ALL YOU GUYS CARE ABOUT IS OCARINA OF TIME AND WIND WAKER. JUST LEAVE TWILIGHT PRINCESS ALOOOOOOONE.
Ah, I didn't see you there.
I've been replaying Twilight Princess lately; maybe it's because I'm going through my yearly Zelda phase, maybe because of Topher's write-up on Wind Waker and the discussion on Podtoid. But I'm replaying it again, and one thing that always bothered me is how much crap it gets. I'm not here to proclaim it as my favorite Zelda (Link to the Past and Majora's Mask are my absolute favorites) but I'd like to discuss what I really enjoy about this game and why it's one of the stronger entries in the series.
I'm sad that I couldn't find a good photo of Lake Hylia. It is probably my favorite place to visit in any of the Zeldas. The way the sun rises/sets in each cycle creates the perfect lighting, and the peaceful music compliments the sleepy setting. But that's all superficial.
What I love about TP is how believable everything is. Wind Waker added a lot of little details to the environment, but TP cranks it up a notch. I'm not talking about "realistic", I'm talking about taking the little things and fleshing them out. Link puts away his weapons and grabs onto the door, then gives it the old heave-ho. The symbols of the medallions and spiritual stones from Ocarina sneak into different walls and decorations quietly so that only the dedicated fans would notice. The contraptions in the dungeons and villages have the finer details nailed, so you can see exactly how the Spinner crank works or how the giant canon in Lake Hylia is operated. If you take the time to really observe everything, there's a huge amount of detail that you'd never see if you just ran from point to point.
The structure of the world itself is also really interesting. The vertically-focused waterfall area leading up to Zora's Domain is something you don't see too often outside of dungeons, the dried-up graveyard hides a lush grotto (which also has a secret passage to the Lake) and the entire second half of the forest is tucked away so well that, when you finally get around to it, you can't help but be surprised that the Lost Woods and the old Temple of Time could have been right around that cliff. Hyrule Field could have been fleshed out a little better, but overall, the environment felt really deep and believable, and I totally love it.
Besides, if any of you can overlook Wind Waker's ocean, you're not allowed to rag on Hyrule Field.
Every Zelda has a really different style of dungeon designs. I can't quite put my finger on it, but each set of dungeons from each game seems to be built a certain way. TP's dungeons did some things that were really interesting and are structured in ways that set it apart from the other 3D Zeldas.
For instance, the Goron Mines puts a unique spin on the famous iron boots with its magnetic ceilings and walls, then moves you through a valley, dodging incoming fire arrows. The Water Temple had fun with water flow, building up the water level until you could finally reach the boss. The short-lived Spinner had some of my favorite dungeon moments, and the Snow Dungeon; the home of Yeto and his wife, was a really surprising twist. Turning the old Temple of Time into a full dungeon blew my mind, and City in the Sky was a nice new dungeon archetype that I'd like to see explored some more (love me some sky levels).
Some people have told me they just wanted to get to the dungeons and get down to business, but I loved the interludes between dungeons. It helped make the story feel like more than "Link goes to eight dungeons and wins the game". This is something that's been tried in Zelda games a lot recently, but Twilight Princess made it feel like things were actually happening. Horseback fights, a western shoot-out, and an infiltration of an enemy hideout in the desert all helped keep the mid-dungeon exploring interesting and enjoyable. Sadly, the second half of the game opts to crank up the pacing and get to the dungeons, but the first half really drew me in.
I actually own both versions of the game, and while the Gamecube version is fine and dandy, the Wii version adds a little extra kick to it. Sure, waggle is stupid, but there's something satisfying about approaching a mob of enemies, quietly walking up in RE4-style shooting mode, and picking off enemies as you slowly approach them. You're up close now, and you bust out the sword with a quick flick. You use Wind Waker's parry moves (manually!!!) to outwit your foes. Another quick flick busts out an instant spin attack, and you turn around to find a knocked out foe. Leap in the air, drive the sword through his balls (if you're too far away to stab the chest) and finish it off with the motherfucking taunt. Flawless victory.
I do hope that the next Zelda fixes the sword controls (don't make Link a righty. WiiSports lets me choose my handedness. WiiSports can NOT be more technologically advanced than Zelda.) but the Wii version of this game really helps streamline the use of both the sword and the secondary weapons so that everything works just as well as it would if you were locked onto an enemy.
And if you're too cool for the Wii, the Gamecube controls work just fine. Jerk.
The visuals One thing Topher loves about Wind Waker is that the graphics are timeless. And he's totally right, even if I think the toon shading should have been taken in a different direction. Like, something without giant, soul-stealing eyes.
However, Twilight Princess has its charm. No, Zelda doesn't have to be dark or realistic, but Zelda games are something that are self contained, and I think that goes for every aspect of the game, from the level design to the story, and that includes the graphics.
Like I said about the world and how believable it is, the designs of everyone (save for the ugly, ugly kids) have that same depth and believability. The details of Link's tunic, the stitching, the chainmail underneath, and all the other little things really show a lot of thought from the artists. The Twilight enemies show an interesting contrast with Hyrule while hinting at the possibility of Twili magic having some technological backing.
Will the graphics look dated eventually? Sure. Do they look dated now? Maybe. It's a gamecube game, and I got what I expected. I can still enjoy Ocarina's muddy graphics anyways, so what little nitpicks I have with the graphics are something I can easily overlook. But that's just me.
I feel like some Hot Topic, Tim Burton-loving asshole when I talk about her, but Midna is probably the most well designed, most fleshed out character Nintendo's ever creative. She's got more personality in her stubby fingers than most mascots, and she's got some actual character growth.
In the beginning, Midna is a total bitch. She laughs at you, taunts you, and does everything to make you feel downright miserable, right down to laughing at your kidnapped girlfriend. She makes it very clear that you've started out helpless, and sighs whenever you need to rely on her. Later, Midna starts to grow and depend on Link/you more, and when it's time to find Zelda and bring Midna back to health, you can't help but feel a sense of urgency. The game climaxes with the duo learning to work together and become more than just two people who are stuck with each other, and it does it through natural progression.
She's also got fantastic mannerisms, from the way she floats around to how she slams her whole weight down on you when you transform. She's the only character who speaks (something I wouldn't mind being extended to the rest of the cast) and has some of the best lines in the game. She's also got one of the cooler character designs in a Nintendo game and looks nothing like something Nintendo would make.
Everyone who worked on making this character who she is deserves a raise.
I could go on and on about Twilight Princess. It's got flaws, but every game has it's issues. What I'm trying to get at, though, is that Twilight Princess is not a bad game. What people expected from all the E3 hype was the second coming of Jesus. Instead, we got a solid game that didn't meet our astronomical expectations. Is that our fault? Kinda, though Nintendo really road the hype train (can you blame them? Gamecube games had almost no hype). But if you just go into Twilight Princess with an open mind, I think you'll see that it does a lot of things really, really well. It's not the best, but it's a solid effort, and one I've appreciated thrice over.
Besides, how many of you assholes kept begging for a new Ocarina? Shut up and eat your dinner.