Tell me… Do you ever feel a strange sadness as dusk falls?
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released in 2006, four years after The Wind Waker, which generated a fair amount of controversy in online gaming communities because of its cell-shaded visual design, a departure from the more “realistic” graphics of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Twilight Princess is a return to a more mimetic visual approach. That being said, this game is also intensely stylized, especially in the way it uses light.
Other games in the Zelda series begin with Link waking up and being told to get out of bed. In contrast, Twilight Princess begins at the end of the day. Link is sitting at the edge of a pool of water with his mentor, a blacksmith named Rusl, who opens the game by saying that twilight is a time of loneliness. The color palette in these scenes is that of the setting sun, and everything is saturated with a soft burnished gold. Rusl tells Link that he’d like the boy to travel to Hyrule and present a gift to the royal family in his stead, saying that Link should see the world beyond the backwater Ordona Province. As Link runs around the village, performing a few errands during the last hour of daylight, the player gets the sense that she is witnessing not a beginning, but an ending. The sun is setting on this chapter of Link’s life.
In Twilight Princess, Link is already an older teenager. He apparently works as a goat herder, and he is the only person in the village to own a horse. A young woman named Ilia, the daughter of the Ordon Village mayor, is besotted with Epona, but she does not have a horse of her own, which is somewhat upsetting. If horses are so expensive that not even the mayor’s daughter can own one, why does Link, an orphan who lives in a hollow tree trunk, get to have one? In any case, Link is also capable of whistling on grass to summon a hawk, which he can send off flying to knock down beehives and retrieve far-away objects. He’s not just good with animals, but also with children, and the village kids love him. He’s good with a sword… and a slingshot… and a fishing pole… and he’s handsome, in an anime-style bishōnen androgynous sort of way.
Link is kind of a Mary Sue, to be honest. I want his life.
This all changes the next day, when Link and Ilia are attacked at the spring in the forest that served as the setting for the game’s opening scene. An enormous goblin riding a boar knocks both of them down. A hole opens in the sky, and Link is touched by the blackness that emerges. When he wakes up, he is in a jail cell. He is also a wolf.
An imp about a third the size of an adult human taunts him, grinning and calling him stupid. This is Midna. I love Midna. She is my waifu. I’m not jealous, though. She can be your waifu too. We can split waifu custody and love Midna together.
Wolf Link is an interesting contrast to human Link. While human Link is an adorable moé butterball, wolf Link snarls and snaps and bares his teeth. His attack is to lunge for the throat and shake his enemy until it’s good and dead.
In A Link to the Past, Link turns into a pink bunny in the Dark World, suggesting that his true nature is sweet and innocent. In Shotaro Ishinomori’s manga based on A Link to the Past, the energy of the Dark World transforms Link into a wolf, which implies that hidden within his heart is something ferocious and bestial. Twilight Princess obviously subscribes to the latter notion, implying that Link is something called a banken (guard dog) in Japanese. This is the sort of dog that’s chained in someone’s yard to bark and lunge at anyone who passes by on the street. Such a dog may be loyal to its master, but its job is to attack, not to provide love and cuddles. Wolf Link is therefore the “twilight,” or sad and lonely, element of Link’s existence, which is to be a weapon manipulated forces that he neither can control nor wishes to control.
With Midna’s help Link escapes his cell and navigates a series of sewer tunnels, finally emerging into a stone tower circled by a crumbling staircase. When he reaches the top, he emerges onto the broken blue-tiled roof of Hyrule Castle.
This is quite dramatic, as the scale of the castle is enormous, and it’s crumbling into the Twilight. Apparently, at some point over the past 24 hours (or possibly longer?) in the game, the hooded king of the Twilight Realm sent a bunch of creatures that look like they came straight out of Kingdom Hearts to attack Hyrule. Hyrule’s regent, Zelda, surrendered.
When Link comes face to face with Zelda, she is isolated in a room at the top of a castle tower that looks from the outside like it’s about to fall over at any moment. Zelda is shrouded in a sinister-looking traveling cloak, which hides her iconic princess regalia. Her room is starkly furnished, containing nothing more than a bed, an empty desk, and a fireplace. I wonder if this is meant to be some sort of prison cell, or whether it’s her actual room? It would be interesting if it were the latter, which would suggest that she has very little identity outside of her public role as a princess.
Anyway, according to Zelda, Link is the chosen hero. Link is totally down with this. Midna snarks a little at both of them and then transports Link back to Ordon Forest so he can get down to his hero business.
( Header image from Mana Pop’s review of Twilight Princess )