The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Let's get one thing straight before we start shall we? The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which debuted on the Super Nintendo oh so long ago, is the greatest in the Zelda series without any shadow of a doubt.
It is the epitome of what Zelda should be, before all this three dimensional business came along and slowed things down to a crawl. Zelda was all about bringing arcade qualities to the RPG genre: it's puzzles with pace, and purity. No dialogue to get bogged down in, no endless and often featureless plain to waste hours exploring. You thought fast and acted even quicker. I honestly believe that the genre hasn't actually progressed since A Link to the Past.
Now I'm not saying that I don't appreciate the seminal Ocarina of Time, it's just that it went in a direction that contaminated the immediacy of the Zelda series. There seemed to be less to do but it took longer to do it - anyone who's tackled OOT's fabled water temple will appreciate where I'm coming from. I would never go as far as saying the Ocarina took itself too seriously, it's still a tremendous title, but it felt as though it had lost its innocence of enjoyment.
This may explain why, come the Gamecube, Zelda went all cell-shaded and immature on us. Why people thought it was a controversial move is beyond me; it was precisely what Zelda is supposed to be: vividly stunning and arcade paced. I fell in love with the Wind Waker, although the first few hours of the game nearly killed my enthusiasm with errand after errand. Once it got into the usual dungeon exploration and hack 'n' slash routine I was engrossed, but those first few hours reminded me of OOT.
And while Nintendo (along with the help of Capcom) have produced many Gameboy Zelda's that remain faithful to the original 2D plan style, A Link to the Past remains my favourite Zelda of all time. It is the special one.
This is where my brief history of the Zelda series meets the present, a present which just so happens to reside in a post-Ico society. I say that because if you've seen the E3 trailer for the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess you'll notice a striking resemblance. Gritty, wonderful architecture, shadowy, soulless beings and a veil of mystery that surrounds one of the characters. I'm not for one second suggesting that the Gods of videogame development are attempting plagiarism here, it still possesses all the inimitable Zelda charm, but I think someone's been taking a few notes in respect of Sony's stunning masterpiece.
So what's the story behind Zelda: Twilight Princess (TP for short)? The truth is we're not sure. You often get the impression that Nintendo aren't too fussed about plot holes, inconsistencies and the like and TP would appear to be no different. While the game is well into its production cycle, the storyboard remains a closely guarded secret which leaves us to speculate from the trailers - something, no doubt, Nintendo do on purpose. The Zelda series is chronologically screwed up anyway and while this one is supposed to be set decades after Wind Waker (although there is currently argument brewing about this too since all the water's dried up pretty sharpish), the question is does it really matter? From adventure to adventure Link obviously suffers from a severe case of amnesia since he forgets all his skills and loses all his items - it'd make our job infinitely easier if he didn't.
The few things we can gain from the trailer are that Princess Zelda will make an appearance, Link will be able to change form (he changes into a werewolf in the trailer), there will be a lot of horse-riding going on and there is a mysterious character that you must work with while in your altered state - which appears to be during an escape from a castle. Eyebrow-raising indeed, especially when you consider how beautiful it all looks. TP goes 'adult' (as Zelda's paternal parent and all round gaming legend Shigeru Miyamoto says) on us once again and it looks precisely how it did all those years ago in that famous 'Link battles Gannon' game trailer first used to show off the Gamecube's power. All the screenshots you see are from the in game engine which encourages you to say, 'Yes, it does look that good'. From the lush glades of a forest, shards of light piercing through the canopy, to the moody gothic climbs of an immense castle, TP looks as rich and brilliant as the Wind Waker, but in a more darker and realistic tone.
The game will include the usual village locations for Link to mosey about in, accepting ridiculous challenges such as finding hens and rescuing cats from trees for their beloved owners. The playable demo, on display to a select number of editors just before the E3 event, showed Link riding around on his horse, Epona from OOT, herding goats about in a village called Toaru. This will be the starting point of the game and is set outside Hyrule. But after, what we can assume will be the tutorial section of the game, Link is summoned to Hyrule to represent his town, travelling there by horse. And this horse riding will hold some intrinsic importance to your quest as later on, again shown in the demo, you must duel with marauders on horseback. It's one of those things that sounds exciting in concept but usually fails to deliver when it comes to gameplay. However, there's no reason to cast such doubts since we're in good hands; though you hope it doesn't somewhat takeover the game like all that pedantic sailing did in the Wind Waker.
One of the key aspects of the Zelda series, or any RPG for that matter, is its sense of development within the main character - in OOT it was the ocarina combined with time-shifting, in Majora's Mask it was masks. With Link already an adult at the start of the TP adventure you would think character development might prove to be somewhat of a dilemma as Link already posses many of the skills that he will use throughout the game. However, the developers have used this idea of development in a bipolar fashion. While Link will gain some development through finding new items and weapons, at points throughout the game Link will suffer a form of reverse development when he changes into an animal and loses many of his abilities, whilst gaining maybe one important skill that enables him to complete a puzzle. This should present gamers with some interesting and unique challenges and help aid the story line - a significant point because the aspect of werewolf transformation relates to a film called Ladyhawke in which a knight and his love turn into a werewolf and a hawk (which also appears in the trailer).
Like many other Zelda previews from the past, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess looks awesome. The ideas that appear to be brimming from the development team (lead these days by producer Eiji Aonuma and overseen by Miyamoto) continue to expand the scope of the Zelda universe just when you think they can't go anywhere else. The scale of the game promises to be bigger than that of Wind Waker's (though this might not necessarily be a good thing if it boils down to horse-riding instead of sailing) and it all just looks so scrumptious. And the best thing, for me personally anyway, is that the pace of game seems to be just as quick, if not slightly quicker, than that of Wind Waker's, therefore retaining its arcade RPG quality.
Although it's sad to see the Gamecube slowly slip into a coma, it looks as though it will enjoy one final encore. An encore that might just turn out to be the machine's defining moment.