Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Things to Say about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Hey y'all.  So I've been on a Legend of Zelda binge, watching all kinds of let's plays on these games. The only one I've ever played (that is, watched my brother play) is the original NES version decades ago.  As a person coming into the series with essentially no knowledge of the franchise whatsoever, I was surprised by the mysticism, randomness, and convolution present in the series.  It's like every single game is an experiment of gameplay and setting, and the story is forced to bend over backwards to compensate for all the new trinkets, different worlds, and varying graphic styles throughout the games as they go on.  Pretty interesting, actually, as a game can be absolutely anything the makers want it to be.

I haven't seen all the Legend of Zelda games yet, nor have I seen the full let's plays of some of these, but here's my first impression of some of them.

- Legend of Zelda (NES): Great example of NES era confusion. Despite being basically impossible to beat without a walkthrough, not knowing what to do is half the fun.  Great music, too.

- Windwaker: Great graphics, but the story really doesn't hook me.  It's nice how the tutorial/help character is a boat, meaning that he can't follow you everywhere to tell you stuff you already know.

- Minish Cap: I suspect this game is more fun to play than to watch.  The cap itself is really annoying, but the gameplay shows all the effort the programmers put into it.  The idea of shrinking to go to certain areas sounds really fun.  Of all the games I saw, this is the one I'm the most tempted to buy.

- Majora's Mask: All in all the single best game in the series.  The gameplay is fantastic, the story is amazing, the music all works, and I care about the characters.  This game appeals to everything I've ever liked in a video game: environment, unmodern graphics, atmosphere, and sound.

- Ocarina of Time: Not quite on the boat for this one.  People have claimed that its story is "beautifully told," but the fact of the matter is I've tried 3-4 times to watch this one, but have gotten bored and done something else.  As opposed to Majora's Mask, which had me instantly hooked.  I plan on trying again when I find a good lets play of it, but for now, eh.  To be fair, one main reason why I haven't watched Ocarina all the way through is because some let's players call say "DEE-ku" instead of "DEH-ku," and that plain drives me up the wall.

But now we're going to talk about Twilight Princess, because I have seen that game all the way through, and I've got plenty to say about it.  But first, a summary of the story:

Also came out on the Wii.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the story of a young boy named Link who is on his way to Hyrule for a special event.  Before he can leave, however, a strange army of dark creatures come and surround the world with darkness.  This darkness envelops Link, and he becomes a wolf.  He's thrown into a prison cell, where he meets Midna, an extremely rude naked flying troll.  She helps him escape, and they go on a quest to restore light to all the different places in Hyrule.  Then they go on a quest to find all the fused shadows.  Then they go on a quest to find all the mirror pieces to a mirror that's a portal between the light world and the twilight world.  Along the way, Link gains the ability to turn from wolf to human at will, and Midna reveals that she's the exiled queen of the Twilight world, whom usurper Zant has cast out in his quest to take over the light world.

So Midna and Link put the mirror back together, then go into the twilight world and defeat Zant. Then they defeat Ganondorf, who is the one really behind everything.  Link puts him out of his misery in the attempt to keep Ganondorf from joining Bowser, Dr. Robotnik, Dr. Wily, and Sigma in the Bad Guys Who Come Back for No Reason Club.  After this, Midna regains her powers and her true, human-like form.  She then puts a spell on the mirror so that it will destroy behind her once she goes back into the Twilight world.  Credits.

This here be Midna.  Aincha' never heard of clothes, babe?

10. The story suuuuucks.

When I did my blog on the characteristics of a video game, I listed gameplay as the most important, and story as the least important --

1. Gameplay
2. Music
3. Graphics/Graphic design
4. Story

That, however, is the objective truth about games -- they're about playing, not about telling a story. The subjective truth, or how I feel about things, is that story in video games has the overwhelming power to ruin a game.  This story is stale, pretentious, and another "boy becomes hero" tale, if a bit modified because Midna's in it.

I was, however, not too disappointed at first.  Granted, from a gameplay standpoint, the beginning is really boring.  There's lots of tutorial activities, like herding cows and practicing with the sword. Ilia, Link's friend, is also really annoying.  But Link is going to be sent to Hyrule Castle with a ceremonial sword, and journeying with Link sounds like a really fun idea.  I was looking forward to it -- and then the Twilight realm attacks, sinking the world into darkness and turning Link into a wolf.

This was a very disappointing circumstance.  Not only is the wolf form pretty boring, but it diverts the story into a cliched "bad guy is taking over the world" plot, when the player was looking forward to being on the road.  Not only that, but the player just sat through maybe half an hour of tutorials for Link form, and now they have to go through tutorials for the wolf form.  Note that because the tutorials are tied into the plot, they are not skippable for a second playthrough.

What makes it worse is a stale meeting with Princess Zelda.  She has no personality in this game, which is pretty jolting, considering that she's shown lots of quirks and emotion in other games.  Here, she's a statue making generic comments about how her kingdom has been taken over by baddies. Apparently Zelda allowed Zant to sink her home into twilight because she didn't want him to do anything worse.  Not only is that a cliche, but Zelda has failed to protect her kingdom just because some guy in a fish helmet told her so.  She didn't even try to resist.  What a sucky princess.  If I put on a creepy hat, could I take over Hyrule?

"Excuse me, Miss, you're sittin' in my chair."

The whole concept of a twilight world seems boring to me.  Granted, it's not too horrible an idea, and could have worked to be interesting if not for a few things. One of those things is that the twilight world doesn't feel oppressive.  Hyrule being steeped in twilight doesn't really seem to do anything. The land isn't affected, the people don't care, and Link can just cruise around at his leisure while Zant is doing...something.  The only real affects the darkness has is turning Link into a wolf and making everything shadowy-looking.

Also, if Zant wants to conquer the light world so much, then why is he hiding in the twilight world, not visibly upset that Link is undoing his work?  Link obliterates the twilight at the end of the light gathering quest, so more than half of the game is spent with Zant's attempt at conquest spoiled.  Isn't he upset?  Shouldn't he be attacking civilians, holding hostages, forcing people to build armaments, etc?  What kind of a conqueror is he?

He also doesn't really have time to conquer the light world if he has to secure his reign over the twilight world.  After all, the twili people voted for Midna, so Zant should at least have to put down some kind of rebellion before going into the light world.  Well, whatever, that's not a big problem. A small plot hole like that doesn't have much affect on the story.

What is a big problem is the nonsensical plan that Ganondorf has.  So he gets trapped in the twilight world however long ago, then he gives Zant the power to try and conquer the light world.  What's his plan?  To "merge light and shadow to form darkness."  I'm pretty sure that merging light with any form of shadow simply eliminates the shadow.  Where there is light, there is no darkness at all. Besides, even if merging light and shadow made sense, what would it do?  What does it mean for "darkness" to show up? How does that affect anything?

This is more or less the result of terrible writing, particularly as it concerns dialogue.  People prattle on about darkness and light as though light/dark hasn't been a metaphor for good/evil since time began.  They add nothing to the light/dark metaphor that hasn't already been done to death.  Heck, if you wrote some music for most of the dialogue, it'd be the next hit emo song.

I've heard rumors (maybe it's not just rumors, but I don't know at this point) that Twilight Princess was a deliberate response to fan reaction to the previous game, Windwaker.  Windwaker was very cartoony, a visual change that was far too different from what Zelda fans were used to.  They apparently whined because Windwaker wasn't anything like Ocarina of Time, the hyped fan favorite. Personally, I think Windwaker's cartoon style is just right.  The Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask visuals are my favorite aesthetically, but Windwaker has the best, most expressive Link.  I don't understand why the fans whined like little babies over it.

I dunno.  I still haven't seen all of Windwaker yet, so maybe there's other problems with it.  In any case, after the fan outcry, apparently Nintendo decided to make their next game the opposite of Windwaker: dark, gloomy, and more or less a rip-off of Ocarina of Time.  I don't know whether to be annoyed or laugh.  Well, actually, I'll be annoyed, but I'll get to that in another point.

The basic thing wrong with the story is that there's not enough of it, and that what there is of it is boring.  Storylines take forever to be resolved.  One girl, Ilia, loses her memory for the longest time. It's not resolved until near the end of the game.  Midna's backstory as queen of the twilight is revealed bit by bit as though it's supposed to be mysterious.  It's not, and because they have to make cutscenes about something, they show bits of her past from time to time in the attempt to keep the players interested.  All these bits do is reinforce over and over again the idea that Zant took her throne, which we already knew.

Ugh, don't get me started on those "creepy" stories where Zelda is told about how some evil or another came into the world.  I don't know what those scenes were about, and I don't care enough to look it up.

Actually, while we're at it --

9. The characters are a primary reason why the story sucks.

Don't get me wrong.  The base idea of this story is not a good one.  A banished people seeking revenge on the light people who cast them out?  A dark parallel universe?  Not only is that unoriginal (it brings to mind things like Dark Seed and the Legend of Drizzt), it's also not all that interesting. However, what it takes to make a silly premise work is great characters that you want to win/lose as appropriate.  Case in point, it's just plain silly for a guy to kidnap aliens and force them to become famous musicians so he can conquer the universe, but that doesn't stop Interstella 5555 from being a fun techno romp.  Dumb ideas can be sold well, and work out just fine.

Yeah, it doesn't work out too great for Twilight Princess, being weaker on the character end.

One of the things I noticed about Twilight Princess is that the further you get away from the main storyline, the better the characters are.  Zelda's kingdom gets taken over by evil forces, so she has no personality whatsoever and just stands by the window until something happens.  Telma is a kind, sensitive barkeep who goes out of her way to help Link and keep people alive.  She's at least ten times as likable as Zelda, though it'd help if she wore a shirt.

Oh, you're possessed by Ganon?  Too bad I don't care.

Ilia is Link's childhood friend, and is the caretaker of Epona.  She loses her memory due to the twilight attacks, forgetting that she made a very important plot item for Link.  Before she loses her memory, she's annoying.  Afterwards, she's boring.  Yeta and her husband Yeto live in the snowy mountains together, completely untouched by Zant and indifferent to anyone in Hyrule.  They're an adorable couple who literally shoot out hearts of love when they hug at the end of their arc.

Zant is generic bad guy #34, saying only boring nonsense and not really doing anything until his infamous freak out scene.  Malo, a creepy baby who has nothing to do with anything, takes over a snooty shop and turns it into a goofy place where everyone dances to hilarious music, while posters of Malo's face adorn the walls.

Seriously, Malo is way creepier than Zant.  Some people like Zant's earlier appearances, calling him "cool and collected" until a scene at the end where he starts doing goofy twists and flips, all while whining.  While I certainly agree that this particular bit does take Zant way down in terms of being taken seriously, nothing before this point captures my attention either.  He primarily stands around, maybe says some things a couple of times.  From a gameplay standpoint, he does little after sinking the light world in twilight until Link catches up with him in the dark world.

Sure, there's a bit where he steals the fused shadows Link's been hunting for, but all that does is add cutscenes and allow Link to turn into a wolf whenever he wants.  It doesn't make Zant any more intimidating than he was before, particularly since he should have killed Midna immediately, rather than allowing Link to take her away.  Actually, it would have been nice if there were a mini boss fight with Zant at this point, and that's what enables Link and Midna time to escape.

Zelda's the one that saves Midna's life by merging with her.  I'd care about this more if Zelda had any personality in this game, or if Zelda merging with Midna gives the player more powers.  It does neither.

The thing about stories in video games is that they are there to enhance the gameplay, and if a story cannot do so, then it has failed in its basic purpose.  Nothing about the twilight taking over the light world has much affect on the normal population.  None of them turn into evil shadow beings.  Only one person dies, and that's off-screen.  None of them are apparently aware that the twilight makes them "spirit beings," and neither does this distinction have any affect on the story or gameplay.  Few appear frightened by Zant or affected by his forces.  Thus, the entire game feels like a disconnect between the cutscenes and the general gameplay.

Long rant short, the vast majority of characters in this game are boring, the few that are interesting have nothing to do with the main plot, and absolutely none of the characters have enough story value to warrant the game being twice as many game hours as Ocarina of Time.

8.  The gameplay for this game covers a lot of plot sins.

Video games are not primarily a story-telling medium.  They are there to play and to have fun.  On a gameplay level, Twilight Princess is at least okay.  Granted, it does have some flaws.  The first hour is too tutorial-filled.  Many reviewers mentioned that the bosses were copies of bosses in older games, and few of them had the excitement players craved.  It doesn't help that Zant's first boss fight phases are again copies of all the bosses Link has fought so far in the game.

Other than that kind of thing, the gameplay works.  Going questing in the world of Hyrule is pretty fun.  I especially like the mission where Link escorts a wagon through enemy territory.  That looked fun, challenging and relevant to the plot.  Also, the items one receives in the game, such as the double claw shot, dominion rod, and the spinner, where fun and adaptable for use in many different situations, from defeating dungeons to playing mini-games.  In fact, some complained that there wasn't enough spinner usage in the game.  I'd be happy if any of those items made reappearances.

There's also the cave of ordeals, which is basically a pit of different levels of enemies.  There's like fifty floors of pure fighting, and you get a prize from a great fairy at the end.  This doesn't need to have anything to do with the story, and is perfect for people who just want to test their mettle and have fun playing a game.  It's a great addition that should be used for future Zelda 3D games.

Some of the gameplay was tedious, like the part at the beginning where you have to collect bugs to get light for the light guardians of Hyrule, or collecting poe souls to save one guy from a curse.  The poe soul thing is optional, but collecting bugs is a silly way to collect light, and is unskippable. However, things do get better, and despite player complaints, the dungeons in this game are some of the highest rated in all of Zelda's franchise.

Y'know, now that I think about it, this game improves significantly after Link's first fetch quest is complete.  No more tutorials, no more obligated bug-catching (there is a side character who pays the big bucks for golden bugs, but you don't have to do that), and Midna stops being so ridiculously rude.

7. There was a lot of time spent in creating character faces.

While we're talking about positive things, let's move on to graphics/graphic design.  This aspect is more positive than negative, in my opinion.  While nothing really blows me out of the water as far as visual design goes, little of it is bad, and some of it's actually quite pretty.  Some people have said in reviews that the graphics of this game are "dated," but I have no idea what that means.  Perhaps it's because I'm an old fogey at heart, something's not dated unless it's around 64 bits or less.  While the visuals in Twilight Princess aren't as good as in Windwaker, they're competent and worth looking at.

In particular, most of the faces are really good.  They convey character and emotion well, most of the time.  In particular, Ganondorf's face is more detailed than his character. Telma's face is very gentle and yet sassy, Agitha's perfectly portrays her creepy childishness, the yetis are strange and yet personable, etc.

Y'know, Ganon's kinda hot....er, I mean....ugly.  Totally ugly.

The only face that completely fails for me is in fact Link's.  It feels like the programmers spent way more time on everyone else's designs and ignored his.  Granted, we're going to be looking at everyone else's face more than his, but that doesn't change the awkwardness of having a dead-faced protagonist.  His facial movements feel like computer puppetry.   In a really dumb cutscene that's all "creepy" and "dark," the only thing at all frightening about it was how stupid Link's "creepy" smile was.  He looked like a pervert.

"Hello, Ladies..."

The environments were as competent as the faces are.  Nothing excited me, but they're all nice enough.  General character designs were also pretty good, with a range from beautiful to weird, distinctive to townsman #10.  I have only two complaints in this regard.

The first is that I hated the redesigns of returning races/characters.  The Deku were fine, given that their only appearance was as a generic enemy in certain places.  The Gorons, however, were meh. The designers tried way too hard to make them match the "gloomy" atmosphere they were trying to go for.  So instead of the charming and even goofy rock-people we once knew and loved, we get melodramatic tribal dudes who say "brudda" all the time and have disturbingly prominent nipples.

*throws up in mouth*

While the Gorons are worse in overall concept than in simple design, the Zora, my favorite race in the games, are even worse off.  They look hideous.  One of the things common in newer, "darker" video games -- not just Zelda ones -- is that they add ridiculous detail to creatures/people who don't need it.  The Zora were elegantly simple in Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask, and their appearances in Oracle of Ages/Seasons was simplistically cute.  They did not need dimpled fins, obvious gills, human-ish faces, and a dull grey/blue color palette. They don't even look like Zoras anymore.  Not to mention the Zora queen having hair.  Yuck.


Essentially, the Gorons have become a tribal trope, and the Zoras are....I don't know what, but not Zoras.  Don't even get me started on the "evolution" of Zoras in Windwaker.  Dang it, is it too hard for Nintendo to just make fish people?

And while we're at it, what was the point of bringing back Skull Kid?  Not only is his design relatively boring, but shouldn't he be dead by now?  Is he a ghost?  I dunno, it just feels like a cheap way to take advantage of nostalgia.  Shame on you, Nintendo.

Aw, no duck's beak?

My second complaint with the the game's design is all the boobery.  Telma needs a shirt, the great fairy needs a shirt, both of Midna's forms are mostly exposed, the Goron's man boobery looks painfully blistered, overweight male clowns don't need belly shirts, the goddess statues are naked, and Ooccoo, the chicken-like being who helps Link exit dungeons, has droopy boob-like appendages on her front.

Y'know, I do remember a time when the Legend of Zelda was a kid's game.  What if I want my nephews to play some of these? Am I really going to age them early by allowing them to see this? Life and the media are already too filled with sexual content, making minds stuck on lust and romance when there are more important things in life to be concerned about.  Lust without responsibility is one of the most dangerous things in modern society, leading to things like abandonment, divorce, abuse, objectification, and single parenthood.  I know that's a heavy burden to place on a video game, and I'm not saying that Twilight Princess is a primary culprit of this, but a child's game should try to avoid contributing to societal problems.

And those Goron boobs seriously look painful.  Yeesh.

Overall, however, undeniable effort was put into the visual design of this game.  While the player might accuse designers of being misguided at points, he can't call them lazy.

6. There's "dark," and then there's dark.

When I said that overall the graphics/graphics design weren't bad, I meant that looking at them doesn't make your eyes bleed.  They've even competent, taken on their own level and separate from the story.  However, the graphics do nothing to enhance the story of the game.  This is supposed to be a gloomy game, one comparable to Majora's Mask.  It's not even close.

I don't know if this is something that can be blamed on graphics, really.  While there were bad graphical choices taken (adapting the looks of classic races, not creating haunting scenery), these are evidences not of a problem with looks, but with concepts.  Unless you're under ten years old, in a bad neighborhood, or having spiritual issues, something isn't made scarier simply by being dark.  Black isn't scarier than white.  The only thing truly frightening about a lack of light is whatever might be hiding in the darkness.  Given that video games rely heavily on visuals, it's generally a cheat to make things too literally dark.

Oooooh, spooky....as a kid wearing a bedsheet.

What's so baffling is that Nintendo clearly does know better.  Any attempt to compare Twilight Princess to Majora's Mask reveals this.  Everything Majora's Mask does right, in terms of being creepy, is something that Twilight Princess gets wrong.  Majora's Mask has a plethora of interesting characters whose lives will end if Link fails.  Interesting characters are few and far between in Twilight Princess, and the player rarely feels that his actions impact the characters.  Majora is a creepy entity, one that is powerful enough to cause tragedy throughout Termina and has some wacky forms.  Zant of Twilight Princess can only turn out the lights and provide an unremarkable boss fight, and his power-sponsor Ganondorf only manages to look cool.  Majora has a story that pulls the player in.  Twilight Princess players are left to wonder when the story is going to really start.

The main difference is that Twilight Princess has literal darkness all the time, while Majora is at all times either as bright or as dark as any given place would be at any given time.  The light level changes with setting, not with mood.  In fact, the creepiest place in Majora's Mask is the brightest: the interior of the evil, all-consuming moon is a sunny, grassy field with a lovely tree in the middle.  My point is, creepy is a feeling, not a setting.

Setting is simply one way to manipulate how a person feels.  In writing, there are many other means. There's of course in characters, such as creepy characters, or good characters subjected to horrible things.  Sometimes it's the ridiculously impossible, like a giant moon with a face staring down at you. Sometimes it's basking in a concept that a character is afraid of -- the player doesn't even have to be scared of the same thing, if he can be convinced that what the character fears is unsettling.

The main difference between the two games in the series is consequences.  There's no consequences if Link fails in Twilight Princess -- the people don't seem to know or care much about Zant, and most go on about their lives as though he weren't there.  In Majora's Mask, everyone is doomed to die, and the clock at the bottom of the screen is a constant reminder of incoming destruction.  Everyone gets more fearful the closer it is to zero-hour.

Basically, you can't call a game "the darkest game since Majora's Mask" if it doesn't make the player feel anything.  Some reviewers have suggested that Nintendo made Twilight Princess this way out of spite, but that's difficult to believe, given that they want to make money.  And well, if spite was really the plan, then it backfired: people really like Twilight Princess, constantly describing it as a top ten Zelda title.  Oh nostalgia, what you do to these people.

Hm, this post is getting pretty long.  I'll end it here for now and have part 2 up in a couple of days. See you then!


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