Review by MSuskie

"The hero will rise again."

At the annual E3 press conference in 2004, Nintendo ended their presentation by unveiling The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the very first time. The game – which, after the cartoonish art direction of The Wind Waker, showed off a darker, more mature new visual style – was greeted with the kind of crowd reaction one would expect to hear at Lincoln Financial Field after the Eagles score a game-winning touchdown against the Cowboys. Two years later at the very same event, Reggie Fils-Aime (Nintendo's ass-kicking, name-taking tough guy) introduced the game by saying this:

“It is by far the best Zelda game we've ever made.”

Well, gee, that's a pretty bold claim, Reggie boy. But it makes me wonder: Is Twilight really the best Zelda game ever made? Can it stand up in a franchise so clouded with perfection? Will Nintendo be able to top itself again? And does it have the ability to knock my all-time favorite, Ocarina of Time, off its throne?

Of course I would approach this with a fair perspective – obviously Twilight is the best game of the series by today's standards, but you have to judge these games based on the time and situation in which they were released. It would probably be accurate to say that The Bard's Tale is more fun than Adventure, but no way in hell am I saying that The Bard's Tale is the better, more influential game.

So is Twilight the best Zelda ever? The answer, invariably, is no.

But don't make the mistake of thinking that Twilight is not one of most entertaining, well-designed and engaging titles to come around in a very long time. Being dubbed as a Zelda game “for the fans,” Twilight takes every established attribute that the series has built for itself thus far and magnifies it into the biggest, deepest, and in many ways most accomplished entry in the series yet. Don't let anyone tell you that Twilight is revolutionary, groundbreaking, or a new benchmark. It is none of those things. But it marks some of the most fun I've had playing a game in years.

It isn't perfect. The much-raved-about story is, as far as I'm concerned, far from the best of the series. Taking place in the traditional land of Hyrule, we're once again placed in the boots of a green tunic-donning hero named Link – still the same silent protagonist, but now older and more reserved. In a plot that feels very much derived from Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Hyrule is being swallowed up by a shadow world called the Twilight Realm – a gloomy (yet strangely beautiful) alternate reality painted with stark colors and laced with excessive bloom lighting. For reasons unknown, Link transforms into a wolf when he enters this place, and is forced to enlist the help of Midna, who is the Navi, the Tatl, the Ezlo of this adventure.

From a glance, this setup is fine, especially when accompanied by some of the best cinematics ever to grace the Zelda series. (The lack of voice acting annoyed me at first, but I quickly stopped caring.) We're given one of the franchise's most interesting supporting characters in Midna, and one of its best villains in Zant (a creepy, Sith Lord-ish dude). Furthermore, Twilight does a great job replicating that same character arc in Link we saw in Ocarina of Time, in which we witness his transformation from a country boy to a powerful hero. But the plot goes for long stretches of time without anything really happening, and many of the strange events that occur are never really explained. For the first time in a Zelda game, the plot seems unsure of itself. The inclusion of Princess Zelda was completely unnecessary as well, especially since the far more compelling Midna steals her thunder.

I also confess that I did not enjoy playing as Wolf Link as much as I thought I would. As a wolf, you can “sense” hidden objects, dig holes, track scents, and maul away at enemies with your claws and teeth. Once you get the ability to change between your two forms at will, the whole Wolf Link thing becomes a very worthwhile play mechanic. But for the first ten or so hours of the adventure, you'll be forced to play as Wolf Link for long, unbroken segments as you trot through Twilight Realm, completing fetch quests. These portions of Twilight only pop up around the beginning of the adventure and aren't so bad as to seriously hurt the overall experience, but such a flaw needs to be clarified, because, as I said, Twilight is not the best Zelda game ever made.

But the stuff that does work, works as fantastically as ever, with little or no fault once you get over the initial hump that is the first ten or so hours of the game. Everything that we loved about the previous entries in the series has been reproduced and made grander. Twilight is, as much as I groan to say this, Zelda taken to the next level.

The dungeons themselves are the best-designed of the series. After the rather easy The Wind Waker, it was somehow endearing to once again be honestly stuck, baffled, and at times downright disoriented by the challenging puzzles and tricky layouts found in Twilight. The Lakebed Temple is a nightmarish labyrinth of rotating stairways, spinning waterwheels and crisscrossing canals that had me stumped for hours. What's especially great, though, is that the difficulty escalates at a solid rate throughout the adventure. The first dungeon, the monkey-laden Forest Temple, is rather easy. But as Twilight progresses, the difficulty ramps up, and the dungeons become increasingly more challenging. And more ingenious – the sixth dungeon marks some of the most originality I've seen in a Zelda game in quite a while.

Combat has been bumped up, too. Your basic move set is the same, but you'll have the opportunity to earn seven different special techniques that make swordplay deeper than ever, ranging from a shield bash to a charging jump attack. (Link even has a cool sign-off pose he can perform anytime he defeats a powerful enemy.) Your inventory is also the most diverse it's ever been, with some old favorites (the lantern finally makes a comeback) and a set of new goodies. Without ruining too much, the spinner may in fact be the greatest Zelda item ever.

But by far the most notable improvement is size. No game I've ever played has managed to capture the sense of sheer vastness like The Wind Waker, but about 99% of that game world was blank ocean. In terms of actual, physical landmass, Twilight has without question the largest overworld the series has seen. Think back to when you first played Ocarina of Time. Remember the sense of awe you got when you first left Kokiri Forest and trotted along the plains of Hyrule Field? Now imagine the kind of enormity it would take to recreate that feeling by today's standards. That's what we're talking about here. This new version of Hyrule Field is so large that riding a horse is no longer merely a convenience, like it was in Ocarina. It's a necessity.

A larger emphasis has been placed on horseback combat this time around as well. It's implemented into the adventure surprisingly well, and even has a place among a few major story sequences (such as an amazing battle in which you and an enemy warthog-rider joust on a bridge). I'd like to see more horseback combat in future Zelda titles.

And there's so much more I want to talk about in heavy detail. What about the graphics, so colorful and so detailed and so full of life? Or the art style, perfectly balancing the line between cartoonish and mature? (It's darker and grittier, sure, but in no way is it realistic. And that's a good thing.) Or the music, mixing classic themes with excellent new pieces? (I never thought they would come up with another Gerudo theme that's as catchy as the original, but this one comes close.) Or what about the dozens of subtle nods to Zeldas of old? And don't forget about the boss battles, now far more epic and on a grander scale than ever before (just wait ‘til you get to Argorok). And what about the nearly limitless array of sidequests? Or the fact that the average gamer will spend at least fifty hours on the main adventure?

Truth be told, I just can't say enough good things about Twilight. It may have flaws that prevent it from being the best Zelda ever, but it's the most enjoyable entry in the series in at least six years, and a marvelous achievement by any standard.

Pros

+ It's Zelda, so it deserves your respect almost by default.
+ Masterful reinvention of the elements that have put the series on the map.
+ Huge huge HUGE overworld, and an enormous adventure all around.
+ Dungeons are the most intelligently-designed the series has seen.
+ Combat is deeper than ever.
+ The new visual style is distinct and fitting, and the graphics are amazing.

Cons

- The story isn't as original or interesting as I would have liked.
- The earlier Wolf Link segments tend to drag.

Overall: 10/10

Another Zelda game, another perfect score. And another reason that Zelda has stayed my all-time favorite videogame franchise for a great while. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is precisely the amazing, epic journey that it has been made out to be, and deserves to stand among the greatest games in history. And while I think any gamer can appreciate and admire the extraordinary design mechanics and beauty at play here, I think that major Zelda fans like myself are going to be the ones to get the most out of this package. It's meant to please series fans, and at that, it succeeds. But Twilight is far more than typical fan service. It's an astonishing achievement, and just one more shred of evidence that Nintendo is the master of nearly every corner of the videogame world. If you ever doubt their skill, play this baby and dare to doubt them again.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/07


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