Game Review

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011) [Wii]

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“Those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero… They are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!”
-Demise, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

 

 

abxy1 “The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”

The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most popular and well-known franchises in all of gaming. Even those who have never played any of the games are likely familiar with Link, Zelda, Hyrule, and the Triforce. For over thirty years now, gamers have been putting on the boots and tunic of the Hero of Time in order to defeat the forces of evil.

By the time The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks came out in 2009, the timeline of the Zelda universe had become quite confusing. While it seemed clear that all the games shared elements, characters, and areas that connected them, small contradictions to the overarching story were also present. It seemed like no matter how badly fans wanted a connected universe, it was hard to rationalize one.

In 2011, Nintendo celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series. To commemorate, they finally released an official timeline. Multiple timelines made sense of everything. However, all of these timelines start in the same place. That place? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. This is the oldest story in the legend. Becoming the official start of the chronology (at least for now) as well as coinciding with the silver anniversary of the beloved original game is a lot to live up to. Does Skyward Sword rise to the occasion?

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Appropriately, A Link To The Past was the first Zelda game to go back in time. But, the instruction booklet tells a background story even older. The manual for LTTP is the first mention of the Imprisoning War, the events of which would later be played out in the next prequel, Ocarina of Time. Both games, however, tell the same story of the creation of Hyrule and the Triforce. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword tells the story of the creation of the Master Sword. Yes, Skyward Sword is the origin story for one of the most iconic weapon in all of video games.

Master Sword

The prologue for Skyward Sword gives the earliest account of a battle for the power of the Triforce. As stated in multiple games before, the world was created by the three goddesses: Farore, Din, and Nayru. When they readied to leave the world, they left behind a symbol of their power, the Triforce. The Triforce had unmatched wish-granting powers, but only for mortals, and it was entrusted to the goddess Hylia.

An unknown amount of time later, the land cracked open and from the break came a horde of demons and their leader, Demise, the Demon King. In search of the powerful Triforce, Demise laid waste to the lands, killing any who got in his way.

Tasked with protecting the Hylians and the Triforce, the goddess Hylia carved out a piece of land and sent it, and the surviving Hylians, into the sky and far above the clouds, where Demise and his armies would be unable to ever reach them.

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Then, Hylia joined the forces of the other races of the Surface and waged war against Demise, eventually defeating the Demon King. While she was able to lock Demise away behind a magic seal, in her weakened state, the goddess was unable to form an unbreakable seal in which he could be imprisoned. How long the seal would last was unknown, but she knew it would break eventually…

Wake UpThe story begins in earnest with Link having a nightmare about a giant monster and a distance voice that is calling to him. Luckily, he wakes to find Zelda’s loftwing with a letter for him instead. The letter asks Link to meet Zelda at the goddess statue before the big ceremony. It is there that Link discovers his own loftwing has gone missing, and it seems that Groose, his rival at the Knight Academy, is behind the whole thing.

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                  Skyward Sword starts a little differently than most Zelda games. The aspect of the Knight Academy and the rival gang give an interesting layer of backstory to Link and Zelda, who have grown up as childhood friends and, at least it seems, potentially romantic interests. Anyway, finding Link’s loftwing serves as a way to tell backstory as well as act as a tutorial for the player. Once your bird is found, it’s time for the big ceremony to get underway.

The Wing Ceremony is a test for the students at the academy to determine whether or not they are ready to become Skyloft Knights. The event is basically just a race to see who can get a statue from the talons of the flying loftwing that carries it.

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As you would expect, Link wins, and the ceremony concludes with Zelda blessing Link at the statue of the goddess. After everything is over, the two decide to go for a flight together, but the celebration comes to an end when a tornado appears out of nowhere and Zelda is thrown into the clouds below.

Now, Link must venture down to the Surface, a land so long left behind that it has become myth, in order to find Zelda. It will take courage, wisdom, and power for Link to defeat the evil that is coming. Is your spirit strong enough to complete the trials that will forge the Master Sword? Are you pure of heart enough to wield the Triforce and seal away Demise?

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visuals Visuals: 9/10

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword looks fantastic. Compared to some other games in the Wii library, you could almost believe it was from the next generation. The unique, and wonderful, graphics are an effect of two major causes, in my opinion.

Visuals - Skyloft

Firstly, it’s thanks to Skyloft. Skyloft is kind of your hub in the world. It’s a large island in the sky, and it’s where the game begins. Unlike all of the other islands in the Sky, Skyloft requires a few-seconds cut scene every time you leave or land on it, essentially making it a “world” of its own. The Sky–and all of the other, smaller islands–are then a separate “world.”

Flying

Then, there is the Surface. The Surface is comprised of three very distinct areas (Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert) that are only accessible via pillars of light found in the sky. This, as you may have guessed, results in each of the areas also being their own, separate “worlds,” which actually contain more “worlds” inside of them.

Earth Temple

All of this was actually done out of artistic necessity. The developers were struggling to come up with realistic ways to connect the environments of the Surface, with their art styles being so drastically different. The solution was the creation of Skyloft and the Sky and the inability to just walk from one area to another. Knowing the artistic style only had to fit within each capsule-world allowed them to be even more creative with the different settings, allowing for even more uniqueness between them.

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The second major cause was the combination of styles from Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. This middle-ground helps prevent Skyward Sword from feeling like it falls short of realism while also keeping it from being so cartoonish that it feels like it was made for kids (or whatever those idiotic complaints about Wind Waker‘s art style were).

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Lastly, I have to mention The Imprisoned, the demon-beast form of Demise, The Demon King. Judging by name, you would expect nothing but the most ferocious of evil creatures; a nightmare personified. Instead, you get a head that looks like a combination of a shark and Audrey II, with legs and giant, bouncy toes. Later, it grows arms, with dumb, bouncy fingers, and looks somehow more ridiculous. The Kraken-like boss is a bit lame and lazy looking, but nothing compared to what is essentially supposed to be the Satan of the Zelda world.

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Feed me… FEED me… FEED ME!

audio Audio: 9/10

Finally, a live orchestra doing the music for an entire Zelda game. It sounds so full and good. As would be the case with nearly any game as large as this, not every single song is a masterpiece, but there are several hours to enjoy. Another first, Skyward Sword actually features–even if it is extremely limited–singing. Having employed a live orchestra for the first time, the team and Nintendo were so happy with the results that they released a special 25th Anniversary Symphony album featuring songs and medleys from many of the games from the series’ history. A compact disc of the concert was included in the release of Skyward Sword to celebrate the franchise reaching its 25th year.

With a group of ten people, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword featured the largest sound team to ever work on a Nintendo game at the time. Featuring five composers, and having arrangements done by at least two, helps keep the soundtrack sounding fresh and different from track to track.

 

As was the norm with Zelda games by 2011, Skyward Sword uses oddly restricted voice acting. Link yells and grunts, and other characters either spout gibberish or just say stuff like “hey!” or “wha?” All of the other classic sound effects are here too; the item jingle, breaking pots, slashing grass, bomb explosions, heart and rupee gets. One thing you will definitely notice and should be aware of, though, is the “secret” tune is changed for this game.

gameplay.png Gameplay: 7/10

As this is the Wii, there is but one place we can begin when it comes to discussing the gameplay, and that is motion controls. No, they are not optional.

Motion Battle

Now, Skyward Sword utilizes the Motion Plus add-on, so the motion controls aren’t as bad as you can imagine. Unfortunately, they can still be rather frustrating at times and annoying almost the entire time. But, when they do work, they are pretty neat and you can see why the developers wanted to take advantage of the idea. And, while they may be annoying, they don’t come close to causing the game to become unplayable or unenjoyable.

Several enemies require you to swing your sword in a certain direction. So, when this works, it helps to vary the battles, but when it isn’t working, it’s infuriating. I found that when it came to swinging the sword, the motion controls worked as intended at least 70% of the time.

WhipThe whip, which was introduced in Spirit Tracks, makes a return here and as you would expect, it forces you to jerk your wrist back and forth. After about ten seconds you wish you could just press the button like a regular Zelda game. Annoyingly, with switches, the whip just wants you to flick in the direction you need it to move, regardless of the physics of your position. Even in 2011 that was counterintuitive.

Beetle

Skyward Sword introduces its own new items to the Zelda universe as well. First, the beetle. The beetle flies with a third-person perspective and can pick up items, trigger switches, and damage certain enemies. It can also be upgraded to carry bombs, gain a second (faster) speed, and increase its stamina to fly for longer. I like the beetle and its functionality, but there is no reason it should have to be steered around using the motion controls instead of the joystick. Maybe we’ll see a better iteration of this item in a future game.

Gust BellowsThere is even less reason for the other new item to be aimed with the motion controls, and that’s the gust bellows. The gust bellows can be used to stun some enemies, trigger some switches, and clear sand and dust that cover secrets and pathways. Of all the items, I found the gust bellows to be the one that I had to recalibrate most frequently. And, speaking of recalibration, you will be so thankful that they made it so easy to recalibrate, since you’ll have to do it frequently.

A staple of the series, the bow makes a return in Skyward Sword as the only item that allows you to choose between full motion control (which involves pulling the nunchuck back like you’re really drawing a bow) or just partial (which is aiming the remote and pressing a button). It’s strange that the option exists, but only for this item. Anyway, I’m glad it’s there because I was not a fan of the full motion control method of shooting arrows. Here is a commercial featuring Robin Williams using the full motion control method.

Now that we’ve discussed the motion controls, let’s go back to the beginning of the game. Just a warning, it’s a bit slow to start. As I said before, there is more story setup than usual, which is nice, but it’s a lot longer before you really start the adventure than you’re used to, if you’re a Zelda fan. For example, it’s at least half an hour before you get your first sword. On top of that, it will probably be another forty or more minutes before you finally leave Skyloft, depending on how much you try to do while you’re there. Again, this isn’t all bad, it’s just different, and you’re better off expecting it than being surprised.

Skyloft

Something else that Skyward Sword does to a mixed degree of success is crafting. The game asks you to collect bugs and artifacts (called treasures) in order to upgrade your equipment and buff potions. I found that, without trying, I came across more than enough of what I needed in both areas. It’s an interesting novelty, but it definitely should have contained more depth to be such a big part of the game.

Collection

Before I mention the last highlight of the gameplay, I have to first point out its absolute worst blemish: a game-breaking bug (that’s highly unlikely and totally avoidable). Late in the game, if you follow a certain series of events, you can render the rest of the game unplayable. It’s a biggie, but it’s extremely avoidable. When it comes time to pass the trials and temper your sword in the three flames, find The Thunder Dragon after finding the other two. To me, this was already the naturally logical progression, and it likely will be for most.

koloktosLastly, the bosses. Skyward Sword, like many a Zelda game before it, does a top-notch job of incorporating the different items into the boss battles. This game, however, changes up the usual way this is done, thankfully. Experienced Hyrule heroes will remember the many dungeons in which a new item is found and then used to defeat the final boss of said dungeon. While that isn’t completely absent from Skyward Sword, what this game does is tie them together less directly. Zelda Skyward Sword Wii Screenshots - Fighting the Pirate CaptainSome bosses, later in the game, can only be defeated with items you acquired much earlier, while some bosses don’t require anything other than the sword to be defeated. Then, there are bosses that can be beaten in more than one way and even one that involves you using the boss’ own weapon against itself. And, the bosses aren’t all found in dungeons. The variety not only creates exciting anticipation for the next boss encounter, but it helps avoid any feelings of fatigue.

accessibility Accessibility: 9/10

Remember Navi and Midna? Well, I hope you missed them because this time around you get Fi, the spirit of the Goddess Sword. Sure, annoying tutorial characters that seem to follow you for way too long are commonplace in the Zelda universe now, but Skyward Sword ratchets up the handholding in several areas, and not just with the tutorial character.

Fi 1

For one, just like with the others, Fi is there for the entire game. She pops up more often than you want and reiterates way too many things. She is always available to provide hints, information on areas and enemies, and remind you of your current objective. Where is the amp up here? Dowsing. Dowsing is when you can use your sword to find objects and people. It kind of works like a metal detector, basically. When Fi wants to tell you about a new thing you can dowse, the game will literally beep non-stop until you turn it off or press the button that activates Fi. So, well after you’re aware of your objective and the ability to dowse, Fi stops to tell you, EVERY TIMEhow it works.

Dowsing

In addition to Fi, the game also has a tutorial dungeon on Skyloft, and two more optional ones as well. The first optional tutorial is the sword instruction given by the Knight Commandor, Eagus. This can be done immediately after getting the training sword in the room behind him. Once you have a shield, you can return for optional tutorial number two, training on how to use your shields. The tutorial dungeon, which takes place during your search for Link’s stolen loftwing, is very simple and quite boring. While there is a very small learning curve for the motion controls, this first dungeon is far too easy for experienced gamers of nearly any age.

Waterfall Cave

To me, the most annoying handhold of the entire game was just the constant reminders. After absolutely every single time you turned the game back on, it would remind you what each bug you collect is and each resource, too, even after you 100% know what you have and need and want, and even after you no longer need anything. Please, just let me set the level of help I want so I can set it as little as possible.

Lost Child

I suppose that maybe the developers were thinking that since this would be the first game in the newly official timeline, it needed to be accessible to gamers of all ages and skill levels. Unfortunately, it’s a little too much and a little too omnipresent for a large collection of people.

challenge Challenge: 4/10

Frustratingly, while the game seems to help you more than you probably want, the Heart Piecemotion controls cause certain parts of the game to be more difficult than they should have to be. This happens most often with fighting and using items. So when it isn’t working correctly, it can be a big deal. Having said that, it’s not as big of a problem as I could be making it out to be, and the game overall is still very easy. Too easy. I beat the entire game without dying, and I only used one potion during the entire game (during the final battle). That’s way too easy. I can’t say there is any other Zelda game I’ve beaten without any deaths. However, the difficulty could change a satisfying degree with the second playthrough…

replayability Replayability: 7/10

As you may have inferred by now, Skyward Sword is a good game. It’s also the first game in the saga of Link and Zelda, the birth of the Hero of Time; a mythic legend that splits into three separate timelines. Upon the completion of the adventure, the game allows you to trade in your save data for Hero Mode.

Hero Mode

Hero Mode is the Hard difficulty setting for Skyward Sword. In Hero Mode, hearts do not appear in grass or pots and are not dropped by enemies (unless you have a life medal) and enemies do twice as much damage. I imagine this means actually having to use potions, but you can still find benches and stools on which to sit and regain health. Still, it would be closer to the level of challenge that someone with more experience would likely prefer.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 7/10

Being part of a franchise makes it hard to stand out as unique. Not only does a game have the challenge of being compared to other games in the genre, on the same platform, and from the same generation, but also against the other games from earlier in the series. The Zelda series had been around for 25 years when Skyward Sword released, and it saw some true standout entries. And with the fairly bare-bones stories of a chosen hero saving a princess, some would even argue a lot of the games are just reworkings of previous titles.

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Skyward Sword secures its uniqueness by being the first in the freshly official timeline and the first to include any kind of romantic relationship between Link and Zelda, and it cements the originality of the gameplay by relying as heavily as it does on motion controls. It introduces a few new items and ideas, too. Otherwise, a lot of what you know and love about Zelda can be found here, which is a good thing.

mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 8/10

Skyward Sword is a good game. It’s a really good game. It just has a few drawbacks that really stick out and, unfortunately, keep it from being a great classic. Chief among these are the motion controls and the fact that the game is too easy. It’s impossible not to notice these problems, no matter how much you enjoy the game.

Timeshift

However, the positives outweigh the negatives, so it’s plenty worth your time to play it. I didn’t even mention the timeshift stones yet! Timeshift stones are found throughout the Lanayru Desert and when activated, they cause a small area around them to be transported back in time. This is necessary for solving certain puzzles, accessing various areas, and finding some treasures. They are a really cool and original concept to add to the gameplay.

Demise

Skyward Sword introduces unique new items and areas to create a new but familiar world. It has a full and engaging story that helps to set up the entire franchise while helping to fill holes in the existing lore. It has a huge, orchestral score. It has fun and creative boss battles. If you like 3D Zelda games, I would highly recommend you give it a try.

If you care at all about the overarching story of the Zelda franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a must-play.

Aggregated Score: 7.5

 

The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.

 

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9 replies »

  1. Great review ABXY! I always wanted to try out Skyward Sword of for anything, to find out the origins of the Zelda lore. I’m hoping they release a standard edition where the motion controls are disabled as I never really got anything out of it. Inspired that you used the Robin Williams commercial, it was really quite endearing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So as you know, I haven’t played Skyward Sword, but this article has made me want to play it more than ever, especially since you’re someone like me who didn’t play it contemporaneously (right?). The biggest thing is the motion controls, though. Maybe I should just wait until they re-release the game? That’s got to be inevitable, considering it’s Nintendo. I like that you put a number on the motion controls success rate (70%) but I’m not sure how frustrating that would be. At least it works more than half the time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • you should definitely play it. i did play it when it first came out, but i liked it a lot more this time. i didn’t even finish it the first time. i don’t remember why. i wouldn’t suggest playing it now rather than waiting for a remake except for i thought getting the “beginning” of the Zelda lore was awesome; i really enjoyed that about it. also, as reliant as it is on motion controls–and the fact that i read they cancelled a Switch release–makes it less likely to be rereleased later.
      on the 70%, i said AT LEAST. during some parts it was much better. the enemies that it bother me the most with i just found alternate ways to kill them (bombs, bow/arrow, stun & avoid). at NO point does it make the game unplayable… i even managed to get the max score in the pumpkin shooting mini-game (the worst motion control part, for me).

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s the most intriguing thing about it to me, getting a sense of the beginning of the Zelda mythos. I think the talk I always heard surrounding the game is it’s unplayable thanks to the motion controls, so it was nice to see something more positive about it!

        Liked by 1 person

        • not unplayable. also, while some on twitter, and the commercial, may suggest, you don’t need to be standing and in a wide open space. i played nearly the whole game from the couch. i did have to stand for a couple of things to register correctly, hence the 70%+ remark

          Liked by 1 person

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