|I cried at the end of this game. Honest. I freaking HOWLED. Tee hee.|
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Yeah, so this game was pretty much what everyone wanted a LITTLE bit too late. As the graphics improved, people just wanted to see a more realistic, heightened Zelda experience. They instead got the Wind Waker- not really a bad thing, but just not what they wanted. When Twilight Princess, a Gamecube-level graphics version of the Legend of Zelda in all its "slightly more realistic" glory rolled around, people were fawning. They were ready. And they got one hell of an adventure.
Twilight Princess takes place maybe one hundred years after Ocarina of Time, maybe not. But Hyrule is pretty big. Expanse, filled with brilliant geography and scope, a "darker" story, Twilight Princess kicked major ass, but it didn't do much for the reinvention of the Zelda franchise. If anything, the game finds its success in a large amount of references to its older sibling, Ocarina of Time.
This isn't really a bad thing, necessarily. Ocarina of Time is the grandaddy of the 3D pedigree, the perfect turning point from 2D to 3D. Being like it isn't a bad thing, but being too much like it is. Sure, the absence of a musical instrument was kind of lackluster, wolf howls be damned. It just features so many similar mechanics to Ocarina of Time that you almost feel as if you've done it before.
But what Twilight Princess does that twists the familiar is fantastic. The Iron Boots being utilized in the Goron Mines is a wonderful twist on their use. The Clawshot is even used far better as a puzzle and offensive tool, nevermind DOUBLE CLAWSHOTS. Boss fights that implement the classic Zelda mechanics are fantastic. But it never really breaks any new ground... except in being massive.
The overworld is pretty big, so big that Epona is kind of a necessity. Yet, what is the reward for having such a big Overworld? Well, there's a couple spots that lead into one another, a couple secrets and "fetch quest" areas, but mostly, the Overworld is pretty empty. There's a lot of space to just kind of ride around, but it's dead air without it being utilized in some way- personally, I would rather have every nook and cranny have a special aspect to it than have a bunch of open space- unless you're in an RPG. There are only monsters walking around- I mean, there's a lot of monsters, but mostly the world seems desolate. Hyrule Castle Town, while quite large, is still pretty small place, and Kakariko has very few citizens. Sure, there are some characters in Twilight that have fantastic arcs, but when they aren't in cut-scenes, they're very lifeless.
At the same time, Twilight Princess' story is absolutely fantastic. The "Save Hyrule" group is an excellent addition- why would Link be the only one trying to do something about the growing issues of Hyrule and not other members of the world? Having a nice girl for Link to have the hots for OTHER than Zelda is also a welcome variation. The story plays out beautifully, and those final scenes in the credits really sell the game for you- especially with a guide such as Midna, who has enough sass and smirks to make her much more endearing than a mere fairy.
I mean, you could get into the wolf mechanics as well, but there's nothing really new there- sure, it had some different abilities that worked their way into the plot, and the replicated control scheme is a clever way of showing Link's duality. But, the wolf is technically a centerpiece of the story so it's doubtful we'll be seeing it again. However, the dual-world gameplay is indeed pretty cool, and it's nice to have some places that are accessible to only wolf or human. It's very impressive that locations have a completely different vibe to them when in wolf form, but that's only at the beginning when it's all covered in twilight, without, it's pretty much the same. It's the main focus of the game, really- themed in light and shadow, with this transformation gimmick- but rather than reinvent the franchise like Windwaker, Ocarina, and Link to the Past did, it kind of just gives you an extra ability tacked on to your inventory.
The real highlight of this game, in my opinion, is the dungeons. They're very well spaced in between various quests, and the layout of them all is pretty damn fantastic. As structures, they're extremely cool- they have great architecture and layout, and have great symmetry while still having varied puzzles. There are some really great moments within the dungeons, with the Goron Mine really standing out- a whole long range sniping battle with a group of moblins. Some of the later dungeons like the Arbiter's Ground and Snowpeak are really cool in layout, though the Arbiter's Grounds recycle the hunting Poe mechanic from Ocarina of Time. Snowpeak is pretty much built like a giant mansion, which is really cool. Hyrule Castle is really prime, with levels hanging over other places and having a pretty legitimate sense of scale. The boss fights are really cool, with each one kind of highlighting what is so great about each new item you obtain.
I mean, Twilight Princess is a damn good game, don't get me wrong, there. It's just... very traditional. I mean, hell, the previous two iterations took the stable controls of Ocarina, yet turned the progression and travel on their heads. did it different with Majora's Mask. The Zelda series has been all about improving and reinventing itself, and I feel that pretty much every game in the franchise has done that in some way. But to say that Twilight Princess redefined Zelda is kind of a stretch. To me, it's pretty much a highlight of the Gamecube era because it's just a really well-put-together game, and I can sort of give it props for using some motion control on the Wii, but with Skyward Sword on the horizon promising what the Wii was built to do, Twilight Princess Wii pales in comparison.
I love Twilight Princess. It's one of those games that I don't think I'll ever forget, really. The sprawling rides through Hyrule, the mystery of the twilight, the compelling story and characters- it's a great experience. But in the retrospective of Zelda games, it does little to make a name for itself. However, when you can do that based on storytelling and dual-world gimmickry alone (I mean, the ingenious items and dungeons are kind of a staple), you have to be pretty damn good. It's a solid entry in the franchise and it came at just the right time.