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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Twilight Princess Sucks












Except for the Zelda games on the CD-i that no one ever played, Twilight Princess is the the worst Zelda game ever. The series has always been innovative, introducing new gameplay mechanics and presenting everything with an interesting premise and high production values. But TP is a half-assed effort that doesn't capture any of the unique qualities the series is known for. It's a lame re-hash of the same things we've already seen and done before, and most of its original content is just not good. Even though it's still above average, it's completely underwhelming for a Zelda game. Continue reading for the break-down of why Twilight Princess sucks.

It's difficult to even figure out where to start with this critique, because the problems with TP are a tangled web of missed potential, dashed expectations, and bad decisions. The whole game feels bland and uninspired with nothing really interesting happening, and none of the design does anything to make it feel compelling. So let's just start with TP's position in the lineage of the series.

(There's a TLDR at the bottom of the post if you don't feel like reading everything. But I advise you at least read the headlines on the way down. Also, while we're on the subject of Zelda games, don't forget to check out my other controversial Zelda article, Majora's Mask is Better than Ocarina of Time.)

Surely There are Worse Zelda Games, Right?

Even Nintendo doesn't consider those CD-i games part of the Zelda series, so we can disregard those. So now you might be thinking that perhaps the original two games on the NES are the worst, just because they haven't aged very well, and they're really primitive and what not. It's nothing personal, but they're just nowhere near as good as what games can offer us in this modern age, right? Well, that's true, but it's not really fair to criticize either of those two.

There was no precedent when the original Zelda game was released. We had no expectations for it, so it is what it is. It established a series that went on to become perhaps the most popular franchise in the world, which is commendable enough and I think therefore grants it immunity from the "Worst Zelda Ever" title. Adventure of Link took a turn for the worse, but at least it took the admirable approach of trying to do something new with the formula. The series hadn't fully established itself by that point in time, so it's not like AOL had a legacy to live up to; its failures are excusable.

Twilight Princess, on the other hand, is the culmination of over 20 years of advances in a critically-acclaimed series. Technically speaking, TP is probably the best Zelda game to date. It's the most streamlined, it has some great dungeon design, its gameplay is highly functioning, the raw processing power is better. It's basically a new and improved version of Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. But TP just hasn't advanced the series like its predecessors. and that makes it even more of a letdown, especially considering our higher expectations for it. Relatively speaking, TP is in fact the worst Zelda game ever.

(You might also be thinking that some of the handheld Zelda games (Oracle of Ages/Seasons, Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, or Spirit Tracks) are much worse, but these games are kind of in a league of their own. As portable games, they run on different expectations and standards. So for the sake of argument, let's just compare the console games.)

Zero Innovation

Like I said, the series has always been innovative. Each game did something to mix up the formula and introduced creative, new elements of gameplay. The first game established the series, and the sequel, Adventure of Link, changed the gameplay to side-scrolling action-RPG. A Link to the Past added a bunch of new mechanics that I can't even begin to list but also had the whole Dark World twist going on. Ocarina of Time, besides being the first 3D Zelda, had the seven year time-travel dynamic. Majora's Mask had the mask mechanics with the three-day time limit and time manipulation. Wind Waker had the cel-shaded graphics with the sailing mechanic.

What does Twilight Princess have? Basically nothing. The design philosophy behind TP was to appease the screaming fanboys by giving us a new and improved version of OOT. Everything about TP is derived from previous Zelda games, and feels almost exactly like ALTTP put into an OOT skin.

The only unique aspects of TP are the wolf transformation and the twilight realm. But both of these mechanics are themselves weak derivations of previous Zelda games (I'll describe these in more detail later). Everything the wolf does has already been done before, and the twilight dimension is very similar to the Dark World (and Adult Link world) from ALTTP and OOT. As a result, TP just feels like a boring, repetitive game that we've already played before. It even goes so far as to re-hash the same old "Ganondorf conquering Hyrule" story that's been in basically every Zelda game. There's nothing unique or truly remarkable about TP. It's generic.

It's also worth mentioning that the motion controls don't add much to the experience, either. It sounded like it'd be really cool to use the Wiimote to control the sword, that it would feel more immersing, but it actually detracts from the experience because all you're doing is waggling the controller in ways that don't sync up with the action on the screen. The game actually plays better on the GameCube without the motion controls. Because motion controls ruin immersion

The Whole Set-Up is Cliche

Twilight Princess goes for the cliched "epic hero" story of an innocent farm boy who sets out on a quest for justice after some calamity strikes his village. It's the same story that's been told for centuries. The idea is to make the protagonist an ordinary individual so that the audience can relate more easily, and to make the character's progression from "zero to hero" more dramatic. Stories can use this motif without being cliche (after all every Zelda game uses it), but TP really hammers it in until it loses any sense of originality. The intro draws far more attention to this aspect than any other game before.

The Intro is Long and Boring

Every other Zelda game gives you a clear direction from the very beginning. They establish a central conflict, give you a series of goals, give you the tools to get the job done, and get you right into the action. Ocarina of Time starts with Navi waking you on a request from the Great Deku Tree. Your first task is to find a sword and shield and then you go right into the first dungeon. Majora's Mask immediately starts out with a quest to catch up with the Skull Kid to rescue Epona and the Ocarina, to turn yourself back to normal, and to save the world in three days. A Link to the Past immediately begins receiving a quest from Zelda to rescue her from the castle dungeon.

But the intro to TP spends a lot of time establishing Link's ordinary life as a farmer and drawing our attention to it. We do odd jobs for everyone (including several iterations of that stupid goat-wrangling mini-game), talk and play with fellow villagers, and everything's business as normal in the life of a typical farmhand. It does all of this to emphasize the "epic hero" story to try to make us care about Link's origin and the fate of the villagers at the expense of pacing.

It takes something like two hours in TP before we even get into a dungeon, and we spend all of our time up until then doing random things and whacking enemies with a wooden practice sword. Just aimlessly meandering around. It's not at all exciting and doesn't give you any kind of a "hook" to keep going. The only real reason to keep playing is because of our own external expectations: "It's a Zelda game, it's gotta be good" or "Guess I just have to keep going until things get interesting."

Lame Attempts to Endear us to Lame Characters

During this long, boring intro they try to endear us to some of the villagers so that we'll care about them once they're kidnapped. Except that none of the characters have any real personality or depth to them which makes it hard to care at all. Malo and Talo are creepy, androgynous-looking typical whippersnappers. Colin is an androgynous-looking typical wussy. Ilia has the distinction of actually resembling her gender, but she too is just a typical romantic interest with a fascination for horses.

There's just nothing unique about these characters or their relationship with Link. We don't interact with them in meaningful ways; most of the time we're just passively there while they do their own thing. Defending Colin against Talo's teasing mischief feels hollow and makes me care less about both characters--Colin because he's got no stones (I just want to smack him and tell him to grow up and deal with it) and Talo because he's an insensitive punk. Malo's just weird and creepy and doesn't really do anything.

There's a little something going on with Ilia, but not very much. The scenes with her in the spring tending to Epona at dusk are slightly moving, but this is primarily because of the melodramatic aesthetic, not because of her character. It's a beautiful, glistening pond glowing with the orange sunlight and she's getting sentimental while soft charming music plays. The game implies a deep relationship built around silent affection, but it doesn't build on or develop this idea. When we finally catch up to her and find out she's lost her memory, it's supposed to be tragic but I really didn't care.

Wind Waker goes for a similar motif with your little sister Aryll. She gets carried off of the island by a giant bird, and that's supposed to be our motivation to set out on our quest. Now, she's not really a better character than any of the folks in TP--in fact she's probably even more generic--but there's a charming, appealing simplicity to her characterization (or lackthereof), aided by the graphical style and atmosphere of the game. In TP they try to create "serious" character development, which only draws more attention to the fact that the characters are really quite shallow and generic.

Later on there's also a resistance movement opposing the usurped rule of Zant. They're supposed to be the underground allies aiding you in your mission, but they're completely forgettable. The game doesn't depict Zant's reign (except for the whole twilight thing) to give us a sense of why he's such a villain or that anyone is really suffering under his rule, and the resistance characters don't actually do a whole lot in the story. Their moments are fleeting and they don't do anything besides point you in the next direction.

Link Has No Personality

Link's been a silent protagonist since forever (except in the 1989 anime). He doesn't show much emotion, letting you (the player) transpose your own emotion into the role. I was never bothered with this aspect of Link as a silent hero in the previous games, and I'm not saying that he needs to talk to have personality. But WW established a new way to give Link some personality while retaining his silence. His facial expressions, voice acting (what little there is), and body language convey a wider range of emotion that makes him a deeper, more interesting character.

As a demonstration of what I mean, compare a collection of some of the facial expressions from Wind Waker (top) to those in Twilight Princess (bottom).



Link's facial expressions in TP are all slight variations of his default, neutral face. The only difference is the angle of his eyebrows, and whether the edges of his mouth are pointed up or down. I can tell what these four images are supposed to represent emotionally, but they don't convey emotion. Even when these expressions are in full motion in the context of the game, they feel like blank, empty zombie faces. He might look more realistic in TP, but he feels flat and boring.

This wouldn't bother me that much (like I said, basically every Zelda game is like this), but because TP tries to develop deeper characters and tries to endear us to them more than any other Zelda game, it makes Link's static, hollow expressions feel even flatter. They'd feel fine if the game weren't trying to establish a deeper emotional connection with the setting. It's also just the fact that it's following WW which makes it even more obvious to notice after WW set the standard.

Epona's "More Prominent Role" is Relatively Minor

The trailers, press releases, and general hype for TP included the fact that Epona was getting a more prominent role. We basically have access to her from the very beginning (unlike OOT and MM where we have to unlock her after a while), we can use more items while mounted, and there are a handful of battle sequences that involve her. Oh, and Ilia has that strange obsession with her. But that's about it.

That one sequence where you defend the wagon on horseback is fairly fun, but I wasn't impressed with the bridge dueling or the final battle with Ganondorf. These are isolated instances that don't really reflect the rest of the game. You spend most of your time as a wolf or in dungeons where you can't use her, anyway. It would've been cool if they had a dungeon where you actually brought her in and used her to solve puzzles and for boss battles or what not. You know, if they'd integrated her with the full game experience instead of just making sideshow content for her.

The Twilight is Underwhelming

Hyrule is cast into twilight where the color is a little de-saturated and a bunch of pixel effects dance around the sky. Zelda tells you what Zant has done and puts you on a quest to restore the Spirits of Light in order to save Hyrule from Twilight. But the Twilight doesn't seem all that bad. It's more of an inconvenience than any real threat. People turn into lost souls or whatever, but they're not really aware of what's going on. Not many characters are noticeably distressed by the twilight.

I guess some of them are terrorized by shadow beasts or something that we can't see, but it's just not that big of a deal to me. They don't do much to depict the Twilight as bad except for telling us that Zant is bad and that we need to stop him. But the Twilight can't be all bad, can it, if Midna's a Twili? And besides the weak characterization and depiction, there's just nothing at stake. It's not like we have to save the world from destruction or rescue anyone, we just have to restore the light and make things look normal again. Big whoop.

Furthermore, the twilight just isn't that interesting. The concept reminds me of the Dark World from ALTTP and the Adult Link setting from OOT, where it's the same basic world but it's dark and twisted. Except that the twilight isn't functionally different from the normal version. It's the exact same thing but with a color palette switched out. NPCs are ghosts or whatever and the enemies are shadow versions but it's just not dynamic or interesting. Most of what it does is stretch the game length out by making us replay the same areas once as twilight and again as normal. It's not new or innovative, it doesn't add anything to the experience.

They Don't Characterize Zant

They try to introduce a new villain to mix things up (even though Ganondorf eventually gets involved again), but they don't characterize Zant at all. They tell us a couple factual things about him, but we don't really get to understand his motivations or his desires beyond very superficial explanations. Alright, he's angry and wants to be king, so he wants to take over Hyrule so that his people can reign where they belong. But there's no conviction that he's really that bad of a guy, they just tell us that he's the antagonist and that we have to stop him. He could've been an interesting villain, but he just turns out to be a weird clown without any depth or interesting qualities.

Restoring the Spirits of Light is Boring and Tedious

Anyway, we're then tasked with restoring the Spirits of Light. How do we do this? Is it some kind of dungeon-like sequence with menacing enemies and challenging puzzles? Is it an epic scripted adventure? No, we just collect a few dozen bugs. We just wander around an enclosed area of twilight looking for blue dots of light and we collect them. And then we do it three more time for each remaining Spirit. This is how we spend the majority of our time in the twilight. It's a boring, tedious chore. Who thought it was a good idea to spend so much of the game doing this? It just makes the concept of the twilight even more shallow and uninteresting.

The Wolf is a Stupid, Pointless Gimmick

Whenever you're in the twilight region you turn into a wolf. The original buzz around the gaming circuits was that Link was going to be a werewolf. I was expecting a dark, gothic werewolf thing, thinking that it would be a blessing and a curse, bestowing supernatural strength and abilities while also causing you to lose control of your behavior. I was hoping for an intricate lunar phase system that would dictate when you'd turn into the werewolf. But then it turned out that Link is just an ordinary wolf. How lame is that?

Besides the let-down, though, the wolf is functionally no different than what we've already seen and done in previous Zelda games. The wolf can dig holes in the ground. You could do that with shovels in Link's Awakening and ALTTP. But now you can only do it in pre-scripted areas. The wolf can follow scent trails. You could do that with the Mask of Scents in MM. But this skill is pretty boring and just amounts to following a dotted line, anyway. The wolf can howl music. You could do that in OOT, MM, and WW. But now you can only do it in pre-scripted areas instead of using the music as a functional tool. The wolf can also see things that human Link can't. You can do something similar with the Lens of Truth in OOT and MM.

If you've played these games, you've basically played the wolf in Twilight Princess.

The wolf's attacks are also very simple and unengaging. At least with human Link you can block and dodge and use items and perform combos, but with the wolf you basically just press A for a lunge attacks and then you can press A again to bite into the target's face. Or you can hold down B and then perform an auto-scripted multi-combo attack. Wolf combat therefore feels like a chore. I sigh and grumble every time I turn into the wolf because it's just not fun. Being a wolf is a novel idea (sort of) but it's just not that unique in terms of actual gameplay.

Why is Link a Wolf, Anyway?

There's a stupid circular logic to this that I don't understand or appreciate. We enter into a twilight dimension and automatically turn into the wolf. Why is that? Well, it's because Link is the Hero of Time, of course! But how do we know that he's the Hero of Time? Because he turns into a wolf in the twilight realm! There's no other explanation besides the convenient justification that he's The Chosen Hero.

It kind of defeats the point of spending all of that time in the beginning establishing Link as an ordinary farmhand and setting up the cliched "epic hero" premise when it turns out that he's The Chosen Hero anyway. It's also disappointing because you don't do anything to earn that status. In OOT they made you work for it by getting the spiritual stones to open the Door of Time, acquiring the Master Sword, and earning the Triforce of Courage. Here you're just inexplicably imbued with the Heroic Powers from the very beginning, and it therefore doesn't feel rewarding or special.

The Map Design is Claustrophobic and Disjointed

Once you're out exploring and questing, the entire map--everywhere you go--feels like you're in tight, enclosed areas. Hyrule Field is broken into a bunch of small "islands" connected by long, narrow hallways. It's completely unrealistic and kills the sense of scale. Instead of feeling like you're in a grand kingdom, it just feels like you're going through a couple of relatively large rooms. Everything feels disconnected from everything else because it quite literally is. This all detracts from the sense of scale and makes the world less interesting but also a lot smaller than it should be.

This just looks ridiculous. (Click to enlarge)
If they wanted to break the maps down into smaller areas for the sake of processing power or what not, they still could've done it better. Clock Town in Majora's Mask, for example, is broken into four districts, but there's a sense of continuity between them, as if they're all part of a larger town. I don't get that sense of continuity in TP. Even the map doesn't do anything to convey it, you know, at least they could've painted some mountains in, given it some kind of landscape justification for why everything's so disjointed.

Exploring the Maps is Unrewarding

Most Zelda games have interesting things to find in the maps. Whether it's just interesting scenery or finding secret grottoes, it feels exciting to explore and see what you can find. But TP misses that mark, too, and gives us almost no incentive to explore. The maps feel lifeless with nothing to really see or do. You walk into a house and there aren't even pots to smash. A lot of the heart pieces got moved into the dungeons, and the ones you can find in the world map are in completely obvious locations that just require the right item to get to. You see obvious chests and there's just nothing you can do about it until you've forgotten and lost interest.

Most of the time those chests are filled with rupees. Rupees are basically useless (except for the Magic Armor which is itself basically useless), so big whoop if you find rupees. But to make matters worse you can't even loot the chest if your wallet is full. I guess it makes sense to leave the rupees there instead of wasting them, having them vanish into thin air, but then you're left with a chest icon on the map that you'll basically never open. This drives my OCD off the wall, because I hate seeing a chest icon that I can't open or get rid of.

Not to mention, TP is much more linear than other Zelda games and restricts your movement a lot more. It practically forces you to go directly to the next map marker in the main questline because literally everywhere else is conveniently blocked. I realize OOT and MM did this as well, but I feel like those were justified more since the routes were blocked with obstacles that you knew you'd use your items to overcome. In TP they're blocked with barricades that just conveniently come down when you need to go there. There's nothing satisfying about getting into new areas when the game rails you towards it and doesn't let you go anywhere else.

Too Many Mandatory, Gimmicky Mini-Games

There's the stupid goat-wrangling, but there's also the sumo wrestling that you have to do at random times. But because of the disjointed level design, there are bunch of navigational mini-games where they try to make it "fun" to go through the long, narrow, connecting tunnels from area to area. You can ride a snowboard down the mountains, or you can ride the rapids down a stream, or you can fly up a canyon with a bird. These things all feel really out of place and aren't really any fun, anyway. Like someone thought it was a good idea and fought tooth and nail to shoehorn them in somehow.

There Are Virtually No Side-Quests

A large part of the appeal of previous Zelda games was the potential to do side-quests. It's fun to deviate from the main-quest to do things that better prepare you for the road ahead. It gives you a sense of control, that you decide when to progress the story and that you're taking matters into your own hands to improve yourself. But the only side-quests in TP are basically the Magic Armor quest, and the bug collecting quest. And neither of these are particularly rewarding. The bugs just give you useless rupees, and the Magic Armor just makes you invincible in an already too-easy game.

The handful of side-attractions that exist are also kind of boring. There's that Star game you can play in the tent in Hyrule Castle Town, you can play "rollgoal" (that stupid little game where you roll the ball into a hole), you can float around on cuccos. In fact, those mandatory, gimmicky mini-games themselves become optional side-attractions. You can still go fishing, and by golly one of the few compliments I have for TP is that the fishing is actually really enjoyable. But even then there's not much of a reward for it.

TP doesn't give you very many opportunities to stray away from the main quest to search for heart pieces or item upgrades or special items. For the most part, you're stuck following the linear storyline, which reduces the player's freedom and restricts what they can do. It gives the player fewer opportunities to feel a part of the game world because all we get to do is the scripted main quests, doing them the ways the game expects us to.

All of the New Items are Functionally Useless

The best items in a Zelda game are the ones that you can use in varied situations. The bow and arrow is cool because you can use it in virtually any combat situation, you can use it to hit ranged enemies, you can use it to solve different kinds of puzzles, you can use it in shooting galleries, and you can shoot it from horseback. The megaton hammer is less cool because you only really use it to flip rusted floor switches and to smash certain obstacles.

Every single new item in TP is either a lame derivation of previous items, or has extremely limited uses. The Gale Boomerang functions exactly the same as the Boomerang from WW, except that now it creates a small tornado that flips switches or carries items away from you. It's not very different and not very exciting, but it's your staple boomerang so it's hard to complain. The Clawshot is the same as the hookshot, except that now you can use two of them at once. Big deal. The Water Bomb is a normal bomb that works underwater, the Bombling is basically a Bombchu. The Lantern is basically the same as in ALTTP. Oocoo is basically just Farore's Wind.

So that leaves the three truly new items, the Spinner, the Ball and Chain, and the Dominion Rod. But the problem is that all of these items can only be used in certain pre-scripted areas for pre-scripted purposes. You barely use them at all outside of their respective dungeon. The Spinner is kind of cool when you first start using it, but its novelty wears off very fast. The Dominion Rod is also pretty cool but, again, you don't use it much at all outside of its temple. The Ball and Chain is the most functional item of the bunch, because you can actually use it in combat, but this one new item doesn't make up for the the underwhelming lameness of everything else.

There's No Magic Meter

I've grown accustomed to having a magic meter ever since it was introduced in ALTTP. I guess I don't mind that it's missing in TP (you almost don't even notice), but the magic meter added an extra dimension of strategy and complexity to the previous games. It gave you an "ammo supply" that you had to use wisely. Every "magic" item shared the same ammo pool which made it a tough call whether to use Nayru's Love (since it uses a lot of magic), or determining how long you could sail with the Deku Leaf. So it's not that big of a deal with TP, but I do miss it, and I think it added some good qualities to the gameplay that TP doesn't compensate for.

The Whole Game is Too Easy

Twilight Princess feels easier than previous games. A lot of this may simply be because we've been playing Zelda games long enough that we're familiar with all of the tropes and conventions. But TP really holds your hand and it rarely ever lets you go. Just to make sure that you don't get lost, you can't wander off of the main path or go to other towns before the game lets you. There are no opportunities to deviate. Midna tells you in straight-up terms exactly what to do in different situations. The solution to the bosses is painfully obvious and Midna will tell you the solution if you don't figure it out in two minutes.

Majora's Mask, for example, doesn't tell you exactly what to do. You get vague instructions ("there are four giants in the north, south, east, and west") and you have to connect the dots yourself to figure out where to go and what to do. You explore, talk to people, learn things about your surroundings, and it feels satisfying to get to the solution on your own. There are a lot of different ways to fail quests in MM, and you can make the game harder for yourself by neglecting to go after optional side-content like Great Fairies, heart-pieces, mini-games, masks, item upgrades, etc.

These games aren't supposed to be brutally challenging, but they're supposed to give you a sense of accomplishment and progression. But you just don't get that feeling in TP because the game holds your hand too much. You don't have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, or to explore things at your pace. There's some of this going on in the dungeons, but everything else is simple and straight-forward, making the dungeons feel like isolated instances.

The Atmosphere is Too Serious, No Whimsy

Veering away from the somewhat controversial cel-shaded, bright graphics, light-hearted, "childish" atmosphere from WW, Twilight Princess wanted to capture the more mature feeling of the Adult Link world from OOT. So now we've got gritty, realistic graphics with an Adult Link who wears chainmail armor and has an angrier-looking face with a dark twilight realm closing in on Hyrule turning everyone into lost souls. It's all a bit much for me.

These games work best with a bit of light-heartedness to ease the tension and to let you just have fun in the setting. Like a kid playing in the ball pen at a playground, free to do whatever pleases you and to forget about everything else. Even though MM had such a dark, stifling atmosphere, it gave you plenty of opportunities to indulge in side-quests and side-events. Ocarina of Time had fewer side-quests, but for some reason there was still a child-like fascination running around exploring and doing things.

But there's very little whimsy in TP. It's constantly about the main questline and it keeps reminding us how dark, gritty, and realistic everything is. We're almost always in a rigid, business-like mindset of "I gotta go here and do this," as if playing the game is a chore. Even if you're enjoying the main questline, it's still like a serious, mandatory task. I don't mind the idea of a more mature setting, story, and atmosphere, but in this case it comes off feeling pretentious, like it's trying too hard to be serious. It sacrificed its sense of mystical style to go for this serious, realistic atmosphere, and it's just not as interesting.

The Graphics Are Disappointing

Despite the effort to make TP more realistic and graphically impressive, the graphics aren't actually that great. The visual style makes a lot of the scenes look drained of life (because of its low saturation), and you run into a bunch of really bad, low-res textures and jagged edges. Not to mention the fact that the design of the NPCs is so weird and bizarre that it just doesn't look good. Just look at some of these pictures:

This outfit looks absurd and belongs in Final Fantasy.
OMG THE CREEPY BABY FACE!
Look at these low-res textures. 

You know there's something wrong when Twilight Princess, a 2006 launch title for the Wii, looks worse than StarFox Adventures, a 2002 second-party launch title for the GameCube. The graphics ultimately look fine for what they are--they can actually look really nice at times--but the highly-touted realistic graphics didn't add anything to the experience, and actually put the game into the shallow end of the uncanny valley. The excessive use of brown earthtones makes everything look and feel stale. 

Where's My Orchestrated Soundtrack?

As long as I'm nit-picking the graphics, I may as well mention the fact that the soundtrack for TP is in MIDI format. We were expecting a fully-orchestrated soundtrack after all of the trailers (which used orchestras) and music composer Koji Kondo's desire to use a full orchestra. And then we ended up with MIDIs which sound noticeably lower in quality. Even though a lot of the music is really evocative and creative, it sounds tinny and weak.



For example, listen to the above comparisons of Midna's Lament and the Sacred Grove, and tell me which one feels richer and more organic. The MIDI versions feel a little phony to me, while the orchestrated ones have more depth and quality to them. Like with the graphics, it's not that big of a deal, but it's yet another case of missed potential and dashed expectations.

Too Long, Didn't Read

Twilight Princess sucks. Every other game in the series has innovated with exciting new gameplay mechanics, but TP is just a lame re-hash of everything that we've already seen and done before. The wolf is especially pointless and is really just a gimmick. The game is too easy and most of the items are useless because they can only be used in pre-scripted areas with extremely limited functionality. There are virtually no side-quests to indulge in, and the world map is not rewarding to explore. The characters are pretty flat and boring which is made worse by the fact that TP tries to be more melodramatic than previous games. 

Disclaimer

It's still an above-average game, but it's disappointing for a Zelda game. Some of it's actually quite good, such as the dungeon designs, and the fact that Midna's the first interesting side-kick we've ever been paired with. I also really, really liked the fishing. A lot of what I wrote above is just my opinion, but everything is based on objective observation. Whether or not you agree with my interpretations, the facts are what they are. So you might prefer the realistic style of the graphics, or you might really enjoy playing as a wolf, or you might really care about what happens to Ilia, and you might think that Twilight Princess is the best Zelda game yet. That is, if you have bad taste in video games and poor judgment skills.

49 comments:

  1. You are wrong, sir

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    1. He is right, sir.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. *Sprays some raid against the rapid Nintendobots.

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  2. Agreed. It just didn't had the cozy "I really like to know what's inside that locked house!" feeling (and the grainy graphics didn't help much either). Nothing to do in the villages really, and the (large) maps are pretty much empty. Too much travelling from dungeon A to B, too less chilling (which is why I loved MM so much, just observing people).

    But maybe we know this game just too well after all those years (makes the puzzles simple, area's/items less surprising). Even though you lover her, your girlfriend isn't that exciting either after 20 years marriage. I wonder if new (younger) gamers share this opinion about Zelda TT. Either way... Zelda Skyward Sword will be in my Wii this Christmas!

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  3. It seems like some people only list TP as their favorite Zelda game because it was their first Zelda game. Including young gamers who are just starting out with the Zelda series, as well as older gamers who just never played the others.

    At least, that's the case with people I've spoken to. They like TP the best because, being their first Zelda game, they have fond memories of it. Then they go back and try to play the older ones and get hung up on the dated controls/graphics.

    This may speak something about the salience of simple nostalgia; maybe we prefer the familiar things we "grew up with" regardless of anything else. But I still think TP is a weak Zelda game for objective, non-nostalgic reasons.

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    1. I agree that Twilight Princess doesn't present as well as other games in the series, but I actually rank it above or at the same level as Ocarina of Time in my list of favorite games of the series. (My top 5 including neither of these games.)

      The section of the introduction focusing on Link's first transformation into a wolf and certain dungeons were very memorable.

      I'd like to see that part of the introduction, with improvements, in a future Zelda game, but I have a sinking feeling that my expectations are being informed by my playthroughs of previous Zelda games and that nothing will ever overcome standards set by games such as Majora's Mask or Wind Waker.

      IMO, the experience overall has parts that are unforgettable and parts that are downright awful, but overall its an alright, if unreplayable game that suffers from being compared to its predecessors.

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    2. How? Ocarina had so much soul and an often perfect balance of difficulty, immersion, exploration, and progression. TP had none of this and feels entirely like it is lacking a soul. Playing the game for the first few hours let alone beating it felt like a chore. It had some highlights, but they were insignificant compared to the flaws.

      I enjoyed the Snowpeak temple's twist on the traditional temple, but then you have garbage temples like the Water Temple that are just terrible and tedious. Then the dragon boss was cool "looking" (but easy and literally impossible to lose against PLUS less cool than every boss from Shadow of the Colossus) but then there were a ton of uninspired bosses who were equally easy and required no intelligence to figure out the strategy. Then when you get hit you take like half a heart of damage tops.

      The only people that could like this game compared to other Zeldas is maybe a child that started the franchise with this iteration and has a personal attachment to it.

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    3. "Ocarina had so much soul"
      "TP […] feels entirely like it is lacking a soul"
      What is this "soul" some games seem to have and others not?

      Lack of difficulty is a fair criticism. And lack of enjoyment when playing a game obviously too. TP feeling like a chore to you is clearly going to have you dislike it. Didn't feel like a chore to me though. Plus I like the water temple - better than the one in OoT, and I actually like that one too. So I guess I'm a kid then? Not that I wouldn't want to be young again, by the bye.

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  4. You gotta admit the double clawshots are cool.

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    1. YES! I have to disagree with Nick because I definitely thought the clawshots were a welcomed addition to the items and deserved more than his comment of "big deal."

      Aside from that, however, I would completely agree with the rest of this review. TP had too few side quests, was easy, and for me didn't feel replayable.

      And TOO MANY GOD DAMN RUPEES!!!

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    2. They struck me as a logical evolution of an already established item and not really a drastic innovation. I had more fun flying with the Deku Leaf in WW. Also, the dominion rod was basically just a twist on the command melody from WW.

      F*&* those rupees! I have never felt like I've wasted so much time exploring a game as I have in TP.

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  5. I hated the lack of side quests, side quests makes Zelda games much more fun.

    The worst thing about the game were the waste of bosses. Many look beautiful, but are pathetically easy. Morpheel is the prime culprit, the first phase is a Morpha repeat. The second phase with the eel could have been great, and the only time I have ever been eaten in this phase is when I do it intentionally to see the animation.

    Also Gohma appearing again annoyed me. Yeah Gohma is a staple LOZ boss, but can we give it a break especially because in TP Gohma is a boss of a later temple.

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  6. Addendum:

    I found this article to be a rather good description of the trend the Zelda games have been taking, and how Twilight Princess sort of broke the trend of innovative, new directions for the series. Definitely worth reading.

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    1. Nice article but I can't comment since they force a Google Plus account which Google wants my phone number even though I don't have one. No thank you! I will rather keep my privacy in the small corners of the web left.

      It's sad that all of society is trying to imitate social media and you see it in Zelda games since WW.

      Nintendo has pretty much said *Fuck Ye* to the older crowd and is looking for younger suckers and parents who don't know any better since most games these days are either ultra violent or party games.

      They have given their soul up for money it seems.

      So far I am glad Nintendo isn't going the facebook route. Ewwwwwwwwwwww! Nintendo Book to connect all!!!

      You even have to make an account to Nintendo Book just to load you're new game!!! All for you're benefit even though you don't get to choose!


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    2. Great article actually. Agree with most of what he had to say. Hopefully the franchise is peaking again with the new game coming up.

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  7. I copy-pasted this whole article into microsoft word. Know how many pages it was? a little more than 10.
    dude.
    Seriously.
    You wrote over 10 friggin' pages just complaining about something you didn't like. I'll go write a 10 page article about my dislike of cat poop now.

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    1. Re: Pandaboy,
      If you think this article is outrageously long, then you should see my Skyrim article.

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    2. In all fairness, I could write 15 pages about why TP sucks. It just has that many flaws. And when a new Zelda game tarnishes the franchise to that extent and still gets overwhelming praise it's hard not to be a little pissed.

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  8. I take that last sentance at the end of this article rather offensive to some people, including me. This was my first ever Zelda game I've played, so no wonder I'm defending it. But still, this game is the best 3-D Zelda yet (besides Skyward Sword or Ocarina of Time). If you find that if people think this game is the best Zelda game means they're bad at picking out the difference of good or bad games, then you're just pointing out another opinion if yours. If someone who hasn't played Twilight Princess or any other Zelda game before reads this, it'd stop them from buyng a very innovative game with a great story! And this part here is MY opinion on your article: t(-.-t) (flippin' the bird, if you dont know)

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    1. dude what makes it innovative

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    2. I took his last remarks as sarcasm. Although, given my shared hatred of the game, I stood no chance of being insulted by it. I do have to admit, though, since I started playing the game, it has been my most-researched title yet. Pretty much exclusively because I feel that it gets a lot of undeserved love, and I'm desperately trying to find others who dislike it without expressly searching "Twilight Princess is terrible." I'm okay with people liking it, I don't understand it, but I'm okay with it. I'm glad some people could get hours of enjoyment out of it.

      One thing I can't stand, though, is people insulting Skyward Sword and then touting this one as the best one ever, but that's a rant for another day.

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    3. Twilight Princess is the best 3D Zelda game... besides Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker and Skyward Sword... Oh, wait!

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    4. That might just make it the worst...nah we can't go that far. What do we have on the handhelds to make it look decent? Noob Zelda fans don't know what the missed in the franchise's prime.

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  9. im actually making a video series of why this game sucks. you bring up some good points that i had missed

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tdz9M0hh5bw

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  10. totally agree...playing it for the second time right now, having thought that maybe I didn't realize how great it is the first time...but no...it's easy, boring and more like a tedious chore than a game...this week I'll finally be playing skyward sword...won't beat ocarina of time of course but i hope that it's more entertaining than thwilight princess...I'm 30 and more or less only waiting for dark souls 2...zelda for grown ups....

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  11. this is so stupid. if you don't like TP then fine, but don't set up a whole page to complain about it. I love twilight princess, it kept me on the edge of my seat for hours at a time with an amazing story line. the graphics were unbelievable, and there was always more to discover. it may not have been as difficult as other games, but it was certainly not the easiest game in the world. Zant WAS given a character, and i found it very creative. it was explained that there were 2 separate worlds, both supposed to be happy places, however Zant intended to turn both into dark, evil lands of horror. the introduction was long to give you backround knowledge about Link and his friends, something not given in other games. Minda's goal was to provide a source for clues, but not to annoy the player like Navi has done in other games. However, Navi was not taken out of the game, the pointer still has the blue fairy look. i understand not liking the wolf part of the game, but taking human form in the twilight realm would make the game boring and easy; wolf form switches it up a little bit. nintendo should be proud of twilight princess.

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    1. What I'm getting out of this comment is that it's alright to HAVE an opinion, but it's not alright to EXPESS your opinion.

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    2. Yup! Typical blind fanboy at it's best!!! Nintendo is literally running on fumes right now. Sale pitches don't give the whole picture.

      Did you know Twilight Princess was going to be called the Gates of Realm?

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    3. "it's alright to HAVE an opinion, but it's not alright to EXPESS your opinion."
      That's literally just the first two sentences. Feel free to reprimand them. The rest of the post however actually states quite nicely why the author disarees with some of the points made in the article. It would have been more interesting had you addressed them.
      But of course the critical position is alway the objectively correct one and all the rest is fanboyism. Well played.

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  12. Your expectations were too high. Twilight Princess was awesome. No offense but you're the one who sucks.

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    1. So, he shouldn't have high expectations for a game that's part of the most iconic franchises in video game history?

      Please, Twilight Princess is a copy/paste of elements from OoT and MM, but made every single of them worse, it rarely brings something fresh to the table apart from the Spinner you'll use in unique ways in just one dungeon.

      This game sucks, end of story.

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  13. Why do so many people hate this game? This was the first Zelda game I ever played and sticks out as the best one out of them all, in my opinion. The graphics, by the way, are much better than any other game (Have you seen the way Link looks in the other games? Eek) Also, the music is very memorable. If my sister and I hear anything that reminds us of it we'll burst out into the songs... I also don't understand how the plot is boring. Um, you obviously haven't done the game if that's what you think. There are tons of dungeons to go through, bosses to battle (which may I say aren't actually that easy), really neat cut-scenes, amazing characters (like our companion, Midna, who is way better than any other companion Link has had), and the list could go on and on. I feel that the most important part of a game is the ending, and TP's definitely stood out to me. Ganon's battle is epic and thrilling. And the ending scenes are so beautiful and even emotional when Midna leaves, etc. So I don't understand why anyone in there right mind would hate on the best Zelda game :)

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    1. - "This was the first Zelda game I ever played and sticks out as the best one out of them all."

      The reason you think Twilight Princess is the best Zelda game is precisely because it was your first Zelda game. Literally everyone who's told me TP is their favorite also tells me it was their first. There's nothing wrong with that -- for a lot of people, A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time is their favorite because it was their first, too.

      Most people who have played the series in order, however, who have been there from the beginning, are not very keen on Twilight Princess. Most of those people think it's "average" at best, and people like me think it's extremely disappointing.

      Basically what I'm politely saying is: you're ignorant and don't know any better. The first Zelda game you play is always going to feel like a special experience because everything is new to you, but if you've been with the series for a long time, and have played most of them in order as they were coming out over the last ~30 years, then you'd realize how little TP actually brings to the table.

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    2. The graphics look terrible and the music is the most bland, uninspired and unmemorable in the entire franchise.

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  14. Many of the same criticisms you have against Twilight Princess are present in other games. If you erase the title Twilight Princess from this review and replaced it with any of the modern Zelda games, it would still be pretty accurate. Your complaints about the game's difficulty ring true for both Wind Waker and Skyward Sword. Skyward Sword is more linear and has more tutorial than any entry in the franchise. If you hate the wolf form so much, you must have similar feelings with how you obtain the Deku form in Majora's Mask and the bunny form in A Link to the Past.

    And Twilight Princess might not have introduced have many innovative elements, but it definitely improved upon what Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and The Wind Waker tinkered with before it. Honestly, you could argue that Twilight Princess is like a "best of" collection. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as Nintendo doesn't do it too regularly.

    Twilight Princess expanded the fanbase and is one of the best selling entries in the franchise. It definitely has its issues; the tutorial is a little too lengthy, the story could have used some work, and the world could have been more lively. However, the game isn't anywhere as bad as you attempt to make it sound and is nowhere near the worst game in the series.

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    1. Out of curiosity, what game do you think is the worst in the series?

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    2. TP didn't improve on anything at all, the Twilight Realm is a worse version of the Dark World, the wolf is just a shallow version of MM's transformations and the additional combat moves are mostly pointless because the game never challenges you into using them.

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    3. Skyward Sword is NOT more linear than Twilight Princess, there's one act of SS where you perform three different tasks and you can choose in which order to do it. There's never any such choice in TP, everything has to be done in the exact same order every playthrough.

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  15. Skyward Sword since they took away the day/night system entirely. Twilight Princess does actually have different moon phases at leas tin the GameCube version but they are just for background art only and even WW has different moon phases including a new moon.

    I think they had plans to do a lunar cycle which would do as you suggested dictate when to change into a wolf and you would play the melody at the right timing.
    I bet they planned for wolf conversion to be when the moon was full at it's Zenith. You'd have to time it just right but instead they replaced it all with howling stones for retarded people. WTF?

    I mean cmon all you can think of is stupid howling songs to mimic an Ocarina which doesn't even sound as good as one?

    Wind Waker despite kiddy graphics had more details in them like when Link comes out of water he is dripping wet for a short while or when you fight Orca in his dwelling and they both bow to each other before fencing and there is the little argument they had with the guy upstairs who is studying and hates all the noise which you can actually go up there and learn some game hints.


    The Foresaken Fortress actually had maps at certain points in the dungeon showing where you are. One room I think the Docking Bay even has diagrams for all the search lights which I would love to see these charts in HD.

    I love reading things in video games. I love looking for the small stuff.


    Outset Island I think was FAR more fun to explore and engaged me a lot more for an intro world.

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  16. I dislike this game as much as the next logical person. But even with all the stuff you mentioned there's still so much more crap in the game to rip apart, it's really unbelievable how people like it

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  17. I lost track of the sheer number of times you contradicted yourself, the number of things you had to ignore (across the series) to make most of your claims, and best yet the number of times you flatly acknowledged that you had to hold the games to different standards to come up with all those misguided conclusions.

    But hey, if you didn't like it, you didn't like it. SMH but not losing any sleep over the cognitive dissonance.

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    1. Please, feel free to mention at least some of my logical fallacies and misguided conclusions. Enlighten the dear readers and do a better job of making me look like a fool. Implicitly ridiculing me without listing a shred of supporting evidence certainly doesn't help your cause. Thanks for reading and commenting anyway.

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  18. Just stumbled over this. I'm a bit late, but even so I feel the need to comment - especially regarding the overall derision towards people liking the game [more than other games of the franchise] from you and many of the comments. Overall very well put-together article though.

    For starters, Twilight Princess was not my first Zelda game [it was my fourth 3D Zelda, actually] yet I still consider it the best game of the franchise. To me. I acknowledge that some of your points are objective shortcomings of the game, but I don't consider most of them to be relevant when judging the game as a game or as a gaming experience.

    The 'killer argument', as it were, is the lack of innovation. I get that. I think it's a bit disingenuous of you to imply that the sailing mechanic of WW is more innovative than the wolf mechanic in TP [the point concerning the graphics is somewhat valid since cel-shaded graphics were probably more 'risky' than TPs graphics, but both styles are 'new' to the franchise] but I still get the gist of that argument. I also find it commendable of you and anyone with your opinion that you put so much value on innovation, even where it can be considered a step back. But unlike you, I cannot judge a game by its innovation. I have no desire to do so. Sure, if I were trying to make a list of the most 'important' or the most 'influential' or 'groundbreaking' Zelda games, TP would score lower than many of them. But that's not what I'm talking about when I refer to TP as my favourite Zelda game. I'm talking about the game itself, not its context. So respect for putting so much weight on innovation, but enjoyment of a game is not contingent on that. Unless you were expecting something unexpected that is, which brings me to my next point.

    I thoroughly enjoyed OoT [my introduction to the franchise] in terms of its 'mood', in the sense of semi-immersive exploration of a fantasy world through a story set therein, not being too difficult and not being too easy, with a healthy mix of combat to keep you on your toes and 'puzzles' to keep your mind somewhat engaged. Not to forget responsive and intuitive controls and gameplay [note that I playerd the GameCube version]. TP is just that, but more refined. The 'criticism' that TP is a reimagining of sorts of OoT and even ALttP is one of the precice reasons why I like it so much [imagine the same done on the basis of MM and tell me that doens't make you drool]. I like the Zelda franchise because of the effective way it manages to set that particular mood I've come to enjoy so much, and most games since ALttP have achieved this while implementing some degree of innovation [including TP - note the term 'some'], which is great of course, but TP in my opinion did it the best so far. Possibly at the cost of greater innovation. But again, I don't play games for being innovative. I don't like them as games because they are innovative. Respect them, yes. Like them, not necessarily. I see those two often conflated and it's a shame.
    (cont.)

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    1. Another common criticism is the apparent seriousness of the story. While I do see how one might be disappointed by the direction it went, I don't think the problem lies with the game. It tried to be more story-driven, it tried to give Link [and by extention, but not necessarily, the player] a personal motivation, making him combat an actual threat to the peace of his home as opposed to a looming threat of potential evil. I agree with many things you state concerning characters. They aren't particularly interesting [though there are exceptions, like Malo or Thelma] and there's little reason to care for them as a player, particulary not when one prefers gameplay over story - as I assume you do, since you mention how long it takes you until reaching the first dungeon. But in the context of the story, Link cares. As fellow villagers, neighbours, people you aren't simply cold to their plights. The narrative structure could have been better, I grant you that, but provided one doesn't find semi-elaborate storytelling to be incompatibale with the Zelda series I see no issue with getting into the setting and thus the characters [though I will say that they should have integrated the resistence fighters better], even Ilya. For similar reasons I liked the slow beginning. It established a setting, and I think it establishes it well. I never even considered viewing it as a 'from zero to hero' rehash since Link is very clearly a particularly able individual from the outset. But even if it is viewed as such, practically every single Zelda game begins like that. They might not linger on it, they might not explicate it [the closest contender I can think of might be Minish Cap] but it's still the same trope. So I understand your issue with pacing, but harping on the point of "they do this because they want to show how normal life is" seems a little too unwarranted given the narrative structure of most Zelda games [I understand not liking the trope, though, but then you should make it clear that it's something about the series you dislike, not just TP specifically because it made it most obvious and integral].
      Because I allowed the world to speak for itself, as it were, I didn't see any need for criticising the 'attempt at seriousness' or the like - I actually even think that the moments of idleness manifest in looking for secrets/bugs/etc or playing minigames make the main story no more serious than any other Zelda story, with the exception of the focus on personal motivation of Link. However I will concede that I may be a little too lenient in this regard, since there are several possibilities for narrative improvement and I'm not oblivious to them.

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    2. Since I'm writing way too much, I'll try to keep the next few points very brief;
      1) I adore the graphics. I like the washed-out colours from an aesthetic point, finding them soothing to look at and enhancing the mood of relaxation in tend to feel when playing games like this. I've heard many say that it's a sign they 'tried too hard to make it look dark'. And they may have wanted to achieve that [in which case there would have been better ways] but again I'm not judging the game based on what they may have done for possible reasons but because it was appealing to me and increased my enjoyment with the game. The graphics worked in that favour. 2) I also like the character and environment design. Sure, some fashions seem weird, but that's just part of the fantasy setting. Sure, some character designs are weird, but in a game, where characterisation is difficult and time-consuming, it is a highly useful tool for creating interesting, diverse, and memorable NPCs. I'm extatic they kept that style going for SS. On the note of characters, I actually think they did a decent job with Zant. I wish they would've done more with the setting, but I don't know how they should have done that aside from dialogue or flashback cutscene, which they both deliberately kept at a minimum. So within their [self-imposed] restraints, I think they made Zant a very intriguing character/villain. Oh, and Midna is great too [and interstingly I didn't think she held my hand through the game, though perhaps I'm misguided due to Fi]. 3) I liked the pacing, especially the slow parts. But that's because I like 'exploring' in the very general sense of 'taking in' surroundings as well as actually traversing them. One of the awesome things perfected by Shadow of the Colossus, by the way. There's an argument to be made for that notion being findable in TP as well - at least to me. 4) In the same vein, I liked the Twilight. It was serene and otherworldy while still clearly being Hyrule. The Twilight is, after all, only the 'corruption' of Hyrule, not an entirely new plain unto itself. And, personally, I found it very threatening. Having the souls of the Hylians unaware yet in constant fear of the condition in which they are trapped is a sort of danger that I feel is very effective and effectively conveyed. You don't seem to feel that way, which is fair enough, but I thought is wasn't only well-done but actually kind of creative. 5) I also really enjoyed the final battle, because it finally made Ganondorf out to be an actually serious opponent through the many modes of combat he uses - including the integration of Epona, which I overall liked but concede that it shouldn't have been posed as a 'selling point' of the game. 6) Finally, I really liked the dungeons and most of the bosses, and the music was solid though admittedly not overwhelming.
      (cont.)

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    3. Despite all this, I'm right with you on a couple of points. 1) Minor one first; you're right, Link is unexpressive compared to Toon Link. But he's still quite expressive relatively speaking. I don't mind that they toned it down a bit while still trying to maintain it somewhat, but I share your gripe that some of the expressions seem all-too static, like Link's face wasn't made to produce them. 2) As someone who would rank MM as second favourite Zelda game I cannot stress how disappointed I was at the lack of sidequests. There are quite a few even still, most of which stretch out for longer periods of the game [like delivering spring water or buying the shop of Hyrule square], but having more and perhaps shorter ones would have helped the world feel a little livlier. 3) I also fully concede that most of the 'open world' feels either empty or not open at all. However, I think it's still the best notion of an open world in any 3D Zelda game thus far [since there's no denying the necessity of stone walls surrounding Hyrule fields, unfortunately].
      But the one thing that I found most disagreeable by far, and that you didn't mention at all, was 4) the immense disappointing that was the Twili realm - i.e. the world where all the Twili were banished to and from which the threat originates. You know, the 'realm' that is litrally nothing more than a dungeon, cool though that dungeon is. I'm sure expecting an explorable area big enough to warrant the term 'realm' or 'world' is asking a lot, but the area was hyped way too much to be nothing more than a dungeon. Thankfully, they followed up with a much more organically integrated and believable actual final dungeon [one of the best of the entire franchise in my humble opinion]. But still. Twili realm a shit, as it were.

      Sorry for the really long post [I hope there's no limit - SPOILERS: there is], but I hope I could make somewhat plausible why someone could hold this game in high regard without being 'ignorant', 'nostalgic' or 'critically impared'. inb4 I'm all of that.
      (fin)

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