No story spoilers in this post, but these are my collective thoughts on Skyward Sword now that I’ve completed it.
The biggest question asked by people who actually care about my opinions, I’ll answer right away. Do I like Skyward Sword more than Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask? In short: Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it is without flaws, nor do I think it is the perfect game. I’ll get into what I found to be flawed toward the end of this post, but I did mention positives first in my above statement. So therefore, I will begin on positives.
I can tell many will disagree right away when I list graphics first in my positive points. Hear me out on this, I’m not just commenting on visuals, but the role graphics play in game design. Graphics play a role in game design that most people discount when they say, “Graphics don’t matter.” This game features a unique combat system that goes hand-in-hand with its art style, hence where graphics meet game design. Combat centers around watching and reading your enemy’s movements, then counterattacking at the right moment. For this to work, the features on the characters need to be stylized and exaggerated for the player to easily study their detailed movements and act accordingly. But at the same time, for this to feel natural to the player, proportions of the characters need to be realistic. Stylistic visuals with realistic proportions is really the best decision for this new type of game, and bluntly: I think it looks purty!
In a much-needed change, difficulty is ramped up from previous entries. Link starts with twice as many units of health as his other incarnations had, but this does not mean Skyward Sword is a cakewalk. Had the designers not started us off with six Hearts, I guarantee I would’ve died. Constantly. Enemies are smarter and feel more alive than most games I’ve ever played, Zelda or otherwise. The controls work well, but no one’s ever played anything like this before. It’s very new to us all, and it’s human nature to reject change right away. With a high difficulty level, it can take a lot of time to completely master. Now, I wish I could say that I never once had the motion control screw up, BUT… Not making this up, the first misread sword slash happened to me during the final battle… So close to a perfect game, but it missed right at the last second. At its core, it’s still a computer trying to figure out how a person is moving. There will always be mistakes, but my experience with it showed that its mistakes are infrequent enough.
Onward from the difficulty and my almost-perfect experience with the sword, many love commonplace items such as the Bow and Hook/Clawshot in Zelda. The aiming controls are awesome for these old favorites. The player is no longer required to point at the screen, and may center the pointer anywhere that is comfortable for their height. It’s a great feature, and it’s a shame that it took five years for a Wii game to do this. I understand some people wish that a Classic Controller mode was included, mainly for aiming with an analog stick, but the swordplay could not be replicated with buttons. As mentioned before, the combat is designed around having control of your character’s movement in specific ways that a button cannot replicate, and the puzzles follow this depth making for some really interesting puzzles.
The last thing I want to compliment are the brilliantly designed areas of this land. It’s not fully evident on the first visit, but all of them are so dense and brilliantly put together in a way that’s only rivaled by Termina. Music composition is unbelievable, making all of these brilliantly designed areas very atmospheric, which is something that I felt wasn’t quite on-the-mark for the past few Zelda games.
The story continues the building of the atmosphere. Even if it isn’t super-exciting all the way through and takes time to get going, it has a good pace and doesn’t move too quickly. Skyward Sword has a very well-written plot that’s aided by memorable characters. I’m not going to spoil anything about the characters themselves, but as a specific example, after half of the game I really loved Groose and almost wish a character like him existed in the franchise before this 2011 installment. Groose isn’t the only one either, there’s many more memorable characters beyond just him to add to the overall experience.
Now that I’m done with my praise speech for Skyward Sword, it’s only fair that I list both of the major qualms I have with it as well. Firstly, the item menus are good on paper, but could be executed better. Real-time item changing is welcome for major items like the Slingshot or Beetle, it just doesn’t work well for items like Bottles and Shields. They take up limited inventory slots and need to be swapped out with items in a safe deposit box, which seems very unnecessary. I wish that they were stored the old fashioned way and weren’t limited. The worst part is that your Bomb Bags and Quivers use these limited item slots too, and there were many times that I felt like I didn’t have enough space for what I needed for the next quest ahead. I have faith in the Wii U controller screen fixing the way menus are handled in the future, so it’s not a worry of mine that they won’t learn from it.
My second complaint is something I haven’t seen many people talk about– the day/night system. This is an expected feature of the series since Ocarina of Time, but its appearance in Skyward Sword is the most poorly-executed use of time in a Zelda game yet. You may only change time if you sleep in a bed, otherwise it’s perpetually daytime. The world at nighttime just feels incomplete as though like an afterthought due to it being tucked away from everything else. It serves only as a stash for sidequests that didn’t fit in with other subplots, and is hidden away from the rest of the experience. It feels lazy compared to an otherwise brilliant game.
All in all, Skyward Sword is a fantastic game. The Wii deserves to have a game like this as one of the last memories it leaves in our minds before it becomes obsolete next year. However, you do need to be accepting of change if you are to enjoy it, and shouldn’t go in expecting it to be perfect in every way. Remember, it was still made by humans! If you want something identical to Ocarina of Time, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a new story in an imaginative new world, the highest difficulty of any 3D Zelda game, and everything Twilight Princess should have been in the way of motion control. If you have an open mind and take time to adjust, you will immensely enjoy its own identity.