Twilight Princess, both the original and its HD versions, are masterpieces
by on November 21, 2017

In 2003, Nintendo announced a new Legend of Zelda game. Just a year after that, it was revealed that the game would be a sequel to The Wind Waker using similar graphics built by the team that developed the prior title. However in the meantime something changed Nintendo’s attitude. Perhaps due to the fact that North American sales for The Wind Waker lagged because of the impression that it was more geared towards children, Nintendo abandoned that promise and took the new entry in the series in a different direction, creating a more realistic Zelda game with new gameplay innovations.

At the end of 2006, Twilight Princess finally released after multiple delays, and the game exceeded expectations. It might even surprise you to know that it has a 96 on Metacritic, just one point below Breath of the Wild. The original version won multiple Game of the Year awards and is thus considered by many fans and critics alike to be the best game in the entire Zelda series, selling almost nine million copies worldwide, the most of any Zelda game thus far. It was successful enough that Nintendo would double down and release an updated high-definition version of the game for Wii U. The story, gameplay, sound design, characters, and dungeons make this one an easy game to go back to and enjoy all over again. But what is it about this game that makes it a masterpiece?

A master class of game design

As soon as Twilight Princess begins, it’s clear that this game is going to be something special. The attract screen follows Link as he rides Epona over the Bridge of Eldin with a candid shot of Hyrule Castle in the back. The sequence continues with Link and Epona sweeping across Hyrule Field as the creators show off their beautiful landscape. It then ends with a wolf howling, which still sends shivers down my spine every time.

Gameplay begins with Link in Ordon Village. Like all games in the series, it opens with the player partaking in a tutorial of sorts — a good introduction to the rest of the game. Players meet new characters, are introduced to the fantastic world of Hyrule, and kick off the main story.  It feels less like a forced tutorial and more like a beginning to the adventure of a lifetime. Players learn how to target, run, jump, and perform the other mechanics that are staples of the Zelda series.

One noticeable difference from Ocarina of Time is the speed of the action within the game. Link feels more nimble, moves more quickly, and uses his weapons faster. For the Wii version specifically, the tutorial teaches you how to use the Wii Remote to aim weapons like the slingshot and bow as well as the motion controls with the sword, adding a unique element to the combat in this game. These changes make combat more fluid, with more sword techniques, paving the way for more interesting and exciting battles.

Shortly after, the player is introduced to one of the central mechanics of the game. Link slowly approaches an imposing dark wall with mysterious writing on it which blocks his entrance to Hyrule Field. Suddenly, a giant hand pops out of the darkness and drags Link into the Twilight Realm for the first time. The switch between Light Realm and Twilight Realm, along with Link’s transformation into Wolf Link, is presented through a tense cutscene, where Link lets out a scream as he brutally transforms. Not only is the wolf’s design aesthetically pleasing with his fur dreadlocks and the chain on his ankle, but he can also talk to animals as an animal, a rather new skill for the hero. And I can’t help but mention how cute it is that Link wags his tail when he gets new items, expressing his canine pride in his accomplishment.

Colorful characters and landscapes

The story of Twilight Princess is thoughtful, emotional and entertaining throughout the whole game. It features unforgettable moments such as stopping at Trill’s Shop for oil and potion before the Forest Temple. Upon realizing the player can scoop up the items and walk out without paying, they get to contest with the moral dilemma of deciding if it’s the right thing to do. Should Link pay the poor little bird? Did you steal instead? If so, do you regret your choice as Link just gets pecked to death? (Good thing he stole a heart potion!) Moments like this make it very easy for the player to become heavily invested in the story as they accompany Link throughout his journey to save Hyrule.

Likewise, they can become so invested in the characters that it triggers real emotions, with moods ranging from happy to sad and everything in between. Each quirky new character you meet adds an extra layer to the player experience, such as the memorable Ilia. In the beginning of the game she tells Link, “Don’t do anything out of your league, please just come home safely,” clearly foreshadowing events that are about to unfold. It is a heart-wrenching moment when she is taken away by the Bulblins and inadvertently becomes the catalyst to the rest of story. She later provides a rare happy moment later on when Ilia recovers her memory after receiving her horse call and medicine from Link. She is also one of the few characters that Link shows affection and emotions toward, which is a rare sight for the Zelda Series and only adds another layer to the story.

When Link awakens in a cell as a wolf, we meet Midna. Midna inserts a dimension of humor into the Zelda universe through her sassy demeanor. She starts off using Link for her own gain, but as the story progresses the two form a very close bond. I think Midna is the best companion in the series, an obvious upgrade to Ocarina of Time’s Navi or Majora’s Mask’s Tatl. She is a great partner in battle, essential in beating some of toughest enemies, and simply another easy character to become attached to. Near the end of the game, when it seems as if Ganondorf has killed her and he crushes the Fused Shadow, it is impossible for the player to not have their own heart crushed. Previous Legend of Zelda games have developed stories, but none with this much detail and actual storytelling that is peppered with such a myriad of great characters. The creators crafted an unforgettable story in Twilight Princess, and it is one for the ages.

The overall look of the game is beautiful. The new and improved Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf are some of the most well-designed versions of themselves in the whole series. When you think of these iconic characters, don’t you picture the versions of them from Twilight Princess? Even Skyward Sword has not surpassed that representation! The updated graphics make the trio look and feel more real, which adds to the intensity of their character development. After light is restored to the Twilight Realm for the first time, the player gets the first glimpse of Link dressed in his hero’s tunic. It’s his classic green like in all Legend of Zelda games, but this version is enhanced. The green is more vibrant, and there is more exquisite detail in the tunic. The player can vividly see the stitching in the bracers and on his hat, making Link look like a true hero in this game. Link also gets two other suits of armor, the Zora Armor, and the Magic Armor, both well crafted and visually enticing.

When you think of Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf, don’t you picture the versions of them from Twilight Princess?

We meet Zelda as she surrenders to Zant, but throughout the game, it is revealed that Zelda is not the typical damsel in distress but rather instrumental in saving the kingdom of Hyrule. She even dukes it out with Link in his fight against Ganondorf at the end of the game. This incarnation of Zelda is the toughest of them all, as well as the best designed in the series. The new and improved Ganondorf is as strong as ever and becomes a video game villain worth remembering. Ganondorf is built big, and with his midnight black clothes and regal cape, he is truly intimidating. The designs of these characters make this game stand out above all the rest in the series.

The sounds of exploration

The most impressive part of the game is the dungeons. Each dungeon is unique, and the puzzles are challenging but not overwhelming. In older Zelda games, the dungeons were a decent size with simpler puzzles and enemies, but Twilight Princess took them to a whole new level. The dungeons progressively got bigger, and, by the time Link explores the last few, they are massive. The puzzles are interesting yet challenging and make good use of the various weapons collected in the game. The dungeons in Twilight Princess break the mold of previous Zelda dungeons and become more than just finding small keys to advance from room to room. Each dungeon is unique, paced really well, and designed with the player in mind. Not even a vine nor vase out of place. That said, the ones that stand out the most in my mind are the Lakebed Temple, Snowpeak Ruins, and the City in the Sky.

The Lakebed Temple might be the best dungeon the series has to offer with its complex puzzle of moving the water throughout the dungeon to the intimidating enemies such as Aeralfos and Helmasaurs. The main room is massive, with chandeliers swinging overhead, deep, blue water waiting down below, and staircases zigzagging as far as the eye can see.

Snowpeak Ruins is a mansion owned by two Yetis on the top of a mountain. Most players enter the mansion without actually realizing that they are within a dungeon. As Link progresses through the dungeon trying to find the bedroom key, he ends up making soup for Yeta instead — a unique experience in the game. Once the player finishes dinner, they progress to the top of the house, where they fight a giant Yeta. Things like that make this game more fun and interesting.

City in the Sky might be the most impressive dungeon in the game in terms of size and appearance. It combines the usual dungeon with an added dimension of using the Double Clawshots to fly through the air frequently. With all of the detailed stonework, floors that fall from under Link’s feet, and the dynamic of going from inside to outside and back again adding flair to this truly amazing dungeon — a great representation of the diversity and fun Twilight Princess offers.

The weapon selection in the game is unbelievable. Each weapon is unique, designed well, and easy to use. New weapons like the Ball and Chain and Dominion Rod are fun new additions to Link’s arsenal and allow the creators to add cool new puzzles to the mix that utilize each weapon. Beyond that, Link steps up his sword-fighting game. One of the best new features of Twilight Princess is the hidden sword skills learned from the ancient hero. They make combat more enjoyable and add depth to each battle, especially the satisfaction of using Mortal Draw to finish a fight before it even starts.

Following Link throughout the adventure is the masterpiece score that accompanies his highs and lows. Starting with the title theme, you hear a score of beautiful voices serenading in perfect harmony with the string section accompanying them in the background. Each area of the game has a unique sound which adds to the hauntingly beautiful ambiance of both the Light Realm and the Twilight Realm. You can hear an example of this in the twangy sounds of the Hidden Village, which give it an old Western ghost-town feel. The game’s music also adds to the intensity of each boss battle perfectly, especially the final showdown with Ganondorf. It builds up as the battle intensifies — the pounding of drums makes the player’s heart race, adding an extra dimension to an already fierce fight. You cannot forget the Hyrule Field theme in Twilight Princess. The feeling you get riding through it while the theme plays in the background makes the player feel like a triumphant hero on a quest to save the world. Each musical piece is perfectly in sync with the region of the game for which it was written and helps bring Hyrule to life during our time in it.

Fights to remember

In most Zelda games, at the end of each dungeon, Link finally puts that boss key to use and walks into the boss’ chamber. As the player walks in, a cutscene ensues to introduce these beasts that come in all shapes and sizes. The boss’ music kicks in and the player becomes invested in figuring out how to take these monsters down. After Link becomes victorious and clears the dungeon, he gains a Heart Container and goes on his way.

Twilight Princess turned it up a notch and added some of the most creative, and well-designed boss battles of the series. From fighting a baboon in a lush jungle to an underwater battle with an eel, from a giant spider that shoots a light beam out of its back to flying through the sky in a thunderstorm with Clawshots while dueling a fire-breathing dragon, this game has it all.

One boss that stands out to highlight how different Twilight Princess’ fights can be is Stallord in the Arbiter’s Grounds. During the battle, a skeleton emerges from quicksand and the player must knock him out using the spinner. Finally, the player thinks they have him bested, but alas the skeletal head rises from the sands and Link must now jump from wall to wall to knock the skeletal head to the ground and slash him with the Master Sword. The floating skeleton head was thrilling and made it a memorable fight.

The crowning boss fight, like most Zelda games, is the epic battle with Ganondorf. This four-stage battle is one of the most thrilling boss battles in the series. After a classic match of lighting ball tennis with a possessed Zelda, Ganondorf becomes Beast Ganon. Beast Ganon is a fierce monster, and Link must fight him beast to beast. Each second that passes as you spin around guessing which portal Ganon will come out of feels like an eternity. When he comes rushing out, a chill rolls down the spine as Link stops him dead in his tracks. With the help of Midna, Beast Ganon is taken down. After this, a battle on horseback begins, and with the help of Zelda and her Light Arrows, Ganondorf is knocked off of his horse.

This leads to the final battle, a sword fight, which is one of the most up close and personal encounters with Ganondorf in the series. In this close-quarter combat, Link pales in comparison to how truly massive Ganondorf is. Finally, when Ganondorf is knocked down, Link uses the ending blow sword skill. He flies through the air and delivers a deadly strike right to Ganondorf’s chest. When Link drives the sword into him, the player is overcome with emotion, because they have been waiting for this moment since the second Ganondorf showed his face in Twilight Princess. The intensity of this battle is what every final boss battle should feel like in any game. Every second of this game leads up to this final duel, and the taste of this victory is sweet. With the help of his closest allies, Link defeats the King of Evil once and for all, finishing one of the most epic battles in the entire series.

Not all games are perfect of course. Twilight Princess was the biggest Zelda game that was ever made at the time, and unfortunately, certain parts of the map (particularly Hyrule Field) were left quite empty. In Wii version, getting used to aiming and sword fighting with the Wii controller can be difficult at first, and can make the game less enjoyable. Luckily, the GameCube version used normal controls and, in my opinion, was the better version of the two. The fetch quests in this game got a little tedious at times as well. However, the worst thing about this game by a mile is the fact that the monkeys made noise the entire time you were in the Forest Temple

A remake of perfection

After the Wind Waker HD remake, people were curious to see what Nintendo would remake next. Excitement exploded when they announced it was Twilight Princess with its status as a fan favorite. They did not just remake the same game: They enhanced the graphics, added new visuals, added new features, and took some gamer feedback to heart and made minor story and gameplay changes.

Some of what people didn’t like as much in the original is fixed in the HD version. One of the biggest differences is that in the original 16 Tears of Light that were needed was chipped down to 12.

In addition to the expected things like improved graphics and sound, the HD remake of this Zelda classic also improves on some game mechanics that make the gameplay more fluid. Most notably was the added ability to equip items without needing to pause the game nor speak to Midna when wanting to transform into a wolf. This comes in handy especially in dungeons when Link has to switch back and forth frequently, such as at the Arbiter’s Grounds. Not only did they change minor details, they also added a couple of new features.

With the Wolf Link amiibo, an extra dungeon is added in which Link can only exist in his wolf form. In the Cave of Shadows enemies are battled level after level and if completed, Link gets the ability to upgrade to a larger wallet which can hold 9,999 rupees. Once the cave is beaten, the amiibo can also be used to restore hearts, based on how many Link had left when he completed the trials. Another of the added features are stamps; extra collectibles that can be found throughout Hyrule for the Miiverse mail. A ghost lantern can also be obtained in the HD version, which makes hunting poes easier. They also added in a fan favorite; hero mode, where the player’s true strength is tested in a mirrored version of Hyrule, where enemies deal double the damage, and there are no heart drops.

Overall, the original and the remake of Twilight Princess are some of the best The Legend of Zelda series has to offer. The story, gameplay, landscape, sound design, characters, and dungeons make this one an easy game to go back to and enjoy all over again; and of course, this game is just all around fun. The magic of this HD remake takes one of the most popular Legend of Zelda titles and manages to make it even better the second time. A lot of games that are remade into HD aren’t necessary, but for this particular game and series, the HD remake makes the player feel as if they are experiencing Twilight Princess for the first time again.  The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess is a classic, 10/10 game that allows for multiple, exciting playthroughs that deliver new and exciting experiences to be discovered each time. Each release in The Legend Of Zelda series is held to a higher standard than most games, and this game delivered a million times over. Twilight Princess is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess is a timeless classic and deserves to be counted within the pantheon of the greatest games ever made.

Alex Crawford
I received a degree in Environmental Studies from UW-Oshkosh because I like sea animals, but more importantly I want to make a difference in the world we live in. I love to write, particularly for The American Moderate Zelda Universe, and Cream City Central. I love cats, penguins & pizza. Favorite Legend of Zelda games are Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and Breath of the Wild.
  • Elizabeth Jean Sullivan

    Twilight Princess was by far my favorite Zelda game (until BotW, of course) It’s also my daughter’s favorite Zelda game.
    One of the things that REALLY annoyed me was that we couldn’t climb the hills or access the surrounding areas (which is why I am SOOOOOO in love with BotW). Ironically, one of the few things that bugs me about BotW is that Link can’t swim underwater, which he could do in TP.
    When I found out that it was possible to transport Wolf Link into BotW I was so excited. I’ll definitely have to go through the 50 floor dungeon battle again to gain access to that ability.
    Did you notice that the ruins of Palmorae Beach is actually the mirror from Twilight Princess? There are quite a few nods to previous Zelda games in BotW.

    I’m pretty sure I could talk to you about Twilight Princess for hours (I did play the game more than a dozen times) but it would make this post about a mile long. 🙂