The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the second of two Zelda games released for the Nintendo Wii. This review assumes you either understand what Zelda games are or that you have already read my previous review on The Legend of Zelda. The general idea is the same as other Zelda games. You’re on a quest to save Zelda and save the land in the process. You go through dungeons, fight bosses, explore an overworld, and all the other things you would expect from a Zelda game. In fact, many people will knock Skyward Sword for this. They say that it’s a bad game because it copies many of the features found in previous Zelda games.

I find this to be an unfair judgement. In general, it’s fine. If you don’t like Zelda games copying elements from previous installments, that’s fine. However, Zelda games have been borrowing elements from previous installments since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. So if you don’t like the borrowing of elements, something most successful game series do, then you probably won’t care for most Zelda games beyond The Legend of Zelda on NES. There’s also the defense to this that mentions how most other Zelda games add in new things to keep them fresh and interesting. This would also apply to Skyward Sword as well. There are plenty of new things in this game. You have a pouch for carrying secondary items. The pouch has a capacity so you have to pick and choose what’s important to keep on your person for your next task. There’s also an upgrade system for your items. It costs rupees and some amount of another material to get these upgrades. These materials may be found scattered throughout the world or from fallen monsters. It adds a layer of progression and adds to exploration while trying to build up your inventory of materials. The biggest change is the implantation of motion controls.

This is another point of hatred among critics. Many people wrote the game off right away because of their disdain for the Wii’s motion controls. Again, this is an understandable reasoning. Unlike Twilight Princess before it, which only used motion controls as glorified button inputs, Skyward Sword integrated the motion controls to do nearly all of your actions. So if you don’t like that control style then you’re probably not going to like playing the game. However, that doesn’t mean the game is bad, nor does it mean that you couldn’t enjoy the things in the game past that control method. For instance, I don’t care for many computer games because they force me to use keyboard and mouse controls. The games are designed around those controls much like Skyward Sword is designed around motion controls. And using a standard type of controller is what we want in both cases. The difference is that I know that a control method does not define a game. I might not enjoy playing a game with a keyboard and mouse, but that doesn’t mean I think the game is bad just because I can’t fully experience it. The same can be said for Skyward Sword. Judging it as a whole based on a barrier of entry is unfair. This is also arguably the most important new feature in the entire game.

The motion controls use Wii Motion Plus technology to have improved depth of movement. This time around the way you move your Wii remote matters. If you swing left, Link swings left. If you swing right, Link swings right. Swordplay becomes very important. Even fighting minor enemies takes skill. It’s no longer just about knowing what to use on the enemy, where to hit them, and when. There’s the added layer of HOW to hit the enemy. It’s a simple change that turns these fights into some of the most exciting and engaging combat in the Zelda series. And most of your other items use these controls as well. You may need to swing, tilt, flick, and of course aim with greater precision. These also add to the puzzle and exploration elements of the game as well. And while the Wii remote can often go out of sync, you can point to the center of the screen and with the touch of one button you will recalibrate the remote on the fly. It’s great, and I find it very disheartening that so many people wrote off a game because they couldn’t wrap their head around the most innovative and impressive feature.

There are other good things in this game as well. Obviously, the ties to the formula of other Zelda games can be seen as a plus for those who like that type of design. The fully orchestrated soundtrack sound great. The visuals are very clean and vibrant as the structural design of the Twilight Princess art is mixed with a cartoonish quality reminiscent of Wind Waker. The use of rupees is done well as even though you’ll be getting many of them you’ll be spending them on a lot of things as well. The value of rupees is significant. The fact that Zelda is your friend makes your quest to save her a lot more meaningful, at least in terms of the story. The inclusion of some recurring bosses to fight lets you see how they grow in comparison to yourself. It’s a nice effect that gives your enemies some more growth as foes as well as characters. Plus flying around on your loftwing can be very magical and exciting… at first.

You use your loftwing to get around what is essentially a hub world filled with a few secrets and some exits to other areas of the game. It seems like a nod to Wind Waker. In Wind Waker you sail across a vast ocean finding some secrets and locations along the way. You can sit back and enjoy the skies, the waves, the birds flying by, and the adventurous yet soothing sailing music. Only once in a while will you need to pick up the controller to deal with an enemy encounter or look for a secret. It’s a meaningful experience. In Skyward Sword, you can find secrets in the sky as well, but it’s a much more hectic experience. The music is intense as you need to be constantly controlling your loftwing to fly correctly in this cramped and visually dull sky space. It also isn’t connected to the rest of the world seamlessly, which is why I refer to this place as a hub world. You go to other parts of the world from this area, and it makes the game feel like you’re loading new areas rather than just going to them. This kind of thing might fly in an older game, but for the year it was released, and especially for it coming off of Twilight Princess which had a much more seamless world, it’s hard to forgive such a jarring departure in game design. There are other complaints to be had as well.

The need for materials is interesting, but sometimes it can cause you to revisit areas often and painstakingly grind towards a specific advancement. The motion controls work wonderfully, but sometimes they can be rather finicky. They’ll rarely be the reason for your failures, but they aren’t perfect. Plus, they can be tiring to the out-of-shape folks such as me. And as mentioned, there’s nothing amazingly different in the formula here. So any faults in the formula run deeper than simply this installment. There aren’t tons of issues with this game. There are just a few major ones that can turn people away. The motion controls are the only thing that will make or break this game as far as getting into it. After that the game is on par with Zelda standards, at least in my book.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the Zelda game on the Wii that people wanted. Or at least it was the game they THOUGHT they wanted until they got it. If you’re not completely turned off by motion controls and are a big fan of the Zelda franchise then do yourself a favor and pick this game up. It requires Wii Motion Plus which is admittedly an annoying necessity. It might cost you some more money if you don’t have a Wii remote that has that already, but it’s definitely worth getting for the Zelda fans. If you’re on the fence then I’m telling you to go for it on this one. It has received for too much bashing for what is a totally acceptable Zelda experience. This is to say it’s a very good general gaming experience. The sky is certainly no limit.

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