Developer: Tantalus Media and Nintendo EPD
The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess (TPHD) was the crown jewel of the Wii’s launch even though it was a “cross-gen” product developed primarily for GCN hardware. I can still vividly recall waking up at 2AM on a Sunday morning two weeks before Christmas in 2006 to lay siege at my local ToysRUs, finding myself #15 in a line of 40, which happened to be the number of Wiis the store would have for an indefinite number of months.
I surprised myself with how much I liked Wind Waker (GCN and Wii U reviews here) considering how I loathe Kid Link in OOT and Majora’s Mask. I looked forward to Twilight Princess because it would be the first game in the series where I could play as Adult Link…most of the time. Additionally, the art direction provided for realism, and the scale of Hyrule was expanded. Nintendo has released an HD version of TP for the Wii U, likely to build hype for LoZ Wii U/NX. Let us see if it has maintained its splendor over the past ten years.
Indeed, it has been that long!
In the small forest-encircled village of Ordon, Fado, the worst cattleman to ever work on a ranch, wakens Link from his slumber (a franchise trope) and asks him to help heard some goats. He agrees, and mounts his trusty horse Epona to complete the task—twice. Sometime afterward, Ilia, daughter of the town’s mayor, chastises Link for what she believes is “rough” treatment of Epona, and confiscates the horse to be treated in the village spring. Meanwhile mayor tasks Link to deliver a sword and shield forged by the town’s villagers to Hyrule Castle as a gift to the royal family, but will need Epona lest this mission take several days.
Link finds Ilia in the spring, but they are waylaid by some brutish invaders. Link is knocked unconscious while Epona and the village children are kidnapped. After a time, Link regains consciousness, and he gives chase in the only direction the foes could have fled until he encounters a strange runic barrier blocking his path. A monstrous hand snatches Link where he stands and pulls him onto the other side. The creature examines Link, but is startled by the symbol of the triforce on Link’s right hand. It drops Link, who then transforms into a wolf.Time lapses again, and another monstrous hand drags Wolf Link away as another orange-haired creature bears witness. In the next scene, Wolf Link finds himself shackled to cellar floor, but the orange-haired imp frees him after telling him that he must do as she says. After mounting him, Wolf Link proceeds through the basement, up a tower, and across rooftops to meet with a certain Princess who explains that Hyrule is being consumed by twilight because of the evil sorcery of one known as Zant. When this exposition concludes, the imp who has now been identified as Midna returns Wolf Link to Ordon village after reminding him that the village children need to be rescued before taking on the Usurper King of the Twilight.. But first, she desires a sword and shield befitting of a Hero. Hmm, where could items like that be found nearby….?
Violence: As with all LoZ games, no blood accompanies the sword slashes, blunt force trauma, or explosions, for there is only cartoon violence in TPHD. However, an important character is impaled during a cutscene with a distinguished weapon. The resulting wound becomes both a plot device and gameplay mechanic….
Alcohol/Drugs: An ideal loadout for Link includes the usage of multiple bottles, yet the strongest substance in the game that can be contained within are fairy’s tears.
Sexuality: It is fantastic to see some positive imagery of POCs, especially in a Japanese-developed game. Still, is the cleavage-cut in Iza’s shirt makes me question its necessity. Also, ain’t nothing wrong with a woman who has skin on her bones, but Telma’s…womanliness might catch some by surprise. The same may apply to Midna (even as an imp!). Additionally, the Great Fairy is topless with her hair strategically placed to cover her
Spiritual: TPHD cranks up the discussions of gods and demigods to an unprecedented degree, and the idols of Din, Faore, and Nayru, are ubiquitous. Link is frequently required to restore power to patron spirits residing in key locations of the game, demonstrating their impotence compared to the Lord Almighty. Our very own Kelly addresses this in her smashing Finding God in Hyrule.
Even the most pugnaciously obstinate LoZ apologist must concede that the franchise is indisputably formulaic, and TPHD is no different. The prologue (re)introduces players to staple LoZ mechanics such as horseback riding, item switching, combat, and Z-targeting while also demonstrating a few simple puzzles to exercise the ol’ brain cells in case they have been deadened while playing the Nth iteration of a common FPS. These skills will be necessary to conquer the infamous series labyrinths littered throughout the game, where the item found within each expands the possibilities for puzzles and their solutions. These items range the standard Hero’s Bow and bombs to the Ball and Chain and Dominion Rod. The integration of the labyrinth item as necessary to defeat the bosses has always been astute.
Nevertheless, this formulaic infrastructure eludes staleness with each LoZ game introducing a, or several mechanics unique to that specific game. In TP(HD), the integration of the twilight realm and Wolf Link invigorates the tried-and-true recipe. Before the third act of TPHD—which I consider to include the inevitable acquisition of the Master Sword—the Wolf Link sections introduce several elements, such cooperating with Midna by Z-targeting her and jumping to reach higher elevations or the necessity of defeating multiple shadow enemies simultaneously with a charged AOE attack lest the last enemy standing revive them all, that contribute to TPHD’s unique feel. Collecting Tears of Light to fill the Vessel of Light in certain sections of the game is concomitantly irritating and gratifying; I loathed being required to engage in the kind of fetch quests requiring me to exit the Lake Hylia area to chase down the last few shadow insects for their tears before doubling back to fight a miniboss, but I always enjoyed the end result, knowing that my next labyrinth crawl would not be far from Link’s restoration. (Digression, but why Sega foolishly magnified this formula in all the wrong ways with Sonic Unleashed is a great gaming mystery)
Beyond TPHD’s third act, the map of the entire game shifts from strict linearity to loose linearity once players can voluntarily switch between normal and Wolf Link—conveniently so with the gamepad. Yes, labyrinths must be conquered in a prearranged sequential order where sequence breaks are impaired by needing an item such as a boomerang or clawshot from labyrinths in order to access the next (or hard-coded set pieces such as the inability to retrieve the Master Sword from the Sacred Grove even though the path to it is there from the beginning of the game, yet Midna can be queued for leaping there only after a monkey says that it is possible ten hours or so into the game), but there are plenty of “sidequests” to do. Who does not want a giant wallet (IRL, please)? More heart containers? Multiple bomb bags? More bottles? There are even diversions such as bug collecting and fishing for those who love scouring and conquering nature during their adventures. The uber-venturesome may even choose eschew all of this and start a hero mode game for maximum masochism rather than fun.
I must say that the Wolf Link addition to TP(HD) is much-ado-about-nothing. The figurine itself is as well-designed as any other Amiibo figure, assuaging my cynicism concerning TPHD’s $60 price tag. However, the Cave of Shadows is no different from the Cave of Ordeals in vanilla TP or the Savage Labyrinth in Wind Waker, except that it must be completed while Link is in wolf form. Still, adding this into an already loaded game is admirable.
Aonuma and Miyamoto knew precisely they were doing when they integrated the obfuscating haze effect in the original Twilight Princess, minimizing the glaring graphical deficiencies caused by the hardware limitations of the GCN/Wii under the pretense of a shadowy realm invading the light. That blurry filter has been completely removed in TPHD, allowing light to shine crisply where necessary, but without negating the effect of a non-consensually encroaching darkness. The result is psychologically liberating, because I no longer feel like there is an invisible tint on my television screen.
Unfortunately, the clarity of high definition comes at a price, and unlike Wind Waker whose cel-shaded graphics greatly benefitted from its high-res upgrade, the textures in TPHD show their age. Flat grass reminds me of the lines created when coloring with a green crayon on paper. Jaggies betray any alleged modifications to the game’s geometry. Worst of all, TPHD still runs at 30 FPS. Look, I play on a 720p plasma, and do not plan on upgrading my TV unless it is another plasma (in 1080p) or OLED when its price comes declines from a down payment on a new car, so 1080p, 4k, etc. does not impress me. But what does impress me and is clearly seen and enjoyed by people still in the stone-age of 420p are frames-per-second. With all of the remasters released on the other consoles (The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, God of War 3, Gears of War, etc), 60 fps has been the standard. C’mon, Nintendo!
Still, I am in awe of not only the proportions of everything in Hyrule, but its general atmosphere. Everything is humongous. How many feet deep below sea level is the Zora labyrinth at the bottom of Lake Hylia? It is a good 20-second drop even with iron boots! I swear the Sky Temple is not only a precursor to the entirety of Skyward Sword, but also one of the most brilliant worlds ever conceived, Elysia in Metroid Prime 3 (Think about it: TP, SS, and MP3 were all released during the Wii’s cycle.) And Hyrule field itself is enormous, completely dwarfing the hub-world that is Hyrule Field in OOT, and “filling in” all the water from Wind Waker with land to produce comparable map square footage.
I adore TP(HD)because of its maturity in motif, with the brilliantly-designed Midna serving as a frolicsome foil to the world being consumed by darkness, without treading into vexatious territory like Fi (Skyward Sword) or Navi (OOT). Though the “M” word has been dragged through the mud over the past decade, TP(HD) is simultaneously a game for everyone, yet also the LoZ for adults, because it is literally and figuratively dark while sporting the most realistic art direction in any Zelda game to date. The shadow enemies are ominous and menacing; the traditional Bulblins, Keese, lizalfos, and such are present, but the the distorted horn and pulsating head of the flying shadow kargaroc is disturbing such that I would rather run from them than fight while watching its head bob around like a displaced la plaga. Darknuts, Stalfos, and ReDeads are ominous and menacing. There are deaths and sacrifices that take place during cutscenes that have no precedent and no successor in the franchise. Link is closer to adulthood in age than an adolescent coming-of-age, and he fights like one, striking enemies with authority and might, and the sound effects reflect this.
TP(HD) also sports my favorite soundtrack in the entire franchise. Even after the infusion of many tracks from TP(HD) into Smash Bros Brawl, the music remains pleasant to the ear. Beginning with the dramatic “Opening Title,” the eargasms do not cease. The simplicity of the tinkling chime and electric piano played as 4/4 triplets in “Boss Defeated” evokes a soothing effect after an intense battle, and perfectly encapsulates Midna’s playfulness in melodious form. “Hyrule Field” conjures the theme of pacing as is appropriate for players mounted on horseback or sprinting as Wolf Link. Of course, many songs are also remixed, such as my all-time LoZ favorite “Serenade of Water” which was renamed after the person encountered when it plays, “Queen Rutela.” I am also fond of a few tunes that Wolf Link howls in harmonious pitch such as “Zelda’s Lullaby.” Composers Toru Minegishi and Ashuka Ohta even managed to make a song I hate, “Lost Woods” not annoying in the form of “Sacred Grove“! That is a prodigious feat, folks!
There really is no such thing as a bad LoZ game; there is only good, better, and best. In 2006, I felt that TP was the best Zelda game of all-time, and TPHD reinforces my position that it is the greatest Zelda game. The only factor that fans should consider with no small effort is whether or not a ten year-old game that does not have a fresh coat of paint, but rather, a waxing and buffing, is worth $60, even with the Wolf Link Amiibo included in the package.
I made up my mind after the official 2015 Nintendo Direct on November 12.
The Bottom Line
The greatest Legend of Zelda game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, is now in high definition!