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Review – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Although it has been well over half a year since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released, I finally finished the epic adventure yesterday. From the first dungeon to the final boss, Skyward Sword fully lives up to the prestigious quality of the Zelda family, holding true to tried formulae while also remaining very innovative and unique.

As the first and only Zelda game developed entirely with the Wii console in mind (Twilight Princess was a GameCube game ported to the Wii), the most obvious unique feature of the game is its precise motion controls. The Wii MotionPlus attachment for the standard Wii Remote provides the necessary sensors to directly map the position of the remote in the player’s hand to the sword in Link’s within the game. This one-to-one mapping can take a few hours to really get the hang of, but the enemies in the beginning of the game are specifically designed to slowly introduce the player to the different sword techniques and precise controls. The sword-to-remote mapping is done very well, with the slashes made by the player directly copied in the game. In fact, the correlation is almost too good, to the point where after spending a few hours playing my right arm would be physically sore from swinging the remote around like a sabre. However, the satisfaction and enjoyment of actually performing the slashes and jabs outweighs the potential for exhaustion in most circumstances.

Although the sword controls are the highlight and at the crux of the gameplay, I was really impressed with how well the Wii Remote is used for various other aspects of the game. Almost all of the other weapons require an element of motion, and these are usually immersive and realistic. Some examples are being able to throw or roll bombs, crack the whip, and use the nunchuck in combination with the Wiimote to draw the string and launch arrows from the bow. Discovering these motions as the items are acquired throughout the adventure kept me actively engaged so I could quickly switch between the many different possible actions as needed. In general they are great tools for immersing the player in the adventure, and really fun to interact with.

While the motions are easily the most innovative and unique part of Skyward Sword, the game built around them is of a very high caliber. The main quest sticks primarily to the standard Zelda formula of exploring the world, finding dungeons, solving puzzles, and defeating bosses, and all of these elements are expertly integrated in the game. The hub overworld of Skyloft serves as an easy way to transition between the different areas while also providing lots of the usual side quests and mini games. Travel is not a huge issue, as easy-to-use portals allow quick transport to almost any previously visited location on the world map. The dungeons are all very unique with great art styles and fun puzzles. The bosses are all exciting fights that heavily rely on the motion controls to defeat, resulting in very satisfying victories. The game also features a few instances of a specialized “Trial” level which prohibits the use of items, therefore requiring a stealth approach and careful planning to finish. These levels, while challenging, are a nice change from the rest of the adventure and always award a key item upon completion.

Another new element in Skyward Sword is the ability to upgrade weapons. Almost every item in the game can be upgraded, some multiple times, to add new features or increase power. Some example upgrades are increasing the carrying capacity of the Bomb Bag or Quiver, enhancing shield durability, or modifying the Slingshot to shoot multiple seeds simultaneously. These upgrades can be very useful, but are not necessary to complete the game. The player has total freedom choose whether or not to upgrade a certain item, and upgrades can be performed at any time. The cost for these enhancements is Treasure, another new idea for the Zelda series. There are 16 different types of Treasure found in the game, with the majority dropping off of enemies after they are defeated. Some more rare treasures can be obtained in dungeons chests. Collecting treasure is a very simple process, and the majority will take place without straying far from the normal adventure. However, in order to buy all of the available weapon upgrades some additional searching is probably necessary. A similar system is in place for potions, where 16 different types of bugs can be captured using the Bug Net and then mixed into previously bought drinks to make their effects stronger. Unlike the weapon upgrades, which I found exciting and relatively easy to pursue, catching bugs for potions seemed much more redundant, difficult, and less critical.

The music component of the game utilizes a harp. I was disappointed in this choice, as the game requires a song to be played only a handful of times in very specific circumstances. The player never gets to choose which song to play, and four of the five melodies are used only once in the entire adventure. Additionally, to play the harp the player only needs to swing the Wiimote back and forth in an imitation of strumming, a very basic and boring motion. Given the interactivity and possibility provided by the instruments in past Zelda games (particularly Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and even Wind Waker) I was expecting more.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Skyward Sword is its story. The game is set as a prequel to all of the other games in the series, and therefore contains many neat allusions to later items, worlds and events. The plot revolves around Link’s quest to purify a sacred sword using three divine flames, allowing the player to partake in the creation of the iconic Master Sword. There are also multiple references to different areas within the land of Hyrule in their infancy, as well as specific locations like the Temple of Time. The origin of the series’ primary villain, Ganondorf, is also referenced, even though he is not directly present in the game. Even without Ganondorf, the main villain, Ghirahim, is quite the worthy opponent, providing not only the most challenging boss battles, but also an incredibly unique personality. Anyone who has played Zelda games before this one will immediately have a sense of recognition and satisfaction from the story and world in being able to act out and discover such key origin moments in the timeline.

Overall, Skyward Sword‘s unique motion controls, fun items, upgrade system and great story alongside the traditional dungeon-crawling, puzzle-solving adventure, all make it a wonderful addition to the Zelda pantheon. It is a very lengthy game, requiring near 50 hours to complete, but anyone who invests the time is ensured to have a great experience.

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