The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a fantastic game, filled with epic battles, an enormous world, and a...horribly flawed storyline. Each week we'll be looking at one of these flaws to determine what went wrong and why, as well as to discuss ideas of how the tale could have been rewritten to fix these problems and strengthen the story as a whole. ...Preferably without drastically departing from the original storyline of the game, but I make no promises.
One of the most jarring parts of Twilight Princess comes during its second half, after Hyrule Castle has been enveloped by a massive barrier...that no one seems to notice. Why don't they see it? Is everyone in Castle Town blind, ignorant, or idiotic? Does no one try to enter the castle at all? And that isn't even the biggest issue I have with it – the real question, in my mind, is why does nothing else happen?
Don't worry, I'll explain myself. This seems simple at first, but it actually isn't the kind of stuff that we can fix without resorting to one of those "huge, sweeping changes" to the storyline that I mentioned back in the intro article – but hey, that's why the opening paragraph ends with a disclaimer.
The Game We Got
At the halfway mark of Twilight Princess, after Zelda saves Midna, our heroes teleport outside of the castle in time to watch a massive barrier form around the castle. Upon returning to the town later, they find the place...absolutely the same as ever before. The huge barrier, plainly visible, isn't even mentioned except by a random Goron; the rest of the townsfolk, either blind or stupid, continue on with their lives completely unchanged.
This shouldn't require much explanation. After all, this was one of the primary issues noted by fans of the game even at the time of its release; in the years since, it has remained a key criticism of the tale. There's a town full of people living right at the base of this enormous barrier, and they aren't even a little worried about it? It doesn't become the talk of the town; no one runs for the hills; no one so much as changes their daily schedule? ...Pretty much, yeah. What's worse, because one character does mention it, we can't even explain it away by claiming it's "invisible to all but Link and Midna" (that would feel like a cop-out, sure...but at least then we'd have something).
However, this is just the most obvious problem – it's not the only one. I personally take heavy issue with Castle Town's treatment because it not only makes the Hyruleans seem like fools, but it betrays the very character of Ganondorf. As we said last week, the Dark Lord should be itching for revenge against the nation whose people imprisoned him. He's probably been working tirelessly for years to escape the Twilight Realm and restart his war with Hyrule.
So with that in mind...why does he just sit in the castle when there's a town full of victims right outside?
This is a huge missed opportunity, and although not as obvious as some of the things we discussed last week, I think it is perhaps the biggest reason that Ganondorf doesn't seem like an incarnation of hatred in this game. All those people are just running around outside, and he just lounges around until the Hero arrives? How can you possibly justify that? (Answer: ...you really can't)
So the problem with Hyrule Castle's barrier is twofold: first, the citizens don't react to it; second, Ganondorf does nothing while inside it. Even if he couldn't leave the castle for some reason, he still had monsters inside the barrier that could have been sent out. Fixing the former issue would have hardly any effect on the storyline, but the latter...that one has some major implications that simply cannot be ignored.
Because quite frankly, the only believable action for Ganondorf to take is to attack those citizens.
Attack on Castle Town
Picture it: Link and Midna warp out of the castle and see the barrier appear, only this time the townsfolk take note of it too – and not just because of the barrier, but because of the hordes of monsters rushing out of it.
Which monsters, you ask? I'd say ones that Link hasn't faced before, challenging beasts that will inspire a touch of fear in both Hero and player. Darknuts, Armored Lizalfos, Aeralfos... What a horrifying moment that would be, watching these monsters charge into the terrified mass of citizens with their swords and claws swinging. Some, like members of Telma's Resistance, would stay and fight so that others could flee, and no doubt Link would rush in to join that effort – but remember, he's stuck in Wolf form right now. Against armored or aerial monsters, what can he possibly do to defeat them?
...Nothing. He can do nothing. And that's the point.
Link would be powerless to help the people, a crushing moment in the Hero's journey. Sure, he and the Resistance might stall the beasts long enough for some people to escape, but in the end most of them would die. Talk about a defining moment in Link's life – the defeat would be so monumental, it would redefine the entire rest of the game. Link isn't going after Zant and Ganondorf solely because he's told that they're villains – in this one act, he sees the evil that they represent and knows how dangerous they are.
And that's the flip side of the coin: this scene would also serve to define Ganondorf and his evil. Like we said last week, the supposed "Dark Lord" didn't do much to earn his title this time around. We had no reason to fear him, save for what he enabled Zant to do and what he's done in other games. The ruthless malevolence of this assault would become the moment when we learned to fear and hate the game's final villain, which would have only served to make his boss battle that much more intense and epic.
Battling those specific monsters I listed would also set a precedent – in the game we got, those enemies are first met in the dungeons of the story's second half. They were solid fights, sure, but they weren't exactly difficult or riveting. With this change, however, each encounter with these beasts would see Link driven by the memory of when he was helpless against them. This only amps up the intensity of such battles, and it also places Link's growth into perspective: monsters he once couldn't stand up against are now falling left and right to his sword. There is no greater sense of victory than the kind that comes from facing a challenge that has defeated you in the past, and defeating it yourself this time.
A City in Ruins
Of course, the implications don't stop there – once Castle Town falls, Ganondorf isn't going to let its citizens just waltz back into town. The city would be left completely destroyed as his army transforms it into their home base...and really, what's wrong with that?
For a game that stole so much from Ocarina of Time, I find it heartbreaking that Nintendo left out the destruction and abandonment of Castle Town. Sure, we wouldn't have had much time to familiarize ourselves with the place... But in this scenario, we would actually witness and fail to stop the city's fall – which I'd argue would be just as impactful, if not more so, than emerging into the ruins of Ocarina's capital after your seven year sleep.
Ganondorf could even cover the place in Twilight again – a cursed Twilight enhanced by the Triforce of Power, no less, preventing Link and the Light Spirits from dispelling it until they had the power of the Sols on their side. The gates would not be closed, so Link could go in if he wanted, but its mighty curse would force him into Wolf form each time. Not only would this be an active reminder of Ganondorf's power and evil, but it would keep Link from defeating the monsters that destroyed the city. You'd only get that satisfaction when you reach the endgame (and oh! how satisfying that endgame would be).
Ah, that's another thing: by destroying the town, we could also set things up so that the final dungeon includes the town itself. Debris could block the path to the castle gates, forcing you to find other ways around. Link could enter destroyed buildings to reach higher levels of the city, and leap across the rooftops in Wolf form to bypass blockades. Maybe he could Sense the spirits of the dead citizens to locate routes and avoid enemies (if you even want to avoid them. Me? I'd charge in sword a'swingin').
Okay, sorry, I know I said we wouldn't focus on gameplay issues in these articles. I just found the Hyrule Castle dungeon a tad short and simple, so this idea excites me a bit too much. *deep breath* Alright, back on topic.
Fate of the Citizens
We said that Link's goal in the fall of Castle Town would not be to defeat the beasts, but rather to help citizens escape. Those that succeed in fleeing, then, would need somewhere to go, and most survivors would no doubt find their way to the other towns: Kakariko Village, Goron City, Zora's Domain, and Ordon Village.
Again, this is nothing but a boon: it breathes some much-needed life into areas that were almost completely pointless to visit in the second half of the game. With these citizens would come their conversations, their minigames, and their sidequests – and just think of how many more of those could open up as these proper, polished city-dwellers struggled to settle into the watery Zora's Domain, or the fiery Goron City, or the wilderness of Ordon Village.
With their home base now infested with evil, I also imagine the Resistance would relocate their headquarters to Kakariko. Most Castle Town citizens would likely settle there (convenient that there's several empty buildings and even a hotel there, eh?), and the Resistance members could become their primary caretakers. The potential for more Telma-Renado or Rusl-Colin scenes would only be a bonus.
One thing needs to be reiterated, though: only a minority of Castle Town citizens would survive. If we want the destruction of the city to have a real impact on our Hero, most of its populous would need to die in the attack. Tragic as that would be, though...it would sort of justify the lack of interactive Castle Town NPCs. I think most of us gamers would have forgiven that aspect of the city if we'd later learned that Nintendo intended for them to die all along.
The End Result
After Midna has been saved by Zelda, Ganondorf erects a barrier around Hyrule Castle and launches a vicious attack on the citizens of Castle Town. Link, alongside the Resistance, charges in to help, but in his Wolf form he is unable to make much of a difference and instead only buys a little time for people to escape. They flee to other parts of the world: Kakariko, Goron City, Zora's Domain, and Ordon Village, bringing their minigames and sidequests with them (and probably unlocking new ones) in the process. The Resistance also relocates to Kakariko, where its members care for refugees in between their roles in the game's storyline.
Castle Town is left in ruins and covered by a cursed Twilight despite Lanayru's revival. Link can return at will, but is forced to transform into a Wolf, powerless against Ganondorf's many monsters as they patrol the streets. Only when the Master Sword is imbued with the power of the Sols can he disperse the Twilight and explore the ruins as a human, though its destruction has cut off many paths and forces him to travel around it via wrecked buildings and rooftops routes to reach the castle.
The game we got received a lot of flak for the barrier issue, and, superficially, it could have been fixed with ease – just have townsfolk comment on its appearance, right? Yet when you start considering the nature of the man behind said barrier, things become much more complicated. While I'd have liked to keep things simple and just make minor variations to the storyline in these articles, such a major contradiction of personality resulted in us having to rewrite a ton of stuff from the game (and not just in this article, either, as we'll be coming back to this change time and again in this series). Characters really are everything in a story, especially when you've got some as strong as what the Zelda series has established throughout its lifespan.
Of course, many people will say that Ganondorf made up for it at the end, when he truly had a chance to shine – in the darkest, most malevolently awesome way imaginable – and I won't argue that his arc at least ended well. Endings are of paramount importance in all stories and arcs, as otherwise we're left feeling a bit...underwhelmed by the performance. While Ganondorf at least salvaged the finale of his tale, there's another group of characters in Twilight Princess that I think went the opposite direction: they started out strong, did some good stuff during Link's adventure...and then fell flat on their face when it came time to wrap up their arcs. That's who we'll be focusing on in next week's discussion; hope you'll tune in for it.
Until then, this is Alpha, signing off to go do...stuff.
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Most Flawed Narrative in the Zelda Series
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Usurper King
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Lord of Evil
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Ruins of Hyrule Castle Town
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: Allies of the Hero
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Princess Royale
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: Spirits and Sages
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: Fulfilling Lanayru's Legend
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: Inciting Incident
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Hero's Quest
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Childhood Friend
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: Homeland of the Hero
- Rewriting Twilight Princess: The Final Product
"Rewriting Twilight Princess" is a series focused on examining the many narrative issues of this epic Zelda game in an attempt to understand why it has garnered such negativity from the fanbase over the years. Join us each week as Tyler "Alpha" Meehan delves into each of these issues, explains what was wrong with it, and explores ideas for how the storyline could have been rewritten to salvage such problems.