When someone in a crowd of gamers presents an opinion on their favorite in a long running series of games, debates tend to run into the early wee hours of the morning. It never fails. This due to the fact that you can almost guarantee the series has affected everyone in some way over the years. Either that, or they aren’t the gamer you thought they were and you don’t want to debate with them anyway. Also, if that is the case, you may want to reevaluate your friendship with the person. It’s built on lies.
Whether your friends love or hate the series, they have an opinion on it. It may be that they experienced a certain entry in the series as a child as one of their first games, and it was responsible for making them a gamer in the first place. Maybe one of the series games holds a special place because it helped them through a hard time. Or it could just be that one in particular had a story and gameplay that they loved. On the other side of the coin they could hate it on the principle that it refuses to reinvent itself, or just isn’t their cup of tea. No matter what the case, the joy of long running series is that everyone has been given the opportunity to form an opinion.
That being said, I will present my case on my favorite game in one of my favorite series, and expect that it would rile up a fun fight in any gaming circle. The subject in question is of course The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. To me, this game is just about perfect and I come prepared to defend myself.
As time became more constricting entering my adult life and you have to pick and choose your hobbies a bit more, I found myself deciding that there were a few things I wasn’t ready to give up. This game came in a transition period of my life as I entered my mid-twenties. It provided a renaissance, if you will, of my passions. I had plenty of opportunity to hang my controllers up and let my consoles collect dust, but it didn’t happen. Twilight Princess is at least partially to thank for that.
Now we get to the game itself. First off, the world. One point that cannot be argued is, to this day, this is the biggest Zelda world we’ve been able to run around in so far. Hands down. There is so much to this place that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or simply in awe of the scope. The size of the open field areas alone put the other games to shame, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the dungeons or cities and exterior zones like Lake Hylia and Gerudo Desert. The best part is that this feels like a cohesive world. Each area blends seamlessly into the next and the landscapes go for realism to line up with the graphic styling choices. This is still the most mature looking Link and adventure that I’ve seen. I have love for the more cartoony entries like Windwaker and Skyward Sword, but I think Zelda is at its best when it goes for the epic in both tone and look.
Even the best Zelda game, though, is nothing without its bread and butter. The genius work of the dungeon design never ceases to be some most fun I ever have in a game. Twilight Princess sometimes gets knocked as a mere Ocarina of Time upgrade, but it’s so much more. The dungeons may share some names with their Ocarina counterparts but that’s where the similarities end. There were several times where I would simply blind at the screen in wonder when I discovered how a particular puzzle came together in the end. (True story) Not only are there plenty in this time around, unlike the short jip we got in Windwaker, each one puts its reoccurring theme and item to endlessly creative use. The Water Temple is actually fun, not frustrating. The dungeon variety stays fresh as it sends you from a treefort-like Forest Temple to Snow Mansion in the mountains. And if you weren’t smiling after riding the rails in the Aribiter’s Grounds with the Spinner, you probably don’t have a soul.
To be honest, as much as people praise the added dynamic of becoming the wolf, I found that it was one of my least favorite times. While I did enjoy search out the parasites and using Midna’s power to fight twilight creatures, and loved the way it played into the story, I actively longed for being human again. Thankfully, the times when I was Link fully made up for it. Even the simple waggle of the Wii-remote added a different flavor, made items easier to access, and was frankly much less effort than the workout Skyward Sword required out of me.
In this day and age, it’s fairly common to want a good story out of a game. They are becoming cinematic experiences of their own. The icing on the cake for me was that this story grabbed me more than any other Zelda game. Call it my love for a more mature, darker, and epic tale, but sue me, I love it that way. There were genuine moments of unsettling and heavier theming than we’ve seen in Zelda, like when we see the potential for Link doing evil using the Fused Shadows, even implying murdering younglings. It’s a place that Zelda games hadn’t gone before and have yet to since. The story unfolds slowly but it never bothered me because it’s such a large game. The main baddy Zandt makes a nice change from Ganon for most of the game, but we all know it’s headed. Still, the journey to get there is filled with a lot more cinematic story-telling and even a couple of nuanced character beats for people other than Link. It actually made me care for the children and that weird witch doctor-bartender love story. However, none of it compares to the final sequence of battles between Link and all the forms of Ganon, leading to an awesome horse-back fight with Zelda by your side, and the duel we’ve always wanted. Link and Ganon finally go sword to sword in a one on one fight for the ages. This had to be one of the coolest moments in gaming history, at least if you at any point considered yourself a Zelda fan. It had my blood pumping and my mouth cheering.
These reasons and certainly many more are why this game in my book is the greatest Zelda. It may not have needed defending, but it certainly deserves it at least once more.