Twilight Princess, which was the first Zelda game I ever beat, even before Ocarina of Time, was a response by Nintendo to Zelda fans who found Wind Waker not enough like Ocarina of Time, putting Twilight Princess thousands of years later in Ocarina‘s timeline with a similar artstyle and formula. Of course, fans complained that it was too much like Ocarina of Time, and so Nintendo followed Twilight Princess up with the more innovative Skyward Sword and (mostly) everyone was happy.
Storytelling-wise, I found Twilight Princess this time around to evoke Skyward Sword more than Ocarina of Time. The graphics are once again high-polygon, the overworld is broken into the same provinces as Skyward Sword, and it returns to a similar depth of character development. Like Ocarina of Time, however, we’re actually allowed to explore this overworld, but not before the first few hours put us through a slog of linearity before we can get to the meat of the gameplay. Plus, of course, it’s Ocarina‘s world.
I suppose what makes it disappointing as a conclusion to the joyous Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time is its dour tone, which might have been easier to forgive if it weren’t for its muddy visual color palette. I’ve only played the Wii version, but the HD remaster doesn’t look like the improvement I’d like for this game. I appreciate that Twilight Princess aims for deeper emotional resonance, but even though many of the more emotional moments are used to develop the story’s theme of courage and heroism, I don’t think a world as silly as Hyrule deserves to be this gritty; it’s like going from Sam Raimi’s to Marc Webb’s Spider-Man movies, though not quite that bad.
While the story ties up a long-running arc, which is why I was curious to see how it would work as a trilogy capper, it’s not that interested in the mythology of the Triforce, a major plot point in the previous chapters. What Twilight Princess‘s main focus is is an alternate dimension whose inhabitants are trying to take over Hyrule after being banished by the goddesses to their own realm. Twilight Princess is already a weirder game than Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time; introducing such a big chunk of lore like this out of nowhere makes it even weirder as a followup to them.
On the other hand, with Hyrule in such a broken state, it’s more satisfying to explore and help people out here than it is in Ocarina of Time. Part of the appeal is riding across Hyrule and listening to the Hyrule Field theme; my spirit stirs every time the “Ballad of Twilight” cues. The dungeon design may also be the funnest in this trilogy; during that tedious opening act, I was thinking, “Maybe this game isn’t as thrilling as I once thought it was…” and then I got to the first dungeon. And that’s not even mentioning all the cool new mechanics, such as turning into a wolf and gliding on rails with a giant spinning top.
Twilight Princess is actually designed to be more of a followup to Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, so coming off the twisted Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess is a welcome, and tamer than its predecessor, trilogy capper, though its visuals are still out of place given how both its predecessors in this case were released for the N64.
I suppose the lore of Hyrule is so expansive that, while it’s possible to pick one definitive entry, you can’t reduce Zelda to a trilogy, especially not one with Twilight Princess as its conclusion. I’m not a fan of Wind Waker pacing-wise, but tonally, it probably would have worked better as a companion piece to Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time. It also would have continued the trend of this trilogy offering a new type of overworld to explore each time: Skyward Sword‘s sky, Ocarina of Time‘s land, and Wind Waker‘s sea.
While Twilight Princess‘s outlandish straining of the Zelda formula brings uneven results, it’s still a pretty enjoyable adventure, with strong characterizations and thrilling set pieces. But unless Breath of the Wild, which I won’t be playing any time soon, proves me wrong, Ocarina of Time is the definitive Zelda game for me.