Monday, January 23, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The first regular Zelda game on a console in five years came out as the Wii's life cycle began to wind down to a close, perhaps too late for it to have a major impact on the gaming landscape. I think Skyward Sword is a really good game, and I certainly had more fun with it than I did with Twilight Princess. But Twilight Princess came out in 2006, and Skyward Sword doesn't do enough differently to be as notable as that game was at the time. People were hoping for Nintendo to really do something different with the series, and while they made a polished and enjoyable adventure, it's not much different from what we're used to.

I do generally like the setting and general story of Skyward Sword - it goes back to the beginning of the series, and shows the origin of a number of elements that have recurred often throughout the twenty five years that they've been making these games. The game's a bit slow to get going, features repetitive dialogue, and has some interludes that don't really lead anywhere, but the game was designed well enough that it didn't really feel like a slog before it got going. There's a bit more to the characterization than there was in the past, too. It's hard to really develop the cast too much when they don't really speak and almost all of their dialogue is exposition, but the main players felt more like people than they usually do. And while I'm tired of gorons at this point, they did make a point to introduce several new types of creatures.

The game follows a familiar structure, starting you in an introductory area to learn the ropes, slowing allowing you to enter new areas, and accomplishing various tasks in between trips into dangerous, puzzle-filled dungeons that are the meat of the gameplay, before eventually pushing you toward an endgame that leads to the final boss fight. The sections between dungeons were more involved with usual, and while they aren't quite as tricky, they do feel like real, focused challenges rather than filler you have to do before you're allowed to advance. You will acquire items you need to get past certain obstacles, learn to fight new enemies, and encounter interesting things in the world before you can advance. I also thought they did a good job with side quests this time, or at least it seems that way since I did more of it than I have since Majora's Mask came out. A lot of it revolves around Skyloft, the town in the clouds you start the game in, which isn't particularly big but is filled with people who have a problem they need help with or some useful equipment to sell you.

It's interesting to look at how the dungeon design has changed over time with these games. The older 3D games had lots of simple, repeatable challenges like having to light torches or push blocks, and tons of locked doors with tons of keys to unlock them. Over time the design has gotten more focused, with fewer keys and more specific, location based puzzles as the technology and sophistication of the design has improved. I wouldn't say they're necessarily more fun, but they're thought through a little better. The boss fights are about what they always are - some are tougher than others, none are truly frustrating, and they all test what you've learned and the items you've found in unexpected and satisfying ways. The biggest problem I had with most of them though tended to revolve around the controls - the Wii version of Twilight Princess had you swing the remote to make Link swing his sword, but Skyward Sword is much more specific about it, with every item depending on your ability to aim or swing precisely with the remote. It's a function system, and the way it influences the combat is interesting, but there were often still issues getting it to work precisely and it led to a few frustrating moments.

One problem the series has always had that Skyward Sword fixes is that there's actually a use for all the money you find. You don't have to worry so much about the size of your wallet, and you can buy things like potions (which are actually useful since fairies don't fill your health bar up any more), larger pouches for your ammo, and special gear with various uses, and you can also collect bugs or rare treasures to pay for upgrades to your gear. I still say Zelda is an action adventure, but these changes make the game feel a bit more substantial and closer to an RPG. Something they haven't fixed is the feeling of the game being padded out a bit, which is especially noticable towards the end. Yes, there's another lengthy segment that feels suspiciously like a fetch quest, and while there's enough unique stuff to do that it isn't entirely lazy, it does feel unnecessary since the game is plenty long without it - I left a fair amount of optional content on the table, and the game still took me 40 hours to beat.

Skyward Sword definitely has a few warts, and it's hard to shake the feeling that the Zelda series is behind the times, even ignoring the fact that the Wii can only display it at 480p in the year 2012. But it's still a Zelda game, and that means it's a charming adventure with some enjoyable dungeon and combat design, and an experience that's entirely comfortable to sit through. Perhaps that slight lack of ambition keeps it from being an absolutely classic game, but it's still one I'm totally glad I took the time and effort to play.

1 comment:

r4 ds card said...

I get lots of adventure when i play this game first. The animation work of this game is wonderful. The level of this game are very difficult to complete.