The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

[DISCLAIMER] This is a re-publication of a review I originally wrote and posted on my old blog in December 2011. I have made no edits to it outside of the addition of some pictures, it appears as I wrote it in 2011.

Console Zelda titles aren’t a regular occurrence. It has been a long 5 years between the releases of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, by the standards of a series such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed we would have received 4 or 5 new games in that amount of time. When it comes to Zelda you feel as if Nintendo care about the series as much as its fans do, and fans can appreciate this.

The hype surrounding Skyward Sword hasn’t been as strong as it was for Twilight Princess. When I remember back to 2006 I was so hyped for Twilight Princess that it was impossible for it to live up to my expectations. So I tried to lower my expectations for Skyward Sword, and avoid what hype Nintendo tried to push, and it felt like a lot of other Zelda fans did also. So I feel that I can now give a good, honest review of Skyward Sword without looking through any rose-tinted glasses.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is certainly the game that the Wii was designed for, but it isn’t the Zelda game that I wanted. It’s enjoyable to play, but also frustrating to play. It feels like a Zelda game, but it also does things I don’t care for. For every note that Nintendo hit with Skyward Sword it seemingly missed the same amount. As a result the game leaves that bittersweet taste in your mouth, and after five long years of waiting this is disappointing no matter how hyped you are for it.

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The art style of Skyward Sword, which very much resembles a painting, is gorgeous.

When you look back at Twilight Princess it was pointed out at the time that the game starts off rather slowly. Twilight Princess had some fantastic level design, but you had to shift through hours of filler content just to find it. Skyward Sword does nothing to combat this. It doesn’t just start out as slow as Twilight Princess – it’s even slower. By the time you reach the first meaningful dungeon you’ve spent hours tackling what feels like the biggest tutorial opening that any video game has ever had. As a lifelong Zelda fan, and as a fan who has beaten all the games in the series, I can almost take offence at how much Nintendo treats me as a rookie with Skyward Sword. Seemingly every little action in the game required Nintendo to walk you through it, no matter how frivolous it seems. Granted, Skyward Sword will undoubtedly introduce a lot of new fans to the series, but do the veterans such as myself really need descriptions on how to swing your sword when the entire build up for the game pushed the fact that Link’s sword movements were linked to the swing of the Wii Remote Plus? Do fans such as myself need to still be told that a green rupee is worth one, or that a blue is worth five, or that a red is worth twenty? Do we really need to be told, again, that we can lock-on to enemies and strafe around them when the last four console Zelda games have all used the same mechanic? I have no qualms with Nintendo for having tutorials for newcomers, but why do fans such as myself, who know the series like the backs of our hands, need to sit through them too? Why couldn’t Nintendo allow us to turn off tutorials when we start our save files? It feels a lot of the time as if Skyward Sword was designed squarely with newcomers in mind, with no cause of thought for those who have supported the series for decades.

Even when the tutorials stop it is still quite evident that the majority of your time in between dungeons is spent tackling needless filler material. Nintendo introduced a new feature called Dowsing with Skyward Sword, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it may possibly be the most pointless addition the series has ever seen. The whole idea behind Dowsing is to use the ability to find hidden things in the game world, but it isn’t even remotely fun or exciting to use, and using it actually diminishes the sense of exploration. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was an optional feature, but the fact is that at certain points in the story it is forced upon you, and when something you dislike is forced upon you, you begin resent it even more. Also, do you remember collecting those orbs of light to fill the Vessel of Light in Twilight Princess? Do you remember how tedious that was? Well, it seems Nintendo doesn’t, because it has made the same sort of thing a requirement yet again in Skyward Sword. Later on in the game you have to enter a place called the Silent Realm, and when you’re inside it you have to tackle another of these needless collect-a-thons. I wouldn’t mind so much if these tasks were somewhat enjoyable, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that these sections were added just to fill out the game. They have no substance at all, and they feel like it. It actually felt like a step backwards from what was offered in Twilight Princess at times.

Or maybe I’m being too harsh?

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Dowsing is arguably one of the most pointless features in any console Zelda title.

One of the reasons why classic Zelda games like A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time were enjoyable is because they all had worlds that begged to be explored. A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening especially showcase this, as exploring their intricately designed 2D worlds was arguably the most enjoyable aspect of both games. Some of the fun of exploration was lost somewhat when the jump to 3D occurred, but Ocarina of Time has been the best example to date of how to create a wonderfully designed 3D game world for a Zelda title. If exploration was one of your favourite aspects of the classic Zelda games then Skyward Sword will really disappoint. Skyward Sword is terrible to explore mainly because the entire world is a mess. There are two parts to the world, the sky and the land underneath, Hyrule itself. The game starts in the sky, but the majority of the dungeons are on land, so you will travel quite a lot between the two. But the sky world is terribly empty. Not quite so as the Great Ocean from The Wind Waker, but the Great Ocean felt better to explore because finding islands gave the player that great sense of adventure I imagine sailors had hundreds of years ago when they set off to find new land and countries. Most of the time flying across the sky world feels tedious beyond belief. And when you are actually on land it isn’t any better. The land is split up in to three distinct areas, and each is rather large and varied in environments. But none of them really beg to be explored because you do almost everything each area offers just getting to dungeons. And the most annoying thing is that, if you want to get from one area to another, there isn’t any warp option, and each of the sections are completely closed off from one another. This means you have to travel back up to the sky world and fly across it just to reach another area. Twilight Princess received some complaints about the fact that it had a huge, but rather empty, over world, and Nintendo stated several times during Skyward Sword’s development that it was working to fix that issue. But in trying to fix the issue they went to the complete opposite extreme. At least Twilight Princess had a competent warp system.

Another hugely annoying aspect of Skyward Sword is Fi, Link’s companion. Companions have become a common element since Navi was introduced in Ocarina of Time, but Fi may very well be the most annoying of them all. A lot of fans complain about Navi and her constant screams of “Hey” and “Listen”, but in all honesty Navi served a purpose which at the time nobody complained about. Ocarina of Time was the first 3D Zelda game, and her advice undoubtedly helped people adjust to the move in to the third dimension. Criticisms of Navi have come in the years since, mostly from people who have played the game multiple times and are sick of her “advice” when they already know how to play a game. Fi, on the other hand, is annoying because Nintendo still assumes that everybody who plays a new Zelda game needs constant advice. We don’t. She needed to be severely toned down.

The game also has a weak soundtrack for the standards of the series. The Zelda games are renowned for having some of the best music in the industry, even when the music isn’t necessarily at the series finest. When Nintendo announced that Skyward Sword was going to be fully orchestrated I was excited to hear how the music sounded, but while it was recorded well the compositions themselves are no where near the standard the series has set itself over the years. It was really disappointing.

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The dungeons and puzzles in Skyward Sword are all expertly designed, and will be what you remember most fondly about the game.

By now you’re probably wondering if I have anything positive to say about Skyward Sword? Well don’t quit reading yet, because I do. The most important aspect of any Zelda game is the dungeons and the puzzles. They have been the core component of the series for 25 years, and no matter how advanced the series story telling becomes, and no matter which art style Nintendo utilises, this will never change. Thankfully Skyward Sword is a triumphant success in these two key areas. It may take forever to reach dungeons, but when you’re exploring them it will become quite evident that the dungeon design in Skyward Sword is arguably the best in the whole series. Much in the same way that Nintendo has constantly re-imagined and mastered the platform genre with Mario over the years they have also achieved the same thing with the dungeon and puzzle designs in the Zelda series.

The game is also a step forward for the series in terms of storytelling. I wouldn’t say that Skyward Sword has the best story in the series per se, but in terms of writing and structure it is probably the most well written any Zelda game has ever been. The main story actually tells of the creation of the Master Sword, which as every Zelda fan knows is an integral aspect of the series. And throughout the course of the game the story constantly hints and a love connection between Link and Zelda, and Zelda herself isn’t even a Princess this time around. The game also introduces a new villain to the series, called Ghirahim. As a big fan of Final Fantasy I really enjoyed Ghirahim as he reminds me somewhat of Kefka Palazzo, the primary villain of Final Fantasy VI. He’s not as good as Kefka, naturally, but he is completely insane and he is an improvement over the likes of Zant and Vaati.

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Ghirahim is a great villain, and a huge improvement over over villains in the series like Zant and Vaati.

But the biggest talking point about Skyward Sword, even before its reveal at E3 in 2010, was the fact that it used Motion Plus to link the swing of the Wii Remote Plus to the swing of Link’s sword in game. The mechanic itself is much like the sword fighting game from Wii Sports Resort, but it has been fleshed out considerably. The controls aren’t quite 1:1 accuracy, but they feel very close. It’s quite jarring to get used to at first, especially when we have been used to buttons for so long, but overall the combat feels smooth and fluid, and it puts to shame the control system from the Wii version of Twilight Princess. Of course, as is the norm with any motion-based games, the controls are prone to not working on occasions. Every now and again you will swing your controller and Link won’t react, or it may swing a different way on screen, but it isn’t often enough to seriously put a dent in the game play. The enemies in the game are all designed to really show off the control scheme. Unlike previous instalments you can’t just hack and slash your way through. Combat takes time, and is much more precision based. Enemies will now hold their swords and shields in set ways to defend themselves, and you have to adjust how you attack in accordance to how they are defending. It feels refreshing, because it has been years since I last played a Zelda game that required me to stall my attacks and assess the situation first before getting stuck in. Although I doubt Nintendo will go down the route of motion control for combat ever again I think it did an admirable job.

The motion controls are utilised by most of Link’s weapons and items, not just his sword. Weapons from the Bow and Clawshots, to items such as your shield, also make use of the feature, and while it may take some time to get used to it is overall more precise using motion to control certain weapons. Unlike Twilight Princess, in which you aim the pointer at the screen to move the on-screen crosshair, weapons in Skyward Sword are aimed using the gyroscope functionality of the Wii remote. You press the required button to use the item, then twist and turn the controller in your hand to aim. At first I thought this was a step back from actually aiming at the screen, but as the game progressed I felt it was a lot more intuitive this way.

Skyward Sword introduces the series’ first fleshed out item upgrade system. Past games have allowed you to upgrade weapons, such as tempering new, stronger swords, or finding upgrades to weapons you already own (i.e. swapping your Hookshot for a Longshot in Ocarina of Time). But upgrading weapons has never worked quite like it does in Skyward Sword. Enemies drop materials, and these materials are what are needed to upgrade your weapons. When you have enough materials to meet the prerequisite, you take the materials to the inventor in Skyloft, he main hub of the game, and he’ll upgrade the weapons for a small fee. While upgrades aren’t necessary to beat the game they certain help out, as a bow with a greater range or a shield with more strength will come in handy in various situations. I hope this type of upgrade system remains a mainstay for the series for years to come, and hopefully Nintendo can flesh it out some more in the future.

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Combat in Skyward Sword is enjoyable, and a huge step up from the Wii version of Twilight Princess, but I doubt Nintendo will use motion controls ever again.

I’ve spent a large part of this review complaining about Skyward Sword, but in regards to my two favourite aspects of the Zelda series, dungeon and puzzle design, the game is a resounding success, and the motion controls work very well. Mix these things with a great new item upgrade system and you have a very solid experience. But in every other area the game seems to fall short. The world isn’t enjoyable to explore, there is a huge amount of filler in between dungeons, Fi is by far the most annoying side-kick in the series and there is too much hand holding. When you’re exploring dungeons Skyward Sword is a blast, but when you’re not you’ll find yourself wishing the game would stop throwing filler at you. And regardless of how much I enjoyed the motion controls the whole concept of motion is still seen by many as a complete waste of time, so they really won’t please everyone.

Skyward Sword is certainly the game Nintendo envisioned when it first announced the Wii, and it is the culmination of years of ideas all brought together in to one game. But it is also a rather disappointing Zelda experience.

 

Final Verdict: MIXED

Posted by: James

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3 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your review – I replayed Skyward Sword not too long ago, mostly to fill the void as we wait for Breath of the Wild, and both your review and my playthrough reminded me of my love/hate relationship with this game.

    I found the controls to be, at times, strangely inprecise, given the nature of them. Sometimes Link would spin around aimlessly and I’m sure I had more than one leap off a cliff through no fault of my own. More than that though, there were some horrible and frustrating moments, like the repeated visits to the Spirit Realm, or the awful water dragon and her requirement to test you with the maddening song note collection (had I been Link at that point, having already claimed the Master Sword and completing every test asked of me, I’d down tools, sit down, and tell her I’ll let the end of days come if she doesn’t give me the final piece of the song).

    I did enjoy some elements of the game. It isn’t a bad game. It is though, not an especially great one either, least of all considering the legacy of the Zelda saga.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the compliment, it’s much appreciated. I’m always happy when people have enjoyed what I have written.

      It has been that long since I played Skyward Sword, not since it was brand new back in 2011, that I had completely forgotten about that Water Dragon section. But that, sadly, sums up Skyward Sword. It was a forgettable game. I think that’s sad. There are plenty of games in the series which have left an indelible mark in my memory, memories that few other games can match. Zelda is my favourite video game series, and that’s because titles like The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time (my favourite games in the series) are truly unforgettable experiences because they’re so damn good. They were all wonderfully crafted experiences. Skyward Sword has its moments, but that’s about it. I won’t be looking back at Skyward Sword in 20 years time with the same reverence as those aforementioned classics. Like I said in my review, you have to fight your way through a lot of needless filler content to see the best parts of Skyward Sword.

      Compare that to A Link Between Worlds. I adore A Link Between Worlds because it does everything right that Skyward Sword did wrong. A Link Between Worlds was the sort of Zelda game I waited years for. It got rid of all the fluff. It had no annoying side-kick, it had zero filler and it had a mechanic that allowed Nintendo to create puzzles that couldn’t be done before in the series. Skyward Sword is a 50-60 hour game, if you want to beat it 100%. I beat A Link Between Worlds 100% in about 25 hours, so it is significantly shorter than Skyward Sword. But A Link Between Worlds was 25 hours of slick gaming, without an ounce of fat on it. Skyward Sword only lasted as long as it did because it had too much crap thrown in. It would have been a substantially better game had all the fluff been removed and had Nintendo concentrated on what makes the series good.

      Liked by 1 person

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