The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Structural analysis: Act II, Part 2
The Second Obstacle
Twilight Princess‘s Second Obstacle, the search for the Mirror of Twilight, sets itself apart from the other Obstacles through its tight focus and quick pacing. Although it relies on a narrative contrivance to get started, that same contrivance makes it possible to breeze past the kind of detours that plagued earlier beats. This plot point is also noteworthy for how it changes the status quo, as it ends with Link and Midna in an arguably worse position than they were before.
The search for the Mirror begins with a trip to Telma’s Bar in Hyrule Castle Town. Telma previously positioned herself as someone who knows what’s going on in the world, as her bar hosts a group of researchers studying Hyrule. Hence, her bar is the logical place to go when the narrative provides little direction. Fortunately, Telma is ready with a suggestion: Link should head to the eastern desert, as there’s been “a disturbing turn of events.” She doesn’t elaborate, and Link and Midna don’t question her. Unfortunately, it’s the best lead they’ve got. This echoes a similar lack of direction from the First Obstacle when Link agreed to search the Forest Temple for his friends when he had nowhere else to go. Once again, the narrative forces the characters onto the correct path by default, limiting their ability to impact the narrative through active decision-making.
Link and Midna head to Lake Hylia, where the desert’s entrance is located. There, a researcher from Telma’s bar tells Link about the cursed mirror in the desert that was once used to send people to the underworld. He also gives Link a ‘great’ tip for gaining access to the desert: he can load himself into a cannon and shoot himself into the sands. Link agrees, defying all logic and reason, and together he and Midna fly over the ridge and land on the edge of the desert.
When Link and Midna land, Midna asks Link to wait. She tells him about the Twili, and how they were descended from the magicians chased out of Hyrule by the goddesses. The Twili have been condemned to the dusky realm ever since, and although there’s still resentment for Hylians there, Midna claims it was a peaceful place until Zant took over. Her emotion comes through in her expressions as she reiterates her desire remove Zant from power. This is more than just revenge for her; the Twili mean something to her. This adds depth to her character and foreshadows a later reveal that will explain the depth of her connection to her people.
To save the Twili, Midna will have to return to the Twilight Realm, but she can’t travel between light and shadow the way Zant does. To do that, she’ll need the Mirror of Twilight, which her people believe to be the last bridge between the two worlds. She asks if Link will come with her to the Twilight Realm when they find it, and he agrees, so they travel on.
Together, Link and Midna arrive at Arbiter’s Grounds: an abandoned prison once used to hold the kingdom’s worst criminals. They fight their way through the haunted building, and when they reach the inner sanctum, Zant is waiting for them. He’s impressed that Link is still alive, but he doesn’t think that’s going to last much longer, as he resurrects a mighty skeleton and flees. Logically, it would make more sense for him to stay and handle Link himself, but ‘the villain leaves the hero to his underling’ is such a common trope both in general and within the Zelda series that it’s defensible as a tradition of the genre, even if it doesn’t make sense.
Following both the trope and the plot’s demands, Link defies Zant’s predictions and defeats the skeleton. Once the beast is slain, Link and Midna access the tower where the Mirror was once stored. Much to Midna’s horror, the mirror has been broken, but her grieving is cut short when a group of holy Sages appears along the rooftop. The Sages tell Link and Midna a story of Ganondorf, an evil man who was to be executed after committing terrible crimes in Hyrule. They run him through with a sword of light, but he survives the blow by using the power of the Triforce hidden within him. More beast than man, he rushes the Sages and kills one of them. As he turns on the others, they open the Twilight Realm in a panic and cast Ganondorf inside. Although this solves their immediate problem, it also leads Ganondorf directly to Zant, which results in the present problems.
It’s rare for a narrative to introduce new characters after the midpoint, but Ganondorf is no stranger to the Zelda series. Still, adding him this late in the story creates characterization problems, as every good antagonist needs a relationship with the protagonist for their conflict to resonate. While Ganondorf may have a history with other Links without history, he’s got no history with this iteration of Link. He’s got slightly more of a connection to Midna, as his power led Zant to seize the Twilight Realm, but he’s never met her directly and has no specific animosity towards her. With the story half-over, Twilight Princess has two options: either give Ganondorf extra screentime to establish him as an antagonist properly, or leave him in the background and keep Zant as the ultimate antagonist. Unfortunately, neither of those pans out and Ganondorf’s poorly-established presence becomes a detriment to the narrative.
The plot point ends when the crestfallen Midna is given new hope by Hyrule’s sages. They remind her that the mirror can only be shattered by the true Leader of the Twili, and the usurper Zant was merely able to break it into large pieces. Those pieces are still hidden around Hyrule: one in the snowy mountains, one in an ancient grove, and one in the heavens. With those instructions, she and Link have everything they need to hunt down the Mirror pieces, which becomes their next obstacle.
The Third Obstacle
Twilight Princess‘s final obstacle, the quest for the Mirror shards, is heavy on gameplay and light on plot. This isn’t uncommon for the series, but it’s still a notable departure from the game’s plot-heavy first half. It’s also notable that two of the three dungeons can be accessed without any interaction with the children of Ordon, further deemphasizing their role in the plot. On the other hand, Midna continues to develop during this obstacle, as the quest is tied into her character arc.
To find the first Mirror shard, the sages instructed Link to head to the snowy mountains. As Link has not yet visited a snowy region at this point, he heads to Telma’s bar for information on how to reach it. In yet another lucky coincidence at Telma’s, it turns out one of the bar patrons, Ashei, has gone to the mountains herself and left instructions for how to follow her.
Using Ashei’s map, Link and Midna reach Snowpeak Mountains and meet with Ashei. She tells them of a beast in the area that’s been terrorizing the Zoras and stealing their fish, but the thick snow has made it too difficult to investigate. Once the Zora prince Ralis tells Link where to find the fish the beast wants, Link can use his keen wolf senses to track the scent and find the beast in the storm. The beast, Yeto, tells Link that he’s found a piece of the mirror and invites Link to the dilapidated mansion he calls home. This mansion also happens to be a dungeon, which bucks tradition by integrating non-player characters into the exploration. Although this is not the first time the Zelda series has featured character interactions in a dungeon, the narrative integration still a welcome change of pace after so many straight-forward dungeon crawls.
The mansion substory focuses around Yeto’s wife, Yeta. She’s fallen ill because of the Mirror shard, so they’ve locked it away on the highest floor of the mansion. Unfortunately, the Mirror has drawn out all sorts of monsters, so Link must fight his way through the mansion to reach the top. When he finally finds the Mirror, Yeta attacks him in a blind rage, but he’s able to subdue her and Yeto forgives her for her actions under the evil spell. Link hands the Mirror shard over to Midna, who laments that Yeta had to suffer under the Mirror’s power, and comments that both of their worlds can be cruel.
To find the second Mirror shard, Link and Midna venture back to Faron woods, to the grove where Link found the Master Sword. Along the way, they meet with Rusl, Colin’s father. Rusl doesn’t have much to say about his son—who still hasn’t come home, not that anyone seems to care—but he does have the tools to help Link reach the next temple. This brief interaction is a stark reminder of how little the children now matter in the narrative, as even their own parents are doing fine without them.
With Rusl’s help, Link and Midna find the entryway to the Temple of Light, hidden deep within the ruins of the Temple of Time. This temple has very little story content, but it does give Link yet another chance to met with one of the Oocca. They’re small, misshapen bird creatures who have acted as warp points in previous dungeons, but their roles expanded with the search for the Mirror shards. The Oocca in the Temple of Time, Ooccoo, is there searching for the technology that will let him reach his people’s city again, which exists high in the sky. Link agrees to help him, as the City in the Sky is the next temple on his list.
Before Link can help Ooccoo, he must receive the Mirror shard from the Temple of Time, so he clears out the monsters and kills the spider at the temple’s heart. Like everything else in the Temple, the spider is an interesting callback to Ocarina of Time, but it lacks the narrative punch of the brawl with Yeta from the previous dungeon. When the spider gives up its shard, Midna comments on how powerful it is and wonders if they may have to destroy it once they use it for their purposes. This is a nice little bit of foreshadowing that pays off later, once the mirror has been fully assembled.
With one Mirror shard left to go, Link returns to Telma’s bar once more. She asks him to check in on the others in Kakariko Village, as another patron, Shad, is headed there as well. When Link and Midna arrive in the village, Shad is there with Renado and the Goron elder, and together they’ve uncovered a potential way to restore Ilia’s memory. It involves piecing together the last moments Ilia can remember, which involve the Rod of the Heavens that Link found in the Temple of Time. This is yet another staggering coincidence in a story entirely built upon them.
With Telma’s help, Link locates a wooden statue that Ilia remembers from her kidnapping. It was given to her by the woman who took care of her in a village she can barely recall. The Goron elder recognizes the statue as a creation of a long-forgotten tribe in Lanayru. Unfortunately, their village is plagued by monsters, so Link must clear them out to learn more. When he finally does, an old woman named Impaz comes out of hiding and thanks him for his help. She admits that she did help hide Ilia in the village, then recognizes the Dominion Rod and gives Link an ancient book that should help him on his journey. It will allow him to better communicate with the Oocca, owners of the last Mirror shard.
Link takes the book, along with a horse call that Ilia made for him while she was in hiding, and heads back to Kakariko Village. When Link returns with the horse call, Ilia’s childhood memories return. She recalls Link always being beside her, but it rings hollow without any build-up from previous acts. Everything the player knows about Link and Ilia’s relationship at this point is based on two interactions, and both were centered around Ilia’s love for Epona. After that, she lost her memory and became a blank slate, which set her relationship with Link to zero. By bringing that relationship back to its original state without ever establishing what the original state was, Twilight Princess does both the story and the audience a disservice.
Once Ilia and Link finish their reunion, she promises she’ll be fine and says she’ll wait for him to return from the last leg of his journey. Whether she actually does is unclear, as this is the last time Ilia appears in the story. Even though there’s an entire act to go, Ilia is no longer a character in Twilight Princess—not that she ever was.
Once Ilia’s plotline is concluded, Link is free to continue his quest. He gives the ancient book to Shad, who has been researching ancient Oocca texts. With Link’s help, he transcribes some of the missing symbols, and Link can use the Dominion Rod to reveal a hidden room beneath Renado’s home. It houses a cannon similar in style to the cannon Link used to reach Arbiter’s Grounds, one so large that it can almost certainly reach the Oocca’s City in the Sky.
With the aid of the Lake Hylia cannoneers, Link penetrates the clouds and reaches the home of the Oocca. Like the Temple of Light before it, the City in the Sky is devoid of plot, and the story only picks up again once Link and Midna find another Mirror Shard. As they prepare to return home, Midna states that Zant couldn’t shatter the mirror because he wasn’t the true ruler, which means the real thing should easily beat him. It’s not yet clear what she means by this, but the meaning will unfold in the story’s next segment: the Disaster.
From this point forward, the story narrows its focus to five characters: Link, Midna, Zant, Zelda, and Ganondorf. All of the children of Ordon are waiting for Link in Kakariko and Telma’s patrons have served the full extent of their purpose. This condenses the story’s plotline to the core conflict between the forces of good (Link, Midna, and Zelda) and evil (Zant and Ganondorf), and all the remaining story beats center around that conflict.
The Crisis segment begins when Link and Midna return to Arbiter’s Grounds with the completed Mirror of Twilight. As Midna reflects on the serene beauty of her world, the Sages reappear and apologize for their role in its downfall. They ask her forgiveness, then call her by her title: Twilight Princess. Midna, ashamed by her own deception, looks away from the Sages and confesses that she has no right to forgive them, as she’s ‘a ruler who fled her people.’ This echoes her earlier comments about Zelda’s lack of qualifications to lead and adds a new layer to her condemnations.
According to Midna, her people share a legend about a hero who would appear to them as a divine beast, so Midna had hoped to use Link to restore her world to normal. It was only when Princess Zelda sacrificed herself that Midna saw the potential in the world of light and realized she needed to save both places. She hopes that killing Zant will lift the curse on her, allowing Zelda’s resurrection. This moment represents another turn in Midna’s character arc, integrating the game’s theme of ‘the role of a ruler’ in the process.
Using the Mirror of Twilight, Midna and Link create a portal to the Twilight Realm. When they emerge on the other side, they’re met with a world full of cursed creatures who have lost their Twili forms. Midna rages at Zant’s audacity and refuses to accept a leader who would harm his own people. Together, Midna and Link fight their way to the throne room, where Zant waits for them. At first, he appears composed as he lectures Midna about their people’s suffering, but he unravels at a rapid pace. Hopping around the room, he screeches about the complacency of the Twili royal family, who were content to let their people live in their prison of shadows. Zant, believing himself to be the true king, resented that none could see his greatness and sought power at any cost. He found it in the form of Ganondorf, who promised to make Zant’s desires his own. Ganondorf had but a single desire himself: to merge the two worlds, creating a single kingdom of darkness. It’s an incredibly vague goal, but Ganondorf has a history of vague goals, so it’s at least consistent with his character.
Once Zant reveals his master’s true intentions, Link and Midna fight him on an illusory battlefield that recalls previous enemy encounters. When he’s defeated, his illusions falter, and the Fused Shadows return to Midna. What doesn’t return to her is her true form. She’s left as an imp, a disastrous fate that leaves her screaming at the traitorous magic. This is her Crisis moment: the moment when everything she has pinned her hopes on is lost. In spite of her best efforts, she is still stuck in the weak body that leaves her unfit to rule.
Midna curses Zant for his lust for power, emphasizing how all who looked in his eyes saw it and knew he could never be king. She condemns him as an unfit ruler, invoking the game’s them once more. Zant has no interest in Midna’s lofty ideals. He takes particular delight in telling her that her curse can never be broken, as it was granted by Ganondorf. She won’t be able to stop him, either, as he has already left the Twilight Realm and been reborn in the world of light. With his power, Zant will be reborn again and again, and all of Midna and Link’s work will be worthless.
Enraged, Midna reaches out with the power of the Fused Shadows and tears him to pieces. As Zant explodes in a burst of black confetti, Midna remarks with horror and awe that she used but a fraction of their full power. With it, she’s certain she can find a way to save Zelda, but to do so, they must return to Hyrule Castle and face Ganondorf head-on.
Either because of or in spite of its reduced cast, this section of Twilight Princess is the most tightly focused of any preceding it. It calls back to previously foreshadowed elements and cleanly outlines external and internal stakes for the coming Climax. On a global scale, Ganondorf’s success is bad because it will plunge two worlds into darkness; on an emotional scale, his success is bad because Midna will not be able to repay her life-debt to Princess Zelda. This segment also serves to emphasize Midna’s importance to the story, as it puts her growth front-and-center with the Sages and makes the Climax about saving both worlds and repaying her debts. While Link has a vested interest in his world’s survival, his connection with Princess Zelda is less personal and his only connection to the Twilight Realm through Midna. This shift in character emphasis is so profound that one can argue Midna is the true protagonist. Every story builds to its climax, and Twilight Princess’s conflict is built around the titular character. As her decisions move the story forward, she is the driving force behind the narrative all the way through to the conclusion.
Turning Point Two
Like most Second Turning Points in the Zelda series, Twilight Princess‘s Second Turning Point is a quick one. It occurs when Midna and Link return to Hyrule Castle, which is still surrounded by a powerful barrier. Using the Fused Shadows, Midna transforms into a squid-like beast wielding a spear and breaks the barrier apart. The sheer strength of the magic knocks her out, and she awakens moments later in Link’s arms to find the path to the palace open at last. This is their final threshold; when they cross, they do it together.
* Reference Run: SourceSpy91. The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD – MAIN QUEST – FULL GAME Walkthrough. YouTube, 2019.
** Reference Script: Ashley Bakaitus, Eleanor Bennett, and Daniel Brabander. Twilight Princess Project. http://zelda.obdurodon.org, 2008.