Review, Part Two: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” is a game that, despite some frustrating moments, is a title that features some of the greatest experiences in any recent game or the venerable Zelda franchise.

This is the second part of a review I wrote based upon my first impressions of Skyward Sword. After completing the main quest, and then spending considerable time trying to decide what, exactly, I should write about the game, I find that many of more initial impressions remain unchanged.

In short, that means Skyward Sword is an excellent, if imperfect, game that should entertain any Zelda fan. Its successes, however, are largely built upon a foundation of previous Zelda titles. Although Nintendo’s promotion of the Wii’s motion controls can be considered a bold attempt to change the way players approach games, I can’t help but feel the Zelda series is needs a major shake-up when its time for the next chapter.

In a sense, much of Skyward Sword is like a “greatest hits” compilation of elements from previous Zelda titles. At the risk of disclosing spoilers, the game’s flashbacks include time travel (Ocarina of Time), a flying whale (Link’s Awakening) and the flying in the sky-based overworld is not terribly different from sailing the Great Sea in The Wind Waker.

That out of the way, Skyward Sword has some of the best dungeons of any Zelda game. Indeed, there are no bad dungeons. The Skyview Temple, the first dungeon, is an eerie and even ghostly place where players must quickly accustom themselves to the game’s swordplay mechanic.

The “Lanayru Mining Facility” and “Sandship” dungeon employ a masterful time travel mechanic that requires players to solve puzzles in the game’s present day while also journeying to a distant past when both environments are filled with enemies and strange machines.

Skyward Sword’s most impressive dungeon, by far, is the Ancient Cistern. This is a water dungeon that not only features some lovely Buddhist-inspired designs, but is a water level that is actually fun to play. The Ancient Cistern also boasts, in my opinion, the game’s best new boss. That enemy, Koloktos, is a sword-wielding mechanical adversary who is a blast to fight.

In terms of story, Skyward Sword is something like a creation myth for the Zelda franchise. The game’s storyline establishes a reason for the franchise to be known as the legend of the Princess Zelda, and not the sword-wielding hero Link. The franchise’s frequent adversary, Ganondorf, does not directly appear in the game although the game does explain why he repeatedly threatens the peace of the fictional land of Hyrule.

I want to avoid spoilers, but the game’s ending and final interactions between Link, Zelda and other major characters are quite touching.

So what prevents the game from being perfect? Repetition. There’s no way to honestly avoid the fact that despite its many virtues, Skyward Sword is also full of padding. For example, the game often forces players to dowse for hidden items. I never found this part to be fun, and players can be forgiven if they quickly seek a guide to just get through the process.

In terms of the “sky” part of Skyward Sword, flying a giant red bird can be fun at first, but there’s a reason people say there is not much to do in the sky. There is not much to do.

At other moments, the game forces players to take Link through “Silent Realms” where he must prove his worth by finding “Sacred Tears” in areas guarded by spirit sentries. Here, the game’s emphasis shifts from combat to stealth-like gameplay, and one failure can force players to restart the process.

As a sidequest, the Silent Realms could have been very fun and a way for players to pursue optional objectives. Instead, the game forces players to complete the Silent Realms to prove Link’s worth before attempting to complete the game’s latter dungeons. I would have rather just played the game without delays. A 30-hour game with no filler is better than a 40-hour game with 10 hours of content that is less fun than the other three-quarters of playtime.

The padding is why I have to conclude that Skyward Sword is a very good game, but not a classic. In my opinion, the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time remains the pinnacle of Zelda games, at least during the 3D era. I’d place The Wind Waker in second place, followed by Skyward Sword, Majora’s Mask and then Twilight Princess.

Other comments:

  • Link also has a new guide, the sword spirit Fi, who fills the same role as previous guide characters have. Some reviewers have criticized Fi’s advice as being much too obvious, and they have a point, but I like her. As a character, the dancing and singing Fi was nonetheless written with a sense of dignity about her, and I liked her.
  • The motion controls do need some refining, although they usually work. Skyward Sword lets players swing their Wii Remote controller like a sword, but the fighting mechanic has more to do with making players react to situations that require them to decide whether to swing horizontally, vertically or diagonally than mimicking the complexity of an actual sword fight.
  • For other purposes, the motion controls be hit-and-miss -such as when throwing bombs – or terrific, as when players must control the flying “Beetle” device. The Beetle is a wonderful new addition to Link’s selection of items that allows players to scout an area, retrieve objects and even drop bombs. . The boomerang, however, is left out of Skyward Sword despite its appearance in almost all previous Zelda titles.