Sunday, February 1, 2015

Top Ten Things to Say about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Part 2

Hey y'all.  Let's get this moving, shall we?

In my first post, the first of the ten posts were essentially as follows:
- the story of Twilight Princess sucks
- It's primarily the characters' faults
- The gameplay makes up for a lot of the story's faults
- The visuals were at least adequate
- All the ways Twilight Princess tried to be haunting, scary, or edgy ultimately failed.

It sounds like I'm saying a lot of negative things about the game.  Thing is, there's a lot about this game that excuses it in the eyes of its audience. Despite the fact that it's not scary at all, it's a fun time waster, if you have time to waste.

On to the next thing!

5. Midna's popularity is baffling.

There are lots of standards by which people judge their favorite Legend of Zelda assistants. Sometimes it's the ones that look the coolest, the ones with the best stories, or the ones that talk the least.  Sarcastic people say they like the assistant in the original Zelda game the best, because there was no assistant at all.  Well, that's only my second favorite assistant.  My favorite is Tatl, because everything about Majora's Mask is perfect.  Kidding.  Tatl just has a good personality and a strong story reason for being present.  Her arc from bully to good friend is refreshing and played naturally.

Midna likewise has personality and plot relevance.  Trouble is, she's annoying, and because the story sucks, her character is weakened.  But, eh, there's lots of different potential flaws for Zelda assistants. There's repetitiveness, obviousness, constancy, plot irrelevance, and lack of personality.  Let's see how Midna ranks based on these ideas.

Let's talk repetitiveness and obviousness.  I've been watching some Majora's Mask let's plays again recently (Born Losers Gaming is slowly eking through their run) and in those videos, Tatl generally says nothing.  She'll ring her bell, and the player can ignore it or read Tatl's text at their leisure.  Tatl generally only unavoidably explains things when a player would legitimately be confused.  Like during the the first three day cycle when a new player might not know how to handle Skull Kid -- some people might think you have to defeat Skull Kid then and there.  Or when you finish the first day cycle, and you need to know why, what, and how, then Tatl insists the player visit the Happy Mask Salesman.  Other than times like that, Tatl's more or less absent.

Midna, doesn't score as high.  She's not as repetitive as the good ol' "Hey, listen!" (and I personally think that's more funny than annoying) but she definitely says pointless things.  There are several points in the game where something will happen in the game, and the game will explain silently what the player should do through the use of camera shots and whatnot.  Then Midna will pop up to repeat what the player was just told, with an added dose of sarcasm.

That's the thing about personality in characters, in any medium.  Just because someone has a personality doesn't make it a good one, or one that's appropriate in every situation.  When someone is telling you really obvious things, you don't want them to be quirky or long-winded.  You politely stand there until they shut up, hopefully quickly.  In the case of video games, you push the A button until their text goes away.  But someone sarcastically acting as though you don't know the obvious? Ugh.

To make it worse, Midna's always around.  She doesn't go silent like Tatl or Ezlo, or stay away like the King of Red Lions.  She's always there as a gameplay function, to either teleport Link when he's in wolf form, or make him go from wolf to human and back at will (at the latter part of the game).  I suppose she's supposed to be more of a partner than an associate, but the players that prefer minimal to no NPC assistance will be very annoyed.

Not to mention her absolutely awful first impression.  Link has been turned into a wolf, and he wakes in an empty cell in Hyrule castle.  In comes a grinning little imp critter, and she starts mocking him immediately.  Here's her first few lines.

"I found you!  Eee hee!  Are you sure you want to be doing that?  Snarling and glaring at me?  Well, that's too bad...I was planning on helping you, if you were nice.  Eee hee!  That's much better.  You humans are obedient to a fault, aren't you?  Oops, but you aren't a human anymore, are you?  You're a beast.  Eee hee!  You be a good boy and calm down.  No need to bite."

Once Link escapes the jail cell, Midna hops on his back and says, "Hmph, I guess you're not completely stupid after all!  Listen, I like you, so I think I'll get you out of here." She then violently grabs his ear and continues, "But in exchange for my help, you have to do EXACTLY as I say!"

If I were Link, I'd roll her off my back and sit on the floor like a dead weight until she learned to speak more politely.  Magical imp or no, she comes across as a mischievous bad guy, like some sort of critter that has no moral scope whatsoever, but helps the good guy out of boredom.  No sensible person would trust her so quickly.

Thing is, at this point, as we learn later, is that Midna is an exiled queen, someone who should be ruling the twilight realm, but cannot.  So why is she being so rude to the one person who can help her?  Sure, maybe she's the kind of person who has an attitude about things.  But an attitude doesn't translate into mocking a person who can get her what she wants.  Heck, if she's in such a bad position, it doesn't make any sense to be so giggly.  Maybe she should be desperate or pissed off. Who is she trying to impress?  Will it somehow be a sign of weakness for Midna to not appear superior to the only person she can get to submit?  I'd be easy enough for her to politely get him to go to Zelda, and have Zelda, as princess, to order him to help Midna.

To be fair, Midna does relax after Zant's attempt on her life.  She realizes that maybe she shouldn't be rude to people, particularly the ones who rescue her.  Either that, or absorbing Zelda into herself tempers her bad attitude.  But if she's had this attitude all along, why did the Twili vote for her to be the queen?  Any elected position, or position with a lot of governing lords, will involve mollifying people and making them like you.  I dunno.  Maybe all the other candidates were complete jerks or something.

Your new nickname is Midnasty. Because it amuses me.

Her arc doesn't really progress naturally either.  She's a trickster spirit before being rescued by Zelda, and a bosom buddy fangirl afterwards.  It's too much of a light switch reverse.  As opposed to Tatl, who only started off as a prankster, but slowly became more open to Link because of his heroism, her conflicting feelings over what her friend Skull Kid has become, and her guilt as an accessory.  She's a normal, but misguided person.

Midna, on the other hand, doesn't appear to care about anyone before her change, and teases Link about his friends in danger.  The arc is apparently supposed to be her learning to care about other people, but how could she possibly be queen of the Twili if she didn't even care about her supporters? Shouldn't she have learned that lesson before being elected?  And when Midna transforms back into her real, human shape, she's tall and melodramatic, with barely a hint of her previous troll personality.  Her character changes whenever the writers find it convenient.

Honestly, Midna's character would have made more sense either as her before personality, or her afterwards one.  She could either be an imp who chooses to help Link for her own reasons, or a saucy queen who appeals to Zelda and Link for help.  By trying to staple the two together, they create an annoying person who doesn't really make sense.

To be fair, Midna's after-rescue personality is cool.  She shows a pleasing combination of attitude, respect for Link, and common sense.  This is probably the version of her that's the fan favorite, particularly when she gets her powers back and starts fighting Zant.  Now that was cool.  Why couldn't she be like that the entire game?  Why force an arc on a character who doesn't really need one?

In fact, even with her light switch characterization, out of all the characters in the story, Midna's the only one with any real plot potential. That includes Link, too.  Link's a kid who becomes a hero,only because he's supposed to.  He has no personal motivation.  Ganondorf became a typical repeat villain, Zant's a generic villain whose motivation is unoriginal and uinteresting, Ilia has some kind of memory issues but nothing more, Zelda's a statue, and all the rest are just people there to fulfill setting functions.

You, M'dear, are boring.  Love the shirt, though.

From a gameplay standpoint, Midna enables wolf-Link to do a few things.  She teleports him, uses her hand-hair to attack, and enables him to jump to out of the way places.  Nothing extreme, but nothing horrible.  It's perfectly adequate gameplay, and pretty useful at the end where Link is able to basically teleport anywhere.

Huh.  I'm watching some let's play videos as I write this, and I'm surprised I didn't notice this before: Midna gets these non-animated "dead eyes" when she rides on Link.

4.  Why a wolf?

I just don't understand why Nintendo thought it was a great idea to turn Link into a wolf.  There's no particular connection of Link to that kind of animal.  Heck, Mario's more wolf-like than Link.  If I had to pick an animal for Link, it'd probably be something like a noble war horse, given Link's determined heroism and simple innocence.  But nah, wolves are "edgy" and "dark," so we have to go with that.  There are a few lines in the story about how the goddesses granted Link the ability to turn into a wolf, and that he was all "feral" and whatnot.  Last time I checked, being feral was a bad thing.

Tsk.  That's the exact kind of developer thinking that leads to stuff like Star Fox Adventures -- "You know what would make Star Fox better?  DINOSAURS!"  Genius stuff, that.

Hm, maybe a wolf isn't so bad.  Besides, there were plenty of other things wrong with Star Fox Adventures than dinosaurs, so whatever.  From a storytelling standpoint, the wolf is neither here nor there.  It could have been any other ridable creature and made no story difference whatsoever.

Gameplaywise, the wolf form makes little difference too.  Midna's grabbing abilities and jumping bonus don't hinge on Link being a wolf.  All specifically being a wolf does is allow Link to dig, talk to animals, and sniff out things with his doggy sense.  This is pretty cool.  I just wish more of the levels were geared towards the wolf form, where the levels are not only places where you have to use the wolf form, but makes players feel like the wolf enhances what's happening on screen.  For example, there could be a segment of gameplay that reflects something a wolf would really do, like stalk prey or something.

As is, the whole wolf idea is silly, but inoffensive.  And not particularly necessary.  Oh, and those bits where wolf Link had to howl in pitch with songs were just stupid.

3. Screw you, Legend of Zelda timeline.

Check the bottom middle.

There's one part of Twilight Princess that I find more offensive than all the rest of it.  If anything else fails to meet its potential, I don't really care.  The Legend of Zelda isn't my franchise, and it's doing well enough to warrant its popularity.  That said, I really, really like Majora's Mask.  It's the best, most engaging story in all of the Legend of Zelda.  I'm a sucker for a good story, and I like to imagine my own future for that timeline.

Zelda fans see where this is going immediately.

As you can see on the picture above, Twilight Princess comes directly after Majora's Mask.  This was a primary reason for choosing to watch Twilight Princess, as I wanted to know what they'd done with the timeline.  And what they've done is follow the best story in the Legend of Zelda series with possibly the worst story in the series.

If they had never made a true sequel to Majora's Mask, I wouldn't be mad.  I'd be quite happy with that outcome, as no petty game would be there to interfere with what I want Link's future to be. Selfish, I know, but Zelda has plenty of other timelines that promote gameplay over story -- let them ruin those!

What makes it worse is what's been implied to happen to the original Link.  So Twilight Princess takes place some thousands of years later or whatever, and the Link in that story is not the same Link as in Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask.  What happened to that Link, you ask?  Well, Twilight Princess has this shadowy ghost figure who teaches new Link how to sword fight.  He continually drops little hints about being an old hero who failed to leave behind a legacy, or something or other. It's not really clear.

This is probably the biggest evidence that Twilight Princess was either made to spite whining fans post-Windwaker, or contains elements of spite.  That is, the makers of Twilight Princess were trying to say that the Ocarina of Time/Majora's mask Hero of Time Link is gone forever, dead.  There will never be another game about him, because Nintendo's inspiration for the Zelda series has gone in other directions, and this is Nintendo's way of confirming that.  The Legend of Zelda has never been a very cohesive series, and expecting it to be is wrong.

Ouches, man, right in the heart.  Normally I like to support a consumer's right to complain if something they like goes in an abruptly different direction (see: Daft Punk's Random Access Memories), but when that abruptly different thing is competent like Windwaker and doesn't involve 90s sitcom sounding music (see: Random Access Memories' Fragments of Time), then people need to chill. Especially if it means destroying imagination fodder.

(Click the video for all the cheese you could ever cheese.)

This hurts me a lot because Majora's Mask's ending calls for a proper sequel.  It was an emotional journey that ended in a happy, bittersweet way.  There's a darkness that leads to despair, and then there's a darkness that, when survived and the tears are wiped away, makes the survivor feel happy and grateful for life.  Yes, that's excessive for a video game, but Majora's Mask makes the player feel good.  Not to mention that Link hasn't finished his journey to find Navi, and we still don't know why she left him at the end of Ocarina of Time and what she's been doing in the meantime.  The plot potential is just oozing from every orifice.

As much as this element of the game pisses me off, Nintendo's gall pleases me.  There's always a time to listen to your fans, and a time to ignore them.  Wisdom is knowing the difference between the two.  By creating a rip-off of Ocarina of Time with the attempt at recreating the gloom of Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess' creators not only punished Zelda fans for trying to box in the franchise, but also took in a good chunk of fan nostalgia money in the process.  Gumption is always at its best when it's eloquent.

Oh well.  As much at it pisses me off to know the Hero of Time's awful fate, there's an advantage to the Legend of Zelda multiple timelines.  I'll just add another one in my head, one that branches out after Majora's Mask to become the Quest for Navi/Ganondorf Never Comes Back timeline.  It'll be a stretch of three or four games where the basic premise is that Link is on a journey to find Navi, but encounters many separate adventures on the way.  The last game in this timeline will involve Link finding Navi and discovering why she left after Ocarina of Time, instead of remaining as his companion fairy.

Man, now I wish I knew how to program video games.  Ah well.  Huh, now that I'm looking at the timeline, I guess I should check out that Four Swords/Hyrule Adventure thing.

2. I don't care.

Once my annoyance at the destroying of the Hero of Time's fate has subsided, I don't feel anything about this game.  The story didn't connect with me.  The gameplay wasn't exciting.  Nothing about the music or graphics was pretty enough to hold my attention -- though to be fair, if the story and gameplay had been more interesting, the music and graphics wouldn't have been a problem.  The only main character with both emotional interest and plot potential, Midna, was annoying and inconsistent.

Truth be told, even as I'm writing this, my desire to continue is fading.  I thought I had enough inspiration for two full parts, but since I lost some of my notes, I'm struggling to really come up with anything to say about this game that isn't repetitive and is long enough to be worth the separation into two parts.  This game is just too dull.  As soon as I finish writing this post, I'll never watch another clip of this game again, unless I need to check it again for a point when I'm talking to someone about Zelda.

This game reminds me of all those generic games that don't sell very well because they aren't a part of a famous franchise.  Y'know, those ones with the tedious stories, mediocre to zero replay value, and merely okay gameplay.  While Twilight Princess is a little above those in terms of gameplay, nothing about other aspects of the game rises above mediocrity.  In fact, all it would take is a re-skin of 20% of the environments and characters to remove any trace of Legend of Zelda influence from this game.  And the changing of a few names in the dialogue, of course.  Then you could put it on the shelf with the mediocre stock just like it deserves.

But wait, you protest, isn't this supposed to be a rip-off of Ocarina of Time?  If it's a rip-off, how can it be generic enough to not be in the series?  That's a fair point.  Since I haven't played Zelda games as a kid, I have no nostalgia goggles for Ocarina of Time, and thus probably miss many of the OoT references in Twilight Princess.  Those that I did notice, however, were primarily in looks and number of dungeons, as well as Ganon being the enemy at the end.  There is no emotional reference. This game doesn't feel as despairing as OoT or Majora's Mask, nor does it show the quirkiness of Windwaker or Minish Cap.

One of the things the Legend of Zelda creators do in their games is show true enjoyment of the new races they create, such as the Minish from Minish cap, or the Korok in Windwaker.  They clearly enjoy creating new races that are visually different and have different ways of life.  This same enjoyment is not apparent in Twilight Princess, aside from the Yeti couple.  This lack of enthusiasm from the creators touches on many aspects, rendering Ocarina of Time references to things that are non-emotional, or simply not close to the hearts of the designers now that they've other things on their minds.  Nostalgia works differently from writer to fan.

In short, the creators appear to care about this game a little more than I do.  That makes sense, as they're the ones making money from it.

"You say 'childhood memories', but all I hear is, 'take my money, please'."

1.  There are a few ways I can think of to improve this game.

The primary problem with this game is the difference between how the fans view the Zelda franchise and how the designers view it.  This isn't really anyone's fault.  The creators of any artistic endeavor are bound to look at it differently than their fans.  What makes this so bad in the case of Twilight Princess is the fight between innovation and nostalgia.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that Twilight Princess is the game responsible for the whole alternate timelines deal.

Let's check on this...while Wikipedia is iffy, it indicates that the game designers wanted to make a similar art sequel to Windwaker, but were told that Windwaker's North American sales were pretty low.  Thus, they changed their game to Twilight Princess, while bringing the cartoon style to Phantom Hourglass.  Sounds like this is the schism right there.  Then again, the developers probably would have had alternate timelines at some point, so whatever.

In any case, this wasn't the game that the developers wanted to make, and reading about it seems to indicate that they spent more time on technical issues than on innovation and quality concepts.  As arrogant as it's going to sound in offering ways to improve a game that has been hyped to death, onwards to nitpicking glory!

- Fix Midna's character.  There's not too much to fix, truth be told, it just feels like she's three different people: the rude, inconsiderate troll, the post-rescue sly but friendly troll, and the melodramatic, sensitive human.  She just switches from one personality to the next depending on her circumstances, and her rudeness is inconsistent with being a queen people are willing to follow.

Actually, all three personalities have plot value.  The rude troll can be someone who is a mischief-making Twili with the intent of doing whatever she wants, and is no queen and not particularly a good guy.  Or the second personality can be of a bored Twili who is willing to help Link for her own (non-queen) reasons, and learns to appreciate generosity and kindness while witnessing Link's heroism.

The third personality can be someone who comes right out and tells Link she needs his help returning to her position as queen.  Instead of us watching cutscenes of her losing her throne, we can watch cutscenes of her watching Zant do bad things to her people or convincing old allies to fight her.  Maybe a boss in a dungeon can be one of Midna's best friends, or something like that.

Basically, any plot device that relates to the gameplay and doesn't allow an entirely non-queenly personality to become queen is fine by me.  People seem to like Midna's saucy personality, but it's really rattling for her to be comparable to Tatl -- a young, immature friend to a prankster -- when she's supposed to be an adult ruler.  She doesn't need a rude-to-friend arc.

While we're on the topic, Link needs to react to her more.  If Midna is rude to him, he needs to resist her, at least for a moment.  It makes him look like a pushover when a random troll can get him to do what she wants while being completely mocking and disrespectful.

- Make Link into something other than a wolf.  Preferably, a unique twilight creature.  Also, other characters need to be changed into monsters at the will of Zant's higher ranking minions to increase the feeling of threat.

Alternatively, that "creepy" cutscene would make a lot more sense if Link simply changed into Shadow Link instead of some kind of beast.  Playing as Shadow Link would totally excite the fans.

- Make Midna only speak in cutscenes and when the player presses a button.  Alternatively, have her only present at certain segments, and allow Link to perform her assist moves alone.  Or don't allow him, and let the gameplay change whether she's there or not.  Whatever option is taken, significantly reduce the amount of talking Midna does during gameplay sequences.

- Better bosses.  So many of the bosses were repeats of old Zelda bosses, and Zant was a repeat of all the game's bosses.  This isn't Mega Man, we don't need a boss rush.  I do like the Yeta and Stallord bosses, so those can stay, but the others need to be replaced with unique, twilight realm creatures.

- More shirts on women.  'Nuff said.

- Remove the tutorials from the story.  They take too long to get through, and they aren't skippable, so they need to go.  Make any early weapons tutorials happen by Link visiting a specific place, so that it's avoidable on second playthroughs.  When he gets to beast form, have Midna ask him if he needs to be told how it works.

- Have there be a constant, clear threat against the people of Hyrule.  It feels much too business as usual for them.  Have Link rescue many people of many races from an active, present threat of bad guys, not just "oh noes, this big goron went evil so we're going to stand around until someone beats a smaller goron in sumo wrestling."  I like the sumo wrestling, but it really shouldn't be plot relevant when the whole world is in danger.

Yep, that's a shirtless Link.  There ya go, Ladies.

- More spinner action.

- Simplify the goron and zora designs.  Make the gorons not have crusty boobs, and make the zoras look like beings that can actually swim well.  Also, no Skull Kid.  Bro's been dead for centuries.

- Simplify the search for light for the light spirits.  Players have complained about hunting for bugs for the light spirits, and while this may not seem like a big deal, it feels silly to hunt bugs in the name of saving the day.  It would be cool if the lights were instead hidden away by people who were turned into shadow beings, and Link would have to find and fight/save these people to recover the light using his beast abilities.

- No howling stones.  Too cheesy, and there's enough musical gameplay in Zelda already.  Let them just be vision stones where Link warps to the place where he learns sword tricks.  Or, alternatively, have him learn sword tricks from various people in the various places he goes, so that learning them isn't optional.

- Remove any mention of the Hero of Time from this game, and let it not be a sequel to Majora's Mask. Alternatively, the plot can be changed so that the twilight realm incident is only a thing that happens while the Hero of Time is continuing on his journey to find Navi, but for now I'm assuming that most of the base ideas of the game would be intact, so that's not necessary.

- Give Link a motivation for fighting.  Yes, I know he's the good guy hero who's "supposed" to save the day, but he needs to have an individual reason for doing so to make the plot interesting.  In Ocarina of Time, prophecy made him a hero, as well as the master sword's time warping.  In Majora's Mask, he too would die if he did nothing.  In Windwaker, his sister was kidnapped.  All of these things add different aspects to the story and make the journey more relevant.

Besides, the games are about Link, right?  Instead, he's playing Manco to Midna's Colonel Mortimer; she's getting all the plot attention and he's just there because he's supposed to be.

- Remove Ganondorf from the game.  Ganondorf serves no purpose other than nostalgia fodder, and that's not good enough reason to keep him around.

- Make Zant more destructive and less goofy.  Have him continually do bad things throughout the plot so that the player gets annoyed with him, as they should a bad guy.

- Have the people of the various towns react to the things going on around them.  Have their dialogue indicate they're still nervous, even after Link saves their particular areas.

- Fix Link's dang face.  He's the protagonist, so he should look natural.

And finally, the penultimate suggestion --

- Understand why your fans loved your old games.  As much as I'm okay with Windwaker's style, and I'm okay with them doing whatever game they want, The Legend of Zelda has generally always had a more or less brutal feel.  Despite its humor, the series has always had a serious edge to it, with lots of things at stake.  So instead of giving the fans a cartoony game (which is going to look childish 80% of the time, no matter what) or giving them a sequel that's more or less a rip-off of the older games in the franchise, give the fans a game that is an emotional equivalent to the past games.  Even if the plot, villains, conflict, and solutions are all different, making the audience feel the same way as they did when playing the older games will ensure not only successful sequels, but an understanding between fan and developer.

Then again, Twilight Princess did get ten tons of hype and awards, so maybe I'm just talking a huge load of crap.

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