Review by Etrurianmage
"Everything You Could Want From Zelda and More"
Five years have passed since The Legend of Zelda last graced home consoles. Anticipation has soared as Nintendo grew ever-elusive with the much-awaited successor to 2006's "Twilight Princess." While that game was a fantastic entry in the series, its status as a by-the-formula Zelda title with some tacked-on Wii controls disappointed some fans and other players. In the time following its release, Nintendo seemed to have taken the complaints toward TP to heart, and have made clear for quite some time that the next entry would feature a revolutionary new control scheme and a complete overhaul of the all-too-predictable formula which has tired some fans. While it took close to or exceeding twice the development time of any major Zelda release since Ocarina of Time, it's finally here: Skyward Sword arrived in the Wiis of anxious fans everywhere this November. All that remains to be seen is: Did Nintendo follow through on their promises, and did they pay off? My rhetoric is betrayed by my title of this review in answering that question before it was even asked; but nonetheless, here's a deeper investigation of everything that comprised this wonderful, wonderful game.
The first thing, and that which was perhaps the most generally well-received aspect of the game, is its presentation. Between the cartoonish Wind Waker alienating fans of the more serious Zelda designs and the dark and sullen Twilight Princess disappointing those who had been endeared by Wind Waker's charming style, Zelda fans have been a notably hard crowd to please in the last decade. Nintendo, nonetheless, effectively thought to take the best of both worlds in sculpting the new look of Skyward Sword. While the proportions are realistic, the cartoon expressions are gone, and the cel-shading is absent, the game also sports a generally cheery design that focuses on the beauty of its environments rather than the resulting atmosphere. In essence, it takes what made both WW and TP work into account so as to please the fans of both. While it's not altogether possible to perfectly encompass everything that was good about either style, Skyward Sword in wildly successful in its endeavors regardless. While I personally loved both extremes of lightheartedness and seriousness in design, those who leaned more to one side or the other also seem pleased with this, which declares the success of this game in aesthetic design.
The music takes this a step further in its complements to the visuals. While I'm sure I don't need to explain to those who have played a Zelda game the power of Koji Kondo's compositions and his uncanny ability to fill any scenario with the appropriate atmospheric touches, what makes Skyward Sword stand out is its focus on the production of music rather than just the composition. In other words, while it marks, as any other game, a well-composed soundtrack to go along with the game, SS takes it a step further in being the first entry in the series to make common use of full orchestration and other powerful new techniques in designing its soundtrack and other various gameplay sounds. While few saw detriment in earlier entries not meeting these heights, it's a mark of significance to have such an inclusion in the gameplay, and one which shows the effort that really went into Skyward Sword's construction as more than just another entry in one of gaming's longest-running series.
But moving on, it's time to discuss the evolutions of gameplay and progression that are found. The sense of progression (seen by many as overplayed and in great need of change) found in previous Zelda games was a simple sense of finding an item, using it to find one's way to a dungeon, finding new item in the dungeon, and using it to solve puzzles and defeat enemies until having killed the dungeon boss; repeat as necessary to complete game. While I'm doing it poor justice with such a simple description, given that it did ultimately prove incredibly fun however many times it was repeated, there was seen by many a pretty significant need for change. Does Skyward Sword fulfill? Yes, and no. The formula in and of itself is gone, and significant portions of the game now take place over spanning landscapes representing the puzzles and combat that make The Legend of Zelda work so well. However, the dungeons, while greatly demoted in their gameplay role, are still present. Yet they're minor enough in their role that it isn't of any detriment that some traces of the past can be found; and if anything, it is pretty important that such a well-structured element of gameplay is present to showcase the redesigned puzzles and combat built to accommodate the Wii Motion+ control scheme.
Speaking of which, I need to divulge upon this. A point that occurred to me several times throughout my playing was that Skyward Sword really is a perfect game. Not in the sense that it has no flaws, of course (that would be ridiculous,) but in the sense that it's exactly the game that one would make if they were to design their ideal action-adventure game. Years of immersion in game worlds have ultimately culminated in this: the control designs of Skyward Sword. The game features complete 1:1 motion control in its sword combat, as well as inventive control schemes for the many items presented. The seamlessness of the level design (which flows incredibly, as is typical for Nintendo games) combined with the wonderful interface and general user-friendliness found in several little bits of helpful design coincide with the controls to effectively dissolve the fourth wall in an unprecedented manner which truly makes this a gaming experience like no other. To state it almost too concisely, everything just flows so brilliantly. The combat is hands-on, yet always inventive and free of the "Waggle" which plagued earlier Wii games; the puzzles are, as always, intuitive yet challenging and rewarding; and the exploration, encouraged by the aforementioned beauty of the game's world, is constantly opportune and always worthwhile. There's perhaps no way to say it other than that Skyward Sword, in essence, just nails absolutely everything that is so great about the Zelda experience. The controls and how they interact with the core game design revolutionizes the way the player experiences LoZ, and yields all the better a game as a result.
While the in-game events reflect new ground for Zelda fans, showcasing Skyward Sword's significance in the overall canon by telling the tale of a time long before other games in the series and laying some framework for those other games, it's just so clear as a whole that everything in this game was meticulously designed to be a standout Zelda title. Every second of gameplay shows such brilliant attention to the ideal of a perfect Zelda game. While Skyward Sword may not reach the ever-elusive heights set by Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask, it comes as close as any Zelda game ever can, and perhaps closer than any other ever will. It's a brilliant experience, sure to please and delight fans and newcomers alike. There just aren't enough ways for me to praise this game, but I'll leave it at saying that it's easily the best gaming experience I've had in years, and possibly the greatest game of this console generation.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/11
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)
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