Note: While this isn't the original version of Twilight Princess, since the Wii version was the one released first and remains the only one I've played, this will serve as the "main" review of the game for this blog. Reviews for the GameCube version and the Wii U remaster are scheduled for the future.
Within the bowels of the The Legend of Zelda fandom lies a little theory known as the "Zelda Cycle," a belief pushed by those who cannot comprehend anyone not liking the newest Zelda game. The theory goes in how people will unreasonably lob hate against the latest Zelda title, comparing its mishaps to the impeccable heights of the previous entry despite that game suffering from the same treatment at release. No one quite knows why this cycle of people magically changing their minds takes place -- it may have to do with overzealous keyboard warriors unable to discern they're reading different opinions from different people over time -- but regardless, it's a rather pervasive theory, right down to being referenced by Nintendo's top brass themselves in an Iwata Asks installment.
If my biting sarcasm wasn't telling enough, I think the Zelda Cycle is a load of bollocks. The idea that Zelda games are prone to hosting some sort of nebulous hivemind is nothing less than fanboy drivel, and that aforementioned Iwata Asks thing is one of the more notable examples of second-hand Nintendo embarrassment. True, we could make an exception for The Wind Waker, but only in the case that people cooled on the controversial graphics switch over time; much as I love it, the game received plenty of legitimate criticism upon release.
And yet, I can't help but admit I've never been able to nail my feelings on 2006's Twilight Princess, the series' best-selling game despite being one of its more divided entries. Bear in mind this opinion has never fluctuated wildly, but...well, I'll let the evolution of my 11-year thought process speak for itself:
Upon Completion in 2006: "Well, that was pretty good, I suppose."
A Year Later: "...you know, actually, that was kinda disappointing."
Upon Replaying it in 2009: "Hmm, actually, this is better than I remember it being."
Upon a 100% Completion Replay Last Year: "Eh, it's good, I guess."
So perhaps there is some mystical force responsible for my lukewarm feelings towards Twilight Princess, but regardless, that they exist at all is something I admit with the heaviest of hearts: can you imagine
anything more soul-crushing than the game responsible for the greatest reaction in E3 history causing such a divided reaction? This is, after all, the Zelda game practically every Western fan wanted: a realistic Zelda echoing Lord of the Rings aesthetics and a brooding story, and for it to miss the mark still makes me feel...neutral? It's hard to describe.
Let us make this clear: any notions of Twilight Princess being "bad" should be immediately dispelled -- there is a considerable amount of things I enjoy about it, in fact, and I will absolutely call them to attention -- yet there are undeniably bad things in it that not only undermine what should be a legitimately spectacular game into merely a good one, but are largely embryonic in what would devolve into Zelda's worst habits. Much of Twilight Princess' strongest moments are isolated, surrounded by a sea of deafening bloat that smothers any ambitions it so rightly deserves.
There's really no better place to start than at the game's beginning, and it's here I ask the reader what comes to mind regarding Zelda's great opening sequences. Undoubtedly, you have the rainstorm prelude in A Link to the Past, the dreamy mystery of Link's Awakening, the giddy experimentation in Breath of the Wild, and Kokiri Forest's snappy introduction in Ocarina of Time. Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker likely wouldn't rank among said openings, as those were when Zelda began elongating intros for the sake of context, yet even those could be defended on the grounds that they're neither patronizing nor pointless.
Twilight Princess's opening is, sadly, both of those things, choosing to crank up its own beginning by forcing you to spend three days inside a sleepy little village and experience all of its mundane routines. It should be reminded that out of those three days, the first two bear little to no importance in how they force poor Link into herding cows, cat-searching, fishing, rescuing baby cradles, testing your new slingshot or solving monkey kidnappings.
Admittedly, not all of these are terrible -- herding cows while riding Epona makes for an entertaining mini-game, at least -- but they are only brief, faint flashes of enjoyment in a never-ending swamp of boringness. The duality of the cat-searching/fishing strikes as an immediate down-point: you have to fish for a cat to send it home, see, but the game neglects to mention you have to do this twice, and I still recall begging that cat to eat the greengill I'd just caught. As dedicated readers should know, if I am not enjoying anything involving cats, you are undoubtedly doing something wrong. (On a related note, as we're discussing the Wii version, this particular segment is compounded by awful, unintuitive fishing controls I still can't get the hang of a decade later, although thankfully it's the only time the motion controls reach such a nadir)
Needless to say, the Ordon Village segment is hardly anything more than a convoluted mess of errands and fetch quests -- would you believe the cat fishing thing concludes a particularly tangled order of events just to obtain a slingshot? -- and yet it's amazing how much of that seeps into the rest of the game. Even when stuff finally happens on the third day -- mainly Link's transformation into a wolf and the introductions of Midna and Princess Zelda -- it insists you partake on tedious bug hunts and the like.
Consequently, Twilight Princess' padding suffocates not merely the pacing but dulls the impact from whaty are incredibly effective moments. Take the meeting with Faron, the very first Spirit of Light you encounter: a chilling choir greets the Faron Woods' freedom from twilight, the camera panning over Link's granting of the iconic green garb we fell in love with all those years ago. Finally, we're about to dive into the sword-swinging action we've been craving since 2004...only to be deflated shortly afterwards when we enter the Forest Temple, which holds the honor of simultaneously being the first and worst dungeon in the game, largely not due to being anything more than hunting down monkeys.
The first entry into Hyrule Field also stumbles. While the kingdom is several times bigger than it was in Ocarina of Time, it cannot hope to emulate that awe-inducing feeling we felt back in 1998, as the grand scope is shortly cut off by another bug hunt, which I neglected to give context to before. See, much of Hyrule is drowned in Twilight thanks to the Twilight King's invasion, and only through destroying the Shadow Insects within can you obtain enough Tears of Light to dispel the shadowy fog plaguing Hyrule. A decent enough context, but it's married to gameplay not suited for Zelda: they're tedious, tiresome scavenger hunts that go on and on, and while Skyward Sword was the first Zelda advertised as having level-based progression zones and whatnot, these segments are embryonic of an overtly linear, railroaded system that doesn't match with Zelda's exploration at all (the worst being by far the one for the Lanaryu region; perhaps it's just me, but I've never been able to make sense of the interconnected mazes of rivers and lakes, and I always get lost).
To summarize, it's all blatant, exhaustive padding that not only deters replays but undermines the introductions of their respective locations (and not just because they're all drowned within a boring aesthetic, but we'll get to that later) . I won't deny there are highlights -- the grim sheltering of the survivors of Kakariko Village in twilight is appropriately chilling, and the Goron sumo-wrestling bits, sabotaged as they are by all the backtracking, are joyfully absurd to watch and engage in, not the least in how they come out of nowhere -- but that even awesome moments like the Bridge of Eldin duel are clumsily inserted within all this backtracking is just all the more frustrating.
The point isn't to say Twilight Princess isn't utterly blameless outside of its padding -- we'll get to its other mishaps as we go along -- but the deluge of of tutorials and handholding and whatnot make it a lot harder to appreciate what it does do right. The swordplay, for one; while hardly a difficult game, I can think of few Zelda games on par with or surpass Twilight Princess in terms of quality sword control. There's a great heft to every slice, and that I say this despite the presence of Wii controls is something of a miracle. Not that I'm opposed to motion controls or anything, but a gyro-based control scheme from 2006 is hardly going to be as impressive in 2017, and make no mistake: it does feel a little clunky by today's standards (and the less we say about the "thank god I can turn this gimmicky shit off" in the form of Midna's cackling from the speakers, the happier I'll be), but the distinct pleasure of moving your arms around to initiate sword slicing and shielding is undeniable. Even the Navi pointer on-screen is surprisingly unobtrusive, and it too can be turned off.
Really, when you're not being bogged down by worthless drivel, Twilight Princess does feel great to play. Look no further than horseback riding: Twilight Princess's iteration of Epona remains the series highpoint, surpassing the acceptable clunkiness, Ocarina of Time and avoiding the surprising stiffness of Breath of the Wild. The controls are on point, the horse feeling substantially weighty and thrilling horseback sword battles abound. (I only just wish the Horse Call came far earlier than it did; as anyone who's played the game knows, relying on stray patches of Horse Grass to summon your horse is hardly ideal)
This also extends to the items, although the missteps are present here as well. Not because of any motion control mishaps, mind; if anything, I suspect the
comparisons to Spider-Man via the Double Hookshots come from all the
manual pointing and aiming. But as cool as new items like the Ball and Chain and the Spinner are, Twilight Princess makes the mistake of only utilizing them within their respective dungeons as opposed to rendering them as organic tools that continually complement the world around Link. Yes, there are quick puzzles decorating the overworld here and there, but they're more or less dumped after their respective dungeons.
But those dungeons! Those are where Twilight Princess is at its A-game. Forest Temple aside, much of the dungeons evoke the best of the organic Zelda dungeon design and "wow" moments, be they the gravity-defying magnetism of Goron Mines, the "oh, wait, this is a dungeon?" for a certain location in Snowpeak or the nostalgia-fueled setting behind the sixth dungeon. Most feel appropriately huge, and with how often these dungeons bank themselves on awe and surprise, it's wonderful how often it genuinely, honestly works.
One example from the sandy depths of Arbiter's Grounds readily comes to mind. Hailing from my first playthrough, I was navigating a room impeded by falling chandeliers, with one particular road obstructed by a chain-activated candelabrum. Pulling the chain to raise it up, I quickly dashed across the bridge before it fell down, but it was too late: I yelped as the rickety structure came crashing down...yet I wasn't dead. Spotting a small indent on the floor, I deduced that since it was too quick otherwise, the entire point was to let it fall around me. A more observant player might've figured that out ahead of time, but I can hardly recall any other puzzle that so quickly shifted fear into an "aha!" moment.
In terms of general engrossment, however, Lakebed Temple and City in the Sky are the obvious highlights, what with how they engage the player in gradually shifting their geography through waterslides and falling towers. All are initiated through the Clawshot, which have Link zipping across both dungeons and instill a true "hands-on" sense of satisfaction in altering your surroundings. And let us not forget their thrilling boss fights of giant eels and armored dragons, which have you riding for dear life within deep watery grottos and treacherous rainy skies.
It's a shame Twilight Princess only shines in segmented locations, too, as I do like what this iteration of Hyrule is trying to do. Yes, it is rather empty, but let us not dismiss its more inspired concepts; namely, the labyrinths. Interconnected throughout Hyrule, these mazes are blindingly dark, haunted by Skulltulas and endless pits, and only through careful use of your lantern will you successfully navigate their depths. It's the one element of the overworld that comes across as an organic component, and I'd certainly would've liked to experience more challenging terrain akin to those.
And yet, I can't help but notice just how lame the civilizations are. I'm not going to sit here and pretend the likes of Goron City or Dragon Roost Island accurately depicted lived-in cities, but surely they were better than the one-room circles that house the Gorons and Zoras! This game's iterations of Kakariko Village and Hyrule Castle Town might provide better arguments here, but the former remains its most dismal iteration to date: a boring, dusty canyon town that, context aside, is utterly lifeless.
There lies the source of Twilight Princess's sluggishness. I cannot claim it is entirely full of ugly sights -- the towering emptiness of Morpheel's lair after its' defeat, for one, or the gloomy melancholy of the Lost Woods -- but so much of the game's aesthetic lies within dull, washed out colors that often settle for hues of brown, and it's never very enthralling to look at. While it's understandable that bold colors wouldn't be emphasized within a realistic-driven title -- it's not as if Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask were particularly colorful, either --- it's hard to get caught up visually when so much of it looks this inert, and I figure this is why the Twilight Realms feel as sluggish as they do.
The character designs also suffer in their attempt to carry over Zelda-esque figures. Consider how we've had some goofy-looking designs in the past (with occasional missteps; look no further than the portly women NPCs in Ocarina of Time), but they generally served the purposes of their respective artstyles; namely, Tingle in Majora's Mask and the snot-filled Zill in The Wind Waker. Twilight Princess forgets that if you just carry this on within a realistic direction without a hint of irony, you're going to have some real grotesque-looking figures.This isn't to say there aren't some inspired concepts -- that the Goron Elders house steaming miniature volcanoes on their backs is too cool -- but it's not that uncommon encountering characters which look like this:
or run across critters that I cannot imagine were created as anything but the most eye-burning of nightmare fuel, as evidenced by Link's expression at meeting Ooccoo.
Really, it's hard not to see where one's distaste with the artstyle would hail from. It wouldn't be until Breath of the Wild that Nintendo would find a nice middle ground between colorful fantasy and grounded character design, but alas, that took some eleven years...
Even the music is only memorable in fragmented occasions, and it kinds of breaks my heart to say that. Toru Minegishi heads the soundtrack with Asuka Ohta -- and the legendary Koji Kondo supervising -- and when they do nail it, they nail it: the utter despair of Midna's Theme/Midna's Lament, the chilling power of the Light Spirit theme, and the heartpounding finale of the Final Boss theme. (I'd also cite the sheer adventure of the Hyrule Field theme, but as evidenced by the Wii U remaster and Super Smash Bros. Brawl's rip, it was obviously constrained by system limitations)
But they're surrounded by songs that don't evoke much of anything. I have earlier praised atmospheric songs in Zelda, but the problem with Twilight Princess it focuses too much on that particular direction and not many of the songs stick to memory. One can see this in, say, the dungeons: the previous Zelda games interchangeably used atmospheric and songs with a stronger melody to create a stunning ear-grabbing blend of ambience. Compare the haunting hypnosis of Ocarina of Time's Forest Temple to Twilight Princess's iteration and note which one absorbs you more. Only City in the Sky matches this quality very late into the game, and it's disappointing nothing else even so much as echoes this quality.
It's all enough to make one walk away from Twilight Princess not feeling much of anything, even when considering all the good things it accomplishes. Running around in the wolf form is cool, for instance, and I like the attacks involved with it, but that so much of it is associated with the boring Twilight Realms renders it "eh". Even the story falls into this trap, as what should otherwise be a strong tale is imbalanced through the strength of its characters. I enjoy seeing Colin grow via his admiration for Link, for instance, but I struggle in recalling the names and personalities of the Resistance members. The yetis are adorably hilarious and absolutely make the fifth dungeon, but I care not for the Zora prince Ralis and his grief, which can be chalked up to his precious little screen time.
In particular, I can't help but note the balance between the two Twili. Anyone can agree Midna is a fiercely engaging sidekick to the extent one could even say she's the true protagonist of this Zelda, yet I cannot help but feel Zant is wasted as a villain. Unlike many, I'm actually rather fond of the personality shift in his last appearance, but only in concept; juxtaposed with the calm ruthlessness displayed beforehand, it's far too abrupt and I've never been convinced it was a facade all along. Had there been some effective foreshadowing beforehand, I'd likely think differently. (That he gets sidelined by a certain other villain is also unfortunate, but I'm already too deep in spoiler territory as it is)
There are other things I enjoy in isolation. Naturally, I enjoy the emphasis on cats being Hyrule's animal of choice this time around, and take great amusement in one particular sidequest involving a wild west showdown. Despite what I mentioned previously about the realistic style not meshing with more absurd Zelda character designs, Malo -- the shrewd toddler who discovers the joys of capitalism -- is the one delightful exception, and I can't help but notice how he expertly dodges sword swings should the player swing their sword in his vicinity. Seeing as how he opens his own market empire (complete with theme song!), perhaps he's the true villain of this tale.
More than anything, however, Twilight Princess feels tired. While not without merit, even underneath all its successes lies a tired familiarity, a fatigue that makes one go "I've done this before." When married to bloated padding, dismal aesthetics and handholding and all, it culminates into this bizarre paradox of being too much Zelda and yet not very much like Zelda all. It certainly looks like Zelda, what with Link and Princess Zelda and the first three dungeons being forest, fire and water, and even before we groan at the same tired twists and formulas, the actual look for it is as tiring to watch as being reminded you've picked up a blue rupee every time you start up the game. Sad to say, any ambitions it has are quashed underneath this crushing misdirection, one that would come to erroneously define the next few years of Zelda.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Friday, August 18, 2017
While this article includes five entries from five separate writers, I happen to be the first one featured, so you don't have to wait to read mine. But the entire thing's worth reading!
Luke fon Fabre -- the protagonist of Tales of the Abyss -- was my instant go-to choice for this collaboration. While he certainly doesn't have autism, he does reflect a certain frustration I've dealt with in my life due to that condition, and I've always wanted to write about that. Perhaps I'm biased in saying he's the most realized Tales protagonist? Regardless, for anyone who's wanted me to get in-depth regarding my Asperger's, I'd recommend reading this.
(By the way, I'm not the one who selected that picture; that was the editor. While it's from the anime adaption, it's certainly a clever choice when considering the subject matter!)
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Origin: Xenoblade Chronicles: X
Plays In: New Los Angeles at night
Status: Original Composition
Composed By: Hiroyuki Sawano
I intended to begin this installment with a question, yet now that I've actually sat down to listen to our song for today, it's now that I realize the night theme for New Los Angeles -- the central hub for Wii U's Xenoblade Chronicles: X -- really is annoying. Just notice how the head-ache inducing nausea begins instantly, as an obnoxious chain of "YEAH! UH! UH YEAH! UH! UH! UH!" never ceases in their assault on our eardrums.
And yet, for over the past half-year since I began playing the game, I can't recall a single instance where such an effect happened as I strolled down the nighttime streets of New Los Angeles. In other words, hearing it in-game was perfectly fine, yet I can't stand listening to it by itself. How odd!
I'm sure any aural experts out there could give a rational explanation for this phenomenon, but really, the undermined point I wanted to bring up was how it's not too uncommon for me to scratch my head at certain kind of flaw cited in video games; namely, the ones that annoy or frustrate people. A rather broad category, I know, yet whenever I hear complaints regarding Zelda: Breath of the Wild's weapon durability/voice acting or Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U's stage design, I can never not sit there asking myself what the problem is.
To cite some non-specific examples, many of these complaints revolve around waiting (Rainbow Ride's carpets in Super Mario 64, or sailing in Zelda: The Wind Waker), what's perceived to be obtrusive (the stage bosses in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U), and interruptions of the gameplay (the helper companions in 3D Zelda games, handholding and all). I can't deny some of these ruffle my feathers -- I can't stand the flood of tutorials in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and Dream Team -- but I'm just not easily annoyed by it. Perhaps I just have higher tolerance to this sort of thing?
As far as "annoying sound" goes, only this execrable theme from Zelda: Skyward Sword comes to mind. This even extends to other pieces of media; for instance, having recently rewatched the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I can't claim to hate everyone's favorite punching bag Jar Jar Binks, indecipherable accent and all. Perhaps it's just too easy, or maybe it's my twisted sadism knowing something that doesn't annoy me is ear-destroying sacrilege to others, so I've been practicing my impersonation of him. (On a related note, the child version of Anakin Skywalker strikes me as a much more offensive problem in The Phantom Menace, but that's neither here nor there)
What's interesting here is that going into Xenoblade Chronicles: X, I knew I was going to have problems: the character design -- particularly the faces -- felt uninspired at best, none of the music I'd heard had stuck with me, and I feared the silent avatar would diminish the infectious camaraderie found in the first game. My fears came half-true: while the character design and mute avatar have been blemishes on an otherwise great experience, I've been quite mixed on the music: it's another one of those "some tracks are better than others" games, and I'm not crazy about the vocal tracks blaring over the dialogue (although I hear this is an issue exclusive to the English version).
And yet, I can't bring myself to really hate the soundtrack or anything. Not even this theme, which is so offensive to me through my computer speakers, is perfectly okay within the context of gameplay. Sometimes my inferiority complex emerges through situations like this: does my Asperger's prevent me from experiencing the same problems everyone else does? Over the past several years, I've encountered criticisms on NeoGAF and the like over beloved games I've cherished since childhood, little problems that've been under my nose this whole time, and I always ask myself how I never noticed them before. Does that make me fit to be a game journalist? A blog reviewer?
Yet in turn, I wonder how many Xenoblade Chronicles: X players reading this desperately wish they were in my shoes? Think about it: how awesome would it be not to get headaches from this infamous theme? One that deterred them from playing, even? Jealous as I may be of people I perceive to be sharper than I, they may be jealous of my disregarding elements for a game they desperately wished to love.
Just like every form of media, each of us come out of every game we play with a different set of positives and negatives. Such variety is good, I think, even when I'm still trying to figure out why Final Destination's three-second flash in Smash for Wii U makes people unable to see their perfectly visible fighters. Actually, maybe not. Except for when it does.
Yeah, that works.
Final Thoughts: I really do worry about whenever I get around to, well, getting the game's soundtrack, though. I can't imagine listening to this via headphones.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
I had faith in Arzest all along they'd be able to redeem themselves with this Pikmin spin-off, and I was right! Needless to say, I think I loved Hey! Pikmin more than most reviewers did. At the very least, it and Pikmin 3's Mission Mode should keep me entertained until Pikmin 4 arrives, so I can't ask for more.
...man, if Pikmin 4 takes forever again, though...