In talking about perfection in games, there are very few names that deserve that kind of accolade. If the business situation demands it, once great titles may need to be compromised in the name of the bottom line. Even great gaming franchises experience bumps in the road or unexpected problems. Many players considered Wind Waker a letdown; too much ocean, not enough story. Now that Link is back on dry land, he has found his feet again. The Legend of Zelda is gaming at its pure best. Created by a man who enjoyed walking in the woods and exploring the caves near his childhood home, Zelda captures the fun, the excitement, the danger that every game dreams of delivering. For most gamers, the adventures of Link and the story of Zelda have never failed to deliver. The latest chapter in the cyclic Legend, Twilight Princess, had the fate of not only Hyrule but a brand-new gaming platform resting on its shoulders. It has - almost unreasonably well - borne up under the pressure. Link saves himself and the princess from the darkness of evil, and the Wii from the darkness of financial misfortune. Read on for my impressions of the latest chapter in gaming's greatest dynasty - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
- Title: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- Publisher/Developer: Nintendo
- System: Wii (GameCube)
What begins to happen, as you pass beyond the introductory period and move into the game proper, is that you stop crawling. You start running. After the long tutorial, your legs stretch out and before you know it you're looking around at a game that demands your continued movement. The element that shifts Twilight Princess beyond Ocarina is the sheer momentum that the game builds as it hurtles forward through the story. There's so much to see, so much to do, that the game stops being 'another Zelda' and becomes Zelda in its purest form. There are references throughout the game to other chapters in the series, and you begin to realize that you aren't just playing some schmo here: you are playing with the Hero of Legend.
That may sound overly dramatic, but it's something that has to be experienced to be believed. The Wiimote control scheme is the first stepping stone. The fear Zelda fans expressed when it was announced you were going to have to waggle to swing your sword was palpable. They needn't have worried; holding your hands apart in your lap, destroying your enemies with a quick flick of the wrist, is the most natural thing in the world. Most impressively, you'll even find there are a few 'Wii Sports' moments in the game. There is no in-game need for you to do a completely elaborate overhand slash into the boss's weak point ... but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The control scheme turns the spin attack into a regular part of your routine, too. With no need for charging up, a simple gesture with your nunchuck hand sends mobs of enemies to their doom.
It's the Wiimote, of course, that makes these bosses and puzzles work so well. Aiming for targets with the boomerang or bow and arrows is just a matter of pointing. Because all of the buttons (A, B, C, Z) are so close together, and so distinctly placed on the two parts of the controller, performing quick presses with any of them is just a matter of reacting. There's never a need to think 'Which one is B, now?' You just know.
The slow buildup at the start of the game is what makes that possible. Your thorough grounding in the 'basics of Twilight Princess' leaves you well-prepared for the unpredictability of the later portions of the game. You'll bounce back and forth between light and darkness, freeing portions of Hyrule as a wolf, and then returning to the light to exterminate the dark beasts with your sword and shield. In the dark realm, Midna rides atop your furry back, while in the light she hides within your own shadow. In both realms, she offers advice whenever she feels it's appropriate, as well as hints as to what to do next. Once you've begun defeating shadow creatures, she'll offer you teleportation services across Hyrule as well. It's a truly great experience, to have the option to bop across Hyrule or make your way via more conventional means.
Final Fantasy XII is, the need to grind levels means that some portions of your quest are, ultimately, forgettable. Twilight Princess is just the opposite. You'll never find yourself unable to do something you shouldn't be able to. Traveling between dungeons, you'll find hidden niches of goodies, new heart containers, even mini-dungeons that make you suspect every boulder and bush of containing an unseen realm. If you see something you can't reach you can move on without frustration; you'll get back to it eventually.
Whatever that unattainable object is, chances are you can see it from quite a ways away. Despite the (relatively) underpowered nature of the Wii, Twilight Princess is a very, very beautiful game. To an eye used to the slickness of the 360 or PS3, some portions of the games textures can certainly appear muddy and dull. The difference in image quality between AV cables and component cables is also quite striking; unartistically abstract portions of the game pop to life with the increase in visual quality. What the game lacks in graphical power, though, is more than made up for by the sheer amount and precision of the graphics. Zelda's huge environment is lovingly laid out, with every portion of the world having received careful attention. Places like Hyrule Castle, Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village are instantly recognizable, but look quite different from previous incarnations. The game's audio needs no qualifiers. I've been a fan of the music in Zelda games since the original 8-bit theme kept me up at night. This title's score is equal parts tradition and originality. The dark realm, especially, moves the horizon of the game's musical landscape. Twisted, vaguely mechanical sounds are now a part of the instrumental selections, and the game's use of music to build mood is carefully laid down. Both visually and auditorally, Twilight Princess is a feast.
The game is not flawless, of course. If you don't like adventure games, or the Zelda series, there is nothing here that will change your perspective. Likewise, while I don't think the extreme visual style of Wind Waker would have been appropriate here, I wouldn't have objected to some slightly more stylized graphical elements. Titles like Okami and Final Fantasy XII have proven what you can get out of an aging console if you focus on style over realism; it might have been interesting to see what such a marriage could reap with a Zelda title.
The path the designers have laid down leads from the last generation to the next. They've built this game on series traditions, and fitted the stones into place with the tools of their 'new gen' console. The highest praise I can think to give to a game is to say that it is fun. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is an awful, awful lot of fun. Not only is it a reason to buy a Wii, it's proof that despite all of our doubts, despite the fears that they'd gone crazy-nutso with this 'waggling' thing, they really know what they're doing. Truly, perhaps, the best part of this whole scenario is the date on the calendar. This was a launch title. If they can so finely craft the entertainment experience of a Wii title this early in the console's life, one can only hope that future titles will be able to build on the lessons of Twilight Princess. Zelda won't be the best game on the system. Down the line, I look foward to more memorable, physically involving, and deeply moving experiences on Nintendo's little white box.