Thursday, March 2, 2017

Replaying Skyward Sword

Believe it or not, my copy of Breath of the Wild is already inserted into my Wii U (and running), but I'm still writing this post first to wrap things up. My plan was to complete all 3D Zelda games one more time, before Breath of the Wild gets released, but with the March 3rd release, Nintendo was cutting things quite short for me. And I've actually haven't completed my latest playthrough of Skyward Sword yet, where I got to the beginning of the Song of the Hero quest yesterday. But I can't muster up enough motivation to collect Tadtones, instead of diving into the wilds of the brandnew game, which is probably understandable.

And it doesn't really matter anyway, because Skyward Sword was not on my backlog. I've fully completed the game in both Normal Mode and Hero Mode, when it was released. I've even written full guides at the time and studied the game in detail. But never since then I returned to the game, where my goal was simply to refresh my memories and to see, how well the game holds up in replayability. And that I did. In fact I've even got all of the sidequests done, save for one Gratitude Crystal quest, one Goddess Cube and one Piece of Heart, where I didn't have access to these things yet. It's really only the Song of the Hero quest and the Skykeep, which I haven't done yet, but I kind of like having a savegame of this, because there's no way to re-experience these parts otherwise.

Well, overall I'm not sold on the replay value. I do enjoy, how the controls feel. It's all very quick, streamlined and powerful. I can access anything in this game with a button press and a motion gesture. All the items were put to good use and see lots of action, even the Slingshot. It feels good to go adventuring with this arsenal. And it feels good preparing for adventures in the Bazaar.

What doesn't feel good is the high linearity and the basically non-existent exploration value. You just keep following the obstacle courses that is the "overworld" in this game. There aren't even any bigger optional areas down there and most of the sidequesting is done in Skyloft. This is the only place, where I took my time to re-explore everything, instead of just rushing through the environments. But the "sky ocean" itself doesn't provide much either, the majority of the "islands" are just rocks with treasure chests on them. There's not much to it and completing all the sidequests felt kind of bland.

But part of the problem might have been that this was a Hero Mode savegame based on my Normal Mode savegame, where I maxed out everything in the Collection: 99 of all insects and 99 of most treasures; 42 of the harder-to-get treasures. This was nice to have, since I had quite some time pressure with this, but this also took away the treasure and insect hunting from the tasks on the overworld.

And the treasures that you get on your way are rather a big annoyance. I probably won't ever return to the Wii version for the treasures alone. First of all, they are put in big treasure chests that get the full chest opening animation, where you'd expect to get a dungeon item, key, Piece of Heart or anything else of importance. But no, it's just some measly treasure, where you already have collected 99 pieces and the game still has the atrocity to explain this item to you and to slowly increment its counter right before your eyes. Every. Single. Time.

Even the treasures found on the ground do that every time after resetting the game. It's like the Rupees in the original versions of Twilight Princess, just much, much worse. And when Nintendo releases the inevitable Skyward Sword HD on Switch, they better fix this whole treasure situation.

Talking about that... the graphics hold up very well. I've tested the Wii version of Twilight Princess on my new 49'' UHD TV and it looked really bad, but the visual style of Skyward Sword made it tolerable. I did enjoy it, where an HD version could look amazing. And they probably wouldn't have much work with it, all it needs is some upscaling, a clearer view and it already could look like this:

So, for a good part of the time I was thinking about an HD version and what they could improve other than the constant treasure notifications. And on that regard I think that a trial dungeon like the Cave of Ordeals could be a real challenge here. The fighting in this game is quite tough and needs to be really mastered. Five years ago I practiced all the boss fights in the Lightning Round to a point, where I could win them without getting hurt. Today I got hurt plenty by most of them. It felt like I've forgotten, how to be good at this game. But at the same time I would be intrigued by the idea of such a trial dungeon, where you fight all the nasty normal enemies, like the Armos or the Stalfos, in a row. Could be interesting.

What probably can't be fixed or improved is the story, though. I'm not a fan of it. It will be interesting to see, how this whole "Hylia" thing plays out in Breath of the Wild, because I didn't like it much in Skyward Sword. Zelda just feels estranged after a certain point. And essentially Zelda just keeps running away from you the entire game, which makes certain cutscenes even look silly, because it's too scripted. You always arrive at the exact same moment, where Zelda does a ritual or tries to open the Gate of Time, while you could spend a variable number of days doing sidequests in Skyloft before that. Do Impa and her just stand there and wait for you to arrive the entire time? It doesn't really work well and feels forced...

As you might know, there are two choices to make in the game as part of the Gratitude Crystal sidequests. And I wasted quite a good amount of time deciding, what choices I should make here. With my original savegames I simply did the inverse in Hero Mode. So, would I now go for the same choices as in my Normal Mode savegame? Or would a try for a different combination. I ended up with the latter, where I gave Colin's letter to the toilet hand and rejected Peatrice. No love in this savegame!

Minigames are usually another annoyance when it comes to replaying Zelda games, but for the most part Skyward Sword holds up very well here. Some of the minigames are fully optional to begin with and the only minigame that took me a longer period of time was the pumpkin shooting with that loser Fledge. But at least that's fun to play.

In general I like the music of this game and how it's quite different from the rest of the series with one exception: the music in houses! It plays the same song that has been going since Ocarina of Time. And this variation sounds awfully close to the one from the Wind Waker, which takes you out of it. It's like you are playing a different Zelda game all of sudden.

What else was there...? Well, I don't care, because I want to play Breath of the Wild now... Catch my first impressions tomorrow evening!

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