Friday, December 23, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - Part 3

TO PART 2.

I've basically stopped playing "Skyward Sword" at this point.  I didn't beat the game, I reached the Final Boss, and lost.  Clearly I need more little bottles with Potions, but I just don't care.  I don't, I'm at the bottom here.  I could go back up to Skyloft, go through the tedious and pointless flying segment, talk to all the shopkeepers with their needlessly long and stupid unskippable dialog, buy all the Potions.  Then I could wander the world and find all the bugs and stupid little bits of crafting items and upgrade the Potions, and maybe do a sidequest or two to get more bottles.  But... I don't care.  I've so wanted to love this game, so wanted to enjoy it.  I could probably finish the whole thing in about three hours with just a single determined push, but my will is sapped.  I'm beaten.  I think I need to finally face the very awful truth about "Skyward Sword":  this game sucks.  Its not fun.

Yesterday I booted up "Wind Waker" for the Gamecube.  Immediately I was stunned by the amazing beautiful perfection of its art style, a true labor of love to make a gorgeous unique game.  "Wind Waker"'s entire experience is so charming, and the game is so warm and inviting to its player.  And then I started exploring an area of combat.  To no surprise at all, I found I did not miss the motion controls.  I was able to play this game, which is now almost ten years old, with a level of control balance and secure knowledge that the commands I give Link will be exactly what he'll do on screen in a way that "Skyward Sword"'s motion controls do not allow.  And there's a free-roaming camera!  I can spin the camera all around Link, what an idea!  Sailing is free and adventurous, you just want to keep on going to the ends of the universe on your little red boat.  I actually started to tear up, "Wind Waker" is so amazing and so lovely.  I want that feeling again in "Skyward Sword", but isn't there.  Why can't I love this game?  I want to love it so badly.  I loved every other Zelda game I played, this is the first one that is truly plain bad.

Now, I know nostalgia is clearly ruining my objectivity here, but there is a point to be made.  "Wind Waker" is a far more innovative and exciting game than "Skyward Sword" will ever be.  "Skyward Sword" is the same game as Nintendo has been making for ten years.  I've always believed that Nintendo can keep making the same game over and over again and it will be fine as long as its fun... but "Skyward Sword" isn't fun.  Maybe it is for you other people who enjoy the game, don't let me stop you.  As for me, however, its pretty clear that this game is a dead-end for the series.  This is the not the next big step forward for Zelda.  For the first time ever, this series has gotten stale.

I've been reviewing this game for weeks, and none of the segments so far have exactly been positive reviews, have they?  I've been racking my brain as to why I'm not enjoying this game.  First I blamed the flying segments, which were annoying and pointless because Nintendo didn't give you anything to do on Claus Valca.  Actually, late in the game they do give you a corkscrew attack... which you use in exactly one mandatory minigame and one boss fight.  That's it.  So, some sky combat, not enough, and not the kinds of awesome things I imagined this game would have.  Then I blamed the filler quests, thinking that perhaps it was stupid game-lengthening fetch quests Nintendo constantly gives you.  This is part of the story, but its not there either.  To be honest, the dungeons themselves felt fairly flat to me.  I can only name three parts of this game that I think worked:  Link and Zelda storyline cutscenes, sailing in the sandsea, and some of the boss fights.  Everything else... just isn't fun.  Not even the dungeons.

I could blame the awful segmented design of "Skyward Sword" and the needless hand-holding.  Too many Zelda games are too easy these days, and "Skyward Sword" brought some very needed challenge to the series.  The sky is the Designated Sidequesting Area, where you do everything that's not the main story stuff, and the land is the Designated Main Questing Area, where you do everything that is main story stuff.  So the only shops are in one area, all the people you meet who need help are in one area, and all the upgrades to all the items are in one area.  Its very constraining.  Not to mention that I have to say that Nintendo's decision to turn the entire game world into a giant dungeon wasn't exactly an idea I'd agree with.  You never get the "Twilight Princess" sense of grand free epic scale, the whole world feels like a huge artificial obstacle course.  Its not an adventure, its a colorful play ground.  There are too many tutorials, Fi is annoying as an itch on your balls, the text scrolls too slowly, for some reason shopping takes forever, when you pick up an item the game gives you a thirty second explanation as to what it is, even though every item is basically the same - just a thing you need to craft.  The annoyance builds up.

However, here's the real issue with "Skyward Sword":  the controls.  Now the controls work... 90% of the time.  Its that 10% that drives you crazy.  "Twilight Princess" and "Wind Waker" used Gamecube controllers, and those controls worked 100% of the time.  Stabbing is hopeless, you will never get it to work, Link often does the wrong thing you tell him, and you can never be sure if the controls aren't working because its not responding or if you're just getting frustrated and moving too fast.  In a high pressure situation, I swing that sword like a maniac, I can't help it.  I've died so many times because I needed to swing the sword just one special way, and Link kept not doing what I needed.  Not to mention all the little frustrations that come because Nintendo decided for some stupid reason that every thing in this game needed to have motion controls involved, even when it makes no sense.  Why the Hell do I need motion controls to swim??  How does that help anything?  But even this isn't the real problem with the controls.

The controls are the whole game.  "Skyward Sword" has nothing new to contribute to the Zelda formula.  It has no innovations to offer other than the controls.  Basically Nintendo finished the Wii Motion Plus stuff, put a passable Zelda dungeon system around it, and called it a day.  They aren't doing anything new here.  Controls are just a way to play a game, ultimately their purpose is entirely subservient to the game itself.  If you're going to make a game, you need a radical interesting new idea to base it around.  "Majora's Mask" had the three day loop cycle.  "Wind Waker" had the sailing and free exploration.  "Twilight Princess" had the dark epic storyline and massive scale.  "Skyward Sword" has... new controls.  That's it.  This is why this game feels stale and pointless, because it isn't actually a new Zelda game.  Its the same Zelda game, but without a Gamecube controller.

This should be obvious from the art style, honestly.  I have no idea what the art style is supposed to be.  Both "Twilight Princess" and "Wind Waker" are games that are completely defined by their art style.  Their tone is perfectly clear from every single scene in the game.  "Skyward Sword" has no tone.  The art style doesn't say anything as far as I can tell.  Yeah, the storyline is great, and I like the character designs, but I don't get the art style.  I don't get "Skyward Sword".  Its that simple.  Some other people do, but I don't.

So with that, we're moving on.  In the course of three posts, I just went through the first four stages of grief:  first was denial, when I refused to believe that I didn't like this game.  Then anger, when I screamed at my TV for days whenever this game would make me do something stupid like escorting a dick robot.  Then bargaining, when I decided that at least I liked parts of this game, just not all of it.  "Oh, this might suck, but the other things will save this game for sure."  This current post is clearly depression.  Now we're moving on to the final phase, Acceptance.  "Skyward Sword" is a game I will never love.  It was not the game I wanted.  Now let me give a few pointers for Nintendo for the next time, so that perhaps they won't fuck up so badly:

Number 1:  Controls.  Motion controls are fine for some people, not for other people.  I have given them more than their fair chance to woo me, and they did not.  I want to play a Zelda game with a regular controller, a controller with enough buttons that the designers do not have to sacrifice a free-roaming camera.  This is my personal choice.  Its my orientation, Nintendo needs to accept it.  Whether or not the player uses Motion controls should be a choice for the player.  We're in a modern world, the Wii can take any number of imports for any number of controllers.  Not all games need to be played the same way by everybody.  Just ask the player at the start:  do you want motion controls or not?  They will decide, and they enjoy the game more because they had the choice to play the way they wanted.

Now if it turns out that nobody will actually pick motion controls, that means perhaps that motion controls are not the way forward for video games.  You should find out what people want.  I know you love motion controls, Nintendo, and I respect your passion.  But please, don't try to convert anybody to that religion.  Because religion is a touchy subject, and if you force your religion on anybody, it results in bad things.  Let's try to be open to people of all faiths, and all control schemes.

Number 2:  Handholding.  This needs to stop.  Did Fuuka from "Persona 3" direct this game?  "Skyward Sword" is an embarrassingly slow game entirely because it never lets go of your hand.  There's a reason people hate Fi and Navi and the other companion characters, because they are the physical avatars of a game developer not having faith in his players to figure it out.  I know there are little kids playing "Skyward Sword", but little kids aren't this stupid.  Nobody is this stupid, actually.  If Fi is telling me to find a key for a locked door in the sixth dungeon, clearly something has gone wrong.  If the player can't figure out a locked door by that late in the game, they haven't earned the right to win.

Here's what needs to happen at the start of the next Zelda game.  Right after the control option question, the game should ask:  'do you need your hand held?'  If the player is a five-year-old kid, they might just say 'yes'.  They can't even cross the street without an adult holding their hand.  If they are anybody else on the planet, they will say 'no'.  Then Fi can shut the fuck up for the rest of the game until I ask for her to talk.  In today's world, there are more ways to find out how to get through a difficult part of the game than ever.  We have GameFAQs, online forums, me, tons of people you can ask on how to beat to beat a game.  I don't actually need the game itself to tell me.

Also, if you can possibly make the text scroll faster, that would be great.  And don't tell me the item description every fucking time.  Its a crafting item, they're all the same.  "Final Fantasy XII" didn't tell me the description of every Pebble.  And please, have the NPCs shut up!  I just want to shop, it should take thirty seconds, it shouldn't take ten minutes to fill up on five sets of arrows for my bow.  Speed everything up, please.

Number 3:  Story.  "Skyward Sword" has amazing characters with great interactions and incredible scenes.  But there are only about a dozen of those scenes, in a fifty hour game.  That's not enough.  I know Nintendo is afraid of story in their games for some reason, maybe they learned the wrong lessons from "Other M".  The lesson they should have learned from that game is to keep your game franchises true to what the fans have loved for decades, not what hauteur directors with bizarre problems with women believe they should be*.  The lesson Nintendo seems to have learned is just not have all that much story in a video game.  This is a mistake.  Keeping the plot moving is the best motivation for a player to finish your game.

"Skyward Sword"'s plotline moves at speeds that even little Asian women on the New Jersey turnpike would honk at.  Nothing happens for hours and hours while you're out questing.  Maybe the dungeons will each have a unique place in the plotline, not just be big McGuffin Cans.  "Twilight Princess" and "Wind Waker" did a good job at that, "Skyward Sword" is a step backwards.

Number 4:  Exploration and Scale.  "Skyward Sword" is a smaller game than its predecessors.  It has a tiny game world, with only three areas that you repeat constantly.  Nintendo tries to pass this off by claiming it was some kind of grand Metroidvania kind of game where you constantly backtrack and discover new corridors in Dracula's castle.  You don't actually do that, you just go back to the same areas and do annoying filler quests.  Here's "Skyward Sword"'s complete game map:


Unfortunately, this isn't big enough.  Its tiny, honestly.  Look at all the wasted space!  Add to it the depressing the fact you have to go through the annoying sky part to go anywhere... you'll see how many mistakes were made in this game.  Allow me to show Nintendo what the world map should have looks like, with forgiveness to my inferior Microsoft Paint skills, of course:


That big green thing in the middle?  That's Hyrule Field.  The sky serves absolutely no purpose in this game, so unless Nintendo wants to try again with Link and Claus Valca, they should give it up and go back to a traditional interconnected World Map.  Also, since there are six dungeons in this game, there should naturally be six large-scale areas to explore, not three.  "Skyward Sword" does not feel like a labor of love that took five years to make.  It feels like a half-finished game using cheap tricks to pad itself out. 

Zelda games should not lack in grand scale.  They should be massive, they should be glorious!  You should be dwarfed by the almighty power of the ultimate legend while playing them.  "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" is the game that has caught the world's attention and is the beloved classic of 2011.  "Skyward Sword", in comparison is a game from the past, too restrictive, too structured, and too small.  Weak!

Here's what the next Zelda needs:  caves.  Once upon a time Zelda had caves, odd little holes in the walls that could have led to anything.  You never know what could be inside them.  A new item?  Just a Piece of Heart?  A Fairy Fountain**?  Maybe a giant labyrinth that is actually the next full dungeon.  You never knew. and that was exciting.  You wanted to push forward in all direction, knock down the boundaries and conquer the world.  That was freedom, that was fun.  Zelda games have lost that sense, instead its like a Final Fantasy game.  Go to Point A, Point B, Point C, all according to some Japanese developer's scheme, not your own natural rhythm.  You can't sequence break anymore, you can't do anything anymore.  Everything is locked out and the fun is gone.

Also, I miss having a choice in how you killed enemies.  "Skyward Sword"'s items are used only for puzzles, not for combat.  Once upon a time the hookshot could kill things, not it just kinda annoys them.  Only three items actually can kills things:  the bombs, the arrows, and the sword, nothing else.  Maybe you'll blow a Moblin off a cliff with the wind blower, but that's it.  What happened to discovering the upgrades to weapons through natural exploration, not annoying RPG crafting systems?  Whatever happened to finding a huge arsenal of weapons and spells that you may or may not ever use?  I want to find a hole in a cliff face, walk in, solve a puzzle, and find the Fire Rod.  Will I ever use the Fire Rod?  Who knows?  I want to find a boss, and decide whether I want to smash his face in with the hammer, cut him with a sword, or blow him up with a bomb.  What happened to playing the game your way?

Number 5:  Link and Zelda Should Kiss.  Nintendo, grow a pair.  If you're going to have a romance be the centerpiece of your storyline, the players are going to want a pay-off.  Kids see people kiss all the time, presumably their parents are kissing.  They watch Disney movies, people kiss there.  Get over this bizarre sexual repression.  If you think a little kiss is too much for your story, perhaps your head is up your ass.  I imagine the smell is awful, I'm just trying to help you.

Number 6:  Have an Idea.  Before you make "The Legend of Zelda: And the Wii-U Controller", make sure the game has a point.  Make sure there's an idea behind it.  Before you create a game, make sure you have an original idea in which to make the series better.  Maybe a game where you cross between the three branches of the Zelda mutliverse.  Maybe "The Legend of Sheik".  Maybe something that is something new.  You can't just stick a bunch of setpieces together the same way as always and think that it will work forever.

Be bold.  Be innovative.  Be awesome!  That's what made Zelda great in the first place.  BE GLORIOUS!  That is what Zelda deserves.  Not... this.  This isn't half of what Zelda deserves.

As for your people you love this game, keep on loving it.  I don't care if you're having fun.  Have fun with it.  Play it again, play it a million times.  I wish I could be one of you.  But I want more out of my games.  Maybe I've become a person incapable of experiencing joy.  I don't believe that for a second, because there are tons of games I love, in this very franchise.  This is not one of them.  This is not enough for me.

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* The other lesson Nintendo seems to have learned is to can the Metroid series.  Which is clearly a mistake.  Can the asshole who wrote and directed "Other M", not Samus.  Samus is as a hardass bounty hunter was great, Samus as a whiny deadpan bitch was awful.  This isn't hard, Nintendo.

** The new Fairy Fountains in "Skyward Sword" are stools.  Slightly less epic.

13 comments:

  1. Personally, I thought the crafting system was what made this game. I dunno, I really enjoy crafting myself. I can understand that you don't though.

    Sorry to hear that the game disappointed you. I don't think that you've become a person incapable of experiencing joy or anything, I think you're just very particular when it comes to a series you're passionate about. You're envisioning almost the entire game before it comes out, and expecting it to be as you imagine, and as a result, you're disappointed whenever it goes astray from that picture in your head. That's not a bad thing at all, in fact, it's the purpose of the developers to grasp that expectation and satisfy it, but at the same time, playing the game with that outlook does cause you to overlook most of the positives because you're paranoid about the negatives, both present and future. Over time, staples in games tend to be obviously expected, and when they're not there, the game feels bad regardless. I try and look at games in a franchise as their own tinier franchise standing alone. That way, those expectations don't bother me as much if they're not satisfied.

    You did touch on some really problematic aspects about Skyward Sword that I, to be honest, never noticed. My eyes are a bit opened now, but I still like the game. Hopefully the next Zelda game pleases you more. I'm expecting one on both the Wii-U and the 3DS(excluding a potential Majora's Mask remake) at some point in the near future, based on rumours I've heard.

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  2. I heard Nintendo thought Twighlight Princess was too epic. Hyrule was actually the size of a kingdom. The Great Sea was as big as a country. Zelda should stop trying to be 64 size, that was 2 generations ago.

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  3. This review makes me incredibly depressed for some reason

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  4. You should play Skyrim. It is quite possibly the greatest video game I've ever played. It has a huge epic world that you have access to the entirety of after finishing the maybe ten minute opening, basically what you wanted out of Skyward Sword. There is no "Designated Sidequesting Area" that is separate from the main quest. In fact, the main quest is really just a suggestion that you can ignore if you want to, and even after you finish it, you can keep exploring and doing sidequests. You can't walk five feet without tripping over something to do in this game.

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  5. You ride a dragon once, still the best game for my ps3, or any system. Biggest game I've ever played.

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  6. Yeah it's around this point that people's nostalgia wears off and your left frustrated and annoyed i've played up until this point on a rental and will never pick it up again the crafting was interesting but soon got irritating but for me the worst part is the script it's poorly worded the i have the feeling that it wasn't this bad in Japanese but was rushed for the Holiday season.

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  7. I really hope nintendo reads this. And I really hope that skyward sword isn't a sign of things to come. I didn't play this game, but I still love the series.

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  8. This review really depresses me. I beat the game about an hour ago and LOVED it. But when you point out stuff like this...

    I do agree with you on a few things: Fi's character was awful compared to Midna. I haven't even played Twilight Princess and I know this. There was just nothing interesting about her, and all of her character development was shoved at the very end. The pacing, also, was insanely slow. This game took way too long to beat, and though that's to be expected of a Zelda game, a lot of what went on was just boring filler.

    Also, ASDFJKL; ESCORT MISSIONS.

    Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this game, and it makes me feel uneasy reading a review that flat out calls it bad.
    Admittedly, though, this is the first Zelda game I have ever owned. I was playing this as a game, not as an addition to the Zelda series. I didn't really have any expectations, and maybe that's why I liked it so much.

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  9. I can't bring myself to play it for more than 2 hours at a time. First because my weakling little noodle arms get tired from swinging around and sticking straight out for 2 hours. Then I just get sick of trying to swing the sword the right direction, and failing, over and over.

    I'm not even to the first temple, and I'm sick of the controls. The goblin dudes CLEARLY show me where I need to swing, so I try and Link swings the complete opposite direction. In the end I just do flipping, or spinning attacks at everything and pray for success haha.

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  10. This is my first Zelda game, so forgive me for not understanding the nostalgia- but I really really like this game. The puzzles were intricate (enough), the worlds were vast from this noob's point of view (I didn't get bored of Skyloft and the whole world's nooks and crannies) I was okay with motion controls, and although the story isn't the best, I got into it and it gave me the motivation to do all that hero-type stuff.

    The bosses definitely could have been harder, and there should have been an option to choose a difficuly at the beginning of the game instead of at the end, because after I got the hang of the sword (and worked out that bugs don't sit still while I try to catch them), I had more than enough skill and juiced up potions to make me invincible. Swinging your sword correctly is easy if you have enough "courage wisdom and strength" to get up off your lazy ass and perform the oh-so-laborous task of swinging a wii remote like a sword (which probably would be feather-weight in comparison to the master sword)

    Don't know what people are talking about with sticky controls. Tools were a sometimes difficult but you can just recalibrate and centre it. Seriously guys, did you want a wii game where the sword is controlled by buttons? On the wii? Admittedly, the choice for alternate controllers sounds cool, but what did you buy a wii for if you're not going to use it's primary features?

    Over all, I was terrible at this game at first, and I would never have dreamed of actually buying it, but once I gave it a chance and got into it, I fell in love with the Zelda franchise. It lasted me a good few weeks of hard work, I enjoyed quests, had the patience for dialogue and Fi (who, in comparison to Navi, is not annoying at all). But everyone's entitled to their opinion I guess... Yeah, I digress... Amazing game, unless you're nostalgic, or detest the idea of having to swing a remote around. I'm recommending it to all of my friends!! :D

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  11. This speaks to me! I feel exactly the same way, i have played some zelda games, from minish cap to ocarina of time to the new ones so i call myself an advanced rookie if there is such a thing. I hate the large dungeon map feeling that you are describing in your review, but that feeling you get when you buy this game expecting to get at least a fishing rod, and finishing dungeon after dungeon until you have to accept the hard truth that you never will get it... that feeling i do not wish to anyone, not even my enemies. Fuck this shit!

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  12. I respect your opinion, of course. But for me, it was a refreshing game. Loved motion controls, loved to see the birth of the legend. The very first Hylian Shield (at the moment), the Master Sword, etc. And I don't like comparisons... OOT, MM, TP, WW, are all excellent works, each one in its on way. Skyward Sword is one of the best TLOZ games, for me.

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  13. I done with my Master Sword and Hylian Shiel out of cardboard but this is better.Buy Zelda Sword

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