The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review & Comparison with Prior Zelda games

Finally finished The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I should say thankfully before my long trip to Scotland. I’ll be leaving on January 2 and wont be coming back until late May, so I took it as my mission to play through the latest Zelda adventure before heading off to the city of Glasgow.

I’m a massive Zelda fan which should be obvious from my Top-10s, Cartoon Series reviews and other fun stuff I’ve put up in relation to this fantasy action-adventure series. But now I’ll write my in-depth review of the latest game and later compare it to the other major titles in the series which I’ve played.

***

Gameplay: 3,5/5

I have to say, the most uneven part of this new instalment in the series. I do have to say that for the most part and during regular gameplay, the controls were fine and it wasn’t all that different from the controls in Twilight Princess. In fact, there were a few really nifty features such as Link’s sword now actually following the motions of your WiiMote which was nice.

Some of the new items were really awesome, like the Beetle, but others, like the Whip, didn’t really add anything substantially new to the plate. Flying around on your bird was fun, if a little useless and at least the amount of spatial puzzle solving didn’t make the game feel at all taxing but actually pretty fun. Also, Link could actually swim and dive pretty decently in this one (though still not nearly as good as when using the Zora Mask in Majora’s Mask). I also liked how you could now fill up your bomb-bag by picking up Bomb Flowers and stuffing them in your pouch.

However, there were a number of really stupid additions to this Zelda game which made playing a tad more frustrating than it really needed to be. For one thing, Link’s stamina meter was entirely unnecessary. If the game really needed a sprint-button that badly, they should have followed Grand Theft Auto’s example and just have Link slow down to normal running speed when he was out of breath. Secondly, though the angled sword swinging was put to pretty good use here and there, a lot of the time you ended up just swinging all around randomly since it was just as effective.

What I hated most about this game was the fact that Links shields are practically useless. For one, the wooden shield is a piece of shit, the iron shield conducts electricity and that gay purple one just breaks way too easily. Getting the materials to reenforce the shields was a pain in the ass as well and it’s annoying that the best shield in the game also conducts electricity. I had to play through the first two dungeons of the game without a shield and having to come back to Skyloft just to repair my damaged shield after every dungeon just got repetitive. The bottom line here is that Link’s shield should never break, EVER! I could understand the wooden shield burning to a crisp in this and prior Zelda games, but having your shield be a constant pain in the ass is not the way I prefer to play my Zelda games.

I also hated that Link’s fancy sword moves from Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were no longer featured. Even though they weren’t entirely necessary, they would have made certain fights in the game a whole lot easier.

***

 Graphics: 4/5

Here I have to give the game credit for a few things. For one, I’m glad the game had adopted a more colourful and lively look to set it slightly apart from the much darker predecessor, Twilight Princess. The locales in the game had a nice level of variety which helped keep things interesting. Particularly, the dungeons looked really nice and I even quite enjoyed Eldin Volcano, even though the fire regions are usually my least favorite part of any Zelda game.

As for enemies, there was an okay variety of them, but I really wish that some more classic Zelda baddies would have showed up and on the over-all I didn’t find the new enemies all that memorable. The bosses looked awesome for the most part at least and those three-headed monsters in Lanayru Desert were kinda cool. However, I really started to dislike the Bogoblins after a while and would have actually preferred those generic looking Goblins from Twilight Princess. The redesigns of the Stalfos, Beamoms, Armoses and Octorocks were all pretty nice but I really missed the fact that there were no Redeads (or even Gibdos), Wall Masters or Dark Nuts (heck, not even an Iron Knuckle).

Really, the only solid criticism I can direct at the game is that there were a lot of little bits of animation and items that were taken directly from Twilight Princess, which seemed like a bit of unfair recycling. Okay, so Majora’s Mask did pretty much the same thing, but it was a side-quest game made in less than a year whereas Nintendo had plenty of time to redesign the items in this game, yet didn’t. Also, while I enjoyed that many locales got reused and revisited in the game, at times it did start to get a bit repetitive, especially during the Spirit World runs.

And I have to say that The Imprisoned was by far the most dumbest looking monster in the whole game.

***

Animation: 5/5

Here I can’t fault the game for much, honestly. The Zelda games have been very cinematic ever since Wind Waker and that is all fine in my book. I like it that after completing a section of a game the characters do something interesting all on their own. I recommend sticking around for and after the credits this time, because Nintendo finally decided to make good use of the credits to tell a little bit of the game’s story that wasn’t covered elsewhere.

***

Music: 4/5

I think a little underwhelming this time. The production value was high as usual and the tunes all fit their respective locales very well. However, I missed that there weren’t all that many classic Zelda tunes used throughout the game (even the Zelda theme wasn’t played once until the game’s latter half) and the new tunes used in the game didn’t really stick in my mind except for some incidental bits and for some pretty bizarre melodic similarities. Am I crazy or did anyone else think the flute theme in the Clawshot parts in Lanayru Desert sounded like the base melody for Lady Gaga’s Telephone?

***

 Sound: 3,5/5

I’ll give this game a slightly higher score than the last two Zeldas, but I honestly can’t still forgive Nintendo for not including a full voice-over in a Zelda game. For one thing, it would solve that annoying problem of having to tap the frickin’ A-button so many times just to get all the dialogue text moving. And secondly, Nintendo has the technology and resources to do the voice-over right. So why hasn’t been done yet? Are the Zelda games forever cursed with the mute character syndrome?

The half-point is granted to Zelda actually singing real vocals at the game’s start. Really nice, but I still would have wished the game would have a full voice-over. In fact, it’s the one thing I’ve wished for the Zelda series for the past ten years.

***

Plot: 3,5/5

On the offset it’s actually pretty interesting and knowing the game was going to be a prequel to prior Zelda titles at least added an element of surprise to it. Unfortunately, I have to say the game falls a tad short in this area by the finale. There weren’t nearly as many interesting plot-developments as I would have hoped for and, at its base, it’s a rather standard story-setting. Thankfully though, the story did avoid some of the Zelda clichés or was able to put a slightly different twist to them.

On one hand, it’s kinda nice to see where it all began and the game did shine some light on the origins of certain things. Also, I felt the story moved at a fairly brisk pace. Although, I don’t really care for some of the insinuations the plot makes about the possible origins of Hyrule in the character of Fi and the little robots in Lanayru Desert.

***

Replay value: 3,5/5

There is certainly a lot to do in the game and that in itself seems to have been the forte of a lot of the later Zelda games. I also thought the dungeons (with a few exceptions) were all really good and interesting. There was some repetition, especially with the Spirit World runs – but the game did pull a few interesting (and at times nasty) surprises which kept the playing from becoming boring. So, on the over-all, I do see myself coming back to this title perhaps a bit more readily than Twilight Princess.

***

Score:  77%

Skyward Sword has some nifty ideas, it has a pretty solid structure and it does shine some interesting light on the over-arching storyline of the franchise. However, it also has some pretty ridiculous faults and problems which make it feel like a rather ham-handed entry into the series. It doesn’t quite deliver the epic scale of the prior games and is even a little lazy in certain parts. For challenge and over-all replay value, it’s not all that bad – but perhaps a slightly underwhelming entry into the franchise.

***

The Zelda Franchise Comparisons

Now to compare how Skyward Sword fairs in comparison to prior Zeldas

Ocarina of Time

Of course, I have to start with the big one: the game which made me a Zelda fan. Even though the series has evolved quite dramatically with new features and things that keep making each Zelda a slightly more refined experience, nothing in my view has still trumped the fun-factor in Ocarina of Time. It has the most solid main quest of any Zelda game, which is why I still keep coming back to it after all this time.

Graphically the game is of course a little outdated, but it came out in 1998, year 2 for the Nintendo 64 in most parts of the world, so it would be unfair to expect too much refinement from a game that was effectively playing on the enhanced game engine of Super Mario 64. I think the game utilised the N64’s graphic and audio capabilities well. Sure, there are some pre-rendered backgrounds in this one, but only in interior locations which is hardly the biggest sin out there.

The soundtrack of this game is still untoppable in my book. While most of the sequels have done a superb job with their soundtracks, it’s not just that the music is well-produced that makes it stand out. It’s because the melodies are so inherently memorable. It’s one of those game soundtracks that everyone will instantly recognise. And the fact that Link himself plays an instrument in the game only adds to it.

Now, to be fair, Ocarina of Time doesn’t offer quite as large of a variety of side-missions and quests as later Zelda games, but I still enjoy poking around and collecting helpful items and Heart Pieces because it all feels so natural and not as over-bloated as later Zeldas. It’s just a super solid game and highly recommended to everyone.

Score: Gam.: Gra.: Ani.: Mus.: Sou.: Plot: Rep.:
86 % 4 4,5 5 5 4 4,5 4

Majora’s Mask

A direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. As I’ve mentioned before, I was not Majora’s Mask’s biggest fan when it first came out as I thought it was really underwhelming, considering the size and scale of the previous game. It’s not until later I realised that the game effectively did everything better than Ocarina of Time.

Majora’s Mask was conceived as a direct sequel and done on a really short amount of time, but Nintendo still managed to make a living, breathing game world with tons of interesting characters to go and talk to. The game undoubtedly recycled 75% of the graphics from Ocarina of Time but added lots of nifty updates, had its own distinct and memorable locales and even upped the ante on game’s challenge. You still got all the items from Ocarina of Time and something even better.

The masks in this game is what made the gameplay super fun. Whether you played as pathetic but cute flower-copter spawning Deku Scrub, the powerful rolling Goron or as the elegantly swimming Zora, the gameplay had much more variety than any other Zelda game before or since. Plus, the soundtrack was nearly as solid. Even with some recycled songs, it still produced its own solid music as well.

Now, even though the main quest in this game was too short and the saving system was really inconvenient, Majora’s Mask had a great storyline. One of the best in the whole series. Also, it’s a game that rewards the player for sticking around and completing all the side-quests. For a quickly done side-story title, Majora’s Mask is in fact the most solid title in the franchise to date and definitely one of the under-rated classics of the N64.

Score: Gam.: Gra.: Ani.: Mus.: Sou.: Plot: Rep.:
93 % 5 5 4,5 4 5 4 5

The Wind Waker

Here’s a game that caused controversy upon its release for the dumbest reason imaginable. A lot of people seemed to dislike the cartoony design of Wind Waker, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, Wind Waker is probably the most graphically impressive game from GameCube and deserves massive recognition for bring the cinematic features in Zelda to their absolute peak. It’s another epic adventure that obviously couldn’t quite match the awesomeness of Ocarina of Time, but instead played on two different strengths, comedy and a vast game-world.

There are also those who still complain about the sailing in Wind Waker, even though it’s not nearly as time-consuming as people make it out to be, plus, you get a warp spell later on so I can’t honestly take that criticism seriously. The epic scale of the game is awe-inspiring and the sailing was a new novel concept which I liked.

Plus, Wind Waker still retained the gameplay of Ocarina and Majora, but added one feature which I’ve missed for a long time since. It’s the only Zelda game where you got to move the camera freely. I hate it that this feature wasn’t brought over to Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword because only having the Z-button to aim and centre the camera in the later Zeldas was seriously constraining and frustrating on top of that. Here you could actually turn tail and run if things got too hot to handle and you would actually see where you were going.

Plus, the game had awesome dungeons and bosses and a top-notch soundtrack, nearly on par with OoT. Unfortunately it also had one thing that made me unable to play through the game for a second time: The Triforce Hunt. I absolutely hate this part of the game. It’s time-consuming, it’s not fun, it effectively kills the whole momentum of the game and the story and is just a total waste of time. I don’t even know how I had the energy to pull it off the first time (I think my sister helped me). But it’s easily the most annoying thing in the game.

That aside, I remember already being bemused by the fact that Wind Waker didn’t have voice-acting either, even though Metroid, StarFox and even fucking Mario did. It’s still an awesome game, it just has a seriously annoying middle part.

Score: Gam.: Gra.: Ani.: Mus.: Sou.: Plot: Rep.:
81 % 4,5 5 5 5 3 3,5 2,5

Twilight Princess

The first game I bought for the Wii, Twilight Princess seemed like it was going to be an awesome game. And it was… to a point.

Firstly, I’ll have to give the game credit for trying something different with Link’s wolf transformation. The game also had a really memorable cast (much better than Skyward Sword) and the story was also very interesting, even if it did have a somewhat predictable ending twist. However, the character of Midna almost entirely stole the show, which I have to say, I didn’t mind – but it definitely pushed Zelda off to the side as far as the story was involved.

Graphically, I think the game looked really good for a late GameCube title and not even that bad for an early Wii title. The gameplay could have utilised the WiiMote’s capabilities better, but it’s not like the controls were frustrating by any means. Musically and from the perspective of side-quests, this one was just as strong as the last two games so really it seemed like a really solid title. I especially liked the redesigns of classic Zelda monsters, the bosses looked awesome and the game also added some cool new items like the Water Bombs and the Bomb Arrows.

Now, unfortunately the game did fail in two areas in my view. For one, if we take away Midna’s part in the story – then it’s just another Zelda game. That feels like an odd thing to say, but the quest’s structure was so much like Ocarina of Time, it almost felt like it was intentionally copying it. Secondly, I felt the dungeons were too plain and often just way too easy. A lot of them revolved around the idea of a large central hall where you had to make your way to far off ledges by traveling through rooms filled with monsters and the puzzle solving in most of them was almost non-existent. I distinctly remember breezing my way through the whole game without even once getting stuck in any of the dungeons.

Because of this and the fact of how dramatically the story is pushed forward there really isn’t much incentive to pick the game up to play it again, since you’ll feel like you’ve already seen it all. The game does get more play-time from its side-quests and the game-world is thankfully quite vast, but it felt like a very quickly expended adventure to me.

Score: Gam.: Gra.: Ani.: Mus.: Sou.: Plot: Rep.:
80 % 4 4 5 5 3 4 3
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