Twilight Princess – Wrap-Up Post

Link+Midna by bigmac996

I’m not sure I can explain why this game hurt me so much, but I’ll do my best.

The most obvious element of melancholy during the game’s ending is Midna’s decision to shatter the Mirror of Twilight, thus preventing future passage and exchange between Hyrule and the Twilight world.

At the end of the game, Midna says, “Light and shadow can’t mix, as we all know,” and Zelda responds with, “Shadow and light are two sides of the same coin… One cannot exist without the other.” As Link and Midna’s friendship demonstrates, light and shadow can indeed coexist. Why would Midna feel the need to separate the two worlds?

The conflict in Twilight Princess isn’t the result of the contact between the light world and the twilight world, but rather the product of Zant’s psychosis and Ganondorf’s rage. Neither Ganondorf nor Zant would have been able to do anything without the power of the Triforce, however, so it could be that Midna was trying to protect her people from Hyrule, especially since she knew from firsthand experience how powerful even the Triforce of Wisdom can be. It could also be that she’s trying to protect herself from temptation.

I also have Feelings about Ganondorf’s death.

In most games, there is a narrative process through which the villain is demonized. In Final Fantasy games, for example, the main antagonist will start off as someone pursuing a reasonable goal and gradually become less human and more symbolic of a greater evil.

The opposite is true in Twilight Princess, in which Ganondorf is introduced as a monster and then becomes an actual person. When Link finds him in the Hyrule Castle throne room, he is sitting alone. Everyone and everything he once knew is long gone, and all he has left is his former goal of domination. He has finally achieved it, but it no longer has meaning. As he talks to Link and Midna, he gestures toward the symbols of power he has acquired, Zelda and the stone Triforce above her throne. The camera uses forced perspective to make it seem as if he is holding them in his hand, even though they are far away. This is an ironic juxtaposition against his words. He calls the Twili people pathetic and speaks of their anguish, but it’s clear he’s projecting his own suffering as someone who was similarly “cast aside by the gods.”

Ganondorf also becomes more human over the stages of the final battle. He begins as Ganon’s Puppet Zelda, transforms into Beast Ganon, then fights on horseback using the ghosts of dead riders, and finally faces off against Link alone. In other words, he progressively sheds his layers of dark magic, bestial rage, and his past as a warlord to finally stand as himself, armed with nothing more than the sword once used to execute him without trial.

When Link bests him by driving the Master Sword into an ancient wound that never healed, Ganondorf speaks one of his most famous lines, “The history of light and shadow will be written in blood.” Based on everything Link has learned during his interactions with Midna and the four Light Spirits, this statement is not wrong.

Before Zelda passed the Triforce of Wisdom to Midna, she had explained, “These dark times are the result of our deeds, yet it is you who have reaped the penalty.” This would indicate that Zelda is aware of the blame that falls on her people, as well as her own responsibility to make amends. Couldn’t she and Ganondorf have worked something out?

Twilight Princess begins with Link’s mentor Rusl asking, “Tell me… Do you ever feel a strange sadness as dusk falls?” As melancholy and lament are two of the major themes of the game, I get the feeling that the Hylians are entering the twilight of their civilization. Ganondorf, who was chosen to receive a portion of the Triforce, might have become an external force that could have shocked Hyrule out of the sort of cultural stagnation that beset the Twili and the Oocca. Before he fights Link and Midna, Ganondorf accuses the them as being “faithless,” which is unpleasantly apt. If they had not insisted on continuing to fight the increasingly humanized Ganondorf out of nothing more than their desire for revenge, then Hyrule would not have been denied the opportunity for energetic growth and powerful dynamism that he represented.

Here are my tears. Witness them.

Ganondorf, Zelda, Zant, and Midna were all doing the best they could in a shitty situation, and I feel for all of them. Each one of them was trapped, and none of them could have been the hero.

Link could have only been the hero because he was innocent, and he could have only been innocent because he was ignorant of what the stakes of his quest actually were.

To be honest, Twilight Princess is a fantastic game, but I – like Link – still don’t understand large portions of its plot. That’s okay; the game is very pretty. I hope Nintendo will put out a remake at some point in the future.

Because I apparently haven’t spent enough time crying over Zelda games, I’m going to play The Wind Waker next. Be strong, my heart.

( Header image by bigmac996 on DeviantArt )

Twilight Princess – Hyrule Castle

Ganon's Puppet Zelda by Alderion Al

Hyrule Castle is the final dungeon of the game, but it doesn’t really feel like a dungeon. Instead of emphasizing exploration and puzzle solving, Hyrule Castle is a stronghold to be breached.

Midna fires the first salvo by using the magic of the Fused Shadows to transform into a flying tentacle monster. The dark magic of the Twili, when combined with the power of the Triforce of Wisdom, allows her to break through the golden barrier surrounding Hyrule Castle.

Link must then fight his way through hordes of monsters. Rusl, Shad, Ashei, and Auru show up at a certain point, but they don’t do much and seem like an afterthought. Mostly it’s just Link and his sword against an army of Bulblins and armored knights called Darknuts. Link’s goal is to make it to the throne room on the upper level of the castle.

When he gets there, Ganondorf is waiting for him. “Welcome to my castle,” he says. Then he delivers his villain monologue:

Your people have long amused me, Midna. To defy the gods with such petty magic, only to be cast aside… How very pathetic. Pathetic as they were, though, they served me well. Their anguish was my nourishment. Their hatred bled across the void and awakened me. I drew deep of it and grew strong again. Your people had some skill, to be sure…but they lacked true power. The kind of absolute power that those chosen by the gods wield. He who wields such power would make a suitable king for this world, don’t you think?

Midna snarls at him and unleashes her Fused Shadow tentacles. After it becomes clear that Link intends to fight him, Ganondorf says:

Both of you, faithless fools who would dare to take up arms against the king of light and shadow… So you choose. And so you shall feel my wrath!

There are three interesting things going on here.

The first is that, after her opening lines (“So you’re Ganondorf. I’ve been dying to meet you”), Midna does not speak throughout this exchange. She is apparently too enraged to form words. Meanwhile, Ganondorf is in perfect control over himself. This is a direct contradiction against the Sages’ earlier description of him as being “blinded by rage and his own might.” It might be that he’s mellowed with age, but he seems neither stupid nor reckless.

The second is that Ganondorf refers to the deities of Hyrule as “the gods.” This is in contrast to the light spirits and Zelda herself, who talk about “the goddesses,” as in Zelda’s farewell to Midna after the endgame credits, “I know now the reason the goddesses left the Mirror of Twilight in this world.” Are Ganondorf and Zelda talking about different entities? Or does Ganondorf, who comes from a matriarchy, understand the three Hylian deities carved on the castle throne as “male” because they are “other” to his own culture?

The third is that Ganondorf calls himself “the king of light and shadow,” which is a curious turn of phrase. The most obvious explanation is that he has conquered both Hyrule and the Twilight realm, but he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in the Twili, having left Zant to his own devices in the Palace of Twilight. According to what the King of Red Lions tells Link at the beginning of The Wind Waker, Ganondorf is “the emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of,” but Ganondorf contradicts this description at the end of that game when he tells Link that “my country lay within a vast desert.” Since the Ganondorf in Twilight Princess also comes from the desert, I don’t think he’s saying that he rules over a light realm and a dark realm. Rather, it’s more likely that his reference to “light and shadow” indicates two separate sides of Hyrule. In the light, there is the legend of a hero, a princess, and a villain. In the shadow, there is the actual history, which Ganondorf later says is “written in blood.”

Although she is kind to Midna, Zelda doesn’t have much to say to Link after Ganondorf is defeated, and she hardly looks him during the final scene in the Arbiter’s Grounds. I wonder what Zelda knew, and what she was thinking?

I’m not trying to suggest that Ganondorf was blameless, or that Zelda made the wrong decision in helping Link fight him, but I think there was probably more going on here than either Link or Midna realizes.

As the endgame credits roll, the kids from Ordon go home. The Gorons wrestle each other, Prince Ralis mopes around Zora’s Domain, King Bulblin rides home across Hyrule Field, the three sisters hang out at the fishing hole, people in Castle Town do the Malo Mart dance in the central plaza, yeti love hearts rise about the Snowpeak Ruins, Shad investigates the Temple of Time in the Ordon Woods, and the sun sets over the Arbiter’s Grounds, where Midna prepares to return to the Twilight realm. The full dialog between Zelda and Midna, which I quoted from earlier, goes like this:

Midna: Well… I guess this is farewell, huh? Light and shadow can’t mix, as we all know. But… Never forget that there’s another world bound to this one.

Zelda: Shadow and light are two sides of the same coin… One cannot exist without the other. I know now the reason the goddesses left the Mirror of Twilight in this world… They left it because it was their design that we should meet. Yes… That is what I believe.

Midna: Zelda… Your words are kind, and your heart is true. If all in Hyrule were like you… Then maybe you’d do all right. Thank you… Well, the princess spoke truly: as long as the mirror’s around, we could meet again… Link… I… See you later…

But then Midna shatters the Mirror of Twilight, along with my heart. I totally cried.

Link places the Master Sword back into its pedestal, and Ilia is waiting for him when he gets home. Everything is peaceful, almost as if nothing ever happened.

Meanwhile, I was just sitting there, tears rolling down my face, totally traumatized.

( Header image by Alderion-Al on Tumblr )

Twilight Princess – Palace of Twilight

A Tale of Midna by Ley

With the three shards of the Mirror of Twilight gathered, Link and Midna return to the Arbiter’s Grounds. The mirror is once again whole and intact, allowing Midna to open a gate to the Twilight realm. The gate takes the form of a black portal projected onto a large stone slab suspended by chains in the middle of the arena. If I recall correctly, this is the stone slab that Ganondorf was chained to when he was to be executed.

Before they enter the gate, Midna explains that it was Zant who cursed her, causing her to take on her current form. If Zant is defeated, Midna says, then she will be restored to her former power, and the Twilight realm will be saved. At that point, there may be a way to revive Zelda.

Okay. Sounds great. Let’s go!

The Twilight realm on the other side of the gate occupies a surprisingly small area, which is dominated by the Palace of Twilight. In front of the palace is a tiny bit of gray land, which vanishes abruptly into a cloudy purple and gold void. There is nothing in the distance save for a few scattered islands. It seems as though the Twilight realm is falling to ruin just as steadily as Hyrule.

There are a few Twili people standing around outside the palace, but they have been transformed into grotesque creatures crowned by bulky stone masks. Midna tells Link that she’s going to remain hidden in his shadow, as she’s ashamed to show herself to her people. They don’t seem to be in any state to recognize her, however. When Link passes in front of one of them, it will howl senselessly and make no move to interact with him.

The Palace of Twilight functions as a short dungeon, and its guiding mechanic involves Link transporting two large glowing orbs called “sol” from the wings of the building outside into its front plaza. When both sol are correctly positioned, the Master Sword is imbued with golden glowing light, which allows Link to cut through the waterfall of darkness falling over the road to the central section of the palace. Link can now kill most of the twilight creatures with one hit, and his sword slashes look really cool.

After he climbs to the top of the structure, Link enters the throne room to find Zant, who is just as creepy as he was the last time the player encountered him in the cavern housing the spring of the Lanayru light spirit. Moving with weird, jerky movements, Zant says he was next in line for the throne but was passed over for Midna. Although Zant is clearly unhinged, what he says to Link makes sense. The Twili people live in the Twilight realm “like insects in a cage,” where they “regressed” as a society into a state of complacence, knowing “neither anger nor hatred… nor the faintest bloom of desire.”

Before she brought Link into the Twilight realm, Midna had said, “The twilight there holds a serene beauty… You have seen it yourself as the sun sets on this world.” Based on her demonic facial expressions in various flashback scenes, Midna is motivated just as much by her desire for violent revenge as she is by any larger duty to her kingdom. In other words, she doesn’t seem to be serene or emotionless. Also, she was able to find her own way into Hyrule, so it doesn’t seem as if she was trapped in the Twilight realm.

Nevertheless, when the Twili are restored to their former selves after Link defeats Zant, they don’t speak to him. It’s unclear whether this is because they are unwilling or because they are unable. Either option indicates the sort of apathy and stagnation that Zant had hoped to challenge and dispel. The Twilight realm is falling apart, and its people don’t care. Although Midna demonstrates emotion and initiative, even she seems to have accepted the fate of her kingdom.

Zant reveals that he gained power through the intervention of Ganondorf, who came to him as an enormous ball of burning light. Ganondorf is the bearer of the Triforce of Power, which might be understood to represent endless energy and potential like the sun whose appearance he took. Although Ganondorf was drawn to Zant’s rage, which resonated with his own, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently if he had revealed himself to Midna instead.

( Header image by ever-so-excited on DeviantArt )

Twilight Princess – City in the Sky

M. C. Escher Another World

I took a long break from Twilight Princess because I dislike the City in the Sky dungeon, which does two things I hate. First, it requires the use of precision motion controls. Second, it forces the player to maintain contact with the game for more than two hours.

I have expounded on my annoyance with motion controls in my posts on Skyward Sword, so let it suffice to say that I have trouble getting them to work properly.

The treasure of the City in the Sky dungeon is a second Clawshot, which allows Link to hook onto a target while he’s already hanging from another target. This is all well and good when the targets are sedentary, but it’s tricky when one or both targets are moving. Because the motion controls used to operate the Clawshots are not reliable, I was not able to make precision shots with any degree of accuracy. This was particularly annoying because a number of rooms in the dungeon are extensive 3D mazes that must be navigated from the beginning if Link falls at any point…

…and Link fell to his death many, many times over the course of this dungeon.

The boss fight, which wouldn’t have been that difficult if the motion controls worked properly, took me about 45 minutes.

Speaking of which, this is a long dungeon, even if the player uses a walkthrough (as I did) and doesn’t waste time getting lost while trying to figure out where to go next. Although the City in the Sky is filled with Oocca creatures, Link can’t use any of them to exit the dungeon and re-enter it at the point where he exited, which means that the player has to play all the way through without stopping unless she’s up for some serious backtracking.

Although I love video games, I also have a job, and I don’t have many uninterrupted three-hour stretches of time in my life. I suppose I could stay up all night, but I’m cursed with the middle-aged affliction of having to sleep in order to function like a normal human being during the day. I know a lot of “hardcore” gamers think this sort of artificial difficulty – being forced to play for hours and hours without quitting – is fun, but I don’t. I am a shitty casual gamer, what can I say.

ANYWAY.

Shad, the scholar who sent Link on the epic fetch quest to activate the Sky Cannon, had previously told Link that he’s fascinated by the Oocca, who may have created not only the incredible architecture and lost technology scattered around Hyrule, but also the Hylians themselves. In reality, the City in the Sky is literally falling apart, with its crumbling blocks and bridges presenting a number of challenges to Link throughout the dungeon.

Shad’s theory is probably not canonically correct within the larger Zelda universe, as the mythology of both earlier and later games in the series states that the Hylians were created by “the three golden goddesses” in their own image. Regardless, this discrepancy raises an interesting point concerning how “legends” function in Twilight Princess. Namely, no matter what truths they may hide, legends are a highly distorted and oblique method of communicating the reality of what happened in the past. The legends of the Twili are suspect, as are the legends of the Hylians. Even Shad, who studies these legends, has no way of knowing the history that informs them.

The fallibility of legends as artifacts of human memory is an especially bleak message in a game titled “The Legend of Zelda,” but this game is going to get even more upsetting before it’s over. Now that Link has gathered the three shards of the Mirror of Twilight, he can enter the supremely disturbing Twilight Realm.

( Header image from the Zeldapedia entry on Oocca )

Twilight Princess – Hero’s Shade

Hero and Hero's Shade by Aly Sasagawa

I’ve been taking a break from Twilight Princess, but before Hyrule recedes too far from my mind I want to get down my thoughts on the Hero’s Shade, who teaches Link a total of seven special sword skills.

The process of obtaining these skills is somewhat circuitous. Link will occasionally come across small gray monuments called “howling stones.” If he transforms into a wolf and listens closely, the sound of the wind blowing through the circles cut into the stone will resemble a melody. If he memorizes this melody and howls it (in the most horribly tone-deaf manner imaginable), he will be transported to a spirit realm separate from but similar to the twilight, where he will howl a duet with a golden wolf. After a painful bout of cacophony, the golden wolf will tell him to “take sword in hand and find me,” marking his location on Link’s map. Link then has to go to this location, where the golden wolf will be waiting to transport him once more to the spirit realm. When he is not a glowing sparkly dog, the Hero’s Shade is a gross zombie in rotting armor.

This is what the Hero’s Shade says to Link after he has mastered the final skill:

Although I accepted life as the hero, I could not convey the lessons of that life to those who came after. At last, I have eased my regrets.

You who have marched through countless foes, each mightier than the last… You, who now gaze to the future with vision unclouded…

Surely you can restore Hyrule to its stature of yore as the chosen land of the gods.

…Farewell!

Go and do not falter, my child!

It’s been argued that the Hero’s Shade is the Link from Ocarina of Time, whose life was empty of purpose after he was sent back into the child timeline. This is what Hyrule Historia (page 179) has to say:

The ghost of the hero who teaches Link his secrets. Some theorize that the fact that he holds his sword in his left hand indicates he is actually Link from Ocarina of Time.

And that’s it. “Some theorize” is not exactly the most resounding statement of authority. There are three other designs on the page: Twilight Version, Samurai Version, and Swordswoman (who has hilariously impractical armor even though she’s a ghost zombie). So I guess this guy could be Link from Ocarina of Time… or not.

In any case, howling is the only “instrument” that Twilight Princess Link has. If human Link is as tone-deaf as wolf Link, this is probably for the best.

( Header image by Aly K. Sasagawa on DeviantArt )

Twilight Princess – Hidden Village

Ilia by GENZOMAN

In this section of the game, Link helps his childhood friend Ilia recover her memory. There’s a lot of fetch questing involved, but I don’t actually mind fetch questing; it’s fun to travel around the digital world collecting things and talking to people.

What I do mind is Ilia’s damseling. There’s really no reason for her to have lost her memory, especially considering the fact that what actually happened to her when she was kidnapped by King Bulblin remains largely unclear.

This is what we have:

King Bulblin shows up at the spring near Link’s house and kidnapped Ilia and four younger children (Talo, Malo, Beth, and Colin). The younger children somehow end up in Kakariko Village, where they are taken in by Renado. Ilia never makes it to Kakariko, but later she turns up in Castle Town, where she and Telma are caring for the Zora prince Ralis. When Ilia sees Link, she doesn’t remember him or what happened to her, but she is adamant that Ralis be taken to Kakariko, where Renado can help him. After Ralis recovers, Ilia moves to Renado’s house, where she stands around moping.

Ilia and Renado are later joined by the Goron elder Gor Coron, who tells Link that Ilia’s memory might return if she sees something from her immediate past that can serve as a milestone. Link recovers a weird wooden totem statue that Ilia had been carrying when she was in Telma’s Bar; and, when he brings it back to her, Ilia tells him that she remembers someone saving her from King Bulblin and giving her the wooden statue. Gor Coron says that the statue must have come from the Hidden Village north of Eldin Bridge. Since rocks have blocked the path, he sends the Goron chief Darbus out the clear the way. Link follows along behind Darbus, enters the village, and meets an old woman named Impaz, who gives him a horseshoe-shaped whistle necklace that belonged to Ilia. Impaz then tells Link that, by royal decree, she can’t leave the otherwise deserted village until a certain person arrives. That “certain person” is of course Link, to whom she bequeaths an ancient book after she learns that Ilia is safe.

So…

Did Impaz save Ilia from King Bulblin? If so, why did she save Ilia and not the other four children? Did the other four escape somehow, or were they judged as unimportant and then set free? Why was Ilia special? How did Impaz save Ilia if she can’t leave Hidden Village? How did Ilia make it to Castle Town? Does Impaz know Telma? Did Telma come to Hidden Village, or did Impaz drop Ilia off with Telma? Why did Impaz give Ilia the totem statue? Why did Impaz keep Ilia’s charm necklace? Why did the Royal Family decree that the ancient book (which is merely one item in an extended fetch quest) is so important that Impaz needs to stay with it in Hidden Village, which had long since fallen to ruin? Is “the Royal Family” Zelda, or one of her ancestors?

I don’t think the player is supposed to think about any of this too deeply, but it’s still troubling that there’s so much we don’t know. What we can read between the lines, however, is that Ilia has had plenty of her own adventures before ever coming to Kakariko. It’s therefore sad that she just sits in Renado’s house waiting for someone to help her. Why doesn’t she take charge of restoring her own memory? Or, if she can’t do that – not everyone can be a hero, after all – why doesn’t she set about creating new memories in Kakariko Village? Why doesn’t she interact with the four children from Ordon or Renado’s daughter Luda?

When Link presents Ilia with the charm necklace he receives from Impaz, she suddenly remembers everything, but she doesn’t regain her personality. At the beginning of the game, she was spirited and strong-willed, but now she does nothing more than make puppy eyes at Link, telling him that she’ll always wait for him. Essentially, she’s out of the story now.

Twilight Princess isn’t misogynistic or sexist, so I think there’s something more than typical video game damseling going on here. More specifically, I think the game is trying to demonstrate the appeal of innocence to the player, with Ilia being positioned as the moral center from which Link can’t deviate too far if he doesn’t want to be corrupted in the same way that Midna and Zelda will become corrupted later in the story. Ilia represents what Link has that neither Midna nor Zelda will ever have – a supportive community that sees him as a person and not as a figurehead. Regardless, there’s no need for her to be so passive. Not only does the player never figure out the finer details of the plot, but this entire set of scenarios is also thematically jarring in that female-gendered innocence is equated with passivity, which is obviously not the case with the male hero.

ANYWAY.

The Hidden Village is a Wild West style ghost town with cool music. It serves as the setting of a fun set piece in which it’s Link’s job to stealthily shoot down twenty bulblins that have concealed themselves around town in order to take sniper shots at him. Once they’re all defeated, Impaz comes out of her house at the edge of town to talk to Link. She is adorable, and she’s got six cats living in her house with her. If Link stands perfectly still, the cats ignore him and start interacting with Impaz and two toy balls on the ground.

What this means is that it was someone’s job to program the routines for these digital cats that only appear in this one character’s house towards the end of the game. What Twilight Princess lacks in storytelling finesse and thematic cohesion it makes up in creating a gorgeously immersive world for the player to enjoy.

After a bit more fetch questing, Link activates the Sky Cannon under Renado’s house, which will shoot him up to the next dungeon, the City in the Sky. Before he gets started with that mess, however, he has important business to attend to.

When Link returns to the Hidden Village after he’s concluded his official hero business with Impaz, he’ll find that the town has been invaded by cats. If he turns into Wolf Link and strikes up a conversation with one of them, he’ll be told to talk to their boss, a cucco hanging around in a yard behind a building that looks like it might have once been a saloon. The cucco will assign Link another heroic task similar to defeating twenty bulblins, but with a major difference – he must talk to twenty cats hiding around town. This minigame is both ridiculous and brilliant. Since the cats refuse to behave in a way that makes this easy for the player, it’s also fairly challenging!

I know some people might think it’s sad that Impaz lives alone in an abandoned village with several dozen cats, but honestly, this is the ideal outcome I envision for my own life, and I’m a little jealous of her. You just stay awesome and just keep doing your thing, Impaz.

( Header image by GENZOMAN on DeviantArt )

Twilight Princess – Temple of Time

Defeating an Armos with a Guardian Statue

The Temple of Time section of Twilight Princess is the only instance of enforced backtracking in the game, and it’s kind of annoying, but at least it’s short?

At Telma’s Bar, Link is informed that Rusl has gone down to Faron Woods to investigate the source of an ancient power, so he has Midna warp him over.

Rusl tells Link that various ruins from an ancient civilization dot the land, and that this civilization built a temple nearby to contain a power that will surely prove useful in the resistance against Zant. That sounds like a shitty idea – doesn’t he know that reviving the forbidden power of a decimated civilization is never a good idea? – but Rusl has a sparkly golden Cucco that Link can ride to the sacred grove, and I’m not about to say no to that.

Link eventually arrives back at the pedestal from which he drew the Master Sword. For some reason, jamming the Master Sword back in its slot causes a stone door to appear in the ruins below. In the present, the door is freestanding and doesn’t lead to anything; but, if Link pushes it open, he can walk into the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time.

If Link then places the Master Sword into the pedestal he finds there, magical blue stairs appear, leading into a stained glass window that vanishes into the entrance of the next dungeon.

Okay, so I have some questions. If this is the same Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time, what is it doing in the woods? The Death Mountain and Lake Hylia of Twilight Princess are still in the same location relative to Hyrule Castle as they were in Ocarina of Time, so… Was the temple rebuilt or otherwise relocated? It would make sense to hide the power it houses – not only the Master Sword, but the gateway to the Sacred Realm – but how would this work? Is the magic not location-specific? Or was this perhaps the original site of the Temple of Time, with the structure in Ocarina of Time being a replica?

And what’s up with the tower-like structure of the dungeon? Is it supposed to be connected to the Tower of the Gods from The Wind Waker?

Or who cares, actually. Onward to adventure!

The chicken lady Ooccoo meets Link at the entrance, saying that the power in the dungeon will help her and her son return home to the sky. I can only assume that the “power” she and Rusl are referring to is the dungeon’s treasure, the Dominion Rod, which sounds impressive but actually doesn’t do much more than control special statures.

Link’s job is to make his way to the top of the tower, recover the Dominion Rod, and use it to bring a statue back down to the entryway, where it will help him open a door. Climbing up is difficult, as there are various barriers and traps, but coming back down is slightly more enjoyable, as the statue can smash its way through just about everything.

The temple is crawling with large tarantulas called gohma and baby gohma larva, which appear in the dozens and swarm all over everything. The dungeon boss is a giant gohma called Armogohma, which is essentially Shelob and will probably give me nightmares in the near future. What is it with the Zelda games and spiders?

After Link has defeated the creature, Midna remarks on how creepy and gross the Armogohma was (I KNOW RIGHT) and says that the Mirror of Twilight doubtlessly contains a great evil. Even if she and Link use it, she continues, they’ll probably have to turn around and destroy it.

This is foreshadowing for Midna becoming a giant tentacle monster when she uses the mirror. Yes, she becomes a giant tentacle monster. It is awesome – or it will be, when we get there.

Ooccoo greets Link when he exits the Temple of Time back into the present. She tells him that the Rod of Dominion’s magic hasn’t survived the time travel, and that she’s going to look for “the statues that respond to the rod.” This makes very little sense. How does magic even work?

The game doesn’t provide Link with any clues concerning what to do at this point, so he warps back to Castle Town, where he’s hailed by the postman, who gives him a letter from Renado, asking him to return to Kakariko Village. Okay, will do.

( Header image from the Prima Games guide to the Temple of Time )

Twilight Princess – Snowpeak Ruins

Yeto Yeta and Link

In the Arbiter’s Grounds Link finds the spinner, a rotating gear that allows him to float for short distances. It’s more or less useless unless it happens to come into contact with a special track that allows it to gather momentum and whisk Link around at rapid speed. Riding the spinner along its tracks is the most fun thing ever, especially when Link is able to jump between tracks. There’s a room in the Arbiter’s Grounds that is like one giant spinner amusement park, and the temple boss fight with Stallord is super exciting as well. Movement in the Zelda series is generally slow paced, with even Epona’s gallop being fairly sedate, so the sudden necessity of quick reflexes and fast decision is exhilarating.

Outside of the Arbiter’s Grounds, there aren’t many spinner tracks in Hyrule, but there’s a cool ruined structure along the mountain ledges of East Hyrule Field that requires Link to make a sequence of perfectly timed jumps in order to arrive at a ledge with a heart piece. It’s probably the second most enjoyable heart piece to collect in Twilight Princess, even though it took me many, many attempts to win.

Aside from a small cave north of the Eldin Bridge, there’s not much else to do with the spinner, so Link heads back to Telma’s Bar, where he is told that the swordswoman Ashei has been investigating the appearance of a strange creature on the snowy mountain north of Zora’s Domain.

After a fetch quest in which Link uses the Zora prince’s earring to catch a red fish called the Reekfish, from which wolf Link can trace the smell of the Reekfish-eating monster, he is granted access to the Snowpeak area, which is bleak and snowy and not terribly interesting…

…until he reaches the top of the mountain, where he encounters a yeti named, appropriately enough, Yeto. Yeto invites Link to join him for soup at his home in a mountain valley. The best way to get there, Yeto tells him, is by snowboarding. Snowboarding down the mountain isn’t quite as much fun as riding the spinner, but it’s pretty damn fun. Kudos to the game developers, seriously.

What’s even more fun is the dungeon that follows this sequence, the Snowpeak Ruins. In terms of gameplay, the Snowpeak Ruins don’t have quite the same level of flow and cleverness as the Arbiter’s Grounds (which is actually one of my favorite Zelda dungeons to play through), but the visual design is amazing. The Snowpeak Ruins are a giant mansion in the style of an early nineteenth century British country manor, with ornately carved wood paneling and chandeliers and huge portraits and everything. You can imagine a Jane Austen novel set here. There’s no indication of what the Snowpeak Ruins were supposed to be before they were ruins, but the building is currently occupied by Yeto and his wife, Yeta.

I love dungeons that have a story built into the player’s exploration, and in this regard the Snowpeak Ruins are wonderful.

Yeta, who is beyond adorable, is sick and huddled by the fire. Sure, she says, Link can have the broken mirror that Yeto has found and brought to her, but she is too sick to move. Meanwhile, Yeto is fully engaged in cooking soup for his ailing wife, so it’s up to Link to find the mirror himself. Yeta helpfully marks its location on the map she gives Link.

Or not so helpfully, actually. She leads him on a wild goose chase in which the treasure chests she indicates hold soup ingredients. After the soup is sufficiently delicious, she finally reveals the true location of the mirror shard, which is in the master bedroom at the top of a tower overlooking the mansion. When Link gets there, Yeta is waiting for him. He walks in on her admiring herself in the mirror, whose power transforms her into the temple’s final boss, Blizzeta.

When Link defeats her, Yeto rushes in and tells her that she doesn’t need a mirror; because she is beautiful to him, and the only mirror she needs is the love in his eyes. And then they hug and I cry and cry and cry become of the cuteness overload.

The treasure Link finds (by stripping it from the body of the dungeon’s miniboss) is the ball and chain, which is exactly what it sounds like. This tool is an instrument of destruction, and it is a pure joy to use. When thrown, the ball has the power of a bomb. It can not only explode boulders and chunks of ice (which normally freeze bombs) but wreck everything that isn’t nailed down, from enemies to furniture to decorative suits of armor.

I kind of go wild with it.

The secret piece of heart that Link can earn with the ball and chain is in a cave in North Hyrule Field, and this is perhaps the most tedious treasure in the game to earn, as it requires Link to solve three sliding block puzzles. I’m kind of spatially challenged, so it took me about two hours to complete.

BUT THEN, if Link returns to the top of Snowpeak, he gets to play a snowboarding racing game with Yeto, which is the second best thing to what he gets to do if he wins, which is to race Yeta. Yeta, bless her heart, is an absolute maniac, and it’s extremely difficult to win against her and her adorable face, oh my god she is so cute. Once Link (eventually, after many failures) squeaks in a win, he gets a piece of heart. This is the most enjoyable heart piece in the game, no contest.

Twilight Princess is so much fun, and I am having so much fun playing it.

( Header image by hylianhick on Tumblr )

Twilight Princess – The Arbiter’s Grounds

Arbiter's Grounds Entryway

I think we all need to agree that the Arbiter’s Grounds dungeon in Twilight Princess is seriously fucked up.

After Ocarina of Time, there are two Hyrules. There is the “adult timeline” Hyrule in which Ganondorf is defeated by Link and sealed away. This becomes the Wind Waker timeline. Zelda then splits the timeline by sending Link back to a past in which Ganondorf has not yet entered the Sacred Realm. This becomes the Twilight Princess timeline.

In the latter timeline, Zelda manages to convince the King of Hyrule that Ganondorf is plotting treason. This ultimately results in what we can assume to be the imprisonment of almost all of the Gerudo. A massive prison is built over the Gerudo Fortress (although there is also a theory that it’s built over the Spirit Temple, which some people dispute), and everyone (including children, as there are tiny skeletons in the dungeon) is presumably executed. Meanwhile, Ganondorf is chained to some sort of sacrificial altar and condemned to a barbaric death without any sort of trial or due process.

Judging from Midna’s explanation of who the Twili are, which is corroborated by the light spirit Lanayru, this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened in Hyrule.

Earlier in the game, Zelda had said to Midna that “These dark times are the result of our deeds, yet it is you who have reaped the penalty.”

This statement is deliberately opaque, but she’s not wrong.

I’m fascinated by the Zelda of Ocarina of Time. She is brave, clever, and resourceful, but she makes horrible decisions. As an adult, she takes pity on Link and sends him back to the past, thereby depriving her world of its hero. As a child, she is responsible for the genocide of an entire race. Given that there is a third timeline branching out from Ocarina of Time in which Link is defeated, it’s possible that she’s actually responsible for the doom of multiple Hyrules. The Zelda of Ocarina of Time is at the center of a nexus of timelines in which terrible things happen.

All things considered, the Twilight Princess timeline actually has the least catastrophic outcome. Still, I can’t help but wonder what Zelda, who by all rights is not a bad person, must have been thinking as the Gerudo were rounded up and the Arbiter’s Grounds were constructed. How could she have possibly justified this to herself, even knowing that it was the least of all possible evils?

This is why I want a game narrated from the perspective of an adult Zelda. When all of your choices are unconscionable, how do you find the wisdom to choose?

All this being said…

In my own head, the Ganondorf in Twilight Princess is not the same Ganondorf that caused all the trouble that led to Ocarina of Time. Even if OoT Zelda’s father absolutely broke Hyrule (as Veran, acting through Queen Ambi, attempted to break Labrynna through the construction of the Black Tower in Oracle of Ages), something like the Arbiter’s Grounds could not have been constructed quickly. Ganondorf, who is wearing a crown and a full suit of armor (instead of a bodysuit) when he’s executed, doesn’t look like he’s been imprisoned for years.

Of course, it could have taken Hyrule years to catch Ganondorf, while the time he spent fighting or fleeing from the kingdom’s forces changed the way he presented himself. During the scene in which the sages appear before the broken mirror, they say that Ganondorf was blind and easily caught, but there’s no way of knowing whether they’re telling the truth or just trying to make themselves (or their predecessors) look good. There’s also no way of knowing whether the sages that Link encounters are the same sages that dealt with Ganondorf in the first place.

Still, when Link returns to Telma’s Bar after this scene, Auru tells him that the sages who spoke to him in the Mirror Chamber were once tutors to Princess Zelda. I’m not sure how he could have known this, and he could simply be repeating bits of hearsay, just as Shad doesn’t have the full (canonical) story regarding the sky people. But if he’s correct, and if the same sages that Link met are the sages that witnessed Ganondorf’s banishment into the Twilight Realm, and if the sages are mortal enough to act as Zelda’s tutors instead of being kept in a state of suspended animation in the Sacred Realm (as Rauru apparently was in Ocarina of Time), then it would make infinitely more sense for TP Ganondorf to have been caught and imprisoned during TP Zelda’s lifetime.

This is what Hyrule Historia (p.113) has to say, however:

In Hyrule, Princess Zelda was informed of what would happen in the future by Link, the Hero of Time. She realized that leaving Ganondorf to his own devices would cause the downfall of her kingdom. Many years later, Ganondorf, the infamous demon thief who wielded the power of magic, was finally to be executed.

The Ancient Sages performed the execution of Ganondorf in the Arbiter’s Grounds. However, Ganondorf, who had been chosen by the Triforce of Power, did not perish, and managed to kill one of the sages. Thrown into a panic, the remainder of the sages used the Mirror of Twilight to banish Ganondorf to the Twilight Realm. They were then instructed by the gods to protect the mirror.

Ganondorf and his malice, sent to the Twilight Realm, plunged the shadowy domain into madness.

Of course this raises more questions than it answers. Having Twilight Princess adhere to the strict timeline laid out in Hyrule Historia will always be problematic.

( Header image from Sacred Flames on Tumblr )

Twilight Princess – Gerudo Desert

Bullbo

This is absolutely my favorite part of Twilight Princess. Link finally gets to ride his own war boar!

When Link touches down in the Gerudo Desert, the first thing he sees is a tower rising in the far distance. This is the Arbiter’s Grounds, and Midna tells him that the Mirror of Twilight can be found there. She then explains some of the legends of the Twili people, expanding on what Link had previously been told by the Lanayru light spirit. Long ago, the Twili used their magic to claim the Triforce, but for their pride and the violence they perpetrated they were exiled from Hyrule into the Twilight Realm by the goddesses. According to Midna, the Twili have lived in the Twilight Realm for centuries and are now mostly peaceful.

The desert is gorgeously vast. It’s a really cool area to explore, especially at night, when the poe ghosts come out.

Smack in the middle of the area is an encampment of bulblins. Link attacks them and proceeds to steal one of their war boars, which are called bullbos. Riding a bullbo is much more fun than riding Epona, as bullbos, when spurred, go crazy and crash into or through any obstacles in their way. If the player is feeling ambitious, Link can destroy the entire bulblin encampment. If the player is me, Link can ride his bullbo all around the desert searching for treasure and golden insects.

North of the bulblin encampment is the Bulblin Base, a makeshift structure presided over by King Bulblin, who Link finally gets to fight on foot. This is actually a tough battle, because this guy is very good at defending and getting in hits, and he does a lot of damage. When Link defeats him, he sets the base on fire, trapping Link inside. He leaves his bullbo behind, however, so Link is able to charge out of the burning enclosure on the back of a giant pig.

This is why I play video games, I’m not even joking.

On the other side of the Bulbin Base are the Arbiter’s Grounds. This dungeon is probably one of my favorites in the Zelda series, but I have some serious Thoughts about what it is and what it means. For now I want to link to a post from one of my favorite Tumblr sites, The Architecture of the Legend of Zelda, on how the Arbiter’s Grounds is constructed.

From afar, this is quite possibly the most striking complex in all of Hyrule. Its monumentality is a direct derivation of Egyptian and Roman models, which also gives it the distinct markings of empire. This is not the first time that the Hylian civilization has been likened to Rome, as there are a great many parallels between the two, both historically and architecturally. But even though it is familiarly Western in nature, confusion and doubt plagues this location.

( Header image from GlitterBerri’s translation of Hyrule Historia )