I’ve already established here that I enjoy longer games, so most of the time I don’t bat an eye at a game being 37 hours long; after all, I played through Fallout, Skyrim, FFXII, Xenogears and Xenosaga. However, games that pad themselves out to fill a mandatory game-length limit have a tendency to turn my eye-batting into baseball-batting. I tried to like Twilight Princess, I really did. I thought I may have scathed it a little too much in my Oracle of Ages/Seasons article, so I flushed away five years of good sense and went back to it.
You know what I’ve never thought when playing a Zelda game? “This sure is great, but it would be much better if the world were bigger and had less stuff in it. Some endless tedium would give me a nice chance to look at the scenery some more!” I don’t quite understand what Nintendo felt would be so appealing about magnifying the size of Hyrule to an area roughly the size of the moon, then filling it with absolutely nothing.
But I could compare Twilight Princesses lack of tasty filling to the lack of dust mites on your pillow; you can find shit if you know where to find it, and you probably stick your head in it all the time, but you’ll never see it on your own. Whereas previous games like to taunt the player, dangling heart pieces just out of reach of the player to watch us rear up on our hind legs, dance a little, then plummet hundreds of meters off a cliff because don’t have hover boots, Twilight Princess hides its items, making you stare at them like a magic eye painting, trying to make sense of the image everyone else claims they can see. Quite honestly, unless you play the game with a walkthrough in your lap, you’ll struggle just to complete the main story.
See, Twilight Princess doesn’t limit its convoluted searches to bonus items; seemingly everything requires a drawn-out examination of a large area until you find one hidden path that you can jump to in wolf form after you’ve received the item to move a statue and done so while singing Carmina Burana in the nude with octoroks pelting you in the head. Puzzles don’t have clear solutions either. For example, at the beginning of the game they run you through a tutorial to show you how to wrestle a charging goat. Therefore, it would make perfect sense when trying to get past the goron sentry who likewise charges at you, you’d know the procedure. Right? Wrong. Turns out you have to intuitively figure out to backtrack to the forest village and talk to the mayor so you can learn the ways of sumo. And just for good measure, he tells you that it’s impossible to stop a charging goron without iron boots.
The entire game does this to you. Nothing turns a fast-paced game into a slow-paced movie faster than trotting around in circles like an idiot or diving for a walkthrough every time you get stuck. I like challenge, but not insurmountable challenge. (I’ve long hated games that require walkthroughs–I see them as an insidious plot to require people to drop $100 instead of $50, buying the “strategy” guide along with the game.) For the amount of frustration put into adventuring, the in-game rewards usually feel like let-downs, especially after your 35th hour of finding small-value rupees in every chest, with cash being about as useful as a backpack full of Chuck-E-Cheese game tokens.
And the tedium doesn’t end with the adventuring–the items in the game show a truly bewildering lack of inspiration. Most are useless after the dungeon you receive them. Early in the game, you go through a lengthy fetch-quest to obtain a slingshot, only to receive the bow in the second dungeon. If Link had tossed the slingshot into the lava at that point, I wouldn’t have noticed it missing. Previous instalments of the series asked you to find clever uses for dungeon items, or to use them to reach the aforementioned dangling goodies. These items often have one use only–the ball and chain breaks ice. Just ice–and you rarely use them at all until the obligatory use-every-weapon segment in the final dungeon, when you suddenly have to remember, “Hey, didn’t I get a boomerang in this game?” and to figure out that you can use it to put out fires. Likewise, bosses feel simple and uninspired, and I even beat one without taking any damage as he just swam around in circles, kindly offering me his weak point to latch onto and stab until he died.
The game simply drags on too long to keep my interest. I finished in thirty-six hours. Do you remember my Radiant Historia time? Also thirty-six. Game designers tweak games to provide a precise length of play time. Adventure/RPGs currently run about 35 hours, while action games run between 8 to 10. SNES-era RPGs often wrapped up in 24 hours. (Or perhaps I just have a very consistent way of tackling similar games…I can’t be sure) This practice leads to padding, and Twilight Princess pads itself more than a menstruating hockey player pulling a hot pan out of the oven. Dungeons typically require two hours to finish instead of one hour (as in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker), and in between you occasionally have to rescue the Spirits of the Macguffins by dealing with their cockroach problem using your wolfish powers of Raid, and there will be no side-questing until you finish.
For all I disliked it, Twilight Princess did some things right. The ability to transform into a werewolf that I previously descried as “gimmicky” actually adds an interesting element to the game, and plays off the familiar idea of Link traveling between parallel worlds. Midna proves herself as a companion perhaps not quite as knowledgeable as Navi, but darkly intriguing and vital to the story. But the game truly excels at setting tone. The themes of twilight and shadow cast this game in a different light than others. Atmosphere and mood usually stay consistent throughout the game. Nintendo even designed the light-hearted race of sentient chickens to look creepy as hell. If you have a flair for gothic overtones, I suggest playing through Twilight Princess at least once.
With Skyward Sword disappointing so far, I don’t think we have to wait long before even Gannon gets tired of coming back to Hyrule. He’s used all his brief stints of freedom to conquer the kingdom, but he knows they never last long. Pretty soon he’ll break free of his prison and find greener pastures, and then we won’t have to worry about hunting the eight legendary whatevers for a princess who doesn’t show the slightest interest in the hero.
Sorry for the long delay in posting, but as I mentioned, I go for longer games. The semester starts in three weeks, so at that point look forward to probably no more than one entry per week. Coming up soon, though, I’ll have Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, or possibly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
And if you’re fans of the classics, take comfort in knowing that for part of the boss battle, Gannon takes the form of a pig.
And hey, I made it through the entire post without a single Alpo joke!