Square Enix could learn a few things from Nintendo. The later has handled its sacred Zelda series throughout its twenty five year life span with much more care. Square has milked the FF series to no end, and did make a pedestrian main series entry in the god awful Final Fantasy XIII.
Meanwhile, the Zelda series has maintained its mystique and excellent track record, even though Aonuma replaced Miyamoto as producer and director of the series. This brings us to the review of the latest console edition of the series: The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.
If you I went into the game hyped up by the incredibly positive press that it has received, it is likely that I would have approached Skyward Sword thinking it is the greatest Zelda ever. Unfortunately, no matter what some reviewers have expressed, that is not simply the case.
Skyward Sword is a very good (as opposed to great) entry in the legendary series. This entry that makes bold changes. Some of them for the better and some for the worse, but still, after The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword is the best Wii game out there right now that is not named Mario.
Skyward’s visual style is interesting to say the least. The game combines the look of Wind Waker (Colorful world, simplistic textures, and quirky sometimes right out weird enemy and NPC design) with some of the realism seen in Twilight Princess (Links character model is very similar to that of Twilight’s as are the villain’s designs). That said, this game, to me at least, looks inferior to the 5 year old Twilight Princess.
I can’t pinpoint why this game looks so mundane, as it was released at the end of the Wii’s life cycle. Obviously, the Wii is running on 2001 hardware. The Wii’s antiquated hardware in 2011, where even the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3 are starting to show their age, doesn’t help the game.
The graphics are not ugly, but I expected a step up from what we saw in Twilight, and instead we got, what feels like a step back from Nintendo’s 2006 Zelda entry. Apart from water effects, which the Wii always renders well, everything else looks mediocre.
I even found the artwork is lacking. Ocarina of Time for the 3DS runs sharper and smoother. In short, I have never been as underwhelmed by a Zelda game’s visuals, as I was while I played Skyward Sword.
I cannot excuse Nintendo for Skyward Sword looking as bland as this. There is little detail in the levels and even on the main character, Link, whose model now seems to lack some of the detail that it had in the previous game. Perhaps, Nintendo’s efforts in the motion sensing technology left other areas neglected.
Skyward Sword has Orchestrated Music, FINALLY….
This is the first Zelda game that uses orchestrated music and the results are grand, indeed. The series has always been big on musical themes and compositions, but it has never reach its full potential, until now. There is music in every single aspect of the game. It must be noted that a welcomed 25th anniversary collector’s edition soundtrack comes packed with the game.
Miyamoto was rumored to be a great obstacle in orchestrating the music in the series, but after this, hopefully, Zelda will never return to digital music. The game shows progress in music, but said progress is halted in the game’s voice acting, or rather, its lack of it.
Once again, the series retains its traditional ‘grunts and noises’ effects for its NPCs. This is not a game breaking issue, after all, it would be a little strange to have voice acting within a Zelda game. Link is a silent protagonist, and it took the series 25 years to get orchestrated music. I believe it might take 25 more for the franchise to get voice acting. This is either a bad thing, or a good thing depending on which camp you are in.
GAMEPLAY STRIDES GONE WRONG
Nintendo has a strong policy when it creates an entry in the Zelda series. Everything should revolve around great gameplay, and there is nothing wrong with that. Skyward Sword was built specifically to take advantage of the Wii motion plus controller and the game succeeds at that, but at the price of grand level design and immaculate precision. These are two elements that the series has been known for since its inception.
To start things off, the real estate in Skyward sword pales in comparison to the gigantic overworld seen in Twilight Princess. The sky is a big place, but it is largely empty. Skyloft is a nice city with many things to do, but even then, it doesn’t feel like it matched the lively feel of Termina (Majora’s Mask).
The game’s world was made small on purpose, after all, Skyward Sword relies on fetch quests to a larger degree than previous Zelda games. This means that you will constantly revisit places that you have been to before. Truth be told, Skyward Sword’s backtracking schtick gets boring after the twenty hour mark.
Not only does the overworld suffer in this game, but the dungeons themselves are smaller than ever. Just to make a point here, the Forest Temple in Twilight Princess gave the player a bigger sense that you were playing an epic adventure than any dungeon in Skyward Sword does.
Of course, the lack of size in Skyward Sword is a drawback that will hurt it in the final overall score, but that doesn’t mean that the dungeons, small as they might be, are lacking in brilliant design. The dungeons offer nice puzzles, most of them relying on the utilization of motion controls. Thankfully, in terms of the items that you can you use in dungeons (hookshot, whip, remote controlled beetle bug etc.) The controls are spot on. Nintendo did a great job in implementing motion controls in the tools that Link utilizes during the quest.
However, Skyward Sword is one of the most difficult games in the series. Ironically, this is a direct result of the fact that sword fighting, while using the full range motion of the Wii motion plus, is not as accurate as it should be. It is very easy to deliver the wrong sword strike in a critical situation (such as the two last boss battles,) and combat can become very frustrating.
Motion controls in sword fighting created more than few control breaking instances in which I wondered if it was truly necessary to utilize motion controls in a Zelda game. As it stands, I prefer to play Twilight Princess (GC version) any day over this.
All of my comments so far have been negative, and the truth of the matter is that when compared to previous Zelda entries Skyward Sword is inferior, but when compared to contemporary games, Skyward Sword is one of the best playing games out there.
Eiji Aonuma needs to rethink the direction in which he is taking this series, because this Zelda entry borders on the lines of Wind Waker as a turn off to more mature Zelda gamers that were expecting something more akin to Twilight Princess. The 2006 titles was a dark smartly designed game that kindled the hope for the series’ growth as a mature fantasy adventure.
Finally, there is a game breaking bug that can happen to anyone during the Hero Song quest. It happens if you talk to Golo the Goron in Laynaru desert before collecting the other two parts of the song. So, go for the forest and fire dragon songs first to avoid this terrible fate.
Story: THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The good, is that well, this is the definite first title in the Zelda chronology and many of the mysteries regarding the series’ story origins are addressed. The dialog amongst characters which had been a previous weak point in the series is now a strong point. Villains actually have important things to say, and now there are better developed secondary characters.
The bad? Where should we start? The story is too lighthearted. However, the game’s villain, Ghirahim, has a sadistic look to him and speaks like a mad man (reminds me of Kefka and Kuja of the FF series).
*SPOILER WARNING* —— Unfortunately, he never actually does anything worthy of remembrance. I mean, c’mon! Kefka poisoned an entire town, and then destroyed the world. Sephiroth (FFVII) for his part, killed Aeris in front of us in cold blood.
By contrast, no villain in Zelda history has ever committed a comparable atrocity, and Skyward Sword does not care to fix this issue. The demon king himself while having some very powerful written lines and a very threatening appearance, never does anything of barbaric consequence, and that is not acceptable when the demon king is evil itself personified. *SPOILER END*———–
So, the game lacks a strong villain, and the supposed romance between Zelda and Link never materializes even though there is more interaction between the two of them in this game than in any other Zelda before it. The problem in the tale here is that everything is predictable, and everything leads to a fetch quest.
This pattern repeats itself for over 40 hours and it gets boring. On a positive note, the ending is touching and it demonstrates the power that the Zelda series has had a whole rather than the power of Skyward Sword itself.
The events that transpired in the ending affect the rest of the game series that we have already played for 25 years. So, yes, the story is good, but not as good as Twilight’s and dare I say even Ocarina’s.
In the end, there is more dialog and its better written than it ever has been in previous entries, but the story itself it is still nothing to write home about. The game still doesn’t explain many things. about the only race that is present aside from hylians is the Goron race. The Zoras, Kokiris and Gerudos are nowhere to be found here, which still leaves open to debate the origins of these races. Call me a nitpicker, but that was important for me to know.
Gameplay: 8.5-This is my lowest score ever for a gameplay in a Zelda game. Smaller world, with smaller dungeons, and sometimes imprecise controls in critical boss battles take the score down. There are some memorable battles, but the last two boss fights felt more like a trial of random luck and skill than skill itself, and that’s a bad thing.
Graphics: 7.0-This is officially the worst looking Zelda game ever at the time of its release. Twilight Princess looked way better, and even the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time is more easy on the eyes than what Nintendo did here.
Music: 10.0-Note to Miyamoto….Orchestrated music is the way to go from now on.
Story: 7.0- There are advancements made in dialog, but the whole light hearted feel of the game really ruins the mood which is disappointing considering how dark the story in Twilight Princess was.
Addictiveness: 8.5-For the first time ever in a Zelda game, I just didn’t feel compelled to collect hearts and other collectible items of the sort, which is a testament to the boring design of the game world. Once you finish the game you can play in Hero Mode, but considering how frustrating some battles are due to the controls, I doubt anyone in their right mind (except the true “completists” out there) would want to play this game on a harder setting.
Overall: 8.5-By no means a “bad entry” on the series, as this Zelda is better than FFXIII in every possible way, but compared to the lofty standards set by Ocarina and Twilight, Skyward is lacking. SS is very good game, but not a legendary one.
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