TWILIGHT PRINCESS NOVEL REVIEW
Winning Entry of the October 2012 Testimonial Contest
by Tyler Fultz on Monday, 8 October 2012 at 11:33
“The Legend of Zelda”: this franchise, first released by Nintendo in the eighties, changed the way we looked at, thought of, and played video games forever. It brought large worlds to be explored, dozens of items to use for further exploration, and has carried on to be one of Nintendo’s biggest sensations for over twenty-five years.
A lot of attention is devoted to more recent games released for 3D consoles and for good reasons, too. They make the worlds bigger, capture much more than pixels of the Super NES and Game Boy ever could, allow for a lot more gameplay options, and so much more.
The biggest hype I’ve ever seen over one of these Zelda titles would have to be the time between 2005 and 2007 when a single video/image was enough to get the attention of the Zelda crowd. The game was delayed for almost two years, so it could be fine-tuned in terms of story, graphics, and gameplay as well as compatibility with the upcoming Wii. All that I can say is that, when the game finally hit the shelves, several say it was well worth the wait.
The name of this game is simply known as “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess”.
What is it about this game that drew such a crowd to it? I have many ideas, but will name off what I think are, probably, the most important or prominent.
The first, and foremost, is the graphics. In previous Zelda titles, the graphics were either good in their own way or good for their time from the first title to “Wind Waker”. In a very stark contrast to the lighter and cartoonish style of “Wind Waker”, which came out three years earlier, Twilight Princess had more realistic graphics in both the scenery and in the characters and creatures. Silly or dangerous, average or fantastic, everything looks like it belonged in something way ahead of most Zelda games before this title.
Second is just how vast everything is. Several Zelda games make excellent use of scenery and landscape, especially “Ocarina of Time” and every console-released game after it, but Twilight Princess went out of its way to make the land of Hyrule bigger in terms of size and landscape variety. There are mountains, deserts, glaciers, forests, even a city in the skies. And the items Link comes across through each part of the game corresponds to each environment very well.
I’ll keep this quick, but I will also note the soundtrack is among the best in gaming soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Being brief, I’ll say that it fits every situation and every environment, making it feel more like an epic movie than a video game.
One day, as I browsed for Zelda-related material on deviantart, I stumbled across something that caught my eye. It was something about a Zelda novel by a certain Stephonika W. Kaye. My curiosity getting the better of me, I checked it out and found one of the later chapters. A quick glance later and I found that it was part of an entire novelization of Twilight Princess.
I have to say that this isn’t really the first time I’ve seen this attempted. All kinds of people across the web have tried to novelize something in the media. More often than not, it was usually fanfiction just trying to re-tell the gameplay and doing it either averagely or, for lack of a better word, poorly.
I originally thought that this was just one of those, but as I read more, I began to think “this is leagues above all other attempts at something like this”. And, because of this, I knew that I had to start right from square one. I tracked down the original site for the novel and have read it ever since.
I’d like to point out that I’m really not much of a reader. Not that I haven’t read a single book, but there are certain things that a book has to do to keep me reading it. In order for it to work, it has to grab my attention and maintain that interest right from the start. If it doesn’t, I’ll lose interest and lose it fast.
Needless to say, once I started reading, I just couldn’t stop until I hit the most recent chapter (it’s a work in progress). So, that’s one of many things that the novel accomplished for me.
Back on topic, the big question is “what sets this apart from all the other novelization attempts”? For me, it was that it could appeal to fans of the series, those who want something a little grittier and more realistic, and people who may have never heard of the series and just picked it up. Basically, it’s the same approach as Chris Nolan’s Batman movies. It uses several elements and characters from the game to add familiarity to it, but also makes its own unique twists to make it feel different and appealing to a wider variety.
What do I mean when I say “realistic”, especially in a piece of fantasy, where the word is debatable to the point of nonsensical? Well, it’s like this: let’s say that Link falls several stories into a lake like he does in the game. In the game, he just gets back up and swims out without so much as a scratch. In the novel, though, he’s knocked unconscious and, when he does finally regain himself, he feels the pain all the way to his core.
Adding onto that, the novel goes to good lengths to describe just what Link was feeling in each environment. A volcano is blisteringly hot, the mountaintop is biting cold, and the areas shrouded in Twilight have a grim and eerie atmosphere to them. Most other attempts at a novelization of something like Zelda usually leave out the descriptions of what type of environment Link is in, expecting their reader to know how he feels or let us believe that Link’s tough and he can take it.
Another thing that sets this novelization apart from the other attempts across the web would be that there’s no thrown-in romance. It’s kind of hinted at early on in the story, but not really confirmed and it doesn’t take up a chunk of the story. Stephonika actually made a poll on her website on whether or not there should be an alternate ending where Link gets a girl at the end. I, personally, hope she doesn’t and say, “Let the fanfiction-writers handle THAT part. This is too good for something like that”.
Some fanfictions also recreate dungeons almost like reading a game guide, which is pretty boring and tiresome to read. The novel takes the smarter way out, using some elements from the dungeons while removing others because it knows that it’s supposed to be entertaining us and being its own creation, not telling us how to play the game.
Long story short, the novel knows just what it is: a novel. It never tries to be anything else, it picks a tone, it stays with it, and it does a very good job maintaining that steady balance.
The thing that most fans reading this are probably asking “how is the main hero portrayed?” and, trust me, it is an important question. In all the Zelda games, Link has never talked (save for "Wind Waker" where he said only a sentence) and the creator of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto himself, stated that Link is kind of a blank slate so that the fans can make what they want of him. And in previous times Link has spoken (the short-lived TV show and incredibly terrible CDi games), he was either portrayed as unintelligent or a jerk. So, what’s Stephonika’s approach to the character?
Surprisingly, it’s a very good one. Link is quiet through the majority of the story, but the narration describes his thoughts and impressions on certain situations and they’re done very well. While he doesn’t talk too much, like all humans, he has to talk and make his opinion known to those around him. This may be surprising to Zelda fans, but the way Link behaves, thinks, and talks is actually what most fans would want from him. He’s dignified, humble, and brave, but also shows doubt, compassion, concern, fright, and so many other emotions.
I should also talk about Link’s wolf form, too. I like how it’s depicted and how he isn’t always depending on it. In fact, he’s kind of afraid of the change and the fact that a part of it will always be with him. At one point, Link is actually in danger of losing his humanity to the form and whether it’s his enemy’s magic or just the form itself is a pretty frightening concept. It’s a good plot point as it increases the urgency to find a way to get back to human form before it’s too late and all hope is lost.
In a surprising contrast, he comes to a point where he does need the wolf form. Before that point, the transformation is painful and not looked-forward to. At the point where he embraces the change and knows that he needs it, the pain is gone and it no longer threatens to consume him. I thought that was a good piece of work on the author’s part.
The interactions Link has with the people he meets is also good. The village children look up to him and, though he doesn’t want them to follow his path, he still gives them advice and is seen as a role model even before he finds his true calling. He even has a few run-ins with a father figure that he doubts for a while, maybe even inwardly hates, but in one chapter there seems to be a sort of unspoken forgiveness and a restored trust. It’s impressive because not a word is exchanged between Link and this man, but the actions of the man speak for themselves.
Of the interactions, I especially like how Link interacts with Midna and how they view and think about each other. Midna was always one of the things that made the game good and she’s also great in the novel. In both, she slowly becomes a more interesting character and actually develops from a selfish little mischief-maker to a more compassionate character. Both Link and Midna start off kind of annoyed with each other, but it changes to puzzlement to one’s actions until they eventually learn to trust, appreciate, and help each other.
The last thing that works for me is just the emotional feel and an atmosphere to it. Yeah, Link accomplishes a lot that many people would deem “impossible”, but he still takes a beating and has to stop and recover after each accomplishment and at times, wonders if what he’s doing will be worth it. And, when Zelda gives her life, she practically DIES, she doesn’t just vanish. The novel actually shows her body falling to the floor and falling into a torpid state. That one action leaves such an impact on the reader, even when taken into account that Zelda wasn’t really in the story for a long time.
Choosing elements from the game that stand superior to the novel takes some real digging. The only thing I can think of that the game has over the novel is quite simple: it’s a video game and can allow for more over-the-top things to happen (i.e. being shot out of cannons to get to certain areas and talking with animals in wolf-form) as well as maintaining a form of humor and a ton of side-quests to find hidden items and accomplishments.
This isn’t a strike against the novel, though, because realism is what it was shooting for in the first place as well as a more serious note even on Twilight Princess’s standards. There aren’t any side-quests and most of the side-characters are downplayed or excluded as a whole, but that’s not working against the story. It knows where it’s going and just who needs to be kept in and left out.
I guess if I had to choose something that I didn’t like in the game, it would be the lack of time for both Zelda and another character near the end, both of which are among the most prominent characters in the Zelda franchise. Don’t get me wrong, they both have interesting roles in the stories of both the game and the novel, but it wouldn’t have killed the guys at Nintendo to give both bigger and more prominent roles.
Still, it’s only a nitpick. I haven’t really come across a chapter that I would say I “hate” or even “dislike”. I do have a tie between my absolute favorite chapters/moments. One is when the history of a darker-dwelling civilization is being explained. In the game, I was confused by it and asking “what am I seeing right now?” In the novel, though, it was downright creepy. It’s narrated very darkly, detailed very darkly, and it has such a scary atmosphere that it’s kind of enjoyable in its own weird sense.
The second is the fortieth chapter because of one specific moment. It’s when Link states that he has to fight an evil alone and that no one can help him. It quickly turns into a bit of an outburst with some people he’s gotten to know and have helped him, both directly and indirectly. He then explains that he didn’t choose his path, but rather it was his destiny from birth. He didn’t want the role of the legendary hero, but that he also embraces it and will face what challenges lie ahead. The village he grew up in was his home for many years, but through his journey, the entire land has become his home and he’s willing to die to protect it.
That part of the chapter said, to me, that this author put a lot of time and thought into it. Link wasn’t complaining, but rather stating his duty to those who didn’t quite comprehend it. And how they respond shortly afterward is priceless (I won’t spoil it).
I’m almost done here, so I’ll wrap it up with one last question and my answer.
Should this work get publicized through Nintendo as an official novel to the game? I have mixed feelings, honestly. Part of me wants to say “yes” because I do think it could draw in both fans of the game and other readers, and I think it would do both Stephonika and Nintendo a lot of justice all while promoting the game to people who probably never have played it.
That being said, another part of me is doubtful because of just how much luck and attention the author would need to make it there as well as fans who may hate it “because it isn’t the game” (a stupid reason, really, but it’ll pop up undoubtedly).
If I had to choose, though, I think it’s worth a shot but I won’t be surprised if it gets rejected. Will I buy it if it does get published and becomes official Nintendo merchandise? Put simply: “Yes”. And you’ll see me Facebook about it and go into more depth about its contents.
Well, that just about does it. I think I’ve said what needs to be said. Stephonika says the end of the story is in sight. One thing I do know is that I will read it and try to enjoy myself as the ride comes to a close. Honestly, this is the part where I don’t know what to expect. The ending is always a pivotal moment in a story, especially in something that has a lot of fans. It’s essentially a coin flip: it will either upset the fans or satisfy them.
My only advice to Stephonika is “tread carefully”. That one step will ultimately decide the novelization’s fate.
Do I advise that people read it, whether they’re a fan of Zelda or just looking for a good read? Yes. It will not be a waste of your time.