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Jeremy Jastrzab
19 Jan, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

Wii Review | The reason to play games.
Video games have been around long enough to allow for some series to take their rightful place as icons of the medium. 2011 saw major anniversaries for some these gaming icons, including 10 years for Halo (yes, it’s been that long) and 20 years for Sonic the Hedgehog. Arguably the biggest anniversary would have to be the 25th anniversary for a series that has, over that time, gone on to define and redefine genres, and occasionally single-handedly drive the triple-A game design template - The Legend of Zelda. The latest addition to the venerable series, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, is a fitting and fantastic way to celebrate what has been, and continues to be, one of the brightest shining beacons of video game medium.

Over the course of 25 years, the series has constantly looked to innovate and bring new elements to the table, while still managing to retain a consistent spirit across a rather convoluted timeline. The Ancient Battle over the fate of Hyrule, between the competing Triforce elements reached its zenith in 1998 with Ocarina of Time, which is still considered to be the paragon of console gaming. Despite producing nothing but gems, subsequent titles always had the unenviable task of living up to this legacy, and since Majora’s Mask, the pressures to produce have clearly weighed down one of the most heavily debated series in gaming, as the fanboys frothed at the mouth over the tiniest of details with no sign of ever being satiated.

It begins... for real this time!

It begins... for real this time!
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Hence, to understand and better appreciate The Legend of Zelda series post-Ocarina, it’s much more appropriate to look at the series as the Hayao Miyazaki of games; along with Nintendo’s brash attempt to go its own way, The Legend of Zelda series has taken a stance of being the best of its own title, with its own sense of identity, endearing innocence, storybook adventure and gameplay excellence. Just as you always know when you’re watching a Miyazaki movie, you always know when you’re playing a Legend of Zelda game. For what it no longer does to be the paragon of the medium, Skyward Sword boldly embodies a unique experience that cannot be found in any other title. And it’s the first console Zelda title since Marjora’s Mask that doesn’t blatantly feel like it was rushed, unlike the issues surrounding the dungeons cut for the holiday release of Wind Waker or the system transfer of Twilight Princess.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword goes back and attempts to establish the beginning of the convoluted series timeline. This is the story of how many of the iconic elements in the series came about, from something as small as the protagonist Link’s uniform to the formation of the Kingdom of Hyrule and the relationship between Link, the Princess Zelda and future antagonists. The adventure itself, like a Miyazaki movie, purports a beautiful sense of youthful vigour and innocence; the coming-of-age story of a young man’s attempt to rescue his childhood sweetheart unknowingly sets them on the destined path towards the rise to become the Hero of Legend, the Princess of valour and the inception of the eternal rivalry between Power and Courage.

The sky is no longer the limit.

The sky is no longer the limit.
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In spite of Nintendo’s refusal to add voicing, and some predictable outcomes, Skyward Sword is the perfect tonic to the proliferation of testosterone-induced tub-thumping loud machoistic gaming affairs that have been a dime-a-dozen in the modern area. It shows what a truly ‘mature’ title is supposed to be; retaining the makings of a tale for the ages, subtly clever, humorous and witty themes and dialogue and all without a single extremely violent, crude or overtly sexual moment. It goes back to a time when a game was a game, looking to tell a tale that (like a great animated movie) provides a window into the soul of youth and is genuinely accessible to anyone that appreciates a finely designed product. Skyward Sword represents the ideal marriage of classic animation sensibilities and triple-A gaming. And like a good storybook, as opposed to a wide-open sandbox or confined corridor, Skyward Sword has a well-defined beginning and end, which allows the setting, characters and gameplay to shine and do one thing; play.

At the time the Wii was released, HD adoption was still pretty low and it could get away with being a standard definition console. By 2011 though, the Wii is creaking out of the collective consciousness with developers complaining about the lack of processing power on offer (amongst other things). But just as Metroid Prime provided a master class on the GameCube how limited disc space on offer can be expertly utilised, Skyward Sword shows up a significant portion of the modern HD titles out there with vastly superior attention to artistic detail and technical prowess. It manages to squeeze every last sinew of power from the Wii, but unlike a title such as Shadow of the Colossus, never lets on that it’s maxing out the system.

It's not Zelda without attacking plants.

It's not Zelda without attacking plants.
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But it’s not the power squeezed out of the system that’s impressive, but a meticulous attention to the artistic detail of the game, proving that (with a bit of calibration) a Wii title can indeed compete with this HD generation. Forgoing a lot of modern techniques, the team at Nintendo has clearly stuck to what they do best, in creating an artistic masterpiece that will still look fantastic in the years to come. Mixing a style somewhere between the more relatable Ocarina of Time and the cel-shaded cartoon flavour of Wind Waker, the team builds an eclectic mix of superlative animation, rich colour, lively vibrance, passionate flair and a unique flavour to its surroundings that can only be found in a Legend of Zelda title. In an exceedingly impressive manner, the game runs virtually flawlessly, with barely a second of slow down and not a single load screen. Now what HD title can boast that?

The lack of voicing has been a contentious issue for the series, but the title manages to dodge poor dialog and voicing, which is so profligate in modern gaming. Sure enough, the ‘sim-lish’ language somewhat feels like it has run its course, but it’s more an odd design choice to disallow control of text speed and skipping. In any case, voices are hardly missed as the facial expression and cinematic direction combined with a magical soundtrack still do a wonderful job of conveying emotion and the overall theme of the game. The soundtrack itself keeps in the theme of innocence, growth and adventure, with the kinds of tunes that you’ll be hearing long after the console is switched off, and never taking the pedal off from a journey that’s nothing but enjoyable and buoyant.

Watching for the cues to success.

Watching for the cues to success.
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Skyward Sword does a fantastic job of blending the spirit of series with a new setting. It starts off in Skyloft, an island above the clouds, where history has forgotten what lay beneath. As a ‘sky knight’ in training, this era’s Link gets around with his trusty mountable bird (the loftwing). Traversing the skies is much more endearing and dynamic than traversing the seas of Wind Waker and a lovely change of pace from the back of Epona. There is a lot to discover, plenty of side quests to undertake and mini-games play, and these only multiply in number as you continue playing. Each time you return to the sky there will be something new to see or find. As enjoyable as it is, it does feel like there could have been a greater scope of exploration though, though this could also come down to limitations of the Wii.

Aside from being the Zelda title that should have been launched with the Wii, Skyward Sword almost single-handedly creates the most comprehensive motion controlled core title since the inception of motion gaming. Furthermore, it shows that had the Wii been originally been released with Motion-Plus capabilities, the entire generation of game development could have taken a whole different course, over dodgy mini-game and waggle fests. Just about everything is controlled with pretty much the ideal and relatively intuitive mix of motion and convention. And as far as the control and integrity of the motion control, it’s about 90% of the way where it should be. If anything is missing, it’s the ability for the system to adapt without fully simulated motions, and the occasional stiff motions, such as those associated with the bug net.

Hope you've learned the combat by now... you'll need it.

Hope you've learned the combat by now... you'll need it.
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It’s ambitious, and while not quite at the level of proficiency as expected from a traditional controller, it does enough to provide an experience that feels different and unique from its predecessors while rarely being a hindrance across the entire span of the adventure. It makes you feel like you’re the hero behind the sword or the bow, and a traditional scheme is never really missed or preferred. Intelligently, everything has been moulded so that it all still fits within the context of being a game, even the interface, while making sure that most mistakes are at fault of the user rather than the game. Motion additions such as the Beetle, gameplay differences such as the addition of a stamina gauge allowing for a more athletic Link and subsequent design changes have been brought together to make things feel fresh enough.

However, an aspect that could have been better, is the overall progression of the combat. While it may not be one-to-one exactly, the gameplay mechanics are designed so that it doesn’t need to always be and the combat starts out great. If you’re patient and understand the mechanics, the combat is excellent and allows for a lot of dynamic actions, creating a whole new system to play with. Unfortunately, there is a stark lack of enemy variety to make use of this system, which becomes apparent all too quickly, and there are one-percenter errors that hold it back from being amazing. It’s a great system but one that doesn’t utilise its full potential... which seems like an unfortunate hang over from trying to keep the game accessible.

Bosses still take centre stage.

Bosses still take centre stage.
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There has been a lot said about the formulaic approach taken to the structure of Zelda titles, and for all the changes brought in by building a game around motion control, this feature remains fairly consistent. However, to say that the formula needs to be changed or refreshed (without offering any alternative...) is paramount to saying that Halo needs to be played from third person, Mario needs a gun or that Sonic needs to slow down. This is what a Zelda title is and what makes it a unique experience (with Darksiders being the only clone in over half a decade). Rather than this template adherence being a bad thing, Skyward Sword has some of the most enjoyable and mind-bending dungeons in the series. There aren’t any really sprawling or multileveled designs, but they fit in much better within the context of the environment and you’ll still see a lot that you’ve never seen before, even though you’ll have a much better chance of getting through them if you’re an experienced campaigner.

Skyward Sword gets off to a very slow start, which is dangerous in this age of instantaneous gratification, though you probably need another hobby if you’re going to pass judgement on the first 15 minutes of this game. The ‘tutorial’ goes on for a little bit too long, and many experienced players will get irked by the constant meddling of your ‘help’, as Fi provides this generation’s Navi. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could turn her off or limit her help... Still, she can actually provide some genuine help when you’re stuck. In any case, the players hand doesn’t really need to be held as tight as it is. After the slow start though, the gameplay cooks at a considered but ideal pace, where you slowly earn new items to open up more of the game, and the design becomes appropriately more challenging, requiring you to use everything at your disposal to get through the obstacles in front of you. It got to a point where the mind was ticking over at a furious pace, thinking about the best way to get past everything in front of Link while happily shooting off to explore the numerous side tracks along the way.

Redefining the leap of faith.

Redefining the leap of faith.
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It isn’t until roughly 75 per cent through the game that the challenge truly opens up, where all dungeons and obstacles will have you sifting through pretty much all your items and tools. It’s at this stage that the design is at its most endearing and enjoyable, particularly for veterans of the series. Now while this applies to primarily the main quest, one area that Skyward Sword doesn’t do too well is the amount of fetch quests masquerading as side quests, which try and artificially expand the experience. This is a real shame, because the amount of variety that’s been squeezed into the game is actually quite impressive, but occasionally unnoticeable through the phases that you’re playing delivery boy. Finding and getting some of the deliveries can actually be fun and make good use of a more athletic Link, such as catapulting yourself from the top of high structures (which is nowhere near used enough), but at the same time, he’s probably too reliant on dowsing. On the plus side, there’s no tedious Triforce collection like in Wind Waker or arduously repetitive grind like in Phantom Hourglass and the God-forsaken Temple of the Ocean King.

In effect, it’s not the dungeon formula that needs refreshing, but the need to make more ambitious ways of completing some of the game’s other tasks, which again points to hangover from making the game accessible. Probably the most unfortunate hangover from this mantra is the lack of scope to the overall game. Each of the environments, and the even the sky, are all wonderfully varied and well-designed, many of the enemies are clever and there is a good mix of the new and old items, but simply, there is the overriding feeling that all these aspects really could have and should been wider reaching, especially enemy variety. Again though, this could have been a system limitation. Still, even when an excess of 50 hours were spent covering just about every nook and cranny of the sky and ground, there was still more to find, and additions such as treasure collection and item upgrades make this one of the most content packed experiences, Zelda or not, available. While the difficulty is ‘accessible’, Hero mode unlocked at the end of the game will give the experienced players out there a good run.

Here's to another 25 years.

Here's to another 25 years.
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Taking away the expectation that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is meant to revolutionise and lead the gaming medium, and taking away the expectation that it’s meant to surpass Ocarina of Time is quite liberating. You can then see that it’s a franchise akin to being the Miyazaki of video games; a beacon of unique gaming philosophy that shines with indefatigable quality, defiance to modern convention and an endearing innocence that sets it apart from a sea of loud and brash wannabes, making it the quintessential fantasy storybook gaming adventure. It is immensely enjoyable, immensely huge and finely designed to create a unique, pure and vintage tille, completely befitting a 25th anniversary, while (almost) creating the definitive motion controlled experience. Rather than looking at the flaws as that, they ought to be viewed as ways that the series can still continually improve on itself, for hopefully another 25 years. It mightn’t be the greatest game ever created, but The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, for mine, is the greatest reason to turn on the console and be part of the fledgling medium of video games.
The Score
A magnificent homage for the 25th anniversary of one the biggest franchises in gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword provides a compelling gaming and artistic showcase for the indefatigable potential of the medium as a whole, and a reason to have gaming as a hobby.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Content

Nintendo to release Zelda art book
15 Dec, 2011 Celebrating the legend.
Skyward Sword five minute overview trailer
02 Nov, 2011 Spoiling you with spoilers.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword harp trailer
23 Oct, 2011 Let me play you the song of my people.
77 Comments
2 years ago
Fyuusii wrote
Neither of us have played that game, and we never will. And if you look at the trailer, the worst you see is the silhouette of a pole dancer and (according to the article), a couple of non-explicit, yet somewhat sexual facts. So kids definitely wouldn't get it, but they wouldn't necessarily be offended.
Still, I'm surprised that Okami is considered more sexual. All I remember in that game was a couple of gags from Issun and that lady in the cursed city with the novelty giant breasts.

Fyuusii wrote
So while you have a point, you're only really reinforcing a stalemate of opinion. With that said, one of the most contentious points of debate with the R18+ storm was that MA15+ content was too accesssible. There seemed to be a large feeling within the political and media worlds that the rating wasn't accurately classifying the content.

If this is the case, and I believe it so, why would the other ratings classes suddenly be "better" in terms of definition? One of my biggest gripes is the use of the term "Moderate Themes" on some of the labels, which has got to be the most god-awful ambiguous load of crap that I've ever seen.
The fact is that it's a resource for parents to use. Even if only half take notice of it (which I don't think is right, given that 85% of parents in America are aware of their ratings board and 98% of those make some use of it), then that's a good half-million mothers that can sleep well knowing that their child is playing games suitable for children.

Fyuusii wrote
People aren't that stupid. A little focus and forethought and you can make a more accurate judgment than trusting a bunch of suits in an office to make a influential decision for you.
Dude, it's a video game. Normal, non-gamer parents are not going to spend half an hour researching whether a bloody toy for their child is suitable (after they spend 4 hours researching how to research these toys) when they can look at a sticker and find almost-as-accurate information in 2 seconds. Especially considering how little spare time they have. (I wouldn't do that, though, because gaming is my passion and I actually see something wrong in denying a kid a game because the ratings board was a tad "sensitive". I'm assuming you and half the people here are the same.)
2 years ago
Esposch wrote
Fyuusii wrote
Neither of us have played that game, and we never will. And if you look at the trailer, the worst you see is the silhouette of a pole dancer and (according to the article), a couple of non-explicit, yet somewhat sexual facts. So kids definitely wouldn't get it, but they wouldn't necessarily be offended.
There's a spanking minigame.

You wanted an odd contender for PG, I gave you one.

Esposch wrote
Fyuusii wrote
So while you have a point, you're only really reinforcing a stalemate of opinion. With that said, one of the most contentious points of debate with the R18+ storm was that MA15+ content was too accesssible. There seemed to be a large feeling within the political and media worlds that the rating wasn't accurately classifying the content.

If this is the case, and I believe it so, why would the other ratings classes suddenly be "better" in terms of definition? One of my biggest gripes is the use of the term "Moderate Themes" on some of the labels, which has got to be the most god-awful ambiguous load of crap that I've ever seen.
The fact is that it's a resource for parents to use. Even if only half take notice of it (which I don't think is right, given that 85% of parents in America are aware of their ratings board and 98% of those make some use of it), then that's a good half-million mothers that can sleep well knowing that their child is playing games suitable for children.
Of course.

The problem lies when people rely on a resource to do all of the work for them, though.

Esposch wrote
Fyuusii wrote
People aren't that stupid. A little focus and forethought and you can make a more accurate judgment than trusting a bunch of suits in an office to make a influential decision for you.
Dude, it's a video game. Normal, non-gamer parents are not going to spend half an hour researching whether a bloody toy for their child is suitable (after they spend 4 hours researching how to research these toys) when they can look at a sticker and find almost-as-accurate information in 2 seconds.
They aren't going to (assumption again), but they should.

This advice isn't specific to video games either.
2 years ago
Benza wrote
Quote
I feel though that this was some sort of attack on my enjoyment of the game, which I hope is not the case. Is it wrong to enjoy this game?
p
No man enjoy the game all you want, just don't go around saying stuff like people should enjoy things for what they're designed to do, it comes off as condecending. I didn't like what it was designed.
Ah, I see. I must apologize, I did not mean to be condescending and will be more careful with that in future then.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  20/11/2011 (Tentative)
Publisher:
  Nintendo
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2011

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