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The Purist, Issue 13: On the Subject of Emptiness in Twilight Princess


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#1 Mani Kanina

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Posted 20 December 2015 - 08:33 PM

Ah yes, Twilight Princess, the black sheep in the series which came out following two other black sheeps in the series, (Wind waker and Majora's Mask). It's widely known for having a long tutorial, boring wolf segments, and a huge, vast, empty world! But does it really?


I have played through TP quite a few times, I think either three or four. The long tutorial never bothered me too much those times, but I could see it being a huge pain in the ass today. And a lot of the criticism the game gets is perfectly valid. But the argument that there is nothing to do in the world of Twilight Princess confuses me, because there are plenty of things to find and do. After all, this is the only Zelda game where you need 5 pieces for each heart container. There is actually quite a lot to do in TP, in fact, there is more to do than compared to Ocarina of Time, which people always point at as an example of a game that does exploration better.


Side Quests

So, let's contrast the major side quests first, OoT has:
  • Getting Epona
  • Big Goron's Sword
  • The hunt for the Big poes
  • 100 Golden Skultulas
  • Mask trading
There are, of course, more things in OoT than that, but those are the larger side quests. And while technically one to some, I don't count the Gerudo training grounds as a major side quest, given that the reward is practically irrelevant to the entire game, and it does not take too long to solve.


Now, my memory is a bit spotty since it was quite some time since the last time I went through TP, so I might forget things. (As in contrast to OoT, which I have played quite a few times more recently due to OoT 3D.) Nonetheless, here is the same list for TP:
  • The insect kingdom
  • 60 poes
  • Bridge repair and buyout of the Hyrule Town shop
Hmm, that's less stuff, right? Yes, you're right, but let's go through them. The 100 golden skultulas, 60 poes, and insect kingdom are different versions of the same side quest. First introduced in Link's Awakening, the side quest for collecting a bunch of hidden things in a world to get rewards is at this point a staple of the Zelda series. (And returned to form with seashell (creatures) in A Link Between Worlds.) The one in Ocarina of time is a rather poor version of it to be honest, at half the count you get the final reward worth getting (piece of heart). There are some good things there, such as the bigger wallets and the stone/shard of agony, so they are certainly worth collecting. However, the placement of many are quite poor, and the fact still stands that the reward you get for collecting the final 50 is practically worthless. Especially considering if you're running around doing side quests you're more likely to pick up and find a bunch of rupees than if you were not.

So of course, TP has to one-up OoT in that regard and make an even worse version of the quest with the 60 poes one! While the skultulas were at least easy to deal with when spotted, the poes are often in locations that are a pain in the arse to get too, on top of that you also have to fight them! And for this one, you get the only reward that matters after one third of the kills, which is a bottle. (With a good item inside.) The reward for getting all is the same as in OoT, infinite rupees in theory. Which is, just like OoT, completely pointless. Now, TP actually has a good version of this quest, with the insect kingdom. It's basically the same quest, just different framing, and much better rewards. That quest only has 24 things to find, is decently spread out over the entire game, and the rewards are always good. You get the first wallet upgrade for turning in just one, making the quest worthwhile to at least start, and the bigger one for turning in them all, making the entire quest worthwhile to do! But, it also rewards you with rupees for every bug you turn in, and due to the way the quest is structured you can always get rupees when you need them from it, and you can get them at a point in the game where the player might actually still have things to spend money on!

But I digress, there are more side quests, such as the mask trading one in OoT. Personally, I find that one to be entirely throw away. The reward from it is the mask of truth, which is a borderline pointless item. You can talk to the gossip stones when you have it..., but you can only wear it when you're child link. Most of the information they provide is often on the borderline of useless though, since it's mostly things that are self evident.

The Epona side quest in OoT is a very short one, but it's definitively one of the most worthwhile ones. And sorta required for the Big Goron's Sword. It's great, but it does not take up a huge part of the game to actually do though. The Big Goron's Sword side quest is a great one though! Not only is the reward amazing, you can tackle the side quest in small chunks over the course of the entire game. I don't really have much to say about this one either.

And TP? Well it has the bridge repair side quest which is done in several steps throughout the game. If I recall correctly, an early part of the quest chain rewards a bottle. The quest feels more like a place to sink your rupees in than anything, and the rewards are fine, for the most part. A bottle and an extra path into castle town is nice, but it's not a game changer. The big reward for completing this side quest is the magic armour..., which is a bit of a disappointment. TP is not a hard game when it comes to combat, so another defence option is not really needed. The idea of an armour that drains rupees instead of health is fairly solid, given that you'll probably be rolling in them anyway. The problem is, the armour constantly drains them even if you're not taking any hits even! That small thing just leaves a huge negative feeling about the entire armour, so even if players did the entire side quest to use it, few are likely to even put it to use, and even fewer will actually need it to survive.


Caves and Other Junk

So, overall, Ocarina of Time has higher quantity, and way more interesting side quests overall! But, neither of the games have a huge amount of side quests, and even so, neither of the two sets of side quests adds a lot to the overworld. So, does that mean OoT wins, that it's the better game? No, because that would be a subjective opinion, and also no because it's vastly missing the point.

While OoT has, marginally, better side-questing, it's way worse in practically every other regard when it comes to exploration. Both games feature caves to find and explore on the overworld, yet they are very different in scope. OoT feature two or three designs that are copy pasted over and over again for the wast majority of caves, and then there is a small amount of unique ones. But all of these are very small, and have barely, if any, puzzles or combat sections to them. Even finding these caves in the first place is more annoying than anything, as it relies on using the controllers rumble feature for the vast majority of them; and when a cave is located, you have to figure out which one of your tools open them. Not to mention, some of those opening means are frankly quite bizarre, (Looking at you, song of storms!) Most of the rewards from the caves are rupees (which are near useless in OoT), a small amount have golden skultulas, a rare few have pieces of heart, a few are just empty (Gossip stones, etc).

In contrast, the cave count in TP is a bit lower, but the caves are often quite a bit more substantial. A few of them host harder versions of dungeon puzzles, some are dark caves full of creatures, etc. Not all of them have amazing rewards, but most have at least a piece of hard! A selected few also have more substantial rewards, like an extra bomb bag. (Which lets you carry more bombs or another type of bomb!) And let's not forget the overworld, it's way more interesting to explore. People like to say that the overworld in TP is just a bunch of empty fields, but I would make the argument that the TP overworld has a way higher ratio of things to do than OoT; even if the TP has a larger field overall, and as such has more empty space as well. Because there are plenty of things to find and do, there are treasure chests in quite a few places, that you either need to located, or are found in plain sight but requires an item from one of the dungeons. There are also the sword skill training stones that are placed around the overworld (and sub areas), which provide Link with more sword moves if you find them.

Is it a bit empty with content out in Hyrule fields? Sure, I agree. But I don't think comparing the game to OoT works if you want to point out that the game lacks exploration.


Design Problems and Conclusions

But see, that's the thing. I think anyone who analyses the games will come to this conclusion, but that does not change the fact that TP feels empty to a lot of people. And I think that's where the problem lies. It's not that there isn't anything to do, it's that the game is a bit, uh less well designed than other Zelda games in that regard, because it feels empty to the player.

The thing with TP is that it had a much more detailed world before the fields, and it looks very detailed. So players probably had the expectation that they could go and explore it when they get to it. But that's not really the case, the first overworld secrets don't unlock until you get the bombs. But by the point that happens, you're busy with the narrative part of the quest that tells you where to go next. (Getting the iron boots, and then getting up Death Mountain.) And when the second section of the overworld opens up, you can't do anything there either until you get a later item in the game. This is a continuous trend in TP when it comes to optional content on the overworld, in relation to when the areas open up. This means that players looking around new areas as they get to them will be rewarded with nothing, as you have to backtrack later to explore the secrets. It's nothing new in the Zelda series, but in TP there is never really any room to go around and do this exploration because the plot keeps you going to the next goal.

Still, I think if TP came out directly after OoT, then most people would see it as an upgrade when it comes to exploration, rather than a downgrade. But the thing is, TP came out after the Wind Waker and Majora's Mask, the two games in the series that, arguably, have the most amount of sidequesting and things to do. So of course it's going to feel very underwhelming in comparison, that's hardly surprising to me. Both of those games, as well as others like A Link to the Past have way better exploration than Twilight Princess in my opinion. But that's fine, I can like TP despite of that, because I do think it has many other things which makes it enjoyable to play. But I do think that if people want to make the argument that it has terrible exploration, than they should at least analyse first if the problem is a lack of content, or if it's simply a design problem with how the content is presented. Because that's a bigger issue in TP in my opinion.


But what are your thoughts? Feel free to let the discussion flow~



Lunaria~

Edited by Lunaria, 20 December 2015 - 08:38 PM.

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#2 strike

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Posted 21 December 2015 - 09:56 AM

I think the reason it feels so empty is because the world was so much BIGGER than OoT. I mean the world of twilight princess is huge. Maybe it has slightly more to do in it than OoT but everything is so spread out that if feels soulless. That's my opinion. Good article!

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#3 Cukeman

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Posted 21 December 2015 - 10:24 PM

I'd agree that it has a lot to do with execution.

In OoT, you'll walk through an area, and then next time you pass through you'll find invisible (hidden) rupees, then the next time you pass through you'll be equipped with a song that can summon a fairy or open a grotto, then next time you'll have a Magic Bean to plant to reach a new place up high, then the next time will be at night and you'll see a skulltula, then the next time you'll have the hookshot so you can find yet another unexplored corner with some helpful item.

The extra caves/grottos to explore in TP feel "attached on" to the perimeter of areas we've already been through that don't have anything new to discover. Poes and bugs are okay, but don't feel satisfying IMO, maybe because they are just kind of “out in the open” in some huge area waiting for you to come across them, they don't really feel like "discoveries".

Because of this the overworld areas in OoT feel like they are richer and have more depth IMO. I do think TP is a better game than OoT in almost every way, but OoT has a lot of replay value that TP lacks. Sure I’ll play through the main narrative in TP again and enjoy it, but when I open an existing file in OoT I can play around for a long time doing this or that and have fun without advancing to the next major objective. I don’t have that with TP, and I don’t think it’s because TP has less side goals or content (there’s the star game, boat archery, fishing, fruit balloons, cucco-rupee glide, snowboarding, swarms of guays, 100-floor dungeon, etc). I just feel like I have to go out of my way to participate in those things, while in OoT it’s more like “oh, hey, this thing is here right in the middle of my main path and I can just stop long enough to complete 1 or 2 percent of it right now- if I feel like it”. In Twilight Princess it feels like you’re putting the main game on pause, switching to a new disc and giving the whole diversion 5 or 6 tries until you master it, then switching discs again to go back to the main quest. This feeling of things being so separate from the main path/narrative in TP, instead of incorporated into the main path/narrative in OoT is really a big part of the reason I don’t find myself returning to the side content in TP.

On a somewhat related note; one thing I’d like to see more of in Zelda is new stuff to discover in dungeons you’ve already cleared. OoT had a bomb spot inside the Deku Tree, the longshot/scarecrow’s song secrets in Dodongo’s Cavern* and the Fire Temple, and TP had an area in the Lakebed Temple you could only reach later on when you had the freedom to become a wolf anytime you want.

*(though there is a clever way to do this without the long shot)


Edited by Cukeman, 09 January 2016 - 05:51 PM.

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#4 nicklegends

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Posted 22 December 2015 - 02:22 AM

in TP there is never really any room to go around and do this exploration because the plot keeps you going to the next goal.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. Maybe I've grown as a gamer and spend less time doing tasks peripheral to the main storyline, but I felt the pace in Twilight Princess was off. Many tasks felt like the game screamed "Quick, go here!" This goal-oriented pattern didn't lend itself well to exploration. The Wind Waker was much more relaxed about its plot, and oftentimes the story itself encouraged exploration (like in finding the triforce shard maps). This mentality shift stands out to me as the biggest difference between these two games. Both had a large world, but the two games had very different approaches to players' heading off the beaten path.
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