There is no question that the level of expectation for the newest Legend of Zelda chapter was huge. So that leads us to the next question, “Is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword the best title in the entire franchise?” This may surprise some, but the answer is no. However, it skyrockets over it’s predecessor, Twilight Princess, without a doubt. With this latest sequel, the developers have crafted a remarkable adventure that implements some of the most forward-thinking ideas of the series.
While the series is pretty much set with its traditions, Skyward Sword finds a way to break out just a little but, but keeps a lot of what makes the franchise so perfect. It is most definitely a huge step up from Twilight Princess – an experience that stuck too close to the roots and focused more on the motion controls for the game, which is not surprising considering it was a launch title for the Wii.
The combat is fluid and requires an extra close eye on the patterns of the enemies to be successful. The new system does not feel too complex, but the timing window to strike down your opponents can feel almost too small in the heat of battle. This time around, however, Link can counter-attack with his shield, which is done by using the Wii Nunchuck. This makes swapping between the shield and sword in the heat of battle extremely easy and fun.
Let’s take a look at the other reasons that Skyward Sword really modernized the Zelda series and kept if from being too dull. Link can now spring periodic distances and even run up small walls – this eliminates the silly perpetual rolling that we got so used to from the previous games. You can move around (awkwardly, might I add) in first-person view and set waypoints for yourself, which makes exploring the vast world much easier. Don’t forget about the revamped save point system: a feature that will now save all progress to specific locations in the world. The new stamina gauge will deplete when ever you perform a spinning attack, sprint, or climb across vines. This adds new dimensions to the tried-and-true gameplay. Running out of stamina will leave Link too tired to fight or cause him to fall off a ledge due to a lack of energy. His new abilites add some limitations, but they are so positive that it makes me wonder if it will be possible to play another Zelda title without them.
Dungeons are still arguably the most brilliant element in the Zelda formula. Skyward Sword is no different; it will send you exploring through a vast amount of catacombs that are just stunning. Some of the challenges require Link to use every single accessory available to him, while others will test your critical thinking without feeling too overwhelming. The developer has artfully crafted intelligently designed spaces that utilize your entire skill set, yet they never beat you over the head with hints or solutions.
Visually, it is a mixture to the colorful cel-shaded tones of the Wind Waker to the browns, grays and greens of Twilight Princess. The art direction maintains a consistent Cezanne-like abstraction, with more Eastern influences slowly creeping into later moments of the story. It definitely maintains that Zelda “feel” we have all become familiar with. It’s a firm reminder by the developer that even though you tread through these areas early on in the game, there’s still more to be found in each location.
The most impressive element of Skyward Sword is the set of three overland areas that you will constantly revisit while you follow the main story line. Like the previous titles in the series, you will run into forest, volcano and desert areas; but unlike the prior titles, these are expanded and experimented with during each visit.
As amazing and surprising Skyward Sword can be, every game has its flaws. Quests can become tiresome and repetitive. Even dowsing, a compass-like ability of the Goddess Sword designed to help locate hidden objects and make these quests bearable, becomes overused quickly. Having such an open world should not require finding so many scattered objects and it (unfortunately) is not long before repetition sets in.
When I compare the number of fetch quests to the rest of the objectives I encounter in my 40-plus hour adventure, they start to feel more like filler material than inspired game design, and cause Skyward Sword to drag more than it should. At one point, a character who had irrefutable proof that I was the Goddess’ chosen one (and held the sacred object I’d come for) still insisted I take on another quest — scattering that important trinket to the winds right in front of me. It’s an example of the narrative and gameplay going through a predictable set of motions rather than acknowledging my accomplishments, and it’s frustrating.
As a prequel story that sets up the entire story for the Master Sword and the actual Legend of Zelda itself, Skyward Sword fumbles when it comes to the infamous musical instrument that you get in every title. The Goddess Harp is terrible – the worst in the series. To strum the harp, you must press the A button and swing your arm horizontally from side-to-side with the onscreen metronome. Sounds easy enough, but unlike to prior instruments, the harp has little gameplay purpose other than uncovering secrets and the obligatory “You must learn this song!” Both the Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time were powerful instruments that could change the time of day or teleport Link to designated areas across the map. Sadly, the Harp does neither, and feels like it could have been skipped entirely.
But let’s just ignore the negatives. The Legend of Zelda franchise is incredible. Skyward Sword is definitely a beautiful addition and should be proud to be apart of it. It has characters and dungeons worthy of being associated with the Zelda name. When it gets down to everything, Skyward Sword was worth the wait and did not disappoint. It is one of the more admirable chapters of the series.