First of all, I want to apologize to my two fans out there that I missed out on this feature last month. My job temporarily bumped my work schedule to six days a week and they also made me work on my only day off on the last week, meaning I had very little time in August for anything that didn’t involve Pikmin, Splinter Cell, or Kaiju movies. With that said though, my hours are back to normal meaning I’m ready to write once again.
With two Zelda titles shortly releasing, I figured I would take both this month and October to look at two other Zelda games. One needed a second playthrough because it left a bad taste in my mouth and the other was to see if it stands the test of time. For September, I’m putting Skyward Sword in the spotlight to see if it actually deserved the praise it got or if my rare opinion of it not being great was warranted.
On my first playthrough of Skyward Sword, I was in the mood for a big world to explore and in which to complete side quests. Prior to release, I read in an interview that the developers took inspiration from Majora’s Mask when designing the town and side missions. That made me beyond excited, as I love exploring and discovering people’s lives in the world of Termina. Naturally, my hype level went skyward for exploring and getting involved in people’s complex lives.
Upon starting the game, it got off on the right foot by having some quirky characters, but as the game went on, I discovered it was nothing like Majora’s Mask. Firstly, NPC’s weren’t tied to a schedule; they just walked around in mindless circles, repeating the same pointless dialogue. Side quests were locked until certain points in the game and the characters only really came alive during their specific mission (if they even had one). Once their quest was done, they returned to being bland characters once more. There were some memorable townsfolk though, such as the Blacksmith and the Headmaster.
If you can’t tell, I prefer finding my quests on my own time, not being shut out and allowed access to them one by one at specific times in the game. Personally, when I play games that involve doing the main story or wasting time dilly-dallying, I get in the mood to do one or the other, but Skyward Sword forced me into roles I may not have been in the mood for. I wouldn’t mind so much if the actual side quests were fun to do.
Going back to Majora’s Mask, they involved protecting a farm from aliens, helping a woman find her missing husband, bringing peace to a dead warrior’s spirit, and so much more. In Skyward Sword, you can … balance pumpkins or make a girl fall in love with you by talking to her constantly. I know not everything in Majora’s Mask was perfect, but Skyward Sword‘s side missions felt lacking and uninspired.
Another disappointment was the world in which to explore. As I previously stated, I enjoy taking time off from the main quest just to explore and find secrets, but the sky was essentially empty. One small town, one pumpkin bar, three islands with mini-games, and a ton of islands with locked treasure chests. The sky was also compared to The Wind Waker in developer interviews, but I enjoyed sailing to random islands much more then flying in an empty sky.
The surface of Hyrule fared better, but I was initially upset how they were three separate pieces of land rather then one big connected world. I didn’t understand why they had to be separate. Prior games locked you our of certain areas until you got a specific item, but in Skyward Sword, they remained locked away. It made less sense later in the game when you needed to travel across all of them and they’re already unlocked. Instead, you had to hunt down a bird statue, fly to the surface, fly to another portal, and select where you want to go. It was needlessly tedious and the game should have a fast travel system.
That’s not to say they weren’t fun to play in. I enjoyed the dungeon-esque vibe they all had going on and had a lot of fun just running around, fighting, and solving puzzles. Also, I found the best characters in the games were the bottom dwellers. The wandering Goron who wants to discover the secret of the sky world, the amazing new Mogma race, and the robots were all very well done and, despite being cartoony, felt very real.
What almost killed the game for me, though, was the pacing. While not bad at first, later in the game characters are demanding you to backtrack for tedious fetch quests before they let you into the dungeon or receive an item. Spent an hour trying to reach the dungeon? Well, now re-explore the entire area to find five key shards. Backtracked to an earlier area to get an item? Well, backtrack further to the first dungeon for special water to get the item. It constantly asks you to retread old ground for no reason. Now, I’m a big fan of Metroid, so backtracking itself is not a gameplay mechanic I hate, but I do hate it when it’s there simply to extend the game’s length rather than using new items to discover new secrets or pathways.
While you may be sitting there thinking I hate this game, it wasn’t all bad. I actually loved the dungeons, so much so I thought they were the best in the entire series. I loved the time crystals and thought the ghost ship level was phenomenal. Each dungeon had a new mechanic I’d never seen before in a Zelda game and it truly showed that this old franchise could still “wow” and amaze. I was a bit upset at some of the bosses, but the great ones made up for those. The music was okay as well; not spectacular, but it got the job done. Some of it was very atmospheric and helped draw me into the world.
There were also elements I felt mixed about. The MotionPlus-controlled sword combat was well done for the most part, but sometimes, it felt like the calibration went out of whack. When I swung horizontally, Link attacked vertically. It was rare, but it was noticeable. One thing I didn’t like at all was how the slingshot and beetle item used motion to aim rather than IR pointing. It felt like Nintendo really wanted to show off the Wii MotionPlus remote, but it didn’t benefit at all from ignoring IR aiming and felt overboard with the gimmicks.
The story itself was interesting as well. While it didn’t blow me away or surprise that often, it was serviceable at worst and engaging at best, but it was consistent in its quality throughout. I think a big problem with it was Fi, who is my least favorite sidekick in any game I ever played. I’d seriously rather take 10 screaming Navi’s than deal with her.
Other than that, I have few little nitpicks here and there. For example, I prefer the stores to be like Ocarina of Time: just look at a shelf and select an item. In Skyward, you have to walk up to the item, and sit through the same unskippable dialogue every time. It got annoying fast. This article is rambling on as is so I’ll leave it at that, because the rest is literally minor nitpicks.
Around a year later, I replayed Skyward Sword to see if I could come to appreciate it for what it was, and for the most part I did. I still had my issues with the game and the aspects I loved were still enjoyable. My opinions on each individual mechanic or aspect relatively stayed the same, so I won’t waste too much time detailing everything again. Instead, I’m just going to discuss what opinions did slightly changed and my overall impressions of the second playthrough.
My biggest problem was the sky world and lack of content in it. While I am still disappointed in the lackluster side missions, I’d rather that than the complete emptiness of Twilight Princess. At least Skyward Sword had multiple distractions. This time around, I also enjoyed the surface world more. I accepted the fact that each area was a mini-dungeon and still found it fun just running around exploring. While not the vast landscape I wanted, I grew more happy with its solid design.
The second playthrough also felt more immersive to me. This time, I was playing on a HDTV with Wii component cables, so the graphics really stood out. The areas that used the time crystals, such as the third dungeon or the sea of sand, really impressed me with how colourful and vibrant it looked. Even though I’d seen those areas before, it made my jaw hit the floor. Speaking of immersion, the world itself felt more atmospheric. The desert area felt historic with its ruins and abandoned mines and train stations. It felt like it had a forgotten story to tell and I’m a huge fan of environmental storytelling in video games.
The dungeons still remained exceptionally designed and I still believe that they’re the best in series history. Not one made me cringe and it says a lot when the Water Temple is really fun, due in part to it also being a Shadow Temple of sorts. The dungeons that focused on the time crystals still amazed and it’s a testament to how great the design is when I can still be “wowed” after multiple viewings of the mechanics, it simply never got old using the crystals. With the temples being so fun and well designed, the pacing in between each dungeon still annoyed me. The amount of fetch quests still bothered me, but not as much this time around. I guess because I knew what was coming next rather than being surprised.
Another aspect that stayed the same in terms of enjoyment was the gameplay with motion controls. I still had a few issues with calibration on the sword, as Link would sometimes swing vertically when I swung horizontally. I still would have preferred IR aiming with the slingshot, but the motion aiming wasn’t as bad as what I remembered. Using the beetle for scouting an area was still fun and the arrows still felt immersive, even though the reality it was just a dork sitting on his couch.
Overall, the second playthrough was noticeably better. I learned to like the surface world more, although I still wanted a fast travel system. The filler content in between each dungeon still felt dragged out, but it only made getting to the dungeons that much more enjoyable. I still prefer my Zelda with a big coherent world and tons of exploration, like Wind Waker or Majora’s Mask, but it honestly was refreshing having a more straightforward action title, even though distractions are there.
I think my issue with Skyward Sword was where my excitement laid. Like I said in the introduction, when it was released, I was in the mood for a big world to explore like Majora’s Mask – with hours of getting lost from the main campaign. I was so disappointed that I was somewhat bitter of the experience, so I couldn’t see what Skyward Sword did right – namely, the dungeons and fun combat. Also, not to get into too much information, but it was released at time in my life where I was going through some personal issues, bringing my enjoyment level down even further. While I now do like Skyward Sword, I still fail to see why it got as much praise as it did get. This is by no means a 10/10 nor is it the best Zelda game, if you ask me. While I’m very happy for those who think that, I’m not one of them.
Next month I’m analyzing a more retro Zelda, stay tuned to find out which one.
And for the record, I still hate Fi with a fiery passion.