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Review of Zelda: Twilight Princess

As you've noticed by now, I haven't been blogging much recently. I got a Nintendo Wii and have been spending most of my spare time playing Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

I finally finished it. And since I've got nothing else to blog about at the moment, I'll talk about the game. I'll give my general comments first and leave potential spoilers for the end.

Let me set a little context. I played a lot of video games in middle and high school but didn't bring a console with me to college, nor did I have one after college until I bought a Nintendo DS last year. I've only played the first three Zelda games, missing everything else before Twilight Princess, so I can't make comparisons to the games I skipped.

The first thing to say about the game is its length. It took me over 60 hours to complete it, although I'm a very thorough player and completed almost all of the side quests. I'm sure the game could be finished significantly faster — perhaps just half that time — by ignoring side quests.

The overall pacing of the game is good. I was overwhelmed in the very beginning by the number of things I'd have to do (and characters to remember) but those early threads all wrap up fairly quickly. I was relieved when I got to the first dungeon; then I knew I was in the game proper. But at the time I didn't know that there would be nine dungeons. In retrospect this makes perfect sense, because there were 9 dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda — and many were similarly themed! Despite being surprised by the length of the game, I never felt either rushed or bored.

My biggest complaint about the game is that the dungeons are too linear. Not only are you forced to complete them in order, but there is a definite path through each one. It's never possible to get too far off track because a locked door will block the later sections of the dungeon. There's too little opportunity for free-roaming exploration of the dungeon. Your freedom to go the wrong way is limited to just a handful of rooms.

Linearity aside, the puzzles in the dungeons are excellent — inventive and often difficult. They made very good use of elevation; in many dungeons the rooms are actually giant caverns with multiple levels where you can fall from a higher to lower level. That said, there's entirely too much plummeting-to-your-doom in this game. I want more challenges where failure means I'm set back a litle bit, not all the way.

As I progressed through the game I often felt like there was too much money in the world (my wallet was always full) and combat was too easy. I never used a healing potion of any kind before reaching Snowpeak. The prominent exception to easy combat was in the Cave of Ordeals, which I was not able to complete on my first attempt (although I did reach the last room of combat).

The funnest regular combat was on the approach to the Arbiter's Grounds (the sand dungeon) where a seemingly endless stream of enemies come at you and often surround you. They're easy to defeat, but the sheer number of them was very amusing.

Boss combat is often too easy. Observe for a little while, determine how to attack — usually by using some item just gathered in the same dungeon, which is too obvious for my taste — and then fight until you win. You often have to be patient to wait for your opportunity, but if you defend well you won't be in serious danger of losing.

The most audacious boss fight is at the end of City in the Sky where you fight an actual fire-breathing dragon. The sheer scale of it is impressive; the camera zooms way out and you're a little speck traveling from one floating creature to another, hundreds of feet in the sky, while a giant dragon is flaming at you. That's the kind of thing that makes you step back for a moment and think, "Awesome."

I haven't said anything about the wolf transformations yet. It's certainly an interesting game dynamic, and I enjoyed the idea of following scents in the various places where it was used. However, I was a bit put off by having Midna lead me through a series of jumps. Zelda's roots are in being the anti-platforming game; Link can't jump. (Ignore Zelda II, which doesn't count anyway…) Jumping as a wolf didn't seem right. And having Midna supply the path felt too guided.

Speaking of animals, I was impressed by how well combat on horseback worked. That was fun, and sometimes I rode around Hyrule Field west of the castle engaging enemies just for fun. On the flipside, calling hawks for assistance was only used a few times early in the game. This idea didn't seem well-integrated.

I wish the game music had been orchestrated. It sounds all MIDI — albeit good MIDI.

Possible spoilers below.

The generally low amount of backtracking necessary in the dungeons mislead me a few times by making me believe I could reach something that actually wasn't reachable yet. For example, in the Lakebed temple there's a chest on the highest level near the origin of a waterfall that I couldn't figure out how to reach, and I worried after I turned the waterfall on the chest would become totally unreachable. It can be reached easily once you have the clawshot. You're supposed to give up on that chest. I would have saved a lot of frustration if temporarily unreachable items were a recurring theme, so I would've expected it.

My favorite dungeons were Snowpeak and the City in the Sky. Both were long and thought-provoking. I screwed up in the City in the Sky by missing the control to turn off the floor fan in the room where you pick up the boss key, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was supposed to reach the control to turn on the horizontal fan to reach the boss. I eventually realized that the solution must have been in that room, and had to make the difficult trek through most of the dungeon again, where I suddenly noticed the "obvious" control. Then everything fell into place.

The Palace of Twilight was a disappointment. Being chased by the giant floating hands was fun, but otherwise the dungeon was entirely too small and it made the twilight realm feel like a tiny suburb of Hyrule rather than, you know, an entire realm.

The most frustrating puzzle in the game for me was — and this is dumb — how to move the span of the Bridge of Eldin back to its proper location. I didn't know it was so straightforward as to simply tell Midna to warp when she flies up to it. When you talk to her she wonders what it is, so I thought I had to find someone at some point who would reveal what it was (even though just by staring at it it's obviously the bridge; it's recognizable from the pre-game cinema sequence.) I didn't try the straightforward route until after I had completed everything except Hyrule Castle itself and knew there wasn't going to be any in-game revelation about it. That made the piece of heart at the south end of the Bridge of Eldin the last one I collected.

Incidentally, if you're looking for pieces of heart, the fortune teller in Castle City will tell you where to find them. Unfortunately I didn't realize this until I had found all but a handful. She helped me realize I had missed three early in the game (one in Faron woods and both in the Lakebed dungeon).

I found all the pieces of heart, bottles, bomb bags, and quiver upgrades. I found all the golden bugs (although this took a while) but I only found about three-quarters of the Poes. It would be very difficult to find them all without a game guide. The only other side quests I know I didn't complete were getting extra lures at the fishing hole and playing all the rollgoal levels.

I enjoyed the many throwbacks to the early games in the series, which are probably a staple even in the games I haven't played. Familiar locations like Death Mountain, revealing secrets by lighting torches, Triforce symbols in many places (but oddly no explicit mentions of the Triforce), etc. The final battle with Ganon features special arrows ("light" arrows, alas, not silver…) and even the original Zelda overworld theme music makes an appearance, albeit only briefly and in the end-game sequence.

Overall? Yeah, I liked the game.

Tiny Island