Thursday, December 1, 2011

REVIEW: Skyward Sword - A First Impression

For the last week I've been playing Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, on Mommy time.... definitely not the same as a hard core gaming weekend, but I think I have enough hours into the game to give you a few thoughts. They will be in the spoiler-free format you can count on here at Paper Napkins.
First I need to get some disclaimers out of the way:
  • This is the first Zelda game that I've played for a whole week.  I love RPGs, they are my favorite genre, but it's sorta been that I play the Final Fantasy titles and my husband gets the shorter Zelda titles.  This play is all me, so far.  We'll see if I get to be the one that finishes the game, I had my doubts in the first boss fight.  I watched every second of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess - running clues from the book for the later, some of Ocarina of Time and various others, but never have I, myself, been at the controls for more than the first bit, or the occasional mini-game.
  • This is the first Wii title I have played that makes use of the motion plus that came out last year or so.  I did get two new motion plus controllers last year for Christmas (in anticipation of this game!), but have not used the new feature until now.
  • When I play an RPG I do EVERYTHING.  I get very frustrated when I can't do something, and I do my best to make sure I don't leave anything undone or behind.  This is slowing my progress doubly, because I have yet to purchase the guide book since Amazon has yet to get it and I ended up preordering the game from and the box was completely beat up when it arrived.  Since I keep these sorts of things for a long time and I like my stuff in nice crisp condition, it'll be a bit before I trust them again.
For those who aren't familiar with the Zelda franchise here is a 8-bit summary:  Link is a kid who wears green, he has pointy ears even if no one else does.  He is the destined hero of legend, usually working for a higher power such as a deity.  He is the character you play.  Some girl you know will be in danger, usually kidnapped, she may or may not be Princess Zelda, you will take up a training sword and venture forth to find her.  Eventually you will get the Master Sword which is cool.  You start with crappy wooden shields and then are able to get cool stuff later.  You also use a sling shot, bow and arrows, bombs, boomerang or other flying device that returns to you, grapplers, and some kind of musical device.  You are after the Triforce and new skills. You will get something cool to help you move around the world, a boat, a horse, a bird.  You have to get good so you can rescue Princess Zelda from Gannon (or whatever he calls himself this time).  Gannon also wants the Triforce so he can bring his darkness to the world as it's ruler.  The world has a long history and your time is usually not the peak of its existence.  The past is important to the present.  For more of an overview, see our 25th anniversary post, here and here.

Like my other reviews, you can hit the jump and scroll to the end for a pro/con summary or read through all the dialogs in spoiler-free safety.

Now, for the newest Zelda, Skyward Sword:  A long time ago the world was at war.  The Goddess saved the people by ripping up land and thrusting it into the sky.  She then returned to the surface and battled the dark forces raging there.  Link and Zelda live in this sky sanctuary, called Skyloft.  They are both students at the Knight Academy where Zelda's father is the headmaster and keeper of the secrets of the Goddess Sword.  The people of Skyloft are protected and blessed by the Goddess.  Each person receives a loftwing bird in a bonding ceremony.  The bird keeps the people safe from falling through the protective cloud layer and allows them to travel between the flying islands.  Knights protect the people, they catch you when you fall off of Skyloft (even Link) and they fight monsters that appear at night.  After the Wing Ceremony, Zelda - from here on out referred to as the Spirit Maiden, falls from her bird and is taken to the surface below the clouds.  Fates are revealed and Link is given the Goddess Sword and sent to the surface with the swords A.I., Fi, as a guide.  Now Link must find and save his best friend and possible love interest, Zelda, and the world of the surface from a great evil that haunts his dreams.

Don't worry, you can get most all of that from the menu trailer (embedded above, posted to youtube by IGN) AND the first few minutes of the game - there are still no spoilers for you!  The story so far is about what you'd expect from a Zelda story.  Rich back history of which little is known and NPCs that are about as helpful as your average lawyer - absolutely accurate and almost completely unhelpful   (sorry, I was going to make a more obscure geek reference, but I was scared no one would get it.)  I was happy to see that the city doesn't really grow with you.  There are items for sale you just can't buy yet, either because your wallet isn't large enough to store the necessary rupees or because you are missing the item to store the items to be purchased, for example, bombs, arrows, and deku seeds are available right at the beginning (after the ceremony), but you can't store any because you don't have the appropriate bag/quiver.  Stuff is added over time as well (at least as far as I can tell, I just finished the first temple/dungeon, and the iron shield and a new seed bag were added.)

I think this is pretty cool, because it always seemed a bit corny to me that the merchants only carried crap until you finally got somewhere that allowed you to have better.  I mean having distant lands having cool stuff makes sense, but your home port either doesn't change or it grows with you making you the most important person in the entire world with every merchant only existing for your needs, this way is a bit more believable.  If you need your self affirmation though, Link is in no way the town slacker, even if he does sleep a lot.  Aside from the knights who rescue you when you fall out of Skyloft, and if you try to fly at night, most people need Link's assistance for a variety of tasks and challenges, starting with fetching a cat-like animal from a roof (your jumping/climbing tutorial).

Combat is very cool.  First there are NO BUTTONS involved.  I'm not an FPS player, I don't like needing to remember strings of buttons, I just want to do the moves needed.  You can get quite far with just randomly swinging your sword, but you'll do much better if you practice a few of Link's standard moves, especially the pesky thrust which will be indispensable taking out Skulltula (giant spiders) who only have a soft spot on their belly.  Even if you don't remember what the recommended maneuvers are randomly swinging the wii mote will do some pretty sweet dicing with your sword.  The motion plus allows the sword on the screen to mirror the remote in your hand.  If you swing your sword downward at a diagonal your sword follows that exact same path.  If you twist the remote, your net or sword also twists.  If you feel like your wii mote is drifting re-centering is easy to do during the game, although I don't recommend it during combat unless you are using a weapon you aim, like the slingshot.

You won't be able to just get through with random swinging, not without a lot of potions and shields, since they take a battering and eventually break as well.  But it's still fun!  I found the forest a great training ground and many of the beginning enemies could be overcome with a variety of techniques or avoided. They got progressively harder, but the easier combatants keep coming back to keep your confidence high.  The first boss fight was much more of a challenge than I anticipated.  I almost gave up and handed the controls to my husband who has the Zelda combat experience.  I'm glad I didn't, but I did get a bit of a work out until I could get the timing and directionality of my strikes down.  I did not need my potions, though, so I'm probably right on for the completion of the game!

Screenshot from
The aimed weapons are fairly intuitive, with a point and click interface.  I haven't received my bow yet, but I'm hoping it's as straightforward as the slingshot.  Also many enemies are easy to avoid.  I'm not a shield bash expert and got tired of going back to buy another wooden shield so for those seed bouncing enemies, I just avoided them with little problem.  Hopefully the next time I need that technique I'll have a shield that can take more than two hits :)

In fact with the items, found, caught, and collected - including the local bugs and birds, you can upgrade most of your equipment.  You just need the right stuff and a few rupees (the game currency) given to the blacksmith.  This crafting system is a new addition to the Zelda series.  The net will get you collecting bugs wherever you are (although some you just have to walk over), you can also use it to collect bird feathers and items from non-combat creatures.  Potions can also be improved, I haven't successfully gathered all the items needed for this yet, but soon hope to.

If you don't want to upgrade, you can also sell your bugs and items to two different players in the game, but only at night, when Skyloft is a completely different and slightly more dangerous place.  Any bed, anywhere, can give you the chance to sleep which heals and refreshes you, and gives you the chance to choose the time of day when awake (day or night).  Also, sitting will rejuvenate your hearts.  Stumps, chairs, benches, all offer a chance for you to sit.  Stamina can be returned by not using your stamina, resting, or by picking stamina fruit.  Memorizing the stamina fruit locations can let you get around town quickly, since dashing uses stamina.

Image from
Now my favorite section: the flying!  Flying is so intuitive, I find it relaxing and find myself wanting to play just to fly around for a little while.  I couldn't do it all the time, but it is a very enjoyable aspect of the game.  In fact before you are thrust into the Wing Ceremony competition, you only get a few seconds of flight time.  Something I was a bit upset about, I was just falling in love with it when I was forced to land.  Oh well, later flying is only restricted at night.  There are air obstacles to keep the easily bored entertained, but flying is definitely a plus in this game.  The controls, visuals, sound effects, and vibration work so well together, it's a very immersive experience, making the flight very believable.  It could only be more believable if there was a fan pushing the wind through my hair in coordination with the sound of the wind on my speakers.

Moving throughout the world is enjoyable, the user interface is just as intuitive as the rest of the game.  Pots, barrels, and other objects can be thrown or rolled depending on how you move your wii mote.  I very rarely find myself pressing the wrong button for something (most notably I keep pressing "-" for "B" or "+", but it does no harm as to use a "-" item you also have to push "a" so I haven't accidentally released my fairy or consumed my potions.  For me, so few mistakes is huge, in other games I'm always pushing the wrong button.  For example, in Monkey Island I was constantly going out to the main menu when I didn't mean to.  I'm currently using the light interface and I feel it gives me the right balance of onscreen help and not feeling completely like a noob.  The starting interface has more details including a full outline of the wii mote and button descriptions. The pro interface removes all static control views from the screen.

While the story is the main point and the overall focus for Link, there are also several side quests.  The side quests are fun and a nice break from the demanding go here and do that of the main story plot.  It has been loads of fun reminding my daughters that in RPGs you always start in the opposite direction they tell you to go.  In this regard Fi can get a bit annoying, she is very computer-like which works for her job, but she also "feels neglected" if you don't ask her something for a while.  She will then pause the action to remind you of her available services.  Sometimes this is nice, but mostly it's annoying.  She's also a bit inconsistent in her interaction with the world, sometimes others see her and other times she freezes times and is invisible or unseen by others. Last night she also had issues with me changing paths in a world I was exploring.  Ironically, my change was to the direction she wanted me to go, but I think mostly she was upset that instead of focusing on searching for our goal I was busy checking out the area.  If you are really a free form player, and don't like being forced to follow the script, Fi is going to get on your nerves.

The use of colors and vibration do make it possible to play this game without the sound, but you lose a bit without the world noises and the monster alerts are both audible and visual.  My eyes have been extra tired this week and I've found myself leaning on the audio and sensory cues quite a bit.  The remote vibrations are frequent, but purposeful.  I feel they really help the immersion experience and are useful cues.

Overall, I'm very happy we preordered the game!  I look forward to finishing the story and a couple of the side quests I've already started.  I fear the game is going to be painfully short for my liking.  Zelda games boast they are under 100 hours with Twighlight Princess being completely playable in a 40 hour gamer weekend.  While we took about twice that long to play, I can easily see the completion of my available map by Christmas.  That makes me a bit sad, but I'm not going to rule out a surprise, there have been many times when there was more than what could be inferred at the beginning of the game, and I've still got a few items to go before I have the standard compliment.  I've already seen hints at the presence of a harp (although it looks like a lyre to me), and there of course will be a bow and arrows (the arrows are already for sale), I've seen grapple points as well.

Screenshot from ZeldaUniverse

So hears my pro con summary:

Casual play friendly, you can save frequently.  Intuitive controls, with awesome fight and flight controls.  Decent story that maintains it's mystery well into the first half of the game at least (that's all the further I am at this time).  Fun distracting side quests.  Straight-forward goals.

Fi gets annoying and pauses the game to remind you she is there, even if you don't want her.  Some of the enemies need really precise strikes to go down and if you aren't good at that one thing, you aren't going to like meeting them and for me, and some online guide writers, they can bring down the gameplay experience.  The world feels smaller and more compact that Twilight Princess.

Final Statement:
If you or someone you are buying for this year, likes RPGs or has enjoyed other Zelda games, this is a must have.  If you want to see how cool the wii plus remote can be, borrow this to check it out, you may fall in love!  If you get the chance to pick it up second hand and any of this sounded like a bit of alright, well you won't regret it, in my opinion.

Image from ZeldaInformer

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. I really haven't gotten past Wii Sports and have never gotten into the RPG's although I've had many friends tell me all about them. Just doesn't really interest me. We all have different interests and that's okay. I still like you :)


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