Well, let’s put everything in perspective right from the get go.  Skyward Sword is worth every dollar, pound sterling, or euro that you spend on it.  Seriously, unless you’re waiting for it as a Christmas gift or have absolutely no time due to classes or final exams coming up, why are you taking time to read this review?  Go.  Play.  You can thank me later.

Skyward Sword is an amazing game by all accounts.  Out of the last several Zelda games—handheld and console titles considered—it’s by far the freshest look at the Legend of Zelda that exists.  It still upholds the same quality bar that Nintendo is famous for with their established franchises, and the fun permeates almost every square inch of the title.  I have to say that the game isn’t completely perfect though, and while no game really is, I feel that several of the bits and bobs in the game really are unforgivable.  Yet as a whole, I do believe that Nintendo has learned a good number of lessons from the mistakes and missteps from earlier renditions of the series.

Before I go forward, I want to mention that this review will have spoilers.  These spoilers will be marked by section, so if you’re worried about learning too much of the story, don’t read the section marked “heavy spoilers.”  Think of this review like a postmortem, a review to really dig into once you’ve finished the game or a deep dive into the nitty gritty to find what worked, what didn’t, and exactly why.  That said, let’s begin.

Controls

The controls of Skyward Sword are one of the mixed parts of the game, and any reviewer that attempts to break the game into its component parts (gameplay, graphics, and the like) and then create some positive score shouldn’t in all conscious be giving this game a 10/10.  Don’t get me wrong about this; the controls aren’t completely horrible.  They’re just unpolished, especially in comparison to the Wii controls found in Twilight Princess.  But let’s not start with the bad; let’s focus on the good first.

The best part of the controls is the advanced swordplay mechanics thanks to the Wii Motion Plus.  Honestly, that part is fairly sophisticated.  It actually gives new life into a game that has become bogged down by the familiar slingshots, arrows, and bombs.  While the Wii Motion Plus will occasionally have trouble being completely accurate with your intentions (I often wanted to swing horizontally, but I must have been a little sloppy because I would often perform a diagonal slash), it’s usually fairly precise and makes combat fresh and exciting, though part of this is also thanks to the new enemy design mechanics making them small puzzles.

Combat in the thick of it is a pretty amazing thing, and you actually feel limited by physics and pressured by time constraints.  The ability of Link in both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess to leap to the side and do some sort of somersault-roll completely halfway around an enemy when Z-targeted to hit them in the back always seemed crazy overpowered and physically impossible; SS’s Link doesn’t have that much flexibility.  Might be why Link is considered lazy in the game, heh.  Learning to use your shield is important, but it’s also important to know that you just can’t hold the block button forever and expect to get out of things unscathed, especially with the constant fear that your shield could break if you give it too much abuse.  Thankfully that fear gets mitigated later in the game, but you almost always have to give it some iota of thought.

The game no longer pauses time when you attempt to select a new item, and this is perhaps the singular most advanced thing to happen to Zelda combat in the series.  You have to be on top of things if you need to, say, swap weapons or, more importantly, swig some potion.  Unlike previous console games, you can only have one item queued up for quick selection (instead of the three C-items in Ocarina of Time or D-pad items of Twilight Princess).  What’s more is that it’s impossible to key your main item to a bottle, so to regain hearts on a whipstitch, you have to select it and quickly drink it before your hearts actually do run out.  Fairies will save you from death, but that comes with its own penalty that they, similar to A Link to the Past, only restore six hearts instead of your full life meter (akin to Ocarina of Time), which makes potions—which can completely fill your gauge—all the more relevant.  Bosses, therefore, can become frantic exercises to find safe spots to get a little extra breathing room to heal yourself. This is especially true if you’re getting your butt handed to you as you’re still attempting to figure out the puzzle behind the enemy.

But I mentioned that the controls weren’t polished.  While things work generally well throughout the game, it’s the little annoyances that really get in the way and frustrate you.  First off, some of the controls are just awkward or inconsistent with the rest of the game.  Specifically, it feels like half of the time you’ll need to use the Wii Motion Plus’ waggle while the other half require the Nunchuck’s analog stick.  Even more worrying is that sometimes those two distinct control styles are juxtaposed together.  For example, if you’re swimming underwater (in order to go down primarily), you’ll use the WMP; however, once you let go of the A button to gently float to or swim on the surface, you suddenly have to use the analog stick.   It’s entirely awkward to suddenly switch control schemes the moment you press or depress A.

As far as the Wii Motion Plus goes, there are also inconsistencies with how you move things to the left and right.  Some actions you need to move the controller physically left or physically right (a rotation in yaw) to induce the desired movement while others require you to tilt the controller about its axis (a rotation in roll).  And unfortunately, each action doesn’t always use the natural rotation to do so.  Walking across a tightrope seems more natural with a twist action, but it’s actually governed by movement.  Moving and climbing small boxes is also pretty annoying.  Once you’ve finished moving a box, you can’t just climb it immediately; you have to back up so that you can take a few running paces towards it so that you can actually climb it.

Perhaps the most annoying part of the controls comes from the issue where a player frequently has to recenter the cursor whenever you go into first-person mode.  Not everyone has experienced this problem, but it’s not just a fluke that they’ve not encountered it; it’s totally a factor of how those players position the controller when switching to first person.  The moment you go to first person, whichever direction you’re pointing the controller becomes the center of the screen automatically… even if you’re not pointing at the center of the screen.  (Skyward Sword actually doesn’t require the use of the Sensor Bar.)  So if you’re holding your sword out to the right, but you move it directly in front of you before going first person, you’ll have no problem.  But if you hit the button to go to first person beforehand, then if you’re first movement  is to “center” your controller by holding it forward, the game will start scrolling seemingly uncontrollably, making you have to react quickly to recenter before you lose your target.

One last issue to discuss before leaving the subject of controls, the camera controls in the game are weaker than they’ve been in previous Zelda titles, including Ocarina of Time, which is pretty amazing considering the concept of “good” 3D camera control was still in development back in 1998.  The main issue here comes from what happens when you go from third person into first person when Link isn’t facing forwards.  In every 3D Zelda title up through now, if Link is facing towards the camera (you’re seeing Link’s face), and you press anything that will go straight to first person, the camera will spin around 180° behind Link and immediately do an about face.  However, Skyward Sword doesn’t spin the camera around; you immediately go into first-person mode facing the direction of the camera, instead immediately spinning Link back around so he’s looking at what you, the player, were looking at.  It eschewed the standard control mechanism of the past four 3D Zelda games, which will no doubt frustrate long-time players.

Characters

For many hours I honestly believed that there weren’t going to be many important characters in the game outside of Link, Zelda, and Debbie.  Those are the three strongest characters in the game by far, but thankfully the cast of significant characters doesn’t end there.  I won’t get into too many specifics of the other characters that become story-relevant, but thankfully there are others in the game that actually play a part in the unfolding of the story over time, which is a thankful relief.

Still once you leave the echelon of first- and second-tier characters, the characterizations of those watching the events unfolding aren’t entirely weak.  In fact, what’s nice is that many of the denizens of Skyloft outside of your mains aren’t entirely one-dimensional; in fact, very rarely will you find characters inside Skyloft simply saying the same line over and over until the game’s conclusion.  While they will often have their “single line of the moment” (though not always, to be sure), those lines are usually in context with recent events.  You can’t help but be slightly suspicious that all of those townspeople are, whilst you’re adventuring below, talking and gossiping with one another, sharing all of the secrets and news with one another.  What makes Skyloft seem alive is that the major sidequest of the game involves helping nearly everyone there with tasks large and small.  This sort of mechanic is reminiscent of the Bombers’ Notebook from Majora’s Mask, which more or less motivates players to involve themselves with each NPC’s life over the three-day cycle.

The imperfections really happen when you start to look at the races below the clouds outside of Skyloft’s borders.  Part of this has to do with the intentional design decision to leave the entire surface world as something of an untamed wilderness from border to border, completely devoid of permanent settlements and safe havens, but more specifically it’s because the new characters and races are just generally uninteresting.  The Kikwis (which I “lovingly” call “Kick mes”) as a plant-animal hybrid, and they’re pretty much dumb, timid things that are scared of pretty much everything.  Their forest home was overrun by a collection of enemies, and so they scatter to the winds.  The same is more or less true of every race and every area of the game beyond that.  The Mogmas, a race of mole-like creatures, are the next race that the player encounters, and while they thankfully have iota of adventure and personality, their only real use is to point Link in the right direction rather than to establish some sort of actual ambience to the area.  Time after time this happens, which makes the whole surface world seem lonely.  While this is no doubt Nintendo’s intent (Bill Trinen has explained this makes the entire surface feel like one “gigantic dungeon”), it is rough when you only have Fi to give you proper company, if you can call her even that.

At least the Gorons aren’t annoying.  To be honest, this is the first Zelda game ever where I’ve truly enjoyed the Gorons’ company.  They’re easily my favorite non-human race this time around.

Speaking of Fi, she deserves an honorable mention here for being one of the most annoying characters in the game.  Fi speaks in a very robotic voice very akin to how a computer might talk to you in some science fiction movie.  Her hints and guidance almost always start off with the claim that “there’s a 90% chance that” whatever she’s about to say is true.  This manner of speech is cute and endearing at first, much like opening a gift box to receive a new puppy.  But then you realize that puppies pee on the floor, scratch up your sofas, and chew holes in your socks.  This is Fi about the fourth or fifth dungeon in as the number of times you’re ready to scream “I KNOW!” at her when she’s stated the obvious for the fifth time.  Yes, I know it’s a boss door, Fi; it looks like every other boss door you’ve pointed out.  While Fi doesn’t offer gratuitous help in the solving of the majority of the small puzzles in the dungeons (thank the stars that Nintendo still believe we have some intelligence), Fi is quick to remind you that the red text that someone just spoke is important and then spells out precisely what your next course of action should be.  I’m actually very thankful that Fi didn’t have voice acting; whereas I feel Midna would have been only been better with proper voice acting, Fi would have driven me to commit copious acts of violence against random passersby.

Last but not least, Link actually speaks in this game.  Well, this is true on a technical note.  He doesn’t actually have lines of dialogue in the sense that other NPCs do.  However, it’s very clear at points that Link is recounting the story of his journeys or the circumstances going on to other people in the world.  In addition, as you talk to other people, you will often have the ability to choose one of two or three text options to reply or retort to others.  As I’ve seen, each of the options (unless it’s a yes-or-no option, obviously) doesn’t have any real impact on the holistic world or the characters, but it does allow you to craft your own semblance of who Link is deep within his core, which is a nice touch for the game, not to mention evoke some rather funny lines from the other characters.

Graphics

As a game developer, I usually take a special note to analyze the graphics of any game to see how they compare to the other leaders in the gaming industry.  While I know that games on the Wii really can’t hope to come close to the technical savvy of its 360 and PS3 competitors, I can’t help but always ask the philosophical question of whether or not it was wise for Nintendo to eschew HD graphics this generation; in other words, does SD graphics in an HD world really affect things?

The answer has typically been that, while the graphics usually don’t affect gameplay in any real way, sometimes there is a clear difference between the polish and shine of SD games compared to their HD counterparts.  I originally couldn’t tell the difference long ago because I still had a standard-definition television when I purchased my 360.  It wasn’t until Tales of Vesperia when I couldn’t clearly read the text on the screen that I had to break down and buy a 1080p television.  And while Twilight Princess looked amazingly beautiful on my old tube TV, it looked much worse when up-rezzed to 1080p.  I remember saying to myself, “I really do not remember TP being this ugly!”

Thankfully for Skyward Sword, the game actually looks incredible even at 1080p.  While you can see the occasional polygons on characters (a la OoT Link’s rectangular arms), rarely does the game look hideously ugly enough to make them relevant.  They weren’t that distracting, and I knew I was being too much of a stickler for detail.  Sure, the character models aren’t as crisp as say those on the more powerful consoles, but in this context it really doesn’t matter.  They’re really good enough that you just forget to notice the graphics and keep playing.

Character models are one thing; the background and the scenery are another however.  Whereas the enemies, characters, and items are crisp and clear, the environments tend to be much more blurry.  However this too seems to have been an intentional choice judging by Shigeru Miyamoto’s comments about the artistic direction of the game.  With the frequent references to impressionism, once you up-rez the game to 1080p, you can really start to see cohesive blobs of color start to emerge, much like a Monet painting.  While I have absolutely no knowledge of art history, I can at least tell that the very drastic depth of field (the range in which things in the view are in focus or not, much like the F-stop of a camera) seems very much to emulate that style as much as possible, giving the background a general idea of what’s out there if you squint a bit and look from far enough away.

There’s only a few times where I do feel that Nintendo was being (forcibly or no) stingy with graphics.  The various crawlspaces of the game seem to be frequent locations of super low-resolution graphics that really look hideous given the game’s impressionism renderer.  The most jarring of these takes place in the third dungeon where you can clearly see white lines flickering from polygons that don’t intersect perfectly as well as jaggy textures due either to terrible normal maps or alpha testing.  However, things like this are exceptions more than the rule; these few instances were burnt so heavily into my mind that I can’t just simply overlook them.

As one last note, I have to say that, thanks to Link’s heavy black eyeliner and Angelina Jolie lips, Link sometimes looks like a girl.  The fortune teller almost looks like a girl as well, too (despite having a moustache!), but that’s a little less awkward than the suddenly questioning the gender of the hero that you’ve been adventuring with for hours at a time.

Gameplay [minor spoilers within]

And now here’s where we have to have the talk about the Zelda Formula.  I have to say that, of all the Zelda games—especially the console Zelda games—since Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword feels the least formulaic out of all of them.  That’s not to say that Skyward Sword completely ditches the Zelda Formula; in fact, it does quite the opposite and structurally adopts many of its characteristics.  However, what I really mean to say is that Skyward Sword has flipped just enough of the game elements upside-down and topsy-turvy so that the game, while retaining much of the traditional formula, feels remarkably fresh.  I’m actually in awe of how it was done because I was thinking the entire time that, yes, the formula is there… yet somehow I completely didn’t care about it.  The game was just fun from the sword combat and all the puzzles that were integrated everywhere that it felt like a wholly new experience albeit still Zelda.

The puzzle component of the game has literally been turned up to 11 in this game.  Everything has become a puzzle, from fighting enemies and opening doors to navigating the terrain and how to get past simple obstacles.  That’s right; no longer is it just the dungeons providing the puzzle component while the overworld is simple navigation.  Your progress through the game will, at some point, be stymied because you have to figure out this one little thing that will no doubt eventually prove obvious in retrospect, yet the answer will elude you for quite some time.  And we’re not talking about simple puzzles the likes of which were in Ocarina of Time where you simply light the two torches in the room or defeat all of the enemies in order to open the room’s door; most of the classic puzzles, in fact, are completely absent in the game or have been altered to throw your mind for a loop.  There’s almost always a nefarious trick that’s just out of sight, and you will frequently be using the Beetle in order to scout about in order to find the missing link.

Enemies have also become a puzzle unto themselves as well.  It originally starts with simple Deku Babas; they don’t die the same way they have in games past where you have to slice them at the stalk; in Skyward Sword it’s about a sword stroke the correct way through their mouth, some of which will change from horizontal or vertical randomly.  Bokoblins have learned to block your strikes in one direction, almost always the exact direction you’re about ready to unleash, requiring you to quickly switch to a different angle before striking.  And that’s just the start of it.  Many of them can eventually be defeated through simple trial and error; some of which will seem easy until you realize that your tried and true strategies don’t work like the very similar yet different enemy you just came from, giving you pause to think of a new tactic.  And even sometimes, you’ll be tempted to run to Fi to give you some pointers.

And the minibosses and bosses work just the same way as well.  In fact, it’s the minibosses and bosses that will force you to learn increasingly advanced swordplay and strategy as you try to defeat them.  And unlike most Zelda games in recent memory, you will not have to obsessively cling to the dungeon’s magic item in order to defeat the major enemies of the game; sometimes (though not always) all you will end up needing is your sword and a lot of agility to make it through the ordeals.  And as the game advances, the game will throw faster, more furious, and more epic boss battles.  The difficulty doesn’t always rise in proportion, but generally the bosses do become more challenging or at least cleverer, forcing you to usually think about just what it is you need to do to win.

However, the game has a shocking amount of repetition, though surprisingly this isn’t entirely a bad thing (at least, usually).  The repetition of the game will cause you to face the same boss more than once… on more than one occasion.  Sometimes the boss forms are identical or slight variants; sometimes wholly different strategies are called for.  How you react to this will largely hinge upon whether you wanted something new or something that fits with the story of the game.  On the flip side of the coin, however, depending upon a few choices you make, you can cause it so that you have to face the same boss almost twice in a row, which seems like the same bad mistake made given many players’ resentment over the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass.

The repetition in Skyward Sword doesn’t limit itself to just the bosses however; the repetition exists in the major sections of the game as well.  You will visit each region of the game more than once, rehashing terrain and territory as you search for something that you couldn’t possibly have found the first time due to not having the right item.  It’s very much akin to Donkey Kong 64 for the N64, where you had to traverse each world as each of the five Kongs in order to fully explore the level.  Thankfully, each time you travel through the major areas of the game, your goal is something completely different, and the world is often wholly transformed into an entirely new experience, almost always with a change of intensity or difficulty as well.  This is what makes the repetition bearable actually, that it’s not just simply retracing footsteps.  If that weren’t enough, revisiting an area usually means that you’re going to see something new that you haven’t yet seen, making sure to keep the sense of exploration intact throughout the course of the game.

However, on the opposite side of the equation comes the return of a harsh criticism from Twilight Princess:  linearity.  The game is, from start to finish, obsessively linear.  It is nigh impossible to sequence break the game (though remotely possible, as I’ve heard), though even if you could, the cutscenes will no doubt force you back onto the proper path.  Needless to say, while not every area is strictly linear (in that there’s only one path through it), it’s not uncommon for areas to have just a single path that leads you through it start to finish.  Eldin Volcano is the biggest violator of this, though by no means is it the only example.  All in all, you will never find yourself asking the question of whether or not you should be in the room or the area you’re in because you are supposed to be there; wherever you are, you have the items and knowhow necessary to do whatever needs doing.  In some ways, it makes the game feel like it’s put Link on a set of training wheels before sending him out into the world, even though I know linearity eases the burden on game developers to make the game predictable and scriptable in terms of dialogue and story.

This linearity rarely seems incredibly stifling though.  It may prove a passing thought before you get distracted by the actual game mechanics as, more often than not, you’re usually obsessing (at least for a long while) about how many hearts you have and just how close you’ve come to death multiple times.  The game starts you with six hearts, and you will need each of those desperately as you try to figure out how to control Link properly.  Getting used to the flow of the game takes a while, and the health drain from enemies is harsh.  Almost every enemy in the game deals damage in quantities of a full heart; while there are a few enemies that dole it out with just a quarter-heart at a time, those are far and few between and usually are mere insects that aren’t true enemies as such.  (Almost thankfully, you don’t lose hearts for falling into pits.  I can’t tell you how many times I thanked the goddesses for that!)  That said, I also don’t recall any enemy dealing me more than two hearts of damage at a time, though Hero Mode, the “second quest”, will deal double damage across the board.  This game is definitely more challenging than its predecessor; however, that said, I only died once in the game, twice fewer than my first run through Twilight Princess.  (In fairness, one of my TP deaths was a cheap death on the Lanayru Bridge.)

The game is approximately as long as Twilight Princess was, though the structure is definitely different.  There are fewer dungeons in SS than there were in TP, but there’s a lot more action to do in the overworld insofar that there are enemies everywhere, which will definitely slow down your progress through the game.  In addition, the game has also been padded for time by required search quests that force you to find several parts of an object or several members of a community.  Thankfully you can at least get a hint of where to find them by using your sword in order to dowse for them much like a dowsing rod supposedly finds water.  However, dowsing can be frustrating because it functions inconsistently.  If the thing you’re looking for is in a different section of the map, it’ll point to the exit of that region; however, if the thing you’re looking for is inside the current region but possibly inside of a building (load screen in between or not), it won’t point towards the building entrance but instead where the object should be were it actually locatable in that section.  It’s obvious once you figure it out, but it still can be frustrating in the middle of it, especially given its role as the biggest pad to the game for length.

Lastly, traveling between the various regions of the game can get a little old as well.  While Skyloft Island is a rich area that’s full of characters, the rest of the sky is pretty barren and devoid of anything except the occasional rocky planetoid.  There are only a handful of enemies in the air as you’re flying—all of them easily avoidable and unchallenging—and aside from occasionally using magic wind tunnels through the doughnut-shaped rocks to gain speed, there’s really nothing to do when journeying above the clouds.  It’s less exciting than Wind Waker and reminiscent of Twilight Princess’ overworld.  It’s still more fun than riding the train in Spirit Tracks (easily the most boring transportation method ever in Zelda), but it’s not super fantastic.  Thankfully, the sense of wonder that you’re flying high through the sky like a bird makes it somewhat enjoyable.

Story [major spoilers within]

Those who’ve been following the trailers and news snippets about the game will know what’s going on at the beginning of the game.  Link, who gets woken up within the first two minutes of the game (Stop; why is it that Link is always some sleeping-in, lazy bum of a guy in each of the Zelda games?  Is Nintendo trying to convince us that Link doesn’t start out the game being particularly heroic so that, by the game’s end, we can ever so clearly see how much Link has grown?  I’d like to think that there are much better ways of conveying this, but perhaps it’s such a cheap mechanic to “begin the game” by beginning a new day so that you don’t have to feel like you’re starting in medias res, but why must it always be Link waking up late?  Sorry, I digress.  A sticking point of mine.), is a young knight-in-training at Skyloft’s very own Knight Academy, a boarding school of sorts for those who are in the business of protecting Skyloft from monsters, keeping the peace, and rescuing those hapless idiots that are constantly falling over the edge of the island without calling their Loftwing.  Zelda is apparently a knight-in-training as well, along with several of Link’s classmates who don’t seem to be too fond of him.

At any rate, the game begins on the 25th anniversary of the Knight Academy (I see what you did there), and as such there’s a graduation examination for those in the lower class of the academy by attempting to catch a statue hooked to the tail of a Loftwing.  Of the several competitors, only one can win the contest, and he who succeeds will graduate to the next level while the others are held back for another few months until the next attempt.  Link is slated to compete in this contest, but gasp and egad his Loftwing has turned up missing!  The contest is delayed so that Link can fetch his bird, and yes he does.  All this is so that you can get used to the basic controls before you actually have to learn the flying controls, so it’s not bad.  It allows you to interact with most of the villagers and get a feeling for the society above the clouds.  At any rate, with your bird, you finally get to compete, and, to no one’s surprise, you actually can’t lose the competition no matter how terribly you fly.  Link gets knighted and gets to perform the closing ceremonies with Zelda, who’s playing the role of the as-of-yet-unnamed goddess of Skyloft.

After you’re done with that, you figure out fairly quickly that Zelda’s kind of into Link, and she ultimately asks you if you want to go fly on a magic Loftwing ride together, and Link accepts like any smart lad.  Just as you get to the good part of Zelda saying that there’s “something important” that she’s been “wanting to say for a while,” the two lovebirds are interrupted by a gigantic tornado that pulls Zelda down through the cloud floor out of sight.  Link manages to stay aloft, though unconscious, waking up several hours later as a strange voice begins to call for him.  This is Fi’s voice, and you follow the mystical sword-girl’s floating form throughout Skyloft until you grasp the Goddess Sword, the thing that proves that you’re a part of this semi-ancient prophecy and declares that you are important and will take part in some epic role against evil.  And with that, you’re off to the surface world, hot on the heels of Zelda, who apparently seems to have her own agenda and role to follow.

This is more or less where the story remains for the next 20 or so hours of the game.  Seriously.

Okay, you’ll find that that Lord Deborah Ghirahim wants the girl so that he can do something with her, and he makes a few vague allusions later in the game as to exactly why he wants the girl, but that’s it.  You don’t really figure out what he or Zelda are trying to do until way late into the game.

For those who really love story and think that the Zelda franchise would be vastly improved by its inclusion, this game won’t appease you.  Skyward Sword takes a cue from pretty much every other Zelda out there and doesn’t really provide this long narrative or drama.  There’s no deep conspiracy stories like you’d find in Assassin’s Creed, no complicated, dramatic, and involved tale like Tales of Symphonia, and no real sleuthing subplot like Metroid Prime or Ace Attorney.  It’s essentially an epic tale of fate and destiny where Link and Zelda have been foretold to slay some ancient evil that just so happened to wake up fifteen seconds ago.  For those who love story, it will end up feeling like too little, too late.

However, if you stop and take the story as it is (not to mention when you get it), the burden that gets balanced on Link’s shoulders once you find out the plot is immense.  Our own Jason worded it best when he said that the game feels like Link has suddenly been ushered into this quasi-religious and weighty quest upon that the safety and sanctity of not just the surface but Skyloft hinges upon.  And the gravity of the situation does seem dire.  You can literally feel the sense of urgency in the last portions of the game as you feel like you’re rushing to complete everything before the world goes belly-up.  Of course the game actually gives you as much time as you need to actually accomplish it all, but such is the way of all such video games really.

And it’s here in the last chapters of the game where Skyward Sword really hits its stride.  Once the story comes out of radio silence and actually lets you in on the secret tale underlying everything, things just become crazier and more epic with each passing obstacle.  Things you wouldn’t expect to happen will suddenly start to happen, and you will have to face frustration and disappointment as everything that can go wrong does go wrong.  However, the intensity of the game only accelerates at this juncture, leading you straight through the last challenges all the way to the final boss battle… and the only way to really describe it is that Skyward Sword’s final boss surpasses the fan service and epic nature of Twilight Princess’ final boss sequence, and that is no small feat.

Before I leave this section, I really want to touch on the greater Zelda universe here by very briefly mentioning how this fits into the timeline.  I hesitate to bring this up in a review like this (especially given how long this has already gone), but Nintendo has made a point to say that this is the game that begins it all.  The expectation is that this game would politely tip its hat at several of the other well-known features and happenings that would happen in later titles such as Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess and help solidify the timeline.

For starters, yes, it’s very clear that Skyward Sword comes before Ocarina of Time and anything else that might come before it.  No challenges there.

However, Skyward Sword also creates a lot more questions than it actually solves.  For starters, it will drop names here and there of races, names, items, and places that have been in other Zelda games (some of which already having definitive histories and origins) and yet provide no real connection between this new reference and the previous origin.  All the while, it fails to mention so many other things that we know take place at some point down the road—races, landmarks, not to mention all of the various places outside Hyrule.  Even more awkward is the fact that Nintendo starts to create a history for this new, pre-Hyrulian world that doesn’t even seem to fit thematically with the rest of the series.  In fact, in many ways it is The Phantom Menace to the original Star Wars trilogy; the technology is better in Skyward Sword than in any other Zelda game with the exception of Spirit Tracks.  Inversely, much of the magical energy that drives so much of the Zelda as a whole universe seems absent here.  While its placement in the timeline is clear, it just thematically doesn’t seem to belong where it does.

I’ve still got lingering questions that just don’t make sense, once again casting the shadow of doubt as to whether or not there will ever be a definitive and sensible history.  Connecting the dots in Zelda never seems to get any easier.

Miscellaneous Issues [minor spoilers within]

So with all of that aside, there’s just a few other points (read:  gripes) that I think need addressing.  In part, it’s therapy for me just to get them off my chest.  The other part is the vain hope that some Zelda designer over in Japan will read this and deep my opinion worthy enough to listen to.  So, in no particular order:

  • Item Collection ­– Yes, I know it’s an Amber Relic.  I’ve collected 25 of those already.  You do NOT need to remind me of what it is just because it so happens to be the first one I’ve collected this play session.  My memory is not THAT bad.
  • Text Speed – While holding the A button while people or talking does speed up the text, the speed up is marginal at best.  It’s barely tapping the accelerator pedal, and this car is already below the minimum speed limit for this highway.  Either make this an option in the game’s settings (by the way, why isn’t there a Settings page on the menu?) or allow us to instantly show the rest of the dialogue for that screen.
  • The Harp – This is perhaps the worst musical instrument implementation in every Zelda game ever, and this includes the pitch pipes from Spirit Tracks.  All of the songs you learn are played using the same motion with the Wii Motion Plus and requires little to no real skill to play.  I know you don’t use the harp often, but I really did feel a bit silly just gliding my fingers haphazardly over the harp strings.  (Also, I love how Link just so happens to master using the harp on his first time playing it; seriously, Zelda holds it up to him in the prologue, telling him that “this is a harp,” as if the two of them have never seen one in their entire lives.)

Overall Impression

I feel that I’ve talked about a lot of negative points about the game.  However, when it really boils down to it, my major gripes about the game are nitpicks, just small details and not the overall picture.  As for the rest of it, the game is money well spent and will give you hours and hours of enjoyment throughout your playtime with it.  What’s more, the game perhaps has the best chance of overthrowing most people’s all-time favorite Zelda games and take the #1 spot in their hearts.  Honestly, the game is just that good.  It’s just enough homage to the earlier titles like Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess without feeling like a simple rehash of any of them.  It’s a different game, a fresh, modern Zelda title that has to be played for the experience.  Even after the post-game high has worn off and I look back at the game, I’m eager to give it another go, not just for the experience and to notice all of the details that I missed but also for the challenge.  Even Hero Mode, the extremely difficult variant of the game, seems to call like a Siren to my inner Zelda geek.

Bottom line?  It’s a must buy for any Zelda fan.

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