Oh, Twilight Princess. You’re… a Zelda game. I guess.
I didn’t play Twilight Princess until 2010 — four years after it was released. I’m not exactly sure why, either. It was released in 2006, so I was probably too preoccupied with the end of high school and beginning of college to get excited about it. The fact that, at the time, I was also more interested in JRPGs and wasn’t a fan of the Wii and other decisions Nintendo was making probably played a big role in my decision not to prioritize getting around to it.
In 2010 I finally wanted to try it out. I remember searching multiple Gamestops until I could find a used copy (with the actual cover; sorry Gamestop, but your generic cases are really ugly). Despite it being a huge hit on the Wii, I decided to go with the GameCube version for a few reasons. First, I still wasn’t a huge fan of the Wii at the time. I’d rather play a game like this with a controller instead of the Wii Remote. Second, although our family owned a Wii, it was set up in the family room, which was often being used by other people. I don’t think I would have gotten a lot of time playing it if I had picked it up for the Wii. Third, it was supposed to be on the GameCube anyway. I may have missed the hype the game had after it was released, but I certainly remember the hype before it was released. Many delays and cries of outrage by Nintendo fans, teaser trailers, promotional artwork showing a more serious Zelda game — even I was disappointed that this next Zelda title was looking less probable of being released for a system I already owned.
I was so excited when I finally got my own copy, I kind of stupidly bought that $30 collector’s edition strategy guide with a Barnes and Noble gift card I’d recently gotten for my birthday. At the time it seemed great, but I would never spend that much on a guide today, collector’s edition or not. And looking through it now, it’s not even that great of a guide. The layout is really awkward; it’s more of a text walkthrough without a lot of maps (something a Zelda guide should have a lot of), and the charts that reveal Piece of Heart locations and other sidequest-related things hurt my eyes just looking at them.
Well, I played it that summer, had a fun enough time, but strangely enough didn’t remember much about the game. I half blame myself for this one; I feel like I spent more time reading what to do in the guide instead of exploring and figuring things out for myself while taking the game in. That’s what I thought, anyway. Towards the end of 2011 I started watching let’s plays on YouTube, and from that I started watching retro game reviews. One thing led to another, and eventually I found myself watching a ton of video-game related content on YouTube. And when Zelda was the topic of discussion, I was surprised to hear a fair share of criticism for Twilight Princess. I remember people being in love with this game, and while I didn’t love it, I certainly didn’t think it was a bad game. But the videos I watched never held a lot of praise. People didn’t like the washed out, darker color scheme. People didn’t like how useless half of the items were. People didn’t like how it acted like a fan service, Ocarina of Time clone. People didn’t like how it didn’t really do anything new with the series, especially considering how the previous two Zelda console games, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, succeeded in doing so.
Since then, I’ve wanted to try out Twilight Princess again to see if maybe these reasons were also why nothing from the game really stuck with me. But at the same time, all those negative opinions didn’t make me want to try it out again enough. Still, it was something I wanted an updated opinion on. So here I am, five years later, and I just finished it again.
And eh. It was okay.
Unfortunately, my opinion didn’t change too much from when I played it the first time. Thankfully, I didn’t hate the game. I was really worried I would, especially since the game took a few hours to finish opening up and let me into the first dungeon. But in the end, I did enjoy my time playing it. But something was definitely off. Well, lots of things were definitely off. And unfortunately, most of them have to do with the game’s presentation rather than the gameplay itself. It sounds kind of shallow to say that, but I feel like Twilight Princess’ special something it brings to the table is its graphical presentation, and when that’s something that rubs me the wrong way, it affects my whole experience.
Like many criticizers of the game have said, I fully agree that the game can be too dark. I’m someone that usually favors brighter, contrasting colors in the first place, so this could be more of a personal preference. Link always looked like he was walking through shadows. His entire character is full of muted colors. In fact, every character is. No one particularly stands out in this game, and considering Zelda is usually full of memorable people, that becomes a distracting problem for me.
Thankfully the environments didn’t always face the same problem, which I feared they would. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of places were still too dark to really notice or appreciate. But some places looked really beautiful. In particular, Ordon Village, Lake Hylia, the Sacred Grove, and the Fishing Hole were some of the best-looking and most relaxing places in the game. Between the water, the sky, and the grass, Twilight Princess did make some very beautiful areas.
Unfortunately, a lot of these nice areas are pretty spacious and don’t have a lot to do in them. On top of which, most of the time I was either racing past them on Epona or warping to them to go somewhere else. The three examples I gave stood out the most because you were more encouraged to explore on foot. They were also places to visit rather than something you passed to go somewhere else. With the exception of those, the many spots of Hyrule that would normally be gorgeous don’t stick out in my memory at all.
There are also a lot of dull areas. Kakariko Village in particular is especially lifeless. It’s a mostly abandoned little town in a dusty canyon. Only a shaman, his daughter, and a shopkeeper live in this rather large, empty space. Over time your friends from Ordon Village and a few Gorons will take up residence there too, but it still feels extremely desolate and boring. The Gerudo Desert is boring, the path leading up to Snowpeak is boring, Death Mountain and the trail leading up to it is boring — there are just as many dull and muted places as there are gorgeous ones.
And then there’s night — I hate it. In games, I usually prefer traveling in the daytime rather than at night anyway, although it’s rarely a big deal for me if I have to do without the sun for a little while. But in Twilight Princess, the night just made an already dark game even darker. Again, maybe this is more of a personal complaint, but I had a really hard time seeing anything at all at night. And sometimes the night never seems to end! I don’t know how the day and night system works in this game, but I always felt like they both lasted at inconsistent rates. It was really disappointing that there wasn’t some way to skip to dawn like in previous console Zelda games.
I suppose the lantern exists to counter this. Link obtains a lantern early in the game, which I’ll admit is useful for lighting up the night and some of the darker dungeons while giving a nice light effect on the surrounding area. However, there’s one big problem with it: the lantern uses oil, which is consumed faster than I’d like. Personally, I’d prefer if the lantern didn’t use oil at all. If it’s supposed to be used to light up dark areas, it seems kind of stupid to limit how often you can do that considering how dark a huge portion of the game can be. But if the lantern had to use up oil, I wish it would have lasted more than 10 minutes (and I think that’s a generous estimate) before it needed to be refilled. You can run around with the lantern, use your sword, and other items while it’s still lit. It’s obvious you were meant to utilize it fairly often. So why have it last such a short time? Again, my issue with the darker areas can be considered more of a personal one.
Maybe no one really cared about the lantern after the beginning of the game, where it’s most required. I could have dabbled with the brightness settings on both my TV and in the game’s options. But I think it’s a problem when a game forces you to mess with your default brightness settings just to get a good look at something on screen. I think the lantern was a good idea for a compromise, but it becomes limited because of this oil situation. You can carry extra oil in an empty bottle, but if you want to regularly use your lantern you then run into the problem of always wasting at least one empty bottle to hold lantern oil.
While I’m on the topic of items, I guess now would be a good time to talk about the rest of them. I’ve heard a lot of people say this game has the most useless items of any Zelda game so far. I’ll agree that a large chunk of them are mostly limited to the dungeons you find them in. In fact, if any Zelda game I’ve played so far is guilty of that common criticism against the series, Twilight Princess is most guilty. But that being said, I actually enjoyed using a lot of the items, even if they were only for a short time. They played a big part in why the dungeons in this game were really good.
For example, the Spinner is this floating gear thing Link can ride around and travel along certain spots in walls with. The dungeon you receive it in, Arbiter’s Grounds, becomes such a fun place because the rest of the dungeon (including the boss) focuses on utilizing the Spinner to its maximum potential. There aren’t a lot of places outside of Arbiter’s Grounds where it’s useful (like many items, their combat use is extremely limited and is overshadowed by the sword), but using it in the dungeon was fun enough that I didn’t mind.
I could say the same thing about the Dominion Rod obtained in the Temple of Time. You only really use it there (as well as a little filler quest before going to the next temple). But you get to use it in a really cool way in the temple — navigating a giant statue down an eight floor dungeon while destroying previous obstacles and moving your way past new ones. So I don’t care too much considering the fun I had in the dungeon was enough to make up for its uselessness outside.
Some items, however, really do feel useless. You obtain a big ball and chain weapon in one of the later dungeons whose primary purpose is to destroy ice blocks and ice-based enemies found almost exclusively in said dungeon. Outside, though, it’s not too practical of an item. Neither were the Spinner and Dominion Rod, but those were more fun in their dungeons. And considering it’s, you know, a ball and chain, you’d think it’d have more combat potential (although to be fair, I did find it surprisingly useful against ReDeads).
The Slingshot also makes a return as your first projectile item, but considering you get the Hero’s Bow shortly after, I can’t help but wonder if its inclusion held any purpose other than yet another nod towards Ocarina of Time. There’s also the Horsecall, which felt like the single most useless item in the game. It calls Epona to you at any time, which up until you get it, you could only do by finding certain pieces of grass whistles (what?) throughout the world. Considering Link doesn’t get an instrument in this game and can’t call Epona that way, the Horsecall seems like it should be extremely useful. But he doesn’t get it until very late in the game, and by this point warping is the primary method of traveling. And even if it wasn’t, there’s usually a grass whistle near any entrance or exit of an area anyway.
One last thing I want to say about items is the item wheel. Again, this is more of a personal gripe than anything else. In most Zelda games up to this point, your item selection screen is usually some kind of square or rectangle, with each new item slowly filling up the screen like a jigsaw puzzle. To me, it was a great way to show how much progress I made while playing the game. I always had a fairly accurate idea of how much I’d accomplished by this screen.
In Twilight Princess, the item screen was turned into this wheel, where each new item is added to it. This was probably done to make selecting items with the Wii Remote more easy, but it doesn’t fill up like previous screens. There aren’t designated spots on the wheel for specific items; new items just get added while trying to keep the spaces between each item an equal distance from each other. It didn’t feel like I was slowly seeing myself improve over the course of the game. I felt like I was only collecting more stuff for Link to carry around.
In terms of story, Twilight Princess‘ is probably the most involved of the Zelda games released up to that point. It was much chattier and tried to take on a much darker tone than your usual Zelda game. The thing is though, I really wasn’t into it. It felt like it was trying to take itself way too seriously, especially with all those slow motion shots of Link on his horse (god, those were stupid). More than once I felt like this would be what a Zelda movie would be like if a big name like Sony Pictures tried to make one, only ever having seen screenshots of Zelda games but never having played any themselves. It felt like it tried way too hard to be epic, and usually when something does that it has the opposite effect on me. Like when I was younger and other kids would try too hard to act mature or mysterious — it backfired, and they seemed more childish than if they were acting natural.
I’ll give credit where credit’s due, though. During the first half of the game, the involvement of the kids and families in Ordon Village did feel right. I still wasn’t overly attached to anyone myself, but I think the game did a good job at showing Link’s involvement in the community and how much those people mean to him.
Most of the other characters were just there, though. The kids stuck out more than anyone, but everyone else felt pretty average for Zelda characters. Not that other Zelda NPCs are particularly deep most of the time, but there’s usually something about their appearance or character design that at least lets them stick out to me. The only other characters that I feel like I would remember are Agitha, because she was a pretty unusual character to start with, and Barnes, who had me genuinely laughing during a few different parts of the game. But everyone else blends into the environments. Some characters don’t feel like they belong in the game at all. The Postman from Majora’s Mask is back for some reason, and they made him look too silly. Goofy characters in Zelda games are fine (in fact, it’s usually to be expected), but when the tone of the game and art style is trying to be so serious, they feel more out of place than anything else. It doesn’t translate very well into the tone of the game and leaves me even more disconnected.
Zelda herself is, strangely enough, absent for most of the game. Considering how much promo art was featured of her wearing a mysterious cloak or holding a sword, looking like she was ready to fight, I really expected her to be a lot more involved. But nope, she’s barely there at all. Your companion Midna (who’s actually one of the more fun characters in the game) brings you to her for a meet and greet early in the game. Halfway through you bring Midna back so Zelda can heal her, and when she does she kind of just disintegrates into the air. You don’t see her again until the end of the game, where she’s somehow pieced back together and taken over by Ganondorf to fight you in place of a Phantom Ganon fight. She helps you in the final battle by firing Light Arrows at Ganondorf, and then she’s together with Link saying goodbye to Midna during the credits. Her role in the game seems so minimal that I’m honestly confused why she was hyped up so much in the first place. Zelda in Ocarina of Time felt more involved than the one in Twilight Princess. Sure, she’s also not seen very often either, but the idea of her and child Link plotting to overthrow Ganondorf as the King’s adviser seems much more proactive than whatever it is she’s doing in Twilight Princess.
Speaking of Ganondorf, a lot of people didn’t seem to like that he replaced Zant as the main villain. I personally don’t care either way. Zant always seemed kind of stupid to me anyway. He had that weird mask that looked like his tongue was hanging out down to his neck, which made him seem more weird than intimidating. He also didn’t show up very often, so it’s not like I grew particularly attached to him. And whether people liked him or not, I don’t find it especially surprising that Ganondorf was the one pulling the strings. It seemed kind of similar to Ganon’s relationship to Agahnim in A Link to the Past, so I wasn’t too shocked when Ganondorf was revealed to be the one behind the “mysterious” powers Zant suddenly obtained.
Zant himself was also under heavy criticism by a lot of people. Apparently, other fans did find him to be pretty intimidating with his cold demeanor and were disappointed when he more or less went nuts when Link eventually fought him. I actually preferred the crazier Zant; if nothing else, it was pretty amusing to watch him twist his body out of shape and spin around like a top, slapping you with his sleeve-arm things. There are also some theorists that say Zant’s fighting style resembles Majora’s second phase from the final battle in Majora’s Mask, and have made a couple of other connections suggesting the Twili are the ancient tribe that crafted Majora’s Mask. While I used to not want Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess connected in any way, I don’t really care now. If that was intentional, fine. If it wasn’t, whatever. In the end, Skull Kid in Majora’s Mask is much more interesting to me as an antagonist than Zant or Ganondorf will ever be.
One more thing about characters. Like Zelda, Epona was also hyped up before the game was released. Footage of being able to fight while riding on her was promoted, the beginning of the game featured some jousting-like challenges with her, and you can even rename her at the start of the game. But like Zelda, Epona ended up taking a backseat. Once I gained the ability to warp at will, I barely used Epona at all. Her main use was to get across the ridiculously large Hyrule Field fairly quickly, but once you can warp to places (and there are noticeably more places than usual), Epona seems more like a beginning of the game character than anything else.
All right, Hyrule Field. From story to all the “Chosen One” dialogue to flashy hidden moves (half of which I never even used), Twilight Princess is clearly trying to be epic on a much larger scale than previous Zelda games. Making Hyrule Field as large as it is really drives that point home, especially when the beginning of its theme music starts out with so much energy.
Hyrule Field is split into four different sections, all of which feel about as big as Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time. But despite being four times as large, it has even less to do in it. There’s nothing here, save for a few spots to catch bugs and collect Pieces of Heart. And normally I don’t think this would bother me as much as it does others, but when I keep hearing people complain that Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time is too big and doesn’t have anything to do in it, I’m baffled why more people don’t bring up Hyrule Field in Twilight Princess.
Hyrule Castle Town also faces the same problem. It always seemed a little off to me that for a Castle Town, the one in Ocarina of Time felt a little small and like it didn’t have as many people as I would have expected. But hey, it was the N64, there was only so much they could do, I got over it. I’ll credit Twilight Princess for making a bigger Castle Town that definitely feels a lot busier than the one in Ocarina of Time.
But again, there’s even less to do. And I didn’t even think Ocarina of Time‘s Castle Town didn’t have anything to do! There was Bombchu Bowling, the Shooting Gallery, that Treasure Shop mini-game, a shady bomb shop, the Happy Mask shop, the potion store, and the Bazaar where you could get that discounted Hylian Shield. Caslte Town in Twilight Princess, like Hyrule Field, has multiple screens and sections, yet has one mini-game (that you can’t even fully complete until late in the game), Agitha’s place to turn in collectible bugs, this other guy’s house that acts similarly to the Skulltula House in Ocarina of Time… um… a store you can’t shop in until late in the game… uh… this doctor’s office that’s inaccessible for most of the game… and this tavern that’s role is more for story purposes than anything else. Most of these places have no real use in an already big town. So… why’s the town so big other than to seem big?
You know, as I’m hating on Twilight Princess for having muted colors and environments that are way too big with nothing to do in them, I can’t help but think that Shadow of the Colossus, one of my favorite games, does the same thing and I love it for utilizing those design choices. I guess the main difference is that Shadow of the Colossus focuses on creating an incredibly lonely, almost hopeless atmosphere. Traveling through a large, empty world succeeds in making me feel small and lonely. The lack of much to do other than travel towards the next Colossus builds tension as I think about the next gigantic beast I need to kill. These choices compliment what that game was trying to do.
I don’t get that impression with Twilight Princess. The only thing I feel the game is trying to do is appear darker than other Zelda games. But honestly, despite all the extra story, dialogue, and length of time to finish the game, it really doesn’t feel any deeper or more mature to me than any other 3-D Zelda game. Many of the aesthetical choices feel really superficial to me, and when Twilight Princess‘ defining feature seems to be its realistic art style, it really hurts the rest of my game experience.
I don’t want to end on such a negative note, especially since I honestly did have enough fun with the game, so let me finish with some positive things about the gameplay. The dungeons were great. And there were a lot of them. Wind Waker didn’t have many dungeons, and Majora’s Mask had even less. Which is fine to me, considering the exploration of their worlds more than made up for it. But it’s nice to play another Zelda game with a large number of dungeons, all of which were satisfying to play through. I was initially concerned how long I would spend in dungeons, because I remember spending at least a few hours on each one during my first playthrough. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, so I’ll blame myself for spending too much time following the guide the first time. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still pretty long. But they don’t overstay their welcome more than previous dungeons.
I only had two cases when I got really frustrated with them. The first was with the third dungeon, Lakebed Temple. You need to manipulate water so it flows throughout the dungeon, and I must have spent at least an hour running back and forth, checking every room when it looked like I couldn’t progress any further. I ended up stupidly missing a ladder that led to whereI needed to go, but this was yet again another case of an object blending in too much with the environment due to the darker nature it has. The second time was in the seventh dungeon, the City in the Sky. I kept hitting dead ends, although this was more my fault because I wasn’t looking around carefully enough (coupled with the fact I kept falling off the bridges where the wind blows you off, which was even more stupid on my part).
But as a whole, the dungeons were really great. Hyrule Castle as the last one seemed like a great place to end the game. I really liked the Snowpeak Ruins as well. I really like it when dungeons feel more like manors or houses, and it’s probably one of the reasons why Ocarina of Time‘s Forest Temple and A Link to the Past‘s Thieve’s Town are two of my favorite dungeons in the whole Zelda series.
Link also controls pretty well, both in human and wolf form. Despite a lot of initial skepticism, I always liked playing as a wolf. No real reason. It was just fun. I also want to say I really like how Link can run and swing his sword at the same time in this game. It’s a small feature, but it’s really welcome for cutting down patches of grass.
*cough cough* not that you need to, considering Rupees follow you wherever you go *cough cough*
Oh, dammit. Did I go and say that out loud.
All right, I need to say this. Every criticism I had so far? I just didn’t care for those things. They built up over time and became distracting, sure. But I’m not losing any sleep over them. You want to know what my actual gripe with the game is? The one I really hate? It’s the fucking Rupees again.
If you read my post about Ocarina of Time, you might remember my only real gripe is that Rupees are too abundant and I found myself with a full wallet too often. And in hindsight, I don’t really care that much. I open a chest with 200 Rupees when my wallet’s full. Oh well. It’s not like I’m spending money anyway.
Twilight Princess though… man, it had to take an extra step. In addition to handing out even more Rupees, you can’t keep Rupees you find in a treasure chest if the amount exceeds your max limit. Why!?
You get this stupid message saying it won’t fit in your wallet, so you’ll have to put it back. I mimicked that line in a very demeaning way every time that message appeared. Are you kidding? I know at the end of the day a lot of things about Zelda don’t make sense, but I really need to know: if Link can shove a ball and chain, Iron Boots, a fishing rod, etc. into his tunic and walk around just fine, why the hell can’t he shove an extra Rupee in there too? Your wallet’s full? Who cares? Put it in a pocket!
And correct me if I’m wrong, but Rupees of any color all look the same size to me in this game. Let’s say Link has 570 Rupees and his max is 600. He can’t fit a purple Rupee into his wallet because it’s worth 50, and that would put him over 600. But he can put a red one in because it’s only worth 20. But they’re the same size, just different colors! Imagine being unable to put a $50 bill into your wallet because it’s full of singles, but somehow you have enough room to squeeze a $20 bill in there. How does that make sense? They’re the same size as the singles!
I mean in the end, it’s all about keeping a cap on the amount of Rupees you have, which is stupid because Zelda games can never seem to keep a good income/outcome ratio with their currency system. But putting it back in the chest, especially when the chest was a pain in the ass to reach in the first place, just seems like an extra slap in the face.
The biggest and most important disappointment with the whole thing is in the dungeons, though. Twilight Princess‘ dungeons hold two Pieces of Heart each among all the other treasures. Half those treasures usually contain Rupees. If your wallet’s full early on, it can be a real pain in the ass to keep track of which chests you did open, but couldn’t keep the contents of because Link’s wallet is “full.” Those chests will remain unopened on the map. If you’re ready to take on the boss but didn’t find those Pieces of Heart yet, have fun combing the dungeon again trying to get all those unopened treasure chests that at the very least could have been marked with something on the map so you don’t have to go crazy remembering which chests you really have and haven’t found.
End Rupee rant.
I didn’t want to end on a negative note, but the Rupee thing honestly pissed me off more than anything else, and there wasn’t a great spot to put that in.
At the end of the day, I did have fun with Twilight Princess. I didn’t hate it like I thought I would, despite everything I’ve bitched about. But considering it’s a Zelda game, and one of the main things about Zelda games is how much they stick out to me, I can’t help but feel disappointed that my second playthrough after five years left me feeling just as apathetic to it as the first time. By the end of this week, I won’t be surprised if I’ve forgotten most of my experience with the game.
To everyone that really likes Twilight Princess, I hope you didn’t take this as me shitting all over a game you really like. Despite not leaving much of an impression on me, I apparently had a lot to say about it (seriously, this post is ridiculously long) and I really wanted to get those thoughts out before I forgot about them all over again.
I really want to like Twilight Princess more. I’d like to come back to it a little more often, because while it’s appearance wasn’t my cup of tea, the game was still enjoyable. But I spent almost 40 hours on this playthrough. If I was playing an RPG, I wouldn’t feel as bad about sinking that kind of time into a game. But for a Zelda game, that’s kind of long for me. Depending on whether it’s a 2-D or 3-D game, I’m kind of expecting to put half that time at the max into a Zelda game. If it was a more rewarding experience for me, I wouldn’t mind so much. But like I said, this really wasn’t any deeper for me than any of the other 3-D Zelda games I’ve played (which at this point is every one except Skyward Sword). So I’m essentially playing twice as long for a less satisfying experience.
But at the very least, I’m glad I finally have a more recent opinion of the game. Checking off something from my “things I want to revisit” list is always satisfying. 🙂