Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Overrated: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

As a long time Zelda fan, last November I eagerly awaited the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, unconvinced by the graphics in the screenshots which had been released but with an open mind; I had already been pleasantly surprised by Windwaker's cel-shading despite being initially sceptical. As it turned out, the less than spectacular visuals were one of the more minor objections I had to the game when I came to play it in full. It must be said now that Skyward Sword seems to have had a 'marmite' effect on the vast majority of Zelda fans. Many, perhaps even most, have hailed it as the best in the series, and the game has been met with gushing critical reviews; it scored 93 out of 100 on Metacritic and 10/10 on IGN which labelled it a 'masterpiece'. Some fans have accused it of not 'feeling' like a Zelda game but that it is still 'amazing' (Zelda Universe forums). I have to admit to being slightly baffled at the response to the game after having played it.

The controls have split the opinions of many reviewers. Zelda Universe begins by describing them as 'one of the mixed parts of the game', going on to state that they 'aren't completely horrible' but 'just unpolished'. IGN on the other hand, claims that they are 'the purest, most perfect realisation of Nintendo's ambitious goals for motion-controlled gaming'. I found myself somewhere in between these two positions. While I found that the controls were innovative and exciting, there were various times where the nunchuk was unresponsive, or had a delayed reaction (particularly during the last fight). The bow, as in Twilight Princess, was remarkably accurate but where the real difference was apparent was in the sword. The Wii Motion Plus allowed Nintendo to finally cash the cheque they wrote with Twilight Princess, creating truly responsive and realistic sword play.

I don't want to spend too much time talking about the positives of the game (of which there are many) as there are plenty of reviews showing nothing but these positives turning a blind eye to the faults, which to my mind are glaring and numerous. The first of these I would like to address is the graphics. I understand that there were many complaints that the Wii struggled with Twilight Princess's realistic style and so to circumvent these issues Skyward Sword adopted the impressionistic style. As I already mentioned I had seen screen shots of the game prior to playing my own copy and was relatively unimpressed. Official Nintendo Magazine swooned at the sight of them but I just found them to look unclean. When I saw them upon first playing the game I was utterly disappointed. It is by far the most colourful of the games and in the larger areas, where things are far off in the distance it looks much better. However, as I first looked around Link's room, it was in disbelief at what to me just translated as a lack of detail, rather than the artsy, abstract effect which Nintendo seemed to have been aiming for.

After exiting the building there was the usual annoying tutorial to learn the controls, for which I can forgive the developers, despite wistfully looking back at Majora's Mask and its distinct, welcome lack of it. It is here the story begins.
Skyward Sword sets a new, important benchmark for Nintendo. Modern video games have made significant strides in how they present stories to audiences, and it seems as though Nintendo has finally taken notice. At times they are downright captivating with their picturesque settings and powerful drama. The game lacks voice acting as always, but characters' emotions shine through regardless, and the framing of scenes is incredible- (IGN.com)

It was alright. I felt a bit like Mario getting to the castle discovering a bunch of Toads instead of Princess Peach every time Zelda ran off. It has been said that the character development displayed in this game is the best the series has seen so far, which I can only meet with a guffaw. It is true that there is some great character development on display, the problem is that it is limited to one character. Groose is the only Skyloftian who goes through any gradable transformation in the game. He is one of Nintendo's success stories, driving much of the humour in the game and moving from a completely unlikable jerk to a character you are rooting for. There is a change in the Zelda character of Skyward Sword but I don't think you could go as far as to call it character development. She could be likened to Midna in Twilight Princess in that she seems to go from one extreme to another in a binary fashion. Skyward Zelda is a bit pushy (literally...) and annoying until she gets swept away and as if a switch has been pressed she becomes saintly. The rest of the characters are rather like the island folk in Windwaker. They will say a few different things if you talk to them, but nothing to make you feel as if what you do affects what is going on in any tangible way. In fact, that is only true of some of the Windwaker characters, you can actually matchmake and improve the shop in Windwaker through character interaction, as well as steering Mila away from a life of crime. Both Windwaker and Twilight Princess come much closer to reaching the benchmark set in 2000 by Majora's Mask in terms of character development than Skyward Sword ever does.

Probably the most irritating and 'un-Zelda like' aspect of the game for me was the map. I wouldn't accuse the game in general of being un-Zelda like at all, as it falls back on some old standards of the series (which I will discuss later). The map however was incredibly off putting. You have the Sky area which consists of Skyloft, the Lumpy Pumpkin and the Thunderhead. Everything else is random rocks, making the flying part of the game feel like a bit of a waste of time. If there had been a couple more settlements, or more to do in the sky I think the game would have benefited greatly. The surface world comprises of three areas which are totally inaccessible from each other while on land. In other words, every time you want to go between areas, you have to go back to the sky world and then fly to the other area. The disjointed nature of the landscape made me feel like I was playing Eternal Sonata rather than a Zelda game. It is suspected that it was the criticism of Twilight Princess as big and empty that led Nintendo to adopt this kind of map, however I think that the setting of the former felt more realistic and more suited to the adventure genre.

Much had been made of Skyward Sword's attempts to move away from the standard two-part, dungeon to dungeon format of the series prior to the game's release. It is fair to say that it achieved this to some extent. The usual pre-dungeon quests are much lengthier than in any of the previous console Zelda games and correspondingly the dungeons themselves are much shorter. The standard enemies such as Bokoblins and Deku Babas have become much more sophisticated and combat with them is now strategy based. However, when it comes to boss battles many of the old Zelda tactics rear their heads, the most obvious example being Tentalus, whose eye could have been replaced with an 'arrow goes here' sign and it couldn't have been more obvious. Each item you find in a dungeon is, as always in Zelda, used in that dungeon in order to progress. Many of the same weapons appear; it wouldn't be Zelda without the sword, bow and bombs. The bombs do get a bit of an upgrade though, you may roll them across the ground like a bowling ball to varying degrees of success. The bomb-wielding aspect of the controls caused a few hair pulling, swearing tirades during one boss fight. One fantastic addition however, is the beetle, which allowed me to check out all corners of the room before deciding what my next move would be.

Overall, Skyward Sword is not a bad game. It can be entertaining in places and has a couple of genius pieces of composition which lend the game personality that its characters often fail to deliver. Had I played it without the expectation that always accompanies a Zelda game I may have been pleasantly surprised. Compared with other hallmarks of the series however, I feel it fails to match up to their high standards. Although it is visually more colourful than any of the other games, it is less colourful where it really counts and so for me, does not deserve a lot of the high praise it has been awarded from most corners.

- Emma-Lee Davidson


Maybe it was just my pre-conceived expectations, but I rather enjoyed Skyward Sword. Kind of opposite of you, I was expecting it to be disappointing (like just about every Wii game I’ve played recently). In fact, I was going to skip in entirely until one of my coworkers at Dish told me how much he loved it. I’m not so sure I’d say I loved it, and I can understand calling it overrated, but I did have fun with it and actually put quite a number of hours into it. It was actually considerably longer than I might have imagined; it made me glad I was renting it through the mail instead of from Redbox where I used to rent games. A couple bucks a day would have added up with this one.

Skyward Sword is definately a good game but it does lack a lot of the elements that make a good zelda game, thus I think it is overrated. I keep going back to it from time to time but I always get put off by multiple flaws in the game such as the small map screen, draw distance and enemy designs (e.g the bokoblins look like old angry grampas). I am one of the only people in my general area who even likes this game though. My sister and her friends despise this game but praise Twilight Princess which is also a good game.

I would probably rate this game an 8.5 in a regular rating system but for a zelda game a 8.0 as my least favourite 3d zelda game

1. Wind Waker - 9.5 Outstanding
2. Majora's Mask - 9.2 Amazing
3. Ocarina of Time - 8.8 Great
4. Twilight Princess - 8.6 Very Good
5. Skyward Sword - 8.0 Good

I think Majora's Mask is definitely my favourite as it was the darkest (I don't care what anybody says about Twilight Princess, the dark magic and implied evils in Majora's Mask are far more complex and affecting than those in TP). Windwaker was phenomenal though. Its art style won me over and I feel it has aged better than some other 3D games from that period (rather like Super Mario Sunshine, cel-shading is more kind to games as they get older).

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