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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011) – Agglomeration of the 3D Zelda, in both good and bad ways

I have not beaten Skyward Sword. I have played halfway through when it first came out and shelved it. At the time, I did not know why it never got to me. I loved Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and even Twilight Princess, but despite Skyward Sword has the same structure as those games, I was bored, and the motion control was not the reason why I did not like it. I probably had more fond memories with the soundtrack CD bundle I ended up losing somewhere. Although the critics thought it was the best Zelda game since Ocarina, it seems the users had the same thoughts as mine. Wind Waker was divisive until it was not until Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess was divisive until it was not until Skyward Sword. Skyward Sword never stopped being divisive, and never will be. I still remember how much shit Jeff Gerstmann got for giving Twilight Princess an 8.8, so the outlets were forced to give Skyward Sword 10 in fear of the Nintendo fans' outrage. (The same shit happened with Cyberpunk 2077 as well, with the fans harassing the reviewers who gave the low scores) With the announcement of the HD remaster, I began playing the game again, and this time, I finished it.

Nerrel said the best in his review. Breath of the Wild succeeded at what Skyward Sword failed, and Skyward Sword succeeded at what Breath of the Wild failed. Skyward Sword is everything that is not Breath of the Wild. Although I do think Skyward Sword is the weakest 3D Zelda game, I can understand why some people put it on a high pedestal. Skyward Sword is the final culmination of the linear Zelda formula that started with Ocarina, going as far as to making the entire world to be a semi-dungeon. It is a peak of the franchise in regards to what the 3D Zelda does best. The dungeons, variety, ambitious story, and boss fights, but it is a bottom at what the 3D Zelda does worst. Linearity, distracting minigames, restrictiveness, pacing, and so on and on.

Skyward Sword was in the tricky situation where it is pretty much continuing the same linear 3D Zelda formula set by Ocarina of Time. By Twilight Princess came out, people got sick of the formula and wanted a more open Zelda game. The late 2000s and the early 2010s were when the openworld genre was at its peak. 2011 was especially a year of openworlds: Skyrim, Arkham City, Dark Souls, AC: Revelations, and Dead Island. However, Wii's hardware was not capable of creating the openworld experience, so Nintendo played safe, continuing the status quo of the series with the motion control for the wider audience, which fans ended up hating. I believe Nintendo's attempt would have worked better if rather than sprinkling Wii's motion control as a gimmick but actually using it as an opportunity to innovate or change the formula.

You may have familiar with the story that Miyamoto intended Ocarina of Time to be the first-person experience in some senses.

Right. In the beginning, he had the image that you are at first walking around in first-person, and when an enemy appeared, the screen would switch, Link would appear, and the battle would unfold from a side perspective," Koizumi added.

They ended up throwing this concept away, but I believe


into life. The game already has a first-person view in the search function that lets the player survey the environments. I hoped they would have gone further with this implementation, making you play as Link in the third-person perspective during traversal and exploration but in the first-person perspective during combat and flying.

The motion control (Especially something like Wiimote) works far better for the first-person experience than the third-person because it replicates the player's movements far more accurately with immediate feedback. The player is put into the perspective of the character right away. You see your arm and hand holding a weapon on the screen. In comparison to Red Steel 2 and Rage of the Gladiator, Skyward Sword's motion control combat feels primitive and a lot of problems come from the third-person motion control combat. Flying I believe would have been far satisfying in first-person as well in control and spectacle, witnessing the immense heights below the player.

Skyward Sword is also the most Nintendo went to create a more story-heavy experience for a Zelda game, and since Link is a silent protagonist, an empty vessel for the player, this first-person approach could benefit immersion greatly like Half-Life. Skyward Sword also put a lot of emphasis on set-pieces and environments, and they would have been appreciated more if they were seen up-closer.

I am aware this could fracture the fanbase just as Wind Waker did when it got first revealed, but I do not think first-person would not be a series-breaking change. It can still retain Skyward Sword's basic gameplay fundamentals, which I feel is solid. Its core elements like variety, visuals, enemies, dungeons, set-pieces, bosses, puzzles, levels are most refined, maybe better than any other 3D Zelda game. First-person would have given Skyward Sword its own unique identity to set it apart from the other 3D Zelda games. Think of Metroid Prime. Metroid Prime trilogy was still fundamentally a Metroid game despite the change in perspective, and there were still traditional sidescrolling Metroid games afterward.

Regardless, even if you take out the much-detested motion controls and Fi (which I will not mention because she is beaten to death), the game would have still been controversial. The first problem is making the overworld. The course layouts are such linear and rigid that exploring the world feels railroaded and unnatural. Notice that I used the term, "course" instead of "map" because that is what they are. In the Zelda games before and after, the maps were the locations Link was dumped in with the points of interest. They were expansive and open. Although Twilight Princess had a serious overworld problem that the Hyrule Field was enormous and so full of nothing with many or fewer points of interest as Ocarina of Time, which was already too big. It felt like an illusion of exploration because there was so little to discover on the map. Skyward Sword has the opposite problem. The world no longer feels like a world but is made up of small separate zones that feel more like obstacle courses with puzzles. You start at A, which is the beginning of the world, and you push forward until you end at B, which is the end of the world. What this does is kill the pacing of the experience. Sure, there are more things you do as you travel, but the player has to solve grueling puzzles and boring challenges just to get through the world for the dungeons, where you would then solve even more. Because of this, I believe Skyward Sword is the only game in the series in which the chill, peaceful moments are lacking. In any other Zelda game, once I beat a dungeon, I leave and explore the world, having to recover from the difficult challenges you just went through. Skyward Sword needs more chill moments that do not require you to return to the sky. Those sections could have been used to make the world feel alive, but instead, they are giant puzzle boxes.

The only advantage Skyward Sword's world approach has is the 'tear' collection. In Twilight Princess, the player is forced to unlock each region through the twilight tears method, which generally has you going through the samey looking fuzzy world with rare interesting interactions, just a big open space with little to it. These sections had no stakes. An unfamiliar location with an ugly filter made your navigation confusing. They did not challenge the player on anything but a basic observation. Skyward Sword's tear collection, while mechanically similar, but with the familiar jungle gym layout of the overworld that has the player run, climb, slide, hide, added threat of those come-to-life statues and no-go zones, and removing gear, it creates actually challenging, emergent gameplay that tests the player's mastery. it recontextualizes a known area, strips the player of most of the abilities, and asks the player to do something new with what the player has available. Maybe doing this four times is too much, and perhaps the two of them could have been optional, but actual thought and purpose are put into them.

Speaking of the tear collection, Skyward Sword also has a variety and set pieces. This is the most jampacked Zelda game in the series. The variety in enemies, locations, visuals, puzzles, and levels is unparalleled. The game keeps throws interesting combat scenarios for the player to encounter. I can think of fighting the pirate skeleton on the catwalk and the player has to push him toward the edge. There is a fun section with a mine car. The platforming challenges are way more enjoyable than before thanks to the stamina system. There is an amazing puzzle box section in which the player has to arrange the levels for the keys, and it is one of the best dungeons in the entire series. The only blemish is the Imprisoned boss fights that have the player fighting the same boss for four times, and there is not enough variations to make them engaging.

Another problem is the narrative. Many people cite Skyward Sword as the best Zelda story, and I can see why. The presentation is fantastic, enhanced with the extensive mocaps and cinematics. The art style takes advantage of the SD resolution by visualizing the distant objects and backdrops as impressionist paintings. The characters are memorable, mostly due to the models being much more emotive and expressive than Twilight Princess. They are not the best cast in the series. I remember loving Wind Waker's cast far more. SS "blonde gf" Zelda does not hold a candle to WW's "pirate queen" Zelda, and I doubt anyone would trade Midna for Fi, but they are all-around good. I love that how Zelda is supposed to be the reincarnation of the goddess, the ways that new lore play into the reunion scene, and the ending are great. Groose is one of the few side characters in the franchise with a fully fleshed-out character arc, although Link's arc is pathetic, compared to Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. There's no point in Skyward Sword when Link legitimately goes through any kind of "transformation". Narratively, while Ghirahim is great, but Demise is the single worst final boss in the series, and lacking in story presence. Demise keeps talks about how he is so strong and powerful and will rule the world, and he does not do shit. The way the game forces the player to fight the same boss FOUR TIMES, who does not even resemble Demise we later meet, is atrocious. The harp is the most disappointing instrument in the game. Their usage is one-time and highly scripted. You barely get to use them during the actual gameplay. You don't get to change the environment, the setting, or use it in an interesting gameplay scenario.

Although the characters, the themes, and the mythology of Skyward Sword are good, the 'plot' is what ruins everything. This is not how you pace your action-adventure game. The 80% of the things Link does in the game can be cut and it would actually strengthen the story. I am not joking. It is like 80% of the game is meaningless, and then 20% is where most of the story development happens. There is so much padding. If most of your story is what is amounted to pointless filler fetch quests and errands, the game is doing something wrong. There are more stakes and a liberating sense of adventure in Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, while Skyward Sword's adventure feels like a long test.

Despite the opening taking hours to complete, and the gratitude crystal quests quadrupling the playtime, making sure the player is familiar with every villager, there is no point in them. For goddess's sake, this whole game is, "The goddess has another test for you" and "go there and get another test". It is a series of fetch quests and fillers. In every other prior Zelda game, there is a reason why they made sure the player would familiarize with the villagers because there are tangible stakes and risks imposed on them. In Link's Awakening, it was to rob the friends from the player in the ending and give a sense of loss when it is all revealed to be a dream In Ocarina of Time, it is to contrast the timeline shift between the happy past and the dark future. In Majora's Mask, the moon is literally crashing down toward the town, and the game shows how people behave upon comprehending they are facing the imminent annihilation of the known world. In The Wind Waker, it is to reinforce the emotional resonance when Link is forced to forgo and bid farewell to the village in search of his sister. In Twilight Princess, it is to make the kidnapping of his friends all the more powerful and contrast the idyllic rural life to the shift of the tone toward the dark.

In Skyward Sword, there are no clear, visualized stakes other than, "the world will be doomed if Demise awakens" lines from Impa, which feels far too distant for the player to truly feel the imminent doom. Now, Zelda is kidnapped by the villain in the opening, but in the midpoint, the story reveals she is fine, and Impa takes care of her. There is nothing hurting her. There is no immediate threat to her life. So all the energy and speed of the narrative die. I just did not care. In fact, the villain does not even care. Demise literally gives the player time to do mess around the world before confronting him. "You can spend what little time your world has left cowering and crying, as befits your kind. But if you truly desire to raise your blade against the world I would build, come for me. I've waited for eons to return. I can spare a few more moments to let you decide." Then he heads off, and Link is left to do whatever he wants. If you are making this type of adventure story and the player is allowed to be inactive and do whatever he wants, the villains must be hyperactive, or else there’s nothing pushing on the narrative.

I suspect the only reason why people call this the best story in the series is the ending, which is fantastic. It is long, takes time, and mixes with sadness and hope. Fi's return to Master Sword is genuinely emotional, probably one of the few only characterizations for her in the entire game. It brings all the arcs together in a satisfying manner.

Apparently, the HD version has fixed various issues like controls, dialogue pop-ups, and Fi, but those are only three problems among the myriad of flaws. Dowsing negates any exploration, that dungeons have signposts in them giving away puzzles, the overworlds are boring, repetitive quests that pad out the experience, and the terribly-paced plot that lacks momentum. Even if the game controls better, and Fi is no longer spoonfeeding the player, Skyward Sword would still be the worst of the 3D Zeldas by a country mile. There is fun to be had, and the worst Zelda game is still leaps above most action-adventure games.

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