Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Part 2


Okay, so I finally decided this would be a three part review.  Actually, I think this is a much smarter way of doing video game reviews.  You can't review an experience that is so long and so variable as a fifty-hour video game in just one shot.  If you write the review too early, before you even finish the game, you can't quantify your emotions by the end of the game.  Yeah, the beginning might be great, but who knows if the game might outstay its welcome or be a load of crap by the end?  However, if you write a review after the end credits, you lose track of everything you've experienced.  It all becomes a confusing blur too full of details to really explain properly.  So I like this way best, honestly.

Anyway, last time on my "Skyward Sword" experience, I was feeling some doubts as to whether this game would shape up to meet Zelda par.  Unfortunately, those doubts have turned into certainty:  this game is not as good as "Twilight Princess" or "Wind Waker".  Now I know everybody uses "Ocarina of Time" as the bar, but they are mistaken.  "Ocarina of Time" is fourteen years old and feels ancient to me playing now, the game is really showing its age compared with its Gamecube sequels.  But that's besides the point:  "Skyward Sword" is probably the weakest of all the 3D Zelda games.  I won't go ahead and declare it to be a bad game, we're not down there at any stretch of the imagination.  However, it is a massively uneven game.

Now this is a shame.  Obviously whenever I buy a Zelda game I expect it to be the greatest experience of my life.  I was super-hyped for "Twilight Princess", expecting an epic grand game that would be the largest and most powerful Zelda yet - and it was!  Everything I wanted and more, "Twilight Princess" is the greatest video game ever made.  I had similar hopes for "Skyward Sword", and it just has not delivered.  Yeah, there are stunning moments in this video game, and it has probably the best characters of any Zelda game yet.  However... its everything that happens in between the story sections that weakens this title.

As I mentioned last time, "Skyward Sword" is the Zelda game that isn't going to bullshit around whether Link and Zelda are in love, the game spends the first hour setting this up.  Now, I've heard a lot of people complaining that during the first hour of the game you're basically stuck in an on-rails tutorial* with too many text screens.  But I got to say, it was possibly the first hour that was most compelling to me.  Link and Zelda are simple characters, basically one-dimensional shades, but their honest simplicity is charming.  Also, apparently Zelda smells nice...  Creepiness aside, it was the opening of this game in Skyloft during peace time that built a strong foundation for me to care about these characters.  Think back to the Destiny Islands portion of "Kingdom Hearts", possibly the game with the single best storyline of any video game ever.  In two minutes the game establishes three great characters, Sora, Kairi, and Riku with a believable relationship, the same is accomplished in "Skyward Sword".  You actually do want to save Zelda, it isn't just an esoteric goal like in many of the games.

Unfortunately, after Zelda falls to the big bad surface full of monsters, you don't see her again for almost thirty hours.  You get little glimpses here and there as rewards for completing the dungeons, but these aren't satisfying because Zelda runs away with Impa the second you see her.  (Impa is looking pretty hot in this game, by the way.)  It takes six dungeons for another scene between Link and Zelda, and that's a long goddamn time for the plot to just stall.

Now, "Kingdom Hearts" had a similar issue, Kairi disappeared for like 90% of that game.  But you had other companions, you had Donald and Goofy to chill with.  Riku showed up a few times in the midst of a really great antihero character arc.  In "Skyward Sword" you really are completely alone on the ground.  In other Zelda games while looking for Aryll or Ilia you meet various companions and friends and help them out, the world is a huge place full of people who need help.  In "Skyward Sword", this doesn't really happen.  Most of the characters on the ground are weird annoying creatures that really only are flat comic reliefs, if that.  You don't meet anybody as interesting as Tetra or even any important side characters.  Colin never saves Beth from the Orcs, Princess Ruto never promises to marry you, and you don't make Medli or Makar sages.

"Skyward Sword" does give you a fairy companion for most of the running time, but... this where I start to get a bit pissed.  In the last two Zelda games, the companion characters were amazing.  In "Twilight Princess" you teamed up with Midna, a sarcastic imp that bosses Link around to get her revenge that I'd easily crown as one of the best Zelda characters ever.  And in "Spirit Tracks", you teamed up with Zelda herself as a ghost in what I thought was a brilliant twist on the Zelda formula.  In Skyward Sword, you're with Fi.  Fi is the spirit of the Master Sword.  She has no arms, she does interpretive dance when translating messages from the Gods, and she likes to pick random percentages for everything.  "I predict a 90% that the next McGuffin is in this volcano."  That sounds like an interesting character, but Fi actually has no character.  She is an utter robot.

Also, I would be able to tolerate Fi a lot more if she didn't interrupt the game to tell me that my health is low during intense boss fights.  Fi, you can trust me to know that I'm low on hearts.  That's one thing I'll fucking notice.  You shut the fuck up and get back into my sword.  Unless you have hearts to give, SHUT UP.

There is one good side character though.  Actually, a great side character:  Groose.  Groose is awesome, trust me on this.  He starts the game off acting like Gaston and trying to steal Zelda from you.  But later on, his character really grows, I am amazed by how awesome he gets.  Groose, you are the man, I have nothing but respect for you.  I'll buy you a beer when the ultimate evil is slain.  Heck, I'll buy you a case of beers.  Unfortunately, Groose is the exception rather than the rule.

Because all of the side characters are flat and non-interesting, it means that the actual game part of the game is very... slow.  In fact, it gets slightly boring.  I noticed this by the second dungeon, but it was all good.  What isn't good, however, is the annoying filler portions of this game.  "Skyward Sword" has only six main story dungeons and presumably a final dungeon of some kind, which is a pretty significant drop from "Twilight Princess"'s nine.  "Twilight Princess", for the most part, had every one of its dungeons take place in all new areas, the map was constantly expanding.  "Skyward Sword" really opens its entire game world up by dungeon three.  So to make the game longer, Nintendo had to get creative.  Creativity usually is a good thing, but... the Triforce quest in "Wind Waker" is what happens when Nintendo gets too creative with padding out a game**.

Here's a cruel example of filler in this game.  Between dungeons three and four, you learn you need to power up your sword to create a time portal that leads to Zelda who is hiding in the past from Captain FABULOUS.  So you need to get three magical flames which are all at the bottom of three dungeons.  Here is how complicated the sequence of event is that you have to go through to get to dungeon #4:

1. The Awakened awakes and you have to seal it again in a mediocre boss fight.  (This is okay in my book.)
2. You need to go to a magical temple to learn the music that opens up Trials of the Goddess, which you need to pass to get into the dungeons that hold the magical flames.
3. Nobody knows where that temple is, but you learn that you need to turn two windmills to create a magic laser beam that points to it.
4. Unfortunately, one of the windmills is missing a fan.  That fan has fallen into the volcano region, and you can't lift it with your arms.
5. The mechanic guy has a broken robot that can lift the fan.  You have to bring him back to life with a Desert Flower, which I hope you picked while you were in the desert, or else you're going to have to go look for one.
6. You need to find the fan in the volcano, this is a tedious search quest.
7. Now you make the laser beam, you can go the temple and learn the song.
8. Now you can finish the Goddess Trial, which is a very intense searching puzzle.
9. You learn how to swim, but you still don't know where to go.  You climb up a giant tree because Fi says so.
10. You meet a hermit who tells you to find a dragon in Lake Hylia, you go there.
11. The dragon is sick, and she won't open up the dungeon you need for your sword, so you need to get her magical water.
12. That magical water?  Its in the back of dungeon #1.  So you run back there, fight another miniboss at the end, get the dragon water.  And - finally - now the dungeon is open.

Like, is that enough?  Look at all that crap!  Only two portions of that thirteen step process are actually remotely fun, the rest are all tedious fetch quests.  Look, Nintendo, if you wanted there to be a long break between dungeons #3 and #4, you should have just made a new area for the player to explore.  Not repeat the first dungeon for no reason.  (By the way, you never replay a dungeon again, this is the lone exception as far as I know.)  This is not fun.  "Twilight Princess" created epic moments between its dungeons.  Remember the joust on the bridge with the Orc King?  That was amazing.  Later on in "Skyward Sword", to make more filler, they include an ESCORT MISSION***.  Oh my god...

Ironically enough, "Skyward Sword" actually does include an example of questing between dungeons done right.  Before dungeon #5 you discover a sand sea.  This is a huge area that basically creates a mini-"Wind Waker".  To travel around this sand sea, you find a boat with a magical crystal that sends a small portion of the area back to the past, recreating the ocean that was here and returning life to a robot pirate captain.  The pirate captain is the only interesting character in this game that is not a human, by the way.  (Also, I know the time travel thing makes no sense, but just run with it.)  The ocean effects in this game by the way, are amazingly beautiful.  I know this is the Wii, and supposedly its graphics suck, but the water in "Skyward Sword" took my breath away.  I loved this part of the game, it was incredible.  Robot pirates, oceanic adventure, a roller coaster, lots of use for your double hookshots, kickass.

I'm amazed at how uneven this game is.  How is it that the section before dungeon #4 is utterly awful, yet the section before dungeon #5 is as good as anything any Zelda game has ever delivered?  Why can't the whole game have the gold star quality?  Nintendo spent five years making "Skyward Sword"... clearly they should have spent six.

So finally after you complete all the three dungeons and all the filler, you finally reach Zelda again.  This cutscene is nothing short of incredible.  "Skyward Sword" is proof - not that I personally needed any - that you can stage great emotional scenes without voice acting.  Link and Zelda together are the things that make "Skyward Sword" work.  If there wasn't this frame behind the adventuring, I might have turned the game off and played something else.

I probably would have turned the game off if the gameplay wasn't so consistently good.  Motion controls lead to all sorts of odd niggles and haggles here and there, but "Skyward Sword" is a game that is better for them, I think.  Nintendo went a bit overboard, like you don't really need to use the Wiimote to control flying Claus Valca or swimming, but the two main areas where it works, it works great:  swordfighting, and first person shooting.  Using the bow is better than ever.  My hands just kinda naturally tremor, its a thing I inherited from my father, sadly, so it can be a bit difficult for me, but I overcome it.  I love how fast hookshotting is because you can move the cursor so quick.

Anyway, final thoughts on "Skyward Sword" are coming in part three.


* I agree with the tutorial bit, this game really does need an option to skip those portions.  I know there's at least one little kid who is playing this game somewhere that doesn't know how to jump over a gap... but he isn't me, so why do I need to play the same game he is?  What is this lowest common denominator crap?

** Honestly I didn't mind the Triforce Quest that much looking back.  I thought it really made the most of exploring "Wind Waker"'s huge and vibrant Great Sea.  My only real issue was with that swindler Tingle, who I wish had been cut out of the game entirely.  2500 Rupees to translate a map!?  You fruitcake son of a bitch!  No wonder why he never game back after that...

*** The escort mission is as bad as it sounds.  Actually, its worse.  What happens it that your robot, who hates you because he's in love with Fi, needs to carry a pale of water up to the top of the volcano to open up dungeon #6.  He can fly, so this sounds simple.  However, for no reason, he lands at the base of the volcano, so you have to lead him all the up with orcs everywhere shooting arrows at him.  He's a whiney bitch, so he won't take much punishment before going back down.  All this could be avoided if he just flew over the enemies but he's a lazy entitled fuck so the logical solution is locked off.  Nintendo, what the Hell were you thinking?  This is the worst quest in any Zelda game ever.


  1. I'm pretty happy with the game, to the point that it's probably tied with Majora's Mask, which is my favourite, but I'll agree with you on Fi. I was quite disappointed. I expected there to be some huge tragic sidestory with her delving a bit more into her creation or something, but there's absolutely nothing. Even in the emotional scenes, she stays tight in your sword. Only within like the last hour of the game does she become somewhat interesting.

    I gotta give her credit though, her theme song is cool.

  2. I have to disagree with you Blue. In MY opinion Skyward Sword is the best in the Series. Yeah there are some hiccups with that whole no civilization on the earth thing really got me going when THERE'S A OLD LADY IN A DECREPING TEMPLE. So why couldn't there be any small villages? And you showed the Goron race, but no Zoras? Dick move Nintendo, diiiick move. But I am with you when they couldn't have a sky battle with your sword. The first chance I got I thought you could jump off your bird and fight, but no it failed. And there are a few more, but I'm starting to write a wall up here. And I swear that when
    Link and Zelda are finally together and she reveals that she's the goddess reborn I gasped with Link and instantly knew what it meant. Then when she sealed herselfed I was bangging on the TV screen with Link. All they needed to do was have him cry and fall on his knees and I would have lost it.

    Oh and on a side note when you use the bow hold C for a pleasent surprise. It makes aiming a little bit harder,but it's fun.

    -The 1 & only Uzuki

  3. I felt that The Legend of Zelda: Tutorial Sword was heavily flawed. Fi was a constant annoyance, and I began to dread whenever she popped up; her talent for stating the obvious really made me feel that the game was way under my age demographic, and putting constant save points throughout the world felt like an insult to my intelligence. I was happy every time Midna popped up to tell me something; she had a great personality and was an interesting character, which is the right way to do sidekicks. I hated all of the comic relief races, and most of the sidequests were terrible. I mean, in Twilight Princess, the ongoing "turn the guy back to human" sidequest entailed killing ghosts and ripping out their souls with your teeth; in Sword, you do good deeds and collect people's gratitude. Fail. In Twilight Princess, you were excited to find all of the howling stones and get trained by the undead swordsman, because you wanted new moves to deal with a large variety of enemies that took skill and caution to defeat. In Sword, you swing your blade faster than Bruce Lee could swing his fists, and the best strategy against any normal enemy is to rush in and flail wildly so your shield doesn't get broken. There's no world to explore either, just dungeons, three areas that serve as pre-dungeons, and a dead, bland, hub world. The sense of adventure and mystery was entirely sapped out of the game, to make way for a "school days" tutorial. Blech. Most of this lack of adventure is due to the art style, which in trying to sit between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, landed somewhere on bland. Twilight Princess was dark and epic, while still finding room for plenty of lighter moments. Exploring the dungeons in that game felt like it was for its own sake, and each and every one of them had an immense attention to detail and brilliant design. The dungeons in Sword contain the bare minimum of what they need for the puzzles to function. Maybe it's because of gotten older, (5 years is a long time) but the magic seems to have worn off. In the words of Wordsworth (and in doing so, become so pretentious it disgusts me): "Whither has fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"


  4. The only complaints that I have are that Fi is annoying as fuck (but not quite at Navi standards yet), you don't fight Ghirahim more, and there aren't curved attacks (like going left, then curving up or down.

  5. Have you heard about the bill they're trying to pass that's going to CENSOR THE INTERNET? What the fuck are they thinking?!

  6. Yup Hollywood has got sick of not making every single cent of their stuff so their trying to shut down the internet. If anyone wants to help stop this call your state senater or if you don't live in the US (Believe me this will effect you too) their are websites to stop this bill from passing.

    -The 1 & only Uzuki


    Undoubtedly you think IGN is smoking something, right?

  8. Ign is always smoking something, place is full of FPS militant assholes and console bias all over the map, of the worst, most unsubtle kind.

    anyway, I'd have to say the greatest Zelda Game is ACTUALLY Metroid Prime on the gamecube. but thats just me

  9. after reading this review and your Current Thought am glad that did not get this game.I guess this an just Nintendo trying to make oot again.