(This is a reproduction of an original work published in 2011. It does not represent the thoughts of Zelda Informer on the whole. It has be released again as part of Classics Month.)
Often times around these parts we are unfairly mentioned as “Zelda haters”. Now, any educated reader who actually takes the time to read our articles, our opinions, and our news reports would see Zelda praise all over the place. Even when we are being critical of the series, or it’s sales, we are still saying some very nice things about Zelda. However, one game lately seems to always bring the mallet down on us in the court of public opinion: Skyward Sword.
It’s true I have been asking Nintendo to run with the Wii U Tech Demo. It’s true Skyward Sword didn't sell as well as previous console entries. It’s true Skyward Sword came at the end of the Wii’s life (okay, so a year before the end, but who’s counting?). It’s also true through all of it, the observant readers have noticed that I have been praising Skyward Sword all along. Why is this? Why in all of my asking for consistency and for a return to Twilight Princess like visuals am I praising a game that is so split in the fan base? It’s simple really: I truly think that Skyward Sword is potentially the best Zelda game ever crafted.
I use the word potentially because even within my own reasoning, I still hold Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, The Adventure of Link, and Link’s Awakening in very high regard. My “favorite” Zelda game can sometimes flop between those four titles plus Skyward Sword almost on a weekly basis. However, when I sit back and think about what Zelda game I would play non-stop for the rest of my life if I had no choice… it’s always Skyward Sword. Lets take a journey down what is slowly becoming one of Nintendo’s most under-appreciated masterpieces.
Skyward Sword has the best combat in the entire series. Sure, call it bias if you want, but I like what I like. Oh, another thing about bias: We are all bias. It is impossible to be unbias, because it means you lack any real opinion or thoughts in general about whatever the topic is at hand. Fact remains, if that is the case that you don’t actually care, than why are you writing about it anyways? So, lets set aside the notion that I, or any professional writer, can truly tell you anything that is not partially based on our own thoughts that are based on our likes, our dislikes, and our own personal human experience. I have played a lot of games, I have played all of the Zelda games, and in my humble opinion Skyward Sword’s combat was not only the most enthralling, it was the most difficult and required the most skill.
Often times the number one negative thing people bring up about Skyward Sword’s combat is that it’s all just a giant “Puzzle”. However, if you think about combat in real life - sure there is reading and reacting - but it’s mostly about solving the other persons strategy, or successfully countering it. Combat in general is a puzzle, it’s just an ever evolving puzzle that changes based on what you or your opponent does - something that is extremely complex to build into an AI system. It’s also something I think Nintendo, if they stick with Motion Controls, will continue to make better.
However, that criticism I think is one of Skyward Sword’s greatest strengths. Combat this time isn’t button mashing. It isn’t “step this way, swing, rinse repeat”. It’s not even “poke in eye, stun, and hack away”, though certainly those moments do still exist. Instead, each opponent requires you to pay attention. They will parry your attacks. They will strike back. Sure, they could be more aggressive at times, but so could every Zelda enemy in every game. In the end, the combat just feels right.
For the first time in really any game, I feel like I am truly fighting these foes, and not just playing around to a button mashing rhythm game. To me, that’s what combat should really be about. You know, actually fighting.
Grooseland was classic, and the character development in Skyward Sword is potentially the best we have seen yet in Zelda. Majora’s Mask does a fine job in advancing characters, but in Skyward Sword not only do characters advance, they have very distinct personalities that actually change over time - most notably with Groose, Zelda, and the rest of the Skyloftian gang. Even setting that aside, I think the story in this game is truly magical. After all, it sort of sets up all the events after it.
The story itself really clicked with me. I wont go too much into what the actual story is since there may be a few people out there who haven’t had the chance to actually finish the game, but I will say that it greatly impacted me as a person. I’m 26 years old, 27 in three months (I’m an old man!), and I haven’t had a video game story ever impact me before. I know Ocarina of Time really hit home for some people… but it didn’t with me. Even Majora’s Mask, who’s story I adore, has never impacted my life the way Skyward Sword did. It gave me hope, it gave me something to look forward to. It taught me valuable lessons, one I have applied to my actual life.
Sure, that’s a personal experience. It’s something that I can’t guarantee any one else will get out of it but me. However, isn’t that something that makes Zelda so special to begin with? Our individual and unique experiences that only matter to us. Skyward Sword did that in heavy doses with it’s touching story for this avid gamer. I am a better father to my daughter today because of the lessons this game taught me.
We all know the Wii is an underpowered system, so when it comes time to choose a graphical styling it’s hard to just do “Twilight Princess again”, since their wouldn’t be any major improvements over the GameCube version of the last Zelda game. Instead, why not go for a style that helps mask the Wii’s underpowered ways? That’s exactly what the impressionistic styling of Skyward Sword did. It turned the backgrounds into paintings, and things in the foreground looked more detailed than we had ever seen before (in terms of actual things going on, including character and enemy design).
The game was beautiful to me, maybe the best looking Zelda game to date. Sure, the style may not click with a wide array of gamers, but it certainly clicked with me. I was sold from the first time we saw the new visuals, even with the funky trees and everything. It just all seemed to add to the game’s own unique charm. I could on and on for ages about how I adore the graphical styling, but too each his own. In this gamer’s mind, Skyward Sword was practically flawless in this field. It nailed the style and the presentation.
There are surely things to complain about with Skyward Sword - chief among them being the fact that it doesn’t have a lot of exploration (or it does, and people just complain). As an example, people wanted to do things out of order again - so Nintendo allows you to do the dragon quests stuff in any order you want and people cry “that’s lame”. Of course, we know the Nintendo fanbase is insatiable. I’d argue the Zelda fan base is even more so than the average gamer.
When I completed Skyward Sword, the only feeling left that washed over me was “Man, now THAT’S Zelda”. The puzzles (especially towards the later half of the game) were glorious. The boss fights finally felt epic. The combat was top notch, and the last hour of the game was breath taking and heart pounding. Link was still the player, but still totally his own character in the game (all without saying a word. Bravo Nintendo). No Triforce? No problem! Skyward Sword did everything I envisioned Zelda to be when the Wii was introduced, and then some.
Sure, maybe for you Skyward Sword was a let down. Maybe it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. However, for this fan of Zelda: Skyward Sword was everything I expected it to be and then some. Oh, and it has massive replay value. It’s the Zelda game I have beaten the most, and that’s saying a lot. I know many of you seem to be convinced we don’t actually like Zelda here, but rest assured that’s never been the case. Poor sales does not mean we don’t enjoy the experience. It just means we want Zelda to prosper. So, is Skyward Sword your “best zelda ever”?