The lights are on
Yes, I realize this is over a year late. But I've only recently gotten a Wii again and have had the chance to play this game. Because of the lateness, I've chosen to be as detailed and comprehensive as possible in this review. There are spoilers. I hope you enjoy my review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
I have always been a Legend of Zelda fan. Since early childhood I have admired Link's quests, playing through most of his (main) adventures at least once. The 3D Zelda's are, by far, collectively among my most favorite games of all-time. Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess easily snag a place in my top five. The same, however, could not be said for Skyward Sword.
This may initially come off as negative, but it shouldn't. Skyward Sword is a phenomenal Zelda game. It is a well-constructed game overall. But Skyward Sword doesn't reach the nirvana that is Ocarina of Time or even Twilight Princess. Not by a long shot.
This latest installment in the Legend of Zelda series also happens to be the first installment in the overall Zelda timeline. The timeline, while a bit janky, is actually an interesting thing to study up on. Unfortunately, before Skyward Sword even touches ground, it ruins one of the better story elements established in the Minish Cap. Specifically where the trademark "green hat" came from. I won't spoil much, but the Link in Skyward Sword, according to the canon, shouldn't have been wearing such a hat. But I digress. For now.
The game takes place in a land called "Skyloft", a series of islands with a large island in the center which houses most of the population. Navigation through the skies is reminiscent of Wind Waker in that you are given a vehicle (in this case a large bird in place of a boat) to navigate otherwise unsurpassable territory. Unfortunately for Skyloft, around 95% of the islands are relatively useless, housing minor secrets that you find on the ground that exist solely to give an excuse to fly around. Other than the main island of Skyloft, you are given an island with an inn and an island with mini games on it, each a ways away from the main island. These places could easily have been connected to the main island (as the main bizarre and the academy are) yet, for whatever reason, are spread incongruently away. The only reasoning behind this that I can deduce is that Nintendo wanted the player to get a feel for the new MotionPlus control scheme. While well-designed and well-intentioned, Skyloft fails to live up to past areas such as Hyrule Field, Termina, and even the Great Sea of Wind Waker.
On the topic of the MotionPlus, I would like to say that I was, for the most part, terribly frustrated with the control scheme. I calibrated the controller multiple times so clearly that wasn't the issue. The issue was that Nintendo created a control scheme that, ultimately, was less fun and harder to use. They wanted to give the player the feeling that they were "really" controlling Link's movements. Supposedly, if you raise the controller up, so will Link. If you slash downwards, so will Link. This is all excellent in theory yet is implemented poorly.
To start, most enemies require being striked in a particular way. Meaning if a bokoblin has their sword guarding their right side, you would slash left. Again, while it sounds fine in theory, the implementation feels extremely wooden. The enemies will arbitrarily move their weapons to a particular spot (generally up, down, left or right) to guard that particular area, leaving every other part of their body open for a strike. Other than this wooden sense of combat, the MotionPlus works far less than it really should. Far too often, I noticed, when I would strike right Link would strike diagonally, resulting in my getting hit, shocked, or otherwise punished for the hardware's mistake. I would focus most of my effort in getting the perfect angle of the strike right so that the controller would work and the enemy would get hit. Even worse, sometimes the enemies instantly jump to the angle that you are striking at, blocking even your perfect strike. This leaves no room for any particular strategy in combat and removes all of the fun of swordplay the past Zelda's had. Pretty much all sword play, apart from a few boss battles and key moments, is an arbitrary guess and check system that, as with the flight sequences, seem to be more of a flaunt of the MotionPlus mechanic than an actually fun system. Most combat sequences feel like a chore. It's also worth mentioning that Nintendo removed Link's ability to move while slashing which was one of the best additions included in Twilight Princess. This small touch could have been implemented just as well in Skyward Sword but was removed. On the same note, the fact that when you had full health in Twilight Princess and you touched a fairy, Link wouldn't just waste the fairy for 0 hearts. The fairy would continue floating. In Skyward Sword, even if you have full health, the fairy gets wasted. I don't see any logical reason for these steps backward. It genuinely feels as though Skyward Sword had an entirely different development team from Twilight Princess and simply chose to ignore any excellent editions Twilight Princess included.
And that is just swordplay. Nearly every other item in Link's arsenal also requires arbitrary use of the MotionPlus' gyroscope. In Twilight Princess, the bow and arrow system simply required use of the Wii remote's pointer. You point in the general area of the censor bar and it would accurately portray where your pointer is. This resulting in generally satisfying and precise gameplay. In Skyward Sword, however, they removed this feature. Now relying on the gyroscope, you are forced to press a button to "realign" the gyroscope whenever you shift your position. There is absolutely no way to change the control scheme. You are left with the unfortunately janky-ness of the new control scheme.
The companion this time around is Fi. Previous companions included the spunky Midna, the wise King of Red Lions, and the fairies Tatl and Navi, all of which were interesting and different in their own respects. Fi, on the other hand, is different but not particularly interesting in any way. She speaks as though she was a computer, analyzing percentage chances of you accomplishing a task or of an objective being somewhere. This computerization of a character results in her being extremely dull. The other companions had personalities and emotions where as Fi (apart from an out of place burst of emotion at the end of the game) is rather emotionless and boring.
Through Fi and other means (such as a Shiekah stone in Skyloft that can literally show you what you need to do in any given situation), the game also likes to tell you exactly what you need to do at all times. Previous iterations of the Legend of Zelda series would give you a sense of direction but leave it to you to explore and find out where to go and how to get there. In Skyward Sword, however, you are constantly being told what to do. For example, if you find an item or a key, you are immediately instructed on what you need to do with it and exactly where to go, giving you no chance to think. Puzzle solving too is dumbed down and relatively non-existent. For example, at a point in the game you are required to find a large amount of water. Earlier in the game, you had to find a large amount of water to put in a large basin. You are then reminded of the basin and how it can hold a lot of water and how to bring it to this particular location. The "puzzles" are literally described word for word how to be completed.
The main story revolves around a great evil being unleashed and Link being the chosen one to stop it. Zelda games haven't been known for their excellent story-telling, but Skyward Sword feels like a step backwards even from the standards of Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess featured dramatic set-pieces and interesting and largely character driven missions in-between dungeons. Skyward Sword, on the other hand, is much less epic. The main villain, Girahim, isn't at any point in the game intimidating. In Ocarina of Time, by the time you are an adult, the main villain has already won. Hyrule has lost. The same can be said in Twilight Princess where Zant had most of Hyrule in twilight. In Skyward Sword, the villain's only objective is to release "Demise", a demon sealed away.
The moments when you meet Girahim are pretty lame as well. The combat sequences require you to learn how to defeat him and are far less arbitrary than the general combat. This is the only plus. Girahim is an immensely shallow and relatively moronic villain in general. When you first meet him, he has every intention to beat you. When you beat him, he is of course surprised. But instead of using his supposed power to do anything to stop you, he just lets you go. The next time you meet him after the destruction of the Temple of Time, he once again, without a fight, even, decides that you aren't worthy of his time or effort and lets you go once again, promising an excruciating and dreadful battle and pain that never occurs.
The main story, serves as an origin story for Ganondorf. Girahim seeks to release "The Imprisoned". After a few failed attempts, he manages to release The Imprisoned in its final form, Demise. Clearly the first Ganondorf (in both looks and the fact that he promises to curse Link and Zelda forever), Demise isn't a particularly new or interesting villain and fails to fill the hole that Girahim leaves. The final battle is one of the best and most challenging parts in the game and the final hit you make on him echoes The Wind Waker and is extremely satisfying.
While the story is relatively shallow, the game does shine in terms of dungeons. Most of the time. New elements are implemented such as the timeshift stones which let you change time instantly in the world around you. Those are fantastic and very fun to use and bring a lot to the table. The dungeons themselves are, as always, well-designed and have fantastic visuals. Unfortunately, Nintendo made the mistake of reusing the same environments multiple times. The format in Skyward Sword is typically do a dungeon in the forest area, do a dungeon in the mountain-fire area, do a dungeon in the desert area and then repeat with a new element added, such as flooding the forest or having the mountain taken over by monsters. The desert area did an exceptional job, however, in implementing the pirate ship dungeon which is one of the best dungeons in the game. The rest, while well-intentioned and provide new visuals to a familiar locale, suffer needlessly from poor design. The flooded forest could have served as an interesting backdrop for a new part of the story, but instead you are made to collect little song notes before emptying the water. It's arbitrary and could have been avoided.
One of the best parts of the game are the Silent Realm sequences. They too reuse old environments (such as the forest and the mountain region), but instead of making you do something watered down by poor controls or design, you play as Link, stripped of all weapons and abilities, and are required to find Sacred Tears for a Spirit Vessel (very reminiscent of Twilight Princess). The twist, however, is that if you take too long to find a Tear, these guardians will emerge and change the entire scene from serene to terrifying. The moments when the guardians appear add a level of tension I've never felt in a Zelda game and offer a right challenge.
The typical Zelda format for items is to find an item (in or before a dungeon) and then use it to beat the dungeon and its boss. After that, you rarely implement most of your items outside of said dungeon (save for things such as the bow, bombs or the hookshot). This is no different in Skyward Sword. It's in fact worse than any Zelda in recent memory. Since the game focuses so heavily on the swordplay component, items rarely see any combat.
The Beetle lets you control a tiny beetle that lets you pick up distant items, cut ropes, etc. for a limited amount of time. It is a fantastic inclusion and does help the gameplay and can be fun to use when the controls are less than bad. In the Earth Temple, you get the "mogma mitts" which let you burrow into certain portions of the ground and let you crawl around. No combat is used with this item either. Other items include the gust bellows which let you blow dust around, the whip which lets you flick switches, and the Goddess' Harp, which is the worst of any instrument you get in a Zelda game. There are no specific songs to play or notes to memorize or learn; all you feasibly use it for is to activate the Silent Realms and even then it's a matter of swinging the Wii controller back and forth. As with much in this game, it's arbitrary and tacky.
In addition to bringing back classic characters such as Zelda, Impa, and Ganondorf, new characters are introduced such as Groose. Groose is established early on as an enemy of Link who eventually becomes a friend of Link's and falls in love with a centuries-old Impa. While it's not the best character development by any means, Groose is an interesting character and plays a different role than any other Zelda character that I can think of.
One big part of Groose is his specific theme. It's a delight to hear whenever he's around. On that note, the soundtrack for Skyward Sword is great, but not memorable. I can remember virtually every song from Ocarina of Time and the other 3D Zelda's but nothing (save Groose's Theme) really sticks out at me from Skyward Sword. Still, it's beautifully composed and serves as ample music for the adventure.
All in all, Skyward Sword serves as a worthy addition in the 3D Zelda lineup. It is far from perfect and far from the best, but it is a decent game in the end. There are many issues with it but, from a personal perspective, being back in Link's boots and tunic and wielding the Master Sword is satisfying in itself.
Thanks for reading my review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I would appreciate any comments you all could leave. Thank you!
Excellent review! You basically hit everything that I thought about this game. Every other review I have seen for Skyward Sword just ranted about how great this game is and how its the end-all-be-all Zelda title. I'm just glad someone else agrees with me.