My name is Lee Taggart, opinionated nerd. The blog you are about to read will contain my unique views on media such as film, video games, music, books, shows, and whatever else, as well as bits of my general worldview. Please feel free to share my posts around if you like what you see. Thank you for reading!
I walked out of Halloween Ends with a lot to mull over. I drove home in silence as I thought about what I just experienced. When was the last time a supposed horror film, let alone a supposed horror film in a multi-decade-spanning series, left anyone feeling introspective? I don’t know about you, but for me, the answer is never. The longer a horror series goes on, the dumber it tends to get. Amazingly for what is intended to be the series finale, Halloween Ends is the most intelligent and brilliantly crafted sequel in the franchise, excluding Rob Zombie’s, which up until now has been the most misunderstood, stupidly unappreciated film in the entire franchise.
You’re going to see a lot of hate on Halloween Ends. You’re probably seeing a lot of hate on it already, and it just came out tonight. The genuine, honest, bitter truth is that this film is too artful and mature for most fans. The very people I’m talking about will laugh and mock this write-up, the film itself, and the introspective ones who recognize how valuable it is. Most horror fans don’t appreciate artful cinema; they just want to see blood and mayhem and scares. They want Halloween to endlessly rehash the same tired shit over and over again and keep going, just like Michael Myers himself. The fact is, this film elevates the entire series. This is no mindless, sex-and-death slasher for the boorish knuckle-dragger. This is a genuinely mature character film which could not possibly show more respect and reverence than it does for the series, the characters, and the town of Haddonfield.
Halloween simply cannot stay scary forever, because nothing repeated enough times ever stays scary, and Halloween Ends shows more wisdom than the series’ average fan possesses by rightfully not really trying to be a horror film at all. This is a study of character, setting, and legacy. This marks the only time the main series has ever stopped trying to one-up itself through endlessly, ridiculously raised stakes and has instead focused on what it’s needed to for so long: growth, introspection, and rest.
This is no more evidenced by the stark contrast between Halloween Kills and Ends. True to its name, Kills was an absurdly over-the-top killfest with elements of mature introspection that most audiences were too immature to appreciate, no more prevalent than in the hospital sequence resulting in the gruesome and tragic death of an innocent. Kills was simultaneously trying to outdo everything the series had ever done prior while also fighting against itself by trying to say something real. Ends learns its lesson and instead focuses entirely on saying something real. Kills was literally Fanservice: The Movie with flashes of maturity trying to cut through the fat. Ends grows up and says, “To hell with people-pleasing. Fuck placating expectations. We’re finally going to do what the series should have done a long, long time ago. We’re going to do what’s right and go out by outgrowing.”
Be not fooled by the foolish, or indeed, by your own foolishness. Look deeper, think clearer, and recognize the brilliance this film is sadly wasting on those who refuse. The film outgrows all previous films. Don’t let it outgrow you, too.
Thank you to the filmmakers for giving the series the conclusion it deserved.
Except for whatever juveniles were responsible for the completely out-of-place “tongue-on-the-record” gag. That one moment was truly below the film you otherwise so expertly crafted.
THIS ESSAY CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR MOTHER AND MOTHER 2, AKA EARTHBOUND BEGINNINGS AND EARTHBOUND AND EVEN SOME SPOILERS FOR MOTHER 3. THESE GAMES ARE INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES, ESPECIALLY TAKEN TOGETHER AND EXPERIENCED SPOILER-FREE, SO IF YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST IN PLAYING THROUGH THEM, PLEASE DO SO BEFORE READING THIS.
For fans of the MOTHER / EarthBound series (henceforth referred to by series director and writer Shigesato Itoi’s intended title, MOTHER), a common debate is whether or not MOTHER protagonist Ninten is present in MOTHER 2. Some think he’s Ness’s dad. Some think he’s Ness himself. Others don’t think he’s in the game at all, and others still have different theories on the matter.
I’m here today to present the only argument that makes complete and total sense within the context of the games and their stories. The argument is so sound that I posit that this was MOTHER Itoi’s clear and undebatable intention, a perfectly obvious plot thread once you know where to look. I have presented this argument to some people in the North American MOTHER fan community, and they have sadly and ignorantly rejected it as nothing more than an unofficial fan theory due to the simple fact that Itoi himself has never specifically stated a confirmation of it. However, many authors refuse to spell out their intentions for fans in interviews or Q&As because they want the work to speak for itself and their audience to work it out for themselves by using their brains. Today I will outline this plot thread for you, put the debate to rest, and prove its validity.
Ninten is not only inMOTHER 2, he opens the game and jumpstarts the entire narrative. He’s arguably the most important character in the game, because without his presence, the game’s events wouldn’t even happen.
Ninten is Buzz Buzz.
What? Did you really think Itoi, a brilliant and incredibly nuanced writer who cares deeply for his stories and characters, would open the highly anticipated sequel to his much-beloved first game (MOTHER was an absolute smash hit in his native country of Japan) and kick off its narrative with some strange, non-sequitur, joke insect character completely out of left field who dies almost immediately and has nothing else to do with the plot from that point on?
No sir. Sequels often bring back an important character from their prequel in order to kickstart the plot and set the stakes for how serious things are by killing them almost immediately, and that is exactly what’s happening here.
Ninten being Buzz Buzz is why Starman Jr. (a unique boss character, not a generic enemy) recognizes him and says he’s no longer a hero. Ninten fought Starman Jr. in MOTHER and went on to save the planet from Giegue in his first attempt at world domination.
It’s why Buzz Buzz’s PSI powers are exclusively defensive, because Ninten’s PSI powers were exclusively defensive.
It’s also why Buzz Buzz knows that collecting melodies will help Ness thwart Giygas, and why he gives him the Sound Stone. It’s because Ninten stopped Giegue in MOTHER by collecting the eight melodies and singing them to him. In the Japanese manual for MOTHER 2, artwork shows that the Sound Stone is a spiral-shaped piece of rock, implying it’s a piece of one of the xx-marked spiral rocks Ninten used to travel to Magicant in the first game, which was where Maria’s spirit resided in unrest until she remembered the tune of the eight melodies. Thus, music and the xx-marked spiral rocks that connected Ninten to Magicant are intrinsically linked, which is why he has the idea to give the Sound Stone to Ness in order to collect and record his own eight melodies from the earth. Of course, these melodies aren’t used against Giygas directly the way they were used against Giegue, but they do end up serving as a gateway to Ness opening up his true psychic potential, which indirectly helps Ness stop Giygas. Buzz Buzz says that Ness must stop Giygas by collecting the melodies to unite his power with the earth’s, and that’s what he does; he collects the melodies to unite his power with the earth’s, then goes on to stop Giygas. Therefore, Ninten, once a psychic child who collected his own melodies from the earth to stop Giegue, figured out that Ness, some sort of “chosen one,” can collect his own melodies from the earth to stop Giygas as well.
Finally, it’s why he specifically says that he’s NOT a bee (or rhinoceros beetle in the Japanese version). The beginning of the game is foreshadowing the end of the game, and the ending provides the biggest clue we need to complete the puzzle. We learn at the end of this game that time travel is only possible with a rare material called zexonyte (a component of which the meteorite is made) and that the time traveler’s essence must be transposed into a non-organic body because time travel destroys organic bodies. Thus, Buzz Buzz is quite literally not a bee/rhinoceros beetle. Ninten had his essence transposed into an inorganic (assumedly robotic), bee-like/rhinoceros beetle-like body and used the zexonyte-infused meteorite as a time traveling vessel to meet Ness in the past and give him the Sound Stone to try and stop Giygas before his second, apparently successful, attempt at world domination. The Chosen Four at the end of the game do what Ninten had to do at the beginning of the game: have their essences transposed into non-organic bodies in order to time travel to the past. It’s perfectly book-ended, with the hero who stopped Giegue in the first game coming back in time in an inorganic body on a zexonyte vessel to help the heroes of the second game go back in time in inorganic bodies in a zexonyte vessel to finally stop Giygas for good.
For the record, it’s important to note that Giegue and Giygas are the same being. In MOTHER 2, the villain’s name is still Giegue, not Giygas; the English localization of EarthBound changed it to Giygas. However, the name change is thematically fitting considering that Giegue, despite being literally the same being, is no longer figuratively the same being. Giegue’s mind completely broke down after being driven insane by Ninten singing the melody to him at the end of the first game, a reminder of Maria’s pure display of love for him as a child when she sang the same melody to him. His alien race can’t understand or comprehend the concept of love, finding pure expressions of it literally, excruciatingly painful, hence why Giegue accidentally lashed out and killed Maria with psychokinetic energy as an infant when she was singing the melody to him, thus setting off the events of the first game and the entire series. He then sends himself back in time and the process destroys his body and whatever was left of his mind, hence why we find him in the state of incomprehensible eldritch horror he is in MOTHER 2: a mind and body both disintegrated. Therefore, even though the name change was a translation misstep, it actually fits the scenario perfectly; he was the alien Giegue, and now he’s the disembodied horror Giygas.
But, oh, why would Ninten come back in time in the form of an insect, of all things? While there’s no in-universe explanation offered for this, there is a meta explanation connected to in-universe dialogue. At the end of MOTHER, when Ninten and his friends confront Giegue, they are completely powerless against him. No attacks or abilities work on him, and his attacks cannot be stopped. The following is Nintendo’s official translation of Giegue’s dialogue at the beginning of the encounter and throughout the first eight turns of battle. Between each line of dialogue is a turn of battle.
“Ninten! I am grateful to your family.”
“Your Great-Grandparents, George and Maria raised me.”
“But, George stole vital information from our planet that can be used to betray my people…”
“And now, one of his descendants is obstructing our plans, and must be stopped!! Ninten! I am talking about you!”
“Go home now! Perish with the rest of the ugly Earth People.”
“Foolish one, you cannot do a thing with your meager powers… Powers worthy of a lowly insect.”
“Ninten! You alone, I may save you. Just you alone. Board our Mother Ship with me.”
“…then, fall into long sleep with your friends and the other ugly Earth People.”
At this point the rest of the fight ensues, wherein Ninten and his friends must sing the tune of the eight melodies in order to stop Giegue.
Do you notice anything particularly striking about Giegue’s dialogue? The first thing to note is that Giegue specifically calls out Ninten numerous times and clarifies that he is talking to and about him. The second thing to note is this line: “Foolish one, you cannot do a thing with your meager powers… Powers worthy of a lowly insect.” Giegue calls Ninten an insect by saying his powers equate him to one. In the original Japanese text, Giegue more broadly says that the group can’t stop him and that their powers are worthy of insects, but whether general or specifically aimed at Ninten, the connection is still apparent and Ninten is included in the insult. Right here we see exactly why Itoi had Ninten take the form of an inorganic insect when he traveled through time to prepare Ness for the war on Giygas. It’s a reminder for players of the first game that Ninten was directly compared to an insect by Giegue himself, a clue as to who Buzz Buzz really is. One of the other major clues is Buzz Buzz’s powers — powers which Giegue said were worthy only of an insect when Ninten wielded them against him. Here the connection is complete. We have a direct line between Giegue’s words to Ninten at the end of MOTHER and the form Ninten takes at the beginning of MOTHER 2. We know that time travelers must take an inorganic form to travel through time, and although we don’t know the in-universe reason why Ninten takes the form of an inorganic insect specifically, we now know the meta reason: Itoi was cluing us in to Buzz Buzz’s true identity.
Hiding Ninten’s identity as Buzz Buzz is one of the most, if not the most, brilliant, subtle, and clever things Itoi has ever done in his games. For the uninitiated who are unfamiliar with MOTHER and those who don’t put much thought into the games they play, Buzz Buzz comes across like a funny and bizarre joke that works as a hook into the kind of funny and bizarre experience they’re in for with MOTHER 2: “Okay, this random bug thing just came from the future to set me on an epic journey, protected me in a scary fight, and then died a sudden and hilarious death. Wtf is this game lmao! I’ve got to see where this goes.” However, for the initiated who are deeply familiar with MOTHER and those who put a lot of thought into the games they play, Buzz Buzz is an incredibly sly narrative connection to that game. It’s a brilliantly layered piece of the plot that works on both the shallow and the deep ends of the spectrum, and something only a mind like Itoi’s would come up with. One read through his big MOTHER 3 interview (Read here only if you have finished MOTHER 3. Massive spoilers ahead:http://mother3.fobby.net/interview/) shows how much deep, careful thought he puts into every game, even every piece of dialogue in every game, right down to the subtleties of the specific, subtle timing of dialogue pauses. This is a not a man who just writes whatever random crap comes to mind without a second thought. This is a man who writes complex narrative layers and symbolism into his stories.
Let’s review the evidence we’ve compiled that proves Buzz Buzz is actually Ninten:
Exhibit A: Buzz Buzz says he is not the insect he appears to be.
Exhibit B: Giegue compares Ninten to an insect as an insult, stating specifically that Ninten’s powers are only worthy of a lowly insect.
Exhibit C: PSI is not a common ability. It’s only wielded by rare and very special individuals on Earth, enemies in the psychic plane of Magicant, alien followers of Giegue/Giygas, and people/creatures overtaken by Giegue/Giygas’s psychic influence. This means that the only non-antagonistic beings to have PSI are rare, very special individuals on Earth.
Exhibit D: Buzz Buzz’s powers are not only PSI, but exclusively defensive/support PSI.
Exhibit E: Ninten’s powers, which Giegue stated were only worthy of a lowly insect, are also exclusively defensive/support PSI.
Exhibit F: Buzz Buzz and Ninten are the only two characters in the entire MOTHER series who have exclusively defensive/support PSI and no offensive/attack PSI.
Exhibit G: Buzz Buzz says he traveled back from ten years in the future.
Exhibit H: Time travel in the MOTHER series requires the traveler to have their consciousness transferred into an inorganic, false body, because organic bodies are destroyed by time travel. This means that Buzz Buzz is an organic being transferred into an inorganic body.
Exhibit I: When Starman Jr. encounters Buzz Buzz, he, says, “It’s been a long time, Buzz Buzz.” This means that Buzz Buzz and Starman Jr. know each other and have run into each other in the past.
Exhibit J: Starman Jr. is a unique boss character fought only twice in the entire series: once by Ninten in MOTHER, and once by Buzz Buzz in MOTHER 2. This means that Ninten is the only character in the series who knows and has run into Starman Jr. prior to the Buzz Buzz fight.
Exhibit K: Starman Jr. tells Buzz Buzz that he’s “no longer a hero.” This means that Buzz Buzz was once a hero.
Exhibit L: The only hero Starman Jr. knows of is Ninten, who thwarted the planet-conquering plans of his leader, Giegue.
Exhibit M: Magicant is a metaphysical psychic plane directly connected to and reliant upon melodies, as evidenced by Maria’s Magicant disappearing when she remembered her eight melodies and Ness accessing his Magicant when he learns his eight melodies.
Exhibit N: Ninten used large, magical swirl rocks to connect to Maria’s Magicant. This means that the large, magical swirl rocks were gateways to a realm whose existence is directly connected to and reliant upon melodies.
Exhibit O: The Sound Stone is a pocket-sized, magical swirl rock which holds melodies and serves as the gateway which takes Ness to his Magicant. This means that the Sound Stone is a gateway to a realm whose existence is reliant upon melodies, which in turn means that the Sound Stone is a small piece of the same large, magical swirl rocks Ninten used.
Exhibit P: Buzz Buzz knows that collecting melodies will be key for Ness to defeat Giygas, and he gives Ness the Sound Stone so he can do so.
Exhibit Q: Collecting melodies was key for Ninten to defeat Giegue.
Exhibit R: There is no logical reason why a highly nuanced, detail-oriented writer like Itoi, who cares deeply for his stories and characters, would begin the sequel to his enormously successful and beloved first game with some completely random, unknown, inconsequential insect character kicking off the events of the second game only to immediately kill it off.
Exhibit S: It makes logical sense that a thoughtful, heartfelt, and humorous writer like Itoi would begin the events of his beloved sequel by bringing back the hero of the first and raising the stakes by tragically killing that hero immediately after he sets the new hero on his journey, giving him the motivation and means necessary to take down the villain responsible for his own demise and, in his time, the demise of the entire planet, all while underpinning it with the tragic humor of the old hero being trapped in an insect-like body and being killed with a simple smack after keeping the party safe from a powerful alien.
Exhibit T: Even when layered with comical elements, Buzz Buzz’s introduction and death scenes are relatively very lengthy and somber against the otherwise light tone of the early game and are accompanied by a beautiful, emotive, and understated melody. This is intended to give the character a sense of weight and importance for the audience, and to make his loss feel heavy and tragic.
Exhibit U: There is no logical reason why a writer like Itoi would do all this lengthy and somber mood-setting for some random, inconsequential, throwaway, joke of an insect character.
Exhibit V: There is plenty of logical reason why a writer like Itoi would do all this for the hero of his much beloved and wildly successful first game.
In conclusion, let’s look at the timeline of the events of MOTHER and MOTHER 2 to ensure that everyone is on the same page in understanding how the story is structured, from the backstory of the first game to the introduction of the second:
-In the early 1900s, Maria and George (Ninten’s great-grandparents) are abducted by Giegue’s alien race.
-Maria comes to care for the infant alien Giegue as her own child. Unfortunately for his species, love is a foreign concept which is literally, painfully discomforting.
-George uses the contact with the aliens to secretly collect information on their PSI abilities and technology.
-The infant Giegue involuntarily lashes out at Maria with an instinctive psychic attack of self-defense as her singing (her pure display of love and compassion for him) causes him excruciating pain, and it kills her.
-George escapes the aliens somehow and begins studying and experimenting with PSI and alien machinery on Earth, where he lives out the rest of his days and raises his family. George eventually dies and Ninten is born, who obtains psychic abilities, possibly due to George’s experimentation with PSI on or around his family.
-As Giegue gets older, he is so messed up from the trauma and complicated feelings he has about Maria and his accidentally killing of her that he buries her physical body at the top of Mt. Itoi (or at least creates an empty grave symbolizing her presence; note that the English translation mistakenly implies it to be George’s grave, but it’s actually Maria’s) and encases her spiritual essence in Magicant, a strange psychic plane of metaphysical existence, as a shrine to her memory so she can live on forever in some capacity. At some point he decides to conquer Earth.
-The events of MOTHER/EarthBound Beginnings take place in 1988. Summary: through the use of magical swirl rocks which serve as gateways, Ninten finds a metaphysical psychic plane called Magicant where the spirit of his great-grandmother Maria resides but doesn’t remember her own identity. With the help of friends, Ninten collects eight melodies from the earth and sings them to Maria. It turns out these melodies are pieces of the song Maria sang to Giegue when he was an infant. Having the tune sung to her reminds her of who she is, allows her to rest in peace, and her Magicant dissolves. Ninten and his friends then encounter Giegue, who cannot be hurt by any attacks and is only defeated when the children sing the eight melodies to him, reminding him of Maria and her love for him and again causing him that same excruciating pain from his infanthood. He retreats and the world is temporarily saved.
-After Ninten stops Giegue by singing the song of Maria’s love from his infanthood, Giegue’s sanity starts to severely break down. He sends himself back eons in time, which utterly destroys his body and whatever was left of his mind, and he has what remains of him encased in the Devil’s Machine within the Cave of the Past, beginning his machinations which eventually lead to his complete conquering of Earth around twelve to twenty-one years after the events of MOTHER, somewhere from 2000 to 2009.
-Ninten learns what happened to Giegue and has the idea to use time travel against him, ensuring not to repeat the same mistake Giegue made now that it’s known that organic life can’t travel through time safely. Ninten has his essence safely transposed into an inorganic, insect-like body and uses a meteorite (which contains zexonyte) to travel ten years into the past to 199X (which could be anywhere from 1990 to 1999) in order to give Ness the Sound Stone in hopes that he can collect his own eight melodies from the earth and stop Giygas before he conquers the planet.
-The events of MOTHER 2/EarthBound take place. Summary: a meteorite crashes on Earth, which summons the attention of Ness, a boy who lives nearby. In a lengthy sequence accompanied by beautiful, introspective music, Buzz Buzz emerges from the meteorite to meet Ness, telling him that he’s not an insect and informing him of the future where Giygas has conquered Earth, as well as Ness’s mission to stop that from happening. Starman Jr. speaks knowing words to Buzz Buzz and tries to stop him by attacking him as well as Ness, who Buzz Buzz protects with defensive support PSI. After the battle, Buzz Buzz is smacked out of the air by a fearful woman mistaking him for an insect, which puts him at death’s door. More beautiful, introspective music plays while a lengthy sequence plays out where Buzz Buzz confides in Ness and gives him the Sound Stone, telling him to collect eight melodies from the earth to unite his power with the earth’s, and then dies. With the help of friends, Ness collects his eight melodies and records them into the Sound Stone, which then acts as a gateway and transports him to his own Magicant. Within Magicant, Ness unites his power with the earth’s and his Magicant dissolves. Ness collects zexonyte from the meteor, which is used to create a time machine. Ness and his friends have their consciousnesses transferred into inorganic bodies and travel back in time, where they find Giygas confined in the Devil Machine. The machine is turned off and Giygas emerges as an eldritch abomination without true form and his mind completely shattered. Giygas cannot be hurt by any attacks and is only defeated when the children pray for love and support from their friends, families, and acquaintances. As the people they pray to pray for them in return, the intense love they send the children inflicts severe psychic damage on Giygas, an alien to whom love is incredibly painful. As this love begins to hurt him just as it hurt him in his infancy when Maria sang to him, his form changes and the clear outline of a baby can be seen in the collage of faces that constitute Giygas’s formless visage as he is reminded of the trauma of his infancy. The barrage of love builds up and causes him so much pain that it finally destroys him entirely. The consciousnesses of the four children return to their human bodies and the world is saved.
As you can see, Buzz Buzz cannot be anyone but Ninten. All evidence aligns to make it crystal clear, and unless detractors have solid counter-evidence to disprove it, any rejection of this can only be called denial. There is no possible way a writer as brilliant, clever, careful, and nuanced as Itoi would write so many coincidental connections between Ninten’s and Buzz Buzz’s characters by accident. The only way there could be so many clear connections is if they were 100% intentional and he was hinting to the audience that these characters are actually the same individual.
For the record, I was not the first to discover Buzz Buzz’s true identity, but I came to be the argument’s most vocal proponent after reading others’ initial ideas on the matter and being forced to strengthen the argument through debates with nay-sayers. Thus, some of the ideas in this argument are mine, but the initial concept was not.
HUGE thanks to reddit user animalbancho for bringing to my attention Giegue’s dialogue to Ninten where he calls him an insect, and for the observation that the Buzz Buzz character works on two levels as (in his or her words) “both a bizarre subversive joke that sets the tone for Earthbound [for those who don’t make the Ninten connection] while also being a subtle connection narratively between both games [for those who do].” He or she also points out that “Buzz Buzz” would be the way an insect might sound trying to say “Ninten,” since both names have two syllables. I would add that it’s even more fitting in the Japanese version since “BunBuun,” his Japanese name (and also the Japanese onomatopoeia for the buzzing of an insect) has both syllables ending in an “n” sound: Ninten and BunBuun. He or she admits that this detail could just as easily be total coincidence or another intentional connection, and I agree with that assessment, but whether intentional or coincidental, it’s a cute, fun thought regardless.
Here are links to threads on Starmen.net where you can read the initial posts positing the argument as a theory from people like Box of Crayons and Giovanni. My screen names on the forum were first EBsessor and then many years later EarthButt, and you can see my own comments and contributions to the discussion in these threads.
I just watched David Cronenberg’s classic 1981 sci-fi thriller Scannersfor the first time the other day, and I noticed a whole slew of undeniable parallels between it and Hideo Kojima’s 1998 sci-fi action game, Metal Gear Solid. I’ve never seen anyone else make these connections, so I believe I’m bringing you something that’s never been discussed or discovered before.
This essay will feature heavy spoilers for both Scannersand Metal Gear Solid, so if you haven’t seen the film or played the game, I highly recommend you do both before reading this. They’re both phenomenal works in their mediums that are best experienced without knowing the plots going in.
First, let’s break down the plot of Scanners.
Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Cameron Vale, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by a man named Dr. Paul Ruth, who founded a biochemicals and weapons company called ConSec. Ruth mentors Vale in how to use and control strange abilities he’s always had but never understood, discovers his abilities are very powerful, and sends him on a mission to infiltrate light-haired terrorist antagonist Darryl Revok’s renegade army and take out Revok himself. You see, both Vale and Revok are powerful psychics called scanners, Revok’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful psychics, and Vale is told that he’s the only one who can stop Revok. Vale is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and after mastering his abilities comes to fit the “quiet badass” role to a tee.
These psychic abilities allow the scanner to light people on fire and control their motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: the wielder is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around them, and they can’t stop their brains from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and can drive them crazy. Vale is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and Revok was institutionalized because of his, eventually drilling a hole into his own forehead in an attempt to relieve the pressure caused in his head by all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.
Along the way, Vale goes undercover and stealthily infiltrates the ConSec biochemicals and weapons company’s facility, and by hacking into a computer and thus finding a classified cache of information, he discovers Revok’s true plan and that he and Revok, as well as Revok’s army of psychics, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were fetuses, specifically through the use of a drug that was administered to their mothers which was intended to sedate pregnant women and ease pregnancy pains and sickness. Revok’s plan is to continue to inject unwitting pregnant women with this drug to create a whole society of powerful scanners and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world so that scanners will never be abused and neglected by society the way he and Vale were. Dr. Ruth originally started this plan with the intention of creating a scanner utopia, where people with psychic powers would make the world a better place. This program is called RIPE. Revok has been slowly taking over ConSec from the inside over time, and somewhere along the way he has Dr. Ruth killed, with the goal of completely taking over the company for himself to take RIPE in his own ideological direction.
During Vale and Revok’s climactic confrontation, Revok then reveals that he and Vale are brothers and the most powerful of these artificially-created psychics, because their mother was the first woman this experimental drug was used on while she was pregnant and too much of the drug was administered. Revok also reveals that Dr. Ruth is their father, that he’s the one who administered the drug to their mother, and that Revok hated him for creating the two of them as freaks of nature, abandoning them, and leaving them to suffer in a world that doesn’t understand them with painful abilities they themselves didn’t understand.
However, Vale accuses Revok of becoming just like their father Dr. Ruth in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Vale denounces both Revok and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very psychic abilities that made them into what they are. Vale overcomes Revok by leaving his own body and overtaking Revok’s body with his own voice and personality. Here, the film ends.
Now we’ll break down the relevant plot points of Metal Gear Solid, pointing out the identical ones and the differences between similar ones where Kojima took the basic idea and changed the details of it to fit his own narrative.
Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Solid Snake, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by government agents led by a man named Roy Campbell, Solid Snake’s commanding officer from his second mission. A man named Big Boss, founder of both a US elite special forces unit called FOXHOUND and a radical military nation called Outer Heaven (the latter of which he founded covertly and unbeknownst to the US government), Solid Snake’s former commanding officer who sent him on his first field mission against Outer Heaven itself (because Big Boss was the head of FOXHOUND, and the US government assigned FOXHOUND to stop Outer Heaven’s uprising, so Big Boss sent a rookie to do the job hoping he’d fail, but he didn’t), and whom Snake killed during his second mission which Campbell headed, was also his father and mentor who helped him to hone his incredible natural combat instincts and abilities. This time around, Campbell sends Solid Snake on a mission to infiltrate the Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility which light-haired terrorist antagonist Liquid Snake has taken control of along with his renegade army and FOXHOUND itself, which Liquid Snake has also taken command of, and take out Liquid Snake at the head of it all. You see, both Solid and Liquid Snake are super-soldiers who share the same code name, Liquid Snake’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful super-soldiers, and Solid Snake is told that he’s the only one who can stop Liquid. Solid Snake is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and fits the “quiet badass” role to a tee.
Among the ranks of Liquid Snake’s FOXHOUND is a psychic soldier called Psycho Mantis. His psychic abilities allows him to light things on fire and and control people’s motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: he is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around him, and he can’t stop his brain from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and drives him crazy, and as a boy he lashes out and lights his village on fire with his psychic abilities, killing his father whom he hated because his thoughts were consumed with bitterness and blame for his mother’s death in childbirth. Mantis is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and he wears a gas mask because it protects his head against all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.
Along the way, Solid Snake stealthily infiltrates the Alaskan facility and rescues a scientist and master hacker who, by hacking into a computer and finding a classified cache of information from weapons company Armstech, discovers Liquid Snake’s true plan, which is to use a giant, walking battle tank called Metal Gear REX to launch a stealth nuclear missile at any target on Earth. It’s also revealed that Solid and Liquid Snake, as well as Liquid Snake’s army of super-soldiers, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were embryos and fetuses, specifically through the use of genetic modification aimed at removing weak genes and replacing them with genes connected with superior combat instincts and abilities. This program was called Les Enfants Terribles. Liquid Snake’s complete plan is to continue creating more of these genetically modified super-soldiers to create a whole society of them and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world, controlling the military-industrial complex and creating a never-ending war society where super-soldiers will always have value and won’t be abandoned and neglected by society the way veterans are after the military is finished making use of them. This was Big Boss’s plan for the Outer Heaven military nation before it was stopped by Solid Snake. Liquid Snake is turning this Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility into a new Outer Heaven to be the helm and centerpiece around which this new war society will revolve, and he wants to surpass Big Boss by succeeding with the Outer Heaven idea where Big Boss himself failed.
During Solid Snake and Liquid Snake’s climactic confrontation, Liquid then reveals that he and Solid are twin brothers, as well as the most powerful of these artificially-created super-soldiers because they were the first of these super-soldiers to be made. This was done by taking cells from Big Boss, known as the greatest soldier to ever live, and creating eight clones from his DNA, then killing six of the octuplets in-utero so the remaining two would become even stronger. This effectively makes Big Boss their father. Liquid Snake also reveals that he hates Big Boss for being responsible for creating the two of them as freaks of nature and supposedly giving Liquid Snake all the recessive genes, which he thinks makes him weaker and inferior to Solid Snake, who supposedly got all the dominant genes.
However, Solid Snake accuses Liquid Snake of becoming just like their father Big Boss in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Solid Snake denounces both Liquid Snake and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very super-soldier abilities that made them into what they are. Solid Snake overcomes Liquid Snake, killing him, and after a tense escape, the game ends. In the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Liquid Snake’s forearm has been removed from his body and reattached to Metal Gear Solid‘s secondary villain Revolver Ocelot, who lost his forearm during the events of that game. Liquid Snake overtakes Revolver Ocelot’s body with his own voice and personality, and he becomes a new “Liquid Ocelot” hybrid villain.
As you can see, the vast majority of Metal Gear Solid‘s main plot points are lifted directly from Scanners. Kojima also lifted ideas from a slew of other Western films, so I’m not insinuating that all of Metal Gear Solid was copied from Scanners or that this film was the only source of inspiration for the game, but I’m familiar with no other single work that has a greater number of direct plot points used in the game than this film. The uber-passionate film buff and fan of Western cinema that Kojima is, he’s known to take elements from many Western films and mix them all up into wholly new creations, and virtually all of his creative work follows this modus operandi. Although Hideo Kojima himself has never cited Scannersas an influence, as Terry Wolfe’s book The Kojima Code points out, there are many clear connections between Kojima’s work and Western films that Kojima himself has never officially stated as influences, but which are too coincidental to likely be mere coincidence. Sometimes, even without official confirmation, so many obvious connections can be made between two works that the inspiration can be safely assumed.
With the recent release ofThe Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, everybody’s once again talking about this horrendous piece of shit of a Zelda title, bringing back to the surface all the pent-up rage I have against it and forcing me to compile my thoughts on it in one place after I’ve already ranted on it in numerous places around the internet, perhaps as much for my own therapeutic release as for the hope of waking others up to its true nature as a completely mediocre game with very few redeeming qualities. I’ve wanted to write this essay for a long time, but I’ve been putting it off because I knew it was going to be a lot of work. But here we are: my longest and most all-out essay yet.
Today I’m going to share my very unpopular view on Twilight Princess being by far the worst Zelda game I’ve ever personally played, and certainly one of the worst Zelda games ever made officially by Nintendo in general. However, due to my critique focusing on the basic principles of effective writing and game design, I am presenting this view as fact on the virtue of the game breaking so many of these basic principles. This review is going to spoil major plot details in Twilight Princess, so turn back now if you want to remain spoiler-free on the game.
I should probably start off by explaining what my history is with the series to prove that my opinion is valid as a general fan of the series as a whole so nobody can try to say “maybe Zelda games just aren’t for you.” I have played and finished the original TheLegend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, TheWind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I started Link’s Awakening many years ago only to find myself stuck at one point without knowing where to go or what to do next and gave up on it. Although I’m not much of a handheld gamer as it is, so make of that what you will.
My favorite Zelda game of all time is Majora’s Mask for many reasons (my favorite soundtrack, core concept, gameplay and design, sidequests, and story in the whole series), but the primary one is that it had the balls to break the traditional Zelda mold and do something incredibly fresh and original with the series at a pivotal point, directly after the series’ riskiest and most successful (financially and critically) game yet, Ocarina of Time. Majora saw a new director at the series’ helm, Eiji Aonuma, and where this man could have played it safe and rehashed the same tired old Zelda formula that had been working and selling millions of copies since the ’80’s, Aonuma boldly took the series in its most experimental direction ever, even to this day, by making a game that dropped staple characters Zelda and Ganon from the story altogether (with only one quick mention of Zelda herself to set up a particular gameplay feature with the Song of Time), took the darkest and most emotional tone of any Zelda game ever made (which holds true even today), packed in more sidequests and bonus items to find than any Zelda game ever made (again, still true today), and made a much deeper, more nonlinear gameplay experience than any other Zelda game ever made (you guessed it – still true today) that can be experienced differently each time you return to play it depending on when you choose to do what. Not only is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask my favorite Zelda game of all time, it’s also one of my all-time favorite video games altogether, and the only Zelda game that stands within those ranks.
Each core game in the series up to Twilight Princess innovated in some major way. The Legend of Zelda was the first adventure game of its kind and size; Zelda II: The Adventure of Link experimented with sidescrolling action segments and an experience-based level-up system; A Link to the Past brought us a dual-sided world, where we could explore the same places in two very different realities; Ocarina of Time brought the series into 3D for the first time and gave us the brilliant Z-targeting, which has influenced 3D action games since, and many Zelda fans and gamers in general consider Ocarina to be one of the greatest games ever made; Majora’s Mask gave us clever ways to manipulate time, NPC’s with their own set schedules, and full character transformations with legitimate ramifications on the gameplay, along with a completely original story devoid of the typical “Zelda, Ganon, Triforce” trappings of the core console series prior; The Wind Waker, even unfinished and imperfect as it was, brought us a completely open world on the open sea and revolved all of its design and gameplay around that idea, and completely reinvented the aesthetic of the series with a beautiful, eye-popping (and controversial) art style that still holds up well to this day.
Then we get to Twilight Princess, a game that not only doesn’t innovate in any way whatsoever (although it tried to and failed miserably by introducing great ideas that go to waste with awful implementation), but in fact takes numerous steps back in the quality of both its writing and its basic game design compared to previous entries. The game mostly attempts to imitate Ocarina‘s more “realistic” (for its N64-circa-1998 time frame anyway) aesthetic and allow the player to control an older, more “adult” version of Link for only the second time in series history at that point, again in imitation of Ocarina.
The reason for this was because Nintendo showcased the Gamecube’s graphical capabilities with a tech demo themed around The Legend of Zelda (titled The Legend of Zelda 128) at an event in 2000 called Nintendo Space World. The demo was a video showcasing Ganondorf and Link having a sword fight in a dark setting with realistic graphics (again, for the time), and everybody totally lost it with excitement, thinking that it must be what the next Zelda game would look like. Nintendo clarified that this wasn’t the case and that it was a simple tech demo, but people believed what they wanted regardless of Nintendo’s assurance to the contrary, and rumors persisted that the next Zelda game would be dark and realistic like the tech demo was.
However, a year later at Nintendo Space World 2001, The Wind Waker was revealed to be the new project, with a highly stylized, cartoony, cel-shaded art style; quite a stark contrast to the dark realism of the previous year’s tech demo. The gaming world was outraged and offended by this drastic shift in art style. How dare Nintendo keep its word that the tech demo was indeed merely a tech demo and not a sign of things to come from its beloved series?! How dare they take a risky, artistic, original approach to the visuals of their game instead of doing what would be easy and just making an updated version of an old game’s art style?! How dare they make the game THEY want to make instead of selling out to fan demand?! Waker released to widespread critical acclaim, but there were still many whiny Zelda fans who resist change no matter how good it might be, didn’t buy the game, and continued to pester Nintendo to make a “dark, realistic” Zelda game. This eventually spread to the gaming media as well, and before long everyone was once again clamoring for the next game in the series to be “dark and realistic.”
Nintendo finally caved in to popular demand and the game we got was Twilight Princess, a game with virtually no identity of its own, a game that was clearly not the labor of love Ocarina, Majora, Waker, and all the 2D games before them had been, a game that solely existed to try and quell the massive and widespread crying for a “dark and realistic” entry in the franchise and finally get those whiners off Nintendo’s back. The lack of passion put into the game shows as I will detail at great length ahead, and although we ended up with a completely mediocre game at best, it still released to ridiculous critical acclaim and a swath of perfect 10/10 scores from professional review sources and claims of it being the best Zelda game ever. And, just as every core series game since Majora, Eiji Aonuma directed TP as well. I was actually furious when I played the game, because before I bought it I read the reviews and saw it getting universal praise. I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna be great!” and I went out in excitement and bought it. And the whole experience could only be described as incredibly boring, tedious, and frustrating. I couldn’t believe the vast majority of professional reviews failed to mention any of the serious things wrong with this game, and many of the few who did mention the problems STILL gave the game a perfect fucking score. How does that work? They found flaws in a game and still called it perfect. It’s as if they were all blinded so completely by their orgasmic Zelda fanboy euphoria that they couldn’t look at the game objectively and see it for what it was. So what is it about this game that’s so terrible? Where did Mr. Aonuma go wrong? Strap in, because there’s a lot to say about all that’s wrong with this game.
TP begins with a highly promising premise, giving us a very different Link from the kind of character these games always start us with. Instead of being a nobody without many friends or much family, we’re introduced to a Link who’s a respected and beloved member of his community, Ordon Village. All the little kids want to be him, all the adults appreciate him, and he’s even got a love interest. For the first time in Zelda history, Link is given a fleshed-out personality and history, turning him from the sort of “insert yourself here” player avatar we’re usually given in the series, into a legitimate, established character of his own. For once I was excited to be Link. I felt proud and heroic. Unfortunately, somewhere around a quarter or a third of the way through the game, Link loses all sense of established personality and individuality. When Midna comes into the picture, after his initial hesitation to trust her, he just starts doing everything she tells him to without question and becomes her yes-man. I personally didn’t trust Midna from the moment I met her, but it didn’t take long for Link to just start assuming she must be on the side of good and doing everything she says. She’s obviously mischievous and we know virtually nothing about her or who she is. For all we know she could be playing us for a long con and making us do things that would ultimately screw over either Link or the world, but he just goes along with it. He makes some heroic decisions and performs heroic deeds all of his own accord before she comes in, like saving the kids in Kakariko, but after Midna comes in he just starts mindlessly doing her bidding and never makes any decisions on his own the whole rest of the game. He loses all the interesting and unique characterization he had in the beginning of the game and becomes Midna’s puppet. That’s terrible writing and inconsistent characterization. Link had great potential to be an interesting character of his own for the first time in the series and they waste it by chucking it all out the window as soon as Midna shows up. To make matters worse, the clear distrust the game is trying to build between Midna and the audience never pays off and she ends up being completely trustworthy anyway. She’s clearly untrustworthy, Link trusts her almost right away like an idiot, we don’t, and all of that is for nothing in the end. They could have made her character and her presence in the game far more interesting than it was, and it was another case of wasted potential, just like Link.
Speaking of saving the kids in Kakariko, that event happens around a quarter of the way through the game, and immediately after you save them they all tell you that you should take them home. But you can’t. The game never lets you. And it makes no sense. They keep telling you how bad they want to go home and you’re like “okay then fucking let me take you home what the fuck” and you just can’t. So you continue on your way. And what’s your big reward for finishing the game? A big congratulatory, thankful fanfare like all the previous 3D Zelda titles to make you feel like you really saved the world and to make you feel like a hero? Nope. Your big reward for beating the game is finally seeing those fucking kids go home. This should have been resolved ages ago and I’ve long since moved on from it and stopped giving a shit, and that’s my big closing credits scene. Thanks. Just kick me in the nuts while you’re at it.
Although since past games had a large cast of funny, interesting, and memorable characters, their big closing fanfare scenes felt warm and joyous and exciting and really made you reminisce on your journey and everyone you encountered along the way. It reminds you that all these people have you to thank for their lives. Yet Twilight Princess‘s cast is so bland and forgettable that I’m not even sure a fanfare would have been satisfying regardless. None of the characters in this game are funny, interesting, or memorable except for Midna and Zant, and Zant is memorable for all the wrong reasons (which I’ll get to in a minute). I didn’t care about anyone I was saving. Nobody charmed me. They were all just so bland. So I guess a fanfare wouldn’t have been much better anyway, but it certainly would have helped me feel SOME sense of accomplishment after torturing myself through the experience that was this game.
The story is also full of plot holes. There’s this big, emotional scene where Zelda gives her life to save Midna, and at the end of the game Zelda comes back out of nowhere, with no explanation whatsoever, and nobody asks any questions or bats an eye. They just accept it. …What the fuck? This is completely inexcusable. They didn’t even try to make it make sense, it just happens and you’re supposed to just go with it. Zelda had no business being in the game for any reason, and her only role in the entire story is to create a plot hole that didn’t need to exist if they had just left her out of the story altogether. But since TP is a game made solely to give Zelda fans what they think they want, it just gives them the most predictable, tired bullshit it can and chucks known characters in for no other reason than “well it’s Zelda right? so i guess we need to have Zelda in there cuz that’s what the fans want right?” Shameful. And then you’ve got the bizarre nightmare sequences with dark Links that never get explained or justified whatsoever, like they’re just there to be “dark” and “unsettling” and have no place in the story at all. I’ve seen fans try to justify these plot holes through their own conjecture and guesses, but the plain fact is that the game itself never explains these problems and leaves gaping holes in the plot. That is broken, terrible writing. Even if you can find a way to justify it through your own conjecture, the fact that the game itself never explains it means it’s poorly written.
Speaking of characters who had no business being in this game, we have Ganon(dorf). Zant was being built up to be the first interesting, original, and legitimately terrifying villain in the series since Majora‘s Skull Kid. Good villain writing builds up tension between a villain and the audience/hero, having the villain show up from time to time to thwart the hero and be very intimidating and terrifying. It makes the audience/hero simultaneously frightened and exhilarated to face him, to take him down in the climax of the story. He’s so scary and badass and yet that makes you want to see him fall that much more. You want that epic battle to go down, you want to face this terrifying force and conquer it. Zant is mysterious, cool, and very scary, and the whole game through we’re led to believe he’s going to be the most badass villain the series has ever seen. And then, in the final act of the game, all of that potential, all of that tension the game had spent building up between Zant and the audience/hero is thrown out the window. Zant is revealed to be a complete spaz (which flies in the face of all his previous appearances all throughout the game up to that point and makes no sense for his character whatsoever), a total idiot, a joke, only for the game to pull the “GANON WAS THE REAL VILLAIN ALL ALONG AREN’T YOU SURPRISED” fucking tired-out gimmick the series has done before. It spends so much time building up the tension for Zant and making the audience hate him and excited to bring him down for good, only to pull the rug out from under you at the last minute and swap him out for the most tiresome villain of the series. It’s like being teased for hours by a lover and you can’t wait for them to let you finally climax, and then right when you think they’re going to push you over the edge and give you the orgasm of your life, they punch you in the groin and run out the door making silly faces and crazy sounds and you’re left feeling hurt, confused, frustrated, and unsatisfied. Then an ex-lover of yours that you never wanted to look at or think about again comes in to finish you off. Twilight Princess‘s climax is the most bewildering ruined orgasm imaginable. Your lover who seemed so smooth and sexy all this time turns into a fucking sadistic circus clown right before you cum and your bitter ex comes in to finish up. That’s the Zant/Ganon switch of this game in a nutshell. This is HORRID writing. Just like Zelda, it feels as if they just threw Ganon into the game as an afterthought because “hey it’s Zelda so i guess we have to have Ganon right? it’s what the fans want right?” Again, just like Zelda’s nonsensical appearance in this game, it’s fucking shameful. And then, to add even WORSE insult to injury, the final fight against Ganon in the field turns out to be one of the easiest boss fights in the entire game. I’m talking LAUGHABLY easy. Your final epic hurrah, your final bit of gameplay in this game, is a boss “fight” that’s so easy it’s pathetic. They brought back Ganon and replaced (and ruined) a legitimately great villain with him, only to end the game in the most disappointing way I could have never imagined. It’s so bad it’s sadistic. Remember the lover analogy and imagine that when your ex walks in after you’re left hurt and bewildered, she gives you the most lazy, passionless, limp handjob/fingering you’ve ever experienced. That’s the final fight against Ganon in TP. Ganon did not need to be in this game and it would have been a much better game had Zant been carried through as the badass he was supposed to be right up to the end. Instead they pathetically had to pull the same switcheroo ALttP already used and ruin the awesome potential of a great new villain. I fucking hate it. Majora already proved a Zelda game could have a great story and villain without bringing back the same old tropes, and it’s widely beloved FOR that boldness. TP takes several steps backward in its writing quality compared to its predecessors.
Since Ganon has just given us a segue bridging the writing problems of TP with its game design problems, let’s dive into those design issues further. In nearly every way the game’s design philosophy works against itself and serves to continuously frustrate and disappoint players at every opportunity.
The first design choice I’ll mention since it’s unrelated to gameplay is the visual design. Remember in the early years of the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation of gaming there became a trend to make everything look “gritty and realistic and dark” by coloring everything in earth tones and adding a weird, washed-out glow to everything? Uncharted even set out specifically to rise against this trend and made a conscious choice to be as colorful as nature and the world actually are, going so far as to include an unlockable filter called “Next Gen” to make fun of how shitty it looks. That’s exactly what Twilight Princess looks like to a T. It has that exact same washed-out, glowy, earth tone-heavy “next gen,” “gritty and realistic” look. Even the greens in this game aren’t vibrant, from Link’s tunic to the grass itself. It all has that same lack of color saturation. We went from Wind Waker‘s inspired, timeless visuals to this trash, all because people bitched so much about wanting it “gritty and realistic.” This is not how Nintendo wanted Zelda to look, and the artistically perceptive will notice and feel a clear lack of passion and soul in the game’s art direction. Everything about it is just so bland to look at. Character designs (except for Midna and Zant who once again stand out) are completely bland and boring, nobody has any kind of aesthetic presence or memorability to them. They didn’t make the game look this way because they were inspired or they felt moved to do so, they made it look this way because they caved in to pressure from demanding fans. Well, they got exactly what they asked for and it looks like shit.
Moving on to the actual game design itself, the first problem is its long, painful tutorial at the very beginning. If it doesn’t put you to sleep, you’ve got incredible power of will, because I had to fight to stay awake and push through it myself. It’s horrifically slow and unnecessarily long. Ocarina of Time, a game that came out seven years prior and was the first game to introduce players to playing Zelda in 3D, handled tutorials better than this game, making them completely optional by allowing you to either skip mandatory tutorial dialogue, or relegating tutorial dialogue to optional signs or NPC’s you can read or speak with if you choose. So why is it that the FOURTH 3D Zelda game EIGHT years later is spending MORE time on tutorials and FORCING you to sit through them? This is HORRID game design. And what’s sad is that, despite some critics complaining about the awful, mandatory opening tutorial bullshit, Nintendo went ahead and made it even LONGER and WORSE and STILL MANDATORY with Skyward Sword. What the fuck? Why are they regressing their game design instead of progressing it? Why are they devolving instead of evolving? It’s completely inexcusable and makes repeat playthroughs of this game even more painful than the first. Zelda players already know how to play a 3D Zelda game, and new players who had never played a 3D Zelda before had no problem picking up and understanding how to play Ocarina when it came out. Why would you do this? It doesn’t benefit longtime fans OR new players in any way and only serves to hurt the player’s experience.
Then you’ve got the new gimmick of the wolf form, which the game is so proud of that it plasters it on the front cover of the game and dedicates space on the back cover to point out. This form is completely worthless and adds nothing beneficial at all to the game’s experience. You smell a scent here…dig a hole there…fight a couple enemies…and that’s literally all there is to this form. It does nothing even remotely innovative or fun, and if it didn’t run so fast and wasn’t mandatory to transform in certain areas in order to progress, I contest that nobody would even use it. Even Majora, six years prior, utilized a transforming Link far better than this piece of shit game did. In that game you had three different transformations which each offered unique skills that were actually fun to use and added to the game’s experience, gave the player a ton of extra dialogue to discover by talking to all the NPC’s in each form, and even gave players completely different instruments to play around with just for fun. TP‘s wolf form by comparison is a lazy, pathetic attempt at a transformation gimmick and adds nothing positive to the player’s experience. And remember, the wolf form is the game’s big selling point, which they were so proud of that they dedicated half the cover art to it. It’s a testament to a game’s horrible quality when a gimmick so boring, useless, and lazily implemented is proudly emblazoned on the cover of your game and is the game’s main selling point.
Speaking of how fast the wolf form is, for some reason you’re given a horse in this game, but it’s slower and more cumbersome to use than your wolf form. WHY? Why would they do this? Not only is Epona slower than your wolf form, but to call her you have to hunt down a very specific kind of plant to use as a horse call, then wait for her to come, then mount her, THEN start moving. Why would you do this when you can just turn into your wolf form at any given time and move faster doing it anyway? It’s completely fucking pointless and another perfect example of the game’s broken design working against itself. If the horse had been made easier to call upon and faster, the wolf form really WOULD have been utterly useless, because the only thing it’s good for is running fast across the massive overworld when the problem could have been solved much more gracefully by making the horse legitimately useful and faster-moving.
And speaking of the massive overworld, this game sports the biggest overworld of any Zelda game to date, yet also the most sparse. Even in Ocarina you had a much smaller overworld with many more things to find and hunt and collect in a space-to-secrets ratio. TP has FEWER things to do and find in the overworld, spread out across a MUCH bigger area. Why the fuck would you do this? Why would you make a massive overworld with barely anything to do in it in a series that was literally conceptualized around the idea of the fun of exploration? So many times I found myself running all over the overworld looking for something, ANYTHING, hidden to stumble across and almost never found anything. Good game design rewards a player for going off the beaten path to explore. Twilight Princess kicks you in the jewels for it. Especially since whenever you DO find something, it’s almost always rupees, which is another problem entirely.
This game has a serious money problem: there is WAY too much money to find everywhere and not nearly enough use for it. Unfortunately, TP adds a potentially useful new feature that doubles back on itself and ends up only being frustrating because it’s not implemented well. This feature is that whenever you find a chest full of rupees and can’t carry them because your wallet is full (which it nearly always is because there’s never any need to spend the money you have), Link will put the rupees back and leave the chest closed for you to come back to later when you do need them or have room for them: a helpful idea. But this becomes a serious problem in both the overworld and in dungeons for different but similar reasons. In the overworld, let’s say you spend a bunch of time wandering around exploring and looking for things to find. This takes a long time as it is because, as mentioned, the overworld is obnoxiously huge and depressingly empty, so you could spend fifteen minutes wandering around hoping to actually find something until you finally do. So you go for it, but it’s rupees you can’t carry, so Link puts them back. Then let’s say you happen across that part of the overworld again twenty hours later in the game and see a chest in the distance, but you’ve forgotten you already checked that chest. You go back out of your way to check it again, only to find rupees you can’t carry yet again, and you’ve just doubly wasted your time. In dungeons, where unopened chests are marked on the map and the layout is often purposely confusing in order to be challenging, you’ll find rupee chests you can’t use and put the rupees back. But the map still treats these chests as if you’ve never opened them. So as you wander around the dungeon looking at the map for reference, trying to find chests with keys you haven’t found yet as you’re trying to make progress, you often end up accidentally arriving back at chests you’ve already checked and closed again because the game doesn’t indicate the difference between checked chests and unchecked ones. So once again you end up doubly wasting your time. This is even more problematic if you only play the game for an hour or two at a time and don’t play it every day, as most adults do, so the chests you’ve already checked don’t stay in your memory as well. If you don’t want to choke on your own tongue in frustrated rage after the twentieth time going out of your way for a chest you already checked and didn’t remember (not the same chest twenty times of course, but that scenario happening twenty times), you have to mark down on your own sheet of paper which chests you’ve already checked that were rupees you couldn’t carry. This is what I’m talking about when I say a potentially useful feature ends up doubling back on itself and being worse than it would have been if you kept the formula the same as previous games, where you just lose the rupees you find that you can’t carry. If they had offered some way in-game to mark previously checked chests that have been re-closed, the feature would be pretty useful, although it would still be frustrating going out of your way to get to a chest only to discover it’s almost always rupees you can’t carry, but marking those chests differently on your map from unchecked chests would have at least eliminated half of the problem. Yet another example of great potential gone to waste through stupid design decisions.
(Image is from Twilight Princess HD, which is why it at least doesn’t look like total shit.)
Since I mentioned the dungeons, I want to point out that TP‘s dungeons are incredibly well designed and fun to play through. However, they become tiresome before too long due to the entire game being one long dungeon crawl. There are so many dungeons in this game and not nearly enough side content to balance it out. The game just expects you to slog through one dungeon after another after another and gives you very little to do outside of that. This is yet another example of the game’s design working against itself. You have great dungeons, but you tarnish their fun by giving the player almost nothing else to do when they want a break from constant dungeon crawling. I found myself bored to death of the game halfway through and only forced myself to continue to suffer through it because I thought, “Everyone’s raving about this game…so it’s got to get good SOMEtime, right? It has to get better…I can’t quit now. I’ll keep trucking. I have to see what all the fuss is about.” And it never changes or gets better; it’s just an endless string of dungeons. The pacing is exhausting and there’s no balance.
TP would have achieved much better balance if it had more sidequests, but there are only a pathetic few, and the biggest three are all flat-out broken in their design.
First is the shop-growing sidequest with the creepy, unnaturally mature-mannered baby-looking kid. This is a whole-game-spanning sidequest which you can only advance to each progressive stage by accomplishing other things first. Of these few sidequests, I actually had the most fun with this one. I enjoyed helping a fellow character chase and develop his dream. However, you can’t complete it until near the end of the game, and by the time you get the reward for finishing the quest, it’s practically useless. The reward in question is the “magic armor,” which isn’t magic at all; it eats your rupees in order to work. And to get it in the first place takes an utter shit-ton of rupees (really the only thing in the entire game that you’ll be using your rupees for, unless you skip this sidequest in which case there really is virtually no use for rupees in this game whatsoever), so you have to go broke in order to get it, and then it requires a ton of rupees to make any decent use of it. Broken. Again the game kicks you where it counts for putting so much time, money, and effort into something.
The second and third sidequests of the Big Three are the bug collecting quest and the poe hunting quest. The bugs are easier to find at night, and the poes ONLY show up at night, yet this game bafflingly gives you no way to change the time of day as you could in all previous 3D Zelda titles, which all had quests revolving around the time of day as well. You literally have to stand around and wait for nearly ten minutes for the cycle to change before you can continue your hunt. Now…why the fuck would you make two of the game’s biggest and longest sidequests revolve around the time of day and NOT OFFER THE PLAYER CONTROL OVER THE TIME OF DAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 3D ZELDA HISTORY? What kind of horrendous design is this? Why would you strip such a useful, staple feature of past games from your new game but still necessitate that feature? This is inarguably broken game design at its finest and most unforgiveable. And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? The rewards for the bug quest are bigger wallets to carry even MORE rupees you don’t need, and the ultimate reward for the poe quest, which is the longest and more broken quest of them all, is MORE RUPEES YOU DON’T NEED. …I give up.
The special items and weapons you get in this game are a further example of the game’s design working against itself and the player. There are so many very cool item concepts in this game that see virtually no use at all outside of the dungeons you find them within. It sets you up with excitement over your new find only to disappoint you as soon as you realize you’ll never need to use it again. “Oh man, I can use bombs underwater! How cool! …Oh…guess I’m never going to get to use that again…” “Oh shit, this spinner thing is awesome! I can’t wait to see what I can do with this! …Oh…well, guess I’m never using that again…” “Double claw shot?! WHAT?! THIS IS SO FUCKING COOL! Please tell me it’s not going to be useless outside of its dungeon…aaaand great…never using it again…fuck.” The game just can’t get anything right. Every time it has a good idea, it utterly squanders it with stupid implementation through bad design. So many great tools in this game are only used once, MAYBE twice if you’re lucky, outside of their respective dungeons. I can already hear the detractors crying foul and trying to say, “Yeah, well, Majora’s Mask is full of masks you only use once and never again! Hypocrite!” And I remind those people that the actual TOOLS in that game were all put to great use and were helpful in many situations across the entire span of the game, and that the non-transformative masks were all implemented very well for the purposes of both furthering one’s progress by leading the player to heart pieces and other gameplay-affecting rewards, but they also brought with their sidequests a ton of extra bits of story that added significantly to the living world in the game. Much of the game’s famed darkness and emotion comes from the mask sidequests. Thus, every one of those masks is more useful and adds more to Majora than all the tools of TP put together do for their game.
By all accounts, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a messy, sloppy game with absolutely atrocious writing and game design. It’s got a couple of solid aspects to it, such as its music and dungeon design, but everything else about it is an atrocious mess of disappointment and frustration. The entire game is nothing but a pandering, soulless piece of shitty fanservice with high production values, and a series of moments of potential greatness that only end in disappointment every time, from Link’s starting point as a legitimately interesting character, to Zant, to a boring and useless wolf form, to a gigantic but empty overworld, to rupees you can’t carry, to (broken) sidequests that pay off with horrible rewards, to great item concepts that are terribly implemented or are barely even made use of. It lacks an identity or soul of its own and merely tries to give fans another ALttP and Ocarina experience melded into one game with a forced and false “dark and gritty” tone.
It is an absolute journalistic crime that the game received such undeserved universal praise when it came out and is still widely considered to be a great game even today, and that nobody talks about all these horrendous problems that plague it. I contest that if TP didn’t have the franchise association, the name ZELDA plastered on the front, or any of the staple characters, replacing all these things with original names and characters in a new IP, it would have gone down in history as a mediocre game at best with a whole lot of huge flaws. But because it’s Zelda, and officially Nintendo-made at that, nobody can seem to see those gaping flaws or judge the game objectively. It is not merely my opinion that TP is a piece of shit, it’s a fact by the mere virtue that it manages to break so many basic rules of effective writing and game design and that it takes so many steps backward from all of its predecessors which did similar things with far better implementation.
Twilight Princess is the Zelda series’ Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a total piece of shit with high production values and an enormous load of unforgivable writing and design issues that the creators clearly did not want to make and only did so to shut up bitter, demanding fans, but got an insane amount of praise merely on its name and associated series’ reputation alone. In both cases, both with Zelda and Metal Gear, if the game was a new IP and wasn’t part of its franchise, it would’ve been critically panned and forgotten. But because of their franchises, both games have a ton of dedicated fans who swear up and down that they’re great no matter how you break it down for them and prove to them on every conceivable level that it’s shit, and casual fans who don’t care enough to notice its problems and are pleased by anything with the franchise’s name on it.
I’ve been referring to Twilight Princess often throughout this article as “TP” for a reason. It’s not because it’s an abbreviation for the game’s title. It’s because using it to wipe your ass is just about the only thing it’s good for.