The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Review by katastrophie
"The True Wii Zelda Has Arrived"
The Hero of Legend is back in an all new adventure but will it appease the masses?
You start your quest in a place called Skyloft, a city above the clouds, where Link resides and after some events you end up having to save the world in a traditional Zelda sense. The story does keep you interested since the game is an origin story so you'll want to continue on to see how everything unfolds.
The standard Zelda formula is present to progress throughout the game. You go and collect 3-4 items which you access though dungeons and then combine them together to find another path which leads to more items to get and more dungeons to explore eventually leading up to the final showdown with the big bad boss. You get an animal companion, a fairly large world to explore, an advisor, and even songs. Your advisor goes by the name of Fi and she is probably the most helpful out of the other companions in the past games. Fi is basically a computer and acts like one and because of that she comes off as having no personality but it's a decent trade off for the bevy of information she relays. You can call her up anytime and ask for hints to solve a puzzle, ask about rumours about Skyloft, or analyze situations. One of her most useful abilities is dowsing in which it locates items that you set her to look for, it points you in the right direction but leaves enough room for you to have to actually explore the surrounding area to find the item. Dowsing is an incredibly useful tool and very helpful for perfectionists. The way how you explore the world is that it's split up into 4 different areas, Skyloft, Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano and the Lanaryu Desert.
Skyloft is the central hub of the game where the humans live, you can partake in mini games, do some shopping, complete side quests or just fly around exploring the surrounding islands. Your friendly Loftwing, a big red bird, is your primary mode of transportation. By jumping off the edge of a platform and calling your Loftwing with a whistle you are able to explore the vast skies of Skyloft. There aren't many islands to explore and most of them are just treasure locations but it still gives a nice feeling of openness in the game. The citizens of Skyloft each have their own personality and are overall very charming with their noises and grunts they make as is traditional Zelda fashion. You can even change from day to night in Skyloft by sleeping in any bed, when you do you'll see some changes to the NPC's personalities and even some events that only happen at night such as the ability to sell items which is handy if you need some spare rupees. Sidequests adds a nice layer of depth to the game and further helps the character development with the Skyloftians. With each side quest there is a small story attached and you get to know more about the citizen you are helping. Of course when you complete your quest you are rewarded and your rewards are quite substantial in return for your efforts. If you are stuck on a quest you can be aided by a Sheikah Stone which gives you hints in forms of small video clips. These can help you find new quests you aren't aware of or help you if you are stuck on a particular puzzle. The use of the Sheikah Stone feels like it is holding your hand, guiding you to the quick solution, kind of taking away that feeling of figuring it out by yourself but it's a nice feature nonetheless.
The Bazaar in Skyloft is the place where you'll do the majority of your shopping there is also another shop which sells rare items but the Bazaar is the main place to hang out. Here you can buy items such as potions, arrows, bombs and even shields. As you progress throughout the story you gain access to more items to buy. There even is a storage area where you can store items from your adventure pouch into safe keeping. The adventure pouch basically carries your secondary items such as bottles, shields and other tools. A new feature added to the game is the ability to upgrade your equipment and even potions by using collectables and bugs you gather on your travels. Collectables can be gathered by opening treasure chests or killing enemies, and bugs can be caught with your trusty bugnet. When you get a collectable or bug Link in classic Zelda fashion will lift the item above his head staring at it in excitement followed by a description of the item. This is ok the first time you do it since you don't know what it is but if you take off the game and put it back on and pick up the same item the same scene will appear and this gets really annoying, there should be an option to disable it. Potions can be upgraded by talking to the potion mixer, he will infuse your bought potions with the bugs you catch, such infusions can be a heart potion that can completely refill all your hearts or even upgraded further so you can take two swigs of your brew. The item upgrader can enhance your equipment to further levels making them much more useful. For example your shield can be upgraded to have more durability (yes shields have durability now so if they take to much hits they break!) or even equipment such as your slingshot can be upgraded to shoot scatter pellets. The upgrading system is a very nice and satisfying feature to the franchise and even though it's a bit limited it can be further enhanced in future games, this is sort of like a stepping stone.
From Skyloft you can enter the games other areas such as the forest, desert and volcano. The first time you enter an area it acts like a mini dungeon since you have to figure out how to make it past and complete the given objective usually in a form of finding items scattered throughout the place. As you further explore you open up shortcuts so the next time you come back it'd be much easier to navigate through. Night cycles aren't included in the other areas of the game which is slightly disappointing since it could have expanded exploration. You also unlock the ability to travel to specific areas provided you activated a sky statue which are the save points in the game so it becomes much faster to go to a specific area. Later on these areas get expanded so coming back doesn't feel stale for the most part. Towards the end of the game though there are some segments that felt like it's just filler and can feel tedious. These environments have their own unique residents and personalities. They are all relatively enjoyable and a pleasure to talk to, especially the devilishly cute Kikwiis. The Desert area was one of the more interesting places because you could change the landscape with a simple press of a switch. One moment it's a dry desolate place the next it can be a lush beautiful garden full with vibrant colour. Of course exploration is encouraged as you get rewarded for your efforts.
As you venture into the depths of each area you'll find out about Goddess Cubes which are essentially treasure chests. You activate the cubes on land and they get sent up to the sky where you have to track down the chest by using the map. The treasures are very rewarding most contain high value rupees but the problem is if you have say 280/300 rupees and you open a chest containing a Gold Rupee (300) you'll lose out on the remainder since Link decides to not put it back in the chest until he has room, it can be very heartbreaking on the player. Other than rupees you can find heart pieces though there seems to be less of them in this game, and other valuable items such as medals which have effects such as the ability to grant you an extra heart or increase item drops when equipped. You'll want to hunt down every Goddess Cube since getting the treasure is very satisfying. There are even Goddess Walls in which when activated by a simple strum of your instrument will prompt you to draw on the wall using the wiimote. If you draw a circle a few bombs will pop out, or if you draw a rupee a variety of them will come flying out etc.
Dungeon design is spectacular, the environments are varied, and you'll need to utilize more than one tool to solve puzzles. It's the standard formula, hit switches, get keys, open doors find the new piece of equipment and use it for the rest of the dungeon. One piece of new equipment that deserves attention would be the Beetle. This little gadget let's you shoot out a controllable flyable beetle robot which can be incredibly helpful in scouting out the area and places you can't reach. It can be upgraded to collect items such as hearts, rupees and even bombs and further upgraded to fly faster and stay airborne longer. The Beetle is probably the most useful item in the game. The puzzles within dungeons are relatively simple but some segments might stump you into asking for help or using a guide only to find out it was such an obvious method. Of course with each dungeon there comes a big bad boss at the end and they are fun and exciting most of the time though they tend to be on the easy side. The boss designs are unique with the exception of one tentacle beast, which looked quite foolish, and the methods used to kill them are fun. There even is one boss in which Link is required to use it's own giant sword against it. There is also the option to replay the boss fights which is always a great thing and what makes it even better is that you get a sweet reward for completing a boss rush. One disappointing thing about the bosses are their deaths. When a boss dies their death animation are short and boring, they tend do just fall down and blow up, less dramatic than in past games. There isn't even a victory theme for slaying the boss it's just quiet, everything feels less satisfying.
After you finish the game you are presented with the option to start in "Hero Mode" which is basically a hard mode. In this mode hearts cannot be found so you can only heal by either sitting on a chair, sleeping, using/finding a fairy or drinking a potion. Also the enemies hit twice as hard, a lowly Bobokin can snatch away two hearts in a single strike. Hero mode adds a slight level of tension to the game and provides a fairly decent challenge but it could be harder especially for more experienced players. To add more difficulty to Hero Mode players could combine it with a personal challenge of no shield, no adventure pouch, and no getting extra hearts then you've got yourself quite the work cut out for you. The one major downside to Hero Mode is that it deletes your previous save so all your work you've put in on that file goes down the drain and that's a real shame but you do keep your collectables and original play time. Hero Mode also allows you to skip scenes and the game itself knows that you are in Hero Mode as NPCs would say you already know this and that but yet it doesn't allow you to scroll through dialogue sequences quicker so you'll still have to sit there holding A to somewhat speed up what an NPC is saying. Side quests will have to be done again but this time all hints will be unlocked by the Sheikah Stone so even if you've missed some quests in the first run you can now find them all.
Overall the gameplay of Skyward Sword would probably net you around 40+ hours, around 35-40 hours for the story itself and more if you want to get everything.
Controls and Movement
The familiar movements of Link are noted in this title such as side stepping, rolling and backflippling, but with a few tweaks to the system such as the stamina system. A little circle bar that looks like Mario's life gauge represents Link's stamina which allows him to pull off certain movements such as sprinting, wall leaping, ledge hanging and the famous sword spin attack which now comes with a vertical spin slash flavour. Of course while you are doing these movements the gauge will deplete, sprinting makes link run fast so you can move around much quicker but it tends to go down a bit too quickly. Luckily there are little fruits scattered around the world known as stamina fruits which completely fill up the gauge, they are usually placed a certain distance away form each other so it can be possible to continue sprinting without stopping but that always isn't the case. Climbing up vines and utilizing the leap feature will make you climb much faster but you'll have to watch your gauge else it'll deplete and Link will fall but usually in these situations stamina fruits are placed accordingly. Link can also run up walls to reach heights by sprinting towards them, it's just a short run but it feels really nicely implemented whenever you pull it off. All in all the stamina system adds more variety to Links movements which is a nice touch.
The next major tweak added would be the use of motion controls. To fully feel in tune with the motion+ is to swing it nice and smoothly, when in the sweet spot it's an incredible feeling of control with each swipe. The best feature used by motion+ would be being able to control Link's sword with somewhat one-to-one movement with the controller. It is a very nice feeling when you move the wiimote around and the sword mimics your movements, it makes you feel like you are in control. In turn this makes the combat a lot more fun and slightly more strategic in a sense as you have to strike in the enemies constantly moving opening. As you venture further into the game enemies get weapons and use them to block, ever so often they will leave an opening to strike and you have to see that opening and go in for the attack. Take a Bobokin for example, these common enemies use their weapon to block and either moves it up, down, left or right, your job is to see where they move it so say if they move it right you'll have to attack either up, down, or left to insure a hit. Later on enemies will utilize the corner angles as well so all 8 spots are covered. You can also charge up your sword by raising the wiimote up and a beam of light will infuse your blade which in the next slash will shoot out the light, this can be useful as it can act as a range attack. The fatal blow also makes a return and is useful to ending the life of enemies much quicker, it's done when an enemy is knocked down, shake the wiimote and nunchuk down and Link jumps and stabs the enemy, it's a finishing blow. But enough about the sword, Link of course carries his trusty shield which he can now use to parry enemies leaving them open for an onslaught of slashes. You parry by readying your shield with Z and shaking the nunchuck, if timed right before an enemies attack hits you will parry and the enemy will be momentarily stunned. Parrying was quite easy to pull off and even spammable at times so it tends to make the game a lot easier. Motion+ Sword and shield play adds a new experience to the game and is quite fun, but the controls aren't perfect for some other features it uses. Along with the sword and shield, motion controls are used for flying, swinging on ropes/vines, aiming. leaping up climbable walls, throwing and rollings bombs, swimming, skydiving and accessing your item selection. Accessing items becomes a lot more quicker and fluid, holding down B brings up the item wheel and pointing the wiimote to one of your items equips it, it's fast and effective. Throwing and rolling bombs were quite enjoyable to do, particular in rolling them like a bowling ball it can help in certain situations. Flying around Skyloft with your trusty Loftwing is used entirely by tilting the wiimote and occasionally pressing A for a short boost, it works well for the most time if you take it slow and steady when turning. Aiming was hit or miss, sometimes it would work great but others it would go out of alignment and you'd have to press down on the d-pad to centre it again. Swimming and skydiving were the two biggest gripes, skydiving didn't always work and failure meant you'd have to climb back up to the spot you jumped from and swimming down or up was annoying as well. Trying to get a rupee that's right below you got aggravating as he wouldn't dive down and ended up with me trying to be a conductor at an orchestra to position Link in place. Aside from those inconsistencies the controls worked well and gives a satisfying experience in gameplay.
Simply magnificent, orchestrated music is the way to go. The main theme is a joy to listen to and gets you pumped for the game. The music also has little quirks to it which adds to the immersion of the game such as it'll change within a scene and add humour, or change when walking next to a person in the Bazaar with each person having their own little theme. Even when flying around if you get close to an enemy the tune will incorporate a little drum beat, it's little details like these that make you appreciate the music much more. One song I loved was during a bamboo cutting mini game it was so enjoyable that I would just stay in that room for minutes listening to the tune. Boss battle music is very engaging and frantic making you more immersed into the fight. While mini boss theme are somewhat dark and brooding. The music is also very moving at some points, I'm not ashamed to admit that when I heard the classic Zelda theme I teared up a little, it just added a whole new layer of depth and really put you into the game world that you know and love. You also get songs for your instrument and while they are a good listen you cannot play them on your own again and they are merely for story purposes which is disappointing. Never the less from the beginning of the game to the end credits the music is spectacular in every sense, possibly one of the best video game soundtracks ever.
The sound effects are equally as wonderful. Characters have their own unique sounds in place of no speech and it works wonderfully. You don't need to hear a person talk for their personality to come across and this game proves it. From the little Kikwii's "Squeeeeeeeel" to a Mogma's "Yo" and a particular persons "Thankk Youu" it's all very charming and rubs off in a good way. The wiimote speaker also has nice little touches to it such as the sound of the Beetle buzzing in your air as you fly it around or the pull back on the Bow and even the unsheathing of your sword, it all adds immersion into the game. Of course memorable sounds such as picking up rupees, the annoying beeping of a low heart gauge, and the treasure box jingle are all present so you don't lose touch with your nostalgia.
Colourful and vibrant are the best ways to describe the art style of Skyward Sword. I'm a sucker for bright colourful games so this feels right at home. Character designs are quirky and cute and I'll have to point out a favourite creature of mine called Remlits. Remlits are these cat like animals that hang around Skyloft, they're basically pets. They are overwhelmingly cute and will melt your heart by day and tear it out at night. The animations are wonderful as well, facial expressions on the various NPCs give you the sense of emotion they are displaying and also adds humor in certain situations such as the shop owners expression when you decide not to buy an item. Enemy design is varied and they even get various upgrades though there are some recolours. The bosses are all interesting and unique and the watercolour look makes it so that their weak points are blended in and aren't such a dead giveaway. The environments are beautiful in their own sense, especially liquids like water and lava. All in all the graphics are very enjoyable to look at.
A story that keeps you interested in the game and makes you want to finish to game just to see what happens.
+ You want to see the end
With 40+ hours of content there's lots of things to do and find. Gameplay rarely ever gets dull because of different variation in areas and objectives.
+ Upgrading system
+ Stamina system
+ Fi is very useful
+ 40+ Hours
+ Still has classic Zelda humor
+ Selling items
+ Get rewarded for your efforts
+ Can replay boss fights
+ Dungeons are enjoyable
+/- Hero mode
+/- Controls work for the most part
- Songs only for story
- Night is only for Skyloft
- Boss fights are easy
- Near endgame story objectives felt tedious
Beautiful and colourful, everything pops off the screen with vibrance.
+ Animations are smooth
+ Character designs are unique
- No dramatic boss death animation
Incredible orchestrated music and amazing sound effects that immerses you in the game.
+ Beautiful music
+ Engaging sound effects
- No boss victory theme
Some annoying uses of motion controls but the majority is executed well and delivers a satisfying experience.
+ Very smooth
+ Sword controlling is fun
+/- Aiming can be hit or miss
- Skydiving and swimming can get annoying
Zelda Skyward Sword is definitely a game that Zelda fans and Wii owners should have in their game library. Even if you've never played a Zelda game before this would be the perfect start.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/29/11
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (EU, 11/18/11)
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