I never owned a Wii, for a few reasons but mostly, if I’m being honest, because it all looked suspiciously like exercise to me. Whilst the wands and nunchucks of the Wii may’ve been considered fun and quirky – the kind of thing you’d have a laugh playing with your friends for an hour or so – the idea of spending large chunks of my downtime swinging my arms around like a lunatic just never really appealed to me. As such, there was a whole console generation of Nintendo Games that I either didn’t play at all, or just tried briefly at friends’ houses, and precisely because a lot of them seemed intent on making me get up off my arse and dance around like the bastard lovechild of Jane Fonda and Mr. Motivator.
Nintendo being Nintendo however, some of those games were iterations of bona fide Nintendo classics, one of which was a Wii version of Zelda. Twilight Princess was a Zelda Game I wanted to play, for sure, but on the Wii it was also a Zelda Game that required me to physically do all my stabbing and slashing and whatnot, so whilst that was a thing, it remained very much a “bollocks to that…” element of my Gaming life. Eventually, though – either in an effort to please lazy bastards like me, or in a desperate attempt to breathe life into a dying Wii U – The Twilight Princess gotz a shiny HD upgrade, and made the leap from one generation to the next. With the spectre of physical activity banished to history, and with the chance to pad out my Wii U library with some extra Zeldary goodness, I figured what have I got to lose!?…..
Turns out the answer to that was something along the lines of ‘every minute of free time I have, personal hygiene standards, and also, like, my grip on reality’ given I started to get a bit obsessed with tantalisingly placed treasure chests, hard to find insects and such. My save file reliably informs me that I spent north of sixty hours – sixty fucking hours – playing Twilight Princess, and that was taking a fairly less-than-completionist approach. I swear to God, it really doesn’t seem like I’ve spent that long on it, though. Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that I was a care-free elf-ey dude, rounding up goats in Ordon Village, and tentatively taking my first steps into Hyrule’s expansive, quest-filled world. Weirder still, those first few steps weren’t exactly spectacular, and actually, there was a period when I was leaning towards fucking the game off entirely (see again: rounding up goats). Some of that was perhaps a natural reaction to playing a decade-old Game too, I think, and even though it’s been remastered, there was a definite feeling of “jeez, why don’t I get my gramophone and Zoetrope out whilst I’m at it” as I plodded through areas that looked decidedly early-gen in terms of rendering and graphics. Within the first hour I’d also gotten a bit eye-rolley at all the backtracking, and taken with the Zelda franchise’s insistence on making me read conversations, rather than listen to them, I was definitely less than enthusiastic about seeing it all through.
But then, towards the end of my second session, all the other quintessentially Zelda stuff started to kick in, and I gradually began to get sucked into Link’s world. Not only did I start to overcome my aversion to its old-school shiznizz, but I actually started to appreciate it. I realised that because Twilight Princess wasn’t wowing me with fancy-shmancy cinematics and A-list acting talent, it was its core Gameplay that was grabbing me. I seem to have spent a fair bit of time recently banging on about Nintendo’s ‘getting the fundamentals right’, but Twilight Princess seemed to prove that they can do that, not just in a “one more level” Mario or Splatoon-ey kind of way, but also in big, open world games too. See, Twilight Princess manages to take the core elements of RPGing, Platforming, and honest-to-goodness puzzling and wrap them all up in a ridonkulously addictive and absorbing meta-quest. For sure, it can all be a bit bizarre at times but, actually, it’s to the game’s credit that at some point I successfully suspended my own incredulity, and I was all like “Yeah, I’m talking to a sumo wrestling rock thing – but that totally makes sense….”, and I was fully invested in the story, however batshit crazy it became.
And it wasn’t just the overarching quest that held my attention either, and I’ve spent a fair amount of those sixty hours happily exploring what Hyrule’s world had to offer outside of the obligatory Princess rescuing shenanigans. It’s no The Witcher 3, for sure, but the world of Twilight Princess is still positively teeming with life – joyful stories and colourful characters – and oftentimes I’d lose myself in some little side quest which had me intrigued, or because I just wanted to see how it played out. Aside from being a lot of fun, the side quests, collectibles and hidden goodies of TTP highlight some of the game’s most impressive features; namely DISCOVERY, EXPERIMENTATION and, like, THINKING and shit!
In terms of discovery, there really are so many things to stumble upon in the world of Twilight Princess, and after the initial tutorial-ey bits of the game, they’re often so random and non-obvious that it adds a genuine sense of surprise (usually followed by a fair bit of what the actual fuck? – but, like, in a good way). Sometimes these quests are fairly simple and self-explanatory, but sometimes they’re a little bit obtuse, or think-outside-the-boxey, and half the joy of The Twilight Princess is in the experimentation and thinking this facilitates. There’s a fine line here, absolutely, and anything too obtuse is basically cheating, but there’s a weird sense of accomplishment figuring out that you have to do something unexpected, or even just a feeling of fun dicking around with what you might need to do. And when I couldn’t figure something out, rather than just get frustrated, I’d move on for the time being, but with every new gadget or ability I gained, I’d be mentally re-evaluating every dead-end I’d come across elsewhere.
This is a general theme running throughout the Game, and on both a micro and macro level, there’s a constant element of “have I just not figured this out, or can I legitimately not do it because I need something else”, and there are times when the answer’s the former, and others when it’s the latter (more the former in my case, if I’m being honest). Whether it’s a treasure chest in a specific dungeon, or one lying around in Hyrule, or even just a side quest that’s stumped you, it’s quite hard to do justice to how addictive that element can be. And it’s bordering on genius anyway, but it’s an element that’s effectively doubled by the Game’s feature of playing as either a human link, or a Wolf-ey, sacred beast-ey one. In practice, that means every time you are trying to figure something out, you’ll try all your tricks/gadgets as human Link, before then trying them as Wolf-ey Link, before then trying various combinations of the two. This, I think, highlights just how well thought out the world of Twilight Princess is, and if you can be arsed, there are multiple levels of hidden goodies and such which will require you to be constantly probing and testing every inch of it – and going back to previously covered areas to probe and test them all over again. Obviously that’s a fairly common feature of Zelda games in general, but given it’s a while since I’ve played one, I couldn’t help but be wowed by it anew. Even now, after sixty plus hours and with every gadget etc at my disposal, there are still some chests that I can’t fucking figure out yet.
Going back to the overall quest, that’s also a feature too, but if you are stumped, or not in the mood for dicking around, you can get hints from Midna – your weirdly weird companion for much of Twilight Princess – and she’ll helpfully point you in the right direction (often with a distinct hint of “duh, numbnuts” inherent in her response, which is a bit fucking rich given you’re currently sorting her shit out for her, but whatevs). The main quest itself, on the face of it, isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking but, like much of TP, it works reasonably well because – even though you’re essentially doing similar things over and over again – the subtle increases in difficulty, and in what’s available to you to deal with this, are sufficiently well balanced and well thought-out. Like in many good RPGs, there’s a decent trade-off between challenge and ability, with various ways to augment the latter in order to mitigate the former. There are a few types of enemies that’ll prove challenging to kill if you haven’t learned particular moves, for example, and you learn particular moves by howling a particular tune at stones in your Wolf-ey form, before then being taught secret ancient combat techniques by a dead warrior in your human form (because, Zelda!). I discovered this by accident – later than I probably should’ve – and not only did it unlock another layer of discovery in the game but, more importantly, I actually understood why I’d been getting my ass handed to me by certain types of enemies. Again, this is a tried-and-tested element of The Quest genre, and in particular Zelda games – the journey from ordinary, powerless person to accomplished kick-ass warrior – but in Twilight Princess, not only is it quintessentially Zeldary (see again: howling at stones), but it gives the player options; an element of freedom in how they approach their own game.
And, in essence, I think that’s a huge part of the reason I loved The Twilight Princess. In many ways it’s a simple game, built around core mechanics that work on different levels as you progress, yet it’s also a large, complex world of hidden depth and substance, where pushing against what you think’s expected of you can reward the player with constant surprises and entirely unexpected results.
Whilst your journey is ostensibly about rescuing a Princess, the incremental progress you make in that respect also opens up the rest of your world just that little bit more, and there’s a genuine feeling of accomplishment that goes with that. It’s hard to overstate how clever and effective that is, I think, because it’s constantly reinforcing the Game’s narrative; of your journey from rounding up goats to tackling a centuries old Evil, of gradually rising to meet your destiny however improbable it may’ve seemed at the outset. It’s not an original concept, certainly, and The Legend of Zelda series has itself been making cash-money with the “Lord of the Rings on LSD” formula for years, but it’s no less successful because of that. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Twilight Princess might be a decade old, but precisely because it’s a timeless story built on fundamentally addictive Gaming principles, it’ll successfully pull you in for hours and hours. Sixty fucking hours, in my case.
Remember how I said I wasn’t too fussed about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at first, yeah!? Well, after my sixty hours were up, and as the final credits rolled, I was honestly quite sad that I was basically done with the Twilight Princess’ beautifully bizarre world, and with its batshit crazy cast of characters. Moreover, there was a fairly distinct sense of “what the fuck am I going to do now?” as I came to terms with the fact I wouldn’t be doing anymore dungeons and whatnot, and the idea of not Zelda-ing anymore brought up a weird, empty feeling. So much so, in fact, that I immediately loaded up Wind Waker HD – a game I had intended to save for my last WUFT game – precisely because that was some shit I didn’t want to have to deal with, thankyouverymuch (also, it may very well have swayed me towards getting the Switch, because, if I time everything right, I might be able to then play three Zelda games back-to-back).
After a slightly rough start, I genuinely loved the rest of my time with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and as seems to be increasingly the case nowadays, it went a long way towards making me genuinely love Nintendo again. They’ve got this uncanny ability to isolate and bottle unadulterated Gaming magic, and Twilight Princess is yet another excellent example of this prowess. Absolutely, the narrative of Twilight Princess seems quaint, cheesy even – particularly in the context of today’s Triple-A bombast – but if you’re willing to embrace it, it’s that magic and innocence that really makes the game shine. Moreover, because it’s just one part of your journey – an overarching quest that ties together a myriad of mini-quests, individual stories, and an almost limitless degree of discovery – it allows The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to become your own, private quest to embark upon as you see fit. As a 35 year old dude, my opportunities for questing are depressingly thin on the ground these days, so I willingly, gratefully embraced that shit like a drowning man embraces driftwood, and honestly, I’m more than happy to admit that.
TL; DR – I really rather enjoyed The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, actually!