ARROOOOOO!! This game has jumped into the spotlight with the recently announced Twilight Princess HD for Wii U so I thought it was a good time for a writeup. I started replaying this on a whim a few weeks ago and have become completely absorbed in its world. Being such a gigantic game, I haven’t done a playthrough since the Wii launch, but I was delighted to discover the game is much better than how I remember it. It’s huge and sometimes slow, but never boring. It’s such a wonderful game. Rather than being an intimidating “time sink” game, it’s been a special part of my day as I’ve slowly rediscovered this enchanting world at my own pace. The land is populated with beautiful, innocent life, but is also threatened by a dark curse. This contrast creates a sense of mystery and urgency that makes even basic travel interesting, and had my mindset permanently engaged and interested all the way to the end of the game. This writeup isn’t a traditional review, I’m going to talk a LOT about the story so it’ll be filled with spoilers, so just don’t read if you haven’t played the game. Or maybe you’re just a free spirit who doesn’t mind spoilers so go for it. I think life is too short to experience everything perfectly. Sometimes you just have to let loose and read a blog post. Like Pietriots, Twilight Princess is rich in surprises and variety and I had so much fun rediscovering all the themes and gameplay elements.
Twilight Princess hits you right away with its core concept which also happens to be one of the scariest feelings in life, the lingering presence of the unknown. The scenario itself is harmless, you’re just chilling with a buddy by the water. Sure I guess there are spirits out there, but it doesn’t seem so bad. It doesn’t feel like a real threat. This is just the start of the battle between light and twilight that’s seen throughout the entire game and sets the mood brilliantly. The beauty of each side is highlighted by the suppression of the other.
The opening few hours in Ordon Village might seem overly fluffy and padded, but it’s one of my favourite parts of the game. It establishes a sense of place as you start doing Link’s daily routine and talking to everybody, all while learning the basic controls in typical “learn by playing” Nintendo fashion. Rounding up the goats establishes Link as an ordinary working man who lives in a country town, and this sets the scene for the rest of the game to ramp up in scale. Everything outside Ordon Village is unknown and mysterious by default, and spending time here is necessary for that.
The short goat herding event also teaches a lesson many people don’t realise, because the “rounding up” of goats is exactly the same gameplay mechanic you see later on with the Wolf. Luring the Twilight enemies together so they don’t revive each other, is the same principle as pushing goats away and keeping track of their proximity. Most people won’t need this subtle lesson, but I think it’s very smart game design and just one example of many things in Nintendo games people don’t realise. They are masters of the craft.
Link’s identity somehow avoids the “small town farm boy Ordonary hero” cliche I just made up for the purpose of this sentence, as events unfold and the town itself becomes more important than Link. The beasts appearing, the children being kidnapped, the unknown realm in the distance. Ordon Village completely changes when the game “kicks off” and the children are gone. Link also disappears as he learns about the Twilight Realm and discovers his Wolf form. Meanwhile, back in Ordon Village people are losing their shit. When you return the music completely changes when you enter people’s homes. A slow melancholy strumming creates an opening for strong notes spaced far apart. The melody is beautiful and captivating, but the slow pace makes it reflective instead of uplifting. The powerful music along with the dialogue of the townspeople really emphasises the loss of the children and how far away they are from their home.
People are so wrapped up in worry they can not get on with their daily lives. They act hopeful when you talk to them as Link, but the music remains. There’s nothing you can do about it. The despair and uncertainty does not fade, because Link has never left the village before. Nobody is sure he can do it and while there’s a bit of hope, it’s not strong enough to make a difference. It has no influence on the town whatsoever.
When you find out the children are safe, the cat lady who owns the shop lets out a sigh of relief, but the music keeps playing. She rests her head on her hand, elbow planted on the bench. It still wasn’t good enough, she wanted to see the children for herself. She offers to help with my “travel preparations” as a hint that business is unfinished. Her cat licks away at a bowl, unphased. It lives in a different world (which you get to see as Wolf Link) and she knows this. That’s why she needs the children back.
Obviously as the player, you know you are an awesome capable gamer, but the challenge now is to actually save the children and the motivation is making the town happy again. Later on, after saving the children I was so excited to return to Ordon and tell everyone. I went into every house, even though I’m not sure if you have to. For me, seeing the village change was a bigger motivation than a heart piece or upgrade.
OOOO!! That’s enough about Ordon, what about this other world? Midna is your companion from the Twilight Realm but she doesn’t fit the normal supporting role. Instead of preaching about positivity and rainbows, she has an aura of doubt and reluctance that she plays off with a cheeky sass. She really wants you to help her, she just doesn’t think you can do it. Her apathy for the situation creates an interesting motivation to change things. Not to “prove her wrong”, but to give her some hope and maybe shed a bit of that darkness.
The people in the Twilight Realm only know fear. Spirits of soldiers cower for eternity, their bodies shaking timidly. Even when you help some of them, they can’t see you. “What was that?… is-is someone there?!” a soldier asks nervously. Not confident, he remains in place. There is no more actual danger, but he’s stuck in this state because it’s all he knows now. Rather than a sign of hope, Link’s actions only create confusion and make them more unstable. Living in a constant, ever-increasing state of fear could be seen as a fate worse than death. The game isn’t that serious directly, but when you think about what the Twilight Realm is, it’s basically an enigma of mental suffering.
When you collect the first Tears of Light (to banish the Twilight in an area), the Spirit of Light “Faron” appears and the animation shocked me. It curls around in a ball of light and hugs the vessel tightly, as if it can’t believe it’s been restored. It looks like a baby who just found their favourite teddy bear. Ah, you must be the one… the hero in green. Finally something to hope for. Faron talks about Link’s destiny in a few short sentences, but you can tell it’s simply grateful and overwhelmed to have the light back. Distracted by a shiny toy called hope. Off you go now, hero.
Kakariko Village is blanketed in Twilight when you first arrive. It takes a bit of traveling to get there and it’s all done in the Twilight Realm while you’re stuck as a wolf. It creates a little feeling of despair and “get me the fuck out of this realm” feeling as you see the giant fields for the first time, but they aren’t as beautiful or as fun as they could be. When you get to Kakariko Village there isn’t much relief to be had. The children are crying in a house, as Barnes (the local bomb salesman) recounts the brutal death of a shopkeeper in vivid detail. His story turns to insane, horrific rambling as Renado (chief shaman) tells him to shut up. The children are crying at this point and his attention turns to comfort them. “At ease, child” he looks down, hoping to see a calm face to put his own fear to rest. Alas, fear is the only thing they can’t hide from. The beasts are everywhere.
“Link is coming to save us all!!” Colin blurts out. Everyone looks up with that classic “Ooooo” Zelda sound. A thin sheet of hope descends on the house for just a moment, and in this moment you realise how important you are. Not because you’re the player, not because you’re chosen by the gods, not because you’re a hero. You’re important simply because there’s nobody else.
Just as purpose fills your heart, a startling event rips it straight out. As you’re poking around a house trying to collect Tears of Light in Kakariko, the house bursts into flames. Before you can get your bearings Midna is already gone. Her complete disinterest in your life at this moment burns as hot as the fire consuming the house around you. Luckily there’s a small hole you can dig yourself out of. You escape to watch the house collapse, and what does Midna say? “It’s a shame the house had to burn, but that’s how the cookie crumbles“. A near death experience is simply “shit happens” and Midna’s boredom with being alive becomes more apparent.
CLUCK CLUCK! This game has GAMEPLAY and lots of it! Awwww yeah! This is still the most important thing in any Zelda game (or any videogame) and there’s so much fun stuff to do in Twilight Princess. I talked a lot about the story, but most of my playtime was either inside dungeons, or roaming the fields / towns / mountains for secrets. Link’s core movement feels very, very good. Your flips, sidehops, rolls, even just running normally is on point. I think it strikes the perfect balance of being more weighty than Wind Waker, but significantly more polished than the N64 Zeldas. You can turn around instantly without Link looking like he’s having a seizure. It’s also easy to position yourself at any tiny angle you want, because the camera centering works so well. It feels great and looks great.
The items are brilliant and you have so many different tools to poke the environment with. Bomb Arrows, Fishing Rod, Double Clawshot, Ball & Chain, Gust Tornado, Dominion Rod. Combine all that with the Wolf’s abilities (sensing, digging, high jumps) and you have a game world that is not just gigantic, but deeply interactive. The Spinner might be the best item ever made for a 3D videogame. It acts like an on-rails version of Samus’s morph ball in Metroid Prime, giving you something to do with cracks in the environment and allowing more natural interactivity without them adding a bunch of floating platforms or hookshot ledges for “videogame reasons”. It also creates some incredible moments inside the dungeon you find it in. The Spinner is such a good gameplay concept that I’d like to see more of it, you could honestly design a whole game around it. That’s one niggling thought I have about Twilight Princess, there’s a lot of amazing ideas but some of the challenges built around them are just too easy. Creativity is overflowing from this game and I want to pick it up and shove it back in.
The dungeons in Twilight Princess are fucking AMAZING. Coming back to this game after 9 years meant all the puzzles were fresh and it felt like I was playing through them for the first time again. They are all brilliantly structured to feel massive, yet be perfectly beatable with logic and a somewhat linear structure. You have to take every room seriously and it’s just ridiculous how fleshed out all the puzzles are. This goes for all Zelda games, but I feel the progression in Twilight Princess dungeons is slightly more rewarding and it has some of the best ideas in the entire series. Every single one of them is interesting, satisfying, and unique.
All the dungeons do a great job of making themselves feel like they are your entire world. New music kicks in as the camera pans across HUGE rooms to tell you it’s serious time the moment you enter. I think this feeling is very important and intentional, as it helps you explore slowly and pick up every environmental hint. I love how the game presents the dungeons, instead of saying “There are the 9 dungeons” it’s more like “This area is important now“. To avoid being overwhelmed with a scope of the entire game, you only really know where you’re going next. Instead of exploring Dungeon 1, Dungeon 2 etc, we’re exploring the Faron Woods, then the Goron Mines. Incredibly unique places that demand their own context.
The entire scenario in the Snowpeak Ruins blew me away. A gigantic mansion in the middle of nowhere. It has very distinct, eerie music, and you can’t see the rest of Hyrule from the mountains. It almost feels like its own videogame. There are two friendly Yetis who live inside and it’s a refreshing change of pace for a “dungeon” to be an actual home that isn’t entirely hostile. Inside the mansion itself is a block puzzle that’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever solved. I could “see” the solution but not how to move the blocks there, and just stared at the board for about 5 minutes. When I got the idea it just felt amazing that the developers would have thought of that. There’s also a cool snowboarding mini-game that leads you to the mansion. It has surprisingly good controls and they could probably make a full game out of that too. This whole place is incredibly interesting to explore as you interact with rooms from different heights, and swing around on giant chandeliers by knocking them with your Ball & Chain. The progression is genius, and this goes for most dungeons in the game. My only beef with this one is the name, Snowpeak Ruins? It’s not ruins, it’s a house. People live there, while ruins are abandoned. You won’t find a comfy ruin with a big pot of soup. That almost seems like a translation error, but it’s not a huge deal. I’da called it Snowpeak Chazwazza.
I don’t want to talk about every tiny thing in the game (even though I could, because the game never stops being interesting), so I’ll wrap it up with one more significant point of interest. The music is sooooooo fucking good. The entire soundtrack just has a soothing tone to it. Towns and lakes just feel so peaceful and everything else feels epic. It never really goes out of this style except in the Malo Mart. I think the whole reason walking into that shop is bizarre, is how different it is to the rest of the game. In a weird way, the incredibly upbeat music makes you realise how bad the situation is outside. The glorious overworld theme is extremely epic and melodic, but still has a tinge of despair to it. When day fades to night it sounds like the song is going to sleep with a relieving yawn. It’s saying “good luck out there“.
Now on to the obvious topic. I’m surprised that Twilight Princess HD even exists. You can already play the game on Wii U and there are more appropriate games to bring back. The game still looks amazing to me on Wii, and I don’t care about graphical resolutions. If anything, old games look worse in higher resolution because you can see all the stuff you weren’t meant to see. Instead of a pillar you’re now seeing a giant pencil. Lush bushes now have holes everywhere. Paths suddenly look like flat stickers. Maybe it’s just me, I can still play N64 / PS1 games with no problems. All that said, TPHD looks pretty good so far and I know they’ll do a good job. The developer Tantalus have done some impressive work already on Wii U, and I personally find it very inspiring that an Australian developer has been given a chance to work on Zelda. It’s huge, and it shows that if you support Nintendo, good things will come to you. Nintendo probably didn’t have many options in the current market, but luckily this benefited a developer who deserves it.
Nintendo mentioned there would be “gameplay improvements” and honestly I think the game is almost perfect. I never had trouble executing anything. However there’s some small things here and there because no game is ever completely perfect, so here’s a few things I would change.
- Fix the Rupee economy. I don’t want to max out my rupees at the start of the game because very quickly they become a burden. By far the most disappointing moments of my experience were opening up chests full of rupees, and having to put them back. I’ve never been more upset by having a full wallet. It was punishment for discovery. The treasure chests just remain there, taunting you.
- Fuck the fairy off. I prefer the Wiimote aiming, but just couldn’t use it in this game because of the obnoxious fairy floating around the screen making swishing sounds. Weeeeee look at me, I’m a new gameplay feature! You can fuck off now because it’s 2015. Such a bafflingly bad design choice that ruined the interface. This is all assuming the Wiimote will be an option. Not really necessary in my opinion, though I had fun swinging the sword.
- Some kind of harder difficulty like Hero Mode or a Boss Rush Mode. This seems likely and could change the game a lot. It gives you a lot of awesome combat options you simply never need.
- Gyro GamePad aiming like Wind Waker HD. Hell yeah. No fairy.
- Change the locations of bugs in the overworld. Just for the hell of it. Put them on a different tree or something. I will enjoy finding them again. Hehehehehe.
- Miiverse treasure. Similar to the pictographs in Wind Waker HD, but maybe they can think of something else to replace all those disappointing chests filled with rupees. If they want to take this really far, they could add more bugs, and other players can send their bugs into your overworld through the Miiverse. Or perhaps the Poes in the game could be your dead friends. Collect them all.
While I think it’s a little unnecessary to have a remake so soon, I’m still excited to play it. If you look back at my Wind Waker writeup you’ll see some of my bullet points got addressed (more PictoGraph slots, faster gallery, Miiverse bottles, improved aiming) but implemented in slightly different ways to what I expected. Nintendo always does a great job focusing on gameplay aspects nobody thinks about, so I’m excited to see what they come up with. Also it will be nice to have a Miiverse, so I don’t have to take off-screen pics and rely on shitty google images in my future TPHD writeup. It’s so difficult to find good screenshots of almost any GameCube or Wii games, I had a similar problem with Metroid Prime.
Most of all, I just want TPHD to successfully capture everything that’s already great. I do not think they should change the structure. If you have a problem with the long intro then just relax, and remember you’re playing a videogame. Throw some chickens around and admire the beautiful water. Go fishing. A quest is only meaningless if you’re not having fun. There’s always gameplay going on in this game even if you’re traveling and there are no gigantic cutscenes. The horse and wolf are already fast enough, and the game will be even more beautiful now with more things to look at while riding. I think videogames are starting to go too far with “streamlining”, to the point where the game has to be playable to people with no attention spans. Zelda doesn’t really have to be that. Things can be easier with the press of a button, doesn’t make it more fun. I did not agree with shortening the Triforce Shard quest in Wind Waker, it’s just one less thing to do really. I loved sailing in that game just like I love riding the horse in Twilight Princess. You want less to do? Then just press the power button and leave the quest to a real hero. The game will still be there tomorrow. After my playthrough of Twilight Princess I think it’s a masterpiece. I love how Nintendo took this generic idea of a “mature Zelda” people asked for after Wind Waker, and turned it into something incredibly dark and unique. If you haven’t played it, you’re going to be absolutely fucking blown away by Twilight Princess HD next year and I look forward to seeing it.