Review by ChronoCactaur
"Skyward Sword - A Great Video Game, But A Mediocre Zelda Adventure (Mild Spoilers)"
The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the 14th entry in the long-running Legend Of Zelda series. That alone means it has a lot to live up to, and high standards to meet or even exceed. On consoles, this game is only preceded by the "epic" Twilight Princess, so it's natural to draw a lot of comparisons to that Zelda game in particular. It even shows in the way Skyward Sword was developed.
Skyward Sword was tailor-made for the Wii's motion-plus control scheme, and is one reason why this could wind up being the only 3D Zelda game that won't receive a remake in the future. The control scheme is about what you would expect for a Wii game released in 2011. If you're not a fan of motion controls, you will not like this control scheme at all. They're a part of the game's "bloodstream", so to speak. The overworld traversal is done with motion controls, the combat, as well as a lot of smaller actions as well such as turning keys. The control scheme is serviceable, and you can tell a lot of time and effort went into making it fun, but the fact of the matter is, it could be the best motion controls in the industry and it will still turn off a large number of people. If you're accepting and tolerable of motion controls, however, prepare for a high learning curve, but one that does pay off in certain respects, at least in terms of combat. Don't be surprised if, upon your first encounter with a skulltula, you get a game-over due to your not being used to motion control and pinpoint stab motions.
The adventure, this time around, focuses on Link trying to find Zelda. Oh wait, you mean you've already seen that plot several times before in the series? Too bad. It starts off being a search for Zelda, but eventually grows into something bigger. Believe it or not, this game is designed to be the first Zelda game in the timeline. Does it show? Honestly, not really. It's MOSTLY due to the fact this game was made on more modern hardware than previous adventures and even most subsequent adventures(The upcoming Breath Of The Wild notwithstanding).
At any rate, your objective is much the same as it is in most other Zelda games. With that out of the way, you might be wondering if the dev team decided to go big with story details after how "epic" Twilight Princess was. The answer to that is a big fat yes. Expect plenty of cutscenes this time around, most of them being an enjoyable "breather" between the larger gameplay segments. The writing and direction for some of the characters is also very well-done, with one character in particular making a very big turn for the better by the end of the journey. I usually don't go out of my way to praise a game's story as I usually focus on the gameplay first and foremost. That said, this is one of the best stories in the series in my eyes, only beat by Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, as well as Majora's Mask to some degree.
Going into pacing, which is important even for games with little to no story, is where things get a little hazy. Only a little, though. Skyward Sword is one of the few Zelda games that I have played to completion where I feel like there's "too much" content. This is what we in the gaming community refer to as "padding". Padding, in and of itself, isn't inherently good or bad, it just depends on what KIND of padding is present. Skyward Sword features a good chunk of both types. For the first 10 or so hours, you won't notice too much of either type, as the game starts off at a good pace. However, once you reach the end of Dungeon 6, there is a WIDE gap between it and the final dungeon. This segment tasks you with learning The Hero's Song, where you must revisit three realms you've already visited twice prior in order to speak with three dragon, one of which you've already dealt with pretty extensively. These are arguably the briefest visits in the adventure, but none of them come off as being necessary in the slightest. This entire segment could have been cut out of the game, and the pacing would have been MUCH better for it. It's not all bad though, as part of this segment introduces a boss rush segment that's loads of fun. Other than that minor detail, however, this is largely fluff that doesn't need to exist.
Motion controls and spotty pacing aside, those are pretty much the two biggest aspects of Skyward Sword. While some will like the control scheme, others will inevitably dislike it and wish for a traditional one instead, which the game does not, or rather, CAN NOT provide. While the spotty pacing can be a nuisance, it's still arguably "more" content for the player to play around with, and offers a good excuse and incentive to go for 100%, since you revisit areas so frequently. That's about as much praise I can offer for these aspects, unfortunately. But, with the worst out of the way, let's dig into the positives!
Combat, once you get used to it, is some of the most engaging in the series, and at times, can be a real thrill ride, again, provided the motion controls are working, which is most of, but not all of the time. Everytime you load up the game OR turn on your wii remote, you will be forced to recalibrate, which is understandable, but annoying to deal with during longer sessions, and being that the game can take as long as 30+ hours to clear, I can see players having to see that screen way too many times.
The dungeons, while smaller in quantity compared to Ocarina Of Time or Twilight Princess, somewhat compensate in terms of quality. There are a couple of dungeons that have a bit too much backtracking for their own good, but by and large, these are some solid dungeons to be sure. Many praise the Ancient Cistern and Sandship, among others. Helps that we also have some of the biggest and funnest boss fights in the series headlining most of these dungeons. On the subject of bosses, this is one of the few Zelda games to re-use boss fights in pretty high quantities. Of the 12 unique boss fights in the game, 3 of them are Ghirahim, and another 3 are The Imprisoned. This means half of the entire boss roster are different fights with those two characters. You'd think they'd at least have more diversity, but for the most part, the fights are pretty similar, with the third Imprisoned fight being mostly scripted, and by extension, pretty pointless as this fight takes place barely an hour from the previous one in-game. The Ghirahim fights, on the other hand, are some of the best showcases of how brilliant the control scheme can be at times, and while the second fight is essentially a beefed up version of the first one, the third fight is pretty unique and is also the penultimate fight. Well-worth its placement, and fights with the character are worth looking forward to. The final boss, while not as bloated as some of the previous final bosses in the series(Looking at you, Twilight Princess Ganondorf), is a fun and epic fight, and legitimately difficult instead of being a mindless slash-fest. As a bonus for the readers, I'll also point out that the third dungeon boss also makes a re-appearance, but I'm pretty sure it was meant to be a surprise by the developers, so I won't say WHEN it happens. So, definitely a lot of boss recycling, but a lot of it is pretty good, at least. While the third Imprisoned fight is utterly pointless, the second one is one of the best fights in the game, at least in my opinion.
In terms of extra and side content, Skyward Sword is a bit on the lighter side compared to the likes of Wind Waker or Majora's Mask(Which is like 75% extra content, but I digress), but still offers plenty of stuff to do in-between the larger segments. Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game to start you off with six hearts instead of three, a design choice made likely because of the high learning curve for the new control scheme, but also likely because enemies deal higher damage on average, with quarter-heart damage being very rare. As a result, six hearts may feel like three hearts at times. Why do I bring this up now? Because it means you won't have to look for too many Pieces Of Heart during this adventure. Only 24 of them, as well as six heart containers and two "life medals", which must be in your Adventure Pouch to have any effect. In essence, your max health is actually 18 hearts, but the classic 20 hearts with the medals attached. It's a decent way to give players more choice with their health bars, but players already had this option by simply not opting for the extra pieces of heart or heart containers; With that in mind, Life Medals come off as arbitrary and would have been better off just being heart containers or 8 more heart pieces instead of having to waste 25% of your adventure pouch which could have been used for better items.
Skyward Sword takes a page from Majora's Mask and features a good amount of incentivized NPC interaction in the form of Gratitude Crystals. What these are, are essentially "quest points" you earn by completing certain quests for certain NPCs. It's not a deep venture, as there aren't too many of them sprinkled throughout the adventure, but it's a nice and rewarding sidequest nonetheless, harkening back to some of the best elements of Majora's Mask. The ultimate reward for this quest can be seen as mostly pointless, however, as you're going to get a lot of wallet upgrades, with the best one increasing your count to 9000! Most items in the game rarely exceed three-figures, and rupees are easy to find especially factoring in chest rewards. If you're not a completionist, it's recommended to merely do enough of the Gratitude Crystal quest to acquire the Piece Of Heart and one or two wallet upgrades so you at least have enough space in your wallet to afford the most expensive items, of which the most expensive is an item that costs 1600 rupees.
There also also 27 Goddess Cubes scattered throughout the three regions, a lot of them containing important stuff like Adventure Pouch Upgrades, Medals, and Pieces Of Heart. These work in much the same way as the Treasure Charts from Wind Waker, where on the ground you'll have to strike the cubes, each cube will unlock a chest to find in the sky. It's like the Treasure Chart system but in reverse, I suppose you could say. Thankfully, most of the cubes are easy to track down and, as a result of many forced visits to the regions, it's very likely you'll get most, if not all of them even if on accident. Hardly an extensive task, thankfully.
Finally, this is the first Zelda... okay I lied. This is the second Zelda game to feature dropped items, after Wind Waker. Difference is, enemy drops this time around have their own count, in the form of "treasures", which are used to upgrade your equipment, mainly shields and bomb bags and the like. This is a fun diversion that amounts to little, as the upgrades to your bomb bag or quiver don't justify the high number of treasures you must acquire, and as far as shields are concerned, you're better off just sticking with the base wooden shield until near the end of the game when you can acquire an unbreakable one from the boss rush mode you unlock. This is a great experiment, however, and definitely one of Skyward Sword's strong points and is an element worth praising.
With that, I've said all I needed to say, with minimal spoilers. This game took me five years to beat, and while I disliked it at first, eventually it did click for me, and I found myself having a great time. That said, I enjoyed the previous 3D Zelda games more, and opinion or not, I feel like Skyward Sword has some issues that hold it back. Could I recommend this game? Absolutely, but chances are high I would recommend other Zelda games over this one. If you enjoyed the previous 3D Zelda games and you DON'T hate motion controls, this game is well-worth your time and money. If you hate motion controls and/or disliked previous 3D Zelda games, Twilight Princess particularly, I'd recommend watching the cutscenes on youtube to at least see the wonderful storyline, and wait patiently for the next 3D Zelda game due to release half a year from now.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 12/07/11, Updated 01/03/17
Game Release: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (US, 11/20/11)
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