Review by Simon_Isturiz
"Wii's Defining Game"
No series has been quite as influential as the Legend of Zelda. Known for it's consistent quality over the years, The Legend of Zelda has defined genres and captured the imaginations of people since it's emergence on the NES. The series has often been a series of firsts. The original Zelda first allowed gamers to save their progress onto the cartridge itself, allowing for players to get a real sense of adventure and progression in what was for it's time, a long and epic adventure. Ocarina of Time was a successful leap into 3D and revolutionized third person combat in the new dimension. The introduction of Z-targeting forever changed how we traverse and navigate 3D environments. Majora's Mask changed our perception of the ebb and flow of time. And Wind Waker's vast ocean expanded exploration into the distant horizon.
The series once again brings a revolution in game design with it's latest and undeniable greatest entry yet. To set the tone for the rest of this review I'm going to put it very simply. Skyward Sword is the greatest Zelda game ever created. As someone who has been through nearly every adventure through Hyrule, this is not a statement I make lightly. Ocarina of Time has officially met it's match. And not only is this the greatest Zelda game, it is also the greatest motion controlled game ever created. It delivers on the promise of what motion controlled games could mean to the future of game design. Motion Plus is interwoven to every facet of gameplay and going back to a traditional, gamepad controlled Zelda seems like an impossibility at this point. Simply put, you will never want to go back to traditional controls after this.
First, what makes this Zelda so different? Zelda games have traditionally been composed of one giant overworld with dungeons dotted throughout key areas. Most gameplay is found within the dungeons themselves, with the overworld being used mostly as a pathway with a few quests linking different dungeons. Thus, there were clear differences between what was a dungeon and what was the overworld. Skyward Sword completely overhauls this idea. Skyward Sword blurs the line between what's a dungeon and what isn't, bearing a lot of similarity toward PS2 classic, Okami, which also made transitions between dungeons and the overworld seamless. The world of Skyward Sword begins high in the sky, above the clouds on a floating island called Skyloft. Without giving away too many spoilers, the island of Skyloft rests below an endless sea of clouds and it's people have no idea of the surface world lurking below.
The Sky functions very much the same as the Great Sea did in Wind Waker. Aside from Skyloft, there are other floating islands, some important to the overall story, some are just filler, and many are just floating boulders or islands solely devoted to housing treasure chests activated from goddess cubes from down below. Aside from a few key islands, the majority of the game takes place below the bank of clouds, the land that will eventually come to be known as Hyrule. The three main sections of Hyrule are accessed via skydiving through openings in the clouds from your Loftwing, which are giant birds that serve as your main mode of transportation. The Sky links these three non-interconnected regions of Hyrule together and allows you to quickly access different regions. Flying your Loftwing is fast and exhilarating, getting you to new regions without being to slow and tedious like Wind Waker's sailing, or so fast that you lose all sense of the experience.
Dungeons are found on the surface, but the path leading to the dungeons are almost as challenging and filled with nearly as many puzzles as the dungeons themselves. The overworld on the surface is essentially one gigantic dungeon. While there are only three regions to explore on the surface, density of play makes up for it. Unlike Ocarina of Time's vast Hyrule Field and Wind Waker's sprawling empty ocean, the regions of the surface are much smaller, but much more dense from a gameplay perspective. There is aways something to do, and the path leading up to the dungeon is much like a dungeon in itself.
The dungeons themselves are still numerous and creative in scope. While never quite reaching the complexity of Twilight Princess later dungeons, these dungeons are incredibly well thought out, with game mechanics that make good use of the smaller areas. Later dungeons really encapsulate the amount of creativity and imagination this game gushes out. One dungeon takes place aboard an ancient ship, trapped in a vast ocean of desert sand, where the local perception of time is constantly shifting from the present to the distant past. It really is a wonder to play through.
Vastness of the game world is exchanged for density of play, a trade off that is very successful in it's execution. However, a few times these quests before dungeons end up feeling like filler, as if they only exist to make the game feel longer. Yet this still is a welcomed addition over wandering an empty field with no clear direction. While these few quests feel like filler, they are still enjoyable and fun. This new formula does provide for some linearity, yet various side quests and the sky above provide for some freedom to go about the adventure at your own leisure.
Again emphasizing density of play are that while the three regions of the surface are somewhat small, they are revisited numerous times, always having multiple layers of gameplay each time they are revisited. A previously barren desert is now a futuristic mining complex the next time you visit. A once vast sea of sand is now an ocean. Density of play leaves you constantly occupied, and constantly enthralled, even if it's the same area revisited. It allows the game to feel compact, but at the same time, full of content. It's a brilliant balance of both providing a thriving, mesmerizing world, but making it dense and without areas of down time.
Of course, the defining feature of Skyward Sword are the motion controls. The entire game is based around them. Navigating menus, controlling your sword, flying your Loftwing, and every item you attain are all controlled with Motion Plus. The entire experience is nothing short of magical. It works, and it works well. Every nuanced twitch, every specific angel, every jab of your sword is captured in real time. Being able to handle your sword intuitively through your own motions with 1:1 accuracy is much more enthralling and immersive than pressing a button or flicking a stick will ever be. Very rarely have I had any trouble with the controls, and never have I had the sword controls fumble during the heat of battle. Motion Plus recalibration is as easy as pressing down on the d-pad. In the few case the controls feel off center, a quick press of the d-pad gets things back in order. It's seamless and allows for undisrupted immersion; very reminiscent of Wii Sports Resort.
Combat heavily relies on the angles you strike at. Enemies will constantly guard and predict your swings, cutting through their defenses with carefully timed and angled slices are the only way to defeat them. Don't think about randomly waggling your way through this game. Enemies are designed to only be hit from key angles and will block and punish you with a counterattack for misaligned slices. The boss of the first dungeon emphasizes this new need for precision. Not only will he guard against random attacks, but he will grab your sword away and throw it at you after deriding you for your lack of skill. Finesse and precision is key. This allows for new levels of combat that aren't just about timing and reflexes, but about skill and precision. Combat takes a much bigger role, with almost every enemy being a puzzle in itself. Figuring out where and how to slice your foes will be just as important as reacting to their attacks.
Items and other motion controlled aspects never once feel gimmicky and are intuitively interwoven throughout the gameplay. This is finally a game that shows how motion controls can not only be a viable alternative method for controlling games, but a superior one. This is the game Wii was born to play. The entirety of your items are also used throughout the game. Remember those few items in previous games that were a blast to use in their respective dungeons, but lost all use outside? Looking at you, spinner from Twilight Princess. Not anymore. While you acquire fewer items throughout your adventure, you use them more often in more areas. Once again, this is the density of play that permeates throughout Skyward Sword.
But, let's be honest here. The Wii is an aging system, decrepit even. Production values really aren't Wii's strong point. Yet Nintendo once again shows they are truly masters of their craft by not only pushing their system to the max, but showing what they can create given their limited resources. Skyward Sword is a beautiful game. I often forget that I'm playing at sub-HD resolutions. This has to do with a stunning art style reminiscent of French impressionist paintings. It's as if Monet himself painted the backdrops and environments. A clever depth of field filter creates broad brushstroke-like textures on objects and areas further in the background, creating what is like an impressionist painting come to life. While it may not be pushing HD resolutions or utilizing advanced shader techniques, this is till one of the most beautiful games this generation on any platform. While muddy textures up close may mar the otherwise breathtaking scenery, the overall visual presentation of this game is nothing short of spectacular.
Adding toward the already stunning production values is the added sense of cinematic flair and an orchestrated score. While the story usually takes a back seat to gameplay for Zelda games (as it should), the story is still nonetheless uncharacteristically enthralling. This is essentially an origin story to the entire Zelda series, taking place at least a thousand years before Ocarina, before Hyrule was Hyrule. Characters are given deeper personalities and make you actually care for them. Link's whole purpose for chasing after Zelda throughout the game is much more believable due to her being such a well developed character. So it makes sense Link is risking life and limb to save his childhood friend. Supporting this surprisingly intriguing story, is the orchestrated score to accompany it. While not all the tracks will stick into your sub conscience as it did with previous Zelda entries, it's orchestration is nonetheless a welcomed addition. The main theme, the Ballad of the Goddess is especially endearing and wonderfully orchestrated, not to mention it's melody is Zelda's Lullaby backwards.
While it may seem like I'm gushing over what is honestly my favorite series of all time, it really is this good. There are no real flaws I can find with this game. Everything is so meticulously crafted and expertly designed that it's hard to find any real fault with the game design. Sure, the Monster Hunter-esque monster looting and item upgrade systems may be somewhat primitive in design compared to other games, it's essentially an optional affair and only serves as a distraction to the somewhat linear main adventure. This game truly is a masterpiece. As wonderful as it is, I honestly do not agree with rewarding it any numerical score, so please pay no mind to the ten I have given it. The value and worth of this game should be attained through the content of the review, not the arbitrary and trivial score I have given it. This games deserves more than that.
| Closing Comments |
From it's absolutely perfect implementation of the Motion Plus controls into every facet of gameplay, to it's wonderful overhauling of traditional Zelda gameplay progression, Skyward Sword is both an amalgamation of everything that makes Zelda so great and a considerate castaway to its old ideas. Skyward Sword is Wii's defining game and a testament to Nintendo's unbridled mastery of the craft of game design. Like a Hattori Hanzo sword, comparing a game like Skyward Sword, is like comparing it to every game ever made. Nintendo has proven once again that when it comes to their games the Sky's the limit.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/22/11, Updated 12/06/11
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)
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