Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Review)


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the long awaited Zelda Wii game that was released last November. Now, after playing the game for 150 hours, beating the Hero Mode and writing all sidequest guides for Zelda Europe I'm finally ready to write down my final opinion. How does the game hold up in certain categories? What was done right? What was done wrong? How does it compare to other Zelda games? Read to find out.

Please note that the review is not entirely spoiler free! This is not supposed to be a help for purchase decisions, it's about how a longtime Zelda fan feels about the game.

Controls

Nintendo's big selling point of the game were the new MotionPlus powered controls, Skyward Sword was designed to be the pinnacle of the Wii experience. Taking sword and shield into your own hands. Ever since the Wii got introduced that's what we've been dreaming about. And it took Nintendo five years to make a game, which fully takes advantage of the Wii's possibilities and let's you play Zelda in a way that feels natural. Swing the Wiimote to swing your sword, raise the Nunchuk to raise your shield. It's simple and it works great for the most part. It feels powerful, you will love the feeling of hitting enemies by swinging the Wiimote. And it's all very intuitive, switching to items, using them and switching back to the sword feels completely natural. It's perfectly streamlined and the best use of motion controls on the Wii yet. Once you got used to the new controls, you might not want to go back to the old way. It just feels that great.

Still you might be struggling with some parts of the controls, because they aren't recognized correctly or lose the alignment. The controls work fine for the most part, but for example the thrusting or timing shield attacks correctly might give you a hard time. And in cases like this the game will frustrate you. Since Skyward Sword now let's you move the sword in any direction, Nintendo felt like they had to add a lot of "do the right move or suffer"-fights. If you can't slice in the right direction fast enough, the game punishes you. And the heat of the battle doesn't make it easier to perform the desired move. Let's say you need to stab an enemy in the chest or the eye, but Link does a shield bash or a vertical spin instead because you also moved the Nunchuk without noticing yourself. The enemy now uses this mistake to hurt you badly and you get frustrated. The controls can be a lot of fun, when the fights are more natural. They probably would be totally awesome in a game like Twilight Princess. But all the "slice in the right direction"-fights and puzzles feel too forced and point out the flaws in the controls.

Motion controls are also used for other things like navigating menus, swinging and balancing on tightropes, flying or diving. Some of it feels forced, especially the balancing feels like a minigame, but most of it works fine and blends in fluidly. Only the diving feels like a huge step backwards from the pretty good diving mechanics in Twilight Princess, it's just not enjoyable.



Gameplay

The motion controls are not the only thing new in this new installment of the Zelda series. There are many new gameplay mechanics, refinements and ideas like new sword beams, a stamina system, the Shield Gauge, the Adventure Pouch, new ways of healing, painting on Goddess Walls or the Dowsing to offer a fresh experience. Some of them certainly work great and have the potential to evolve into series staples, others not so much.

The title giving move is the Skyward Strike. Link rises his sword into the air, which charges it to release sword beams. Except for the Fierce Deity's blade this is the first time that sword beams are featured in a 3D Zelda game and it works surprisingly well. Link's pose when rising the sword into the air is so much cooler than holding it behind or infront of him (to charge spin attacks in previous games) and the Skyward Strikes can be a powerful weapon. It's cool, it works great and hopefully it will be included in every 3rd Person Zelda from now on.

After games like the Wind Waker or Spirit Tracks you might fear that the flying is a very dominant feature, but in fact you won't spent much time flying around during the main quests. It's somehow based on the Kargarok flying in Twilight Princess, but you have a more accurate control over the bird, the motion controls work fine when you got used to them, especially flapping the wings has a good feeling to it. But there isn't much to say about the flying, because there isn't much to it. It feels like they did flying just to do flying as a mode of transportation and be done with it. It's not what the game revolves around.

When Zelda fans run over Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, they do not run, they somersault. All over the place. It looked stupid, it didn't make any sense, but it was faster than simply running. Now Nintendo let's you dash instead, which doesn't look stupid, makes perfect sense and feels great. However, it comes with the price of a new stamina system. It limits your dashing time, as well as other activities as climbing or moving blocks and even fighting. If the stamina meter runs out, Link gasps and needs to take a pause. Well, as long as you stop dashing before the meter runs out, this won't effect you. It's more a way of preventing that you abuse the spin attacks, which now can be quickly triggered with a single move. It doesn't really effect climbing, because they are usually Stamina Fruits on your way, which refill your stamina meter. And you won't notice the stamina system while moving blocks at all. Still you might get the feeling, that the stamina meter runs out too quickly. Especially when you need stamina the most during the Silent Realms. Well, there's the Stamina Potion to lengthen the effect, but you can't use its effect during the Silent Realms. And during the rest of the game you can't just always buy and drink potions, a more permanent solution (like a medal) would have been nice.

To test the new stamina system to its limits Nintendo included the Silent Realms, a mix between the Twilight Realm tear collecting and the Phantom gameplay from the Nintendo DS Zeldas. It's a really thrilling concept in a way, but it's probably not something that you will overly enjoy. You really just want to get over with these parts of the game and continue adventuring. Nobody likes tests. But you still may grow to like it and develop a certain affection for this kind of gameplay. The game let's you repeat all Silent Realms and even records your time doing so, which can turn into quite a sport.

A new innovation is also the Shield Gauge. If you raise your shield and an enemy hits it, the Shield Gauge depletes unless you perform a Shield Bash at the right time to deflect the attack, which makes fights somewhat more challenging. If the Shield Gauge runs out, your shield breaks. It also adds to the upgrade system, since you can strengthen your shields two times. The problem with this system is, that it might keep you from using your shield at all. Performing Shield Bashes with the right timing takes some practice and until you mastered it your shield will take a lot of hits. It's definitely something that won't be suitable for top-down Zelda games, but future 3rd Person Zeldas still might pick it up.


Your shields are stored in the Adventure Pouch together with other items like empty bottles, the medals, additional Bomb Bags, Quivers and Seed Satchels. It works like the menu for the main items, only that its content can be assigned freely. The Adventure Pouch can give space for up to eight items, all other items have to be stored elsewhere and can't be taken with you. With the exception of the rings from the Oracle games this is new for Zelda and it really feels like a nice RPG element done Zelda style. You have to think about what items you want to bring to your next adventure, you can't have them all. Of course on your first playthrough you don't really know what's ahead of you and you will probably just bring your balanced standard selection of items, because you're too lazy to return to the sky and change the content of your pouch. But it gets more interesting during your second playthrough, the Hero Mode, where things get harder and you might want to bring more healing items and the space for other items has to be used for the most important things. It's definitely a cool new concept, but it wasn't taken to its full potential, because there aren't enough important items. If you're good, you will only need a shield. But the Adventure Pouch could basically hold a greater variety of items that are used in a similar style. It could give space for items like boots, armors, masks and even the Lantern. On the other hand this could frustrate players, if they forgot to bring the right items. But it's definitely an interesting idea that could make a return in any of the future Zelda games.

Another nice example of how the gameplay offers fresh and surprising ideas in Skyward Sword would be the various ways of healing yourself. In classic Zelda you would look for a fairy fountain, in this game you sit down. Exactly, Link heals himself while he sits on a chair or a bench. It makes absolutely no sense, but for some reason it feels right and it totally works. What doesn't really work so well are the Goddess Walls. You can draw desired items on them to appear. However, the drawing with the Wiimote is not accurate enough to feel satisfying. It's something that should have been in the Nintendo DS Zelda games, but not in a Wii game.

Now, Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game next to Majora's Mask that works with savepoints, the Bird Statues. You can't save where you want, only at these statues, but similar to the Owl Statues in Majora's Mask they also act as a warp point. You don't really have to worry about this system, because they are plenty of Bird Statues everywhere. In fact going from one statue to the next might in some cases be shorter than going back to the sky and landing at the other statue. Well, it's certainly no match to the fast warp systems of other Zelda games, but it's better than what we got in Spirit Tracks.

Navigation also changed a lot in this game. Like in the Nintendo DS Zeldas maps now are a lot more detailed. In a dungeon the map item now combines map and compass. While this might be handy, it sometimes feels like there's something missing from the dungeons. You always had to look for at least one more item. Outside the dungeons you can set beacons on your map, which is a really cool tool and especially helpful when navigating the skies. But there are parts in the environment where you have to jump down from a great high to reach a treasure chest or similar things and thanks to the beacons you can accurately determine form where you have to jump from. And then there's dowsing... dowsing let's you scout for various targets by using your sword as a dowsing rod. And while it might be handy in certain situations, it gets to be a really cheap feature, because they let you dowse for everything. Hidden items, trading quest targets, rupees, collectibles, everything. Normally in a Zelda game you would have to look for stuff on your own. If a character asks for a certain item, you would have to think about where you could find it. But not in Skyward Sword, in Skyward Sword you dowse. In Ocarina of Time you would have to find all Golden Skulltulas on your own by thoroughly investigating all areas. But not in Skyward Sword, in Skyward Sword you dowse for secret items. It's cheap, it takes away all challenge about looking for things and it should never appear in any Zelda again. It only gets to shine during one part of the game, where you have to look for an invisible moving object, but that part was rather annoying.

Well, it's certain that they tried to introduce many new gameplay ideas in Skyward Sword, but at the same time they avoided certain cliches. For example there isn't a single light-the-torch puzzle in the entire game, which have been present in every single Zelda game ever since A Link to the Past.


Graphics and Sound

The overall presentation of the game is solid. The Wii was already outdated when it was released and that was five years ago. It's not an high end graphics system and the best solution is to cover it below some artistic style like Skyward Sword did. Like stated so often the visuals are basically a hybrid between the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, it looks quite colorful like the Super Mario Galaxy games, but it got realistic proportions for the most case. The washy water color effect definitely hides the Wii's age, but while it looks great on an old tube TV, it might look quite terrible on an HD TV, other Wii games tend to look sharper.

It's the first time that a Zelda game gets an orchestrated score, but sadly most of the tracks aren't that memorable. There are certainly some catchy tunes like the Faron Woods theme, but overall the selection of music is not as great as that of other Zelda games. It's not bad either, but it's doubtful that any of it will turn into longtime fan favorites. It doesn't have the same touch as the music from games like Ocarina of Time. Only the totally awesome trailer theme (the Goddess' Song) will probably be remembered, but sadly this song gets rarely played during the game. On the other hand it's great that most of the songs are actually new themes. Not even the typical main theme from Zelda really appears, only very few songs like Zelda's theme or the Fairy Fountain theme for the file menu made a return.

There's still no voice acting save for Fi's gibberish and there's an ongoing debate whether voice acting would be a good idea or. But certainly the funny sounds that characters like Gorko the Goron, the Kikwi, Beedle or Groose make while talking have their own charme and can be entertaining. "Ohhhhhh, thank yooouuuuu.", "Q Q" - you only get to hear that in a Zelda game and it's certainly more charming than all the dull voice acting in games like Skyrim. And there's always the issue of synchronisation, especially here in Germany. So, maybe text and funny sounds aren't so bad. Voice acting could be totally amazing if done right, but it's not like the game really misses it.


Story and Characters

In a twisted sense the game basically presents a classic Triforce story revolving around Link, Zelda and some sort of Ganon. However, it's all very different to feel entirely fresh. Since it is the first game in the Zelda timeline, it tries to explain the origins of key story elements and characters. But it does a very poor job doing so, because all it does is introducing "origin substitutes". For example the Master Sword was made from the Goddess Sword and Ganon spawned from some new evil, which is just called "Demise". However, it never really is explained where Demise came from or how the Goddess Sword was made. They are just there. So, ultimately the story is not fully satisfying.

One important job of the story in a videogame is to motivate you. It's bad if the overall goal of the game is to rescue a princess, who you've never met and who means nothing to you. And Skyward Sword does a great job by introducing a very lovely and charming Zelda character. You will easily grow to like her and you want to save her. At first. While the story starts out great, it quickly loses its touch. Instead of really being in danger, all Zelda does is constantly run away from you, while Impa, who gets Zelda's new best friend, mocks you for being too slow. And you have to prove yourself "worthy" in various trials over and over and over again. You're said to be the Goddess' Chosen Hero, but it feels like they don't want you to save anything. "Oh, no... we can't just let you save Zelda. At first you have to collect 15 of these colorful thingys to prove yourself worthy." It's aweful and you might ask yourself "Why am I chasing after this girl? Why am I doing all this?! Let's catch some bugs instead." The story is ultimately a real motivator for doing all kinds of sidequests, but not what you're told to do.

And then there's time travel. In 99% of the cases a time travel story always leads to unlogical paradoxes. It's always better not to include any time travelling, because it makes everything too complicated. It's a wonder that the time travelling in Skyward Sword didn't create three new splits in the timeline. And it felt like an unnecessary last minute addition, which makes it even worse.

While the story may have its flaws, the overall setting and characters are well made. Skyloft is an interesting and well developed setting. And the chaotic Hyrule below is something that only very few Zelda games like the ones on the NES had offered so far. Zelda has always been known for its colorful and curious NPCs and Skyward Sword is certainly no exception. One who stands out is definitely Groose, who starts as a bully, but then turns into a funny and valuable asset. Fi, who is your sidekick in this game, might irritate you with her mechanical way of talking. And most of the townsfolk have an unique design to make them feel strange and curious like usually in a Zelda game.

Interestingly the game avoids old races for the most part, which is a good thing. Especially the Gorons have been totally overused ever since their introduction in Ocarina of Time and gotten stale. In this game there are only three Gorons, one of them is featured as an archeologist, whom you meet multiple times during your travels. The Gorons in this game feel like an interesting and fresh cameo. There's also one Sheikah - Impa, but there never haven't been many Sheikahs anyway. Instead of recycling old races Nintendo decided to create some fresh new ones. The Kikwi are a folk of forest dwellers who look like fat bush penguins and make funny sounds. The Mogma are a race of moles, where you usually just see their upper halfs sticking out from some hole in the ground. They are treasure hunters and because of all that they fit perfectly into an adventure setting and in dungeon environments, which makes them basically the replacement for the Old Man, who was giving you tips in dungeon rooms in the original Zelda. The Mogmas are smartly designed, quite funny and they are a great addition to the Zelda series. We certainly haven't seen the last of them. In the desert we get to meet the Ancient Robots, their design makes them look like funny little versions of Gohdan from the Wind Waker and they usually talk with a bad mouth or behave in other strange ways, which are unexpected from a mechanical being. Mostly the robot characters are just copy pasted NPC lookalikes, but two of them stand out as main cast. There's Scrapper, who helps you salvaging stuff from the surface. He can be quite entertaining, because he admires Fi and bullies Link all the time. It's really well made, because it doesn't feel out of character, it feels like he was programmed to hate Link, which is funny. And there's the Skipper, who once had a loved wife and family, which is also weird for a robot, but works here in its own way. So, overall the new races are all very well designed and entertaining - except for the Parella. They also added a new race to the water environments, but they just feel so pointless and unnecessary, they are like the Zuna tribe in Four Swords Adventures. You will hardly deal with them at all and it probably would have been more exciting to throw in one or two Zora cameos instead.


Skyloft and the Sky

One of the big themes of this game is the sky setting, you fly through the clouds with a bird and you descend to the worlds below. People like to compare it to Super Mario Galaxy, but I think Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would make a better comparison. In that game you have three larger planets, where the areas on one planet are all connected, and you can land your ship on one of various landing spots. The planets here would be the three overworlds and the landing pads would be the Bird Statues. The only difference is that you actively fly from one location to the other through a sky ocean. After all the complaints about the empty ocean in the Wind Waker, you might think that this Zelda game will finally make it better, but it doesn't. In fact the sky ocean has even less to offer than the sea of the Wind Waker. It's really just a bunch of rocks, some of them have a treasure chest on them and there are some locations for minigames and two more important places, but that's really it. There's nothing there. It's just a large boring and empty space, they wasted so many potential with this. The sky setting could have been simply amazing, if the islands were done right and offerend some variety. Just look at some fantasy art about islands in the sky, 99% of it will be a lot better than what we got in this game. It's amazing how dull this is. The bright side is, that exploring the sky is for the most part completely optional. So, if you don't like flying, you don't have to. But just because something is optional, it doesn't mean that they shouldn't put any effort in it.


Well, to be fair the focus really was on Skyloft itself, the big island in the center of the sky world. And it's a well made town, in fact it might even has more to offer than the fan favorite Clocktown. Every character in Skyloft has his individual home somewhere, there's the Bazar, the huge Goddess Statue as some kind of religious place, the Knight Academy, a waterfall with a nice and atmospheric minidungeon cave next to it, a graveyard and a huge plaza with a light tower. It will take you a while to explore all of Skyloft, but the heart of the town is definitely the Bazar. This is where you prepare for your next adventure, here you can swap you pouch items, upgrade your gear, buy new equipment, purchase potions and listen to fortunes or gossip. You might wonder why all of Skyloft's economy revolves around equipping adventurers, but it's a nice place filled with the most curious people and you will spent quite some time there. It's really your base in this game, while your actual home is the Knight Academy. This school feels somewhat similar to the Stock Pot Inn in Majora's Mask, only larger and with greater importance to the story.

For Skyloft they also changed the day and night system. Unlike in the other 3D Zelda games time won't pass outside of towns. The only way to switch between day and night is going to bed. And this works great, since you can lay in any bed in town. Exploring Skyloft at night is probably the most atmospheric part of the game, but sadly you can only visit Skyloft at night and two of the islands. It's not a real problem that they restricted the day and night system to the village areas, because in all previous Zelda games the villages and towns always have been the most interesting (and atmospheric) places during nights. The problem is that the game teased you early that you will be able to explore all of the sky at night. There is some talk about a special training and birds can be equipped with head lights. This gives you the expectation that you will learn how to fly at night as well. But it never happens and you're disappointed. It would have been better if the game simply told you "you can't fly at night, no matter what" instead of teasing possibilities that aren't available to the player.


Overworlds

From the sky you dive down to the overworld, only that there's not one overworld but three. The Faron Woods, the Eldin Vulcano and the Lanayru Desert. These three overworlds are really the stars of this game. They feel quite different from what we got as overworlds in previous 3D Zeldas and it's a giant step forward. You could describe them as massive playgrounds. They can be quite complex, they are usually content-filled and provide many obstacles. There's something to do, something to collect and something to fight in every corner. If you enter the main areas for your first time, they can be quite overwhelming and it might take a long time to fully familiarize yourself with them. And you should familiarize with them, because you're going to revisit them many times. While this might sound like lots of aweful backtracking to you, the environments constantly change throughout the game to offer new experiences.

The forest is a really bright and cheerful place, it's the perfect starting point for your adventure. It's a large open area with enough complexity to get lost several times. And the massive tree in the center can be quite overwhelming. Completely underwhelming, however, are all the side areas. Especially Lake Floria, it can't compete with the beautiful Zora Realms from previous games, the whole underwater part was a huge disappointment, it was just a tunnel, where they would test you with the bad underwater controls. They could have made a nice underwater paradise instead. The entire forest gets flooded at one point though, but this is only temporarily. The Eldin Vulcano is like a giant uphill obstacle course and a lot of fun in combination with the new stamina system. Only the Vulcano Summit side area might again feel somewhat underwhelming especially when compared to the Death Mountain Crater in Ocarina of Time. The Lanayru Desert on the other hand constantly offers new interesting and large areas. In fact during the second half of the game it even adds an entire sand ocean made in the style of Phantom Hourglass. This part is really outstanding and enjoyable. Overall the desert might be the best of the three overworlds. It's not only the largest area, it also got the time shift stones, where you can transform the environment back into a past state, so that you have two different versions of many parts of the environment.


But constantly morphing the environments or opening new areas only tries to cover the fact that the overall variety can be lacking. They didn't restrict themselves to three areas, they restricted themselves to three themes: forest, fire and desert. And this can get repetitive easily. For example the Fire Sanctuary dungeon just felt like a larger version of the Earth Temple. And the time shift stones in Lanayru, while it's an absolutely genious idea, just get overused after a while. Imagine a Zelda game only offers ice areas and ice block puzzles. It might be "cool", but it inevitably will get stale.

And variety isn't the only thing that's missing in the world design. The overworlds don't offer any optional parts at all. There are no hidden secret areas, no optional minidungeons or whatever. And this is sad. Probably the biggest strength of Spirit Tracks were all the hidden stations with their cool minidungeons. Those were awesome sidequests and Skyward Sword has none of these. There are no cool caves like in Twilight Princess, no Gerudo Training Grounds, nothing. A 50 story combat dungeon similar to the Savage Labyrinth or the Cave of Ordeals would have been totally awesome in this game. But there's nothing in the likes.


Quests

The game is overall very linear, not the most linear Zelda game, but pretty close. The only non-linear parts in the main quests are when you have to look for multiple things of the same kind at once with biggest of these quests being the three dragon quest at the end of the game. However, that one causes two game breaking glitches and it's sad to see that the only real non-linear part of the game is so flawed. The future of non-linear game design in the house of Nintendo doesn't shine all too bright. But an open and free to explore world is always more interesting than following a linear path. The linear path is just a lot easier to create for the developers. It's lazy game design. Non-linearity is always more interesting and it was everything the very first Zelda game was all about. It was about exploring a huge world on your own. It's sad to see that 25 years later the Zelda series more and more defies its roots.

The quests itself follow some repetitive pattern and feature quite some boring fetch and gather quests. The first half of the game follows the pattern "enter new overworld, get a new item, collect multiple things of the same kind using dowsing, beat the dungeon, get a key for the next world, repeat". The second half follows the pattern "learn song for Silent Realm, open Silent Realm, get new item, enter new area, do something, beat the dungeon, get better sword, repeat". Only the "do something" part in the new areas might offer some variety, for example you're going to revisit a dungeon and there's an escort quest. And the three dragon quest at the end of the game offers some interesting surprises and different quests, two of them even have the overworlds heavily altered. The individual tasks often require you to look for different things, however, the dowsing ability takes away the challenge completely. In other Zelda games you would have to think about, where you could get the needed item, or thoroughly search the areas. No need for that in this game, you just follow the beeping noise.

One of the quests that really stands out is definitely exploring the Lanayru Sand Sea, where you travel on a boat through an ocean of sand by using a time shift field that creates water around you. It's similar to the boat rides in Phantom Hourglass, only a lot more creative, and the individual islands are really fun. Another cool quest is when you get caught in the vulcano eruption and Bokoblins steal your items. It's an atmospheric mix between the Forsaken Fortress in the Wind Waker and the Tokay quest on Crescent Island from Oracle of Ages.


The Dungeons

Originally Nintendo planned to erase the borderline between dungeons and overworld, so that the player might not even notice that he has entered a dungeon. They demonstrated this at E3 2010 with a demo, where the Faron Woods area was basically one giant dungeon. It got cave rooms with Stalfos in it and you fought the scorpion boss (Moldorach) in a room on the tree top. It was a really interesting concept, that sadly got dropped entirely.

Instead you have seven normal dungeons, which now feel like a relic from Twilight Princess. Most of them follow the same basic linear design that plagued the dungeons in later games, but it's even worse. You usually get one or more central rooms with a saving point in them and the course of the dungeon winds its way through these rooms multiple times. That's how the first four dungeons work, sometimes you can even predict the entire dungeon course by just looking at the map once. The first three dungeons don't even have multiple floors. The dungeons always follow the one key principle, there's always only one locked door and one key to get at a time. At no point in the entire game you will be able to get two keys at once. Remember the classic Zelda games, where you could have up to five keys at once waiting to be inserted in various doors? There's nothing "back to the roots" about these dungeons, with one exception the dungeon design became an insult to fans of the classic Zelda games. Also, the dungeons are usually quite easy and some of them are also awefully short.

But it's not like the dungeons don't have anything to offer, some of them even feature new ideas with quite some potential. The Skyview Temple has to be praised for being a very solid starting dungeon and it offers a new interesting concept of revisiting dungeons. At one point in the game the Skyview Temple gets changed, one door gets locked again, there are harder enemies and new treasures to be found. As a sidequest this idea would have a lot of potential and it's disappointing that this was the only dungeon that got this treatment. The Ancient Cistern is just beautiful and offers two amazing contrasty settings, while the entire idea was based on a Japanese short story called The Spider's Thread. The Sand Ship dungeon also offers an extraordinary setting and even some non-linearity, though the whole timeshift idea got pretty old at that point. But the best dungeon in the game is definitely the Sky Keep, which arranged its rooms in one gigantic tile puzzle. While this idea alone is genious and has a lot of potential for future Zelda dungeons, it also offers the only true non-linear dungeon in the game.

The remaining dungeons weren't as good. The Earth Temple is even shorter than the Skyview Temple and its main puzzle with the globe in the lava wasn't any fun and just slowed you down. The Lanayru Mining Facility is a tedious experience, the visuals are ugly and the enemies are very annoying. The Fire Sanctuary is overall solid, probably the largest dungeon in the game, but it completely reused the Earth Temple's settings and visuals making it feel somewhat unoriginal.


Enemies and Bosses

Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus. And maybe Deku Babas, if you're in the forest or desert. That's what you usually get during the game. There are different varients of Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus depending on what area you're in, for example the Bokoblins in the desert (called Technoblins) use electrically powered blades and wear funny goggles. But overall it's Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus and it feels a little bit stale and repetitive. Of course there are other enemies, which were usually designed for special environments. Actually the game has a lot more enemies than the Wind Waker, but it rarely uses them. And there are certainly some stronger enemies like the Lizalfos, the Moblins and the Stalfos. But they appear rarely in the game, especially the Stalfos, which only appear as minibosses. It would be much more exciting, challenging and varying if they would appear more frequently. And adding some other staples like Tektites, Redeads, Floormasters or Darknuts would have been nice. Especially Darknuts acting as true sword opponents would have been a must for this game, which is all about the sword fighting.

The enemy design on the other hand is really well made and on a par with the entertaining enemy behavior in the Wind Waker. The Bokoblins with their funny noises or the fat and slow Moblins are always good for a laugh. However, there is a series of enemies including the Deku and Quadro Babas, the Armos and Beamos, the Staldra and even the Stalfos, where you have to slice them in a certain direction or from a certain angle. The Armos and Sentrobes even have blue lines indicating how you're supposed to attack them. Those "puzzle fights" feel forced and very unnatural, they are usually not very enjoyable. It's understandable that they wanted to included enemies like this where you have to focus on the direction instead of just wildly waggling your way through all the fights, which even works for the most part. But it would have been better if this feels less forced and more natural. The Lizalfos would be a good example for that, they work great and it would have been nice to see more enemies on that level.

But the bosses are usually well made and fun, they didn't include a Boss Challenge mode for no reason. It might be the most solid collection of bosses since Ocarina of Time. For once they made some bosses, which are all about duels. Head-to-head sword combats against an equal enemy without any major gimmicks, which feels great except for the occasional "slice in the right direction" sequences. And there's the Imprisoned, where you have to stop a gigantic creature from reaching a certain destination, which you can approach in different ways. Of course they also got the typical giant bosses at the end of the dungeon, where you use the dungeon item to reveal their weak spots, but they only take up one third of the game's boss fights and they can be quite creative as well. And also a lot of fun. Scaldera for example is fought on a ramp, where the boss rolls down, which is a very dynamic fight. Another boss wields giant swords, which you can steal and use against him.

Actually it's sad that this is the only time where you can take an enemy weapon. Stealing your enemies' weapons was one of the coolest features of the Wind Waker and it would have been nice to play around with a larger selection of melee weapons in a game like Skyward Sword, where you can wield the weapons with your Wiimote.


The Items

In Twilight Princess you had many different items, where some of them rarely got utilized throughout the game. Nintendo decided to change this with the Nintendo DS Zeldas by reducing the number of items and giving them many different uses. And they kept this principle with Skyward Sword, there are only eight different "B-items" in this game. There's the Slingshot, the Bug Net, the Beetle, the Bomb Bag, the Bow, the Gust Bellow, the Whip and the Dual Clawshots. They all use motion controls in some way, but the transition is seamless and they work all very intuitive.


The only real new item and probably the star of the collection is the Beetle, which let's you scout through the entire terrain, as well as activating switches and collecting item from afar. You can also carry stuff like bombs around with the Hook Beetle upgrade. It's truly an interesting item that let's you explore the world in all it's glory and do many different things. The Bomb Bag now let's you store picked up bomb flowers, which feels great and completely natural. You might even wonder why they haven't thought of that innovation earlier. The Bug Net makes finally a return from A Link to the Past and is the only optional item in the set. It let's you catch various insects and some treasures and it offers even more motion freedom than the sword. It's also nice to see the Clawshots from Twilight Princess return. They didn't change at all, but there was no need, it still feels great to play Spiderman with Hookshots. The bow is very powerful and comes with the right timing. It can also be used in two different ways, one involves the Nunchuk as in WiiSports Resort, the other doesn't, but charging arrows will take longer. This is a nice compromise in a way.

Unlike in Twilight Princess the bow can't be obtained until further into the game, which gives the Slingshot the opportunity to shine a little bit more. It's not entirely useless this time, you will definitely use it a lot early in the game and might keep using it later to stun Technoblins or reveal hidden Rupees. However, the Whip and Gust Bellow items still feel heavily underused. You might think that in a game with only eight main items every single one of them gets used frequently, but this is not the case. The Gust Bellow is basically the successor of the Gust Jar from the Minish Cap, but this time it's really just a glorified leaf blower. It was planned that it also could suck in stuff, but they scrapped this idea and now the item simply blows. Yes, this pun was intended. It can blow away sand and cool down hot rocks. That's it. You might play around with it here and there, but overall it's a very underachieving item. It would have been more interesting, if it really was more like the Gust Jar. The Whip is cool, it's a fun to use item, but unlike in Spirit Tracks, where the Whip really felt like your secondary melee weapon, you won't be able to utilize it as much. You can steal the Monster Horns from certain Bokoblins, but that's it. It would have been better, if there was an upgrade to damage enemies. It has a longer range than your sword and is faster than Skyward Strikes, but it would deal less damage. It's sad that this isn't the case, because the Whip was really nice in Spirit Tracks and now feels like the stepchild of the item collection.

Next to the eight B-items there are also five more items that get (automatically) used in certain situations. The Sailcloth let's you slowly descent and prevents you from any fall damage. Because of that you can basically jump down from every height without any risk, which can fasten the gameplay in certain situations. It can also be used to move up airstreams, which feels similar to using Ezelo in the Minish Cap. Also returning from the Minish Cap are the Digging Mitts, which can be upgraded to the Mogma Mitts, which let you dig into tunnels. However, the Mogma Mitts are by far not as satisfying as the Mole Mitts in the Minish Cap, it's a lot slower and the tunnels usually don't hold any interesting secrets. There are also the Fireshield Earrings and the Water Dragon's Scale, which act as the Goron and Zora Armor in this game, only a lot more simplified. The Fireshield Earrings are certainly nice and offer this cool little effect when entering a heated area. But the Water Dragon's Scale, which is basically the Zora Flippers of this game, doesn't feel right. The controls are awkward and overall it feels like a backstep from the cool underwater gear in Twilight Princess.

And then there's the Goddess's Harp. We've seen various musical instrument in the Zelda series before, but this one has to be the most disappointing one. You can't really play it, you can only strum it which let's Gossip Stones and Goddess Walls appear and has some other hidden effects, but that's it. It's nowhere on the level of the Ocarina of Time or the Spirit Pipes, it's not even on the same page. There are five different songs, but all of them act as one time keys to open portals. There's no Song of Storms or similar songs with magical effects in this game. And the play sessions, where you have to follow a wave with your harp, can be quite annoying, though not as bad as the aweful duets in Spirit Tracks. So, there are no songs with interesting effects, no satisfying free style and only annoying play sessions. Where's the point of this instrument? It doesn't add anything to the game, it only acts as a tool to make the game more linear.

Additionally there are various Pouch Items, but keep in mind, that they are all completely optional. But it's interesting that this Zelda game has the largest collection of shields. There are four different shields in Skyward Sword, ten if you count the upgrades. It's nice how they handled the differences between the first three shields. The Wooden Shield burns like it would in Twilight Princess, but it protects you from electricity. The Iron Shield is very sturdy and protects you from fire, but you get zapped from electric attacks. Electricity really adds a great new dynamic to the game, in Twilight Princess the Wooden Shield would become useless as soon as you get the Hylian Shield, but not so in Skyward Sword. Then there's the Sacred Shield, which protects from all attacks and repairs itself, but has the lowest durability and is very expansive. Overall the three shield types are well balanced and you have to think about which shield to bring to your next mission. However, there's also the all powerful and indestructable Hylian Shield, which renders all other shields useless, but you get that one only at the very end of the game and you will have to earn it.

Also, this is the first time where they tried to do more with potions than just refilling your health and magic meters. They added four new types of potions, but mostly you will use the classic Heart Potion. Since there's now a shield instead of a magic meter, there has to be a potion to repair shields called Revitalizing Potion. The upgraded version, which works automatically like a fairy, can be nice, if you like to use the Sacred Shield. But usually you will repair your shield in the Scrap Shop. The other three potions cause certain effects like higher stamina, defense or air supply for three minutes. But you will use them very rarely, if at all. And because of that the focus on potions feels like an unnecessary feature. Maybe it would have been a better idea to offer the potion effects via the Medals, to have a Guardian Medal or a Stamina Medal, etc. That way at least the medals would have gotten more attention, but now we have two half-assed features instead.

The most important item, however, is certainly the sword. And next to the Practice Sword, which gets discarded after a few swings, there's only the Goddess Sword which slowly evolves into the Master Sword. There are no optional swords in this game, like in all Zelda games ever since the Wind Waker all sword upgrades are mandatory and story related. While it makes sense for this game, it's a bad trend for Zelda. In the first eight Zelda games there always have been optional sword upgrades or hidden better swords, cool stuff like the Seashell Sword, the Biggoron's Sword, the Gilded Sword or the Great Fairy's Sword. MASTER USING IT AND YOU CAN HAVE THIS, it was an achievement to discover a better sword, which now makes fighting the tough foes easier. Getting stronger swords was simply awesome. But now you get story related sword upgrades and the enemies become automatically harder. There's no achievement or challenge in this system. It's boring.


Sidequests

Like usually the game offers quite some sidequests that can distract you from the main game for multiple hours. The amount of sidequests is what we've been used to from most Zelda games, which means there's enough, but it isn't particularly overwhelming. The sidequests include activating Goddess Cubes, earning Gratitude Crystals and collecting resources to upgrade items.

The Goddess Cubes are probably the most rewarding sideqest, but also the most boring one. You don't really have to look for them, they are quite large and therefore mostly easy to spot. Some of them are hidden in some corners, but usually you won't have any big trouble finding them. And even if you do, you can use the stupid dowsing to easily locate them later in the game, which completely annihilates any challenge. Each Goddess Cube opens a treasure chest on the surface with valuable content, from tons of Rupees, over Pieces of Hearts up to the rare Medals, which are stored in your Adventure Pouch for various effects. The Medals are similar to the Magic Rings from the Oracle games, only far less in number. There's only ten of them, if you actually count the duplicates. The concept of the medals has tremendous potential, just look at the many different rings in the Oracle games. But Skyward Sword doesn't even scratch the surface of this potential. The majority of the medals only helps you collecting items, two of them act as Heart Containers and the last one lenghtens the potion effects. That's it. And you don't really have to look for them either, because nearly all of them are gotten from Goddess Cubes or Beedle's Shop.

The Gratitude Crystals are related to a sidequest, where a funny demon character wants to become human. You bring him crystals and he rewards you with certain items, usually a wallet upgrade. The crystals are gotten in two different ways. You can look for single crystals at night or you can earn five crystals at once by making a person happy. The latter might remind you of the mask quests in Majora's Mask, though the quests never get as complex as coupling Anju and Kafei or saving the Romani Ranch. But nearly every citizen of Skyloft gets one sidequest whatsoever. Some of these sidequests actually let you make a choice, which influences the further development of the characters, something that has never been done outside of the Capcom Zelda games and which was probably Fujibayashi's input. These choices can be interesting, but they can also give you the feeling that you're missing something. In fact one choice might lead to missing out one entire character. However, there are only three occasions, where you have to make a game altering choice. So, like many other things in Skyward Sword these choices feel like an experiment, something that got tacked to the game, but never fully explored. The single Gratitude Crystals a scattered through Skyloft at night. It feels similar to hunting Skulltulas at night in Kakariko Village and it's a very atmospheric sidequest, though quite a short one. Except for two crystals you can get them all at once. Only one of them is really cleverly hidden and for those who hate looking for things there's again a dowsing ability which takes away all possible challenge. It would have been a much more fulfilling collectible quest, if you could explore the entire world at night and if there were many crystals scattered through all areas.


Another new addition is collecting treasures and insects to upgrade your items and potions. And it's truly a great addition. They have finally perfected the treasure system from the Nintendo DS games, which could be very annoying thanks to randomness and some treasures being too rare. But here every treasure has its definite source like the spoils in the Wind Waker. But unlike the spoils there's still a some luck involved, so farming is not as easy. Still if you need a certain type of treasure, you will know where to find it instead of hopelessly playing the same minigames over and over again like in Spirit Tracks. Some treasures might be dropped from certain types of enemies, other treasures can be found in certain spots in the environment and others can be catched with your Bug Net like the insects. There are 12 different types and they all have their own preferred habitat and behavior. Catching bugs is fun and offers quite some variety, you might ignore your main tasks just because you heard some Sand Cicadas rattle in the background. The nice thing about all those treasures and insects is that they all really add something to the environments. In every corner of the world there is something to collect. Walking through the lands never gets boring, because there's always something to do. This really adds to the game and should be included in every future Zelda. It is really fun to collect the stuff and it's good that it's fun, because you probably wouldn't do it otherwise. The requirements for the upgrades are usually easily met, you don't even have to try hard. And you will rarely upgrade any potions, so collecting insects might feel completely unnecessary. But you can always sell your insects and treasures at night to make some money, though the selling interface is somehow inconvinient, especially when compared to selling things in the Nintendo DS Zeldas. But the only real annoying thing about the treasures and insect is when you leave the game. Because then it resets all the "got item"-messages and shows them again. It's like with the different Rupees in Twilight Princess, only ten times worse. Because there are far more individual treasures and insects and each time it opens the collection menu and shows how the number of the item gets incremented. EACH SINGLE TIME. This is so brutally annoying that some people decided to avoid treasures completely or never to turn the game off. What was Nintendo thinking?! You can always look up the description in the collection menu, there's no need to show it a second time.

The upgrades are varied, you can upgrade shields, bags, half of the main items and potions. Some of them are boring, for example upgrading the shields only increases their Shield Gauge and makes them look a little bit different or the upgrades for Bomg Bags only makes them carry more bombs. But some are more interesting and helpful like the Quick Beetle, which let's your Beetle fly a lot faster while pressing A. Or the Big Bug Net, which makes catching bugs a lot easier. These upgrades really feel like a cool achievement and it would have been nice if there were more. The Whip didn't get an upgrade for example, though it really could use one to make it more interesting and useful. It's also interesting that the Clawshots didn't get any upgrades, since the Hookshot was one of the few items to get upgrades in earlier Zelda games. And overall making upgrades is too easy. In case of the Bow for example you won't even have the chance to feel any difference between the different versions, because you might upgrade it instantly into the Sacred Bow. The requirements for the upgrades should have been higher.

The game also features the traditional Heart Pieces, though as usually they are not very well hidden or follow predictable formulas. A good chunk of them is gotten from Goddess Cubes or minigames. Though the minigames are surprisingly decent this time around. Half of them is entirely optional, like the good old Money Making Game you don't have to play them, if you don't want to. You won't miss any items. They are only used to win Rupees, treasures or insects. The others "only" give you a Piece of Heart, so won't have to beat them multiple times. And they can also be quite fun. The only frustrating minigame might be the minecart race, the motion controls feel flawed at first, but if you get the hang of it, this minigame also won't be a problem. Some minigames like the bamboo cutting can even be a lot of fun and you might just play them because you want to. One minigame that definitely has to be mentioned is the Lightning Round, which is this game's Boss Challenge Mode. Since the bosses were overall well designed such a mode is a welcomed addition, it can also be a good challenge, especially in the Hero Mode. It also let's you replay the Silent Realms, if you like the thrill or need more Dusk Relics, which can only be found during the trials.



Difficulty Level

Unlike most Zelda games Skyward Sword doesn't start with three hearts, but six. And it does that for a reason. The first steps are always the hardest and it might take you a while to adept to the new control scheme. You might struggle even with simple enemies like Deku Babas or Skulltulas. But you will get the hang of it sooner or later and then you enter a Zelda game that is relatively easy, because it doesn't keep up with you. Stronger enemies like Stalfos are a rare sight in this game, the game is very linear, the dungeons are quite simple and with two exceptions the puzzles are usually not that smart. And even if they are smart, there's a high chance that someone in the game will tell you the solution right away.

That leads us to Fi, who must be the worst sidekick yet. Don't get this wrong, she is an unique and cool character. But as a guide she is just an over the top, 4th wall breaking, never ending annoyance. "Master, this is a locked door, there's a 95% chance that you need a key to open it." - And she tells you that after you already got the key. She is really the Captain Obvious of the Zelda universe and for some reason she thinks she has to repeat every bit of critical information again like you weren't listening before. Forget Navi, Navi is a total saint compared to Fi. Navi just gives you general directions, while Fi guides you on every single step. It feels like Nintendo thinks their customers are all brain dead retards, who can't think on their own and who need someone to tell them what to do all the time. And it get's even worse when Fi starts to tell you things you certainly don't want to hear. Like the red blinking battery icon the lower right screen isn't already annoying enough, Fi has to tell you personally that your batteries are low. And if you can't figure out the solution of a puzzle immediatly, Fi pops up and gives you crucial hints even though you didn't want to hear any. If you need any hints, you can always ask her for advice, so there's no reason for this. Actually she is a nice source of interesting information, for example she can tell you the name of every enemy and character, a feature that is sadly missing in most games. But overall a guide like this is completely unreasonable. In the future Nintendo maybe should try to get away from the sidekicks and built more on the Sheikah Stone idea, because the Sheikah Stones can't annoy you.

The Dowsing ability is another unreasonable guidance. Normally in Zelda games you would have to discover things on your own, in Skyward Sword you just need to follow a pointer. It goes as far that the dowsing let's you look for hidden collectible items. Where's the point in even hiding stuff then? Why have secrets and hidden items, if you have something that points at them? Discovering secrets was originally part of Zelda's gameplay and cleverly hidden things were part of Zelda's difficulty, but it's all not really part of Skyward Sword. The problem with this is, that the game turns you into a processor. You don't have to think on your own, you just follow the guides and do what you're told to do. There's no real adventure in this.

The damage level of the game is usually okay, there are no quarter hearts or jokes like that. However, you won't take any damage from jumping into an abyss. There's no punishment for something that would definitely kill you! This is ridiculous, you can even exploit this in certain situations. But if you finished the game once, you can play the Hero Mode, where like in Ocarina of Time 3D's Master Quest the received damage gets doubled. Also, there won't be any hearts to heal you at first. This can be challenging, especially in the Boss Challenge mode, but they could have done a lot more to challenge the diehard Zelda fans.



Replay Value

Nintendo said that they would focus on the replay value of Skyward Sword. And in fact there's some animated replay value, which directly motivates you to play the game at least a second time. There are some choices to make throughout the game and while these choices are minor, they still might motivate you to play the game at least a second time. These choices usually revolve around the Gratitude Crystal sidequest and they change the behavior of certain side characters towards you. For example a girl will fall in love with you and can pretend to return her feelings or dump her. Naturally your decision will change her future behavior and you might want to try both variants, because both can be funny. Also, during various cutscenes the dialogs let you chose between multiple answers. While your answers don't have any further effects, you can provoke different reactions. For example in the beginning of the game you can tell Zelda that her costume looks great or not and both of her reactions are kind of cute. These kind of things certainly add some replay value to the game, because you get to see some different reactions and even different character developments. But overall this is really underdeveloped and no comparison to the possibilities you get in various RPGs.

To spice it up Nintendo even added a 2nd Quest, the so called Hero Mode. Sadly the differences to the normal game are rather minor, even less than what the 2nd Quest of the Wind Waker offered. To make things harder you receive double damage and no hearts will appear during the game unless you carry at least one Heart Medal. But to make things easier you keep your collection from your first playthrough and during the entire game the sword beam is more powerful. It's different and especially the Boss Challenge mode can be a lot more challenging (unless you use a cheap Guardian Potion+ like a certain someone, who is writing this review), but overall they could have changed more to add more to the replay value and the difficulty. It doesn't have to be a full fledged Master Quest, but could have at least tried. They constantly changed the environments throughout the game, so why not change the dungeons once for the Hero Mode? Letting some tougher enemies like the Stalfos appear more frequently alone would have worked wonders. And they could have altered the locations of the Goddess Cubes and the content of their chests. There would be a lot of simple ways to make a second playthrough more exciting and again the Hero Mode just feels like a missed opportunity. But at least it let's you skip the cutscenes.

Still with these additions you will definitely play the game at least a second time. The overall replay value really depends on how much fun you have with the controls and the combat. It's in some way similar to Metroid: Other M, which was awefully linear and had a bad story, but was still fun to play again, if you enjoyed the controls and the combat. If you enjoy the feeling of hitting Bokoblins with your Wiimote, you will definitely return to this game and play it again despite it's linearity and weak dungeons.



Conclusion

Skyward Sword is a well crafted and very detailed game that will last for many, many hours. And it's certainly the pinnacle of the Wii experience, the new controls feel so great, that you will instantly miss them in other games. Skyward Sword also tries to avoid various Zelda cliches and on the same time it introduces new ideas, where many have the potential to evolve into new staples of the Zelda franchise. It's a fresh experience, but there's still something from every other Zelda game present, which makes the game a good entry for the 25th Anniversary. But Skyward Sword is also plagued by the typical issues of modern Zelda, issues like high linearity, low difficulty and weak dungeons. Issues that have to be resolved in the future. Also, many of the new ideas feel like experiments, where they only scratched on the surface of its full potential. The game likes to built up expectations in you only to disappoint them. And this is why the game, no matter how good it may be, will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.

18 comments:

K2L said...

I wish I had the will to reject this game when my brother gave it to me, because I never wanted to get it to begin with, not with its bad fan reputation at least. And now with this mixed review, I feel even more embarrased for having it. =/

TourianTourist said...

@K2L:
Would you just stop it, please? It's a good game, in fact it might be the best Wii game. It's a must have.

My review is high level criticism from an old Zelda fan. You might even call me picky when it comes to certain flaws. But as a fan you have to be more critical and you have to focus on the flaws, because this is what could make a difference for the future.

And despite its flaws I had a lot of fun with this game. So, instead of whining about the awesome christmas present your brother gave you (what a great guy!! I wish I had a brother like that), just play the damn game and have some fun.

Anonymous said...

What TourianTourist said...

K2L said...

I appreciate my brother's intentions, but it's still an unwanted present I got. Since a long time, I was coveting a game that would be embraced by the community as a whole. As overpraised-to-death as MM, TWW and TP all are NOW, at the time of their released they were called disappointments, still deeming OOT as "BEST GAME EVAAAH!!". Fans are only liking them because their hype train had lost steam YEARS after the games were released.

So you can imagine how ashamed I was when I first played them. My brother and friends had called me silly for enjoying MM just because "OOT was better". And don't get me started with TWW or even TP. I wanted to avoid this fate by skipping SS and waiting instead for a game that would conquer fans like only OOT did. Instead, what I have in my hands is yet another love-it-or-hate-it game that will hypocritically be called a "great, underrated masterpiece" 15 years in the future. Whenever I play a divisive game, my mind constantly tells me whether it's right or wrong to enjoy or like said game. This is why I no longer bother playing games like Super Mario Bros. 2, Killer7 or Spirit Tracks, much less trying to highlight their strongest points, because my opinions about them feel utterly defeated against the extremely contradicting veredicts from other players towards them.

I admit that SS has flaws, but opinions about them have gained such a dementedly strong voice that I can't talk positively about the game without the risk of being bombarded by troll opinions. Playing and enjoying this game is like being a closeted homosexual unable to voice his condition towards the rest of the world. It just doesn't feel right to me.

TourianTourist said...

@K2L:
It should never matter what other people think. And you should never be ashamed for enjoying a game. If YOU enjoy the game it should be all that matters.

For example I like playing Unreal Tournament 3. I love that game, while all others tell me stuff like "stop playing that crap, play teh Battlefieldz or Call of Dutayy, that's where the skill is, n00b". But I don't care, because as long as I enjoy UT more than any other shooters, I will keep playing it. UT3 is not perfect, it certainly has its flaws, but it's my favorite shooter.

And I certainly enjoyed Skyward Sword, there were parts where the game really took me back to the glorious N64 days. And I already played the final boss battle dozens of times, because it's so kick ass (maybe I should add that point to the review). But I'm certainly not ashamed for liking this game. Why should I? Yes, my review focused on many flaws, but that only shows how passionate I am about this game. If I thought it would be a bad game, the review would be a lot shorter. I probably wouldn't have bothered with writing a review at all...

Btw I also enjoyed MM a lot when it came out, though it's certainly not perfect.

But like I already said, do yourself a favor and insert that disc your brother gave you into your Wii. And if you happen to enjoy it, then that's great. Who gives a shit what some forum trolls think?

K2L said...

Not just forum trolls, but friends and family as well. I know you have a point, as SS and all video games have flaws. It's just that I had spent an entire life with this mentality of retreating when the negative sentiments from other people get too strong. It's ... probably a social/psychologic disorder I have, but I'm unsure since I never assisted a mental consult, and I'm very phobic towards psychologists.

And I am actually playing the game, now that I have it and all. At this moment, I'm on the Sandship. So far it looks very interesting, it being an abandoned ship and all. I felt very depressed when (SPOILERS) I sdaw that picture about the robot seaman's tripulation, all of them now being dead. =,(

"Btw I also enjoyed MM a lot when it came out, though it's certainly not perfect."

So did I, as well as TWW and TP. But around my whereabouts, I had always seemed to be among the few who enjoyed them. I did't want to get SS because I didn't want to feel excluded or alienated yet again. Sometimes I wonder if I'm a better or worse fan of the series for appreciating them with their virtues and flaws.

TourianTourist said...

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm a better or worse fan of the series for appreciating them with their virtues and flaws."

Appreciating something despite its flaws is what makes you a fan. Nothing in this world is perfect. For example you will never find the perfect girl, you can only love your girl the way she is. Others might say "hey, what do you want with that girl?", but you shouldn't care, because you love her. It's the same with everything else, even video games. If you like the game, it shouldn't matter what others think. You should be proud of your own opinion, not ashamed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out that as an origin story, Skyward Sword really doesn't deliver. It's surprising, perhaps, that more people haven't noticed this. It was billed as the origin story of the master sword, but it isn't. When I heard that, I thought maybe there would be a blacksmith character and you would have to collect the raw elements to forge the blade from nothing. Your journey would be all about this, taking you to the different regions of Hyrule to collect the materials that would embody the essence of the land. Instead, the sword is already there, and (if I remember correctly) it's even stated that another hero used it before, in the times when Hylia was fighting Demise.

In other ways, too, the story writers covered their butts, not quite committing to a true origin story. They can still do another game before this one, with another Link. Sure, Zelda wouldn't be a princess, probably, but she could be there, too. There's no reason why not.

That's fine, of course. It's not that I care whether this is truly the first story in the history. It's just that, the story of Skyward Sword would have been stronger if the writers had committed to their chosen theme, and fully explored it.

I know Nintendo develops games starting from the interactivity, and fits a story around it. Their prioritization of gameplay is legendary and for good reason. But Zelda is not like Mario. There is actually a story in a Zelda game, and the player spends a fair amount of time listening to exposition and having the story laid out. If that's so, the story and gameplay should be more thoughtfully integrated.

For example, this game introduces a new villain, Demise, who's meant to be the original evil for the entire series. But we never learn very much about him. Why not fully explore this character? And I don't mean "telling" through exposition, but by "showing" through gameplay. The last dungeon could have taken Link into Demise's realm, so the player could see where he came from. The design of that space could have provided a lot of information about the character himself.

You were also right to point out that nothing spectacular is really done with the flight mechanic. Like the story, it's another case where something is added into the game to create interest or variety, but it's not really integrated with an overall vision.

It's a hard subject to talk about, but VISION is really important to art! And I feel that although Skyward Sword made some laudable changes (mainly the great over world design), on the whole it's lacking cohesive vision. The problem is that the Zelda series now has a lot of expectations placed on it, to cohere to a certain formula. Every game needs to tick all the same boxes: time travel, steed or vehicle, etc. Skyward Sword got away from that a little, but only a little. The fan expectations are so elaborate and ingrained that changing it significantly will require a lot of balls.

In my opinion, what the Zelda series needs quite badly is game like Super Mario 3D Land. Take the best of the old, best of the new, and simmer. Simplify and hone it down. Make it approachable, and cut out all the talking and hand-holding. Make it more of an action-puzzle game, like the earliest games. Make Hyrule big and continuous but make it easy to jump in and play for half an hour without remembering exactly where you are in the overall quest. I could go on…

- Long Time Reader of Time

Anonymous said...

About Skyward Sword as an origin story – I should give the writers a little more credit.

The part that was well done, origin story wise, was the establishment of the Hylia-Demise conflict as the original motivation for all the conflicts that followed. We learn that all Hylians, including Link and Zelda, are decedents in a way of the goddess Hylia. The most clever part is that the reason for Link and Zelda specifically is that Zelda is intentionally a cute girl who Link will be motivated to rescue. The story also shows them to have romantic and sexual interest, for the first time. So we now have confirmation of the implicit romantic dimension between the hero and the princess, and see that their desire to be together is like a little motor that propels them forward, in their mortal way, to be extensions of Hylia's purpose: the guard the Triforce.

Maybe it was more a problem of presentation. Prior to the game's release, all the PR talked about how it would be a Master Sword story. And that part of it was not actually very developed. (I forgot to mention in my last post that the Master Sword was also leveled-up from a weaker state in Wind Waker. So the Master Sword creation depicted in Skyward Sword isn't even novel.)

I'm old school enough to remember the Master Sword being introduced in Link to the Past. It was a special thing in that game, with a lot of build up and significance in the story. I remember playing Ocarina of Time, and getting into the Temple of Time and finding the Master Sword, and being kind of put off, and disappointed. I didn't expect it to show up again. I thought it was just something special from Link to the Past. But Ocarina of Time was the point where the series started recycling features "just because". Another example is the owl, given a ridiculous name, Kaepora Gaebora. The owl first appeared in Link's Awakening, and was part of the mystery of Koholint. In Ocarina, the owl came back just "because". It's not like the game needed another guide character. There was already Navi, Saria who would give you hints when you played her song, and other characters like Impa. Not to mention the gossip stones. Every time the owl showed up, and gave me a long, rambling message that frequently scrolled by much too fast, it just made me scratch my head. Didn't seem necessary.

Anyway. I'm getting back to the problems with the series. They should really stop reusing so many things. A Zelda game shouldn't be a collection of features. It should be a unified vision.

- Long Time Reader of Time

Anonymous said...

Another thought, and sorry for giving you probably way too much to respond to. If you have the energy for all this, I would love to hear your thoughts.

On the subject of over-linearity:

Zelda games have been variously linear from game to game, but some element of non-linearity has usually been protected as essential to the identity of Zelda. But something really bad started to happen with Twilight Princess, and it has been continued by Skyward Sword.

Let me jump back to Wind Waker. That game was often criticized for being too short. In my view, the problem was not really the length, but the pacing and structure. Fans know that a couple dungeons were cut to release the game by a certain date, and you can kind of tell when you play the game. The expected structure is cut short. For example, you beat a couple dungeons and earn an orb thing after each, but then the third and final orb is just given to you by the big fish guy.

I imagine the developers heard the criticism about Wink Waker's length, and said to each other, "but this game has so much content! The sea charts, the extra islands… People aren't counting those things as part of the quest because they're optional! Therefore we must make sure that in the next game, the player is guided to all this great content. Otherwise, why are we creating it, if the player misses it?"

The result of this epiphany can be seen and felt in Twilight Princess. I remember having a new feeling while playing that game. It seemed like all the things I had to do were laid out in a very strict line. It starts from the very beginning, with all the chores you have to do in the town. There are other cases of this, which I can't quite remember. I think one had to do with fixing a bridge from Castle Town? There were some tasks in there that felt like they should have been side quests, but instead you HAD to do them before moving on to the next dungeon. I hope my lack of solid examples doesn't defeat my point, I'm just describing my general memory of the game.

Ironically, this strictly imposed sequence makes the game feel narrow rather than expansive. An impression of expansiveness is created when the player can wander and then be rewarded by finding something he wouldn't have otherwise. But when everything is lined up for you, you just think about what you're supposed to do next. No matter how broad the environments are, when tasks are lined up like that, the game feels narrow.

Skyward Sword suffered from the same thing. In particular, the last section of the game, where you make a final visit to each region, felt like side quest things that should have been rewards for exploring. Instead, they were laid out in a linear fashion. (As you point out, you can shuffle them at risk of a game-breaking glitch, but they are linear insofar as they are grouped together and cannot be attempted at any other time in the game). After the escalating challenge of the dungeons and the new areas you were discovering, these final tasks before Skykeep felt like "winding down". I like the approach to reusing environments, but these tasks just don't feel right at the end of the quest. They would have been wonderful side quests to discover, but laid out in sequence the deflate the excitement of nearing the end of the quest.

I would be very happy to play a Zelda game where the core quest – meaning the dungeons and essential over world activity – took about 15 hours, and there was 10 or 15 hours of other things to do on the side.

But maybe I am not really Nintendo's audience.

- Long Time Reader of Time

TourianTourist said...

@ Long Time Reader of Time:
Thanks for all your input, I really appreciate the comments.

I haven't played Super Mario 3D Land yet. I enjoyed New SMB (Wii) and both Galaxy games, so the fact that this is basically a hybrid should engage me, but it doesn't. Something about this game feels wrong. One thing I don't like is the slow pace, Super Mario is a lot cooler if I can B-sprint through the levels...

And yeah, the linearity issue (I will talk a lot more about this in the future, because this IS a big problem with the Zelda franchise) comes from developers, who want you to see all the content. Oh, they spent so much time making all these nice environments and dungeons, it would be a shame if the player would miss any of it... so, they make sure that you don't miss it. And even worse... in Skyward Sword they now don't put any efforts in the optional areas. It's just rocks with a chest on it... or just rocks.

This is a bad development. Zelda has to return to its origins, the first Zelda games was all about YOU exploring a world on YOUR own. No guide, no directions, just you adventuring. THIS feeling has to return.

Anonymous said...

Another comment about VISION:

In the fan translation of Aonuma's latter to fans in the Hyrule Historia book, if I remember right, there's a part where he talks about what defines Zelda. What makes Zelda Zelda.

And he says something like, Zelda is defined by being completely unique.

Perhaps I misunderstood him, but it seemed that Aonuma was saying that Zelda is defined by being like Zelda. That Zelda games are not like other games, but only like themselves.

A positive way to hear this is that the Zelda series has evolved into a very special form that stands apart from any other genre. It has evolved into something highly specialized and refined and special, and that identity must be preserved.

A more worrisome way to hear this is that Aonuma, the man responsible for the series, has access to no deeper source of inspiration than the work he has already done. There's no deeper principle or idea there. It's just about refining what's already been done. As a guiding vision, it's tragically hollow.

The royal family of Hyrule, determined to preserve the purity of its blood, has fallen victim to inbreeding. Its offspring cannot match the heroes of its history.

Somewhere recently, Aonuma also said that the thing that really motivates him is impressing Miyamoto. Understandable and even touching as this may be, it's not the statement of a creative visionary.

- Long Time Reader of Time

Anonymous said...

@TourianTourist

When you play Super Mario 3D Land, I hope you will write up your impressions.

I know what you mean about wanting fast-paced Mario game play, with B-sprinting. This is just a guess, but you may find that 3D Land feels more like that than it looks. The characters are big and bubbly on the screen, so it just doesn't look like the kind of game with quickly moving sprites. But actually, it plays a lot more like that than you would think. In fact, you hold the Y button to run, so it's the first 3D Mario game to bring back B-sprinting!

When the big Nintendo franchises went 3D in the N64 generation, they took these "miniature gardens" (as Miyamoto would say) and turned them into great big worlds with distant vanishing points and suns to look into with lens flare effects. The worlds got bigger and bigger, and not really very miniature-feeling at all. The first 3DS games continued that trend. In Pilotwings and Zelda643D, the 3D effect make the background look even more distant. Your hang glider or hero was framed against a vast backdrop.

Super Mario 3D Land takes a completely different approach. Instead of making the world look even more expansive, the 3D effect makes nearby objects more rounded and lifelike. The action takes place right before your eyes, in a small local area, not spread out to the distant horizons. The environments are compact, just like Super Mario Bros. 3. It's Nintendo's concept of a video game that is emphatically NOT cinematic, but instead toy-like. It's like a little diorama come to life.

You at least have to see it.

- Long Time Reader of Time

Anonymous said...

@TourianTourist

"This is a bad development. Zelda has to return to its origins, the first Zelda games was all about YOU exploring a world on YOUR own. No guide, no directions, just you adventuring. THIS feeling has to return."

You're exactly right.

I wonder what it would be like to play Skyward Sword without talking.

Or, slightly less radical, characters would have no more than one page of dialog at a time, and that dialog simply appears on screen when you stand near someone. So you'd never get locked into "conversation mode". That should be enough to give you essential information, and get on with your quest.

When I arrived in Faron woods I was delighted by the environment and wanted to explore, but at every step, that feeling was being strangled by another supposed-to-be-cute NPC character making me stop and listen to it.

Seriously … how would the game feel if you could just PLAY IT?

It's a secret to everyone.

- Long Time Reader of Time

K2L said...

Wow, hell has definitely broken loose here. It seems like it was a mistake for me to share my sentiments with anyone at all in the first place. I feel somewhat worse now than before =/

Stefy said...

hey, ich wusste nicht, wo ich das sonst reinschreiben sollte, aber ich habe soeben etwas herausgefunden, und dachte, das muss ich gleich mit dir teilen! ich weiss nicht, ob du das schon weisst, falls ja, sorry ;)
hast du dir schon mal den titelsong von skyward sword rückwärts angehört? das ergibt nämlich zelda's wiegenlied! :D
ist doch cool, oder? :D mir hat das gleich gänsehaut eingejagt ôo
liebe grüsse

TourianTourist said...

@Stefy:
Ja, ist bekannt. Ich hatte dazu sogar im Mai einen Post:
http://touriantourist.blogspot.com/2011/05/skyward-sword-gdc-trailer-song-inverted.html

Stefy said...

oouh, na da hatte ich diesen blog noch nicht entdeckt ;)
aber war ja klar, dass ich damit mal wieder hintendrein bin... XD