Review by Darker Zen

"A year late, but, with another year of polish, well worth the wait"

The Legend of Zelda series has always been about exploration of a fantastical world that looks like our own, but feels like no other. Twilight Princess is no exception, as it delves deeper into the exploration factor throwing you into a world that is roughly 5x larger than that of Ocarina of Time. While Ocarina of Time was revolutionary, perhaps more so than this title, Twilight Princess raises the bar in the Zelda series with some of the best visuals on the GameCube, amazing story telling and art design that is truly imaginative in this return to the realistic side of the Legend of Zelda.

The game begins like other titles with you starting out your day to day life as a young boy. Though, in this title, it puts Link as more of a part of Hyrule, rather than just a pre-destined hero dubbed by deities and goddesses as a savior, he sort of falls into this role. In the beginning, Link is nothing more than an errand boy, living a care-free life in a small ranching town with his various friends. He's more of a natural, yet emerging, hero in this title, but this allows him to be a bit more of a citizen within Hyrule and show more emotion in the world around him. Shortly into the game, you'll meet up with your partner in crime, the imp-like Midna, who is arguably one of the best characters ever, and get a one way ticket to the animal kingdom..

The gameplay is similar, if not identical, to the most recent Zelda titles such as the Wind Waker, Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time. As Link, you'll be performing the usual side steps, rolls and back flips as well as swordplay that includes, but isn't limited too, stabs, jumping slices, vertical and horizontal slashes. Of course, the gameplay is far from stale in this game. It truly feels fresh and has more depth as new actions are added to Link's repertoire. These actions include incorporating your shield into battle, using it to open up well armored enemies, or daze others, leaving them vulnerable, while others include a slice that puts you in mortal danger, but instantly slays your foe. These extra actions are learned from a swordmaster that you must find within Hyrule's sprawling lands. The newest, and perhaps most interesting, element to be added to this new title is the ability to play as a wolf. While within a cursed area of Hyrule, one that is affected by Twilight, you'll be transformed into a wolf and be forced to rely upon your senses and, to an extent, Midna. Later on, you'll be able to transform at will to work your way around various puzzles and obstacles.

As for the dungeons in this new title, they're the best, yet. I know many have stated that this game feels "stuck in the past" when it comes to this area, but I, for one, am glad that it is, indeed, "stuck." Each and every dungeon is unique from another, which is quite a feat in itself, and is a blast to go through and at least one puzzle in each will throw you off a bit. They're not too hard, but fun to get through and will test your logic and observational skills. The puzzles, environments, atmosphere and music all meld together perfectly, though there is one minor, yet awesome, element added to each dungeon. The game's dungeons stay true to the classic formula, save for one key element, instead of just finding the dungeons item, you must fight for it with a mid-level boss. This allows the dungeons to have two bosses each and, at the same time, lengthen them considerably. Not to mention, the game's boss battles, are easily some of the best in any Legend of Zelda game and recent action/adventure title.

While they aren't everything, the first thing we gamers usually see are the graphics of a game, right? Right. So, it's a good thing Twilight Princess is no slouch in this department. The game looks simply beautiful. It's a photo realistic world in one that is like no other as it pushes the GameCube to its limits. It animates flawlessly, has remarkable draw distance, allows for at least two dozen character models to run simultaneously on-screen, both NPCs and enemies, as well boasts absolutely no slow down, whatsoever. This is, of course, all done within a world that is 5x larger than Ocarina of Time and has so many different environments that look great. Whether you're traversing a desert of sun soaked dunes, swimming in a lake of tranquil beauty or brushing shoulders with nobles at the marketplace, it all feels to be a natural part of Hyrule. As for character models, they look great and animate fluidly. Even the silent Link shows more emotion than just shock, like in previous installments, he now shows compassion for the hurt, a hint of love for a girl, scorn for his enemies and, yes, still a bit of shock at times. As for battle animations, Link and his enemies all have a high level of detail to each of their actions. Whether it be an enemy losing pieces of armor in battle, or Link swinging his sword about in preparation for a fight. The various characters he meets are no different, as they each have personalities that are very deep and all take part in the story at some point. Needless to say, the animations, graphics and art design are all very well done in this adventure and boast a high level of polish.

The sound area of this title is where I hear a lot of complaints about this game being "dated" which I find ludicrous. It's generally due to the lack of voice overs that people feel should be a staple of today's games.. which is quite sad, really. In today's gaming, everyone needs a story that's spoon fed to them, I suppose, either that, or they just find reading to be a chore. At any rate, even with the lack of voice overs, I found this game's sound to be very well done, as it allows the game to do another thing the Zelda games are well known for.. tell an excellent story. The musical score is amazing, as it draws upon past games to create a mystical atmosphere of nostalgia, but, at the same time, incorporates newer tracks that fit the locations, each event and every moment. The environmental sounds are also done well, as they immerse you further into each location far more than sight would do alone. As for value, this game is chock full of it. Twilight Princess has a load of sidequests to take care of that add to an already lengthy game which include various types of item collection that the Zelda games are known for. These include bug collecting, ghost hunting, heart piece acquisition and fishing. At any point in time, within your adventure, you can go off hunting for these items across the many lands of Hyrule. If you decide not to tackle these right away, you'll be looking at about 30+ hours of gameplay and, if you're more into exploration and really taking your time with a game like this, expect 50+ hours. And, many more if you plan to complete the game 100% and with no guides which, in my opinion, is the only way to play a game.

Overall, the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a Zelda title like no other, but, at the same time, it hasn't lost that feel that no other game has ever come close to. Because of that, I can say, unflinchingly, that this game is easily the best game out for the GameCube to date, as well as the Wii, and my Game of the Year 2006. Twilight Princess draws upon many other Legend of Zelda titles for the most obvious elements in the game, but it is only the most hardcore fans, that will notice the smaller touches. It is the elements that are "stuck in the past" that define a Legend of Zelda game, as well as make it what it is, and I'm glad the aforementioned elements are "stuck." Those that say these are negative aspects to the game either don't know Zelda.. or just find reading to be a chore.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/09/07

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