The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (re-review)

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is an adventure game by Nintendo for the Wii. As this is a later installment in the ongoing series, I’ll assume you understand some of the basics of the franchise going into this. I have already reviewed this game before, but this re-review will hopefully be more in-depth and more helpful. The plot starts you off as Link, a young man training to become a knight of the airborne island town of Skyloft. Part of the duty is befriending and riding giant mystical birds called Loftwings. You start the game on the day of the Wing Ceremony, a tradition where students participate in a competition racing their Loftwings. The winner of this competition gets the honor of becoming a knight. You win this competition, but in the excitement of celebrating, your friend Zelda and you are blindsided by a tornado. Once you regain consciousness you find out that you were brought back to safety, but Zelda is still missing. That same night you are awakened by a mysterious ghostly figure. You follow it to the Statue of the Goddess in town where a door magically appears. Inside you find the Goddess Sword and learn that the spirit, Fi, inhabits the swords. Both were made by the goddess Hylia in order to aid and guide a hero in a quest to save the land. You are then given a stone tablet that, when placed into the altar, unveils a beam of light from the clouds below. You search the unknown world below the clouds for the first time as you hunt for clues of Zelda’s whereabouts. In the process you end up witnessing the return of an imprisoned beast of ages past. You beat it back and reseal it away, but the seal will break again. You soon learn that you must hurry in your quest. You are too weak to protect Zelda, who is being lead by a guardian known as Impa in an attempt to help thwart the evil plot by the game’s antagonist, Ghirahim. This fanciful fellow is the servant of the demon king Demise and is searching for the means to resurrect his master in order to take over the land. You are too weak to stop him at the moment as well. So you must seek out the knowledge, the power, and the courage to help strengthen your sword as well as your soul in order to keep the world from falling into darkness. Only then will you truly be able to protect Zelda.

The gameplay is fairly standard for a Zelda game. You explore the world, solve puzzles, do sidequests, fight enemies, look for secrets, and work your way through dungeons filled with their own challenges, equipment, puzzles, and bosses. In typical Zelda fashion, the items you receive in the dungeons, after defeating the sub boss, will be used to navigate the rest of the dungeon’s puzzles and challenges and ultimately be used to take down the dungeon’s boss. You’ll also periodically need to fight one of two recurring bosses. One is The Imprisoned, the large shadowy beast that threatens the temple in the forest. This is usually a race against the clock, trying to keep the creature from reaching the top of the sanctuary and eventually sealing it away yet again. The other is Ghirahim, whom you’ll need to have sword duels with in order to keep him from ending your life. As you progress you’ll open up more areas to explore as well. You start off being able to fly around and land on small islands in the sky, but soon new places below open up and allow you to drop down to them to see more of the world beneath the clouds. You’ll also need to retrace your steps in the places often as more areas of them open up to you later on, continually expanding each of the ground areas. Of course, this isn’t all just your typical Zelda type of adventure. There are a few things that make it stand out from previous installments.

One new addition is a stamina system. Whenever you run, climb, swim, or perform sword spins you’ll consume some of your stamina wheel. If the wheel runs out you’ll have very slow movement until it completely refills and becomes usable again. Though underwater it works as your air supply so be careful. Don’t worry, you can pass through bubbles or resurface when swimming in order to refill it on the go. Alternatively, when on land you can pick up special fruit growing in specific spots to refill your meter without pause. This is especially useful for the new trial sections. In these tests of the soul you must navigate through altered versions of the world maps without any of your items. When you start, there are many guardians who will attempt to catch you, ending your trial upon contact and forcing you to restart. You can halt their advances temporarily by collecting special magical orbs… I forget what they are specifically called. This then give you time to run around and hunt for more without being chased or cornered. Needless to say, the extra stamina pickups to keep you moving will be of help. You can also pick up a fruit unique to this realm which will temporarily create pillars of light above the remaining special collectibles. If the timer runs out before collecting another one of these then the guardians will give chase, but once you collect all of them you’ll be safe from the timer as you navigate back to the entrance. From there on out, you’ll only need to avoid a few obstacles that can still trigger the enemies to attack, at which point you’ll be in for a mad dash to the exit.

Another new entry is the adventure pouch, which allows you to carry a limited amount of non-essential items with you like shields, bottles, and medallions. These medallions have some passive effects such as increasing the effectiveness of potions or increasing the drop rate of hearts. Items must be swapped out at the item check in Skyloft but you can get some expansions to the amount of pouch slots. You can even bring along items that increase the amount of bombs or arrows you can carry. Even the shields you wield must be stored in this pouch to use them. These shields also have a durability meter now as well as elemental weaknesses to consider. If the shield wears down too far, it will break and you must purchase a new one to keep using a shield. Along with this is the ability to upgrade your gear. Be it an optional item or a key part of your arsenal, you can collect special materials from certain enemies and regions which can be used along with some rupees to improve your equipment. You can even collect bugs that can be infused with potions to make them stronger. You can even accumulate gratitude crystals, a special item that is found by completing sidequests and used to uncover a few secrets. Then there are the goddess cubes. These are giant magical cubes hidden throughout the land below the clouds. When you find one, you must perform a skyward strike to activate it, sending a beam of light into the sky. Upon returning to the sky you’ll find an icon on the map showing you the location of the corresponding chest that is now active. These chests cannot be opened until you activate the respective goddess cube but can be located beforehand throughout the great sky. But there’s a much bigger change to the gameplay, and I think that’s what you’ve all been waiting to hear about.

This game is on the Wii so it’s no surprise that it utilizes motion control using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Twilight Princess on the same system used these for aiming and wiggles for simulated button presses, but Skyward Sword is more in-depth. While the aiming and shield bash techniques remain the same, the controls now adjust for tilt for many of the items. Tilting can change an item’s course or alter your balance on a tightrope. It can even be used to manipulate how you roll or throw bombs. Most notably, it is the way you control your swordplay. The way you swing the remote is the way Link will swing his sword on screen, allowing you to slash at many angles, stab, and even perform spin attacks all on the fly simply by swinging the remote in the desired way. You can also hit a button to automatically recenter the cursor to your current position should you feel it is out of sync. This swordplay works its way into taking on most of the enemies and obstacles in the game, especially when fighting Ghirahim. So using your sword is now as much about timing as it is about positioning and technique. You will need to master the art of the sword in order to complete the game. And once you’ve gathered up all of your strength, done all you can do, you must fight in one final showdown of your sword skills in order to save the land and everyone in it, including Zelda herself.

Skyward Sword looks and sounds great. The landscapes are very colorful and vibrant. I especially like the lively Faron Woods. And the soundtrack is almost fully orchestrated if not entirely so, which makes it sound pretty incredible at times. I don’t mind the typical Zelda formula as a fan of the series either. It isn’t broken so they didn’t fix it. I also appreciate that not only is Zelda a close friend and not just some princess to make her artificially important, but I also like how even in the midst of this epic foreseen journey of your heroic efforts Link is still mainly concerned first and foremost with Zelda’s safety and well-being. It makes it easier to understand and relate to the character’s journey and priorities. I think the way they handled two staples of the series were done in a convenient way. One s the day and night cycle. You must sleep in a bed to change between night and day, which can only be done in Skyloft. No waiting on timers or songs to manipulate time and no need to worry about a night and day version of all the ground areas. Time travel is the other, which is mainly used via timeshift stones that can change the time in a limited space around them. That and the limited use to a door of time that only serves the use of a few story points and nothing more. Oh, and the trials are pretty fun challenges as well that make the stamina system shine. The most controversial thing about this is that I actually really like motion controls. They don’t take over every aspect of the game. They merely serve to enhance and immerse you in the experience. They add a layer to the combat that makes it so much more dynamic than any other combat in the series to date. You don’t just sit around and wait for the one opening. You have to look to see where an enemy is open. You have to know when and where you can hit them and perform it with precision. You can’t just flail away at every enemy and expect to beat them. And with others you can’t be too defensive or you’ll never take them down. Some even require specific attack decisions in order to defeat them. This is all on top of the usual ability to move yourself around them as well as use your items on them when appropriate. So you just have even more options and depth to the fighting. The shield bash is also a very interesting technique this time around. Your shields can break so you can’t just shield bash or hide behind it forever. Plus, with the right timing on the shield bash you can counter your enemy’s attack and open them up for lots of retaliation. But you also need to be careful because they can knock away your defenses too sometimes if you’re not careful. And rest assured, they will retaliate just the same. The story is decent too, I suppose. I didn’t think it was amazing, but the lack of overused Zelda lore like Zoras or Ganon was a welcome change and the plot moved enough to make it feel like a big adventure… if a bit overly complex and long-winded in parts. What can I say? It’s a Zelda game.

I guess one thing I can say is that this is another severe case of holding your hand too much. Your divinely constructed companion is constantly telling you painfully obvious things, often immediately after just being told what to do anyway. You do have the option to ask Fi for help, as well as a fortune teller in Skyloft and a Sheikah statue there as well, but you’ll never need it unless you’ve been absent from playing for a long period of time. On top of that, Fi has no emotion or personality to speak, so she’s not exactly the most interesting character to hear chime in on the regular. I find the goddess cubes to be an odd workaround to give the sky more use. It’d be more fun to just find chests on the ground instead of arbitrarily needing to go back to the sky and fly to the clearly marked symbol afterwards. The sky itself is this big barren area with very little to do. There’s not much reason to fly around unless you’ve unlocked chests or are doing sidequests. There’s barely anything to find up there so the strange amount of importance the game places on the Loftwings in the start feels unnecessary. I’m also a bit disappointed that the ground areas are three separate places. It just makes the game feel kind of splintered rather than a big connected world. And as I mentioned, the story can be a bit long-winded at times for what it’s worth. The stamina wheel can sometimes be tedious when you simply want to get around faster by running or simply climb a wall. The upgrading system soon becomes a bit more tedious as you go along needing more and more of the materials until you have everything upgraded and then it’s practically useless. In fact, if you’re not the type to use potions then you’ll almost never bother catching bugs at all. And admittedly, though I do enjoy the combat, this game leans more heavily on that and the story which leaves the puzzle and adventure elements a bit lacking. However, I do want to counter a few of the unfair complaints I often hear about this game.

This big one is in regard to the controls. If you don’t like motion controls then that’s totally fine. You probably won’t enjoy the game. But that does not make the controls or the game bad just because you don’t like them. I’ve also heard people complain that the controls aren’t very responsive and go out of sync a lot. This I found to be untrue in my case. I replayed the game on the Wii U with the required Wii Motion Plus controller, and I only experienced a few times where it seemed to get out of sync without reason. The few times it did, I simply pointed to the center of the screen, hit the centering button, and it was fixed. Perfect? No. But it’s far from unreasonable. If you still have problems you can manually recalibrate it from the pause menu, but I never had to do this myself. On top of that, it helps to understand the auto-centering system. Essentially, whenever you take out an item to aim or go to a menu screen your cursor takes your current position as the center. So if you do this without pointing at the center of the screen you’ll remain off center until correcting it in one of the ways mentioned above. Knowing this will help a lot. As for the swordplay, you must be very away of your angle and your tilt in order to do the slashes you’re trying to execute. You also must not move your sword too rapidly into position to swing or else you’ll swing in the process. Another easy mistake that can cause much frustration. Understanding the controls is the first step to mastering them and ultimately having the opportunity to fully enjoy the game. Plus, it’s not as though this game goes all in on ONLY using motion controls for everything like the DS Zelda games and their stylus controls. Consider that for a moment. These controls are used to improve the game, not to simply push motion controls for the sake of having motion controls.

Another big complaint I hear is that this game doesn’t do anything different than any other Zelda games. True enough the Zelda formula is all over this one, but why does it only become a problem when Skyward Sword does it? Think of Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Minish Cap, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Ocarina of Time, Link’s Awakening, and even A Link to the Past. Why do ALL of these games get a pass but suddenly when Skyward Sword does it, THAT’S the last straw? And why did it become okay again for A Link Between Worlds? If you’re sick of the formula, then fine. But you can’t pretend like Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game you’re sick of, then. I found Minish Cap to be guiltier of this than Skyward Sword, but what do I know? Well I know that Skyward Sword DOES do new things. You might not like those new things, but you can hardly deny that it does them. The motion controls, especially for swordplay, are unique to this game even now in the series. The stamina and upgrade systems were new and made a return in later games even. The adventure pouch was also a new concept. There’s plenty in the game that was not old hat for Zelda games, yet so many choose to ignore those in one argument and harp on them in another. Inconsistency.

Overall, I wouldn’t claim that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is my favorite game in the Zelda series nor the best one. However, the combat is still some of the best in the entire series. The soundtrack is great. The visuals even still look pretty despite their age. And hey, it’s a Zelda game. If you like Zelda games and have a Wii or Wii U then I’d highly recommend checking it out. Just make sure you’ve got patience, and open mind, and a Wii Motion Plus controller in order to enjoy this game to the fullest. Maybe, just maybe, someday we’ll all be able to realize that Skyward Sword was never as bad as the crowd made it out to be. Maybe we just needed some time to get over the Wii having motion controls and the trend of hating on Nintendo. Maybe this will be remembered as a fairly ambitious, if a bit underwhelming, but ultimately solid Zelda title. Plus… Link is pretty fly for an elf guy.

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