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The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD review
Exceptional
by XV

Back in the day when this game came out, I was actively disliking it for being serious and dark, the fact that it was made for fans that didn't like Wind Waker bothered me a lot (since I loved that game), it felt like an unfair apology. In reality, I liked it more than I could admit at the time but in my teenage mind it was "far behind other Zeldas". 14 years later what started as a cleaning backlog game ended in a wonderful rediscovery journey.

It's easy to be turned off by Twilight Princess at an early stage since the "tutorial" part it's quite uninteresting and is longer than it needs to be, you get some items and get to know different characters plainly, but at the moment the game lets you do whatever you want or at least gives you that illusion, it's when it starts to shine. Twilight Princess presents a story more in lines like Majora's Mask or A Link to the Past, it is darker and it touches more serious themes than other Zeldas, is not that is a grim game but I liked quite a lot how they put stuff like revenge, inequality, privilege, etc., into it, they didn't go full-on with them but at least they question things that in other Zelda games where took for granted. I won't say that TP was ahead of its time however I can say that narratively is more in tune with our current discussions as in 2020.

One of the main differentiators from other Zelda games is its art direction, which I have mixed feelings with it, it goes pretty well with the dark atmosphere and tone of the game but some character designs or more specifically the 3d models and textures didn't translate that well, they have this muddy look like those realistic N64 horror games where everything and every place looks the same and they were also kind of ugly. It's not that the art direction is that bad, but for every amazingly designed character like Midna (your companion in this game for those unfamiliar) you have a generic fantasy looking enemy, pretty hit or miss. Speaking of Midna, she's definitely a top tier character in the franchise, she really grew on me the more time I spend with her, plot and gameplaywise, the other characters are great too, some of them can be a little annoying at first, as the kids from the first village, but as the story unfolds, every single one of them have at least one good moment.

One thing worthy of note is that this HD remaster has Hero mode (hard mode) from the start, on which enemies do double damage and they don't drop hearts, I believe this is the definitive mode to play TP since the normal mode is extremely easy, and it gives an extra layer to the combat which is not that bad but is pretty basic. As for the gameplay and maybe the one thing that surprised me the most was the variability of everything, mechanics, boss fights, progression, etc. Unlike Wind Waker which is for better or worse a simple game in everything, in contrast, Twilight Princess is complex (for better or worse) in a lot of its mechanics, dungeons are massive and have exclusive mechanics alongside the item you acquire there, for instance in the first dungeon you will have the boomerang mechanic but also a second mechanic with some characters you'll find there, it adds a lot, the problem is that in some occasions this also translates as not so clear puzzles, poor navigation and backtracking and so on, but at least they try to make it more interesting.

Another great thing is the music and its sound design, most of the tunes have this dreamy feeling and are also memorable and catchy, they capture perfectly the tone of the game and yet they sound like they belong not only in the Zelda franchise but specifically in the TP universe, it might as well contain my favorite Zelda songs, remixed or original. Speaking of rhythm, the game progression and the story have an incredible flow, the only instance on which I wasn't thrilled to play were those parts that you need to collect "light bugs" to free an area, they were annoying, not fun and at times unintuitive, they break my immersion a lot, at least you have to do this only 3 times so it's not that bad I think, other than this everything unfolds naturally and beautifully. It also has these interlude segments in-between dungeons on which you will be required to do certain things to advance the story, they're different, fun, and memorable, this kind of stuff is part of the Zelda series but here doesn't feel formulaic neither repetitive.

So what's not to like about this game? In summary not that much, my biggest problem might be the combat, it is dully simple even when the game tries to make the illusion that is complex via the skills you will learn but hardly use through the game, enemies don't require much strategy and on the other hand, the boss fights are fun and creative, they also have a second phase when things get a little mixed and add some challenge or variety to the fight, nevertheless, they're way too easy, I know that combat has never been the main focus of Zelda games but this felt like a missed opportunity because this game is so epic in almost every aspect that more punishing but rewarding combat would fit great, it has maybe one of the best final fights in the entire series, at least from a visual point of view, but it takes away a lot of the stakes since the fight is fairly easy, this is why I think the better way to play this game is in hero mode (even if you haven't beaten before).

Dungeons are another thing worthy to note, unlike the past 3D games where you can fly through them more or less, here I was stucked a lot of times trying to figure it out what to do, observation and sometimes creativity was the key to conquer them, this is a great thing by the way, but, a lot of times I also get stucked because they can be too unintuitive and some of them have poor navigation design, so in a lot of cases you'll be required to go through a series of rooms to get a key, just to backtrack to the first room instead of (and this is what other dungeons work in past entries) putting a shortcut to the first room, this happens a lot of times and is not only uninteresting but make dungeon progress painfully slow and the fact that they're massive adds salt to the injury, so some dungeons are not only a test of your skills but also at times a test for your patience, although as I told you before, the mechanics of the dungeons are great so maybe it depends.

I wasn't expecting to revisit this game and liked it so much, even loving it, maybe graphically it didn't age that well like the timeless Wind Waker or even the divisive Skyward Sword, I guess Nintendo was still struggling to make the decision to go with the cel-shaded look that is now a regular part of the series, and it has some issues that in the great scheme of things are minuscule, but aside from that the game has a lot of heart, it's fun and rewarding, the story and its characters are memorable and if you're into collecting things this game has a lot of variety in that regard, It is a must-have for every Zelda fan although I'm not sure if it's a good starting point for a newcomer, nevertheless please check it out.

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SPOILER COMMENTARY
(Or some unstructured thoughts)

Twilight Princess is filled with memorable moments that at times gave me chills. One moment that I loved so much was when right after you get the third Fused Shadow and get attacked by Zant then suddenly you are trapt in wolf form and Midna is badly injured, the way that the music kicks in (Midna's Lament I believe that song is called) and you're prompted to get her to Zelda, this series of events from the attack to Zelda's sacrifice are simply brilliant, my only issue is that the music is interrupted when you approach an enemy and the battle theme starts, it's game-breaking but still a great moment, to me this was the very instant when I as Link and as a player connected with Midna both narratively and gameplay-wise.

The game has a lot of plot twists here and there which now I think were managed pretty well, like when they reveal you that Ganondorf is the mastermind and how they reveal it to you it's pretty bad-ass and dramatic, in fact even when I'm not a big fan of this Ganondorf's iteration (since is the good old "I want power because I'm evil") the developers make sure that every scene on which he is in were memorable, beautiful and powerful, for instance, the final fight is easily one of the highlights of this game, it has all the stakes, the twists, the fan service (but good fan service), my only regret is that this sequence is pretty easy but well, maybe one day this feeling will be replicated and refined in a future entry, one can only hope.

Before replaying this game, I didn't like this version of Zelda that much either, she seemed detached of everything to me so I hardly care what happened to her or Hyrule for that matter, but now I understand or at least understand my interpretation of her character more. I don't remember the exact parts or dialogue but Midna refers to Zelda as a princess that always have had everything, someone who lacks full empathy or the power to protect her kingdom, in reality, is not that simple but I reckon that it makes sense in the narrative of this game, also she looks detached of our main hero Link but with good reason, she didn't know him and she has other more important things at hand. The second time you meet Zelda, to me it was her redemption arch, she sacrifices herself (dramatically and graciously) to redeem for her sins of not protect her people and give hope to our now fractured heroes, this to me was redemption for herself and for her character.

Dungeons, as I told you before are a mixed bag, but I like them more than I dislike them, I think it also has one of the best-designed dungeons in the series: The Lakebed Temple, it's massive and also pretty and rewarding, the fact that you can slide through it when you complete a puzzle is not only fun but cathartic. The Time Temple is another one that I liked a lot, it is more or less pretty linear but when they make you backtrack whit your new statue companion it gave the puzzles another layer of depth, normally I wouldn't like this kind of experience but this is a testament that it can be done in a good way. The "sky" temple has bad fame but I don't think is that bad, it seems overwhelmingly complex but in reality is, for the most part, a linear experience, my only real issue and one that can be annoying are that it has a lot of loading screens, so it can be tedious at times. The ones that I didn't like were the first two for the reasons I stated in my review, mainly navigation but the "fire" temple annoyed me the most since walking magnet walls is pretty slow and cumbersome.

Finally, let's talk a little about the ending, and now one of my favorite of the series. The game reminds you in different moments that Midna can get her true form when the wielder of the enchantment she has is defeated, right when you defeat Zant and she stays in her imp form you know right away that Ganondorf is the one to beat, fast forward to the ending of the final battle, expectedly (even when it was implied that Ganondorf killed her) Midna reappears, Link runs toward her as if Zelda which is right beside him didn't exist to verify if she is, in fact, alive, what comes next is a silly and charming dialogue of the now humanoid Midna, Link just smiles and the credits start to roll. I love this ending because two reasons, one: assuming that you, like me, get to care a lot about Midna, the reaction of Link serves as the reaction of the player, so you get connected with both characters to Link as your avatar and to Midna as your friend, and second: Twilight Princess is not a "save the kingdom" tale, it's more like a personal tale where the most important thing is to save your cherished ones, be the kids, the tribes or Midna, and like Majora's Mask, saving the kingdom is more like a second objective, Of course, the game doesn't tell you this directly or in an expository manner (and these are just my conjectures), but the fact that a game as "dark" as this ends in such a beautiful and personal note at least to me was incredibly effective, even when the characters and its world have debatable artistic choices or the mechanics have some flows, at least for only those last moments the characters seemed real.

If you took your time to read to this moment, I hope you find something of worth even if little, even if not, thank you a lot for reading this.
«Can’t stop playing»
«Time-tested»
«That ending!»
«Beaten more than once»
«OST on repeat»