The Legend of Zelda - Skyward Sword - Review

Centuries ago, a great and terrible evil overtook the surface world.  The people fought against the oncoming demonic hordes, but fell against the terrible power the demons possessed.  Hylia, the goddess of the people, saw their terrible misfortune and joined the battle against the dark forces.  When it was clear the dark ones would not relent, Hylia gathered the people on an outcropping of earth, and sent it skyward, high above the clouds.  The goddess sealed away the evil forces below, and disappeared into the heavens.  Much of the history of that great battle has become legend.  The people of the new sky world, Skyloft, still worship the goddess Hylia, giving their praise and thanksgiving for their continued safety from evil.  Twenty-five years ago, a knight academy was founded in an effort to train young men and women to better serve Skyloft.  Two students of this very academy, our hero and the headmaster's daughter, Zelda, are blissfully unaware they are about to embark on a perilous journey to the world below in an effort to stop the very apocalypse sealed away by Hylia so many centuries ago.

The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, much like Spirit Tracks, is a huge step forward for Nintendo in terms of developing the Zelda franchise. From the majoraty of the reviewing crowd, Skyward Sword recieved huge praise for its evolution of the Zelda franchise, fantastic visuals, beautiful story, and the newly implemented (sorta) 1:1 sword controls.  Does Skyward Sword truly stand as the magnificant cap to the Wii lifesppan, or is it rather just another game.  Keep reading to find out.

Story
The Legend of Zelda has traditionaly weaved a fantastic strory that answers many questions, while opening the door to new ones.  Skyward Sword continues this trend, but in a way most unexpected.  Rather than relying on some legend from the past to shape the evolution of the story, Skyward Sword evolves much more because of the charactors themselves as opposed to fulfilment of prophecy.  This is not to say a legend is lacking.  When you first insert the game disc you'll be treated to a fantastic watercolor cutscene depicting the great battle that caused the goddess Hylia, the servant of the three old goddesses charged with watching the people of the world, to raise large chunks of land into the sky.  Unlike previous games, Zelda's charactor begins development imediatly in the opening cutscene, establishing her as a long-time friend of Link, although she deffinetly wants them to be more than friends.  Following Link's recipiancy of ominous warnings of a coming apocolypse, along with Zelda's new-found ability to hear strange voices calling for her from below the clouds, the pair is thrust into a journey without much immediate explenation, for Link at least.  The majoraty of the game revolves around Link searching for Zelda, with certain points in the game revealing what exactly is going on, and the true nature of Link's quest.  Without going too into detai, I can certainly say that Skyward Sword contains one of the most beautiful stories, second possibly only to Wind Wake, in the Zelda Universe.  Long-time fans of the series will find answers to some of the deepest questions about the Legend of Zelda, coupled with an enchanting struggle for love, friendship, and survival.  The story will have you laughing at the edge of your seat one moment, and sobing the next.  Zelda stories do tend to be deep, but rarely are they as moving and powerful as Skyward Sword. 10/10

Gameplay
Nintendo has gone on record to say that, before they began developing Skyward Sword, the entire Zelda team took a good long look at every game mechanic that has evolved from the series over the decades to chose what to include, what to remove, and from what remained, how to improve.  Skyward Sword marks the most radical game refinements to the Zelda series since the jump to 3D with Ocarina of Time, and it certainly pays off.  I'll briefly cover some of what I see as the most important changes. Rather than being forced to enter a menu, assign a limited set of equipment to three or four buttons, and then select items accordingly, Nintendo did away with the system in favor of one which better utalises the capabilities of the Wii Motion+.  Holding the B button brings up the "item pouch" which allows instant acess to all usable gadgets, in real time.  Selecting the last item in use is as simple as briefly tappig the B button.  A secondpuch, called the "adventure pouch" which contains your shields, potions, etc can be brought up by pushing and holding the - button.  Again, this is all done in real time.  This not only streamlines item selection, but also adds an additional level of stratagy.  For example, because you can no longer expect a pause when drinking a red potion, enemies can still attack you while you try to recover.

Dungeons and difficulty also see a big alteration, and in a good way.  There is an expansive world above the clouds which in which, like Wind Waker, Spirit Tracks, and Phantom Hourglass, you can go to warious islands and areas to interact with the locals and complete sidequests.  However, unlike those games, expansive worls below the clouds exist with massave amounts of content packed in.  Rather than spending 10-15 minutes finding a dungeon, solving a small quest to enter, then completing the dungeon, Nintendo has, forgive the repitition, made getting to the dungeons much like a dungeon themselves.  In particular, the final act of the game (in which there are three this time around) feels as if it contains three dungeons although there is, like other Zelda games, only one area that is considered a traditional dungeon. Once you finally get to the dungeons themselves, with the exception of the first dungeon, you'll find they are some of the most intricate in the Zelda series.  In particular, two of Skyward Sword's dungeons now occupy the number one and two spots on my personal list of favorite Zelda dungeons of all time.  Nintendo went beyond the traditional forest temple, fire temple, water temple, to create some very unique dungeons.  Puzzles will require much more logical reasoning to solve.  You'll feel a true sense of triumph when you hear the traditional puzzle solving chime play beautifuly on the harp.

The biggest change to the Zelda formula, however, is the inclusion of Wii Motion+ controls.  With Wii Motion+, required to play the game, Link can slash accurately in one of 8 general slashing directions, and stab.  Although not true 1:1 it certainly seems close enough, and many movements with the sword are mapped 1:1, such as turning the sword in your hand.  Items and moves also see the inclusion of motion control assistance, such as use of the shield, flying your bird, and rolling.  Don't fear Zelda fans, it's still possible to do the fancy flips and jumping slash attacks from previous entiries, they just require some forethought to execute.  With the includlusion of mostly 1:1 controls also comes the inclusion of more inteligent enemies.  It's not just finding a weak spot and attacking, enemies are smart and fast.  They'll block your attacks if they see them coming.  In particular, the first boss, and antagonist of Skyward Sword, Ghirahim, will actually grab your sword, take it away, and beat you with it if you go into battle just flailing around. To experienc ease of use with this new control system, however, requires two things.  First, patiance, you'll likely get beaten pretty badly during the first thirty minutes as you make the transition from Twilight Princess waggle to Skyward Sword precision, but after that period swordplay and item use should feel natural.  Secondly, don't make the mistake of thinking the game uses IR.  You need to follow the instructions when the game starts up to properly calabrate the Wii Remote+.  In addition, the game is designed to be played from any angle to the TV, so the game will center your cursor for secondary item use by what position the remote is in at the time you activate the item, very similar to using the gyro controls in Ocarina of Time 3D.  Although it can be annoying when quickly switching items, pressing down on the D-pad will re-center the cursor.  There's also a "hard remote reprograming" if you are eperiencing issues with the sword, which result only from not following the direction to place your remote face down on a flat surface to calabrate on start-up. 

I did have one issue with the gameplay, and unfortunately that issue is Fi. Much like in-game companians that have been present since Ocarina of Time, Fi's purpose is to help the player while providing additional insight and backstory. Often times, the companion character will serve as a voice for Link. However, Fi''s role is a tad overboard compared to what the average Zelda fan would expect. It's frustrating to not only be told something relatively obvious, but even more annoying to be unable to skip it. Don't let this ruin your expectations, however. Skyward Sword provides plenty of challenge, I just wish Fi would learn to keep her mouth shut. 9/10

Sound
Skyward Sword is the first game in the series to have an orchestrated soundtrack, and it deffinetly shows just how amazing Zelda music can be.  Although there are only a handful of tunes that you'll find yourself humming, just about all the music in the game is absolutely fantastic.  From the opening cinematic with dramatic violins and trumpets blaring in the background, coupled with Zelda's soft voice singing to the tune of the Ballad of the Goddess, to the majestic sounds of flying accross the sky, you'll be in for a real treat.  Skyward Sword creates a number of best-in-series with its music, including the best credits music for a Zelda game to date.  Zelda fans have pushed for years for an orchestrated soundtrack, and the wait was certainly worth it.  With that said, I had one issue with the music.  During the second and thir acts of the game, you'll use a harp as a means to open trials and manipulate parts of the world.  However, the songs that go along with the harp are, minus two of the five, a bit...ear splitting.  It's not even a matter of bad sound quality, it's just bad music for that componant of the game.  I could see songs like Faroar's Courage making a great quirky theme for a charactor, but not a song with the power to open a sacred trial.  Additionally, Fi, your companion through Skyward Sword, will acompany you during soe of your harp playing...and her digital voice does not mesh well with the song quality.  Overall, this is the only downside to what is otherwise a game with absolutely amazing music and sounds.  Charactors each have their own voice, the sound effects are completely acurate to what life-like effects would be, and, again, the orchestrated music is absolutely phenomanal.  A few shortcomings are a small price to pay for the fantastic quality of the music and sounds of Skyward Sword.  9.5/10

Graphics
Skyward Sword combines the cartoon style of Wind Waker with the more realistic look of Twilight Princess to create a stunning world full of vibrant colors and expresive citizens.  It almost seems as if the art style is the evolution of Ocarina of Time rather than a merger, however, because it feels like the most correct art form since Ocarina of Time.  The pictures and videos online don't do Skyward Sword justice for the beautiful world it is.  Watching the game take place on a 1080p TV, however, makes one long for how much sharper the game would look in HD.  However, that's a hardware limitation, not a limitation of Skyward Sword itself.  Playing with componant cables on my 32 inch HDTV looks fine.  One can notice Nintendo's attention to detail, including subtle touches of light that add to the realism.  There's really not much to say with this category other than the game is beautiful, take it in and enjoy it!  10/10.

The Legend of Zelda Skyward Swrd is another Nintendo and Zelda masterpiece.  It will be some time before I can decide where the game stands as my personal favorite in the series, but after playing it deffinetly is in the running to top my all time favorite, Majora's Mask.  Skyward Sword evolves the Zelda series, bringing it to new heights and defining new territory.  Even subtle touches like being able to shoot a heart with an arrow into a nearby wall add so much immersion to the experience.  The inclusion of the motion controls alone is reason enough to purchase the game.  You'll be in for a very challenging, both intelectualy and physicaly, game full of surprises and unexpected treasures.  Skyward Sword sets a new bar for Zelda games, and Nintendo.  Skyward Sword redefines modern games, in my opinion, more than any other game released in 2011.  I can't think of a more fitting way to celebrate 25 years of The Legend of Zelda than Skyward Sword.

Scores weighed differently - Total to 100%

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