Note: Originally posted on Manic Expression on October 17, 2012.
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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the latest installment in the long running series of action-adventure games by developer and publisher Nintendo. The series is known for allowing players to explore hidden secrets in the worlds of the games. They have a sense of exploration and wonder that is not in many other games. This latest installment on the Nintendo Wii is based on the use of the Wii Motion Plus accessory. Nintendo also promised that the game would be something of a departure from the series which left many fans of the series both excited and skeptical. Is this the new fresh departure that fans of the series have been waiting for or does it prove that the series is stuck in a rut?
In terms of series chronology, Skyward Sword is the earliest point in the series. The story in this game shows us the origin of the Master Sword and Ganon. The story starts off with protagonist Link, who lives on an island above the clouds called Skyloft. After having a mysterious dream, he is woken up by his childhood friend, Zelda who reminds him about the Wing Ceremony that day. After winning the Wing Ceremony competition, Link and Zelda take their Loftwings to the skies. However, a storm causes Zelda to fall into the monster infest Hyrule below the clouds. Link goes to find her below the clouds with the help of the Goddess Sword spirit, Fi. Below, he find that the demon lord Ghirahim is the one who caused Zelda to fall into Hyrule.
While the story does have its moments, particularly with character interactions between Link and Zelda, it canâ€™t help but feel like it is going through the motions. The story is structured the same way as in previous games in the series which makes the narrative feel similar to other games. This is not helped by the fact that the villain Ghirahim comes off as a generic anime villain rather than the threat that the game clearly wants him to be. While the text is well written, it canâ€™t hide the fact that the plot itself is pretty standard for the series. While it is nice that the game tries to explain the origins of the conflicts of the series, you canâ€™t help but feel that more risks should have been taken with the story.
The biggest departure from Skyward Sword comes from the gameplay. The game used the Wii Motion Plus accessory which is required to play the game. It is used to control Linkâ€™s sword as thegame was built around the 1:1 accuracy of the accessory. While not perfect, the controls are really well done with the sword being held in surprising ways depending on how you are holding the Wii Remote. The controls are also used to controls the other items in the game such as old favorites like the bow and arrow, clawshots, and bombs as well as new items like the whip and the mechanical flying beetle, which is used to grabs otherwise unreachable items and switches in thegames various dungeons.
Skyloft is the main hub in the game where you can buy equipment, gain upgrades for said equipment, shop for potions, and talk to NPCs. This island town is the place you will return to the most in the game. There are also secrets hidden in the skies of the world as there are various small areas that you can land on to find hidden secrets. This makes it all the more unfortunate that there is not all that much to find. While there are a few side quests here and there, there really isnâ€™t much to find other than the typical heart piece to gain more heart containers. The sky world feels shockingly empty and lifeless because of that. It makes exploration feel pointless, especially since there is a light pillar that shows you which area to go in order to progress.
There are three specific areas in the sky world where you can drop into in order to explore the different regions of Hyrule. These three regions consist of forest, volcano, and deserts areas. These three areas are where you will find the gameâ€™s six dungeons with two in each region of Hyrule. However, this is one of the biggest issues with the game as you will visit these three regions not once, not twice, but three times each. This by itself isnâ€™t the problem. The issue with this is that not only do you have to visit these regions three times each, but you need to do a tedious fetch quest when you revisit these regions in order to progress in the game. These fetch quests really pad the gameplay time out significantly as the game clocks in at 30-40 hours long depending on whether or not you do any of the side quests.
The padding is all the more disheartening because the dungeons themselves are actually very well designed. The puzzles are challenging without becoming to frustrating and the items you find will not only be useful in the dungeon it was found it, but the other dungeons as well. You really feel like you are using everything on your arsenal to explore the various nooks and crannies of the dungeons.
In some ways, the game is a step up from previous games in the series while in others, itâ€™s a huge step down. For example, while in previous games, you could save at almost any time, you can only save at save points in Skyward Sword. While you wonâ€™t be sent back to the beginning of the dungeon if you save in the middle of one, thereâ€™s no help thinking that save points are an outdated element in this day and age. While in some games, the usage of save points makes sense, it just seems like an odd design choice in a Zelda game.
There is also the matter of the stamina meter. In Skyward Sword, every action such as sword swinging, holding up the shield and rolling forward decreases stamina. If you run out of stamina, you are temporarily unable to act. Despite the potential problems that could have come with it, it works quite well. It forces you to be careful with taking action, especially during combat.
There is also the inclusion of the bazaar in Skyloft. Here, you can buy potion, items, shields, and upgrades to your equipment. You can also pay rupees to have a fortune teller hint where you need to go when you get lost. However, this leads to a minor but still noticeable flaw. The upgrade system feels like a tacked on and forced RPG system. It feels largely unnecessary and makes thegame all the more bloated.
There is also the matter of the character, Fi. She is the â€œNaviâ€ of Skyward Sword. She is an interesting character in theory. However, she comes off as a nuisance more often than a help since she states the what the player has already been told or knows about. It feels like Fi is an example of Nintendo not trusting the player and feeling the need to hold their hand. Fi also gives Link the ability to dowse with allows you to search for certain items like hearts to refill your health as well as your objective. While an interesting idea for a gameplay mechanic, if feels undercooked due to the dowsing being incredibly vague at times with the locations of the object you are currently dowsing.
Now that we finally got the gameplay out of the way, letâ€™s take a look at the visuals. Being on the Nintendo Wii, you can clearly see that they are not on par with what is possible on the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360. However, what it lacks in technical aspects, it makes up it in art design. The cel shaded style gives the game a nice water painting look to the game. The many colorful environments and locales make up for otherwise technically unimpressive graphics. Not much more to say about the aesthetics.
The soundtrack for Skyward Sword is the first one to use an orchestral score in the series. Up until now, the series stuck with MIDI. It is a tad disappointing that while the soundtrack is good, it is more of an ambiance type soundtrack than a more bombast and memorable soundtracks heard in other games in the series. It definitely works for the game, even if you wonâ€™t necessarily humming them after you finished playing the game. The voice acting in the game is still limited to the grunts that are heard when text is on screen like previous Zelda game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a good game, but not a great one. For every step up over other games in the series, there is a step down. While it is admirable that Nintendo tried to change up the formula of the games, thereâ€™s no denying that not all of the changes were for the better. The padding really dilutes what the game does right by making the game twice as long as it should have been. In a way, a game being good but not as good as it could have been is worse than being a bad game. It is really sad how much Skyward Sword missed the marked but at the same time how close it was to hitting it.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 7.5/10