Back in the early to mid-2000’s, Zelda’s future was up in the air in terms of style. Would the series follow a realistic style, or continue the animated style introduced with The Wind Waker? In the end, both styles have proved to have been successful for consumers, and now with Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, we are seeing a blend of both. However, I remember the hype for Twilight Princess around 2004/2005, as it was a return to a realistic style. This article looks back at the build-up to Twilight Princess and reviews the pros and cons of the game.
Wind Waker and its Original Impact
Back in 2003, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker had just released to lukewarm reception because of its art style. While the game’s style might have given off an impression that the game was for small children, the actual game is one of the most charming, emotive, and good-looking experiences that you could have had on a videogame system at the time. Ironically, the storytelling and life lessons that can be learned from playing Wind Waker probably will help you in life much more than blowing up cars in a Grand Theft Auto game. Unfortunately, I was one of the people who were brainwashed by the negativity surrounding Wind Waker (as a 13-year-old). I only picked it up when I heard that Ocarina of Time was bundled with it.
I mean Ocarina of Time meant a lot to me. It helped me get through primary school, helped me learn to read properly, and taught me a lot about solving puzzles in a 3D space. Because of this, I thought “OK, well if Ocarina of Time comes with it I’ll pick it up.” So, I started playing through both games concurrently and within about 90 minutes, I was completely hooked and sucked into the world of Wind Waker.
The charming art style and first few story beats really are something special, and I think Wind Waker is better than Ocarina of Time in a lot of ways because of the way it grabs you near the start. If only the second half of the game was as polished and full of character as the first. But this isn’t an article about Wind Waker. The experience of Wind Waker being labeled as ‘for children’ is important to the context of my experience with Twilight Princess.
The Leadup to Twilight Princess
Once I had played Wind Waker for the first time, I was hooked on Zelda again and eagerly anticipating the next game in the series. At E3 2004, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was announced, and the crowd’s reception to the game has gone down as probably the craziest crowd reaction to any game reveal at E3.
It was a return to a realistic style, which was obvious from the video showing Link on horseback moving through a field battling enemies! The trailer approximately recreated one of the original Ocarina of Time promo videos and judging by how hyped people were, it really worked. Link looked cool, had brown hair this time, and was an adult, which was a departure from his form in Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker (where he’s a child).
I remember first hearing about Twilight Princess from a UK Nintendo magazine. Maybe it was CUBE, but I remember it definitely wasn’t the UK’s official Nintendo magazine. I saw the realistic graphics and was so hyped for a return to that style. Maybe it’s immature to think like that, but regardless, I was hyped. But, anyway, enough of the build-up to the game, let’s talk about the actual game.
Twilight Princess was released in November and December 2006 worldwide on both the newly released Wii and the Nintendo GameCube. It proved to be one of the biggest games Nintendo had ever released, and it’s easy to end up clocking over 100 hours on a save file in the game (I still have my original Wii save and have over 100 hours of playtime).
The game follows a similar structure to Ocarina of Time in terms of dungeons and progress, but everything is more graphically impressive and has a dark, somber tone. There’s a lot of emphasis on combat, particularly horseback combat. They wanted to add horseback combat to Ocarina of Time, but the limitations of the N64 meant that it wasn’t possible. Here, it is implemented really well and always feels satisfying. Especially the ability to fire off arrows at enemies from your moving horse (which does return from Ocarina of Time, but is much more refined here).
The dungeons in the game are some of the best in the series. They are generally large and complex. Some of the highlights include Snowpeak Ruins, an atmospheric, abandoned mansion that has a Yeti living in it. The Yeti is making soup when you arrive, which really helps to sell the environment. It’s a really great setup and is a lot of people’s (including myself) favorite dungeon in the game. The bosses are great too, even though they are a little easy. The epic feel of the boss battles was probably inspired by the Lord of the Rings series, which came out a few years prior. I remember reading somewhere that Miyamoto or one of the other developers stated this somewhere. Overall, the dungeons and bosses take much inspiration from Ocarina of Time, but just look so much better with the power of the Wii/GameCube.
While Twilight Princess is undeniably a great game that expands on a lot of what was great about Ocarina of Time, I’ve always had an issue with how dead the overworld is. In Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the NPCs have character, feel alive, and in some instances change their locations and dialogue depending on the player’s progress in the game. In Twilight Princess, non-player characters are a minor aspect of the game and they are generally absent from most of the locations. Even when they appear, it is often they have no dialogue.
Kakariko Village has around only five inhabitants, and to be honest, none of them were even memorable. To be fair, the Zoras are really cool and interesting in the game, and the ‘resistance fighter’ characters that you encounter later in the game look appropriately cool and they do leave an impression.
This all comes together to make the world feel dead. Link travels from place to place on horseback, barely interacting with anything intelligent enough to speak. It’s because of this that the world feels hollow and not alive. On top of this, key Zelda gameplay elements have been watered down. There are five heart pieces to collect now to fill a heart container rather than four. This just makes each heart piece you collect less valuable and I think it was a bad addition to the game.
However, saying all these negative things about Twilight Princess makes me feel like I also have to point out its main strength (in my opinion). That strength is its great atmosphere, music, and side character (Midna). Many of the tunes are borrowed from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask (rearranged), but by no means are all of the tracks borrowed. There are plenty of new ones, such as the great Snowpeak Ruins theme. The game’s theme of Twilight Realm being a different parallel dimension is really interesting and adds to the strange sombreness of the game.
Midna is a great side character who has charisma and character, while also being funny. Something that definitely can’t be said of Navi, the side character in Ocarina of Time. Some of the cutscenes involving Midna are really emotive, and I think Twilight Princess borrows a lot of its cinematic moments from what was achieved in Wind Waker.
Twilight Princess crafts a tale that revolves around the interactions between the ‘world of light’ and the ‘twilight realm’. These two worlds exist in parallel but are usually completely separate from each other, with no way to easily move between them. However, because of an evil sorcerer named Zant, who has imprisoned princess Zelda, the world of light has been enveloped in twilight (without the beings that inhabit it being fully aware). It is up to Link to awaken guardian deities from each area of Hyrule to return things to normal.
In order to do this, the player must collect ‘vessels of light’ in each area. This is achieved by exploring areas of the overworld that are covered in the twilight in wolf form and beating shadow insects to gain the light capsules that they possess. This is one of the most tedious and boring parts of the game, and despite Link’s wolf form sometimes being fun to use, in these sections you are forced to play as wolf Link and it really disrupts the flow of the game.
Two Main Antagonists
Once the whole overworld has been cleared of twilight, the game really opens up and you have more freedom to explore. Later in the game, it is revealed that Ganondorf is actually controlling Zant, and that he alone can cure Midna of her imp form. I feel that Ganondorf being the real villain in Twilight Princess felt a bit forced and predictable, and his appearance in Wind Waker was much more well done in that his appearances were more emotive. Saying this, the cutscene with Ganondorf and the sages in Twilight Princess really shows his raw power, and it’s maybe my favorite cutscene in the game along with the weird Ilia cutscene, which I still don’t really understand.
Twilight Princess’s story is definitely stronger and has more style than the story in Breath of the Wild, which is really just a case of ‘go to Hyrule Castle and destroy Ganon’ (and the voice acting is cheesy and terrible but that’s a discussion for another time). Although, I’d say the story in Wind Waker is superior as it is more charming than both Twilight Princess and Breath of the Wild. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask have simpler storylines with fewer cinematics, but the general characters in those games have personalities, and varied dialogue, which makes their worlds feel more alive. Overall, I would put Twilight Princess’s story up there as one of the best in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess went on to sell over 8 million units on the Wii, making it the best-selling Zelda game until Breath of the Wild overtook it in 2018. It could be described as the definitive ‘traditional’ Zelda and with a great art style and soundtrack, it really achieves what a ‘mature’ Zelda should. It is definitely the Zelda game that I’ve been most hyped for, as no title has really yet to match that feeling for me. With the next Zelda title, Tears of the Kingdom, releasing in a few months, maybe it’s time to start up your old Wii or Wii U and replay this classic Zelda adventure.