Review by nintendosega
"An extremely well-made game that's just not much fun to play"
I have to admit, this was a pretty tough one to review. With Twilight Princess I'm dealing with what's arguably been one of the most highly anticipated games in years. It has attracted huge amounts of attention since its announcement, and a lot of care clearly went into its development. What we have here is both a massive and extremely well-made game, but one that unfortunately isn't that much fun to play.
Having only played about an hour of Ocarina of Time on the N64, (not much, I know) I consider my first Zelda experience to have been Gamecube's Wind Waker. Although not all Zelda fans were thrilled by its overly-cute cel shaded graphics, easy difficulty, and relatively small amount of dungeons, I really ended up liking it. The game had a great sense of adventure, an incredible atmosphere, an imaginative world that was brought to life by unique cel shaded graphics, and it happened to be a blast to play. When Twilight Princess was announced, I was excited to experience another great adventure in a different, darker, and more realistic setting. Unfortunately, the gameplay in Twilight Princess is too often "more work than fun," and while many people will love it, I personally wound up finding its emphasis on long and convoluted dungeons to be very tiring.
Graphics; This was designed from the beginning as a Gamecube game and it looks like it. The lighting effects are excellent, however, and the water looks unbelievably good. Some of the environments feature amazing art direction and despite the overall dated look of the game, I was blown away by certain areas. That said, though, it's hard to cut these graphics much slack, it *is* a Wii game, and I think the visuals should have been improved. It was a decision made by producer Shigeru Miyamoto, who wanted the game to look the same on both consoles. Unfortunately, this decision has left the game with a dated look that even by last-gen standards doesn't amaze. (Final Fantasy XII's graphics beat out Twilight Princess's hands down.) At the very least, they could have fixed some of its technical issues, especially in Castle Town. It's meant to serve as the main hub of the world, yet exploring it isn't fun; the load times are long, and coupled with the (obviously) pre-rendered backgrounds in use in the town (which prevent you from controlling the camera,) exploring the game's main town ends up being a tedious, claustrophobic experience. It's a far cry from the big, bustling, and fully real-time Sailor Town from Wind Waker, though unlike Wind Waker, Twilight Princess at least does manage to keep a solid framerate.
The overworld map is expansive but dull, featuring bland-looking fields with very little activity aside from the same enemies randomly appearing to be easily dealt with. As far as the tone goes, Twilight Princess is all over the place, with the designers seeming unable to decide if they wanted to go with a light or a dark game. Early trailers showed some areas, such as the Twilight Realm, as well as various forests, looking very dark and creepy with an almost Silent Hill-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, none of this has made it into the final product and we've ended up with a world that's neither as warm and welcoming as Wind Waker's nor dark and foreboding enough to be scary. Eiji Aonuma, the director, said in some interviews long before the game's release that his plan was to make a world so dark that at night, you wouldn't dare leave town without a lantern. I wanted to see a world like this, and I'm disappointed that it didn't turn out that way.
Graphics overall; it's unfortunate that some outstanding art direction is put to waste in what ultimately ends up being a dated-looking game. While it has some gorgeous-looking areas, the graphics style can't seem to decide if it wants to be light or dark, resulting in a world that can only be described as bland.
Gameplay; The biggest change featured in the Wii version over the Gamecube version is the motion controls. Sword swinging, as well as aiming, is done with the Wii-mote's motion sensing. It works surprisingly well for something that was added at the last minute and really up making the combat feel much fresher than it otherwise would have. Aiming works perfectly with the remote, and the sword swinging, while far from deep, is pretty fun and makes the combat system an area where Twilight Princess shines. While there are plenty of other areas in the game where Wii-mote controls would have been fun, I realize that they didn't have much time to implement them, so I'll let it slide. This game definitely doesn't show what the Wii can do but it gives us a taste of how the Wii-mote can improve gameplay in regular games. New control scheme aside, it more or less plays like every other 3-D Zelda game. You walk (although very slowly,) across a large overworld to go to towns or dungeons. You can also ride on horseback, although the horse's controls are pretty sluggish, and you'll eventually be making heavy use of the warp feature that's available to you fairly early on. The Zelda series is known for its gameplay and Twilight Princess delivers a really excellent gameplay experience that makes me wonder why Nintendo doesn't make more big, epic games like these.
That's not to say that the gameplay is flawless...you're provided with very little assistance for if you forget where you're supposed to go for whatever reason. A good deal of time is spent controlling a wolf, who basically controls exactly like Link, but without any of his cool weapons or moves. The overworld is bland-looking and devoid of any people or activity. In the days of games like Oblivion and Fable, this is pretty unacceptable. Enemies appear far too frequently and present no sort of challenge, making disposing of them rather tedious. The 2-D map system isn't exactly useful when in dungeons, and the fishing controls are never satisfactorily explained to you. The game also freezes in its tracks to tell you "You've just picked up 20 Rupees!" every single time you get them out of a treasure chest, which gets old pretty quickly. Some flaws aside, though, Twilight Princess is a blast in the gameplay department. It's a very well-made game and extremely fun to control, but it's what they chose to do with this gameplay that's the problem...
The world they've created (bland overworld aside) is impressive, with some nice-looking towns and villages, some atmospheric forests and cool deserts and lakes.....unfortunately, you don't get to spend much time in this world; instead, almost the entire game takes place in dark dungeons. These are large, puzzle-filled dungeons with many floors to them, sure to take you, in some cases, hours. These do challenge you and make you work; that was their intent, so in that view, the developers were successful. But it very quickly becomes too much. Twilight Princess's vast, sprawling dungeons are all too long by at least a half hour, they rely heavily on backtracking, and they feature puzzles that alternate between the clever and the uninspired.
What makes these dungeons even more of a pain is the game's continued use of an archaic save system; you can save your progress during a dungeon, but when you load it back up again, you'll be back at the beginning, having to trek all the way through the dungeon again to get to where you left off. So essentially, you have to complete dungeons in one sitting, which can become stressful as some are easily over the 2-hour mark. Many of their layouts also feature very similar-looking corridors and hallways, making getting lost (or forgetting where you were supposed to go) too easy.
Unfortunately, these dungeons occupy most of the game. After about the half way mark (and this is a 45-hour game, people) you go basically from dungeon to dungeon...to dungeon, to dungeon, one right after another. Some of them, like the unnecessary Sky City dungeon, are pointless to the game's storyline. Thankfully Twilight Princess goes easy on you after that one for the last couple of dungeons and some of these amazing bosses have to be seen to be believed, but it doesn't make up for the fact that what started off as a fun experience turns into a chore.
Gameplay overall; It's really a shame because the world created here is has the potential to be a lot of fun, and it's sad to see almost all the buildings in Castle Town and all its charming characters (aside from Midna, who's always with you) go to waste because of the fact that you're simply not there; you're always busy in some dungeon. There's a certain charm in the world of Zelda (like the warm feeling you get when you enter a house or store) which is definitely present here, and the world's got some great and imaginative ideas that I just wish the developers would have focused more on. Instead, we end up with a game that's actually not fun to play despite the excellent gameplay engine, and the overall experience is tiring and even a bit boring.
Sound; Let's get this out of the way immediately; this game does not feature voice acting and it's missed very much. It drains a lot of the impact from cutscenes and makes them (in order to accommodate the subtitles) have to move slower, which took me right out of the game. It's time to join the 21st century, Nintendo, and voice the Zelda series.
The music is unfortunately pretty bad as well. It's MIDI, not orchestrated, and it overall gives the game a pretty cheap sound. That's not to say there aren't some great songs here; classic Zelda themes are worked into some areas to great effect, and the overworld music at night is actually suitably creepy. But a lot of the songs in the game (such as the daytime overworld theme and that annoying track that plays every time an enemy shows up,) are very hard on the ears and I found myself having to lower the volume at times because it was just getting on my nerves. Wind Waker was mostly MIDI as well, and I don't remember it having this problem, so I'm not sure what happened here.
It's no surprise, then, that what works best is when the music's cut entirely, and you get to savor the amazing atmosphere that Nintendo creates in the Zelda series. The sound effects, the look of the environments, ...everything combines to make the world feel extremely real and very relaxing. Every time the music is taken away, it's almost like a treat, and you get to savor the amazing and peaceful atmosphere created here with some excellent sound effects and lighting, especially at night. Great job in that area.
Sound overall; Game suffers greatly from lack of voice work, the music sounds outdated and frankly isn't great to begin with. However, atmosphere's something the Zelda series has always excelled in and that's no different here. Terrific sound effects that completely drew me into the world.
Storyline; This is a category in which this game received a lot of praise but it left me very underwhelmed. Maybe it's because I play a lot of RPGs, but I just found nothing to get excited about here. The story basically consists of one "collect-a-thon" after another, with you going from dungeon to dungeon to collect "4 pieces of shadow" or "8 pieces of a mirror" or whatever...the plot's basically all an excuse to get you from one dungeon to the next. The villain features no development, very little is actually done with the Twilight Realm, and the characters are all strictly in the background. After Wind Waker provided us with a memorable cast of characters, Twilight Princess instead gives us nothing but dungeons, putting all characters aside from Midna completely in the background. Most upsetting, though, is that like with the graphics style, the developers seemed to struggle with the tone they were trying to achieve. There are some very creepy moments in a couple cutscenes, but the overall storyline just isn't dark enough, with a lot of violence happening offscreen (if at all) and despite the Teen rating (a first for the series) this game seems even a little less violent than Wind Waker. I really think some potential was missed here. This shallow storyline isn't helped by a final villain who pops up out of nowhere, not to mention the fact that the game often abandons its plot for hours on end.
Storyline overall; Despite some pretty creepy moments, the plot just doesn't feel dark enough for what they were trying to do, and attempts at humor (like an annoying postman) fall flat almost all the time. Lack of voice acting hurts, and the dialogue itself is nothing to write home about either, with all characters basically sounding the same. The plot relies too heavily on "collecting stuff" and very few characters have any opportunity for development. Overall, pretty disappointing.
Verdict; The Legend of Zelda; Twilight Princess is a great example of the type of epic game Nintendo can make if they try to. A lot of care and time went into making this "the best it could be" and it all shows. The last-minute Wii controls work surprisingly well, and the game's atmosphere and vast world are top notch. Unfortunately, the decision to go overboard with the dungeons ends up turning a fun game into a chore, and while many long-time Zelda fans will welcome all these dungeons, a lot of the rest of us will find the game to be pretty boring. Overall outdated presentation and flat storyline make matters worse. If you're a Zelda fan...you already own this game so I don't really even need to tell you to get it. If you're a gamer whose relatively new to the Zelda series, though, (and especially if you're a casual gamer,) I'd recommend renting this first to see how you like it. If you find yourself bored during the first few dungeons, it'll be a pretty good indication that you won't like the rest of the game much. My overall thoughts are that while I really respect the game, I can't recommend it to anyone except long-time Zelda fans.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 03/01/07, Updated 01/02/14
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (US, 11/19/06)
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