The Legend Of Zelda- Skyward Sword: Not the Best Zelda Ever, But I Forgive You

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most iconic video game series, and for good reason. The series has been critically praised for consistently high quality, and some entries, such as Ocarina of Time, my introduction to video games, are considered some of the greatest games ever made. As such, I have never failed to pick up and play a new Zelda title when it comes out for one of their main consoles, and the newest addition to the franchise, Skyward Sword, was no exception. I heard a probably false rumor that Nintendo declared if Skyward Sword was not the best Zelda game yet, they wouldn’t make any more. This display of confidence in their product is admirable, but I certainly would hope this rumor was false; Skyward Sword was not, in my opinion, the best Zelda game yet, but it was such an enjoyable game I fervently hope they continue to make more.

Skyward Sword is a prequel to the Zelda series as a whole, its plot acting as an origin story for the land of Hyrule, the long line of Links and Zeldas that battle against evil, and of Link’s legendary Master Sword, the iconic weapon of the series. In this game, Link, Zelda, and the future Hylian race live on floating islands far above the clouds as a result of an ancient war between their guardian goddess and the king of demons making the surface unsafe. Predictably enough, Zelda is attacked by dark forces and sent plummeting to the earth below, and Link is informed he is the chosen one who must follow Zelda to the surface and keep her safe. He is joined in his quest by a spirit named Fi, who dwells inside of Link’s sword and serves as the traditional exposition-delivery fairy meant to give the player advice and analysis on how to proceed. While this game takes place long before Link’s eternal nemesis Ganon walked the earth, Link still finds an evil mastermind dogging his steps once he descends from the sky; the Demon Lord Ghirahim, a bizarre, almost Joker-like character whose silly, flowery dialogue and effeminate design belies one of the more uniquely creepy and psychotic Zelda villains to date.

Skyward Sword has excellent gameplay, but this practically goes without saying for Zelda games at this point. The swordplay incorporated with the upgraded motion control of the Wii Motion Plus is tremendously rewarding once you get good at it, but it does admittedly make the game a lot harder than previous titles where waggling or smashing the attack button was going to give you plenty of strikes. In Skyward Sword, even the basic goblins wandering around know how to block, and more advanced enemies require extremely precise sword strokes for you to stand a chance. The game also changes the way the shield works quite a lot, making it go from a generally useful but frequently ignored attachment to Link’s other arm to either the most or least useful item in the game; if you’re bad with the shield, the new “durability gauge” feature will likely result in you breaking it frequently, but if you’re good with it, precisely timed blocks will give you a lot more leeway for breaking your enemy’s guard. Link’s item selection is fairly standard, but I applauded the replacement of the boomerang with the Beetle, a little flying robot Link can use to explore distant areas, cut thin ropes, and later upgrade to carry bombs and other items and drop them in places Link can’t reach. The beetle’s utility as a scout and gofer is tremendous to make up for being fairly useless in heated combat, and it presents a new way to interact with the environment. Beyond this, the most interesting thing I noticed about items is that you now have the capacity to upgrade most of your inventory throughout the game, making your slingshot into something more like a tiny shotgun or dramatically increasing the range and power of the already incredibly powerful bow. Fully upgrading all your stuff can take a great deal of time, money, and treasure-hunting for the resources you need, but the results can be very impressive.

Skyward Sword’s gameplay does fall down in two major areas where previous Zeldas excelled, however, and that’s in travel and the music system. Aside from Skyloft, your “hub” area above the clouds, there are only three locations on the surface, and while they’re fairly large, they are also isolated from everywhere else; Zelda games usually give the feel of a vast, connected world you can explore at length and travel far on foot, but Skyward Sword’s segregated areas being unconnected to one another makes the world seem much smaller and creates a somewhat annoying situation where the temples from the early game and the temples from the late game are often only a short trip apart once you’ve got the appropriate item. While this does mean there’s more to find in the three areas you’re exploring, it still felt more cramped and less fleshed out than having access to the entire landmass like in previous games. Not helping this is that there is no fast-travel system; getting from the forest to the desert or the desert to the mountain or the mountain to Skyloft all require you to find a save statue, jump into the sky, and spend some time flying around on your bird. I didn’t realize how much I loved warp abilities from previous games until they were no longer available, and as such I came to resent the flying segments a little as a poor replacement for Link’s horse Epona; they reminded me a little too much of one of my gripes with Wind Waker, where sometimes getting from Point A to Point B involved a fairly lengthy, boring trip with nothing to look at but sea, or in this case, sky. A way to reduce travel time would have been greatly appreciated.

Secondly, Link’s ability to make music is treated with considerably less interest in this game than in previous entries, and it reflects a trend that’s been bothering me about Zelda in general; Since Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Zelda’s vaunted music system has been getting less and less complex and the fun of using it suffers dramatically as a result. The melodies directed by button inputs in OoT and MM gave away to the less complicated conducting and howling systems of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess respectively, which were mostly just holding the control stick in the right place at the right time. The harp of Skyward Sword is even less engaging than that, simply requiring you to wave the wiimote back and forth in time with an expanding and contracting circle to strum; as such, Link tends to produce a crappy-sounding non-harmonic mess in gameplay that is transformed into a lovely tune in cutscenes, and the music system is little more than a way to open five or so magic doors in the game. I’ve come to feel that if Zelda’s music system doesn’t return to Ocarina of Time’s example, it might be preferable just to cut it out entirely.

Character-wise, I found Skyward Sword interesting, but a bit of a mixed bag. Link has always been something of a blank slate, but here he has a little more of an implied character from his expressions and a few little plot-inconsequential dialogue trees; the general impression given is that Link starts off as a talented but rather mellow student who grows into a fierce warrior from the trials thrust upon him, and the player’s own choices in his responses to certain things can add to this by making him seem like an earnest young man or a bit of a wiseass. Zelda also gets a little more characterization in this game, since Link sees her a lot more frequently and the two are childhood friends rather than strangers with a shared destiny, and I liked this game’s energetic but somewhat conflicted version of the first Zelda to learn Hyrule’s fate rested heavily on her actions. Oddly enough, however, the main character development in the game is given to Groose, Link’s comic-relief school rival at the start of the game. Groose starts out as a goofy, posturing jerk that is the first of many to show Link no respect, but circumstances lead to him following Link to the surface on one occasion and discovering what’s really been going on. After a time lamenting his own insignificance, Groose starts to grow from a preening imbecile that looks down on Link to a valuable ally in his quest, determined to help in any way he can. Groose’s character development was nice, but I was a little disappointed I couldn’t say the same for Fi, our helper du jour. Fi grabbed my interest early on with the curious contrast between her robotic, almost Vulcan-like speech and her curiously balletic movements mixing some very matter-of-fact exposition with beautiful cutscenes of her dancing, but Fi still remains a rather inadequate successor to the inimitable Midna of Twilight Princess. While Fi is respectful and obedient to Link, we don’t really see much evidence of the two becoming closer or Fi developing any sort of fondness for him beyond being fated to aid him until close to the very end of the game. This perceived flatness combined with an unfortunate tendency to state the obvious more often than Midna ever felt the need to makes Fi a much less likable sidekick, although I still didn’t find her as annoying as Navi. Granted, it’s hard to find ANYONE in the game annoying when you must see them next to @#$&ing Scrapper, one of those “helpful characters” that are approximately as lovable as cancer. Scrapper is a small, flying robot who transports large items across the sky for you, meaning that his role could easily have been filled by an inanimate object or even another upgrade for my beloved Beetle, but instead he is a phenomenally obnoxious idiot who complains and insults you every time you ask him to do something and whom you are forced at gunpoint to use several times in the endgame, even when one of those times results in you being forced into a horrible escort mission because of Scrapper’s own incompetence. I’m tempted to deduct an entire point from my score of the game simply because Scrapper exists.

These gripes mean that Skyward Sword doesn’t quite live up to the fantastic Twilight Princess in my book, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t think it was a very good game; it simply has the misfortune to sit with Wind Waker in the selection of Zelda games I liked LESS than the others, a 9/10 compared to Twilight Princess’s perfect 10. I still heartily recommend this game to anyone that’s a fan of the Zelda series or is looking to get into them; it’s a very fun, challenging game that few adventures can match. I can only hope the Legend continues for a long time.

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