Review by Rewikitty

"Taking You Back, Taking You Forward, Taking You Back to Take You Forward"

A long time ago, a few years after the birth of video games, the first sequels really began to come out. I can feel the cringes from here. The gaming community does not react kindly to the word "sequel," and it's not hard to see why. Assured of their market success, many game designers build up on popular games with quick money-making sequels with flashier graphics and horribly-done gameplay. The Devil May Cry franchise is a prime example. However, when games were young, sequels were often far superior to their predecessors. New technology meant that games that suffered due to limitations could really begin to shine. Mario, Solid Snake and Mega Man, to name a few franchises, got better with their sequels in the days of the NES. There was a real sense of evolution. Certainly, much of the game was recognizable. It was still Mario and he was still jumping on enemies that looked the same. The basic mechanics did not change. But still, there was an element of improvement. Mario's jumps were smoother. Snake's inventory grew, his tactics became more complicated and his enemies more cunning. Mega Man gained a whole bunch of new powers that allowed him to move more smoothly and tackle bigger and more ferocious enemies. Rather than boring knockoffs or more of the same, sequels were exciting undertakings. Some franchises still manage to capture this magic. Mario is still going strong. Metal Gear has evolved into the almighty Metal Gear Solid series, perhaps the most innovative in all of gaming to date. The The Legend of Zelda has always been a sort of mixed bag. The latest undertaking in the series, however, is a roaring triumph.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is possibly the most anticipated game ever, easily moreso than even Halo 2. Years and years ago, when the Gamecube still hadn't been named, a screenshot of a strikingly beautiful adult Link gravitated. It was rumored that this screenshot was of an upcoming Zelda game on the new Nintendo system. Many, myself included, bought this new system specifically for the new Zelda game. It was this expectation and buildup that caused the massive rage against the somewhat disappointing Wind Waker. Zelda fans would end up waiting until the death of the system they bought just for the new Zelda game to get their game. Ultimately, some are fated to hate this game. The hype was so massive that, no matter how great the game, some would be disappointed. They need not be. Twilight Princess is one of the greatest games ever released.

NOTE: (My ranking system treats 5/10 as an average, not 7/10. Yes, I do love this game that much.)

GRAPHICS - 10/10
Normally, I do not start with graphics. To me, graphical queries are the bane of gaming existence. Most gamers claim not to care about graphics, but will then fork out $600 for a machine that will make their games look ridiculously pretty while maligning a more innovative, cheaper system because "the graphics [will] suck." Keep in mind that these graphics that "suck" still look better than the previous generation of pants-spoilingly beautiful video games. The makers of the machine just didn't spend themselves into the ground and sell every console at a loss in order to focus all of their money and attention on graphics. So when most reviewers say they don't weight graphics as heavily, they are lying to you. It is human nature to prefer that which is visually appealing. It's why there are no fat people in movies, even if the script calls for one, with two or three noted exceptions.

Ranting aside, I do not start with graphics unless they are more than just icing on the cake. In this case, I'm starting with graphics. Keep in mind that I played this on the Gamecube version. I do not know if the Wii version is better, but if it is I'm going to have a hard time imagining it. I don't give 10/10 lightly on -anything.- This game deserves it. The graphics aren't just pretty. They're stunning. They capture the imagination. More importantly, they are an integral part of the game's atmosphere. In the dark, haunting twilight world, the graphics convey the beauty of sunset, the menace of darkness and the hope of the light more than adequately. Link has absolutely never looked better, and his various outfits are all more stylized and interesting than ever before. Rather than simply palette-swapping Link's clothes, the game contains four different outfits for him, ranging from a simple farmboy's rags to a stunning set of magical armor. The master sword now glows with holy light, especially on moonlit nights. Epona looks gorgeous, and very much portrays the majesty of a strong horse.

The little cartoony touches are still there, but the sheer atmosphere of this game is just impossible to portray in words. The fishing hole, quiet, serene, enclosed in a barrier of cherry blossoms. Hyrule field, sprawling, massive, infested by goblins and lizard men, the wind rushing through your hair as the horse bucks beneath you. The twilight realm, full of the beauty of the world at eternal sunset, your glowing sword thrumming through the air as the minions of darkness gather quietly around you...

It is truly a work of art.

SOUND - 9/10
Ultimately, the sound is excellent. The music works with the graphics to create a world of beauty and wonder. Rather than Majora's Mask, which was a collection of dreary retreads, this game is replete with original scores. Even classic Zelda noises have been remixed and redone to marvelous effect. I'll even go so far as to say that I like the new Hyrule Field theme better than in any previous Zelda game, especially the night theme. The dungeon scores were fairly forgettable, but besides the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time, can you honestly say that you remember most of the dungeon music from previous Zelda games? It serves its purpose well enough, and it's not a serious impediment to the game, which is feat enough in itself.

The sound effects aren't quite as nice. Most of them are just fine, but there are a few places where the repetition of sound effects really hurts the game. For example, in the woodland temple you will be followed by a chain of helpful monkeys. These monkeys will not shut up. Ever. I actually wound up turning the sound down for this dungeon because of the freaking monkeys. I wanted to kill them. It was awful.

But before you go thinking that the sound effects are all bad, I have to mention that they have fixed some problems. Previously jarring sounds, like sword strikes or the infernal alarm clock noise that indicates that link is low on energy have been softened. Indeed, most sounds have been softened. This is a good thing. Sounds that were previously annoying are now not only bearable, but sometimes downright enjoyable.

PLOT - 10/10
I can hardly believe that I'm saying this about a Zelda game. It sounds absurd. But this game has a finer plot than most market RPGs. I will not ruin it for you; other reviews can do it better than I can. Suffice to say that the plot twists are not incredible. It isn't a Final Fantasy game. But the plot itself is deeper and more meaningful than in previous Zelda installments. I was actually moved by some scenes, and I sprang to my feet for some of the more dramatic combat sections. Midna is a much more interesting helper than either Navi or Tatl, and rather than foisting the plot on you slapbang this game takes some time to develop your character.

Most importantly, Link has more of a personality than ever. He's still the silent protagonist, of course, but in this installment he is truly heroic and his actions are epic. Link infiltrates forts, charges into battle, takes vengeance and acts out of interest for other characters. Indeed, departing from formula a little, there isn't a lot of "O great hero, we have lost our 8 magical crystals. Go and retrieve them!" The plot is interesting and varied, and the characters are much deeper and multidimensional than in previous Zelda games. Zelda fans have much touted the Link/Saria relationship as one of the deepest in action gaming. That relationship pales in comparison to the friendships, rivalries and subtle manipulations of this game. Zelda fans and nonfans alike will be pleased by this aspect.

Of course, it is still Zelda. It has improved on an old formula, but it still involves raiding dungeons, collecting treasures and defeating The Big Guy. It's just that this time around the game developers have done a much, much better job of doing something interesting with their tried-and-true formula.

GAMEPLAY - 10/10
And this, of course, is the kicker. Is this Zelda as good as Ocarina of Time? I am here to tell you that this Zelda is better, and not just marginally so. This Zelda is the best Zelda of all time, and in my book among the top 5 greatest games of all time.

The developers did stick to the old systems in many instances. This is a good thing. There were many complaints of this game's lack of innovation. These complaints were founded, but ultimately unwarranted. There is a saying: "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Now, certainly some sections of Zelda needed fixing, but at some point you can only change a formula so much before it ceases to be a Zelda game. This Zelda masterfully blends in new elements, but you will still be controlling Link. First impressions aside, he will still look like Link (although, much to my joy, they have returned to oldschool brunette Link) and he will still be plumbing dungeons and solving puzzles for interesting treasures. He'll still be completing his collection of Great Mystical Artifacts that were Sealed Away. You'll still have your sword, your shield, your hookshot (or something similar enough,) your boomerang, your bow, your bombs, your Zora swimming gear, your Master Sword. It's still Zelda.

But this game is also different. While you will still plumb forest, fire and water dungeons, you will enter some new and refreshingly different locales. In particular, there was an ice dungeon that was a really nice change of pace, and while many puzzles are recycled there are gameplay elements not seen in any Zelda before Twilight Princess that will challenge even the most die-hard Zelda fan. And while much of your inventory will be familiar, there will be whole new treasures with whole new functions that you have never seen or used before. I won't spoil the fun for you, but know that I was very pleasantly surprised by the new additions. More importantly, previous installments to your inventory have been upgraded to the point that absolutely every item you get has its own, unique function. I won't go so far as to say that nothing ever goes out of style, but in previous Zelda games, after you received the hookshot there was really little point to ever using your boomerang again, and after getting various tunic upgrades, your hero's original clothing went completely out of style. I'm pleased to say that this game has made things a whole lot more interesting. Every item in your inventory serves its own, special, unique use that no other item serves, and most items continue to be useful for almost every part of the game (with one rather disappointing exception.)

Central to every Zelda game is some sort of gimmick. The gimmick in this game is Link's ability to transform into a wolf. I've read some astonishing things in other reviews. I intentionally did not read other reviews before playing the game for the first time, but I did read them before writing my own. I was astounded to learn that Link's wolf form is weaker than his human form. I challenge any unbiased observer to make this connection without being told in advance. For once, I did not dread my stints as a secondary form. In most video games, secondary forms are just sort of thrown together as diversions from the "actual" game. Wolf Link has some really useful abilities that Human Link does not get. During the latter half of the game, this makes dynamics very interesting indeed. Wolf Link controls well, and is actually an excellent combatant when he has room to maneuver. More importantly, before you obtain most of Link's treasures, the agile wolf form will actually be faster and able to reach areas that Human Link cannot due to his superior jumping, balance, senses and the ability to dig under some walls. I found this gimmick incredibly well done, and I have to admit that I enjoyed the touch. In many Zelda games, most notably Majora's Mask, alternate forms were an absolute chore (except for Zora Link and Fierce Deity Link, of course.) Link's alternate forms tended to be weaker in every way, slow to move, cumbersome to control and obnoxious to use. Wolf Link is almost more fun than human Link, especially before you collect most of the game's treasures. Your stints as a beast will also help to break up some of the inevitable monotony that comes from necessarily repetitive game elements. Rather than "well, that's one dungeon down. Time to go find what road my new treasure opens up so that I can start the quest to open the next one," you get a totally different but equally well-done gaming experience. This adds tons of fun and excitement. The only annoyance I have with this aspect of the game is that if there's a person anywhere that could theoretically, maybe, possibly see you switch forms, even if they're around a corner and busily weeding their garden, Midna will NOT let you transform. This led to some annoyance as I would warp into a place, which would force me to be in wolf form. Then, to access any of my human treasures (bomb, hookshot, etc.) I would have to leave the screen, find a remote corner, change forms, and then go all the way back to my warp point, just to use my bombs. Argh.

There are also myriad improvements to the game's basic system of operation, removing many annoyances that have plauged the Zelda series. You start with the ability to hold 300 rupees instead of a paltry 99, and getting your first wallet upgrade to 600 is so easy I stumbled on it by mistake. This is coupled with the fact that, within dungeons, rupees are plentiful. In addition, all the way to the end of the game, you'll have something to spend rupees on. Always. This makes for a much more interesting dynamic than in previous games, where rupees tended to pile up near the end of the game with no practical use. There are more heart pieces to a heart container now, which boosts the game's replay value, but rather than aimlessly wandering the now-massive world of Hyrule while hitting every wall with your sword and bombing every inch of ground to look for secret grottoes, there is now a fortune teller that will, for a price, show you the general area where heart piece can be found. Those who wish to seek out all of their heart pieces the old fashioned way can, of course, eschew her services, but I for one found this to be a refreshing alternative to aimless wandering. Hyrule field is now massive, but not nearly as empty as in previous installments. Goblin ambushes, lizard men, cliffs, ruins and massive vistas are everywhere. More importantly, you get and keep your horse throughout 90% of the game and you get the ability to warp when in wolf form, making this distance a breeze to cross in a timely manner. Upgrades to your quiver are now massive, allowing you to hold 100 arrows and 60 bombs when maximized. This is definitely a good thing, and it makes your upgrades far more worth working for. Last in the department of minor annoyances that have, at last, been fixed, is the fact that Link can now use almost any item in his inventory from horseback. This saves a lot of frustration.

As far as cool stuff that has been added, there are a few things that stick out. For one, Link can combine his bombs and arrows to make a missile-type attack. This is all kinds of fun, even though its uses are fairly limited. Battles are now epic in scale, sometimes requiring Link to fend off 6-8 enemies at a time or more. No more will your enemies simply stand back, attacking you one at a time. Combat is much more realistic and dire now. Fortunately for you, Wolf Link has some excellent group-busting moves, and Human Link can now find various statues where an ancient warrior spirit will teach him new sword techniques. For the most part, these sword skills are not only cool-looking but useful beyond all reason. I was overjoyed every time I found a statue and new that I would soon be learning a new, useful skill. Lastly, the battle with the final boss shall henceforth go down in history as one of the most epic fights of all time, and it's a pure blast to do over and over again.

Combat in general is tighter, more difficult and more fun. Enemies actually put up a decent guard against you, and fighting outnumbered now requires some real strategy. There are some really excellent epic fights, like a jousting match with a raging goblin rider, a contest where horseback archery is your best friend, an old-west shootout with a score and a half of goblins and more, more, more. Did I mention that final boss? There were also some scenes that were less epic but just impressively difficult or fun. In the fourth dungeon, there was a sequence where I was fighting several spear-warriors atop a roof, and it was just awesome fun. I'm sure that each individual player will find places or fights that he or she absolutely loves as well.

And there is so very, very much more that I can't even hope to cover here. Play this game and I promise that you won't be disappointed. The gameplay is not only best improved, but just the best. There were a few problems here and there. I ran into some hit detection anomalies, and the camera wasn't always as cooperative as I would've liked, but for the most part even in these areas the game was a huge improvement over previous installments. To be honest, this was just so much fun I don't know how to convey it properly. The game is great. Go check it out yourself and see.

I just have to say that, for the first time, I really felt like Link was an epic hero while playing this game. Link is just so Cool (and there's no other word for it) that it was overwhelming. He was like an actual hero.

There are many moments in this game that are just so un-Nintendo that I actually gasped in shock. One of these things happens very early into the game. This game is dark, mature and interesting, even moreso than Majora's Mask. I was pleasantly surprised.

The game has recaptured some of the zany Japanese humor that was present in Ocarina of Time and seems to have sort of abandoned the series since then. You'll have to play to see exactly what I mean, but it's well done and doesn't detract from the story. Good comic relief breaks things up and throws the rest of the story into yet sharper relief, and this comic relief works out very well.

In most games, mini-games are a boring chore. In this game, only one of the mini-games really annoyed me. I found some of the mini-games (especially SUMO WRESTLING!) to be awesome, awesome fun.

OVERALL - 10/10
And I don't give 10/10 lightly (see my other reviews if you don't believe me.) This game is absolutely excellent. It is the consummate Zelda experience, and it's highly enjoyable in every aspect. I can't tell you how great this game is in a single review. You need to play this game. Go. Now.

Ultimately, in a business where sequels and franchises are little more than cash cows, the true triumphs of gameplay need to be celebrated. This game is worth celebrating. It will take you back to a time when sequels were improvements. It will take you forward, improving an already-great series. It will wow you and amaze you and entertain you. And honestly, what more could you want from a video game?

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/13/07

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