A Defense of Skyward Sword in Three Examples
Article by Power Shot
Ladies and gentlemen, you knew this time would come. That undeniable time during which we as a community must pause and examine, reflect, and critique what has been brought before us like a Parisian food critic. We will poke at everything presented, chew carefully, and swallow only if we find the meal appeasing and edible.
For this reason, I ask you all to sit down with me and consider Skyward Sword.
Yes, Nintendo has decided to grace us with the presence of a new Zelda game. However, it has been received with mixed opinion. Is it because of the graphics? Quite possibly. How about the gameplay? Miyamoto’s presentation at the conference was thought by some to be a disaster due to Nintendo’s failure to prepare for interference from smartphones and other electronics. Or maybe it’s that the game is simply not what we wanted? Yes, a good portion of the fandom has risen like the spoiled child that it is and decided that it doesn’t want what Miyamoto has decided to serve us, in spite of the fact that we all know perfectly well that we’re going to eat it anyway.
When I’m asked, and I’m frequently asked, how I feel about this new game and its place in the Zelda series, I remind faithful menservants and wenches that I am cautiously optimistic about almost everything with a gigantic amount of hype and excitement and pants-wetting and Internet outcries of rage. Yet I’m excited about the addition of Skyward Sword to the Zelda franchise. This is not because I am a raving fanboy and would gladly bend over for Miyamoto if he offered me even the slightest exclusive knowledge about the Zelda series, though I know many who would. No, sirs, I am Socrates. I don’t want to know everything about Zelda and compared to others I scarcely know anything about Zelda. But I do know a few things about technique and form in video games which I have learned during my long and complicated journey to apply literary analytical techniques to analyzing video games, and it is with this knowledge that I am here to once again calm the Internet’s temper tantrum.
Is Skyward Sword a step back from Twilight Princess? Here, your questions and unending debates are answered.
Artistic Design/First Impressions
One of the most important things in a video game are its graphics. Nintendo may say differently, but the honest truth is that I’m more likely to play a game that really sucks me in visually than one I can barely see or comprehend. By now, everyone on the Internet and all their friends know that Skyward Sword is cel-shaded. But it isn’t. Not really, anyway. While it’s true that the game has taken a step back from the realism portrayed by Twilight Princess, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The Nintendo Wii, while an admirable machine, can only do so much as far as graphics go. You’re unlikely to see Crysis-quality graphics on a Nintendo machine for a long time. However, the blending between cartoon and realism has been done particularly well in Skyward Sword. It allows it to have wonderful, high-quality graphics without causing problems for the hardware. I’ll be honest: when I saw the first trailer, I thought it was a Miyazaki movie come to life. The interesting thing about Skysword is that it gets to have its cake and eat it too. We’re allowed a hybrid between the realism and the fantasy, which is an excellent representation of the Zelda series: an epic quest that’s clearly based in the land of fantasy but touches us in a very real way.
Yes, there are some naysayers out there who will insist that the cartoony games aren’t as good as the realistic games, but to them I say that even a cartoon can have depth and meaning. For examples of this I direct you to Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Just because something’s a cartoon doesn’t make it bad. It just makes it a cartoon, and if you can’t handle that, I suggest you grow up a little bit. Skyward Sword will be beautiful, of that you should have no doubt, but you shouldn’t toss it away because it’s ‘too cartoony’ for you hardcore, serious people on the Internet. Give it some time, and as new information rolls in, I think we’ll find more and more that this new graphical style is perfectly suited to the series.
Plus, I’d like to think that this new graphical style reflects the old and new philosophy of the series into this new game. Miyamoto himself said it was supposed to do something new, and maybe since he’d done realism and cartoons before, the only way to create something new was to make a blend of those two styles.
Gameplay Grapples/What’s the Gimmick?
For Skyward Sword, Nintendo has done something exceedingly well in this particular category. No, I’m not a technophile and obsessed with using the Wii motion controls whenever and however I can. I’m being quite literal. Let’s look back on the games as a whole.
The gimmicks really started back in A Link to the Past. Each game would have a different gaming gimmick which would be prevalent in the entire game’s design. It would also allow Nintendo to continue releasing essentially the same plotline over and over again, as long as they tacked on a new gimmick to refresh the gameplay. That is, in essence, how the gameplay of the Zelda series works. In A Link to the Past it was the idea of having two worlds to explore, a gimmick that worked so well it’s been implemented in many of the series’ installments. Another gimmick was the 3D graphics of Ocarina of Time, plus the introduction of Adult Link, that really set the world on fire and now every Zelda game is in 3D. Hell, even the original The Legend of Zelda has the gimmick of free exploration, a mainstay of the series.
So the gimmick is incredibly important for every title because each game needs to be something new and interesting while still retaining the same feelings evoked in previous titles. One of the strongest examples of this has to be Majora’s Mask. Borrowing heavily from its prequel, Majora’s Mask had a lot to prove, and Nintendo decided the best way to do this was ditch the storyline they’d built for the past games, “hero saves princess”, and instead go with “hero saves the world from the moon falling on it”. It also introduced the gimmick of masks. Now, I may be biased, as Majora’s Mask happens to be my very favorite Zelda game, but this was an awesome way to step outside what had become almost a cliché plotline at this point and to show everyone what a Zelda game was still capable of. Every Zelda game thereafter would contain some sort of gimmick to mix up the gameplay. Sometimes you were in a boat, or sometimes there was a train, or sometimes you were a wolf, but you were still the boy saving the princess.
In contrast, to show an example of how this didn’t work, we need look no further than The Adventure of Link. Now, the fandom is heavily divided on how they feel about this title, but what it all comes down to is that side-scrolling didn’t stick with the series. Gimmicks that didn’t work were discarded as good ideas that didn’t work as well as they should have. But Skyward Sword’s gimmick is very, very interesting.
In Skyward Sword, your sword and entire method of controlling Link is the gimmick. This is, in every sense of the word, brilliant. Because Nintendo has decided to go back and reinvent how the game is played once more instead of tacking on another gimmick, we stand poised for the possibility of a game that finally might surpass Ocarina of Time, which is something I can certainly understand theorists getting extremely excited over. Think about it. People say A Link to the Past is amazing because it basically took the idea of the first game and made it better. People say Ocarina of Time is amazing because of the complexity of its story and the introduction of 3D graphics, but here with Skyward Sword we see the possibility of reinventing the fighting style of the game which has been, traditionally: hit enemy with sword, wait a bit, dodge, and repeat. We’re going to get the chance to really get behind the driver’s seat, so to speak, in this new game. But will it be original as far as story goes? Well, now that you mention it…
Plot Proposal/The Inevitable Reboot
There’s almost no shame in it anymore. Spider-Man’s doing it, The Punisher is doing it, everyone is apparently allowed a reboot now that it’s a new century and all that jazz. And with the success of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, everyone and everyone’s grandmother is getting ‘dark-knighted’ – a term I like to use to refer to a time in which a studio decides to make a new movie featuring a gritty reboot in the style of the new Batman films. Even Superman’s getting in on the action. Let me repeat that: Superman is getting a gritty reboot.
So you can understand that, in a world of confusion, panic, and Christian Bale’s Batman voice, I would be skeptical of the fact that Nintendo intends to go back to the beginning of the franchise and tell the origin of the Master Sword. But to my surprise, I discovered that this might actually be a good thing. Again, I ask you to consider the graphical style of the game. It’s colorful, bright, but with enough realism to put it halfway between Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker. This is the exact opposite of dark-knighting a video game and it’s a very good thing that Nintendo decided against hyper-realism. Take Grand Theft Auto IV, which uses this realism concept to the extreme and suffers for it with poor car controls and so much realism sometimes I swore it was like I was playing in real life, especially with all the side quests. Sometimes that cartoony side is a good thing. After all, I would hate for this new Zelda to go down in history as the Dark Knight of the franchise, especially since dark-knighting has almost become as cliché as the franchise’s general plotline.
Really, the Zelda series is one in which you can go back to the beginning, the very beginning, without impacting the rest of the series, as each entry in the entire franchise is basically more of the same with different concepts introduced and few recurring characters. While the story has an accepted canon, it’s perceived as okay to tinker with it in a manner that would be impossible if all the games revolved around a single Link acting as protagonist to all the games instead of the multiple ones we know to be in existence. For example, rarely do games have direct sequels and even then the sequels themselves never really have much to do with the original games. Majora’s Mask doesn’t even take place in the same world, allowing no follow up to the story dealt with in Ocarina of Time. The same can be said for Phantom Hourglass. Because of this, each story can be individualistic and have its own voice, and I think it’s good that Skyward Sword has decided to step away from the incredible hyper-realism and gritty reboots plaguing the landscape of film, television, literature, and video games.
I wrote those words almost five months ago, right after the announcement at E3. I have since gone back and tried to see where I should edit, or if I was somehow wrong in my judgment at the time, but I discovered that I still stand by my words. Friends, Skyward Sword is that rare game that dares to take a permanent step forward in the Zelda series. It’s gimmick is not a gimmick, but rather an innovation in technology, much like Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past before it. It takes what was tested in Twilight Princess and strives to perfect it into a permanent, seamless change in the experience of playing Zelda games.
So I ask you, people of the Internet, to please stop *****ing about the graphics, about the story, about everything – and just wait. This could potentially be the new finest game in the history of the Zelda franchise. You and I both know you’re going to play the game so all I ask is that until you do, be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s just a game. There’s no need to announce that your life is ruined because Link looks cartoony.