Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Descended from the heavens.

Whisked away from her home in the clouds, a young Zelda is taken to the surface—a place only of legend to the folk of Skyloft—to fulfill a destiny set by the goddess. In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Link plays hero, pursuing the princess as fate foretold. This is the 25th anniversary Legend of Zelda.

Skyward Sword opens with a sleeping Link awakened by Zelda’s loftwing—a giant bird every resident of Skyloft receives—delivering a message. It’s the day of the annual Wing Ceremony, a competition where all students of the Knight Academy must race their loftwing to become a knight, and Zelda is worried about Link. Zelda asks him to meet her beforehand for a quick practice session. It is this meeting where we learn of the pair’s relationship. Link and Zelda are tied together not by heroism, but by pastime. The two grew up together in Skyloft—a town in the clouds created by the goddess herself—and are something like best friends.

Fast-forward a bit and Zelda is kidnapped from Skyloft and brought to the surface. The night of the incident, Link learns of his destiny as the goddess’ chosen hero—the chosen hero who must rescue the persecuted maiden. But Zelda is no damsel in distress. Both Link and Zelda have their own destinies in this abrupt fate. So as Link begins his, he must journey to the surface.

There are three main areas in Skyward Sword: Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert. You’ll visit these vastly different locations more than once, using items obtained on your quest to gain access to new areas the second time around. A 40-hour game, I finished my first visit to all three locations in about 12 hours, so you can imagine about how much is packed into one stay. The areas consist of open, outside locations, where you can freely return to Skyloft using Bird Statues, and inside, dungeon locations where Bird Statues only allow you to return outside.

Link in the Fire Sanctuary dungeon.

There are a few dungeons in each area, each long, and some only accessible during the future visits. Link will usually have to use his dowsing ability, which allows him to use his sword to find people or things, when he lands in an area to figure out which direction he’s going. Usually, the ability is used to search for Zelda, but there are many instances where Link will have to gather a few objects using the dowsing ability. For example, the key to a dungeon has separated into three pieces. Link would have to use his dowsing ability to locate those three pieces, and use the key to enter the dungeon. Dungeons themselves are fun and challenging, and even left me downright stumped at some points. You’ll need to have good thinking skills to traverse these obstacles.

That said, Skyward Sword is a game about exploration. And you’ll earn all the proper equipment to do so. Next to Link’s usual bombs and bow, new items, such as the Beetle, are introduced. The Beetle allows Link to explore the ins and outs of a room, even if he can’t access certain parts himself. If there is a switch on the other side of a bridge, Link can send the Beetle to activate it. The Whip allows Link to attach himself to certain structures and swing to another platform like he would with a vine. Gust Bellow allows Link to blow infinite winds, clearing sandy areas or activating wind-powered switches. What’s great about these items is that they’re not just one-time things. Every item you receive, no matter the area, can be applied at some point in another area, in certain boss fights, and even in Skyloft itself.

Though, Skyward Sword‘s most oft-touted feature is its use of motion controls. Generally, I’m not a fan of motion controls. They’re usually gimmicky and unenjoyable. Skyward Sword is different. If anything, the game utilizes motion controls in the best way I’ve ever seen. Link’s sword is your Wii Motion Plus controller. Every little movement you make is reflected in the sword (just make sure you have your sensor bar set up right!). Each enemy is taken care of differently. The three-headed Staldra, for example, requires you slash your sword across all three moving heads at once. If you only take out one or two heads, they’ll grow back. Bokoblins will block Link’s slashes with their own weapon, requiring you slash only unguarded areas. The Lanayru Bokoblins are more dangerous, as they’ll wield weapons flowing with electricity. Strike their guard and there goes a heart for Link. Beamos, also found in Lanayru, require you horizontally slash their two bottom sections, then poking its “eye” out by thrusting your sword forward. Beamos enemies are primarily difficult as they’re always shooting rays of electricity at you. If you go in vertical, it will only result in dealt damage to Link.

Link travels the Sand Sea in Lanayru using a time stone boat.

The controls feel good. Really good! I didn’t feel like I was playing a motion control game. Everything felt natural and went with the flow of the game. Except for one bit, that is.

The camera in Skyward Sword isn’t terrible—far from it—but it’s annoying to adjust. There’s no second analog stick to turn your camera, or a button on the controller you can hold down, then use the motion controls to turn it—there’s just the Z button on your Nunchuck. If you’re facing north, and want to turn the camera to 45 degrees west, you’ll need to turn Link in that direction, press Z, and the camera will automatically adjust to Link’s center. That’s as far as camera control goes with Skyward Sword. It’s also about as far as my complaints go for this game. To be fair, though, you’ll eventually get used to it, and maybe even become a camera-turning pro.

Aside from the main quest, there’s plenty more to do in Skyward Sword. Returning to Skyloft opens up a list of side-quest opportunities. Going about these quests will earn link crystals of gratitude, which he can exchange for additional power ups. Taking flight on your bird, you can venture out to the many islands surrounding Skyloft. Some only contain chests (some which only appear after striking “Goddess Cubes” in the surface areas). Others, like Fun Fun and Bambo Island, offer additional mini-games to play.

I’m a sucker for high-definition games, but being on Wii, Skyward Sword is obviously not a high-definition title. Even so, it looks gorgeous. Distanced areas appear as water color and close up, the game is just super appealing. It looks like a cross between Twilight Princess‘s more realistic approach and Wind Waker‘s more cartoon-based design.

I just can’t stress how much I enjoy this art style. Its beauty and paint-like structure shouldn’t come off as a huge surprise, though. Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto has said in the past that Skyward Sword‘s art style is inspired from impressionist/post-impressionist Paul Cezanne paintings. And when compared to his “Road Before the Mountains, Sainte-Victoire,” or “The Brook,” the similarities are clear.

Skyward Sword is a gem. I really enjoyed every bit of it, and most sessions, didn’t want to put it down. It offers an excellent, evolving story and perfected motion controls. Its gameplay length screams value (and for $10 less than HD games!), and its art style is just a glamor to look at. The camera aside, I have no issues with this game. It’s amazing. Incredible, even. It’s something I would go out and buy a $150 dollar Wii to play. And I’d have no second thoughts in recommending you do the same.

This is how you celebrate 25 years. This is Skyward Sword.

10/10

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was reviewed on Wii. The story was played to completion. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword released for Wii on November 20, 2011 in North America and on November 18, 2011 in Europe.

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