, is full of some refreshingly unique puzzle action, and of course has that nice forest atmosphere (which the music does a typically good job of conveying). In short, places that’re nice and interesting to explore, which is just as well as the puzzles here are downright fiendish.
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess You don’t always play as a human, and in these instances the feel of the character is done particularly well. The set of moves you use as a human remain intact, but they’re converted to the animal’s physical capabilities. While it’d be easy to make playing as an animal feel like a sub-game and a bit shit, it’s been managed really well here and you’re unlikely to be unhappy about the times in the game when you’re forced into being that animal for whatever reason.
  • An extremely good job has been done of making the controls work with the Wii. This is without a doubt the best game on the Wii I’ve played yet as far as control quality goes, and while the movements you make in combat aren’t necessarily realistic, they feel like it. For those who’ve played Guitar Hero, you probably know what I mean. Once you start learning the advanced fighting moves later into the game, you really get into it. It can’t be as enjoyable trying to remember all those moves on the GameCube controller (a good example being the “shove Nunchuk forward to hit enemy with shield” move).
  • Interesting references to past games are all over the place, and they do a really good job of tugging your nostalgia strings. For example, an Ocarina of Time player walking into Goron City will immediately notice that the music has both the same style as the aforementioned game’s version and indeed works parts of the original’s melody into the performance. Likewise, those who fondly remember slicing up the chickens in Ocarina of Time and the pigs in Wind Waker will get a pleasant surprise (emphasis on surprise) when they persistently try to do the same in Twilight Princess.
  • It looks like it’s going to be a bloody long game. Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker were long, but the meat of the game was over quite quickly and it was largely padding like traipsing over massive stretches of sea after that. At the moment I’ve been playing Twilight Princess for about 12 hours without wasting much time doing needless secondary tasks, and I’m still only a small way into the second dungeon. Bearing in mind there’s meant to be nine dungeons, clearly the “70 hours of gameplay” comments before the game was released might hold some weight after all. Especially if you do participate in the traipsing around finding every last secret.
  • Your companion in the game isn’t a fairy like in Ocarina of Time, but she is nonetheless a great character to have around and has a degree of attitude that’s made her rather popular with the masses. I agree – she’s fantastic, both devilish yet lovable. Much better than either nothing at all or an excessively pleasant fairy.
  • It just feels great. It’s one of those games that you look forward to spending an evening with while you’re sat at work or whatever, as opposed to something for just filling the odd half-hour. You’ll think of the places you’ve been in hindsight and feel a little warm and fuzzy. You’ll just want to get back in there whenever possible, until the game’s over. Not many games consistently manage that with me these days.

What’s bad about Twilight Princess:

  • Like in all Zelda games, no voice acting of any kind is on offer here. Although certain key characters have continuous unintelligible noises, even that doesn’t occur for all characters and the vast majority are just silent. I think this is a huge missed opportunity, and while the tone of Zelda tends to favour no language-specific voice acting, there’s no excuse for having no sounds at all. Even applying unintelligible noises to all characters or at the very least races would make a huge difference.
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess The Wii controls are great, but one area that’s sorely lacking is the pointer. Although the pointer is used relatively little in comparison to the motion sensitive stuff, it doesn’t feel as seamless. The biggest downside in my opinion is the integration of the Navi-like fairy that sits on your screen at all times when the pointer is enabled. That is, the only way to get rid of it is to disable the pointer functionality altogether, meaning you use the Nunchuk analogue stick to aim crossbows and such instead of the Wiimote pointer. I had to do this as while a fairy being on-screen at all times isn’t a bad thing in itself (it was done very well in Ocarina of Time), the fairy isn’t very good — it never changes size or anything. Instead of looking like it’s in the world with you, it sits in the foreground like a mouse cursor. It would have been infinitely better if they’d figured out a way to make it look like the fairy is flying all over the environment without sacrificing the precision aiming. Sadly, they didn’t.
  • As you probably gathered from the first part of this post, I don’t approve of the introductory sequence so much. It’s not bad and actually does a great job of introducing everything in the game, but it somehow manages to introduce everything in a way that’s not wholly exciting – even the enemies. It’s only once you hit the first dungeon, the Forest Temple, that you’ll really start to get a taste for this game. While I have confidence in Zelda fans’ determination to give it a good try, I imagine this’ll turn off a lot of new players.
  • Graphically, this is a GameCube game. Make no mistake, the sheer polygonic and textural detail in Twilight Princess isn’t even close to hitting the standard of your Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games. While a fantastic job has been made of putting the best possible artistic direction and effects into the game, certain areas would be a lot more impressive – especially the ‘epic’ sequences – if the textures weren’t very visibly blurry, or you couldn’t see conspicuous jagged lines on the edges of everything (I’d imagine this is much worse when played through 480p on a HD television). The game may look fine and very nearly stunning on a CRT which is why I bought one, but it won’t age very gracefully at all, just like Ocarina of Time looks visually offensive to most people nowadays. It feels like they could have improved this for the Wii version in the case of anti-aliasing and other such basics.
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess Minor graphical glitches seem to affect limited parts of the game, which do become quite conspicuous when you have a sharp eye for detail. For example, the beautiful day/night effects are often hampered by what looks like a restricted colour depth, with the gradients of the sky not being smooth. Make your operating system use a lower colour depth and look at some photographs to see what I mean. Also, flickering caused by the blooming (which otherwise works beautifully) sometimes occurs. Finally, the shadows given off by your character can be a bit queer and project in either unrealistic directions or suddenly change from projecting in one direction to another. These things won’t bother most people, but it gets on my nerves and I’m sure it will for a minority of others too.

I’ll write a proper review eventually, but for the time being that is basically what stands out most to me as good and bad in Twilight Princess; there’re certainly more things I could write for both categories, but that might get a little too detailed for what’s meant to be a summary. I’d really like to discuss the game though so if anyone wants to throw in their thoughts, please leave a comment. Likewise, if you agree or disagree with any of my points, please ask me to elaborate in a comment and/or add your own piece!

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