Note: After playing through and beating LoZ: Skyward Sword, this is my honest opinion about the game. I’m not meaning to offend anybody, nor do I expect everyone to agree, this is just something I felt needed shared.
This post was originally part of the author’s journal on Deviant Art.
Warning: Some Spoilers listed in this review.
Oh, the excitement that filled my being every time I saw a new The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword trailer come out. It was a feeling of anticipation I hadn’t felt since the last Zelda game had been released. The Zelda franchise has been my favorite series since I started gaming, and this fact will probably hold true until the games cease being, if that ever happens. My hopes were set so high with this game, and had been that way ever since the game had been announced. So tragic then that those very hopes and feelings of joy were crushed to nearly the point of tears once I started playing this falsely hailed title of the Zelda series.
One thing that Zelda has always had behind it is a compelling story, and this game is no different. If there is one thing in this game I have no complaint about, it is its well told epic. Living atop a floating island far above the clouds, the humans that inhabit this contained world of Skyloft have been living here for generations. Brought up into the heavens by the goddess, she sent them skyward years ago so to save the last of the human race from being killed in the war that had consumed the surface of the earth. Since that time, the humans have lived peacefully, the world below the clouds becoming naught but myth.
At the present, Link, a knight in training, has been long childhood friends with Zelda; and upon becoming a knight the two travel out via their Loftwings (the large birds that one rides upon) into casual flight. It is here that Zelda is swept away by an unknown force and thrown into the land below the clouds. Intent on saving her, Link must travel through these surface lands alongside his sword spirit guide, Fi; growing as the goddess’s hero and forging that which is called evil’s bane: The Master Sword. With several key elements of the Legend of Zelda’s mythology locked into Skyward Sword’s story, it is no shock that the most experienced of Zelda fans will be eager to learn of this tale’s history.
But the story is where the perfection of this game ends, as almost everything else takes a turn for the worse be it with major flaws or minor ones. The only other thing left virtually untouched by this stumble of direction are the characters themselves, as the relationships forged between some characters, and the overall personality of others are quite charming and/or intriguing. Bet let’s start off small, shall we? What are these minor screw-ups in Skyward Sword when compared to its predecessors? What sort of things can be mostly forgiven?
First things first: we’ll start with the visuals of the game. At first glance everything seems alright; normal even. The style of the game has a more Twilight Princess feel in terms of its character creation and environments. However, this serious tone is combined with the cartoony nature of Wind Waker, housing bright colors and a few enemies that have a more rounded and goofy look to them. Normally this mixture would not have been a problem; but with the seriousness and urgency of the game’s story; the cartoon nature was a set off while playing. No one really expects to be staving off the total destruction of the world when you’re surrounded by bright colors and rainbows, and half of the enemies look more like plush dolls than actual baddies.
But as I said, that is forgivable; a fact that is easily overlooked for the sake of playing. But there is another slight misstep in this game that puts more of a dent in its shell than the visuals could; and that is in the area of the game’s audio. The Legend of Zelda has been renowned for its inspiring musical scores and soaring tunes, and each game brought in others that just added to the franchise’s prestige. Music has always been one of Zelda’s focal points, and an absolutely amazing one at that. But that being the case, that’s why this disappointment hits harder than the slight offset of the visuals does.
During the entirety of playing, very, very few of the new tracks registered as anything more than generic; and half of the ones that came across as good were just remixes of the old songs we all know and love. Playing past Zelda games, the background music of every place you went gave you a new feeling and provided a wonderful sustenance to the overall gameplay. In Skyward Sword however, such was not the case. Most of the time the background music just faded into the back of my mind and I forgot it was even there; and when I actually paid attention to it, it was never anything special. I remember when Zelda’s Lullaby came in at a certain point in a cut scene, and suddenly I became aware that the game had music again. Being that it’s Zelda, where the music is such a crucial element (which the music in any game is a crucial element quite frankly), to have such little effort so obviously put into it was extremely disappointing. When comparing it, I will even say that the handheld Zelda games had more effort put into their musical tracks than this game did.
Going further with the music, in Ocarina of Time being able to play tunes (multiple tunes that include a button combination or some type of input from the player) was a major element to the game, and such an element has been reiterated over and over again as seen in Twilight Princess, Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks. Such an element has been brought back into Skyward Sword via the Goddess’s Harp. Unfortunately, the once intriguing use of a musical instrument is lost in this rebirth as the Harp can only be strummed, will only ever be strummed, and cannot play any of the songs Link learns other than in one specific place at a single point in time. No longer is it required that the player actually do anything special in order to play a song; no, now all the player has to do is move their arm back and forth in time with the rhythm.
Now, for anyone who does not know or has forgotten, manually keeping to a rhythm was brought in in Spirit Tracks, but even then the player was still required to blow into the mic and make sure they were breathing into the appropriate places on the Spirit Flute. All effort that it would actually take to try and make a stunning beat is stripped away from the player and given to Fi, who is the one who actually sings the beat while Link just strums the harp back and forth like a fool. And even if you wanted to hear the songs that Link ‘plays’ again, you cannot, as the game does not allow you to. And as bad as it is that the music playing element is no longer fun, the music itself, when Link actually plays it at the required altar, can basically be considered a watered down version of the actual song.
Allow me to explain: in the cut scenes where Link learns these new songs, he is actually shown plucking the beat, not strumming every string on the harp, and as such the accompanying music is actually quite enjoyable. However, when at the altar where the song is supposed to be played, Link’s musical prowess is stolen away from him and he can only strum back and forth, creating a weaker version of the song where the harp is dulled and put in the background so that the tune’s actual beat can be heard from Fi and other invisible instruments. A warning for you though: beware the song Din’s Power; they forget to dull the harp and the resulting fast paced strumming is quite displeasing to the ears (it had me cringing and wanting it to stop).
So the music failed to live up to the normal Zelda standard; one game in the whole lot isn’t too bad. Promise to put effort into the musical score and aspects again and we can overlook this. Now, what else needs covered in regards to small mistakes? Well, I did have a couple of minor grievances with the controls. Simple swimming and falling through the air were made very awkward with the motion controls and would have worked better if simply left to the joystick. Being unable to defend yourself or even jog when your stamina bar reached zero was an annoyance whose function I still cannot figure out a good reason for, even after having beaten the game. I thought perhaps it was to cap spamming the spin attack moves, but I don’t see the point of that since monsters have the ability to block those moves, so spamming them would be next to pointless. And even if you did spam them and use all of your stamina, that still doesn’t justify why Link no longer has the ability to function as a sword-wielding human; especially in the midst of combat.
Another extremely annoying feature to the gameplay were pointless cut scenes and that terrible thing they introduced in Twilight Princess when whenever you would pick up something for the first time (a five rupee, a twenty rupee, ect.) it would got into a mini cut scene that would basically do nothing but waste your time. In Skyward Sword, this mechanic is enhanced tenfold and the annoyance of it was enhanced along with it. There are many small things for Link to pick up in this game, and every time you turn on the game and pick up something special (even though you’ve already collected this item before) it goes into a cut scene where Link sheathes his sword and goes through a near 20 second long waste-of-time event where the item has to sparkle and add one more to the total count of the thing you’ve collected. As you can imagine, picking something up that an enemy has dropped when there are still five more to fight leaves you completely defenseless once the cut scene is done; so don’t be surprised if you lose a heart or two from Link’s inability to not stop and stare at the shiny object.
Another slight (or major depending on the source) annoyance is how some smaller enemies or objects will take out a whole heart of Link’s health even though in prior games they had no ability to do that much damage. Because of this, fighting against creatures that have electric weapons or attributes are really frustrating since every time you accidentally hit them wrong (which happens a lot do to the Wii motion controls) you get zapped, stunned and lose a whole heart of health. Yes, half hearts and quarter hearts of damage still exist, but they are very hard to run into as most things, even though there are just small creatures, still have the ability to take a good chunk out of you. I’ve heard many people say that this makes the game feel more epic in terms that it’s like every battle is a boss battle.
There’s just one problem with that: if everything feels like a boss battle, then why have the boss battles at all? Quite frankly, if even little enemies can ‘dazzle’ someone as much as the big final boss does, does that not take the awe out of finding the boss at all? For some, no, but for me, it did. Because almost everything was made to feel ‘epic’ at some level, it all runs together and became more routine than anything else. A mere chore of slice this monster, slice that monster, cut the bigger monster, claim prize, repeat, got really dull after a while. Feeding a player the constant high of being in danger and not letting them come down off that high for a bit will only wear them out and bore them; it did in my case at least and often had me putting the game away.
But even with all of that, these are still among the least of my negative marks against this game. Now it’s time to move on to the things that have really made me loathe what Nintendo has done to the Zelda series; these things that I will not forgive.
First is the game’s lack of any sort of Zelda-exploration. What I mean by Zelda-exploration is this: in games past you had the ability to explore an overworld, discover new things, hidden secrets, and you could get lost in the world for hours and feel no shame. It is a big part of Zelda to just explore the world around you and see what all you could do and see with no limits or time constraints. In Skyward Sword, this element is stolen away from you. No longer can you explore the vast, wide open world. Instead you are forced to run in circles around these condensed would-be islands. As if each place is surrounded by water, each portion of the surface world is cut off from the others, keeping you caged in their confines.
Some would disagree with me, saying that these worlds are expansive and have no need to be connected or added to, and to those I’d have to politely say you are wrong. The Lanayru Desert, Eldin Volcano and all the other areas they contain are straight forward with no need to explore since you are on a set path to run through every bit of them anyway. Faron Woods is only slight better because you actually have the ability to miss things upon passing through, being that the world circles around on itself and is not a straight path (this does not hold true for Lake Floria however). The game does not let you explore at all, it FORCES you to, and when the game is leading me around to look at things when I want to explore on my own, that is not free exploration, that is being led around by a leash.
Quite frankly though, the worlds lack the proper girth needed to support such freedom in exploration anyway; and I honestly believe that the game leads you around so much because if they actually did let you explore, you would be disappointed at the lack of world there was (which is exactly what happened when I ignored the path and found out just how much I wished for there to be more). Even the expansive sky is barren with only a few rocks scattered here and there, and a few tiny islands that hold no purpose except holding chests (save for about three of these islands which actually have a use). All in all, the worlds are extremely shallow, lacking and empty.
Moving away from the less-than-awe-inspiring overworlds, the dungeons and getting into these said dungeons are more of a hassle than anything else. In past Zelda games, you do a menial sidequest in order to unlock or get into the dungeon, and your main focus during this is to get through the dungeon and claim what it held for you (an example being from Ocarina of Time where you had to get the hookshot from Dampe before being able to get into the Forest Temple). In Skyward Sword however, the rolls of dungeon and sidequest are switched; now the main focus is just to get to the dungeon instead of actually completing that dungeon. In fact, many of the sidequests in order to reach the dungeon take much longer than the dungeon itself. This being the case, it comes as no shock that the dungeons are not half as long as they normally would be since there is no doubt that the player would get sick of spending so much time in one place from going through two obscenely long tasks.
This being the case, the dungeons in Skyward Sword have been greatly dumbed down. In past Zelda games, the puzzles are what they were known for. In dungeons you had to use your head to get through; you had to think in order to earn your way to the top. But in Skyward Sword such is no longer the case. The dungeons in this game are not challenging in the least, extremely short, and straightforward. The so called ‘puzzles’ are mere child’s play and require no real thought or planning. Even the bosses in these dungeons are easy to figure out and quickly defeated. There is no challenge behind going into a dungeon anymore and some of the bosses can be described with no other term than ‘sad’. I will at least point this mainly at a specific boss in the Lanayru Desert, where the ship that serves as your dungeon is being attacked by a seemingly octopus type monster. Unfortunately, upon reaching the deck, I was disappointed to find, not an amazing Zelda beast, but a so called ‘leviathan’ that would have fit in perfectly among the monsters from the Pixar movie Monsters Inc. As you might have guessed, the disappointment brought on by this discovery was great.
So Nintendo pulls you along by the ear through the worlds because you’re not smart enough to find so-called ‘secrets’ and paths on your own, they push you through straightforward side quests thinking that they have to lead you in the right direction because you’ll never find it yourself, and then they put you through dungeons that your six year old sibling could do without really trying that hard. In a nutshell, yes, but there is more insult to be heaped upon your already damaged pride as Nintendo continues to treat you like the idiot they think you are by pretending that you must be keeping your eyes closed the whole time you are playing. How do they do this you ask? Well my friend, there are three ways, and if you want to have a much better Zelda experience, you will learn quickly to ignore these game mechanics to the best of your ability unless you want to constantly be treated like a moronic child.
Step one to insulting your intelligence: introduce Fi, your handy dandy computer voiced sword companion who finds it necessary to state the obvious every chance she gets. You’re in a dungeon and they just showed you a cut scene of what to do? Well your eyes must have been closed, that or you’re too stupid to figure out the obvious for yourself, so Fi’s just going to tell you exactly what to do so that the obvious becomes even more so. What’s that? There’s only one path to take to get from here to over there? Apparently your eyes are closed again, so Fi here will tell you to walk forward. So other NPC that just told me that I should do this thing in this specific place, evidently you don’t speak loud enough or my eyes couldn’t read your text, because Fi here thinks it’s necessary to repeat everything you just said in her own way. I see that I’m down to two hearts and that my life gauge is making a beeping sound; how fortunate I have you Fi to start beeping yourself just so you can tell me that I’m low on life and need to find hearts, because of course that wasn’t already obvious enough.
And people think Navi is needy; Navi doesn’t hold a candle to Fi’s need to talk. Only problem with Fi is that you can’t ignore her like you could the “Hey! Listen!” of Navi since she activates a cut scene whenever she wants to say something. The unfortunate thing about it all is that I actually really like Fi; love her character actually. Do I think she fits in the Zelda world? Not really being that she speaks in percentages and is more technical than mystical, but I really do like her as both a character and addition to the game. What I hate is how she’s being utilized by the game developers and how I’m forced to ignore 90 percent of everything Fi says lest I get extremely annoyed or angry at her. And it doesn’t help Fi’s case that the times she should be helpful, like giving hints on how to assess certain challenges or defeat enemies (which she only gives once you’ve already figured out how to beat the enemy, which means she’s once again restating the obvious), she’s completely silent and thus no help at all. Other than story related text, the only useful thing Fi has ever said to me was that my Wiimote’s batteries were dying; and it left me shocked for the rest of the day that she actually told me something important.
Step two to further rubbing it in your face how much Nintendo believes your thinking skills suck: bring in the dowsing ability. Dowsing is one of THE most useless additions to the game (apart from one other thing, which I will get to later). People are going to yell at me for this one I’m sure, saying that the dowsing ability was an extremely useful addition. Well yeah, it’s useful, if you have no intention of doing anything for yourself and just letting the game tell you where every little bloody thing is. In Zelda you’re supposed to search for things on your own; you’re supposed to figure things out yourself, that’s part of the satisfaction and accomplishment. Since when did we need someone to just hand us whatever we needed in order to progress? Since when have gamers become that lazy?
“Oh you need to find this? It’s right here; don’t want to have you go breaking a sweat in searching for it and actually playing the game like you’re supposed to, because you obviously didn’t buy the game to play it, you clearly bought it just so you could give us your money and let us baby you like the four year old you are. And don’t worry about the worlds being so small that it really isn’t possible for you to miss where you need to go anyway, we’re adept at pointing out the obvious to you as it is. You didn’t think we were going to stop with just Fi, did you? Oh you silly little gamer, you actually assumed we thought that you had any capability to think and figure stuff out for yourself.”
The above is exactly what I think of dowsing. I’m not going to get lost in your small, straightforward worlds, I can see and remember things with my own eyes, I can figure things out for myself, and believe it or not, I actually LIKE searching for things on my own; I like feeling like I accomplished something and was not just handed it. So sorry for actually wanting to be competent and refusing to use your children’s tools.
Step three to add the icing on the cake of how much of a moron Nintendo thinks you are: a hints section. You heard me, a hints section. In the introduction Fi mentions that she has all of these options available to you, and upon investigation I see that there is a button labeled Hints. Immediately I was extremely offended that Nintendo would even include such a thing. They already had Fi, who restates the obvious of everything she can, they have dowsing, which tells you exactly where everything you need is, so what made them think that you would a hints section? Whoever bought a strategy guide for this game was gypped out of their money, because the strategy guide is built right in to the gameplay. Not that you would even need a strategy guide for a game this simple anyway.
Not once have I gotten so mad at a game before; and not once have I been so offended by something that would just so blatantly insult my intelligence by assuming that I was too stupid to do anything for myself. It will probably come as no shock, but I didn’t even do the first dungeon my first time picking up the game because I was just so enraged at what the Zelda series had become.
But almost everyone gives this game a 5/5, including our own GiN reviewer, so is it really as bad as you say? Really, the game is not all bad once you get farther in and learn to ignore certain aspects. The gameplay is actually quite smooth, the graphics are appealing, and the story keeps you intrigued. The game overall is something geared for a more casual type gamer more so than a hardcore one in my opinion, as there is a lot of doing the same things over and over only in a slightly different manner. So if you have some time to kill, you’ll probably enjoy sitting down and just going through a side quest or a dungeon in the time you have.
And there are actually points in the game that I did really enjoy: such as the Levias boss fight, and just flying around on my Loftwing. Certain things that were added, like save points throughout the dungeon (since you can’t save in your menu), which let you basically have checkpoints throughout a dungeon so you wouldn’t have to start clear back at the beginning if you needed to quit halfway in, were very useful. Powering up potions and items was also somewhat fun, but there are kinks that need to be worked out should this type of style continue. Like how I will wholeheartedly disagree with making the shield a breakable item, and the drop rate of some treasures that are needed to upgrade certain items need to be raised while others should be lowered (example: the golden skull is ‘more rare’ than the normal ones and yet I’ve found only half as many of the normal ones as I have the gold ones and never need the gold ones for anything). The stamina bar was also an interesting addition, even though I personally don’t see why it was a necessary addition to the Zelda franchise.
In the end, I can’t say that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a bad game, but in my opinion I will say this: for gamers new or haven’t been long into the franchise, you will probably have no problem with this game, but for seasoned Zelda fans, prepare for disappointment. What I think it mainly boils down to is this: the major points of the game, such as dungeons, sidequests and puzzles, are what are have missed the mark in terms of the normal Zelda feeling and expectation. The minor, side stuff, such as character development, items, and secrets, are what are positive and hold what Zelda aspects Skyward Sword has kept. But because the major points are meant to stand out more and shape the game as a whole, logically it stands to reason that that is one of the major reasons why this game is overall disappointing.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for you Zelda fans though, because the last 25 percent of the game suddenly springs on you, not only battles where you need to actually think, plan and time your attacks, but a dungeon that is a puzzle. A REAL PUZZLE. There is one actual, real, use your head to plan this out, puzzle. And the final boss is worth the wait. Unfortunately that’s all the hope I can give you; though some of the sidequests for getting into the dungeons you’ll probably find fun, and the Silent Realm actually does do a good job of keeping you on your toes; so there are a couple more positives to add to the list and look forward to. Oh, and if you ignore 90 percent of what Fi says and don’t use dowsing at all, it’ll feel more like Zelda and make you a lot less angry.
But allow me to leave you with these thoughts: not once have I ever had trouble playing a Zelda game, as I have always been caught up in the story, the gameplay, and the puzzles, so I was unable to put it down unless it was for eating or sleeping. But while Zelda still holds that appeal for me, I put down Skyward Sword all too often simply because I was bored and not interested in the redundancy of it. Only in the last 25% did the game actually feel like Zelda again, and it was at that time that I went for hours unable to stop playing until I won. But even with that, there was still one thing that dawned on me: in every Zelda game I played, I’ve always stopped just before the end, not wanting to do the last dungeon, that last boss, because I didn’t want something I was enjoying so much to end; but with Skyward Sword, I dove headlong into the final battle, just because I wanted it to be over.
Skyward Sword, you get a three out of five from me because you are barely above an average game.