Friday, December 2, 2011
Skyward Sword: The Weakest of the 3D Zelda Games.
The Legend of Zelda is a noble series, known for being absolutely unparalleled in the awe-inspiring experience it delivers to the players. The console games being particularly strong, I have been a diehard Zelda fan since playing A Link to the Past as a little kid, all the way up to defending the hated stepchild Twilight Princess as a great game. Zelda games may not always be perfect, as every game has it's flaws, but typically with a game of this caliber, the overarching experience more than makes up for any negative factors that influences our perception.
I'm very forgiving, oftentimes too forgiving of Nintendo's flaws given where the current generation of gaming stands today. I hold their games very close to my heart with every new release, I just wish they would adapt more to current standard so all of us could enjoy true next gen Nintendo games instead of being stuck in the distant past.
When Nintendo first showed Skyward Sword, unlike my gaming peers, I really didn't feel any hype for it. It looked uninspired to me. I couldn't really pinpoint what looked so great about it or what made it unique or worth playing. Sure there was motion controls, but is that really what my Zelda hype should hinge on? When I queried my concerns, many told me, it would be a good game solely because “it's Zelda”. I believed this myself because I never doubted Nintendo's ability to produce a stellar game, especially a Zelda game. I wanted desperately to be proven wrong in my underwhelmed state and to love this game. Upon finishing the game, I can say that my assumptions were right and just “being Zelda” didn't cut it for me this time.
Nintendo actually dropped the ball on this one.
Skyward Sword isn't a bad game per se, but as far as 3D console Zelda games go, it's ranked at the bottom. While the game does several things different than it's predecessors, that doesn't automatically make it better. I welcome changes as long as they're done properly but more often than not, the changes in Skyward Sword can be inconvenient, barely noticeable, or just downright horrible.
Story is typically what you'd expect from a Zelda game. Zelda gets captured, Link has to save her. Nintendo changed it up a bit for better and for worse. There's an actual tangible emotional relationship established between Link and Zelda that vaguely flirts with romance. The main villain Ghirahim is flamboyant, goofy and while he has some funny quirks, he's generally a throwaway character and not worth spending the whole game on. Among other characters is Groose who starts off as a bully to Link but ends up being one of the most developed characters in the game. Beyond Groose though, no other characters really leave a strong impact. (No. Not even Gorko the Goron)
The story as a whole serves as an origin story for the entire series. That being said, aside from all the cool allusions to other Zelda games (Such as the red bird that we've always seen depicted on the Hylian shield) for an origin story, it's not very satisfying. I won't spoil it, but while it solidifies certain things in the series, at the same time, it doesn't feel like it ties up any loose ends. It's pretty general stuff that any fan could have come up with on their own as an origin story. It's always good to have some clarification on the story, but it's just not entirely interesting.
Graphically, I can't quite understand why this game looks so sloppy. Yes I'm playing with a Wii on an HDTV with component cables, but I've never seen a Wii game look so grainy. All my other Wii games look fine. Brawl looks phenomenal. Why does this look so bad? The actual graphical style, however, can be quite nice at times. In fact, I think the water color theme they have going on actually looks really cool, especially when things are far into the distance. Overall though the tangible graphics are nothing groundbreaking and they're outdone by many older Wii games. This game will make you so glad Nintendo is finally taking a step forward with HD consoles.
While Zelda is a series known for it's incredible musical score, I can't help but feel somewhat slighted with this game. Aside from a couple of tunes, personally speaking, nothing really stood out to me. There's some songs that are just downright painful to listen to. Be warned on the third dungeon, I'm convinced that track is intended to drive the player to insanity. The music as a whole isn't bad, it just pales in comparison to every other console Zelda game.
The real core of any game though, is the gameplay. If you've played a 3D Zelda game, you know more or less how this game plays. The catch is, however, you now have 1:1 motion controls. This is a really great idea for swordplay, and aiming your bow and arrow. Unfortunately, motion controls are forced on you for nearly everything you do in this game. Flying on your bird, skydiving, balancing on tightrope, swimming, nearly everything has a motion control gimmick attached to it. This game feels more like a strung together collection of Mario Party minigames rather than a solid Zelda adventure.(YASHI WINS!) These can be inconvenient to down right horrible. Swimming is so painfully bad in this game. I can't figure out how this passed development as a good idea. You'll oftentimes find yourself wishing you could use a regular controller.
It's not that motion controls in general are bad, or that I personally dislike them. The way they're implemented in this game is overbearing and way too in your face. Even sword fights, which makes the most crucial use of these controls, don't work. It's not that your swings won't register properly (Although, thrusting is horrible) but that the enemies you fight will either block everything. If an enemy is guarding and you calculate a planned swing that avoids that guard, they'll just suddenly switch stances to block you anyways. Honestly, randomly waggling the controller tends to work better against these enemies compared to any amount of strategy. Different enemies can either be a satisfying fight or a struggle with controls Either way, generally speaking, you can waggle your way through most of the game.
Some have told me that you couldn't do the things in this game without motion controls. Actually everything in this game could be done on a standard controller. Zelda games themselves have had directional sword slicing since Ocarina of Time. All Skyward Sword did was make direction specific enemies and puzzles. It's a core gimmick that is capitalizing on the Wii Remote. The weirdest part? With all the forced motion controls in this game, there's not even a fishing hole. You'd think something that was hyped up with the tacked on lesser motion controls for Twilight Princess would be done a great justice with the full experience, but it's not even included at all.
One of the newest additions is the stamina meter. This allows Link to sprint which is a really great functionality, yet, if you run out of stamina you grow tired and slug along helplessly for a brief moment. It's not just running either. Climbing, pushing blocks, and spin attacks all effect stamina. The game takes one step forward but about 4 steps back by putting punishable limitations on simple abilities. There's really no sensible reason for doing this. In a way, this game does many things that in turn become negative stimuli, which is something I'll touch on later. This is one constant theme I have found throughout the game.
In typical Zelda fashion you collect items, all of which make use of motion controls in some way. Strangely enough, no boomerang though. The items are interesting and used consistently throughout the game, however, this has a tendency to get very repetitive. Also, all of the items have been in prior Zelda games before. No item is really special or unique to this particular game play experience. (Say what you will about Twilight Princess but I still think the Spinner and the Ball and Chain are amazing item choices.)
Many of these items can be upgraded, a nifty new feature for this game, however, in my whole playthrough, I was only able to upgrade maybe 3 or 4 times. Most items require a specific set of ingredients and one of which is usually hard to come by which makes upgrading difficult to do. One of my biggest pet peeves though, is that collecting these ingredient items can be a horrible pain. When you pick up an item, there's a notification you're forced to see and then it goes to the start menu to show you getting the item. This only happens once per item....until you turn off the game. You'll get a notification for EVERY item EVERY time you start up the game again. Not only will this constantly take you out of the flow of waggle fights, but if you're like me, it will dissuade you from wanting to collect these items altogether.
Something that has become a semi staple in Zelda games is a musical instrument. Skyward Sword is no exception. However, you don't even really learn any songs. You just strum up and down with a lame Wiimote mini-game. All the fun of trying to remember actual tunes that or having to actually play a song is gone and simplified to a cheap minigame.
The world of Skyward Sword is arguably the most underwhelming aspect of the game. The sky overworld that you fly around in (very slowly I might add) is mostly barren and uneventful. You unlock treasure chests that you can find on really small sky islands and there's an occasional tornado that tosses you off your bird for no reason. That's about it. There's 3 main areas you explore (Forest, Volcano, Desert) and while it may sound like not much, you're right. But don't worry, you backtrack through the same areas constantly. You're forced back to each one for a major plot aspects at least 3 times. You even retread through a dungeon you already beat. Sounds fun right? The best part is that there's no way to quickly teleport anywhere, like in every other Zelda game. You have to go through the horribly monotonous and pointless act of finding a bird statue and flying every time you need to backtrack somewhere, which is quite often.
You also get to explore the same exact worlds in the Silent Realm which is the love child of the one hit Phantoms from Phantom Hourglass and the dragging tear drop collecting from Twilight Princess. It's still monotonous, it moves a bit faster, but you also have the potential to get hit by ridiculous enemy which mean you have to start all the way from the beginning and collect them all again. This could even happen after you've collected them all. It's a really horrible idea.
This game is plagued with ridiculous fetch quests, and what makes it worse is that some of the items you're fetching you literally walk past on your initial journey but the game won't let you pick it up until it's required in the extremely linear storyline path. This in turn, forces you to backtrack for no reason. There are so many things implemented to artificially make the game longer that you will literally groan at some of the repetitive quests the game makes you go on.
The dungeons range from incredibly generic to truly clever. There are some really great dungeon designs but there are also some really boring ones. One of the later dungeons honestly feels no different than an earlier one. The bosses aren't that incredible either. Some are creative, others are generic and some just have weird designs to the point where you can't take them seriously. Outside the dungeons, there's literally one boss you have to fight multiple times. It's seriously ridiculous how many times they make you fight the exact same boss.
The game itself is tailored for the casual gamer not so much the hardcore gamer. The overall difficulty is fairly easy and most of your death will probably be related to the motion controls. You're even given a faithful companion who has no conception on when to stop talking. Fi is the absolute worst Zelda sidekick ever. She will be Captain Obvious from start to finish forcing you into dialogue every three seconds. (And there's no way to quickly skip through dialogue) Yet, if there's ever a puzzle that's not directly clear to the player, she won't have any advice on that whatsoever. She's only helpful when you absolutely don't need it. Get used to your hand being forcibly held for all the simplest of tasks.
In retrospect, I've realized what Skyward Sword is. As I've stated earlier, Skyward Sworid is a typical Zelda adventure, piled on with negative stimuli. You can't enjoy the good of the game for longer then a set period of time because something will constantly impede upon your experience. As I neared the end of the game, I was avoiding all conflicts with enemies, not collecting any items, no longer exploring. I really just wanted to get through the game and to see the rest of the story, and frankly, it wasn't really even worth it.
These things start off being fun, but eventually, the novelty wears off and soon it just becomes a nuisance and a burden to do pretty much anything in this game. Whether it be stepping on an item you hadn't collected on that particular play session, a slime jumping on you forcing to break your momentum and just waggle pointlessly, or Fi popping out to tell you that if you point at an icon on the map, you'll land there, you can't just play the game in peace and enjoy it.
The one thing that should be making this game the unique offering that it is, the controls, completely ruins it by turning it into a bunch of gimmicks that work occasionally but usually are just an absolute pain. The sword controls really come down to the enemy you're fighting. Lizard enemies are fun and make good use of the sword swipes. Others, not so much. Yet, even if this entire game was on a standard controller, it would still be a drag for the many reasons I've listed above.
I know a lot of other diehard Zelda who absolutely love this game. Many place this at the top of their list. Being a diehard fan of the series as well, I honestly can not fathom how people can feel this way about the game. It's not a bad game, and I'd still recommend it because I'm sure many will still love it or at least want to experience it for themselves.
Personally speaking though, I feel it's the weakest of all the 3D Zelda games. All the Zelda games have a soul, an overall perception, lasting memories and something that makes it special. (Yes, even Twilight Princess) Nothing stuck with me from Skyward Sword, and the only things that stands out to me now are the negatives. It just doesn't have the same strong positive impact of the others, and it doesn't really leave a lasting experience on the player.
Just think back. The moment you pulled out the Master Sword and saw that you aged 7 years. The first time you saw the moon about to faceplant into Clock Town. Going underwater to the Temple of Time or fighting Ganondorf as the water collapsed over you. Intense horseback battles on the majestic Hyrule field where you'd later fight Ganondorf in every way imaginable. All of these are memorable experiences that leaves a huge impact on the player.
What does Skyward Sword have? Swimming with clunky controls collecting music notes? Zelda pushing you off a pillar and you faceplanting because of motion controls? Fi telling you that the control stick moves your character?
We all love Zelda games, but I encourage people, particularly fanboys to look at this game objectively. If you're a fan of the series, it's probably still worth playing, but don't believe the hype. It's far from ever being the best Zelda ever.