on December 15, 2011
**Disclaimer: For some Zelda fans patrolling Amazon reviews in order to defend the franchise's name from negative experiences from other players, this review may be another outlet for your negative feedback**
I have played all the major console releases of Zelda, starting with Ocarina of Time. Words cannot fully encapsulate the range of emotion or the imaginative zeal that resulted from playing through Ocarina, and it definitely started a love for the Legend of Zelda games to follow. From Majora's Mask to Wind Waker to Twilight Princess, we finally arrive to Skyward Sword, the 25th Anniversary of the franchise. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Personally, I feel there are strengths and weaknesses in what I think makes a Legend of Zelda game, and these feelings are based directly on my past history and experiences with the previous titles.
- Controls. Personally, I don't think that WiiMotion+ has ever been better. Smaller titles like WiiSports Resort showcased the ability of Motion+ on a smaller scale-- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Wii Motion+ fully grafted into the controls of the game to rather accurately manipulate items (primarily, Link's sword) on your quest. As opposed to Twilight Princess' Wii Remote integration into the game, Skyward Sword makes the user feel dramatically more in control.
- Story. Every Legend of Zelda game seems to bring something new to the world in terms of background for the hero, the princess, and the evil which pits itself against them: Ocarina revolved around age; Majora's Mask revolved around time; Wind Waker revolved around water; Twilight Princess revolved around realm; and Skyward Sword appropriately revolves around a land in the sky. The makers of Zelda did not disappoint when it came to an innovative and novel story-- while Legend of Zelda elements exist, the backdrop surrounding them are fresh enough to revitalize approaches to solving puzzles and to interact with the world on a general level.
- Characters. Besides the key characters associated with every Zelda story, Skyward Sword provides certain individuals who are dynamic and progress as the story develops. Even more appreciating than their ability to change, these characters are a large part dependent on your interaction with them in order for their own growth, making you feel like a real agent of change with the sidequests you undergo for them. This feeling of "belonging" with the NPCs of the game models the experience of the characters in Wind Waker, and a departure from the lesser relationships in Twilight Princess. A part of this feeling stems from limited options of responding positively or negatively (and not just "yes" or "no") in certain dialogued conversations.
- Land. As with story, the land is creative and new. The regions that you explore resemble the traditional types of areas found in all Zelda games, and yet the names and faces of what you think you ought to meet are different enough to further instigate the feeling of newness and discovery. Also as with other Zelda games, the different regions of Skyward Sword are not fully accessible at the beginning without later equipment, depending on your own search for rare items apart from the storyline-- it's a sense of adventure.
- Equipment. The past three major console installments of The Legend of Zelda incorporated innovative weapons and items (alongside traditional ones) into their gameplay, and skyward sword is no exception. These added weapons are well utilized throughout the game, whether it be for dungeon bosses and puzzles, traveling to new areas, or fighting the various grunt monsters. Furthermore, the addition of the WiiMotion+ promotes both integration and ease for these novel items, and that includes the elimination of the item-select pause screen in order to select your item in real-time, on the fly. That addition alone is a major benefit and separates this Zelda title from its previous siblings.
- Replay Value. You can repeat the game after you have beaten it in Hero's Mode with enemies that deal twice amount of damage and do not drop hearts (additionally, the grass found in dungeons also do not drop hearts), challenging your skill and use of potions to survive. Your progress resets, allowing you to re-experience the game from the beginning (however, treasures you found in the previous saved game file do transfer).
And now my complaints. Although there are no plot spoilers, other elements of the game may be necessarily discussed.
- Controls. Having been the product of the previous game's button-mashing and combo-utilizing of traditional controllers, I was and still am a cautious gamer with the Wii's interactive controls. Like I stated on the positive side, WiiMotion+ has never been better; it's true: I swing horizontally and so does my sword, I swing vertically and so does my sword, and so on. HOWEVER, a problem arises considering the pace of the game and this control scheme. For solving puzzles where time is no issue or wandering through the various environments, the small flaws of Motion+ are really no issue. Yet, when you are in a more intense situation fighting an enemy and are supposed to swing a certain way, I find that it is really hard to be consciously aware of how your nunchuck is placed, or even if your directional swing with the Wii remote is correctly balanced; too often has my thrusting motion with the remote been misinterpreted as a circular swing because my nunchuck wasn't positioned in a certain way-- it is in these fast-paced fighting situations like these where skirmishes are unnecessarily prolonged because you are not hitting the enemy the proper way/direction. Slowly attacking your target while trying to make sure the controls are in the right places takes away a considerable amount of the feeling of a real battle situation.
- Story. Perhaps I had higher expectations since this is indeed the 25th anniversary of the franchise, but I only found the storyline decent at best. Similar to Twilight Princess, the buildup surrounding the antagonist was just not as personal or emotionally-stirring as it was with Ocarina of Time (for reasons you will understand when you play the game). The result of such (which I would argue as a critical component) only gives the sense of getting the job done or completing a task rather than abolishing an evil you can really relate to. Although it has been stated that this game precedes Ocarina of Time, I don't find that fact enough excuse to neglect the relationship between the small hope of good versus the imminent dominance of evil.
- Characters. My problem with the relationship between good and evil has already been stated above. [Non-plot spoiler] Being the traditional Zelda gamer and fan, I took real issue to the eradication of the Goron and Zora species. True, there are about three Gorons in the game, but as a species, both the Gorons and Zoras were strangely absent (unless you want to count the Floria Lake fish as Zoras). This can again be explained by the fact that this game precedes Ocarina of Time, or is in a different land area, however this game goes against its constituents (you could also put Wind Waker in the same camp, as interaction between Gorons and Zoras were also severely limited) by not having either staple species play a prominent role in the game. I have no problem with the species they introduced in this game, and I know this will be a small quibbling point to some-- but Gorons and Zoras have been a recurring part of the Legend as Link himself. The dungeon bosses also need to be mentioned. I have never been less intimidated by the bosses of the Legend of Zelda than I have in this game. They just do not look the part of hideousness or scare that has been reproduced with every Zelda game. I found myself fighting a large purple Tellytubby with Jamaican dreads for one of the bosses-- the bosses failed to do their part to add to blood-rush or intensity and looked like a misguided band of creatures on Sesame Street.
- Land. Contrary to games like Twilight Princess or Wind Waker, the land of Skyward Sword felt restricted. That's not to neglect all the extended areas made possible by certain parts of the game/equipment; however, as was made known before its release, the non-dungeon areas of skyward sword were largely created to blur the field-dungeon distinction and make even the field-areas more like dungeons. As a result of this, the large-world feel of adventure that one received through Twilight Princess is limited to more puzzle-based interaction with Skyward Sword. This dried the wonder aspect given through "adventure-awe" and hyped up more critical thinking in these areas of exploration.
- Equipment. The only real weakness to the equipment in this game pertains to shields. Unlike the other major console games, shields are breakable (and I'm not talking about a burnable deku shield). After so many hits the shield begins to break, indicated by a status bar on the screen. This poses quite the problem considering that shields can be upgraded through finding various treasures; if your shield breaks, that's it. You have to go and buy the initial shield you upgraded from and redo all of your upgrading. It can be a real hassle.
- Replay Value. This is more of a personal point but for every Zelda game, I look for replay value similar to Wind Waker in which you keep certain items, have a modified look, and are able to accomplish additional content upon your first beat of the game; it adds to interaction and the feel of the game. I have not played through all of Hero's mode yet, but I do not think it will amount to the replay scope of Wind Waker.
If you have read all the above wordage, then maybe you have deduced the underlying problem I had with this game: psychology. All other Zelda games I have played had intensity and scariness from bosses, a feeling of hopelessness against a larger evil, wonder and amazement at new-land discovery, as well as other meaningful emotional ties with NPCs. If Skyward Sword did these things, they were either severely under-played out or were just for the wrong reasons. It is because of the psychological distance this Zelda game has from the others that I would go so far as to say that it didn't really feel like a Legend of Zelda game-- and certainly not one of 25th anniversary caliber.
Would I recommend you buy this game? Yes. For the experience. Because underneath all of these flaws, it is still a Legend of Zelda game and worth at least your initial investment. But do not expect this game to be all of what you have come to know the franchise to be, for the reasons already stated. While the creators focused on championing WiiMotion+ for the Zelda experience, they neglected needed attention on the key aspects that makes a Legend of Zelda game a Legend of Zelda game. If Nintendo continues along this same vein with Zelda in the years to come, perhaps we won't make it to another 25th anniversary down the road.