Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts

Anything to do with games at all.
User avatar
romeo G. Detlev Jr.
Bizarre Title
Joined in 2008
AKA: Dan.
Location: Bered Kai Nev

PostZelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by romeo G. Detlev Jr. » Sat Mar 31, 2012 12:31 am

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Previous Zelda games gave us large, open worlds in which could be found several 'sacred' areas. Skyward Sword is Nintendo's attempt to flip the franchise on its head and they've not failed. Here we have a game world filled with ancient, vastly important, untouched-in-centuries landmarks, with very little 'regular' space in between. Not that I'm suggesting that this particular iteration of Hyrule is somehow unbelievable - I mean, it's Hyrule, a fantasy world dictated by the all-pervasive deity of three fairies and a set of corresponding triangles. But there's definitely something that doesn't sit right with Skyward Sword. Actually, make that a lot of things.

I'm being tongue-in-cheek intentionally, of course. But that's only because approaching this review bluntly would be depressing. Zelda is one of my favourite videogame franchises of all time and to pour scorn on one affects my viewing of the series as a whole. Plus, this game has received near-flawless praise from critics (although - perhaps tellingly - it seems that user opinion is somewhat more divided). Is it just me?

Honestly - no, it can't be. Yes, I've played all the other 3D Zelda games. Yes, my expectations were high going in. And yes, I am becoming a more conservative gamesplayer as I get older. But this is not a review of my life and how it has changed since I marvelled at the many uses of the Hookshot in Ocarina of Time, or got lost sailing Wind Waker's great sea. This is a review of Skyward Sword and, truth is, it doesn't measure up.

The first part of the game is spent establishing backstory for the game's setting. In a vaguely Poké-esque fashion, we are told that every inhabitant of Skyloft is paired from youth with a large bird, so as to better travel the sky. Ignoring the fact that the inhabitant count of Skyloft is shorter than the number gathered in one of Hyrule Castle Market Town's stall throngs, and that there is barely any sky to travel (more on that shortly), the oddest part of this is that the game goes to great lengths to establish the importance of this, only to forget about it completely once the real action starts. There's a nod to all birds being equal but Link's shiny red bird being more equal than others, but then other than to flap between the game's three levels (again, more on that later) you'll barely notice him(/her?) again.

The sky itself makes the much-criticised Great Sea seem infinite. Aside from Skyloft itself, there are literally a handful of islands to be landed on, and only one other 'settlement' area, itself consisting of a cafe and a pumpkin patch. Regardless of your opinion of these areas in and of themselves, that's pretty pathetic. But Zelda's areas have always been known for their character as opposed to their quantity. Sadly, Skyward Sword's characters simply aren't as memorable or interesting as their predecessors (or, to be exact, their descendants). The sky mechanic doesn't seem to add much to the game other than to allow the Wii another motion-controlled action for you to perform that it wouldn't otherwise be able to implement: flight. And while it's fun at first, the novelty soon wears off: the areas are too small for anything interesting to take place, in-flight combat is introduced far too late on in the game, and so it's literally just a way to switch between the game's three levels.

I called them 'levels' for a reason. This is the first 3D Zelda in which you don't feel like you're part of a fully connected 'world' and the reason for that is simple: you're not. The inhabitants of Skyloft have never set foot on the 'surface' below (i.e. and hereafter Hyrule) and so it sort of makes sense that there wouldn't be established routes between the main areas which Link arrives into via the air. But that hasn't stopped hordes of samey enemies from populating the regions. These areas are exceptionally well-designed, and often link into puzzles that reveal themselves to be part of a much larger framework, often encompassing the very structure of the region itself; not since A Link To The Past has this kind of intelligent level design been evident on such an exemplary scale and this must be commended. But it's disappointing that you don't feel like you're part of a genuine 'world'; even more so when you consider that, geographically speaking, Nintendo have been extremely faithful to previous Zeldas and it's a genuine treat to play through the game and figure out the original makeup of some of the series' most famous locales.

The Motion Plus use in the game is a mixed bag. For some of Link's abilities it's hard to see how the game ever worked without it - swimming, aiming and climbing are vastly improved, and even some non-MP changes, like sprinting, seem essential moments into becoming acquainted with them. But others are disastrous - puzzles requiring you to fall accurately were seemingly designed in Nintendo EAD's masochism department, and the remote swordplay goes out of sync so often you'll eventually become accustomed to aiming your body away from the screen just to keep your arm centred relative to your on-screen counterpart.

Nintendo were extremely proud of the fact that Skyward Sword makes use of its three major regions several times in wholly different manners, but this is not as impressive as advertised - for a start, there are only three, so to not re-use them would be to chop the game in half. The fact that there are only three areas isn't a criticism when they're as well developed and designed as these, and there are some instances where they are re-used to superb effect. For example, later in the game the forest area becomes flooded, allowing for an extremely enjoyable swimming section, requiring a total readjustment of your understanding of how to navigate the area. However, in the same area exists a temple dungeon, and this too must be revisited during the game, for nothing more than to collect something and bring it to another area. Very by-the-numbers and not up to Nintendo's usual high standards. The other thing is that previous Zelda games - hell, pretty much all Nintendo's best titles - have had great examples of something new bringing new life to an old area. But whereas in the past this was an indication of the endless inventiveness of item use (think Ocarina of Time at its most playful, or the delights of Metroid Prime and Pikmin 2's multi-layered approaches), for Skyward Sword this often seems to simply mean pre- and post-Clawshot approaches to an area. Again: very by-the-numbers.

As well as the areas being more dungeon-like than before, there are actual dungeons, of course. But on top of this there are also 'trial gates', wherein you must collect items while avoiding being detected. Each gate claims to test a different aspect of your heroism, but in truth all three test the same thing: your patience. While a novel idea at first, they soon prove to be nothing more than a one-strike-you're-dead-try-again-style collectathon. If you get it right first time it's exhilarating; one mistake and you'll resent having to grab the same shiny bulbs you just spent ten minutes trying to grab (complete with bonus bulbs that, for the life of me, have zero purpose as far as I can tell). I appreciate the attempt to try and break up the generic dungeon formula with something new, but the truth is this hasn't happened: the formula remains, but with extra additional dungeon-esque challenges in-between, and much less of the town/side-quest-type sidestuff that has also been a staple of Zelda in previous games. At times the game feels like one long slog, and without the characters to make it an enjoyable one, some of the game's best moments don't shine as brightly as they simply don't stand out - some of the dungeons here are the best in any Zelda, but they get lost along the way, taken simply as another challenge following the last one. It's a shame.

I'm not going to talk too much about story because a) spoilers and b) it's Zelda I'm sure you have at least some idea what happens - but I do think that character is important and while Skyward Sword does have some great ones, they're too few and far between to have the same kind of impact as those in previous titles. I also think it noteworthy that in the Zelda universe, while certain characters (Link, Zelda, Impa, Beedle) reappear generation after generation, gods seem to come and go with alarming regularity. This game introduces two such deities which actually inhabit swords (Namco's lawyers are yet to contact Kyoto). One's on your side, the other's a recurring enemy and both exemplify major issues I have with the game.

First, the enemy - a boss you'll have to fight three times during the course of the game. He's not the only boss you'll face this many times, either. There are a couple of boss fights that are genuinely pleasurable and noteworthy (not to include deliberate spoilers but click here for one example) but all too often they're a nuisance and, in some cases, genuinely anger-inducing. An advert of MotionPlus they most certainly are not - one boss, who can grab your blade, requires you to force his hand into a defensive position before you slice from the opposite direction, but to strike successfully you must do so quickly, and the MotionPlus often doesn't recognise the direction of fast slicing, instead defaulting to your original position - meaning that you end up hitting him in the exact spot you were hoping to avoid.

The other sword spirit is yours - her name's Fi and she's a strawberry floating moron. Offering zero helpful advice whatsoever (ask for a hint on an enemy and you'll basically get a description of their appearance), Fi's purpose in the game is to babysit your remote and make sure your batteries are always completely full. It's hard to comprehend that people used to hate on Navi for simply saying "Listen!". Fi is only made less dull by the enemies you face - bland, uninspired character models, often appearing in vast numbers, which sadly only exacerbates their poor general design. One of the very last set-pieces of the game sees you face literally hundreds of these grunts at once - perhaps procedurally impressive (in a way), but exceptionally boring, and perhaps the worst example of 'padding' in any Zelda, ever. Aside from these multi-enemy set pieces, there isn't anything here that couldn't be done on a Gamecube - not a criticism of the game as such, but given the games other failings and compared to the technical achievements on other formats, it's perhaps not a surprise to see the game struggle so much at retail.

For every great moment in Skyward Sword there are a couple of poor ones that spoil it. Great dungeon design is crippled by ridiculous enemy placement and a poorly-considered difficulty curve: your sword gets more powerful but the enemies around you simply increase in number, not intelligence - except in some cases where individual enemies are powered-up beyond comprehension and force you to resort to attrition. Some areas are just overly-frustrating - one room in a late dungeon requires you to ride excruciatingly slow platforms along streams of magma; mess up your jump between them and you'll get sent back to the start of the last stream, thus having to make the loooong ride all over again. Other aspects seem to be counter-intuitive to logical game thought: a raised bucket 'mouth' that needs filling, hanging plants that drip beads of water when sliced, and a gateway with a round hole between them might see you seek a raised platform from which to aim an arrow through the plant and the hole into the bucket, but actually jabbing the plant makes the water attach to your sword (?) from which point you can walk around the room's intricate structure, through the other plants (damaging yourself en route, as chopping your way through isn't viable due to the water bubble hanging from your sword). The puzzles that do manage to be intuitive are usually those familiar to the series; and the ones that are both fresh and work well (time-shifting crystals, a remote-controlled flying beetle) become over-used simply because there are so many dungeon areas in which they have to be used. And there's just not enough 'extra' around all the dungeoning; there's a side-quest of sorts, with 80 'Gratitude Crystals' to collect, but the majority of these are obtained in sets of five, meaning that really you're only actually setting out to find around a quarter of that initially impressive amount.

Ironically, for the first proper motion-control Zelda, there seem many times that the game values cinematography over interactivity. Many of the game's great ideas don't get the mentally flexing workout they deserve, instead being used to execute variants on the same puzzle over and over again (the beetle is a prime culprit here, a brilliant new item woefully implemented). Some of the game's best new ideas, by comparison, are so under-used you could feasibly go the entire game without them (weapon upgrades) - and there are also those which are both underwhelming and unnecessary. I'd be amazed if anyone discovered all the potion upgrades simply for their own sense of fun.

The overwhelming sense I get from Skyward Sword is that it's more an attempt to prove that a game like this can be done using the Wii hardware, as opposed to a game borne out of the genuine belief that this was the logical next step for the series - unlike, say, Mario's Wii excursions. My favourite thing about it is that it's a Zelda game; I get to see how it fits into the rest of the pieces of the series. But I honestly believe that if it weren't a Zelda game, it wouldn't have received anywhere near the amount of critical praise it has done; there's simply not enough fun to be had here. To compare it to the Galaxy games almost seems unfair. Sure, if you've never played a Zelda game before, then there'll be plenty here to impress and engage you that might not have that same effect on a hardened head like me. But honestly - if you've never played a Zelda game before, why on earth would you choose to start with this one?

A missed opportunity, then, and almost certainly the weakest 3D installment in the series. Although both the level design and commitment to adding to Zelda canon are extremely impressive, there's not enough variation here, and too many of the game's fundamentals are awkward and irritating. I've put almost 40 hours into this disc so I couldn't say there's nothing of value here; but I could probably guess right now that, with new games always on the horizon, and four superior equivalents ahead of it in the pecking order, I doubt very much I'll ever wish to play Skyward Sword again - and if it's not worth playing twice, is it worth buying once? I guess everyone will have a different answer for that one.

Last edited by romeo G. Detlev Jr. on Thu Apr 04, 2013 10:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
romeo G. Detlev Jr.
Bizarre Title
Joined in 2008
AKA: Dan.
Location: Bered Kai Nev

PostRe: Zelda : Skyward Sword [Wii] Review
by romeo G. Detlev Jr. » Thu Apr 04, 2013 10:27 pm

Having recently purchased the rather wonderful Hyrule Historia, I thought I'd read through this review again and see if what I wrote then still hold true. Thoughts are below, along with a brief 'review' of sorts for the book itself.

Some spoilers.

Skyward Sword: Looking Back

I was pretty upset, it seems.

Reading through the review above, it seems that in some places I was more disappointed that Skyward Sword didn't meet my expectations than I was making a fair critical assessment of the game.

Having since gotten my hands on a copy of Hyrule Historia, it must be said that my reflections on the game have shifted somewhat - if only a little in places.

The sad part is that, overall, what I thought back then still rings true. Flicking through the book gives me the tremendous desire to re-play most of the games in the series... but not SS. I remember back in the day that Edge magazine criticised Twilight Princess for 'triggering more memories than it creates', but I'd argue that that game created more, and finer, memories than the Wii-only title that followed it.

In terms of character, I think I was a little too harsh - probably the result of my disappointment that there wasn't the depth of character present in previous titles, but to say there's no characters here was folly. Groose, Skipper, the Kikwi, the Robots, and the folks at the bazaar are classic Zelda and full of personality and I should have addressed that first time around.

Also, praise be to the dungeons. Looking back at the time-shift elements of Lanayru Desert (in particular the Sandship) and the inside of the Great Tree/flooded Faron Woods, it's hard to fathom why I hold the first three dungeons of Ocarina of Time in such high regard.

I stand by my assertion that there simply isn't enough extra, though. While the puzzle-solving, dungeon-beating elements of Skyward Sword are probably the strongest of any Zelda title, the townships, side-quests and suchlike are still pretty minimal, and this is probably what let me down. There's a real sense of a living, breathing world that you're saving in previous titles, whereas here there's more of a feeling of every area being something of a puzzle course. Whereas the overall concept of a game 'world' has always appealed to me (possibly why I loved Hyrule Field, even in its vast empty stretches, and adored sailing the much-maligned Great Sea) I should have recognised that the puzzle elements would be what the majority of gamesplayers would appreciate about the game.

But in general, though I was probably a little unfair, I still think Skyward Sword is the least memorable, least replayable of the 3D Zelda titles... not that that makes it any less of a great game to play.

I think I'm justified in my criticisms simply because of how many times I've seen them elsewhere (though, surprisingly, not often in actual reviews) - from this forum alone:

Herbi wrote:Its clearly beyond just being 'tricky' given how many people complain about it.

Harry Bizzle wrote:The fact you have to slash from the other direction is stupid because of the wiimote, you have to go AROUND and then slash, rather than across or you'll just slash in that direction... It's not fun.

Boo! wrote:You missed out on a lot of tedious crap with good stuff every now and then. (Wouldn't quite go that far - Dan.)

Supachipz wrote:Finished this last night after getting it at launch! Overall I loved it but it clearly didn't grab me as much F (not sure what happens here - Dan.) Damn IPad, just wrote a huge spiel about what I loved but then accedently deleted it! I'm not typing it again: 9/10 as it didn't suck me in as previous entries did! I probably won't ever replay it but am so glad I expirinced it!

aayl1 wrote:My main problem with it though, and I've stated this before in the thread, is the lack of "dungeon downtime". The entire surface section of the world is presented to you as a puzzle section. In other words, it's basically another dungeon. Now these areas are used to great affect later on - I especially loved the time travelling sea desert, and you losing all your equipment at the volcano - but I was severely missing nice chill out areas. Skyloft is a great place, and the lumpy pumpkin was fantastic, but there just wasn't much to do. The sidequests boiled down to annoying fetch quests 80% of the time and most of the stuff to do there was exhausted by the game's mid point. Also, back tracking could be very annoying.

Seven wrote:The problem is the filler between dungeons are so boring, though it has some moments where it shines. It's good game, but compared to other Zelda games it's not what I expected :( Still, will be going back to it eventually.

Parksey wrote:Like Aaron has said, lack of dungeon downtime hurts this badly, and there is yet again a distinct lack of towns (like in WW). Even worse, the Sky is a poor substitute for Wind Waker's Great Sea and doesn't really feel alive at all. It's a shame as Skyloft is gorgeous.

Ad7 wrote:Looking back on my playthrough of this, I dont really have that many great memories of it... I'd definitely play it again though, which is a good thing.


And finally, if you weren't aware just how divisive opinion of this game is/was:

rudderless wrote:I think it's a much braver game than a lot of people give it credit for... (In a later post - Dan.) It's quite risky, and I think that's a big part of why reaction has been fairly divisive.

gamerforever wrote:Anyway, back to Skyward Sword - I feel the game just lacks ambition. It doesn't do the whole story or Zelda any justice, especially as it apparently explains the beginnings.


I suppose we can't ever all agree.

Hyrule Historia

...is just a lovely piece of fan service, really.

In terms of design sketches (the majority of the book) it's perhaps too biased towards the later games in the series, but that is inevitable in any book of this kind where such content is going to be much easier to find in usable form (I can't imagine there's too many high-quality rough drafts left in Kyoto from the Eighties) and it's hard to hold it against the book. The concept artwork that does appear is absolutely fantastic, and it's generally fascinating to see the alternative concepts that might have made their way into the series.

There's four main sections to the book - two of which are Skyward Sword's artwork and the drawings from the rest of the series - but perhaps the most-discussed is the notorious 'official' chronology of the series. In his two-page contribution, Aonuma explains that the motivation behind Zelda titles has been gameplay, not story, and that we should bear this in mind when considering the timeline, which is completely understandable. It's hard to deny that this is as comprehensive a timeline as one could wish for, and that they've done extremely well to bring together all the titles in a coherent and understandable lineage (even if there is a disturbing amount of resurrection going on), but it's also hard to shake a sense of disappointment. Perhaps it's because such a timeline would be subject to such great expectations that it could never really deliver every fan's greatest hopes (Nintendo's own version of events must be better than the million fan-theories on the internet, surely?) but I think it's more down to the fact that they've chosen to split the timelines into three, veering off in different directions after the events of Ocarina of Time (there's a branch each for the timelines of both Child Link and Adult Zelda after defeating Ganon, but also a darker timeline where Ganondorf triumphs over Link in their battle atom Hyrule/Ganon's Castle). It's not a disappointment in the fact that they've used this approach - it makes total sense considering the wide range of themes present in the series - but more due to the fact that many of the greatest titles can't be considered as part of the same lineage. It's a little bit sad to play The Wind Waker and know that you're operating a Link from a universe where the events of Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past never could have happened. Still, it can hardly be counted as a legitimate criticism.

There's also a manga at the back (in apparently-standard manga-style right-to-left format) which gives a sort of prequel to the events of Skyward Sword - which, if we're to accept this as canon, makes manga Link and manga Zelda the very first in their long line of namesakes. Zelda appears as the "White Goddess, Hylia" and Link as a framed hero and army leader who is freed in order to fight the Demon King (i.e. Demise/Ganondorf's predecessor). It's definitely an interesting addition, and although it's not really substantial enough to be outstanding on its own, it certainly contributes in part to what is, overall, an outstanding tome, and one that comes highly recommended to any fan of the series.

P.S. One final thought. In light of the 'Damsel in Distress' video and subsequent thread, I thought it would be worth posting the following, taken directly from Miyamoto's forward in Hyrule Historia:

Shigeru Miyamoto wrote:In the beginning, Link was just a bunch of pixelated dots, and now he is a hero who appears fearless, capable of realistic and free movement. Ganon has turned into a powerful archvillain, and Zelda, an incredibly beautiful woman.

User avatar
Ad7
Member
Joined in 2009

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thou
by Ad7 » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:34 am

Great read Dan, agree with most of that.

I just didn't feel like there was much benefit to poking around in the corners of skyward sword as you'd only find something like a chest of rupees most of the time. I like finding cool and rare items dammit!

User avatar
Zerudaaaaa!
Member
Joined in 2008

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by Zerudaaaaa! » Tue Feb 03, 2015 6:23 pm

Good read. I guess what separates SS from other 3D Zelda titles is that it focuses more on condensed gameplay, rather than slower paced immersion.

I think the motion controls allowed for some very interesting enemy design. They often required some satisfying technique to combat effectively. Flipping over a Skulltula with a rising vertical strike before stabbing its exposed underbelly felt so good. Unfortunately, even with Motion+, the tech still didn't quite have the fidelity enough to make it a seamless experience.

User avatar
romeo G. Detlev Jr.
Bizarre Title
Joined in 2008
AKA: Dan.
Location: Bered Kai Nev

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by romeo G. Detlev Jr. » Tue Feb 03, 2015 7:52 pm

I agree with you. Hopefully for the next installment, they can nail both - get the immersivity (is that even a word?) of the gameworld back up to the highs of old, while also providing motion-control combat that's intuitive, accurate, and therefore satisfying.

User avatar
Henke
Member
Joined in 2008

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by Henke » Tue May 17, 2016 8:08 pm

Bump.

Venom wrote:Great form, great volume, great nips.
So great! :)
User avatar
romeo G. Detlev Jr.
Bizarre Title
Joined in 2008
AKA: Dan.
Location: Bered Kai Nev

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by romeo G. Detlev Jr. » Tue May 17, 2016 8:43 pm

:wub:

User avatar
chalkitdown
Member
Member
Joined in 2008
Location: Cork

PostRe: Zelda: Skyward Sword - UPDATED with Hyrule Historia thoughts
by chalkitdown » Tue May 17, 2016 8:44 pm

Skyward Sword is not a great game. I think history will be very harsh on it, unlike the other games in the mainline series.


Return to “Games”