The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Staff Review  

Cast in an Old Light
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Very Easy
40 to 55 hrs


Rating definitions 

   The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a fairly basic take on the Zelda formula, but nonetheless manages to be an interesting and highly enjoyable game. It sports a refined, realistic visual style with a strongly adult feel, and in general comes off as more mythological in tone than the series has in the past. The strongest parts of Twilight Princess come in those instances where the player feels like a true hero, fighting off monstrous beasts as a champion of light and good, where the story brings together Link's magical items, series history, and the most basic and powerful ideas of Light and Darkness. The weakest parts of the game, however, come where it simply becomes too lazy, sending players on fetch quests and giving its characters no personality beyond that which is provided by their alignment. That being said, for the most part, Twilight Princess accomplishes its goal of constructing a mythologically sound world that a player can easily get lost in. Hyrule is a joy to explore, and despite some oddities in damage calculation and weapon use, combat is simple but enjoyable. While this may not be the most groundbreaking of Zelda titles, it is one of the more absorbing.

   The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess manages what few other Zelda games have accomplished, in that, at its best, the story feels as though it could have come out of a mythology collection. Link, a young goatherd from a small village at the furthest reaches of Hyrule, who spends his days learning the art of swordplay and taking care of the village children, is sent on a mission to deliver a gift to the land's noble family. The path young Link takes will test him with Herculean tasks, endear him to a princess, and reveal him to be the chosen champion of the gods. The idea of the lowly rising to status, of being "chosen," is a very strong theme running through most mythologies, and it's one that Twilight Princess uses a great deal. It does have its negative side, of course; some characters have little or no motivation or development, and are simply presented as being completely good or completely evil as a result of their alignment towards Light or Dark. One of the more interesting reoccurring themes in Twilight Princess, and the source of most of the character development, is the effect Light and Darkness have on each other. While Link's change is physical - entering lands overcome by Twilight transforms him into a wolf - the characters around him change in more subtle ways. The dark imp Midna, who plays a similar role to that of Navi from Ocarina of Time, starts out as a rather bossy, taunting figure, but changes rather dramatically through her interaction with the world of Light. Overall, the story is far stronger than some Zelda games have allowed their plots to be, and the result is a solidly memorable, almost surprisingly epic tale.

   As with Ocarina of Time, the combat system of Twilight Princess plays out in an action/adventure style, with Link and his enemy circling each other and launching attacks. Link's main method of attack is his sword, and although he has an array of nasty-looking tools, such as the Clawshot and the Gale Boomerang, most of them are used only in very specific situations. As Link learns more of the art of swordplay, combat becomes somewhat more challenging, leading to some drawn-out and entertaining duels during the later stages of the game. The game overall is very simple and easy to understand, particularly in the earliest areas. The only real problems with the system stem from some odd variations in how much damage attacks deal. For example, Link can defeat basic Moblins in two or three strikes of the sword, but ramming them at full speed on a horse that weighs four or five times as much as they do takes four or more strikes. Overall, the system is active and entertaining, though not particularly complex. It is almost always immediately obvious what tool should be used to defeat which enemy, even with bosses. In a game with such ingenious puzzles, it's interesting that most enemies are treated simply as brief roadblocks rather than actual challenges.

The game is nothing if not atmospheric. The game is nothing if not atmospheric.

   One of the more unusual features of Twilight Princess is that, early in the game, Link will gain the ability to transform into a wolf. As a wolf, Link's senses are heightened, meaning that he can follow scent trails, locate buried treasure, and even listen to disembodied spirits. Combat as a wolf is even more basic than swordplay. In his lupine form, Link has a quick attack that can be linked into a combo, and a lunging attack which corresponds to his human form's jumping sword attack. His Spin Attack becomes a series of lunges, with targeting help from Midna. Link's wolf form plays a more important part early in the game, as the later parts focus far more on swordplay and the use of Link's many tools. This isn't a huge loss, seeing as how Link's tools make for more intriguing puzzles than the fixed abilities of the wolf, but it does feel as though something more could have been done with this alternate form.

   With a guide explaining which button does what permanently plastered to the upper right hand of the screen, the control of Twilight Princess is hard to mess up. The use of such a blatant constant reminder of basic controls may seem like a bit of excessive hand-holding, but the game also uses this display to alert the player of situational commands. This allows the player to quickly understand what the game expects of them, a basic concept that can be hard to come by in some games. That being said, controlling the actual movement of Link isn't quite as good as it could be. Basic movement seems a bit too loose, with our hero having trouble stopping directly in front of or on top of small objects, such as treasure chests and switches. It isn't a horrible problem, and it is one that can be overcome with a bit of extra caution, but having to re-align oneself constantly can be a bit of a bother.

   There are a few musical themes that are constant to the Zelda games, tracks like Epona's Song and the ubiquitous Hyrule Overworld theme, which help to tie the series together. Given such a rich musical history, perhaps Twilight Princess can be forgiven the small number of original tracks in its catalogue. Still, the lack of more truly original sounds in the game does pose something of a problem. While none of the tracks are really repeated, the game uses some very similar-sounding ambient tracks for most of the dungeons, and the overworld tends to stick exclusively to the main Hyrule theme. While the music isn't bad, the lack of real variety to the soundtrack makes areas tend to run together in the mind. Where sound effects are concerned, Twilight Princess is quite solid, particularly given some of the noises it uses to replace voice acting. Still, full voice acting might have been a better choice, especially given that Nintendo was apparently going for stronger realism.

How hard could it be to find one Princess in this town? How hard could it be to find one Princess in this town?

   The visual design features an interesting split between the worlds of light and darkness. Hyrule, the world of light, is shown very realistically, with fields of grass, towering mountains, small villages and sprawling cities. The world of Twilight, however, is strangely technological, almost Tron-like in appearance. Monsters form out of chaotic portals in the skies of Hyrule, square "pixels" of Twilight converging to spontaneously form hideous black creatures. Combined with lines of neon blue and blood red, the world of Twilight and the creatures who inhabit it are a shocking contrast to Hyrule. The interplay between these two competing visual styles heightens the sense of conflict between Hyrule and the lands of Twilight, casting the invaders in a truly alien light. Taken as a whole, the game's visuals are very solid, forming a believably realistic world with a minimum of obvious technical interference.

   One of the more major problems with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is that, except for Link's transformation into a wolf, just about all of the things in the game have been seen in some form in other Zelda titles. There are a few tools that haven't been seen before, but the majority of Link's arsenal is a repeat. This problem is repeated throughout the game, in game mechanics, tools, and especially the sidequests. Of course, how much of a problem this will be depends entirely on the player, as it poses an interesting question -- if a game is challenging and entertaining, exactly how important is originality?

   Unusually for a Zelda game, Twilight Princess actually has an in-game playtime counter. Thus it can be said with authority that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess takes between forty and fifty-five hours to complete, depending on how many of the sidequests a player is willing to do. Overall, Twilight Princess isn't horribly challenging, as combat tends to be rather simple, and the game tends to lead players gently but obviously towards the next goal.

   The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a game that does what Zelda games do best. Swordplay, cunning puzzles, overworld exploration, and dungeon spelunking. This entry in the series distinguishes itself mainly through its stronger-than-average plot and sophisticated visuals, but it isn't really a title to go into expecting revolutionary developments in the genre, which may be a disappointment for some. Twilight Princess offers a very solid experience, and will most likely appeal to those who have followed the series faithfully, and to gamers who are looking for an elegant puzzler.

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