The Sorrow of the Twilight
Guest Article by Megabrain3000
Note: Spoilers for Twilight Princess follow. Read at your own risk.
“Tell me something – Do you ever feel a strange sadness as night falls?”
Strange sadness. Better words could not be found to describe the most recent of the console Zelda games, Twilight Princess. A melancholy air pervades the tale, much like the Twilight creeping over the land. Unlike the twilight though, the gloom doesn’t recede with the coming of the hero, or the fall of Ganondorf. Rather, it seems to stay all the way through, leaving gamers with the feeling that despite their best efforts to defeat the villain, nothing has really changed. That the infliction that plagues Hyrule is deeper still. It creates a different mood than Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, or The Wind Waker. The feeling was something that hadn’t quite been captured in a Zelda game before, almost poetic. And it began right from the start of the game.
Right from the first line, the mood takes a quiet, thoughtful stance. Rather than start off with a preamble, as was custom in the three previous 3D console games, Twilight Princess started with a slow monologue about the feelings that pervade the land during the hour of twilight. The soliloquy leaves players with a lasting impression, one that carries through into the way they play. Mirth, joy, whimsy, all these emotions are there throughout the game, yet one can’t help but feel what Rusl described in the beginning…a strange sadness.
The twilight in the game, and the despondency that accompanies it, does not end there. Three times during the game one must enter the twilight in order to drive it back from Hyrule. Three times must Link feel the gentle dimness of the land, a land masked by a thick, never-ending dusk. Even after that, one has to enter the Palace of Twilight itself to stop Zant for good. The final boss is fought in the hours right before sunset. The final cut scene in the game, the final moment in the game’s tale, takes place in twilight. The game maintains its gloom until the very end.
But why? This is not the first time that Nintendo has created a sad game. Majora’s Mask took a drastic turn towards the more negative emotions, and the ending to Wind Waker, barring any spoilers, was bittersweet. One could even argue that the end of Link’s Awakening was sad in its own right. Yet, these games did not capture the same emotions. Majora’s Mask focused far more on the concepts of dementia, gloom, and healing. The Wind Waker’s ending was one of the only parts of the game that could be said to have a sad tone. In all honesty, Link’s Awakening is one of the more whimsical games in the series, with its frequent puns and self-referential humor. Twilight Princess was truly the first game to capture a sense of the melancholy air one may feel in life; not desperation, not hopelessness, just a contemplative sadness.
Perhaps the sadness has a meaning to it. Many of the sad moments in the game have a certain commonality: loss. Ordon Village is in disarray with the loss of the children. The Gorons have withdrawn after they lost their leader to madness. The Zoras had lost their queen to the embrace of death, and were on the verge of losing their prince as well. The first half of the game is driven by the loss of light in Hyrule, and the second half by the loss of the Princess. If Ganondorf’s intentions were not enough reason to defeat him, Midna’s destruction at his hands gave considerable impetus for gamers to stop him. Even after the entire game ends, gamers must deal with the bittersweet parting of Midna. The main melancholy air of the game stems from the fact that by the end of the game, with Midna gone, the player realizes that sometimes things must come to an end.
And yet the player finds so much in the game that reminds him or her of how long things can last. Twilight Princess is in so many ways a homage to years past. The parallels with Ocarina of Time are particularly evident. Majora’s Mask used the same engine and models, and The Wind Waker used the story of Ocarina of Time to launch its own tale, but Twilight Princess is the one game that most ostensibly takes from the N64 classic to build itself. Some fans have considered it a flaw of the title that it has to borrow so much from a ten year old game, while some fans embrace Twilight Princess as more of exactly what makes the franchise amazing, yet very few can argue that the game is completely original.
Looking back at the game with this in mind, one can say that perhaps there is a reason for how mournful the game is. Perhaps Twilight Princess is a look back on the franchise. All three 3D console Zelda games have been inspired by Ocarina of Time, either in the engine, the story, or the elements that made up the game. Maybe Twilight Princess is the point where Nintendo has come to realize this. Maybe the reason the game goes back to the first 3D Zelda title is to remind players of how far we’ve come, a way to essentially go full circle. Perhaps the sorrowful tone is a sign; a sign that things are changing. A sign that this is the close of an age. Twilight Princess has come back to the beginning, to tell us that this is the end.
And how it speaks! Twilight Princess sends a message every moment that one experiences in that game. The path of the game itself calls for us to learn. The game starts out in a simple town, an idyllic and quaint village. Only slowly does Link, and by extension the player, realize that despite the relative peace of the village, the world is slowly falling. The world is falling to the Twilight, a surreal never ending darkness that is beautiful and wondrous at times, yet is dangerous and unnatural as well. Link loses not only his homeland and his friends to the Twilight, but himself as well. In transforming to a wolf, Link is still the same, but he has lost an essential part of himself, a core, as it were. As Link progresses through the Twilight, he sees all the familiar sights and sounds that gamers have seen in Hyrule, like Castle Town and Kakariko Village, but only a twisted version of each, where all the characters are almost unreachable. As the Twilight is pushed back, Link once again sees the beautiful world as it is meant to be, but the Twilight remains a constant threat throughout the game. The only way that the danger of Twilight sweeping over the land could be prevented was by Midna breaking the Twilight Mirror, severing the link between Hyrule and the Twilight Realm, as well as destroying the only connection she had to Link. While it destroyed a beautiful friendship, Midna knew that it had to be done.
As the Zelda series goes on, some may argue that the franchise is losing its core as well, and to prevent the series from being enveloped in a never ending perpetuity, the series must be changed, even if it is painful. Innovation was what the company stood for in ages past, yet how long will the games simply attempt to recreate a magic that was born over a decade ago? The same conventions and the same ideas, one cannot help but wonder where the innovation is. Stating that this is a bad or a good thing is far from the authority of any one person, though everyone may have his or her own opinion. It is difficult to not wonder what the game is trying to state, though. In its own way, it could be using its plot and its themes to say how the Zelda franchise is indeed losing its core. Perhaps what would remain if this degeneration were to continue would still be a very good franchise, but that franchise would be missing something that it was born with: the drive to push new boundaries and create new world for players.
Why is it a bad thing if Zelda were to continue as it has in years past? Many would apply the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and the Zelda series is far from completely broken. The pure joy one felt when playing Ocarina of Time was certainly real, as well as the huge fan following for The Windwaker. How is the Zelda franchise deteriorating when the games are still up to their usual caliber of quality? Perhaps it isn’t a deterioration of the quality of the series, but of the soul of the franchise. Perhaps the franchise will keep pushing out enjoyable games if left as is, but those games just might start to be more of the same, over and over again. Perhaps, after some fans have cried out about this perceived problem, Nintendo has noticed.
Nintendo has already told us that the new Zelda is a large shift in formula, different than what we’ve seen before. Twilight Princess may have dealt with so much loss to tell us that we are about to lose what we’ve held dear for the last decade. This humble article writer cannot tell you what the future holds; that’s too uncertain. But I feel that, much like gamers’ last goodbye with Midna, this is the end of something truly wonderful, yet an end that was necessary. Twilight Princess is forlorn because it is meant to tell us something; it is showing us that it is time to say goodbye to an era.