Hail to the King!
Perfection is a hard thing to find in this world, and more so in the convoluted world of video games. However if there was ever a game in the medium that deserved a perfect score that game would probably be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
In 1998 when the game was released, Ocarina was ground breaking in many ways, in fact I can safely say that every action RPG that has been released since then, and even games in other genres, like the GTA series, have at some point or another taken many of the features first pioneered by that game.
At the time Ocarina was the first Zelda in 7 years, since a Link to the Past, the fact that it was being developed for the Ultra Powerful (at the time) N64, Ocarina of Time had high expectations to fulfill indeed.
Most people would have been pleased had Ocarina simply accomplished what it was expected to do, which was to bring the adventures of the young Elven Boy Link , and his wonderful world of Hyrule from the 2-D realm, into the emerging 3-D universe that had taken off thanks to 1996’s Super Mario 64.
To his credit (and to the credit of his developing team) Shigeru Miyamoto did succeed and with flying colors, in bringing the Zelda Universe into the world of three dimensions. Amazingly as it would turn out, it would have been an insult to the game and to its legendary development team if anyone would have said that all Ocarina accomplished was what it was expected from it, because the game went far beyond what was expected from a video game at the time, far beyond…
Ocarina of Time created a seamless 3-D world that looked and behaved unlike anything that had been seen at the time, with flowing rivers, gigantic waterfalls, a never before seen, real time, day/night system, and more importantly the ability to move and go wherever you wanted to go.
It wasn’t just the fact that the game was the best looking game at the time that captured gamer’s minds and hearts; it was how carefully everything had been designed, by genius game developer Miyamoto. The game had a magical feel to it; Hyrule was a world that the player wanted to live in, and to a degree thanks to the excellent, if not flawless gameplay mechanics gamers did get to live in it.
Ocarina was awarded perfect scores from pretty much every respectable journalist; it was a groundbreaking game that took video games to the next level. It was a perfect masterpiece and anyone lucky enough to have been around at the time the game was released will agree that the game was and still probably is the pinnacle of what this form of entertainment has to offer.
Quite simply put no other game or no other Zelda for that matter will ever have a fair judgment when compared to OoT because it took a venerable series from 2-Dimensions into the then barely unexplored 3-D realm and it did so in style, it was the first of its kind, and until games make the leap into the 4th Dimension, there will be no other game that will match its impact.
If you have followed this review to this point, you are probably asking yourself, why the waste of web space on my part recounting the impact that Ocarina of Time had and still has in the video game industry, when this review should be about the newest Zelda: Twilight Princess? Simple, because otherwise it would be impossible for me to explain why I cannot rate the newest Zelda above Ocarina of Time in the all time list, even though I think this is a superior game to that masterful classic that was released almost a decade ago.
Playing through Twilight Princess feels more like playing the evolved Ocarina of Time GameCube game that perhaps Wind Waker should have been, rather than the revolutionary leap that Ocarina made on the N64 from the SNES a Link to the Past.
Looks Amazing But Fails to Compete With Oblivion
Graphics usually don’t matter much when rating a game such as Zelda, since Ocarina of Time the series has never failed to deliver jaw dropping visuals, which are usually full of impressive artistry while at the same time pushing the technical boundaries of whatever system the game is released on. Twilight Princess keeps the series reputation intact in this regard for the most part, because it delivers on 2 fronts, artistically and it pushes the GC to its limit.
The problem here is that the visuals are not “Jaw-Dropping”, Unlike Ocarina which benefited from being conceived on the N64 which in 1998 was the holy grail of all video game consoles in terms of raw horse power Twilight Princess does not have the commodity of having been released on a state of the art console. In fact quite the opposite happens here, Twilight Princess unfortunately looks a generation behind its only contemporary rival Oblivion, because the GameCube, its dwarfed by the massive technological Marvels that both the 360 and the PS3 are.
Shame on Nintendo for not releasing this title in 2002-03, instead of the controversial Wind Waker. Because Twilight Princess is the definite Ocarina of Time Successor, the game that was promised on that 2000 Nintendo press conference at E3, as far as last gen games go, Twilight Princess is perhaps the best looking game out there.
The GC has always in my eyes featured the best water effects out of the three last gen consoles, and the effects are in full force here, from Majestic waterfalls, to Humongous Lakes, the water effects even manage to stand out when compared to some next-gen games.
The Art Work closely resembles that of Ocarina of Time, in fact this is probably how most Zelda Players envisioned that the games would look on the Game Cube when the system was first announced, thanks to the extra horse power that the Game Cube (when compared to its N64 older brother) brings to the table, Hyrule has never been bigger or more varied.
The characters are full of detail, and well animated, the facial expressions are some of the best in the business, with only Kingdom Hearts and the Jak series rivaling it. Nintendo continues here their fine work with real time cinematic scenes, approaching the quality of Hollywood film making in most of them. The monster design has also received a tune up, presenting us with darker, more sinister models, a sign that the series is finally maturing.
The light and dark worlds offer a unique contrast, while the light version of Hyrule is happy, full of color and energy, the Twilight version of it, is sad and full of hopelessness and despair. It truly boggles the mind what this developing team could do if they had the raw power of let’s say the 360 to work with.
Even with the hindering GC hardware, powering Twilights engine, everything looks amazing, full of detail and vivid colors. The visuals truly show a game that had been in development for many years and that the years were well spent.
If there is one flaw in the visual package is that some of the blurry textures from the N64 made it here intact, but considering all the frenetic action that happens on screen coupled with how huge the world is, the fact that some of the surface textures are blurry is more of a small nuisance, than a full blown annoyance.
Plays Better Than It Looks
Twilight Princess controls exactly the same as the now 9 year old Ocarina of Time, some would say this is due to a lack of creativity on the developing team, I would completely disagree with that notion however, and counter such an idea, with the popular phrase “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Not only was Ocarina Of Time’s control scheme unbroken, it was also perfect, so perfect in fact, that games like Jade Empire, Fable, and Oblivion (when in 3rd person view) have tried to emulate the scheme and have failed to capture its polished feel. I am convinced that as long as games are played with a controller pad and an analog stick, the scheme pioneered by Ocarina of Time, which now is so masterfully carried out by the GameCube version of Twilight Princess is the best way to play Action RPGs.
Twilight Princess however does evolve a few aspects in the way the series plays, for example there is the addition of new items, such as a wheel that allows link to skate on rails, and new abilities such as melee fighting while on horseback. These are additions that barely scratch the surface of what the game has to offer, the amazing fishing game from OoT is finally back this time on a bigger pond and while riding a boat.
While the Masks that gave you different abilities in Majora’s Mask are gone, the new Zora suit does the trick for the underwater parts, giving Link a new look while endowing him with the ability to swim to any depth without running out of oxygen.
Epona is back and she is bigger and faster than ever, while there are warp appoints all across Hyrule, you will find that horse riding across the land is the way to go, because it is fun and rewarding since you will find all kinds of secret goodies that way.
Speaking of secret goodies, Twilight Princess features tons of stuff to collect and tons of mini-games to enjoy, perhaps the most in any Zelda yet. Truly you could spend up to 150 hours trying to find everything and that with a guide in hand.
The game truly follows OoT’s footsteps in everything it does, Eiji Aonuma, has earned himself the right to be Miyamoto’s heir and if Miyamoto ever retires, he will not be badly missed, as long as Aonuma is there to helm the series. Aonuma has now proven himself twice with Majora’s and now with this title who some have already called the greatest Zelda ever.
The brilliance in Zelda games however has always lied on its dungeons and their masterful design, Twilight Princess doesn’t not disappoint on this regard. Aonuma here does two things to separate himself from the Master Miyamoto: Number one he has gone out of his way to make the dungeons bigger and more epic than ever, and number two he has designed the Dungeons, around the items you uncover in them, and while other Zeldas have done this before, this is the first one that actually really pushes the mechanic to the limit, without ever making it tiresome or frustrating. Aonuma has also created some interesting situations in each dungeon that will have you changing back and forth between Human Link and Beast Link (the Wolf looking one) to solve the puzzles in them.
The Boss battles in this game are also a step up from the other Zelda’s, it is here where Aonuma actually breaks free from Miyamoto’s influence (mostly), and instead draws inspiration from another modern classic named Shadow Of The Colossus. To clear things up, the bosses here aren’t as Humongous and the scale of the battles while epic do not really approach anything Colossus did, but the bosses here are clearly a huge step up from those found in Wind Waker, and the sheer size of some of them definitely will bring a welcome feeling of Déjà vu to those lucky enough to have played Shadow of the Colossus.
In order to effectively combat all of these powerful new foes, Link has also received quite a few upgrades to his sword game, most of them which you will have to find and learn from Owl Statues scattered across the land. The only thing I can say here is that Twilight Princess reminds me of Ocarina of Time but on a much bigger scale. The amounts of things to do in this game are almost endless.
If there is any complaint on my part on the game’s flawless design, it must lie in the over world design. While the Hyrule presented here in Twilight Princess is several times bigger than the one that was presented in Ocarina of Time, this Hyrule also feels segmented, while Ocarina’s felt whole and in one piece. Also the geographic locations of some places seem to be way off, and some are not there at all, considering Twilight Princess only takes 100 years after Ocarina, it is puzzling to find that Kokiri Forest, the Kokiri themselves, Lon Lon Ranch, and the Gerudo (there is a possible explanation for the disappearance of that race.) Have all gone MIA.
Nit picking for sure, and I actually think that most players will actually enjoy the Over World layout in the game, but purists like myself will usually find a thing or two to question and complain about in a game such as this.
However, that silly complaint aside, Twilight Princess, does play better and lasts longer than Ocarina, which is more than saying something on this game’s favor. I am a proud Xbox 360 Owner, and I own Oblivion and I must say that I have barely played Oblivion since acquiring Twilight Princess, and that is truly saying something.
Finally Musically On Par With Final Fantasy
Musically since Ocarina, Zelda has been a top notch franchise, but never quite on the level of any of the post FFVI Final Fantasies, Twilight Princess will mark the first time the Legendary series, gives FF games a run for their Money, not only in Compositional quality but also in the technical departments for the most part.
Nintendo in order to keep with tradition, and possibly to keep developing costs down, has once again, turned away from voice acting and from hiring a professional singer to sing a theme song for the game. While the singer omission is a bit disappointing, I for one prefer my Zelda games without the voice acting.
The game keeps the traditional sounds from series intact, on most occasions and where they have been changed, rest assured that they were changed for the better. Where the game falls a bit flat is on the lack of an Ocarina, not only was the Ocarina the more pleasing sounding instrument that Link has ever played, it was also fun to use, unfortunately the equivalent of the ocarina in this game is the Howl from Wolf Link.
The Howl is more difficult to play than the Ocarina, and doesn’t sound as good, but at least it is several leagues ahead of the silly Baton utilized in Wind Waker. All in all however this is the greatest sounding Zelda ever; thanks to strong musical themes for almost each main character and setting.
MASTERFUL Story Telling….FINALLY!
Story has always been a painful thing for Zelda gamers all over the world, it’s not that the story in Zelda games has been bad; the problem has been that the KA rating has held the series back from reaching its full potential. Zelda gamers who began playing the series in 1987 assuming they were let’s say 8-10 years old then, were 19-21 years old by the time Ocarina came around, and were stuck with a childish plot, designed for well 8-10 year olds. At time it was disappointing and perhaps it has been a bigger disappointment for that group of gamers the fact that they had to wait an additional 8 years until 2006 before they got a Zelda that provided a plot for a T rating, that group of gamers was by 2006 unfortunately 27-29 years of age.
I will clarify here that while I think Twilight Princess plot deserves all the accolades it can get and that Nintendo got a little bit more mature, this it is only a step in the right direction, and there will have to be quite a few more steps in the right direction to be made in future Zelda’s if Nintendo wants to retain the fan base that began their Zelda experience with Ocarina and more so with those who where there from the beginning.
To get the ball rolling on the Plot analysis, the game starts you as a Young Man named Link who by his appearance is anywhere from 15-20 years of age. His lives in Ordona a Beautiful peaceful Village, of course he has no idea of what is about to happen unlike Ocarina there are no nightmares, no apparent mysterious past, (though ironically it is never explained how Link came to be or arrived in Ordona). So when all hell breaks loose and Link is transformed into a Wolf, It is up to the Mysterious Midna, (who has to be the weirdest creature ever designed by Nintendo) to help Link through his problematic wolf stage, Link obviously having no choice but to cooperate with the weird impish creature (who seems to know just about everything there is to know about the current Hyrulean crisis), sets out on a quest to restore himself to his formerly human form, and in the process save Hyrule from an evil entity of immense power known as Zant.
Usually in most Zelda games, that paragraph would be all she wrote, if Twilight Princess were to stick to tradition, Link would just go from dungeon to dungeon, until reaching Zant and handing him a beat down, while Saving Hyrule and its princess, and in the end retiring back triumphantly but anonymously into the woods of Ordona until the Next Zelda that will probably have nothing to do with Twilight Princess rolls around.
But Thankfully Twilight Princess, breaks free from Tradition, and delivers a much more compelling and emotional tale. It is true that Link as always seems to be the case is an Orphan raised in a poor village, it is also true that the game really lacks in the back story department, for example the origins of the new Link and such. So if you are expecting FFVII caliber Melodramatic interactions you will be disappointed.
Link and Zelda, the love story that many fans eagerly await for to unfold, never happens, in fact, there is no Malon, No Princess Ruto, Link is stuck the entire quest with Midna, who looks like a cross between a cat and a bat. Looks however can be deceiving, and Midna ugly and prissy as she might be, simply steals the show.
She is full of mystery, and her relationship with Link, grows each hour of play, while I will admit I hated Midna at the beginning of the game (I liked Navi the Fairy more) when the curtain closed and the credits rolled after the shocking finale, Midna was forever engraved in my heart and mind, as my second favorite character in the series, after Link of course, which is a testament to the masterful scripting that gave Midna life throughout the adventure.
Aonuma is a much better story teller than Miyamoto, that is a given, and that ability to write will probably land Miyamoto’s apprentice the directing duties of the series for many more years to come. This is the first Zelda where completely unexpected plot twists happen at every turn.
One thing that seems to be missing here however is the NPC’s individuality and importance in relation to the game. There are very few memorable supporting characters when compared to Ocarina of Time, perhaps this is due to the fact that Twilight is way bigger, than Ocarina thus there is less of an opportunity for the player to become attached to the NPC’s since they lose individuality but I think, that perhaps Aonuma just didn’t focus on this aspect of the game, as much as he did on others.
The GREATEST ZELDA EVER?
Here comes the difficult part of the review…where do I rate Twilight Princess among all the other games in the series? Some respected Magazines such as EGM and Game Informer, have in fact given hints that they think Twilight is the greatest game in the series, and I have to agree to a degree, as of 2008, Twilight Princess is the most complete, most entertaining Zelda game one can buy, and yet I am not sure I can pick this game up 8 years from now and still enjoy it to the degree I enjoy Ocarina today ten years after its release.
Ocarina was so revolutionary in its time, that it is difficult for me to rank Twilight Princess ahead of it, that being said Ocarina of Time is ranked at number one, in Gamerankings.com, which shows that I am not alone in thinking that Ocarina is the greatest game of all time, but being number 2 isn’t too bad either.
Number two of all time, might be where I place the game at the end of the day, and yet there is the issue of Majora’s Mask, with its revolutionary, 3 day format, and the abilities granted by the masks. That being said I enjoyed Twilight Princess to the fullest, and it is a must buy for Zelda fans, and a must buy for anyone that ever found any enjoyment in picking up a game controller, Twilight Princess is an automatic classic.
Gameplay: 10-The greatest playing game of all time? Believe it, it’s the evolution of Ocarina of Time’s control scheme, I believe this is as far as this series can go on a conventional controller pad. It’s up to the Wii now to show us a different take on its next Zelda…
Graphics: 10- It looks as good as it can on the GC. The water effects look almost Next Gen, and while the textures are dated, the artwork keeps the graphical package as a whole from looking well ‘dated’. The sights here are impressive, and Nintendo’s magic is ever present in every nook and cranny in the game.
Music: 10- Once again the compositions are very good, but the aural quality doesn’t match up. Some tunes are truly haunting, when is Zelda going to use a real orchestra for its tracks?
Story: 9.0-This might be the best tale to have come from this series, the darker tone and more mature feel of the game helped lots, once again the series is back on the right track plot wise.
Addictiveness: 10.0-Collect hearts, bugs, Items and bunch of other stuff, plus a ton of side quests and mini games, this is the biggest Zelda yet.
Overall: 10.0- The most complete Zelda package yet, don’t know if any game will ever replace Ocarina of Time’s place as king of the video game world, but this is a close as it comes, perhaps in the next generation of consoles (the one that is sure to come after the Wii era) will we see a leap great enough in technology to capture the magic of OoT, but for now Twilight Princess is the best Zelda you can get, this is a sure must play!