It is a bittersweet joy, to finish a Zelda game. A sense of victory, a sense of accomplishment and pride, but tempered by sadness at knowing that it is now over. It has always been so. How many of us are able to just jump straight back to normality after watching those last names go by, hear the final note of the amazing soundtrack, and watch as “The End” shows up on our screen and the music stops? Not I. The end of such an experience deserves more. It deserves a few minutes of reflection. It deserves time to seep into your mind, marking it indelibly with all that is Zelda.
I admit it. As I played through Twilight Princess, I worried. I loved every minute of the game, reveled in its beauty and magic and, of course, cut the grass and liked it too. But despite all that, it did not feel as strongly of Zelda as I thought it should, not even when I first turned on the game and got see this new Hyrule. Am I too old, too lost to such youthful wonder, to immerse myself in Zelda? Had I grown to the point where even a new Zelda game fails to touch me like they once did? And so on.
I just finished the game about ten minutes ago. When the credits finally stopped rolling, leaving me in a powerful silence with the echoes of that final note ringing through my mind and the words “The End,” I sat there and looked at the screen for a good five minutes. Drinking it in, reassembling my scattered thoughts and wishing that the game were not over. And I had my answer, resounding loud and clear from the quiet of those two words: Twilight Princess is still Zelda, possessing all of the magic and artistry that the series has always had. It still has the power to touch and inspire me. Experiences like this are why I play video games. They are why I love the Zelda series in particular. I go out and run fansites so that I can relive this, and share it with my readers. It is moments like these that have shaped my life and made me into who I am today. My ultimate goal, my dream, is to be able to someday help create games that can inspire this in others.
Yes, I definitely just finished a Zelda game. And if you have not yet done the same, do not read on.
But, as I said, it is a bittersweet thing. Throughout history, all of the greatest victories are accompanied by sadness, that lingering sense of sacrifice that makes you treasure the victory even more. Would the ending of Link’s Awakening have been so powerful and moving if Koholint had not disappeared, taking all of its denizens and the world you just grew to love with it? Would Ocarina of Time have had such a lasting impact on us all if the celebration at the end had been everything, without the sadness of seeing the Sages stand apart and alone from the world they just saved, without the clear grief in Zelda as she sent Link back in time? Majora’s Mask ended happily for almost everyone – but what about the Deku Butler, who we last see grieving over the petrified body of his son, all or the sadness and heartbreak we watched Termina go through? The Wind Waker is perhaps the biggest culprit – we defeated Ganondorf, but at what a cost! We watched as Hyrule, both land and King, were buried beneath the sea to the accompaniment of those stark piano notes. The world of Hyrule bleeds and sacrifices so that we may emerge triumphant, and it is these things that temper our victories into something more, something to cherish and remember. Something to stick with us, leaving us with emotions that can be very difficult to name, let alone share with those who don’t understand. I’ve been told that I’m too obsessed, that I take the Zelda series too seriously. I shrug it off; if these people want to dismiss the power of such an experience, then that is their choice.
Twilight Princess certainly carries on the tradition. I think it is safe to say that this is one that will stick with me, carrying it into the ranks of the true Zelda games. What an ending it was! So many sacrifices, these characters giving their all and more. Seeing Midna’s involvement and passion during those final scenes was a powerful thing; when Zelda awakens and Midna’s face is quivering, on the verge of tears, I know that I felt a distinct sympathy for her. And I’m not someone who cries easily.
Things ended pretty well for Hyrule, in the end. The world is saved and healed, everyone is rescued, and even the moblin lord continues to harass Hyrule field in peace. But… the goodbye between Link, Zelda, and Midna fulfilled the Zelda series’ need for bittersweet endings. I never like goodbyes; the emotions involved are too charged, even in a video game.
And… why Midna, why? I am still struggling to understand why she decided to cut off the worlds of light and shadow forever. It fit the game, it was powerful, but the part of me that sympathizes with the characters and the game is still crying out. That’s skilled game development there, to get such a response.
The music during the final parts of this game was amazing. Throughout the Zelda series, it is always the music that takes all the elements of these amazing endings, the sadness and triumph, and cements them into place as the amazing moments in gaming that they are. Think back to the Ocarina of Time ending. Remember the final scene, when Link walks into the castle garden, and Zelda turns around? Link and Zelda stand there, looking at each other, worlds of meaning storming through the screen. Everything goes still, the screen turns golden, and “The End” comes up. And the music takes all this, and turns that scene into one of the most lasting and powerful endings in gaming. Twilight Princess’ ending works the same way.
There is one aspect of these bittersweet endings that I am happy to see was not continued. In every other Zelda game, Link stands apart from the world he saves. After doing all this, after saving the world and reaching such heroic heights, how can he return to normal life? I always get a sense of sadness about Link’s situation. In Link’s Awakening, everyone and everything you knew from the game disappears before your very eyes. In Ocarina of Time… Link has nowhere to go. He could never fit in among the Kokiri, or any place else. Majora’s Mask… he leaves the world of Termina behind him. Even the Wind Waker ends with Link sailing away from his home. But our final view of Link and many of the other characters in Twilight Princess is of them returning home, to a village that is welcoming them back. Finally, a Zelda game that ends with Link being accepted into Hyrule as a person, and not raised on some untouchable, lonely pedestal. A small touch, but one that was very important.
In the end, I loved Twilight Princess and its ending. I am proud to name it one of the series’ greats.
Addendum: It has been a few weeks since I published this article, and I have received several emails pointing out a mistake I made in the last paragraph: Link is riding away from Ordon at the end, not towards it.
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