From the moment I was invited to play Twilight Princess, I was faced with a very difficult decision. I knew that by the time my 48 hours were over, I would have learned a ton about the game. The decision I had to make is just how I would present that information. I have received a ton of emails on the topic of my Twilight Princess impressions. Some people wanted me to discuss every little bit of info that I could, spoilers and all. Others begged me to write a piece that focused on the gameplay, graphics, and overall experience from the game. It is an extremely rough position to be placed in. I have thought about the pros and cons of each type of article, as well as discussing it with other journalists that attended the event. It seems that a good majority of us were struggling with the same problem. After much thought, I have found my approach to these impressions articles (yes there will be more than one…as there is more than one embargo). A huge part of enjoying the Zelda series is learning the intricate details of the story as you progress. I do not want to ruin that experience for you guys…I know I wouldn’t want it ruined for myself. In my first piece I will discuss the overall theme of the game, the direction of Twilight Princess, the “big” question of how the game controls, as well as a few minor spoilers. I will warn you of any spoilers before I got into detail. Now for those of you who are ready, it’s time to step back into Hyrule once again…
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has been a long time coming. I needn’t tell you of the excruciating wait we were put through…you were all there. Well the wait is soon to be over, and trust me when I say that it was worth it. This is the Zelda game for those of you who felt scorched by The Wind Waker. This is the title you have been yearning for since the days of Ocarina of Time. The intent of Twilight Princess is extremely evident from the very first thing you see in the game, the title intro. Most of you caught this intro when we posted it up last night. If that didn’t send chills down the spine of all you Zelda fans, then I don’t know what will. When I first sat down to play, I resisted the urge to go right into the game, and held tight at the title screen to seen the intro movie. The connection between this title intro and Ocarina’s are quite obvious. Everything looks much like it did in Ocarina, until the camera pans to catch up with Link, who has now been transformed into a wolf. In front of him sits a massive twilight barrier. That right there is the theme of your adventure from the beginning. I am going to go into some detail of the storyline from Twilight Princess in the paragraphs below. If you are looking to avoid any of that info, than skip ahead two paragraphs.
Nintendo really seems to enjoy using the dark/light theme in a lot of their games. We have seen it used in earlier Zelda titles, and also in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I can honestly say that I was a tad worried when I found out Twilight Princess was going into this direction again…but I honestly haven’t seen the idea presented in this way before. To skip ahead to some later events, after Link learns his basic fighting skills, you find yourself on the way to find some missing children from town. During this hunt, you find yourself face to face with a giant wall of Twilight. As link inches his way forward, a massive hand bursts out from the darkness, and takes Link into the Twilight Realm. It is here where you are first introduced to Link as a wolf, as well as an integral character in the story…Midna. You come to learn that sections of Twilight are taking over the land, and killing the life within it. You find out about this in detail from a certain princess. When Wolf Link and that princess meet up, there is no doubt in the princess’ mind that this wolf will be the savoir of her kingdom, and the surrounding lands. She can tell by the color of the wolf’s eyes, a very piecing blue. It is there that you are given the task of ridding the lands from the twilight. To complete this task, you have to collect tears from a certain enemy, which you obtain by destroying them. Once you have collected all the tears from that section of the twilight realm, you are to bring them back to the “wolf spirit” of the area. These wolf spirits are the reincarnations of the fairies found in Ocarina of time…very far removed down the line. The wolf spirit takes these tears, and uses them to disperse the twilight that engulfs the area. With the completion of that task comes the ability to change back into Link’s “human” form.
Now you can begin to see just how the light and dark aspects play off of each other in the game. Whenever you enter an area of Twilight, you take the form of Wolf Link, and you must then collect these tears to break the wall of twilight, and turn yourself back from wolf form. After that, you can then continue on your journey into the cleared area as regular Link. While in the twilight realm, Wolf Link has the ability to listen to people from the regular world by sensing their spirits. Wolf Life has a sense much like the Lens of Truth from Ocarina. Once you switch to your “wolf sense” view, you can see the spirits of people in the regular world. These spirits can be found by hunting out glowing green orbs in the twilight. When you see one, you switch to your wolf sense, and you are then able to see what the person looks like, as well as hear their thoughts, or words. Wolf Link is not able to communicate with anyone from the Twilight Realm, but you can take the information you have learned from them (in some instances) and help them out once you have cleared the twilight. I feel that it is very important to mention that the use of darkness and light as a major theme really feels well put together in Twilight Princess. I had a discussion with a few other journalists to discuss the use of the dark/light theme once again, and the opinion seemed to be that this instance of the reoccurring theme made for some extremely enjoyable gameplay, instead of feeling cliché. For instance, in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, I found myself dreading running around in the dark world…but in Twilight Princess I looked forward to it, due to all the new gameplay mechanics it brings along with it.
One of the aspects that really drives home the entire feel of Twilight Princess is the presentation level. To be quite honest, I was blown away by the level of cinematic quality found in the game. The Zelda series really hasn’t been much for cinematics. You saw a few instances in Ocarina of Time, and more still in The Wind Waker, but Twilight Princess reaches a level far beyond what I expected from a Zelda game. The level of expression found in Link alone beats anything we have seen in the past. We all know that Link has never been much for words…and that theme continues here as well. What we do have is a much more expressive Link, due to body language and facial expressions. We aren’t talking about just smiles and nods here. You know when Link feels ashamed, hurt, upset, angry, what have you. I found myself connecting with the character on a much deeper level than I have before. Now keep in mind, this is all without any spoken word (text scrolls) from Link. The rest of the cast in Twilight Princess (what I am allowed to talk about for now anyway) offers up some truly great additions to the series.
I have to mention Midna from the start, simply because I believe her to be one of the best contributions to the Zelda series to date. I know that many of you out there do not appreciate Tingle…and in some ways I feel that Midna is there to apologize for him. Midna is such a strong, unforgiving character…basically you will love to hate her. We have never seen a level of interaction between Link and another character like this before. Midna basically treats Link as her slave…as she is very dominant over him, especially in the Twilight Realm. We are used to seeing Link as the dominant character, not taking any guff from anyone…but due to storyline circumstances, we see Link letting himself be verbally abused, belittled by Midna. There are a few key points early on in your meeting with Midna where you get the feeling that she is a very domineering figure. There was actually once instance while playing where I truly felt bad for Link, and this interaction cemented my feelings towards Midna. Who knows what the rest of the game will bring, but for the purpose of this impressions article…Midna has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. This is not due to her characters roll at all…it is related to her treatment of Link. On the contrary, I believe that the character of Midna is one of the best, and most fleshed out characters we have seen in the Zelda series for quite some time.
You also have the cast of characters from your hometown as well. Back in Ocarina of Time, there were definitely a few characters that were memorable, and had more of a back-story to them. To contrast, in Twilight Princess, every single character you meet in your hometown has fleshed out more than the usual NPC. These characters don’t just offer you arbitrary goals to achieve…you find out about their families, jobs, and what is going on in their lives. I definitely had the feeling that much richer storyline was being developed from these townsfolk, and I hope this is something that continues on as the game progresses. It seems that Nintendo has gone out of their way to flesh out the back stories of all characters, as well as presenting you with many more cinematic scenes. This really helps create a much richer world to play in. If you thought the towns/townsfolk of Ocarina of time were engaging, you are really in for a treat. We always thought of the Zelda series as an epic one, and now we can see that Nintendo is really giving it a treatment to push the bar of what we expect from the series.
Obviously the most important part of my first day of play with Twilight Princess had to due with the controls. Ever since the first day we found out that Twilight Princess was coming to the Wii, everyone was questioning how the control scheme works out. Then just a few months back, we come to find out that the Wiimote would now be used for sword swings and aiming, instead of the version that was present at E3. Many grew worried that this new control scheme would be too hard to use, make them too tired, or detract from the gameplay. These were all very valid questions…we have been waiting so long for Twilight Princess that we didn’t want the experience ruined by shoehorned controls once the game finally released. The control topic is one I discussed in detail with a number of journalists at the event. I felt it was extremely important to get others viewpoints instead of just my own when it came to the Wii’s control success rate. The honest overall opinion of myself, and the journalists that I talked to is this. If you play Twilight Princess on the Cube, we feel that you are missing out on an amazing experience.
You will absolutely not get tired while playing Twilight Princess on the Wii. Well actually, let me rephrase that. If you are going to go all out, standing up while playing, and swinging the hell out of the Wiimote, then yes…you may get tired. On the other hand, I didn’t sit there playing it with the most minor movements possible. I found a very happy medium on my own. I never held back from swinging too hard or too light. I just did what felt natural for what was going on in the game. Swinging the Wiimote and Nunchuck to perform Link’s attacks adds such a visceral experience to the game…it truly does further the entire Zelda experience. Before I continue on with the control explanation, I want to make sure that you have a basic idea of what buttons/movements do which actions in the game.
To start with the very basic, your A button acts as your context sensitive button, as well as your roll maneuver. Context sensitive in the fact that you use it to talk to NPC’s, read signs, pick up pots, and so on. The directional pad is used to assign your items/weapons to. The left, right, and down directions are slots you can fill, while the up direction is used to talk to Midna. The minus button is used to enter your item wheel, which you then use the Wiimote to point at, and assign your weapon/item by pressing the corresponding directional pad button. The plus sign brings you to your equipment such as shield, heart container info, and so on. The B trigger uses the item/weapon you have selected. You press the directional button for the item you would like to use, and it is then switched to the B trigger. The item that was previously in the B trigger slot is brought up to your directional pad. On the Nunchuck you use the analog stick to move, the Z button to target, and the C button for a first person view. The 1 and 2 buttons are used for map access. One button enlarges the map, and one button hides/reveals a mini map. Finally we have the real meat of the game, the Wiimote and Nunchuck motion sensing. You swing the Wiimote left, right, or however you want to swing Link’s sword. If you press forward on the analog stick while swinging, Link will do a forward sword thrust. If you lock on with Z, and then press A while an enemy is on the ground, Link will do his downward sword thrust. If you move the nunchuck in a circular motion, or just side to side, Link will do his spin move. You have to wait a few seconds after each spin move attack for your sword to rebuild it’s power. You are given an audio cue on the Wiimote speaker when you are able to do another spin attack.
Speaking of the Wiimote speaker, the audio cues that come out of it actually do add another element of fun to the game. You will hear Midna laugh from the speaker when she has something to tell you. You will also hear link unsheathe his sword, the famous “Zelda discovery” noise, and a few other noises along the way. I don’t know what it was about the speaker cues that really drew me in, but I cannot deny that I really did enjoy them. The only negative thing I can say about the speaker is that it really isn’t great quality. The best example I can give is comparing the speaker quality to what you would find in one of those “see and speak” books. You know the ones I mean…the books where you press the picture of the character to hear them talk. I also discussed speaker quality with a few other people, and the general feeling was that while the quality wasn’t what one would hope for, it added to the fun factor, while not detracting from it due to audio quality.
Using the Wiimote to control Link’s sword attacks is just too much fun. It worked for me 100% of the time. I never had an instance where I took a swing with the Wiimote/Nunchuck, and it didn’t register. The only thing that cause me any issue was within the first 5 minutes of receiving a sword. If Link has his sword sheathed, the first swing of the Wiimote will have him take it out, rather than swing. I didn’t even realize that I didn’t have the sword out at first…but once I noticed that there were no issues. It is the same issue that happens in all the 3d Zeldas. You have to have your sword out before you attack, and if you don’t, you have to go through the animation before you start your fight. So at first I thought that the Wiimote wasn’t picking up my movement correctly, it was actually my own ignorance causing the problem. Wiimote sword functionality is extremely impressive, and you might find it hard to believe how much it adds to the game. I seriously cannot see myself playing the Cube version and enjoying it nearly as much. I know that it is the same core game…and I would enjoy the story just as much…but the physical connection of actually feeling like Link is absolutely priceless. In my mind, the Wii version is the definitive version.
Adding even more to the Wiimote experience is the aiming functionality. This actually takes skill, and really makes you feel as if you are aiming. The first opportunity to really fire a weapon is when you pick up a slingshot in your hope town. While you can lock onto enemies to fire, you can also do your freehand aim for a more precise shot. At first it took me a few minutes to get the feel of the aiming. Within fifteen minutes I was picking off birds in the distance, tiny black specks being shot down with the slingshot. If you are worried about not having a steady hand, you shouldn’t be. You can adjust the sensitivity in the options menu to better suit your aiming capabilities. You should be able to find your most precise aim settings with no problem.
From what I am allowed to talk about under this embargo lift, the game absolutely amazed me. I didn’t think there was any way the game could live up to the hype, and the time it took for it to come out. Now keep in mind I didn’t play the entire game, but if it keeps up at the pace it was at for my playtime, then the game has succeeded for me on every level possible. As I said, there are lots of things I haven’t told you guys about because of an embargo on more info until next week. Believe it or not, all I have told you about in this article is only from the start of the game, up to the first dungeon.. This is not fanboy hype…this is not a Nintendo diehard slobbering all over anything Nintendo. These are my honest impressions of the game. If there was something that didn’t work…something I didn’t like, I would tell you guys. I would never try to get you interested in a title for the sheer fact that it was made by Nintendo. While I cannot give you details on anything past the first dungeon yet…I can tell you that my entire playtime made me a firm believer that this Zelda is the definitive title in the series.