By Making a Mature ‘Zelda’ Game, ‘Twilight Princess’ Sucked the Fun Out of the Franchise

Fans often remember Twilight Princess as one of the best entries in The Legend of Zelda franchise, a definitive adventure taking Link through the fields of Hyrule. Now that Nintendo has decided to remake Skyward Sword in HD for the Nintendo Switch, we’re all eager to play Twilight Princess again on the console, hopefully with all the quality-of-life changes introduced in the Wii U port of the game.

However, looking back to Twilight Princess, some aspects of the game didn’t age well, such as the supposedly “mature” tone of the entry, an aesthetic choice that came as a response to fan outrage with The Wind Waker. By trying to please fans, Nintendo decided to build a The Legend of Zelda game that was darker and grittier than previous titles, but in the process, sucked out a lot of what makes the franchise fun.

Spoilers Ahead

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The history of Twilight Princess starts way before the game was officially announced: The year is 2001, and Nintendo just released the first footage for The Wind Waker, a departure from Ocarina of Time’s and Majora Mask’s somewhat realistic style. At the time, fans were expecting the higher processing power of the Game Cube to deliver graphics that were even more realistic than those on the Nintendo 64. Instead, Nintendo decided to change the art direction of the franchise altogether, using cel-shading to build a cartoonish world. Of course, fans were not happy.

The iconic *** Official Zelda Bitch Thread*** on IGN’s forums is an historical document that helps us to understand the general feeling towards The Wind Waker, with fans hoping the trailer was “a cruel joke” since Nintendo made a game that looks “like a frigging puppet show for 5-year-olds.” It’s no wonder, then, that The Wind Waker sold only 4.4 million copies on the Game Cube, against 7.6 million copies of Ocarina of the Time sold on the N64. Fortunately, since then, the game has received the praise it deserves, with the launch of the HD version helping to boost the Wii U sales by more than 600%.

There’s no need to defend The Wind Waker, already established as a classic of the franchise. Even so, remembering its divisive reception is key to understanding why Twilight Princess was built the way it was. Since fans were not pleased with the aesthetic choice of Wind Waker, Nintendo took a hard turn back. Their next big 3D Zelda game abandoned anything that could be considered childish… fun included.

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Darkness, No parents … Everything Is Dark

Image via Nintendo

Trying to boost the sales of Twilight Princess, Nintendo listened to the fans and removed everything that made The Wind Waker special. It was decided that Link could no longer smile, the world should be drained of color, and everything would be covered in fog and darkness. Adults cannot have fun, so Hyrule needed to be the saddest place in the universe for Twilight Princess to work. Nintendo’s strategy paid off; Twilight Princess sold 8.8 million copies in its initial release but at the price of creating a version of Hyrule that’s just not really fun to explore.

Twilight Princess has many empty spaces the player takes too long to traverse; this is a problem pointed out several times by players and critics alike. However, this is not exclusive to Twilight Princess since the same could be said of The Wind Waker or even Ocarina of the Time. Nevertheless, the emptiness of Twilight Princess is a lot more perceptible because the world is too dull. In Twilight Princess, all the regions of Hyrule seem to be covered by the same dim lights, and all the characters in the game are suffering all the time. There’s nothing bright and happy to look at while wandering Hyrule.

Image via Nintendo

Previous games had already dealt with grim themes: Ocarina of Time shows Hyrule destroyed by Ganon’s evil influence; Majora’s Mask traps the player in an apocalyptic time loop; even the “childish” The Wind Waker takes place in a Hyrule flooded by the Gods. There isn’t a single The Legend of Zelda game that doesn’t deal with adult themes. Nevertheless, every title in the franchise still has a world filled with life, fun, and hope—elements we need to keep exploring in a world filled with dangers.

In many aspects, Twilight Princess is similar to Batman v Superman: All the elements we love in the franchise are there, such as our favorite heroes, but the movie is trying to be so dark and edgy all the time that it’s just not fun to watch. In the same way, Twilight Princess features giant bosses, puzzles, temples, mystical tools… But the presentation is so committed to being “adult” that discovering this version of Hyrule is not always enjoyable.

Twilight Princess is still a great game. The Legend of Zelda is one of that rare franchises that seems to get many things right even in its worst entries. However, compared to other games in the franchise, Twilight Princess just really isn’t fun. Nostalgia plays a big part in our collective love for the game, especially since this was the title that introduced a whole generation to The Legend of Zelda. And, to be fair, it’s absolutely fine to keep loving Twilight Princess even with all its flaws. Even so, recognizing those flaws is critical to reflect on how fans can shape a franchise’s future and how being more conscious about the games we play leads to better fan demands.

It’s okay to keep fondly remembering our time with Twilight Princess, but we should be ready to recognize what it got wrong for the sake of The Legend of Zelda franchise. While Twilight Princess is flawed for several reasons, its most significant shortcoming is how it built a joyless world just to mimic a grittiness that was never part of the franchise. The Legend of Zelda games have wacky, colorful, and fun worlds to explore; without this, Hyrule loses a lot of what makes it unique.

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