Saturday, November 19, 2011

Skyward Sword Blade Journal, Day 2

Is it unhealthy to play video games all day long? Probably, but I'm doing it anyway. This game is addictive.

Beware of spoilers! I won't talk about the story though, only about game stuff.

I played a lot today and I'm currently in the middle of the Lanayru Desert. That might be not as far, but keep in mind that I'm sidequesting a lot. I'm usually neglecting the main quests and look around for hidden items and secrets. But this is a good sign, because this means that the sidequests in this game are fun and interesting. Normally I would rush through the main quests and do most of the siqequests at the end. Here it's more like the opposite, I really want to get all those cool item upgrades and I usually just progress in the main quest, if I need a lot of Rupees. Rupee-wise this game is the complete opposite of Twilight Princess. There's tons of expensive stuff waiting to be bought, for example I still couldn't effort the second Adventure Pouch upgrade in Beedle's shop or any of his medals. Rupees are hard-earned here and can be spent and very useful items. Nice.

I also got two medals by now. Like I thought the medals work similar to the rings in the Oracle games, however, you can use multiple medals at once. You don't have to equip them like your shield, as long as they stay in your Adventure Pouch, you will feel their effects. So, basically you could use eight different medals at the same time, if you got all pockets. The Adventure Pouch is a really interesting concept, which adds a nice RPG element to the game in a Zeldaish way. You can store bottles, shields, medals and capacity upgrades (like addditional Bomb Bags). But there's never the perfect combination, you really have to consider your next target destination and bring suitable items. For example an Iron Shield doesn't help in the Desert, where enemies fight with electricity. You need a Wooden Shield here, so you stow your Iron Shield at the Bazar and bring something else instead. The idea with the electricity is already genious, because in Twilight Princess the Wooden Shield would be totally useless after you got the Hylia Shield. The only difference was that the Wooden Shield burns and the Hylia Shield doesn't. It's nice that they put more thought into having different shields.

One of my medals lets me find more treasure. Which is helpful, because you use the treasures to upgrade your items, the more spoils you collect the better. For example I just got the totally awesome Quick Beetle upgrade, which lets your Beetle fly much faster. And I love it soooo much. Upgrading items is really cool, I'm obsessed with it. Collecting bugs to upgrade potions on the other hands doesn't really feel like it's worth it. I only had use for the normal Heart Potion so far, there was no reason to upgrade any of my potions. But collecting insects itself is fun. I love what they did with the Bug-Catching Net. There's this space in the Deep Woods, where you get attacked by hornets. I got freaked out first, but later I found out that you can simply collect the hornets by swinging your Bug-Catching Net around. This is one of the many details, that make this game great.

Surprisingly I still haven't fully familiarized myself with the forest area and Skyloft. I lose orientation quickly in these places. But this just shows how smartly those enviroments were designed. I love exploring Skyloft, it might be my favorite town in the Zelda series already. All the characters are really unique and bizarre and they all have their fully developed homes and stories. And Skyloft offers surprises in every corner. There was this sidequest, where you look for a girl. You'll actually discover a hidden area below the graveyard where some real crazy bat demon guy lives. I loved this part, the humor and the atmosphere were great and it extended into a much deeper sidequest, which involves collecting something similar to the Force Gems in Spirit Tracks. And there are hidden details everywhere. For example there's a Tingle statue in Zelda's room. You can't actually enter Zelda's room, but the room next to it, where you can peak through a slit in the wooden wall. Every character has a living room, which reflects his personality. And the personalities in this game can be quite crazy.

But while the Faron Woods and Skyloft are very well designed places, I wish I could say the same about the other environments. Eldin Volcano was just some giant obstacle course, which even felt repetitive at times. And the first two dungeons were rather short and disappointingly linear. I expect something small and basic from the first dungeon, but the second dungeon was entirely the same thing. The dungeons feel even dumper than in Twilight Princess, you only get the map and an item protected by a miniboss. The rest was a very linear course. The Skyview Temple was much more interesting in the demo, where you had more items to experiment. You even could skip over the miniboss battle. But the bosses were awesome. Ghirahim in the Skyview Temple was a nice and classic duel, I always dig 1on1 sword battles, and Scaldera was a very unique boss that took the Dodongo concept to an entire new level. I'm looking forward to the Boss Challenge mode.

But right now I fear that the game will remain to be entirely linear. Normally I would have the hope that the first half of the game is linear, but the second half let's you do stuff out of order. But this hope was already crushed early in the game. There's this fortune teller at the bazar, who can tell you, what items you will need in the next area. This already indicates that the order of the dungeons and overworld areas will be completely linear. He couldn't predict your next move, if the game wasn't entirely linear. And this is disappointing, linear game design is bad game design, because it's boring. Every idiot can make a linear game. A good video game is the sum of its interesting choices. I'm really happy that Skyward Sword offers some good sidequest where I can make my own gear, because this will probably be the only choices you have in this game. But I at least have the hope, that the dungeon design will improve at some point. Link's Awakening is also an entire linear game when it comes to the order of the dungeons, but I don't mind, because the dungeons theirselves offer a very smart layout with lots of possible solutions and optional parts. You can replay the dungeons in Link's Awakening many, many times and still have fun. But if the dungeons in Skyward Sword remain the way there are right now, the game will heavily suffer from it.

Like I said I'm currently in the Lanayru Desert. And the time fields are totally awesome, I love this idea. This is something that you would have expected from the Temple of Time dungeon in Twilight Princess. Instead they used the dungeon for this giant statue puzzle. It was a missed opportunity. But now we get an entire overworld area, where you can shift between two very different ages. The robot folk is really funny and the contrast between Lanayru in the past and present looks great. Lanayru might be my favorite part of the game so far, though it's still heavily linear. The Lanayru Mine was just one linear pathway, I wonder if I will ever return to this area...

So much about the general stuff, but I also want to talk about some details.

In Twilight Princess you had this really annoying issue, that after leaving and restarting the game it would tell you again how much worth the different colored Rupees are if you walk over a blue Rupee or higher. This was so stupid. Luckily this doesn't happen here, however, it now does the same for all items in your collection. Treasures, bugs and spoils... this is ridiculous. I'm actually thinking about leaving the game on when I'm making a pause, because it's brutally annoying. It just slows the game down that you have to listen to the description of 32 different items again after turning the game off. I already know what an Amber Relic, why are you telling me this again?! But it's not only the found-an-item-text, each time it will open the collection menu and show you how the item's counter gets increased by 1! Each single time! This is soooo annoying and I have no idea what Nintendo was thinking. This is even worse than the Rupees in Twilight Princess. Unless you only play the game in larger sessions, this will heavily annoy you.

Well, and it happened twice to me now that I activated a Goddess Cube, but I can't tell where the treasure chest appeared. It's nowhere on the map or on Skyloft... but there's no real way to efficiently check this, because you can only look at the map of the current area. It would be nice if you could check all of the maps all the time. So, right now I don't know where two of the chests appeared and I spent at least an hour looking in all houses of Skyloft. Maybe the chests appeared inside this giant whirlwind cloud, I dunno...

And what I like about the game, that hearts are actually a rare thing. Well, at least rarer than normally. But rare enough that the game actually gives you a heart dowsing feature. And sometimes you have to use the Beetle to collect some hearts. It happened to me several times now that I was low on health, but struggled to get a refill. Maybe the potions won't be so useless after all. But I also got a heart medal by now, which makes finding hearts easier. But I'm not using it, because I like the challenge and I want to use the space in my pouch for other items.

But sometimes I really get my ass kicked. It can be very different, for example I've beaten the two Lizalfos, who happened to be the Earh Temple's miniboss fight, without a scratch. However, the next Lizalfos, who was just guarding a door, nearly killed me, by kicking me into the lava two times. Sometimes you're lucky by simply swinging your sword like crazy (like you would do in Twilight Princess), but other times this can get you killed. In Lanayru the Bokoblins now fight with electric swords. There's no room for error here and the game can be quite hard. At least harder than other 3D Zeldas. I don't know, how anyone could say that this game is easier than Twilight Princess.

Remember the Faron Woods demo from E3 2010? There was this one room behind some bombable rocks, where you fight a Stalfos. Sadly they removed this room, now there's just a Piece of Heart in an alcove. It would have been more awesome if you still had to fight the Stalfos to get the Piece of Heart.

So much for today.

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