After playing through the first part of Skyward Sword, I thought I’d share some of my initial impressions. I have just returned from being on holiday, which means that I’m likely quite far behind in the game than most of you who are reading this. Therefore I feel the need to add a disclaimer and state that this is not a review, nor have I finished the game. I’ve also managed to avoid spoilers about what happens later on in the game, so any questions that the game has raised remain unanswered for me. I’m having a lot of fun speculating about what might happen though! But like any new Zelda game, this one has me itching to talk about it so I’ve been jotting down a few of my thoughts. Even if you have already beaten the game, you may have had some similar thoughts when you first started playing.
Hit the jump to continue reading, but beware of spoilers. I’ll keep them minor.
So to let you know exactly where I’m at, I’ve completed the first three dungeons and the first trial. So for those of you who have progressed past me, you’ll know where I’m up to, and for those who haven’t, I haven’t spoiled too much for you.
Despite the fact that the start of the game is on the slow side, I didn’t mind that it took the time to set up a solid foundation for the adventure to come. It gave me time to learn some skills and controls as well as establishing some of the characters. Instead of being asked to rescue a faceless princess, the game takes time to show that there is a relationship between Link and Zelda along with giving them personalities. Had the first sequence of events been much longer though, I would have been chomping at the bit in eagerness to start the actual quest. By the time the adventure kicked off, I couldn’t wait to leap off one of Skyloft’s platforms and explore somewhere new.
Obviously, the big new thing about Skyward Sword is its controls. The game fully harnesses the technology of the Wii MotionPlus and utilises it well. It’s much more realistic and fun to have to think about the direction of your sword swings, as opposed to the Wiimote-waggling swordplay of Twilight Princess which always felt a little silly to me (I preferred the GameCube controls). The fact that certain enemies can only be attacked from specific angles adds a layer of depth, and when you add that some of these enemies punish you for careless swordplay (think electric defenses) it also adds a layer of strategy which I am really enjoying. The other thing that I found myself needing to think about, especially early on, was the item buttons. I’m used to the A-button being the action button, and found myself often trying to put away B-button items with the A-button. So I’ve been leaning a brand new way to control the game, but it doesn’t take too long to get used to. I remember having to get used to controlling Link with the analog stick in Ocarina of Time as opposed to the D-pad in the 2D games.
I was a little disappointed to learn that the game wasn’t going to have a configuration for left-handed gamers, although this was more due to tradition than anything else; I like seeing Link left-handed. As a lefty myself it’s always been a little special to me, but all that said I haven’t felt an ounce of difficulty with holding the Wiimote in my right hand. Having the control stick in my left thumb feels more natural too, since that’s the setup that I’m used to from controllers.
One of my complaints about recent Zelda games has been that they’re too easy, especially The Wind Waker onwards. This was partly due to the games becoming formulaic, and partly because I found the enemies too soft. They dealt too little damage and easy enemies often appeared all over the land. I grew up with the older games which threw tougher enemies at you the further you progressed. So I am really enjoying the fact that Skyward Sword enemies do more damage. Many attacks wipe out one whole heart, although the game tries to soften the blow somewhat by beginning Link with six hearts and there are still plenty of recovery hearts to be found. I was surprised to discover that falling into a pit or sinksand doesn’t deal Link any damage. Overall the higher damage rate, combined with getting used to the controls, means that I’m not breezing through the game on autopilot the way I have with the last few. I haven’t died yet, and honestly I’ll be disappointed if I get through the whole game without a death.
Something else that surprised me was that the dungeons appear to be smaller than those found in recent games, especially the fact that the three I’ve done so far do not span multiple floors. I will confess to being intimidated in the past by the sheer size of certain dungeons when I first see the map, so it’s kind of nice to not have that, especially because some of them can be a little tedious. The dungeons have still had their share of puzzles and obstacles to overcome, and despite their smaller size it hasn’t made them feel easier or anything like that. In fact, the phrase “quality over quantity” comes to mind when I think about the dungeons. The boss battles have been fun, although they feel like pretty standard Zelda boss battles so far.
I think that the choice of graphical style is a highlight. The worlds that have been created are beautiful and from a distance everything looks like a painting. Up very close though, some textures are not so great, especially while crawling through tunnels. There was one dungeonwhere I had to crawl through a small maze of tunnels, and the texture of the walls made me think of PC games of the 90’s like Wolfenstein 3D! I do however believe that this style will hold up against the test of time far more than had Nintendo gone the “realistic” route, especially as the Wii’s standard definition would instantly make any attempt at realism appear dated.
My biggest gripe with the game so far is that you can’t really speed up the text during cutscenes or while talking to people. It’s especially annoying in situations where you have to do a task and fail it because you have to go back and talk to whoever you talked to about the task and listen to them talk all over again and you can’t skip through. Repeating a task a few times doesn’t bother me, but I’m starting to fear failing tasks too many times because it’s very frustrating to have to talk all over again when you just want to go and re-attempt whatever you messed up.
I don’t want to talk about the story too much since I’m only partway through it and can only speculate. But at this point the game has me asking a lot of questions. Not just about how the plot itself will progress, but also about how the game fits in to the bigger picture and the Zelda series overall. Since Nintendo said that this is the first game in the chronological series, I can’t help but think about other versions of Hyrule from past games while I’m exploring the surface world. I definitely want to talk about the plot, but I’ll wait until I’ve finished the game. If I start speculating now, everyone who’s ahead of me will just post comments to say what happens! What I will say is that I’m hoping the story will progress throughout the game and it won’t just be journeying through some more dungeons without really knowing what’s going on before a big reveal at the end. I feel that they’ve raised too many questions so far to do that. I want a few more surprises along the way first.
I’d also like to see some character development along with the story. I like that this version of Link has been given a personality, and I want to see him grow more during his journey. After all, he’s the hero and the one doing all the hard work so I don’t want to see him left in the shadows like he was by Midna. I’m liking Fi as a sidekick. She talks like a computer but in a way that’s endearing rather than being boring. So far Debbie, I mean Lord Ghirahim, is also proving to be an interesting villain, flamboyant to the point where he teeters on the edge of being a complete drama queen. I’m glad to see him pop up from time to time because I’m sick of fighting faceless evil forces (I’m looking at you, Malladus and Bellum). The characters I’m not so fond of are the new races that have been introduced thus far, the Kikwis and Mogmas. They’re just really not very interesting.
What I am really, really loving is the fact that Nintendo have obviously paid a lot of attention to detail with the game. I like to mess around a bit, okay a lot, and so it’s always refreshing and amusing to see other characters react when Link does something silly, from breaking things to throwing bombs at them. I want to keep exploring and trying things out because so far I’m (usually) being rewarded for it, either with something in-game or something that makes me laugh. I also love the subtle nods to previous games that pop up occasionally and I hope that there are plenty more of them. It really feels like Nintendo have learned from some of the mistakes in Twilight Princess like vast empty areas and non-interactive NPCs and really crafted out each area, rather than just making the world big for the sake of making it big.
Since this isn’t a review, it’s a little premature to give any verdict, but I’m having a lot of fun with Skyward Sword so far. I’ve heard that it gets even better from here, and I can’t wait to get back to playing more and seeing where it takes me next. So with that, I’m signing off and returning to my Wii!