The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Staff Review  

A Wolf in Sheep-Wrangler's Clothing
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Just Right
30-40 Hours
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   What really needs to be said about the Legend of Zelda? It's freaking Zelda! Besides Final Fantasy, no other series has captured the imaginations and hearts of RPGamers as deeply or as consistently. Home to the most popular video game character ever, as well as what many consider to be several of the greatest games of all time, newcomers filling the ever-silent Link's boots have a lofty name to live up to. The latest incarnation, Twilight Princess, takes the classic, well-established formula and mixes it with a dark, moody plot, the most memorable characters in the franchise, and some of the best sword-fighting game play to be found anywhere.

   The Link of Twilight Princess begins his journey as a simple goat herder in a village called Ordon, which, interestingly, lies in the same approximate geographical location as the Kokiri Forest of Ocarina of Time. As he is traveling through the woods, a gang of goblins riding rather intimidating giant boars attacks the village, kidnapping several of Link's friends and shrouding the region in an inescapable darkness which he soon learns is called the Twilight. This Twilight also causes him to transform into a wolf. He soon meets Midna, a self-serving little imp who agrees to help him get rid of the Twilight in exchange for his assistance retrieving some ancient artifacts.

A new face for Link, and a new friend to boot! A new face for Link, and a new friend to boot!

   The story proceeds from there in a typical Zelda style. Dungeons will be explored, bosses will be defeated, items will be collected, and hearts will be filled. The franchise has never really been famous for brilliant storylines, but Twilight Princess breaks the rules thanks to its impressive character development and a few key scenes. Midna, in particular, is quite possibly the best character the series has generated since Link himself. She's cute, selfish, a little macabre, and devilishly smug, especially when she knows Link has her back. Most incredibly, despite the lack of voice acting, the amazing facial animations throughout the game allow the characters to convey more emotion than even the best actors could accomplish. While the overall plot of the game hasn't changed much from previous entries in the series, Twilight Princess nonetheless manages to create a story that you can't help but become engrossed in, and it even manages to be as big a draw as the game play.

   Combat in Twilight Princess is mostly the same as what was established in Ocarina of Time and expanded in Wind Waker. However, the Wii's motion sensitive capabilities add a few twists to the controls that make it feel far more intuitive than its predecessors. Shaking the Wii remote will cause Link to swing his sword, while shaking the Nunchaku attachment causes him to perform his trademark spinning attack. The Wii remote is also used to aim the various ranged weapons Link acquires over the course of the game - the boomerang, the bow and arrow, the clawshot, and so forth. Using the remote to aim proves to be far faster than traditional joystick control, but it also makes precision aiming far more difficult. While shooting a bat out of the air in Wind Waker was a piece of cake, in Twilight Princess it can be a frustrating ordeal.

   For the first time in the series, Link can now fight on horseback as well. Epona, his trusty steed, is acquired immediately at beginning the game, and a number of horseback fights occur regularly throughout. While it's certainly a unique aspect to the game, unfortunately it isn't as fun as one might think. Epona is fairly difficult to maneuver, and riding alongside a mounted opponent close enough to attack can be surprisingly difficult. The targeting distance is also frustratingly small, making potential archery assaults more difficult to achieve.

   Off the horse, combat is a blast. Enemies are smarter and more defensive than ever before, and the addition of several hidden skills, which are easy to find and learn throughout the game, add an extra level of strategy to combat, even at the most basic level. Link can learn to knock enemies back with his shield, to jump and roll behind them, and even to finish fallen enemies off with a sword to the heart. Unfortunately, two of these special skills prove to be almost useless due to unresponsive controls. The Shield Bash skill mentioned earlier is performed by thrusting the nunchaku attachment forward, but unfortunately the Wii has a hard time recognizing this movement. Often times attempting to perform it will do nothing, while others it will perform a spin attack instead. Another skill requires a Shield Bash setup before it can be performed, making it even more awkward. Thankfully, these two skills are fairly superfluous and not really necessary to play the game properly, and you won't miss them.

Joust! Joust!

   While all but one of the hidden skills are optional, they are extremely helpful, particularly since most enemies won't just let you get away with attacking them anymore. Many carry shields, and a few even wear armor. A couple of enemies have even learned Link's targeting trick, making dodging and counterattacking all the more important. All in all, sword-fighting in Twilight Princess is the most fun it's ever been, and by far the greatest feature of the game.

   Sword-fighting isn't the only form of combat you'll see, though. A common feature in Zelda games is duality - two forms or two worlds that Link can travel back and forth between. In Twilight Princess, Link gets transformed into a wolf, with everything that goes with it. In wolf form, items and equipment can't be used, but Link gains other powers. For instance, he can use his heightened animal senses to detect buried treasure and follow scent trails. He can also dig, finding buried objects as well as hidden entrances to buildings, and with Midna's guidance, can jump to places normally inaccessible. Combat in wolf form functions the same as in human form, except that Link bites enemies instead of swinging a sword at them. Of course, he doesn't have a shield as a wolf, so dodging is a must.

   Aside from battling monsters, Zelda games have always had a heavy focus on puzzle solving, and Twilight Princess is no exception. The level design is some of the best in the series, and while some of the tools collected are a little silly, if not downright useless, the puzzles built around them are clever, often mind-bending, and fun to solve, without being so frustratingly difficult that your TV screen meets with an unfortunate Wii remote based accident. Traditionally, the boss fights are usually puzzle-based as well, and while this stays true to form, they are, notably, a fair bit less exciting than previous entries, but this is a minor complaint.

   Musically, the score may feel a little tacked on, as much of the soundtrack is recycled from Ocarina of Time. There are a few new pieces, but the majority are quite familiar. Thankfully, they're used extremely well, and in a few particular scenes, the music fits so perfectly with the ambience and story that the effect is difficult to describe. While the game features no real voice acting, there are several voice snippets present for a few characters - simple noises and expressions like "Hey!" - that help keep the atmosphere intact. The exception to this is in Midna's case, whose dialogue, oddly, is always accompanied by voicing in a strange alien language. While everything she says is completely incomprehensible, one can't help but wonder why this kind of speech wasn't implemented for all the characters of the game. The effect is quite enjoyable, allowing players to hear her voice without her actually saying anything.

   Since Twilight Princess was originally intended as a GameCube game, the graphics are not quite up to par on the technical side with what you'd expect from a next-generation game. That isn't to say they aren't good - in fact they are excellent, for a GameCube game - but the Wii is certainly capable of handling more. Artistically, the game is beautiful, abandoning the traditional bright colors for grittier, more realistic earth tones. The character designs are excellent, and as mentioned previously, the facial animations are absolutely incredible, particularly on Midna.

   A lot of people disagree on just where Twilight Princess stands among its many revered colleagues. The series has long been known for its traditions, but Twilight Princess breaks them in many places. While every game previously has been family-friendly, Twilight Princess was rated T for Teen by the ESRB. The game is darker, far more serious, and generally a very different Zelda experience. Depending on how you look at it, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, but few will deny that Twilight Princess is a game worth playing. One can't help but think that if Ocarina of Time were released eight years later, it might have ended up something like this.

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