Skyward Sword Review
by Alex B.
Skyward Sword is a true Nintendo game, blessed and cursed at the same time by both the overbearing presence of Nintendo’s ancient figures and the progressive touch of the world’s best rising talent. It is a work that highlights the Legend of Zelda’s team’s best and worst design practices, while showing clear signs of fast improvement in most areas. By redefining the combat and item usage while finally setting down an origin story for subsequent Zelda games to base themselves upon, Nintendo has shown a greater commitment to the Zelda franchise more now than ever before.
-Visuals and Audio-
Like many things in the game, the art style and visuals of this game in general have proven to be quite divisive. Technically speaking, the game is fairly impressive at times, running at a rock-steady framerate (apparently locked somewhere above 30 frames-per-second) even as heavy particle effects, water physics, or dozens of enemies (one specific scene late in the game comes to mind) run in the background. All textures look perfectly fine from medium to long distances, but there are a couple of occasions (like when crawling through a small hole in First-Person View) where the low detail becomes obvious. Similarly, some assets (such as trees and their foliage) might look somewhat blocky and awkward when viewed from specific angles.
As a whole, though, I’ll argue that the entire package is one of the most beautiful games on the Wii: a vibrant but well-balanced color palette ensure the vistas never get dull; passed through a specialized depth-of-field filter, all objects in the distant background turn into virtual brush-strokes, truly looking as close to a painting as a videogame has ever looked; with neither the horrid disproportion of Wind Waker or the half-baked realism of Twilight Princess, the character designs are arguably the best of any Zelda game yet, and the top-of-the-line animations (and they truly are top-of-the-line for the entire game industry) only help make the characters some of the most charming in the series’ history; gorgeously employing camera work and cinematic techniques during the main story cutscenes, meaning and weight is brought to action and drama scenes alike. Unfortunately, text boxes and a lack of voice acting still hold back the impact of these cutscenes, particularly hurting the timing and pacing of the events. On the other hand, Nintendo is practically prepping to make the jump to voice acting in Zelda, considering how Link often “speaks” with many gestures and mouth gesticulations, much like a Mute person would.
In addition, there is some wasted potential when it comes to using certain visual motifs (the rhombi in the Godess Sword and Fi’s legs, or the Japanese attire of the Dragons, for example), especially in contrast to a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which uses its motif of regular polygons and triangular shapes as a metaphor for the direction society has taken all-too-well. It’s not that anybody could have expected any videogame developer to be so progressive and meticulous when it comes to tying storytelling themes to the visual style of the game, but it certainly is a missed opportunity.
Musically speaking, this game is one of the strongest there is not only in terms of other Zelda games, but of the entire game industry. Simple character themes that are introduced early in the game get mixed in to main themes during important events later in the game, Boss themes aren’t only composed to mirror the context of the battle but also change either subtly or drastically as a fight progresses, recurrent Boss themes get revisited with variations, Area and Temple themes may change depending on your actions…the attention to detail is staggering. To top it off, the music maintains a strong Impressionist aesthetic throughout its entirety, turning even mini-game music from carnival tunes into atmospheric and focus-enabling themes. Skyward Sword’s composer Mahito Yokota, the same man that composed the majority of the Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 soundtracks, is truly a brilliant composer and deserves to take Koji Kondo’s place as Nintendo’s musical big-cheese. Of the Sound Engineering in general I can’t really speak of except to say that, save for the orchestration of most of the game’s music, it sounds like Zelda games always have, which isn’t a bad or a great thing at all.
Anyone familiar with the Zelda series knows what a convoluted joke the story had become in these games. This is not because the narrative of each individual game was doing anything particularly wrong, but because Nintendo never really cared about bringing cohesion to the different elements of the story, leaving hardcore fans struggling to find where exactly did each game fit. This is not so in Skyward Sword.
With Skyward Sword, Nintendo attempts to finally set down the base on which the Zelda games are built upon. It works basically as an origin story, detailing how it is that several elements of the franchise (such as the Master Sword, the Triforce, Link and Zelda’s seemingly endless reincarnations, and a few other things I don’t want to spoil) came to be in the beginning. However, it is also a story worth telling on its own merit, with quite a bit of meaningful character conflict and development as well as worldly struggles. To put it succinctly, it is a Fantasy Epic with elements of coming-of-age and love stories. It sounds great, but I’d be lying if I said it was a masterful story; yet it is arguably the best in the franchise, and shows great promise for Nintendo as storytellers in some of their future games.
On the other hand, some of the most interesting parts of the narrative come from the development of Non-Playable Characters (NPCs). Typically, Legend of Zelda games have always had relatively weak NPCs that only stay afloat because of their oddball personalities (the exception being the magnificent Majora’s Mask, which still remains the Zelda game with the best NPCs and sidequests of the entire franchise). Skyward Sword manages to once again break that mold, by giving many of the NPCs distinct personalities that change depending on the context in which you encounter them, clearly fleshing out these characters and making them seem more like living entities in this virtual world, as opposed to the cardboard cutouts of old. Though there could certainly be more NPCs, the interactions you will have with them more than make up their number with quality: help an enamored man get the woman he loves, then see him hide his home life under false pretenses to impress his girlfriend; lead on (or not) a terribly bored girl and see her personality get sweeter and sweeter the more vulnerable she lets herself be near you; help a “house-husband” pacify his baby while his wife sleeps soundly and carelessly; see the shop-owner miserably balance his checkbooks at night, his mid-day happy and helpful demeanor all but left at the workplace…until you trade with him, at which point he becomes a happy, helpful man once again. I recall many other similar interactions, and I didn’t even finish all the game’s sidequests yet.