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.
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! .
I'll be honest. I hooked up with patrice. I just couldn't break her heart. But yes, the multi-ending sidequests are awesome. I love how you can connect with all of the characters so well. The only time i was this connected to a videogame was back on super nintendo. Actraiser. the first one, you get connected with your little villages. especially fillmore and blood pool. off topic, sorry.