Features: Re-Examining Zelda: Twilight Princess

Playing it safe, or changing the game?

The whole rest of the game, at its core, is really about changing Midna's perspective. The more Link helps people, the more colourful characters he gets to know and befriend, the more Midna starts to realise that Hyrule isn't such a corrupt and miserable place after all; that even if light and shadow are starkly different, maybe there's beauty in both. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the gameplay opens up as these inner transformations take place and things become less linear.

When I found you, I thought I could use you, Link. I only cared about returning our world to normal… I didn’t care what happened to the world of light, not at all. But after witnessing the selfless lengths that you and Princess Zelda have gone to… Your sacrifices… I now know, in the bottom of my heart, that I must save this world, too.

-- Midna

Now, if the player (AKA Link) is intended to go through a similar transformation, Twilight Princess admittedly does a poor job at getting us there. Aside from a big creepy bird that helps carry us around once or twice, we're given no evidence, despite Midna's assertions, that anyone in the Twilight Realm is as noble or even as likeable as anyone in Hyrule (barring Midna of course, and even that is arguable). Zant is a power-crazed freak who gets corrupted by his own greed; Midna spends the first half of the game using a poor farm boy for her own selfish gain; the silent inhabitants of the Twilight Realm that we come into contact within the penultimate dungeon are disturbing, and you can even slash and injure them with your sword.

Another potential flaw is in the ending scene. Midna grows to love the inhabitants of Hyrule for what they are on the inside, but instead of allowing the player to simply accept Midna as she is — a strange looking yet lovable imp who proves that first impressions are never the best ones — we view her transform into a beautiful human-like creature at the end. Symbolic of her inward transformation, sure, but also vaguely conceited when viewed in a certain light. Once again the player is not forced to be held to the same standard as Midna. Her initial perception of Hyrule was wrong, and the more she got to know the place the more she began to see its heart. The dorky clowns in Lake Hylia didn't have to transform into muscle-bound hunks for Midna to see their true personalities. Why did she have to transform into a big blue hottie for us to see hers? Surely we were able to appreciate her true personality long before the final scene even took place?

So like the game itself, Midna's story isn't perfect; but it's also unlike anything the series has seen, and one that only gets better with subsequent playthroughs. Twilight Princess's tale of greed and false perceptions is cinematic, atmospheric and distinctly less whimsical than previous entries in the series. The gameplay is mostly by-the-numbers Zelda, but it’s built around such a dense and intriguing narrative that the whole package feels like both a stationary accumulation of what the series does best and a significant step forward simultaneously. It may be structurally similar to past iterations, but its focus on the story of an unlikely female protagonist is still a fantastic accomplishment for the series, and the fact that Twilight Princess still gives us something to talk about nearly five years later shows it belongs up there with the series’ best narratives.

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