Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Part 1

Note:  This is dedicated to Michael, my little cousin and still my favorite person, who I know is playing this game up in Heaven.  I love you, little guy.

For the past week only one thought has dominated my thoughts:  have I been playing enough "Skyward Sword" today?  The answer, of course, has been no.  I shouldn't even let myself sleep, I should devote my entire heart and soul into this golden disc.  If I die from exhaustion by the time the credits role, my life would have been an adequate sacrifice.  What plateau in all of existence can possibly top the release of a new Zelda game anyway?  ...Well, except for the release of the next Zelda game, of course.

So in knowing that one day I'll be Zelda-ing away my troubles on the Nintendo WiiU, I've decided to keep on living for another few years.  And keep up my hygiene, social life, work, academics, and every other aspect of the real world which tragically pales in comparison to the wonder and magic of Link's adventures.  (Also there is a very loud and exasperating voice in my head that reminds me that I shouldn't completely go insane until at least my Fifties.)  So obviously I haven't beaten the entire game in a week, though I have fought my way through three dungeons and have now started the second major phase of the game.  So I guess this post is a "first-impressions" or a review of the first part of the game or something.  Let's just call it "Part 1" of Blue's thoughts, shall we?  Clearly the conclusion or Part 2 will come once I complete the entire thing and defeat the Ganon, who is presumably the Final Boss somehow.

The reason why I'm not just reviewing the game is partly out of intellectual honestly - you really can't review a game unless you've beaten it* - and partly because I'm not entirely sure where I'd actually rank this game.  Is it the best Zelda yet?  I'm not feeling like its the case.  But the game's so far from terrible and I'm fully obsessed with it now, so I can't say its awful.  Maybe I'll find out by the end.  But now that I've put off the biggest question, let me talk about the smaller stuff.  I'm dieing to talk here, I can't stand it anymore!  The world must know my opinions, NOW!

"Skyward Sword", at least in conception, seems to be a spiritual successor to "Wind Waker", or at least that's what everybody is saying.  Honestly, I don't feel all that much connection with the "Wind Waker"'s style at all, this is a whole new breed of Zelda.  Nintendo might have been thinking that the sky portion of "Skyward Sword" was going to be the replacement for the Great Sea that made "Wind Waker" such an iconic and profound experience.  The game even opens up with a legendary backstory being explained through artwork, just like "Wind Waker"'s amazing opening.  However, the effect is just not the same.  Whether that new effect is something amazing and special is still up in the air, I can't decide how much I like this new Zelda, to be honest.

The first thing you'll notice is the art style, naturally.  The art can be best described as a mixture of "Twilight Princess"'s realism and "Wind Waker"'s colorfulness, creating a very bright game.  There was an attempt to create an impressionistic painting kind of feel, but its almost impossible to see unless you really get close to the textures, so it was wasted, honestly.  Unlike recent 3D Zelda games, I don't really know what this new art style is supposed to mean.  "Twilight Princess"'s dark maturity was clearly expressed in its world, the very realism brought a serious tone to the game.  "Wind Waker" was a much more cheerful adventure, the bright cartoony colors gave the world a happy vibe of life and openness, made all the more ironic when you realize how dark that game's backstory is.  What is "Skyward Sword" saying with its color scheme?  I have no idea.  The game isn't particularly serious, and it isn't particularly cheerful either.

"Skyward Sword"'s plot is pretty standard for a Zelda game, with the singular twist that Hyrule has not been founded yet.  Link and Zelda live on an island town in the clouds called Skyloft, where the people ride giant duck-billed birds called "Loftwings" and explore the skies.  Below the Earth is barren of all humans, and instead is populated by a lot of monsters and various new weird races.  Early on, Zelda falls from the sky, and its up to Link to find her and bring her home.  So you get a magic sword inhabited by a blue humanoid Exposition Fairy named "Fi", head down to the surface and start fighting your way through dungeons.  All while being attacked by evil creatures and a deranged homosexual named Ghirahim, whose main source of strength seems to be utter FABULOUSNESS.  Coming this fall, Ghirahim will be hosting a new show on Bravo called "Queer Eye for the Evil Guy", where he will do a make-over for other fashion victim video game characters like Kuja, Seymour, and Bayonetta.  As for Zelda and Link, they both have some kind of esoteric destiny that probably involves the founding of the Kingdom of Hyrule.

This time, we're not playing around with Link and Zelda being in love, this is pretty obvious from the first second.  Its not like "Twilight Princess" where Link more logically would end up with his childhood friend Ilia.  Or even "Ocarina of Time" where Link basically makes every female in Hyrule love him at some point in the game.  No, this is straight Link x Zelda.  I wonder if this game will go even farther than "Spirit Tracks"?  That had Link and Zelda hold hands, which is a bit risque for a Nintendo game.  Will they actually kiss this time?

Back onto the subject of "Wind Waker" comparisons, Nintendo seems to be thinking that the sky will be an open ocean of exploration like the Great Sea.  This is, however, nowhere near the case.  The Great Sea is much much much much more larger than the skysea, and actually is populated with more than one town.  The sky, in comparison, is empty.  "Wind Waker" slowly revealed the Great Sea, not even giving you the power to fully explore it until the second dungeon, and even then holding your hand tightly.  "Skyward Sword", however, had no such reason to hold you hand, you could never get lost up here.  You never have a sense of overwhelming scale, no sense of grand adventure, or even exploration.  I blame the people who bitched about the sailing in "Wind Waker", you morons ruined what could have been a great part of this game.  Ironically, the traveling portions actually are tedious and pointless this time, well done.  The entire thing is open from the start aside from a small corner covered in wind and clouds which is almost certainly the location of the Final Dungeon.  But there's nothing to do up here, you can ride from one side to the other only to find that there are maybe four islands of any significant size, and they all have maybe one building.  The only reason you even need to fly around up here at all is to find little treasure chests that you unlock by exploring the surface.  Oh, and completing basic fetch quests.  This is also means that you spend almost no time in the sky, so "Skyward Sword" would have been more appropriately named "Earth-with-a-side-of-Skyward Sword".

Plus, there does not seem to be any kind of air combat of any form.  "Twilight Princess"'s best feature was the power to just ride around on your mighty Clydesdale, Epona, and kick ass.  Just run orcs over and cut down monsters on pigs while the kickass Hyrule Field theme plays.  On your bird, you basically just flap around and sometimes get harassed by monsters that throw stones at you.  Honestly, this is the biggest disappointment for me.  "Skyward Sword" could have combined Star Fox with Zelda in an amazing action-packed adventure, and instead has nothing.  I was picturing maybe dive bombing with the Loftwind while shooting arrows, maybe dog-fighting while slashing your sword.  Maybe you could even jump off your bird and have a little swordfight with an enemy in freefall, how awesome would that have been?  None of this is in the game.  You can't even kill the monsters that throw stones.  Why?  What were they thinking?  When has Nintendo ever been the company to ignore awesome?  Maybe it will come later, I can only hope.

Also, for whatever reason, your Loftwing doesn't have a name.  This seems wretchedly unfair to me, especially since the game claims that the Loftwing is half of your soul or something.  If Nintendo wanted to be lazy, they could have just named the bird "Epona" and then drank a lot of sake for the rest of the work day.  So to correct this, I named mine "Claus Valca".  "Last Exile" rules.

Now the biggest thing about "Skyward Sword" are the brand new motion controls.  I can't compare them to "Twilight Princess" because I played the Gamecube version of that game - the proper version.  "Twilight Princess" just had some half-assed waggling to show off Nintendo's fancy new console, "Skyward Sword" really does make good use of the Wii in utterly kickass ways.  Since I bought the collector's edition of this game, I have the golden Wii Motion Plus controller, which apparently is a big upgrade to the Wii giving one-to-one motion control.  I can't say it was ever exactly that perfect, but the controls are very good.  The new focus of combat is making your attacks in the proper direction, you can't just swing randomly now, or else you'll fail.  Depending on how your swing your sword, you'll either land a hit, or the enemy will block you.  You have to be strategic and hit them in the spots they're not guarding.  This is really good, and actually feels like its adding something to the Zelda formula, very much unlike "Phantom Hourglass" and "Spirit Tracks"' unnecessary and somewhat annoying touch-screen controls.  Its the single most immersive combat system I've ever experienced, I literally become one with Link.  I'm no longer controlling a video game character, I am that character.  We are one mind, one body, one force of divinely-inspired death hurricanes.  The only real issue I have with the motion controls are that Link can't quite seem to understand how to stab totally straight.  Also, the Wii Motion Plus will also sometimes go completely insane and decide that even if the Wiimote is three miles to the left of my TV, I actually want Link to target to the right.

One thing I don't like is the new item gathering and crafting system.  Its annoying.  Thanks for finding the most annoying parts of RPGs and throwing them into Zelda, Nintendo.  And why is my goddamn shield always breaking?  Upgrading this thing is expensive, you know.

The other new thing I really don't like is this new stamina system.  Link can now rush forward and sprint when you hold down A.  He can also parkour his way up walls a tiny bit, though he's hardly the Prince of Persia, if you know what I mean.  Oddly, despite Link's new skills, he can't climb through two foot wide bars simply climb over a wall instead of completing the room's puzzles.  Link also has the stamina of an obese eighty year old man who has spent the last ten years of his life on a ventilator, because he can run for exactly ten seconds before completely tiring out and needing to wait to refill his stamina meter.  While refilling that stamina meter, Link will do nothing and be completely open to attacks.  So if you're surrounded by enemies and get a little too happy with the Finishing Move, Link will suddenly need a ten second break to wheeze and enjoy the firm feeling of an orc penis penetrating straight up his ass.  I'm a more athletic person than Link in "Skyward Sword".  I do admire Nintendo for their very high-minded plan of showing the children that asthmatics can be heroes too, but I also wish that, you know, Link could run for more than one hundred feet.  I also wish I could roll infinitely again, because years of 3D Zelda games have given me a psychological compulsion to make Link roll every three seconds.  Its physically painful to not do it.

Onto the surface world.  "Skyward Sword" oddly, has exported dungeon design principles and applied it to the entire world map.  Every Zelda game always has had combat outside of dungeons, but "Skyward Sword" is the first game to really turn the entire game into a single extended dungeon.  Before you even enter the dungeon you find yourself solving puzzles, moving objects around to create easy movement, and removing blockages.  Its an interesting take, meaning that dungeons actually are no longer the highlight of the games.  Its all a dungeon, the dungeon portions are just the most severely dungeon-ish.  The elements of puzzle solving, exploration, and using your items to get around are simply made more dense and inside the dungeons, but they never actually leave the game world.  The only breaks come when you finally open everything up and can easily travel from one side of the map to another.

This also has the odd side-effect of making "Skyward Sword" the first Zelda game in a really long time to have only a single town.  There are races you find, just not the traditional trio of Zoras, Deku, and Gorons.  Yet none of these races seem to inhabit any sort of environment on their own.  Skyloft is the only "safe" area of the game completely devoid of monsters and the only place to have shops or sidequests.  I don't really care for this kind of centralization, it makes the game world feel really kinda empty.  Maybe a dungeon world is just too much of a good thing, like chocolate cookies with chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles dipped in chocolate sauce with a side of chocolate milk.  (Actually that sounds delicious... bad metaphor.)  But we'll see how I feel later.

Certainly "Skyward Sword" is not a bad game, its actually a huge amount of fun and you need to start playing it now.  Like no matter how bad my attitude might seem, I just had the most singularly kickass battle against a giant scorpion and really, after a great challenging moment, its easy to forgive a game for a few minor flaws.  And if I'm ever too upset with flying, I can just bowl a bomb right at a yellow slime's face, that always makes me feel better.  But I don't think its going to shape up to be as good as "Twilight Princess" or "Wind Waker".  I just don't.  They are together the two best games ever made, so that's a very high standard to hold a video game up to.  Got to keep that in mind.  This isn't the "Final Fantasy X" of Zelda - mediocre, smaller, and overrated, just a slightly not as good game.

TO PART 2.

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* Pay no mind to the fact I've probably done this dozens of times now, most egregiously with "Final Fantasy XIII", which I declared to be utter garbage without even playing.  Only note that I was right.

4 comments:

  1. nice idea, thanks for sharing...

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  2. I always found it odd the toenspeople had a WW-esque look to them, compared to the comparitively realistic Link. And Zelda is wearing Penelo's RW outfit, for whatever reason.

    Xepscern

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  3. The game is very irritating at first, I almost ripped my hair out at the 3rd dungeon, but it does get better. I personally can't find anything bad about the game other then the back tracking constantly and the 30-minute opening tutorial.

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  4. I reviewed Skyward sword. Beat it in about 4 days (not counting Thanksgiving). You can read it here: http://headbodyworld.blogspot.com/2011/11/hbm-reviews-legend-of-zelda-skyward.html#more
    P.S.: The only spoiler is the picture at the end.

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