• Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Review - Nintendo Gamecube

    The Legend of Zelda is Nintendo’s proudest legacy. It is a franchise passionately received by its fans and excitedly followed. It is a series largely untainted, but forever burdened by its greatness and compelled to achieve. It is the GameCube’s last goodbye and its dying wish. Zelda’s legend is shaped by a cacophony of timelines; all suggested to intertwine appropriately yet most appear indistinguishable from the last. It seems everyone has their own theories, though it isn’t necessarily important. What matters here is Nintendo’s ability to retell an old tale without it growing tired and stale. Twilight Princess once again describes the Triforce heritage and the rebirth of the Chosen Hero, but it goes to greater lengths to present a more gripping story. Though not as emotionally engaging as Ocarina of Time, it is cinematically superior wherein every scene is wonderfully presented and stylishly accomplished.

    It starts so calmly. In the peaceful, rural Ordon Village, a young shepherd by the name of Link enjoys a simple life: herding goats, fishing and befriending the local children. There is a lot to see and it is easy to get lost within this area’s light-hearted tranquillity. It acts as the perfect playground to ease the player in and teaching them the basics like riding a horse, equipping items, targeting objects or using a sword. Controlling Link is simple and immediately accessible, sharing a similar control scheme to Wind Waker (first famously introduced in Ocarina of Time). It all feels classically Zelda, promising the same ingredients famous throughout the series, like the dungeons and boss keys, fairies and red potions, hidden caves and hidden chests, torches and switches. Though this may seem instantly disconcerting to some, to others it will evoke an almost unbearable anticipation, hinting towards what’s to come. And, true to form, it doesn’t take long for the real adventure to begin.

    The key element to the story and indeed, the focal aspect of the game, is the Twilight Realm - an alternative reality beneath the veil of the Light Realm, Hyrule. Zant, the Twilight King, is forcefully expanding the sphere of his kingdom, peeling away the curtain of light and threatening to consume both worlds in darkness. Those caught up in its expansion are transformed into wandering spirits, left ignorant of their lifeless state. However, when Link is pulled into the Twilight Realm he is transformed into a wolf, left helpless and alone. His only hope appears before him in the most unlikely of characters: a small imp-like creature named Midna. She is an instantly likable creation, and arguably one of the most compelling and interesting characters to ever grace a Zelda title. It is in this lycanthropic state that Link and his new companion must fight back the Twilight consumption by restoring the four Light Spirits, who, in turn, restore the world of light.

    The portrayal of this world is hauntingly atmospheric, accompanied by an eerie composition that would be well placed in the Silent Hill series. It is visually captivating, with an almost golden tint shimmering in the air and black particles shifting in the wind. It is like being whisked away to a weird and wonderful dream, with a sense of surrealism that will not be easily forgotten or recreated.

    While in Wolf Form Link still controls similar to his Hylian Form, yet his abilities and attack patterns adjust, offering a welcome change of pace. Rather then the hack and slash of Link’s trusty sword, the player must rely on the gape and gnash of the beast’s powerful jaws...

    Though Link may lose access to all inventory items, he gains two new abilities: Dig and Sense. The Sense ability acts similar to the Lens of Truth seen in Ocarina of Time, slightly distorting the world’s appearance revealing what would otherwise remain concealed. Hidden enemies are exposed; buried objects or pathways are highlighted by a sparkling aura; Hylian spirits can be seen and heard; and bright luminous scent trails, once learnt, can be followed. The Dig ability is especially important when wishing to access indoor areas because doors can’t be opened but tunnels can be dug.

    Link in wolf form can also communicate with animals, which is as delightful as it is curious – one moment he'll will be following a fluffy white cat to a secret location, the next the cat will be meowing at Link’s human form. Alternatively, link’s wolf appearance will invite fear in the heart of man, where inhabitants will literally run for their lives. It all weaves together superbly, adding a whole new dimension to the game. In fact, it is hard not to wish the later stages exploited Link’s wolf abilities further. It is a shame that, aside a few inspired moments, their potential is never truly realised.

    One of the largest complaints undermining the charmingly stylistic Wind Waker was that it had too few and unchallenging dungeons. Twilight Princess tries to rectify this by offering nine, each noticeably diverse from the last. They are all demanding and demonstrate some of the better design in the series often requiring intensive scrutiny or an inspirational spark, and although the last few temples are undeniably shorter they remain captivating regardless, sacrificing sheer scale for diversity, opting a more fantastical approach.

    Following closely to the Zelda tradition is that each dungeon contains its own unique item that will be needed to reach and defeat the impending boss. There is an eclectic mix of items, some old favourites, like The Hero's Bow, and others completely new. It is often satisfying and rarely frustrating discovering their usages throughout the dungeons. Although, the boss encounters will likely generate mixed views. These are each pad-grippingly exciting, however it can at times feel a little too simple to defeat them once their weaknesses have been uncovered. Indeed, this will either be viewed positively or negatively depending on the player’s level of skill, though one cannot help but feel a slightly greater challenge would have been welcome.

    Much like the game itself, Hyrule Field is huge. It is a free-roaming world of almost overwhelming scale, noticeably reminiscent to Shadow Of The Collosus, that directly connects to the game’s many areas and their dungeons. Every tree and boulder seems to be placed with the most intricate care and purpose, creating a beautifully crafted, involving environment. It is tempting to simply just wander, embracing the sights such as the hypnotic immensity of Lake Hylia as the sun slowly sets in the horizon.

    Thankfully, travelling across this world is made effortless by numerous warp portals. Twilight Princess also reintroduces the trusty steed, Epona, who was first seen in Ocarina of Time. Available from the very start, and summoned by a familiar smile-educing tune, she is an absolute delight to control. Since her first appearance, the fighting system has been greatly enhanced so that any weapon or item that could conceivably be used on horseback can be. Nintendo has remarkably developed a fun system that is instantly accessible, even leading to a number of exciting and heart-wrenchingly intense set pieces.

    Whilst galloping across Hyrule Field, it’s clear that it is mostly uninhabited by locals (excusing a pleasantly amusing Postman) but brimming with activity, and seemingly unreachable areas that, once new items are obtained, suddenly prompt an irresistible urge to re-explore. There are sections where specific items are required to progress, but for the most part it is rewarding to devote time to exploration alone. It is certainly the only way to attain all forty-five classically Zelda Pieces of Heart, just one of many collection quests that entice players to roam their surroundings or participate in various Side Quests or Mini Games (one in particular plays similarly to Panza Dragoon and Pilot Wings), all offering alternative ways to spend hours, days even, outside the main quest.

    It isn’t always necessary to explore of course, especially towards the final half. It is possible to remain purely story-driven, completing one dungeon after the next with little distraction in-between. Except, like every Zelda before it, to take away this sense of discovery is to take away one of the very elements that make Zelda what it is. It is a little like completing a Mario title without worrying about the secret worlds. Indeed, it is likely to remain a cherished journey, but it wouldn’t be embracing the whole experience.

    Unfortunately there is one particular area of disappointment. Not especially pinpointing an inadequacy, but rather a missed opportunity: As the final chapters unravel the overall impact of the finale is, compared to the first-half’s thick air of urgency, a little underdeveloped and strangely forgettable. It also starts to feel somewhat purposeless, with little indication of a world-destructive threat. This becomes particularly apparent when talking to the Hyrule Castle’s inhabitants, where they all seem casually unaware of any danger whatsoever. Maybe it could be said this is a reflection of how society is so often oblivious to the destructive threats surrounding daily life, but here it deflates an otherwise gripping story. By contrast, Majora’s Mask’s climax displayed an almost unparalleled sense of calamity, where the town’s people expressed their horror at their impending doom. Some fled for their lives, others wept in fear and a few bravely embraced their fate and continued their duties regardless. It was a powerful closing, one that would have strongly benefited Twilight Princess.

    Twilight Princess is the final traditional Zelda, and boldly proclaimed by Nintendo to be the biggest and greatest addition to the series yet. It would be fair to say there was a body of concern surrounding this statement, where fans feared such claims were decorated by fabricated hopes and dreams. But the moment the opening symphony plays until the concluding credits, all fear and doubt quickly vanishes like the cool whispering of an autumn’s breeze. Though not flawless, Nintendo have once again demonstrated masterful craftsmanship, challenging design and imaginative artistry. Comparable to Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess presents a world that isn’t simply played, it is experienced.

    Score: 9/10
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