There are games that are bad and then there are the ones that are disappointing. We tend to be more merciless toward the disappointing. I've followed Zelda since the NES and loved the series since the start, but I can admit the NES classic has long since been surpassed just as much as I can say there have been better outings in the series than The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Twilight Princess is far from the worst Zelda I've played. Phantom Hourglass has that dubious honor for its central resetting dungeon. Still, Twilight Princess was the most disappointing Zelda I've ever played, so much I couldn't get excited for the remaster if you bought it for me, gave me my own Master Sword and got me a date with Princess Zelda.
So how disappointed was I? Why did i find this game so dull, tedious and insulting? Oh, where to start...
Hard acts to follow
Let's get the elephants in the room out of the way first. Twilight Princess had to follow up two of the most creative and memorable Zelda titles in the franchise and then had its thunder stolen by Okami as well.
Majora's Mask and Wind Waker brought a lot of fresh ideas to the table and broke from a number of series conventions. Whether it was challenging the structure or aesthetics of Zelda, they were bold and different from what came before them and also benefitted from Ocarina of Time being one of 3D gaming's notable pioneers. The changes from OoT may have been controversial for their time, but are often looked back on fondly. Whether you probed the depths of a damned, time-looped world or sailed the seas over a drowned Hyrule, you can't deny Majora's Mask and Wind Waker benefitted from breaking from tradition.
Then you have Okami, which is likely the ballsiest third party attempt to emulate the Zelda formula ever, with all the pinache you'd expect from an action game under HidekI Kamiya's direction. It embraced the heart of Zelda, the cheekiness of Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe and mixed it up will a delightful and colorful take on Shinto mythology.
Similar to Link's child and adult experiences with Ocarina of Time, Amaterasu is faced with a world that sees her simply as a good or naughty dog, but also deities that know she is a goddess and show their respect. It recaptured that sense of being underestimated by some and validated by others, something OoT captured really well with Link as a child and as a teenager closer to adulthood.
Additionally, Clover took the idea of being a wolf and nature goddess and just ran with it. Talk to animals, howl, pee on your enemies and restore the glory of nature for you are Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun.
Even the Celestial Brush was a fun concept. It was to Ammy what the ocarina and tools were to Link. Paint bombs to discover new areas and harm enemies, paint a sun in the sky to make the sun rise, paint slashes to slash obstacles and enemies. The Celestial Brush made what were sometimes glorified QTEs easier to stomach because you got to doodle stuff on screen.
I didn't play Okami in the three months prior to Twilight Princess' release. I played my PS2 well into 2010 before bothering with the Wii and my GameCube was long gone by then, but I did play Okami just a few months on PS2 before getting a Wii. This maintained the impact the game had on myself and likely others
Following these creative and inspired titles may have been too much for Twilight Princess to overcome.
A Zelda game as an apology
I've had friends and other fans tell me that Zelda has grown dull for them because it's always more of the same. I point to Majora's Mask and Wind Waker, but they handwave those two away because they share elements of other Zeldas and therefore magically don't count.
Then I ask what their favorite Zelda is.
It's Twilight Princess, easily the most samey entry in the whole series. Bad as Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks may be, they were at least bringing new ideas to the table. I won't accuse Twilight Princess of stealing from Okami, either, as it just just happened to have a similar idea implemented that might have felt awesome if another game hadn't done it better.
Twilight Princess also played like an apology for not making Ocarina of Time all over again for the prior two console entries. Link's all "grown up" (read: larger kid) again, it has "realism," there are more toys to obtain, Hyrule is back with ten dungeons and sulky, brooding darkness is everywhere, meaning we have a token alternate reality/dimension to see in spurts. Even One-Note Evil Ganondorf is back!
It felt like every aesthetic complaint, every beg for tradition and fanboy wish ever posted on the IGN forums had been taken to heart by Eiji Aonjma's team and directly pandered to. And then I got the condescending sidekick I never wanted or asked for.
Big man in town
While I totally understand and accept that Ocarina of Time validated and empowered a lot of kids by having Link transition from child to adult, Adult-Only Link has never done much for me. I always liked Link starting from a place where he's underestimated.
Ocarina of Time - You ain't shit, you aren't even a real Kokiri - at least until you have a sword and sheild then I guess you can go talk to the Deku Tree.
Majora's Mask - Can't let kids leave Clock Town, sorry. Monsters will eat you. Oh, you have a sword and sheild? My apologies, si. You may pass.
Minish Cap & A Link Between Worlds - Get up, ya lazy bum!
Skyward Sword - You think you're ever gonna amount to anything if you sleep late? You ain't shit. You're so shit I'm stealing your bird. You'll never be a sky knight now.
Twilight Princess - Oh Link, you're so awesome. Is that a wooden sword? I want a sword. Can I borrow it? Oh, you have a horse. I wish I had a horse. You know, I need some help herding cows. And collecting bugs. Why, we're just helpless without you, Link.
So what we have in Twilight Princess is the grown-up validation without the story and quest arcs to get Link there. You just get your ass kissed out of the gate and what approval Link does have to seek is from a girl that forgot him, a princess he hardly knows or sees and Midna, who is the worst.
Yes. I want Link to be underestimated - by the larger cast and NPCs, at least at first. What I don't want is a sidekick that always lets me know I'm her bitch to ride. I might like that in an S&M context, just not in navigational NPCs that exist to serve me, the player.
It's really the condescending tone Midna carries that annoys more than any "Hey, listen" could. I hate having my ass kissed just as much as being condescended to. It's not cute and certainly not cute coming from a bulbous imp who ain't shit without me herself.
Maybe if it had been Real Midna I would have put up with it. By the end of the game she was more humble and a better character, too. And I'd let that Midna ride my face because wow.
You can have a mean-spirited sidekick and make it work, but Midna was a bit too much starting out - and I say this as someone that resets Animal Crossing just to hear all the horrible things Mr. Resetti could say about you.
I like Midna more than Linebeck, at least.
Being Wolf Link sucks
Hi, I'm Wolf Link.
I exist to replace Epona early in the game so you have an excuse to roam the padded out Twili Zones encroaching on Hyrule. And to do the tedious light fetchsquests early in the game so you can enter first three dungeons. After you prove your courage, obtain the Master Sword and get Epona back, my utility is scaled back to sometimes giving Midna a ride and howling so bad you'll want to put me down and wait for a better incarnation of Link to come along.
I'm not as cool as Amaterasu.
Hi, I'm the postman. Nope, no daily schedule around Hyrule for me in this game. I have no confidence issues to help with this time, either.
But I am here to interrupt you each time you cross the bridge to Hyrule Town, because the folks at Nintendo could not think of a better way to keep Link connected to characters you stopped caring about.
That's all, see you when you try to cross the bridge again later. I'll be here to stop you every time.
You got 5 Rupees. Yes, we're halting the game to tell you this again. We know this interruption may have actually been worth it if you got more, but nah.
Heard you got a Wii./Has no games, hee hee./Hyrule faces doom/And lots and lots bloom.
Yeeeeeeeeeeah. Lights abound and we smudged them all around/And Link turns into a hound to take Midna around and I'm out of lyrical ideas here, but yeah, too much bloom lighting.
Wearing out your welcome
Does it feel like I'm contriving points to keep this going? Well, so did Twilight Princess. I feel like Nintendo was going by the Ocarina of Time checklist to please fans when they ended up repeating some of OoT's most notable mistakes. To be fair, OoT was Zelda's first 3D outing, though. If there were mistakes to make, that was the game to make them.
Annoying as Navi might be, she was there to usher us into that new 3D age. As ridiculous as three upgrades to the power bracelet were, we stomached it because this was the first 3D Zelda. Ten dungeons was pushing it and the Water Temple was a chore, but the pacing was good enough and you really wanted to stick it to Ganondorf by the time you got to his tower.
Okami was also guilty of being overlong, but again, first time. Few companies were bold enough to emulate Zelda back then and Clover tried to differentiate it as best they could. I would have preferred it ended after Orochi the first time, but they next two acts were decent enough.
Twilight Princess was the fourth 3D console Zelda game. It has no excuses for the early game padding, the awkward pacing, worthless characters and second hookshot upgrade, which is the only justifIcation for the Sky Temple and Hyrule Castle toward the end.
You think dual Hookshots are awesome? Bomb Arrows are my rebuttal. That is where Twilight Princess peaked on weapons - Bomb Arrows. They were awesome back in Link's Awakening and they are awesome now. Better than your little Hyrulian Spiderman fantasy.
And when you get to the top of Hyrule Castle, Mr. Mehdorf is there to be apathetic
Ganondorf gets a bad rap as villains go. They say he's one-note, that he's mustache-twirling evil--crazy just because and Twilight Princess... totally proves these people right by only having him express those traits. He's nothing short of predictable and boring.
Wind Waker Ganondorf is so much better.
Both Dorfs exist in different Zelda timelines, so there should be some differences between them. Wind Waker Dorf returns after Adult Link and Zelda seal him away the future timeline of Hyrule. The legendary hero does not appear, the people dispair and the goddesses decide to flood Hyrule to ensure Ganondorf never gets all of theTriforce.
Basically, they took away everything Ganondorf could possibly want. No Triforce, no Hyrule and thus no evil tower to kidnap princesses to. He is reduced to occupying a run-down pirate fortress and commanding moblins. Once he ruled Hyrule. Once, he was feared and drive by a lustfor power.
Now he's broken. He's still evil, but older, wiser, more introspective and his lust for power and the game made him develop a sense of honor, if a very skewed one. He knew the potential threat Link posed, but swore not to harm him early or Zelda later on ... at least until the Triforce was whole,The King beat Dorf to touching it and making a wish, then Dorf goes mad.
But I loved his maturity, his frailty, ability to reflect and his regal, almost poetic tone. That version of Ganondorf was the best video game villain ever.
So naturally we follow him with a guy that rages for a couple flashbacks before breaking his seal only to sulk on a throne. Not even an organ to play madly upon this time, just sulking before he turns into a giant bore.
Oh, and a giant boar, too.
Even Zant was more interesting, but I think we all knew he was channeling Aghanim and destined to be Dorf's patsy.
Maybe if Dorf had been something more that Mr. Broody McEmo, I wouldn't have been as hard on the rest of the game, especially the last two dungeons and Midna. Zelda being more vital would have helped, too. Or more Possessed Zelda, those Twili taroos on Zelda just work for me.
Anyway, all this has made Twilight Princess my least replayed Zelda ever. Nintendo's upcoming remaster is going to require some serious enhancements to make me consider going back. Better reasons to be Wolf Link, less bloom, less padding, more meaningful upgrades, a Ganondorf with personality and full time Real Midna sit at the top of my list. High demands, sure, but without some of that, I'm thankful to be done with that disappointing Zelda entry.