Review

A couple points before I begin the review proper.  First of all, I don’t give my reviews scores. I don’t believe that a game’s worth can be assigned a number.  Instead, I will include a Buy/Rent/Don’t Bother tag at the conclusion of this document.  Secondly, when writing a review (or playing the game, for that matter), I judge the game by its own worth first and as a game in a franchise second (if at all).  Therefore the review will focus on what the game has to offer, and only mild tidbits scattered throughout as to how certain things compare to other Zelda games.  Even at that, I will only be pointing out how certain systems/items compare, rather than how “quality” differs between games.

Now, on to the meaty goodness.

Controls

Might as well get this section out of the way.  My goal was to format this in the same way Nexus formatted all of his reviews…but I feel this is an important factor.  If anyone reading this still has not invested in this game, let me assure you that the controls work, and work well.  Much ranting has been done on the Interwebs about the motion controls, and a lot of it is, frankly, silly.  Generally I’d just talk about how the controls work, but I’m going to take a moment to vent.

If you are playing a game with normal, button-based controls and press the jump button too early you will land in the very pit you were trying to clear.  If you press the button too late, you will fall into the pit before your hapless avatar can attempt a jump.  In this game, as in any other video game that has ever existed ever, if you do not time your actions properly something you do not want to happen will happen.  The game registers any sharp movement from the Wiimote as a sword slash.  If you want to do a horizontal slash from left to right, you cannot whip your hand to the left first.  If you do that, then you will do a slash from right to left.  You have to make a slower movement to the left first to get Link’s sword into position before you perform the strike.  Every instance I’ve had where Link has not done what I wanted him to has been because I didn’t follow that rule.

That being said, this very rule is sort of a downfall to the combat controls.  If you hand someone a sword and tell them to attack something with it, they are going to flail their weapon around wildly and as fast as possible.  If you’re attacking a trained swordsman with this technique, the result will be same as it will in Skyward Sword. Namely: you will lose the fight horribly.  This game all but forces you to slow down and take your shots as they appear, rather than blindly attack.  As this is in sharp contrast with the normal instinct toward sword fighting, it certainly causes some problems.  But, again, if you take your time with the fighting controls, you’ll be fine.

And that’s my rant, so back to what I’m supposed to be doing here.

The game uses the Wii Motion Plus technology to simulate a 1:1 motion ration between the player and Link.  Move the Remote to move Link’s sword, twitch the Nunchuck to flip his shield up to deflect enemy attacks.  Roll the Remote from side to side to fly or swim, aim your various items by directing the Remote pointer to the right spot.  Most of the controls are fairly intuitive and feel natural.  Some, however, feel a little tacked on and are motion control just for the sake of motion control.  While flying, for instance, you can angle the Remote upward and then bring it down sharply to make your bird flap its wings to give you a height boost.  That in itself isn’t so bad; after all, when birds flap their wings what do they do if not raise their wings and bring them down sharply?  But the same motion is applied to climbing, and causes Link to do a short jump in the direction he is climbing (up, left, etc).  There’s really nothing natural about that motion in regards to climbing, and just makes it feel out of place (on the other hand, while playing Ocarina 3D I kept twitching the 3DS to make Link climb faster, so i guess it can’t be all bad).  Then there’s the “harp”, Link’s instrument du jeu, but we’ll get to that later.

I’ll end this section on a positive note.  Holding down the A button makes Link dash.  This is an amazing addition to a Zelda game, and makes exploration much faster to boot.  Link has a stamina gauge that depletes as he dashes, and if it runs out he’ll become to tired to do any more than move slowly and pant.  The gauge will refill while running at normal speed, so one can cover large distances by using up most of your gauge and letting refill a bit before another spurt of charging.  That technique becomes crucial in certain parts of the game discussed later in this review.

Plot

In events that have now become legend, the Goddess possessed a sacred power that was coveted by many dark beings.  Of those was a powerful demon who rallied his forces against the Goddess in a desperate attempt to gain the sacred power for himself.  The Goddess sealed him away and, knowing his prison to be temporary, raised a chunk of land into the sky to protect the humans from the demon’s evil.  Now, in the present, the demon is beginning to break free.  It is up to Link, a young knight in training, to find a way to destroy the demon before it can destroy the world.

Gameplay

Link will spend his time traversing the sky as well as three regions in the land beneath the clouds.  Along the way, he is aided by his current companion, Fi.  The basic structure is familiar to any Zelda veteran.  Go through a dungeon, defeat a boss to get an important item, then do this two more times to progress through the story.  It does do a few things that spice this up, for which I am very grateful.

Once you get through the first three dungeons, you gain access to Silent Realms.  Without giving away the plot, these are areas that strip you of all your weapons and items.  You run around collecting “tears,” and once you collect all of them you get an item.  If too much time elapses from one tear to the next, the guardians of the realm awaking and try to kill you.  If you get hit once, you’re done and have to start from the beginning.  It’s a nice challenge, and you can map out which tears to collect in what order to make things go smoother.  My only major complaint with them is that there are too many of these Realms, and they start to get stale.

The four regions themselves are a mix of pros and cons.  The sky is fun when you first start flying around, but I found myself growing bored of it once I’d checked out all the little islands.  Yeah there are some fun little mini games, and I love the Lumpy Pumpkin stuff, but once I got my Heart Pieces there was little reason to keep visiting anything worthwhile.

The land regions I’ll chalk up to a success.  I loved walking around the first time in an area and noting all the things I couldn’t get to yet, already planning to come back and collect those items once my inventory was larger.  Each time you revisit these regions, you will have access to new areas or find drastic changes to previous areas.  The developers put a lot of time into making each visit fresh.  The final tour through the regions offers some variations on the gameplay, introducing stealth sections and mini games that act as progression tools.  While I found those fun, I would much rather have had another dungeon or maybe a new region.

I don’t know whether or not I like Fi.  On the one hand, I love her personality.  She’s hundreds of years old and therefore very analytical. The impersonal way she describes things entertains me, and the breaks in stiffness after you clear the first three dungeons are beautiful.  My problem with Fi is that she hinders exploration.  You enter a new area and the camera pans around to show off this huge new world just ripe for exploration.  Then Fi pops up and tells you what direction you need to go in, or what you need to do next.  Talk about a buzz kill…

What I’m sure I dislike is the “harp.”  First of all, it’s clearly a lyre.  Do not insult me so, Nintendo.  Secondly, all you do is wave the Remote back and forth.  That’s it.  Oh there are times when you have to wave in a particular rhythm, but if you get off tempo you just hop right back on with no penalty.  It’s boring and uninteresting, and not at all how a lyre is actually played.  I know we don’t want to repeat a conductor’s baton, but that would have made more sense; not only in regards to how the songs are performed, but also with the control scheme.

Perhaps the best addition to the Zelda universe is the upgrade system.  Many of your items and equipment can be upgraded to better version, be they more durable, larger, or firing twelve pellets instead of one.  You can also create enhancements for you potions.  This really adds a lot of depth to your magic equipment pouch.

Graphics

I like the graphics.  Sort of an impressionist painting meets Wind Waker characters.  The rich, vibrant colors add a real depth and beauty to the surroundings.  The downside to this approach is that everything lacks textures, making the landscape look rather flat.  It does work with the art direction, but adding a few tiny flairs here and there would really have made the experience that much more impressive.

That being said, the character models are gorgeous.  The look of this incarnation of the Princess of legend is by far my favorite across all the games.  Every character and enemy has a unique look and shape to them which adds a lot of depth to the world. 
Link’s model, however, stands out a bit.  Of all of Skyloft’s denizens, Link is by far the most angular and I found that a little off-putting.  Except for a few select scenes, his face doesn’t emote nearly as strongly as everyone else’s.  In those select scenes, though…I have never been more in tune with what the Hero has been feeling.  You know when he’s thrilled, frightened, or ready to kick butt and chew bubble gum.

Sounds

The first Zelda game to feature fully orchestrated music, and it does not disappoint.  Each area of the game has unique orchestrations, all of which fit the mood perfectly.  Except possibly Eldin Volcano.  It works but…I don’t know, it just seems a little too peppy for an active volcano. 

I love the dungeon music.  Each one is different.  Some are similar to others in the same region, but even then there are differences between them.  My favorite ones are the more Eastern-themed dungeons, probably because it’s not a musical styling you hear in Zelda games.

Atmosphere

Link wakes from a nightmare and gives a start at the face of a Loftwing poking its head through the window.  They stare at each other for a moment, and then the large bird spits a letter onto Link and flies away.  Right from the get-go this game has declared that you are now firmly ensconced in its world, and it never lets go.

The woods are full of life, the volcano feels hot, and the desert feels bleak.  Skyloft feels like a real town, perhaps in part because you can visit everyone’s house.  That’s right, every single person in the town has a house, and also distinct personalities (well, OK, not quite everyone has a house, but those few stay at the Lumpy Pumpkin all night so they don’t count).  The dungeons feel enormous and full of danger. 

My only real complaint in this area is that the underwater sections feel kinda bland.  But even with that, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this has the most atmosphere of any Zelda game to date.

Contribution

Hopefully, the upgrade system will be something this game contributes to the series.  It’s harder to flesh this section out based on the newest game.  What I would like to see continue is the depth this game has.  With Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, I always felt like Nintendo wrote a check for scope that they just couldn’t cash.  The former game had a giant world with little in it, and the latter had tons and tons of different elements that were never fully explored.  Skyward Sword feels full, and that’s something I hope we continue to see.

Overall

I love this game.  It definitely has its flaws. like pace-breaking moments where you have to retrieve an item from ‘neath the clouds, or most of Fi’s dialogue, or the “harp.”  I’m also still not a fan of motion controls.  Don’t get me wrong, they can be used in fun ways like bowling, and this game makes absolutely brilliant use of them.  But, frankly, I’m ready for this fad to end.

But the atmosphere and level design, and many of the characterizations, more than make up for all the flaws this game has.  On a Buy/Rent/Don’t Bother scale, I vote Buy.  This game has a lot going for it, and you would be remiss to pass it up.

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