Mounted archery returns from Ocarina, with a few of the same limitations. I initially disliked these boundaries. I wanted to steer my horse and aim my bow at the same time, much like a dual-analog FPS. Only later did I realize this limitation was intentional; if Link is aiming his bow with both hands, he can’t very well hold onto the reins at the same time. Twilight Princess is filled with many such examples of Miyamoto’s pervasive attention to detail.
As the plot evolves out of the familiar Zelda formula, the gameplay makes an accompanying left turn. And then things get very interesting.
The village children are kidnapped, Link’s young love interest is skewered through the back with an arrow, and our hero is clubbed into unconsciousness. Shrugging off the attack, Link ignores his better judgment and pursues his attackers. He stops in his tracks before an eerie black mist that is consuming the land, and his forcibly pulled into it. He awakes hours later…as a wolf, and meets the most desperately needed addition to the Zelda franchise in years: Midna.
This condescending, childish and disturbingly cute little imp is Link’s only means of escape from the hazardous Twilight Realm, and the only person who can help him become acclimated to his unfamiliar new lupine form. The second chapter in the story acts as an introduction to Link’s other body, with Midna providing teasing hints as to how to play as a wolf.
I found this new play style confusing at first, a real change from what I expect out of a Zelda game. With only the cryptic advice of a devilish creature I didn’t trust, it took me some time to get going. The most disorienting aspect of Wolf-Link is his complete lack of tools or weapons—except for the fur on his back, he’s totally bare. His only means of defense are his feral abilities, his teeth, claws and speed.
The wolf segments in the beginning of the game have a sense of desperation, of being hunted, and Link’s abilities reflect this well. His attacks are savage, almost brutal, as he pounces on enemies and tears at them with his jaws. Some creatures are large enough for Link to temporarily latch onto with his claws, and assault with a quick succession of bites. Midna assists with her arcane magical powers by extending an energy field around Link that “tags” enemies. Once multiple targets have been tagged, Link will dispatch each of them in quick succession. This method is the only possible way to defeat some groups of shadow monsters in the Twilight Realm.
Although the wolf gameplay is solid, the actual segments are a little disappointing. The early missions focus on ridding the local area of Twilight by collecting light tears in elaborate fetch quests. Later Link gains the ability to transform into the wolf at will, and his lupine form becomes more of a tool to solve puzzles. Exploring Hyrule as a beast was enjoyable, but the wolf felt generic at these times, because his abilities weren’t focused on specialized tasks. Most of the free-roaming environment is tailored to human Link, with most of the wolf sequences scripted into the story. Hunting for scents with the wolf’s senses and digging up secrets was an enjoyable addition, though.
Despite a few drawbacks, the wolf dynamic works well in tandem with the human element and becomes integrated as the story progresses. One thing is certain, the dual gameplay and the tremendous shot of personality from Midna make Twilight Princess the most robust, plot heavy Zelda in the series. I won’t deny that it borrows heavily from Ocarina of Time, with a few bits of obscurity from Majora’s Mask and much of Wind Waker’s charm, but in the end I think that’s really the point.
Player’s griped about Majora’s disjointed, side-quest feel, and they complained about Wind Waker’s cel-shaded style and monotonous sea-faring. Nintendo probably figured they’d give their fans what they’d been asking for all along: a spiritual sequel to Ocarina, with much of the same feel, gameplay and more than a few revisited puzzles and quests. After playing through Twilight Princess, I don’t think the familiarities are a problem, and the depth and originality of the story make up for them. I’ve given you the most basic of plot setup, but it gets exponentially more complex and involved as the game unfolds, and stays involving the whole time.
I won’t guarantee, however, that the plot will satisfy all of the fans. The parts that differ from Ocarina differ wildly, with some heavy bits of complicated mysticism and a shift away from traditional characters. Zelda herself takes quite a back seat to Midna as the main female protagonist. The Zelda in Twilight Princess has very little personality and only becomes important during the game’s plot heavy interludes, and at the end. Midna more than makes up for Zelda’s surprisingly light involvement, but I still would have liked to see more of the elegant titular character.
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