It’s no secret to everybody that Nintendo’s games are certainly very notable. And that’s certainly very true with their latest Legend of Zelda release, Skyward Sword. The latest entry uses the Wii MotionPlus in a way that revolutionizes how the Legend of Zelda games are played. Skyward Sword introduced a number of new additions to the Legend of Zelda formula, to the point where Skyward Sword could be considered a basis for how new games in the series will operate. However, when considering a new game in a series, not only do you have to determine if the game is good or not, but also find out if the game holds true to the series’ roots, while at the same time bringing new, exciting things to the table. In my opinion, though Skyward Sword has some design problems, I very much enjoyed many of the new additions.
Well, what’s noticeable right away is that Skyward Sword has a plot. Yep, though a standard of Legend of Zelda titles nowadays, Skyward Sword has just as much plot as Twilight Princess, if not more. The game takes place in Hyrule’s distant past, where the land is mostly uninhabited, and humanity live in the sky. The game’s plot answers quite a few questions about how things all got started, such as the Master Sword, Hyrule itself, and other things. While Skyward Sword does not have the most riveting of tales, it is still pretty enjoyable, and provides satisfying explanations about the origin of the Legend of Zelda universe.
One complaint I have with the plot is that the pacing is really weird; at times, I think the rising action was pretty much nonexistent. Fortunately, Skyward Sword has a pretty enjoyable ending to make up for its wonky pacing. Characters in Skyward Sword have more presence than in most other Legend of Zelda games. Quite a few of them got a good amount of development (a rarity in this series), and are pretty memorable. Hell, I think they actually managed to give Link more personality, though subtly, through more expressions and (meaningless) dialogue choices, strangely.
I’m a little disappointed with how they handled Fi, the game’s companion, as it felt like they could’ve done so much more with her. What we got instead was a moderately expanded Navi expy. Still, while there isn’t a terrible amount of development and characterization, the characters tend to be pretty memorable, especially the… weird ones. What’s important to note is that, overall, this game is a lot more cinematic than previous outings. While I’m sure this is a change some people don’t like, I feel as if the cutscenes were done incredibly well, as many things about how the characters acted came across rather well. As a whole, the presentation is pretty solid.
I’m quite miffed about the gameplay, however. The Wii MotionPlus allows one to one tracking of the sword, which allows for a few cool new things. While actual swordplay was quite limited before (you had a regular attack, a jump attack, a spin attack, and not much else), Skyward Sword heavily expanded swordplay. If you swing from left to right, Link will swing from left to right. If you swing downwards, Link will also swing downwards. You can also swing diagonally, and even thrust the Wii MotionPlus. Add to that the two different kinds of spin attack, the jump attack, and the new Skyward Strike (a move that requires you to charge up your sword by holding it “to the sky”, as it were, and unleashing a beam from your weapon), and you’ve got yourself quite a repertoire; a repertoire that you’ll find yourself taking full advantage of.
For example, regular enemies will block certain angles, so you’ll have to figure out what way to swing the sword. This will happen on the fly, too. This introduces a whole new level of skill. So much skill, that there are entire boss fights focused entirely on swordplay. While this might stray from the usual “use your new item on the boss’s weakpoint” approach, I feel like the increased emphasis on swordplay is a very welcome addition. Unfortunately, while all that sounds great, I often found myself having a hard time with the controls. If I swung my controller too quickly, Link wouldn’t cut in the direction I swung in. Sure, I could always be more methodical with my actions, but that’s not always so easy.
However, I’m told that this was less of a problem with built-in Wii MotionPluses (I was using the add-on), so I can imagine I was mostly having a peripheral problem. Still, the controls did make things incredibly frustrating at times, which detracted from my experience. On a different note, your items control much like they did in Twilight Princess, and I had no real problems with these, though I feel like we didn’t get so many brand new toys, and the ones we did get weren’t all cool. Fortunately, at least these controlled well.
This time around, puzzles aren’t just restricted to dungeons. You’ll often find yourselves having just as much fun outside of dungeons. However, this is all pretty hampered by a very much segmented structure. There is an overworld, but it’s so barren that I feel it only exists to show off the game’s unimportant story gimmick. Now, being that the game revolves around the sky, you’d think that flying around the sky would be pretty prominent. Well, while civilization only exists above the clouds, there’s not much to do in the sky. Sure, you can find chests, but those can only be found after finding corresponding Goddess cubes on the ground. Not only that, but there are only five or six islands that you’ll spend more than ten minutes on, and three of them are for minigames.
Granted, you have quite a number of sidequests to do in Skyloft, the main town/hub, but each sidequest is really short. Even when taking all those into account, the sky still feels pretty barren. To make things worse, there is a loading screen between Skyloft and the rest of the sky, and going from one to the other can only be done at certain locations. Well, that’s not quite accurate. You can jump to any part of Skyloft from the sky, but once you get past that loading screen, the game relocates you to one of several certain spots in Skyloft. I understand that this is to prevent players from fully exploring Skyloft until they had the right tools to do so, but it sure felt weird, and only added to the segmented feel of the game
The ground is segmented into three regions, a wooded region (which also doubles up as your water level), a volcano region, and a desert region (which also doubles up as a water region). While I feel like there was quite a bit of detail placed in each region, you can’t go from one to the other without having to go to the sky first. As a result, that segmented feeling I mentioned will be pretty apparent. Additionally, you’ll find yourself going back to each region three times in the game, and even though you discover new parts of each region, you’ll still be backtracking. I wish they could’ve added more content to the sky.
Still, we also get some really good dungeons, one of which is now my favorite in the series. What I like about the dungeons this time is that they take more advantage of your entire arsenal instead of solely featuring the new item you get. That definitely varied things up, in addition to each dungeon having usually some sort of cool gimmick. However, on the flip side of that, one piece of equipment gets shafted later in the game (if you’ve been playing this series for a while, you can probably guess which), and other items aren’t needed for any boss. Sorry for those items. Still, dungeons are pretty refreshing, and are always something to look forward to.
Additionally, Skyward Sword feels more like an RPG than other entries. You will occasionally find choices in dialogue (though they are often by and large useless, such as a certain choice in a late game cutscene), and you have to micromanage limited space in your inventory. While you can bring every unique item, you’re only allowed up to eight other items, such as bottles, bags, and shields. Skyward Sword also has a weapon upgrading system and an item drop system. You’ll find a lot of miscellaneous items in your travels, and you can use those drops to upgrade your items back in Skyloft, such as your shield, your bags, and your unique items (though not your sword, that’s upgraded through the plot).
It adds a nice little touch to things, as you can focus on upgrading the things you want to upgrade, and you can bring more of what you like in Zelda games, and leave things you don’t like. Want to carry more than four bottles with fairies in them? Yeah, sure, you can do that in this game. How about items that make farming things easier? Sure, that too, though that’s not something I’d do. Overall, these are neat little touches, though I can’t help but find myself wondering if there was a point to these RPG aspects.
The graphics in Skyward Sword are pretty appealing. While the game visually suffers from the Wii’s 480p limit, Skyward Sword uses a style that’s a cross between Twilight Princess’ realistic proportions and Wind Waker’s cel-shaded look. I’m told Skyward Sword resembles Impressionist art, which is something I can agree with. The designs are rather unique, but at the same time, are very reminiscent of previous games. It’s the type of style that looks very new but is also very nostalgic. Skyward Sword uses colors pretty liberally, as you’ll see really vibrant environments pretty often. What I also liked quite a lot is how Skyward Sword borrows ideas from quite a few cultures, cultures that other Legend of Zelda games never touched. They fit really well, too. On the downside, textures don’t look so great, though the game does a good job of hiding this, but it’s still quite noticeable.
On the sound side of things, while the Legend of Zelda finally made the jump to a fully orchestrated soundtrack, I find myself not remembering very many of the songs. While they’re composed quite well, and fit the game well, I don’t think very many songs were all that memorable. I suppose my common “Not memorable, but very fitting” conclusion applies here. How the songs are used is a different story. The music is now pretty dynamic, getting more intense as you get hurt, growing more complex the further into a dungeon you’re in, and even becoming livelier when a certain region’s main gimmick comes into play. It makes the experience pretty interesting, as dynamic background music usually does. Though voice acting is pretty much nonexistent, like all Legend of Zelda games, I don’t find myself caring, as the rest of the sound, though not so memorable, is very much good enough.