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Zelda 25th Anniversary: Remembering Twilight Princess

Early in the evening on Saturday, November 18, 2006, I joined a line of teenagers, 20-somethings, and scruffy adults at a Wal-Mart in the middle of Minnesota – the nearest location to my tiny college that sold video games. I had never been to a midnight launch before, but years of Nintendo fandom and a build-up of hype for the new Wii console had forced me out of my comfort zone.

What new experiences could this system offer that would be worth standing in Wal-Mart’s frigid entryway for six hours (and longer for those who had already been there when I arrived)? Walking down the line and polling people on which launch games they were purchasing, there was a universal refrain: Twilight Princess.

Upon getting home from the store with my copy in hand, I greedily unwrapped it, tore open the Wii, and popped the game in, ignoring my friends’ pleas to try Wii Sports first. As it turned out, this was a mistake. Twilight Princess has a notoriously slow first few hours, and I gave up when I got stuck trying to figure out the correct way to catch a fish.

Ignoring these early frustrations the next day, I pressed on and spent the next week plowing through Twilight Princess with as few breaks as I could handle. Sleep? Didn’t need it. College classes? Unless my professors decided to teach the history of Hyrule or the correct procedure for defeating a Deku Toad, they were useless.

Even more so than the near-perfect Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess pulled me into the realm of Hyrule and made it feel like a real place. Maybe it was the more realistic style or the darker tone, or maybe it was how Hyrule Castle loomed in the distance from almost any point in the game’s overworld, constantly reminding me of my inevitable goal. It also boasted a greater size than the rest of the series, with my first playthrough easily lasting more than 40 hours – plenty of time to build up the world and characters such as the Link-idolizing Colin, the mysterious Twilight being Midna, and a shockingly melancholy Princess Zelda.

Another change to the Zelda formula that I don’t think Twilight Princess gets enough credit for is its inventive dungeons that fit into the world more naturally. While the majority of dungeons in Zelda games past took place in out-of-context temples or castles, Twilight Princess maintained the traditional structure in unique, world-building settings. Before my adventure was done, I had explored a Yeti-inhabited mansion on top of a snowy mountain, a gilded city in the sky, and a desert prison. Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past had toyed with strange dungeon settings a bit, but Twilight Princess did it more frequently and better than any other game in the series.

Perhaps my appreciation for Twilight Princess over Ocarina of Time relates to buying a Wii at launch and not having an N64 available until years after Ocarina of Time had come out. Whatever the reason, as far as I’m concerned, Twilight Princess is hands-down the best game in the series. To this day, it’s one of the only games I will ever consider worth standing in line with a bunch of teenagers for an evening.

This essay originally appeared in Game Informer issue #222.

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