Posted on October 26 2017 by Simon Rayner
The dark fantasy trappings of Twilight Princess depict my favorite version of Hyrule, verdant yet gritty, filled with all manner of gnarled beast and geist. Zelda games inherently lean on the supernatural side of things, but I’d argue Twilight Princess is Link’s most paranormal outing to date, helped and hindered by all manner of revenant throughout. For a game world so authentic and alive despite a murky pallet and context, it brushes over so much undead lore that could’ve easily been brought to life, instead of wallowing in enigmatic shadow and left to the imagination of a player.
My first encounter with one of the Poes of Twilight Princess was a memorable one. Just outside Castle Town across a bridge, I heard the chinking of metal and saw an eerie, blue light. Recognizing a familiar lantern, I remembered the Poes of past games, and I knew what I’d found. Not able to dodge or even see the Poe at this point, I withdrew, knowing that confronting this game’s ghosts wouldn’t be as straightforward. It was only later through Wolf Link’s senses did we get to see just what they were.
Impish, raggedy reapers atop their dangling lanterns, this iteration of Poe is a lot more dynamic than the cackling shrouds that’d come before them. Their unique design illustrates this dusky twilit version of Hyrule masterfully; these are the ghouls that belonged to this hazy world. The side quest that complemented them is also interesting, the unfortunate Jovani having fallen prey to a Faustian trap, his soul for riches.
During the course of the story and this quest, Link eventually wads through the cursed sand and stone of the infamous Arbiter’s Grounds, where we meet a darker kind of Poe, a “real” one.
Imp Poes serve as mischievous, plentiful cousins to the vengeful, sinister spectres that stalk this dungeon’s crumbling halls; they pale in comparison to the corpse-like faces and imposing, humanoid frames of this quartet. A wonderful homage to Ocarina of Time, Link has to hunt down each one to progress, the last copying Poe Sister Meg’s duplication skill. But there are other ghouls beyond the lantern clutching ghosts within.
The dungeon’s similarly spectral miniboss features a great piece of storytelling, a sealed sword bound by talismans and tags; a single, precarious cut is enough for the wraith housed within to stir from its slumber. A colossal sword swings through the air by unseen hands. What unnamed horror has Link unleashed?
Swooping and lurching, Death Sword is another memorable ghoul that haunts TP; the robed demon disintegrating into a swarm of tiny insects, purged from this plane upon defeat. But what is this creature? Why does it need to be chained and entombed so deep? All implications are left to the player, but the theming of an Egyptian tomb give players a lot to ponder as they continue their journey.
Whilst these enemies are diverse and compelling, Poes could’ve easily been pushed further beyond mere enemies. I would have loved NPC Poes in Twilight Princess, like what we’d seen in the Poe Composer Brothers of both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, perhaps with a side quest that revealed lore about the Poes. Perhaps the player could have helped one pass on for a piece of heart, but honestly, anything would have been a great excuse to develop them as breed.
Beyond the lantern-clutching Poes, not all spirits of this game are as malevolent. The Twilight that spreads across Hyrule transforms all Hylians into ghostly versions of themselves, floating flames that can only be seen through Wolf Link’s senses. Common townsfolk fade from reality once steeped in Twilight, completely unaware of what had happened to their world. Are they truly dead, or, as beings of light, simply not allowed to exist corporeally in Twilight? Is this the Twilight’s way of wiping Hyrule clean? Could the Twilight eventually corrupt their spirits into some form of Twili Poe? These are questions that can only be answered in speculation.
Twilight Princess also demonstrates how the living inhabitants of Hyrule can manifest as spirits after death. The angelic spirit of Queen Rutela aids Link, bestowing the Zora Armor once her son is escorted to the safety of Kakariko Village. Her regrets laid to rest, so too can she. Now, we had seen deceased characters exist beyond the grave in Zelda games before; dead Dampé of Ocarina of Time became a Poe of sorts upon death, wielding a lantern that carried his soul. But despite the distinct difference between Poe and spirit, the forces that determine who becomes a Poe and who becomes a spirit remain unclear. How does a Poe take form? What is the Poe’s relationship with spirits. These are again questions left unanswered by Twilight Princess.
Either way, Rutela is distinctly a spirit and isn’t the only one that helped Link battle the Twilight.
We of course have the Hero’s Shade, Link’s combat tutor and a canonical prior incarnation of Link. Interestingly this fallen hero is vaguely alluded to further in the game, within the final dungeon. “The cursed swordsman…sleeps before…the sacred tree” is inscribed upon a tombstone in a hidden area, the Castle Graveyard, surrounded by the most mysterious of all, the Ghost Soldiers. They’re never before referenced, Midna never alludes to them or points them out, and we can only them through Wolf Link’s senses. It’s almost as if Link and Link alone is the only person who sees them, ancient warriors that glow like the Hero’s Shade, more corpse-like and less skeletal.
Just what are they, and why do they only appear now? Why do they also resemble the warriors summoned by Stallord deep in Arbiter’s Grounds? They’re wordless and definitely not Poes, but just what is the story of these ancient warriors?
We may never know the answers to these questions, which is perhaps for the best. We as fans are instead allowed to ponder and enjoy these details littered throughout not only Twilight Princess, but the series as a whole. It’s the little mysteries that make these worlds seem authentic and real. Twilight Princess’ dark, fantastical realm is one that breathes despite help from those which can’t.
Simon Rayner is an Associate Editor at ZI from Norwich, UK who one day hopes to own a legion of moths. Follow him on Twitter at @star_rayner.