Review by VirtuousYoda
Skyward Sword gives reason to celebrate Zelda's 25th anniversary
It's Zelda's 25th anniversary, the Wii's library of games is beginning to decline, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is released giving Nintendo, Zelda fans, and Wii owners reason to celebrate. Skyward Sword delivers an exceptional experience that certainly warrants a purchase for just about any Wii owner. The Wii MotionPlus is executed naturally and enhances the experience, but it is not the sole reason that Skyward Sword stands strong. The game's design is masterfully crafted and is the principal reason for it's praise.
The game begins on an island in the sky known as Skyloft. You play the role of a character traditionally known as Link, who is a student learning to become a knight of Skyloft. Knights of Skyloft drift through the skies riding on large birds in order to protect Skyloft from any harm. They also happen to wear the traditional tunic seen throughout the Zelda series. There is an upcoming contest to deem a knight of Skyloft of which Link just so happens to be attending. However, the headmaster's daughter, Zelda, is not exactly satisfied with Link's abilities and insists he needs more practice. Of course, her intentions are for Link's well-being, and is part of what drives the romance between Link and Zelda. Romance between Link and Zelda? Who would have thought, right? Naturally, Link wins the contest, making Zelda proud which results in an old fashioned ride through the skies together. During their romantic ride, Zelda is swept away by some evil monster which takes her beneath the skies. Link, having been deemed a knight of Skyloft now, puts on that ol' green tunic and hat, travels to the surface, and searches for Zelda embarking him on a journey that as you would figure, is all a part of fate. Link is the chosen hero who wields the Master Sword and everything you do is part of the grand scheme of the Goddess.
So the story is clichéd, which is to be expected from a Zelda game considering that Nintendo always puts the gameplay first. However, this brings up a question. How does it fare against previous installments in the long running series? The presentation of the cut-scenes is on par with Twilight Princess. For all of the important scenes in the game, Nintendo uses motion capture for the characters' body motions, and relies on some old fashioned animation for facial expressions. As far as voice acting goes, it's just some simple grunts or laughter. The lines are not fully voice acted. It's enough to give you a sense of the character, while still retaining the traditional feeling of a Zelda game.
I would say that the story is about as interesting a tale as Twilight Princess was, maybe slightly better. However, there are some notable things that make this game stand out. For one, the story is set before all the other Zelda games in the series. This may not matter very much to some, because every Zelda game is normally just the same basic story with another Link, another Zelda, and a villain of some sort, usually Ganon, but in this case it's a creepy feminine male character named Ghirahim. It seems as though, this is the first time where that Zelda timeline that people have been trying to discover has actually been taken into consideration. Without spoiling anything, this game actually puts some meaning into the overall story of "The Legend of Zelda". It won't blow your mind, but it is interesting for those that have been diehard fans of Zelda for these past 25 years. The other notable aspect of Skyward Sword's story is Zelda and Link's relationship. It feels a lot more natural and personable than it has in any other Zelda game. Which is fitting, since this is supposed to be their first encounter.
Skyward Sword, much like it's predecessors is brilliantly designed with levels that stimulate your ability to think and solve puzzles, making you feel rewarded for accomplishing every challenge that you overcome. The game is littered with exceptional level design, many hidden secrets and the game even has extra quests that you can take on. However, unlike many of it's predecessors, it does not have an overworld in the traditional sense. The overworld in Skyward Sword is, well, the sky. You fly on your bird using Wii MotionPlus controls to dive onto the surface. The surface only contains three main areas. However, each area is quite large and is just as cleverly designed as any dungeon. A large portion of the game is exploring each of these areas. It keeps the game fresh and is a very good way to ease you into the next dungeon. The problem with this, however, is that after you have already explored each of these areas, the game forces you to revisit each one again leading you to explore new areas and ultimately another dungeon. Then, once you have completed that portion of the game, they make you revisit the areas for a third time. Each subsequent round is shorter than the previous and there is enough variation in the design to make it worthwhile. It is a slight nuisance though and feels a bit like a chore the third time through. It is understandable that Nintendo would do this though. The game has a "triangle" sort of theme to reinforce the "triforce" storyline. Which is obviously the reason everything comes in three in this game. Three areas. Each area you visit three times. There's even a boss that you fight three times, not to mention the map of the surface forms a triangle. Despite this, I would consider it a hindrance to the game's flow, but certainly not something that destroys it.
Of course, an important part of Skyward Sword is the use of Wii MotionPlus. I'm glad to say that it works very well, and it is utilized throughout the whole game. Whether it's using your item to solve a puzzle, fly your bird, swing on ropes or swim underwater, the Wii MotionPlus' controls feel natural. The most important use of MotionPlus controls, however, is while using your sword and shield for combat. The Wii remote acts as your sword, and the nunchuk acts as your shield. Of course, this is nothing new as the Wii version of Twilight Princess used this same control scheme. However, this time the Wii Remote corresponds to the position of Link's sword on-screen with a 1:1 ratio. In other words, Link's arm will move exactly as your arm moves with the remote. The game will read your swings with nine different directions. Up, down, left, right, one for each diagonal, and a thrust motion. There are no deviations of these directions. Suffice to say, it could still use some improvement as it's not perfect. Then again, restricting you to these nine ways could have been Nintendo's decision and a decision that ultimately makes it easier for the game designers to make the game resulting in a more fun experience. Every enemy in the game is designed so that you have to swing the wii remote in one of those directions in order to damage it. For example, there is a a piranha plant type enemy that will sometimes open it's mouth leaving a gap horizontally and sometimes it will open it's mouth leaving a gap vertically. You have to quickly respond by swinging the remote either horizontally or vertically depending on it's action in order to kill it. The shield on the other hand, can be used to knock back enemies. If you successfully time your punch with the nunchuk as the enemy attacks, you will knock them back leaving them vulnerable to attack freely with your sword. If you fail, then your shield meter depletes. If the shield meter becomes empty, it will break. The system is meant to reward players who time their punches correctly, rather than just holding the nunchuk up and blocking an attack. This may seem like a serious annoyance in the game, as this would require you to go back to town and buy a new shield in the event that it breaks. Do note, however, that the shield is not a necessity to beat any enemy in the game. It is simply an aid. Every enemy and every boss can be beaten without it.
Skyward Sword innovates in this department. The graphic style is essentially a blend of the Wind Waker's cel-shaded graphics and Twilight Princess' more realistic graphics. Of course, the game cannot compete with games on other platforms due to the Wii's limited hardware and no HD support. Despite this, Skyward Sword's graphics stand out due to a unique style and as a result are visually entertaining to look at, which is essentially the purpose of a game's graphics. It should be noted though, that the game does run in widescreen which means it will look fine on an HD TV. However, there is no option to display the game in full screen. Which means that if you're playing on a Standard Definition TV, the game will have two black bars on the top and bottom and the game running in the middle, thus making the game look a bit squashed and it is likely that the font will be hard to read.
Unfortunately, the famed music composer, Koji Kondo, doesn't really compose music for the Zelda series anymore. His only piece is the main theme. Instead, he has a team and acts as the sound director. I will admit that he and his team did an exceptional job with the score. While the tracks individually are not the most memorable in the series, the music is fully orchestrated and changes dynamically with each part of the game. Each place has it's own melody, and for just about each section, the music changes to fit just that one section while still retaining the same melody. I applaud them for the diligent work that they put into the score and it certainly works in building the atmosphere for the game and keeping that traditional Zelda feel. Not to mention, the game also makes good use of the Wii Remote's sound as well.
My issues with Skyward Sword lies in a fairly repetitive structure, and in the story. A good video game should engross you into the experience and take you from one part to the next seamlessly without solid realization. Often times, after completing a dungeon, I feel as though I should quit for the day or take a break. The game leaves me somewhat detached from the experience from time to time. This is due to the lack of attention to the structure of the story. It is acceptable for a Zelda game to have a fairly clichéd story. The game is not just meant for one age group, but all age groups. This does include younger kids. Playing as a chosen hero may be clichéd, but for a kid it might just be the coolest and exciting thing. I don't mind the clichéd story. What I do think is that Zelda needs to thicken the plot more often. Instead of after every 3 dungeons or so, I think that having a little bit after every dungeon or so would really help the overall experience of the game. Despite this, Skyward Sword does have one of the best stories in the series. It's just showing some age. In the end, Skyward Sword is arguably the best game in the long running franchise. It is also arguably one of the Wii's best games, and a good reason to hold on to your Wii. You don't want to miss this one.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (25th Anniversary) (US, 11/20/11)
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