After five long years, a brand new entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise is upon us. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword marks the long and anxiously awaited return of our hero Link on a home console, the first Zelda title developed exclusively with the Wii in mind, and, quite possibly, the swan song for Nintendo’s small white system. The Wii started with Zelda, and now it’s ending with Zelda. The only question is – does this latest legend have what it takes to meet the unreasonably high, yet justified, expectations of its fans?
It’s been thirteen years since the Zelda franchise first adapted to 3D in Ocarina of Time. After such a long time and so many chances to improve, Link is going to need more than just being the Hero of Time if he wants to remain amongst the kings of video games, and the proudest and most respected of Nintendo’s mascots. This is especially true since the adventures that followed the N64 classics, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, are considered by many to not have the same strokes of genius Ocarina of Time did, taking many steps forward but also just as many backward, and ultimately not advancing the franchise as much as it needs to, considering its pedigree. In the eyes of many, the Zelda games are becoming just spectacular Action/Adventure titles, and not the absolute best in the medium like they were in the NES, SNES and N64 days. One could argue this is because Nintendo itself is not the absolute best in the medium like it was in those days, but even so, recent titles like Super Mario Galaxy proved that Nintendo’s mascots can still be the kings of at least their respective gaming genres. So, is Skyward Sword the Mario Galaxy of the Zelda franchise? Absolutely not. Is it worse than its predecessors? Absolutely not.
Skyward Sword features a brand new Link, yet again. This Link lives in Skyloft, a town that is pretty much a rock floating in the sky. When the citizens of Skyloft look down below, they see an impenetrable cloud barrier, so what lies below in what they call the “surface” is a complete mystery to them. All they know is an ancient tale that speaks of a war that broke out, where an evil demon was seeking to obtain a legendary power, so the Goddess took this power and the piece of land that held it, and whisked it way above into the sky. This piece of land would later become known as Skyloft.
Since the only terrain they need to travel through is air, Skyloftians (an affectionate nickname I made up myself) are trained to ride Loftwings, huge birds that carry people around. Each person has their own Loftwing which they are bonded with since early age. It’s a lot like the movie Avatar, except with less implied sexual intercourse between the human and the giant bird. Some citizens, if they so desire, can become Knights of Skyloft, where they are trained to protect and serve, so to speak. They are trained in the ways of sword combat, and must be impeccable when riding a Loftwing. They also wear fancy uniforms with boots, skirts and elf-like hats. Every year there is something called the Wing Ceremony, where participants undergo a Loftwing riding contest, and the winner gets accepted into the Knight Academy. This is where the game picks up, with Link being one of those aspiring Knights, and having not trained at all for the Wing Ceremony that is about to start, he needs to step it up. I won’t go into much detail about how the story unfolds from this point, even though you probably already know even if you’ve not played the game yet, but in short, stuff goes wrong and Link needs to dive down into the surface. The main focus of the story is Zelda, a young girl from Skyloft who is kidnapped and taken to the surface, so Link goes to save her, since we are shown in every way possible in the first few minutes of the game that they are madly in love.
The story in the game has some great ideas, some bad execution, and after all is said and done ends up being just alright. The concept is compelling, and the ending is well done, but the stuff in the middle is lacking. Though there are some exciting story elements in the middle, the whole thing takes way too much of a backseat throughout most of the game, which is not ideal for a game like this, especially with the lengthy, full-of-cutscenes introduction of the game. A significant portion of the experience feels ancient as far as story progression goes; yet it always wants to remind you that it does indeed have a story and you’re playing for a purpose other than gameplay. The story is completely disconnected from the gameplay for long stretches at a time, which is disappointing, especially after the engaging narrative of Twilight Princess. Speaking of, that game also had a lot of interesting supporting characters that were developed in engaing ways as the story unfolded, yet Skyward Sword just has interesting supporting characters. With the exception of the classic “main three” (the hero, the princess, the villain), and one more guy, no one is explored or taken anywhere different than they were in the beginning of the game. Some are by sidequests, but it’s never anything significant or, more importantly, anything you care about. There’s even a very interesting, and important, character of the Sheikah tribe which is barely touched upon. It’s disappointing.
But, anyway, story is not all there is to Zelda games (though I wish it played a bigger role), what about the gameplay? Well, Skyward Sword makes some interesting choices in this regard as well. The first aspect that will jump straight at you as soon as you read anything about this game (let alone play it) is that Wii MotionPlus is a huge focus. It’s required, and it’s used to do pretty much everything. And all its uses work, some better than others, but, aside from having to re-center the gyroscope often, it will never frustrate or even so much as baffle you. Every single item in the game uses MotionPlus, plus a lot of individual actions, not to mention riding your Loftwing and using your sword, and everything works. The big star of the show is the sword. It literally follows you wherever you move the Wiimote with 1:1 precision. While walking around, I would often move it in circles to see the in-game sword draw a circle, and then I would start moving it quicker and quicker, to test if it would glitch up, or start to not detect my movements accurately as I moved it quicker. That never happened. The control is flawless. As far as actually using the sword goes, swinging left, right, up, down, diagonally and stabbing all work perfectly. Combat is the best in the series because of this, and because of the enemies – some will cleverly block you (and react in the fly if you change your sword angle), so you need to use intelligent swipes, and others are designed to be taken down with specific swipes. There is a lot of variety in there, and rest assured, combat is very engaging and never gets repetitive, not even in the last dungeon of the game.
There are also many creative bosses that have you use your sword, and some of your items, in specific ways. The boss fights are overall very well made, an improvement over Twilight Princess’ and Wind Waker's bosses. They’re still a bit on the easy side, but this time around they’re much more interesting design-wise, and creative strategy-wise. These bosses have you use some of the many items you’ll get in your adventure, and there's some sword-exclusive bosses which is a welcome change. The item selection is also very good in Skyward Sword, with many returning classics and a couple of new additions. It’s a good balance, and you never stop using an item once you get it. Some items have fewer uses than they could’ve had, but at least you use your whole arsenal throughout the whole adventure, and not just in the dungeon you get the item in, which is very pleasing.
The most significant change in Skyward Sword, however, is not the motion controls, but the way the overworld and the areas you adventure through are designed. Like in all other Zelda games, there is an overworld called The Sky, from which you can go to Skyloft, any of the three surface areas, or to smaller islands scattered throughout the sky for story events, playing mini games or to find treasure. However, once the novelty of flying around in a giant bird wears off (which happens fast), you’ll notice that there’s not much to do in this overworld. It just serves as a way to cohesively connect the different areas, without being a menu/level select screen. This is perhaps the most segmented Zelda game ever made. Skyloft is the only town in the entire game. The three surface areas hold the classic Zelda dungeons, but while you’re not in a dungeon, you’re exploring a dangerous terrain filled with monsters, puzzles and no towns (though there are some friendly inhabitants), so they feel like a dungeon. Skyward Sword is very dense, packing a ton of gameplay, much more than any Zelda before it. You’re not laid-back and not battling or solving puzzles before you enter a dungeon, quite the opposite. The way to the dungeon is almost a dungeon in itself, and once you’re done with the dungeon, there’s a very brief return to the Sky, and then back to fighting enemies and solving puzzles.
This is either a good or a bad thing, depending on who you are. I know that phrase sounds lame when you read it in a review, but it’s truly accurate in this case. Like I mentioned before, the battles never become repetitive. And, you might be interested to know that the puzzles don’t either, and that you will, in fact, find some of the most original and creative puzzles in the history of the franchise. Some true “out of the box” material here. But, you won’t meet quite as many interesting characters, do fun side-quests or just marvel at the world like you did in other Zelda titles. The term “living, breathing world” is not as present in Skyward Sword as it was in Ocarina or Twilight. Despite what I just said, there is quite a bit of stuff to do in Skyloft and the Sky itself. There’s characters that will offer side-quests, there’s potions to buy and upgrade, treasure to collect, bugs to collect, upgrades to your regular items, which is a series first and a very welcome addition, there’s four fun mini-games to play in total, you can make it night time and see and do some very different stuff than you did in the day, etcetera. As you can tell, this content is still there, it’s just all condensed into one town, and it’s significantly slimmer than in other titles. It’s also more distant from the main quest than it was before – in Ocarina, when you first visited a brand new town, you wanted to check it out, to explore it. You can’t tell me Castle Town wasn’t cool to arrive to. But here, it’s easy to forget about Skyloft and its people, since once you're five, ten hours in, there’s little incentive to explore it besides going to the Bazaar and fulfilling some non-intrusive story elements. Exploring a town for the first time is always compelling. Visiting the same houses and talking to the same characters you've been talking to for many, many hours just to see if a new side-quest is arbitrarily available is not so enticing. The whole game just has a more straightforward feel, one that concentrates on the Action part of Zelda and takes the focus away from the Adventure portion.
As with every Zelda game, Link has a companion that helps him out throughout his adventure, and here it’s Fi, who I affectionately call, “Stupid Robot, Dear God Why Are You So Useless In Every Conceivable Aspect”. Fi is by far the worst companion Link has ever had. She’s useless. Okay, that’s nothing new. She also holds your hand way too much, spoiling puzzles other companions did not. Okay, that’s annoying. But perhaps the worst offender is her place in the story, or lack thereof. Navi was Link’s fairy, after being the only fairy-less Kokiri kid for so long. Tatl was left behind by Skull Kid and joined Link to defeat him. The King of Red Lions was the king of the flooded Hyrule. Midna was the Twilight Princess. Fi is a lifeless creature, living inside a sword, created by the Goddess to "help the Chosen Hero in his adventure". What the hell. That’s not just uncreative, it’s purposely uncreative, which is almost worse.
So after you complete the 30-40 hour adventure, 60-70 if you achieve all the side stuff, you look back at the experience and realize, this was another 3D Zelda game. It took many steps forward, but perhaps just as many steps backward. Its new design choice, focusing on the meaty gameplay stuff and not on the charming side stuff is sure to be worse for some people than it is for others (it could very well be a welcome addition to some), but it’s undeniable that the game is not a revolution, moreover, it’s not even a complete improvement. Skyward Sword is an outstanding gaming achievement and one of the best games on Wii, packed with content, revolutionary controls, beautiful graphics and orchestrated music, but it’s still not the stuff of legends. It’s not the next Ocarina of Time. The Zelda franchise needs either a complete overhaul, a dramatic evolution, or it needs to star in a cutting-edge system if it wants to regain its place as the utter best in the medium.
Wow im only 20 hours in but this is one of my favorite Zelda games to date. I just finished Ocarina of Time for the 3DS which is probably the 5th or 6th time through that game and the gameplay SS is so much better. I understand there are a lot of years deference between the games but you make it seem like they should be compared directly as well as any other Zelda ever made so I will oblige.
So far I feel the story has been great and the cut scenes despite voice overs have done an amazing job telling the story. There was one scene on a bridge that was truly amazing and had me feeling like Link was coming into his own, stepping up and believing in himself. It was awesome and made me smile uncontrollably. Maybe the story goes nowhere from here on but so far I am really enjoying.
Antoher issue you seem to have is the way the game is laid out which is also great to me. I enjoy Skyloft as the lone village and it fits the story. The only place that society really continued as known in the Zelda games is in Skyloft. The surface world seems so far to be filled with creatures that remind me more of nomadic or tribal type societies. There are also remains of past societies in the land scape. Its really kind of a post apocalyptic kind of feel to it.
On to Fi. Fi has really been added just as Navi was added as a way to help you along your journey. Red Lion and Midna had much a greater story element then Fi and Navi. Fi though still has more to do with the story than Navi ever did. Fi was sent to help you just like Navi but instead of just helping with gameplay and hints she at least helps tell the story. I dont think she is a negative or a positive just there and in a little more compelling fashion then Navi “hey listen!”
So far SS is shaping up to be one of the best in this amazing series. It has enough changes while keep things the same. Maybe the rest of the game will prove otherwise but by your review it seems to not get boring and the ending it very well done so we will see.
What you're saying is true, but I guess that stuff just bothered me more. I guess the game is not fully what I want from Zelda. The story starts out great but then they ignore it. There's little reason for what you're doing at points, "sorry, your princess is in another dungeon" pretty much, and there's not that many memorable or important cutscenes, one every couple of dungeons sort of.
Skyloft as a lonely town fits the story perfectly, and I talked about this before on the forum, how I said it makes sense because "Hyrule" doesn't exist yet, so it's obvious the surface has more of a wild/nature feel. Which is true, but when I played I felt something was missing. I wanted to visit more towns and see more NPCs. They could've made an excuse for ancient Hyrule to have towns. Even with the ancient super technological civilization, they could've done something with that. It does give the game a post apocalyptic feel to it but I personally don't want that feeling in Zelda.
Fi just sucked, I mean, Midna for example was much, much more interesting. There I go comparing games to others in the franchise again but I can't help it, when I see that a previous Zelda game did some things so much better I get disappointed. Why can't they improve on everything? But, besides that, as a standalone experience SS has its issues.
EDIT: Also, I didnt like those things, but the game didn't leave an overall negative impression on me, far from it. I just had to explain the negatives in the review but I think it's an outstanding game.
I guess it really comes down to each individual. While your review was well written, I feel you are in the minority, as far as what you want changed and why you want out of a Zelda game. For me personally, this Zelda was quite different than the normal Zelda and I for one really don't want to see a drastic change in the overall formula, cause to me, thats what makes a Zelda game, well, a Zelda game. If I want something different, I would go out and buy an Uncharted game, Assassins Creed or insert another game in here.
Im not even finished with the game cause for one the game has been very difficult for me, esp. getting to the dungeons and once in them I keep getting stuck big time. Plus, during the week, I really have no time at all to play games at home, cause Im gone from early morning until about 10pm. And on the weekends, each friday I promise myself, this will be the weekend I play the hell out of this game, but it has not happened yet. At this rate its going to be Jan. before I complete the game.
Anyways, the game has been difficult, way moreso than any other 3D Zelda Ive played. And few bossed Ive played have been hell as well. Plus the game has changed just enough to make it feel really fresh. Though I will admit, I had no problems with TP at all, other than it being on the easy side.
As far as Fi, she is what she is. I have no complaints about her. I didn't want her being another Midna or anything like that. I just don't see the point in comparing one game with another and wanting a game to be so much more than the last in every area of the game. I have no problems with Fi. I never expected her role to much more than a Navi. Im not really sure what people really expected her role to be. Link has always had some sort of sidekick. Fi is just another in another time. Im not wanting more or less out of her.
Everyone has the right to his or her own opinion, but out of the majority of the reviews out there, whether professional or not, most of them lean towards SS being a great game and seems to be what the majority of people wanted from a Zelda game. Unforunatly, not everyone will ever agree on what would make a perfect game. I just am happy that I agree with the majority who think the game is great.
The issues you noted, although very true, just didn't bother me as much as it did you. I'm still finding this game a great refresher in the Zelda series simply because I was tired of wandering around an empty plot of land (or water) in the middle of the world to get to my dungeon destinations. I would have liked warping in between statues instead of going back up and doing a U-turn before diving down again but that is a minor gripe.
It's a delicate line developers now face when designing a Zelda game - how much can they change but still make it feel like Zelda? Could they of changed this game a bit more? Probably - but so far it's a move in the right direction.
I think that late in the game, the game BADLY needed a warping mechanic. Why should I need to even go up to the sky at all, if I know exactly where I'm going, and I've practically done everything in the game? It's especially annoying if you're hunting for Goddess Cubes, and you just want to get back to Skyloft ASAP. Why do I even need to find a bird statue to go back to the sky? Especially late in the game? By that point in the game, all you're doing is finding a statue and heading to your next destination as the crow flies (literally). I got pretty burnt out with it to be honest, especially since you had to waggle whenever you wanted to raise altitude.
I think there are a lot of things that make a Zelda game a "Zelda game" but I still think there's a lot of room for improvement outside of those areas (which I think I've talked enough about). Still, for what they were trying to do with SS, I think they accomplished a lot. I don't think it's my favorite Zelda game, but it's one of the better ones in many ways.
I'm really liking the game so far. I've been kind of busy lately so I've only finished the first dungeon. The fight with the first dungeon's boss was incredible! It made me a true believer in motion plus. I'm not really liking the flying mechanic, though. I think it would be better just using the analogue stick for that. I also don't like that you have to warp from the surface to the sky and then back to the surface. I agree that there should have been a better warp mechanic. I really think the game is great, though. I can't wait to see what's next.
I can understand people's gripes with certain aspects of the game (hatred for Fi, lack of a truly explorable overworld without any sense of connection from one of the three main areas to another, and so on) but like others before me have said, the positives far outweigh any grievances I may have with the game. What this game does well, it absolutely exceeds at. Maybe the developers did intend to make this more of a straight action/ adventure game than previous games, and I don't mind it one bit. I appreciate the changes in gameplay style over the course of the Zelda series.
Good write-up. I'm a few hours from finishing playthrough #2, I've completed all sidequests and found every secret item. So only a couple hours left until my final, final verdict. And I'm mostly in agreement. It's another very good Zelda game, but really, it continues a trend of adding a new gimmick to the Ocarina of Time formula and trying to pass it off as revolutionary and pushing the series forward, but it doesn't really work like that because so much hasn't changed and still feels incredibly dated.
Not sure where I'll end up scoring it. Probably between an 8 and 8.5. I like it far better than Wind Waker, but I don't think it's as strong as Twilight Princess, top-to-bottom. Collectively, the 3 GCN-Wii era Zelda titles are a significant downward trend for the franchise. It's a very good game, and I wouldn't have sunk around 90 hours into it so far if it wasn't. But as strong as some of the areas are, the game has some serious flaws that I can't overlook, and have become even more glaring on the second playthrough. And granted, some of these issues are still there from the previous couple of Zelda games.
Still, I always looked to Nintendo as masters when it came to game design and the Galaxy games prove that they still are, but between this and the last Metroid game, there's a lot of iffy stuff going on. You have some curious design choices are starting to get in the way of the gameplay experience, and then there's other sequences where you feel like they were phoning it in. I feel like I'm going through the motions with Zelda as well, and I don't mean the controls.
One observation: The review mentions sky.oft being the only town in the game. Well, in TP, other than the Castle area, there was only the town right before going into the volcano. The area where Link starts out I really do not consider that a town, its more like a neighborhood.
In OoT, there was only the one town and the castle area, again the forest area where link comes from. I dont consider that a town. In WW, there was the one island that had a town, again the area where Link lived with Grandma, not a town.
I see a pattern here, basically there is one town in each of these areas and the area where link grew up and in TP and OoT there is the Castle are with shops.
If I am correct, since I have not finished the game, SS tells a story before any of these games. The land below Skyloft is over run with monsters. So, of course there wouldn't be any towns in any of these areas. I personally like the isolated feel and if I am correct in thinking of how this story will go, then it makes sense that there isn't these extra towns scattered around.
OoT- Kokiri Forest, Hyrule Castle Town, Kakariko Village, Goron City, Zora's Domain. TP- Ordon Village, Kakariko Village, Hyrule Castle Town, Death Mountain and Zora's Domain. WW- Outset Island, Windfall Island, Dragon Roost Island, Forest Haven
@Simbabbad I certainly think it should have more of it. I think Nintendo did get too caught up in making each area an obstacle course. I would've liked to check out more environments, even if there wasn't much to do there. I thought (before dungeon 4 spoilers) Lake Floria was really cool. You wound up not really doing anything there (which was disappointing), but still, just the change in scenery and color went a long way. I was hoping the game would've had more environments to check out. The Sand Sea was REALLY cool but it was basically just more desert. I would've liked to check out some swamps or snowy areas or something like that. I really enjoyed seeing how each new environment would look in the art style.
What did you think of the dungeon design? I think that's a strength of the game that you didn't really touch upon. I was pretty impressed with some of them, particularly the fact that they didn't fall back on the traditional torch-lighting or block pushing puzzles. I also really liked the way the first three dungeons were integrated into the story. You're actually searching for Zelda and you encounter Ghirahim, and even get some exposition in them, which isn't typically the case in Zelda dungeons (and unfortunately isn't the case in the later dungeons, either). I did really enjoy the story progression in the first third of the game though.
Which characters were well developed in Twilight Princess, just out of curiosity? I haven't played through the game in a good five years or so, but I don't remember anyone being particularly well developed outside of the central characters -- Zant, Midna, Zelda, etc. I actually really enjoyed the characters in Skyward Sword. While they may not have changed much throughout the game, I found characters like the item check girl and the shopkeeper at the bazaar really likable, even if only based on their limited dialogue and animations, though they don't really develop (although they do have some interesting character-driven side quests, like leading Peatrice on, or making the ghost fall in love with Cawlin). Skyward Sword has some of the best NPCs in the series, if you ask me (outside of maybe Majora's Mask -- but that was a result of the game's incredibly unique gimmick). The central characters were well-developed though, with the relationship between Link and Zelda, and Groose's growth as a character, and even Ghirahim was more interesting than Zelda antagonists often are. Even Link seems to have more personality than ever before, based on the responses you can choose and some of the motions he makes (like when he explains to Gaepora what happened to Zelda).
The game may not be as revolutionary as Ocarina of Time, but not every game can be. I do think that through and through, it is a better game than Ocarina of Time in pretty much every way.
@rebonack Not counting the main characters in Twilight Princess (Midna is better than Fi, Zelda and Impa combined IMO, not that better than Ghirahim though); the two kids in TP (the one who opens the shop, and the one who idolizes Link), Ilia, the Zora prince, the Kakariko chief, the Big Foot/Snowman monster guy and the people in that bar in Castle Town that help Link out are more interesting than the majority of the characters in Skyward Sword. And I'm forgetting a few. Okay, maybe I don't remember their names but that's because I haven't played TP in a long time, but I remember their storylines and development and they're very good. Ilia's "love story" with Link was handled better than Link and Zelda's in SS, do you remember at one point Ilia loses his memory? Then she gets it back, I loved those moments. SS was not up to par IMO.
The Bazaar characters are pretty cool, especially the Item Chick girl and her "twist", and the Fortune Teller, Ghirahim is awesome too, and I sort of like that chick that always tells you "Did you and Zelda have a fight or something?" but other than that, I didn't really care for any of them. Mostly because a few dungeons into the game they start getting stale. I only went back and talked to them because I wanted to trigger side-quests just to complete the game 100% (and a lot of the time talking to them was useless)
As for the dungeons, I thought they were mostly very good, but I thought two dungeons (4th and 5th one) were significantly better than the others. A few were a bit short but overall very good. I didn't go into much detail about them specifically in the review because it would get too long, but I did say the game was outstanding as far as pure gameplay/puzzles were, and obviously that extends to the dungeons. Not perfect, but no complaints there.
@GelatinousEncore I thought Ilia's story was a major let down. "Oh, I have my memory back. I will thank you with a firm nod with the potential of a handshake later." I thought it really lacked emotion. I liked the story moments with Colin and the other kids though. It kind of justified the fact that Link was a teen in the game, because in the world, all the other characters looked up to him and that had a bit of an impact on the story.
I thought the 4th was the best in the game by far, with the exception of the first, which I thought was a great dungeon as well. I thought the 4th also had the best boss in the game, with the exception of maybe one other. I liked the 5th...but I wound up liking the events leading up to the 5th more than I actually liked the dungeon itself. I mean, it was what it was. I thought they could've went a bit farther with the concept, rather than running back and forth between what were essentially square rooms.
@Simbabbad I had actually thought that myself. Either that, or the timeshift crystals were going to play a bigger part in the story. Perhaps Ghirahim was going to try to drain the power of the timeshift crystals to permanently change the land back the way it was many years ago...permanently. Perhaps it could've been an interesting way to handle a dual world mechanic. Rather than travel back and forth between two time periods, Link would have to make both time periods exist simultaneously to access new areas that don't exist in the present.
With the Temple of Time in the desert, I was almost sure that there was going to be more importance to the desert than they wound up being. I guess it was just an old Temple of Time that was lost due to time, so they wound up building the new one in the woods, which would eventually become the Temple of Time from Ocarina and Twilight Princess.
You led Patrice on? You heartbreaker you. . I told her what she wanted to hear . What about Zelda you say? I'm the Legendary Hero, bitch! I can't be expected to be tied down to just one girl!
Actually that was kind of a neat thing that they didn't use enough of. Side quests with multiple endings- Same reward in the end, but you get to see different story sequences. I hope they expand on that.
The dungeons in Skyward Sword were good, but overall, a big step back from TP's which were masterful. Dungeon #4 and #5 were the only two that were stand-outs. The others weren't bad by any means, but were pretty forgettable. Dungeons 2-5 seemed to each get better, so it was very disappointing that #6 was pretty pedestrian. In the end, Dungeon 5 was my favorite and the only one that really holds up against the best TP had to offer (Lakebed, Arbiter's, Snowpeak, Sky, etc...all awesome).
SS did have vastly improved boss fights to end these dungeons, though.