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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – A Link… to the Future?

If you were a kid in the eighties, or sooner, there is little chance you’ve never heard of The Legend of Zelda. With puzzles, quests, and high adventure, Shigeru Miyamoto’s beloved characters have moved gamers since 1986. For the twenty fifth anniversary of the series, Nintendo has gone all out to celebrate. A 3D version of Ocarina of Time, a free version of Four Swords and Link’s Awakening for 3DS users, and a concert series of game music have kept fans embracing the honored series all year. On November 20, 2011 Nintendo released their newest and most sophisticated entry in the series to date, Skyward Sword. The Wii console is by far the most prevalent system on the market today, but with plans for a new system, there has not been much coming out for it. Nintendo is boasting games for its fantastic 3DS handheld as well as the upcoming Nintendo Wii U, an HD upgraded next gen console that will once again change home gaming as we know it. It is with little surprise that Nintendo has put forth a new Zelda game as the Wii sings its swan song.

Skyward Sword is thought to take place before every other game in the series. Although there is no specific chronology between games and Link is a different incarnation of the legendary hero each time, this game is where the pattern starts. Link has grown up in Skyloft, a floating city above the clouds. It is established at the very beginning that the Goddesses of Hyrule set the hovering Island world aloft to keep it free of the corruption from the dangerous world below. The inhabitants of Skyloft have only ever heard vague legends of this world below. They go about their lives as a small kingdom spanning many other floating islands. They train to become knights of Skyloft and ride on giant birds called loftwings. Kinda sounds like Joust, huh? The game starts off with a young adult Link (in other games he is a child) about to take his final test to become a Knight. He is supported by his childhood friend, Zelda. This is a little strange for a Zelda game. Usually Zelda is the Princess of Hyrule that Link meets along the way. Having them be childhood friends explains the bond that these two will have for every incarnation to follow. Link quickly passes his test, but a huge black sandworm looking smoke beast pops out of the sky and snatches Zelda before Link even has a chance to celebrate. He soon discovers the Goddess Sword and the sword spirit, Fi, who tells Link that he is a chosen warrior who must go down to the world below and confront his destiny. This is also where demons have taken Zelda. Link, being the plucky hero that he is, agrees and off he goes to find dungeon after dungeon in his quest for his closest friend.

The game mechanics are what sets this game apart from others. The Wii had a Zelda game shortly after its launch, Twilight Princess, but it was really just a transfer of a GameCube game that didn’t make it to the prior Nintendo system in time and was retooled for the Wii. You could shake the Wii wand to make Link attack or juke the nunchuk to make him bat enemies with his shield, but that’s about as far as they could go with the tech at the time. Since then, Nintendo has developed Wii MotionPlus, which gives the gamer much more intuitive controls, corresponding the position of the Wii wand to the in-game mechanics . In layman’s term, in Skyward Sword Link holds his sword in the same position as the gamer holds the controller. This is executed fantastically and really is the cornerstone of what makes the game great. When Link obtains the Goddess Sword, the game instructs you to turn the Wii wand upside down and yank it up as Link pulls the sword out of its stone base. Enemies also require Link to change up his attacks. There are 8 different attacks such as thrust, upward strike, horizontal slash, and vertical slash. Every enemy is different and many have ways to block Link. You must decide where to strike from and from what direction at the prompt of subtle clues from the characters’ movements. This is super neat, but also a little frustrating at times until you get the hang of it. The story is also engaging. The first parts of the game involves Link following Zelda, who is having her own adventures. There is not much more in the classic formula that needs to be changed. (Why fix what isn’t broken, right?) Link goes from forest temple to fire temple to ice temple and so on. He gets items new and old to the series to help him progress. Classic items like the slingshot, bombs, and bottles to store potions are abundant, but new items have been added as well. One of these is the beetle. This is a wrist launched probe that Link can send out to scout unexplored areas, cut trip wires, or pick up items. The beetle is controlled by holding the Wii wand like a paper airplane and virtually guiding it around as you move the wand. Other new concepts to the series include balancing on tightropes using the gyroscopic motion controls and saving the game at save points. Save points are nothing new in RPGs, but they are new to Zelda. In older games, if you died in the field, the game would restart at Link’s house and make you trek back to wherever you were going. It’s so much easier to respawn close to where you need to be. Other RGP elements include using found items to upgrade equipment like reinforcing Link’s shield or expanding his bomb bag to hold more bombs. There are loads of content in the game as well. It took me over ten hours of gameplay before I beat the second dungeon, and the game continues to promise much, much more as well as loads of things to do after the story is over.

As much as I do love any new Zelda games, there are things I’m not very impressed with as well. The Wii is not High Definition, so the graphics are still a bit pixilated. I use a component cable, which makes the colors brighter, but over exaggerates the broken outlines around everything. I can only turn the sharpness on my TV down so far and have to deal with it as it is. I’m spoiled by the HD graphics of the PS3 or 360, I suppose. The game is beautifully cell shaded like everything is an oil painting, but seeing things far off in the distance sometimes looks like a mess of colored dots. This doesn’t hinder the gameplay, but is noticeable. This game was meant to have a look somewhere between the cartoony Windwaker and the dark and gritty Twilight Princess. Despite these small problems I had with the look, the soundtrack is outstanding. Symphonic game scores aren’t altogether innovative these days, but Zelda music is always memorable and beautiful enough to really set it apart from others. The game even comes with a cd of symphonic music from the entire series. As good as the controls are, they are in no way perfect. I fight fast, and the game sometimes reads my motions wrong. There are plenty of ways in the game to calibrate or center the wand to keep this only a minor annoyance. The puzzles can sometimes have very vague clues. I had to consult walkthroughs many times after being stuck for thirty minutes or so. A couple times, I couldn’t figure out how to defeat certain enemies or bosses for about just as long. Fi resides in Links sword and you can call her for guidance at any point, (Like Navi in Ocarina of Time or Midna in Twilight Princess) but usually it is advice like, “We are trying to find clues about Zelda’s whereabouts in Faron Woods.” This is great if you put the game down for a few weeks and need to remember what you were doing, but not practical clues at all.

I am very pleased to write that, all in all, Skyward Sword is a fantastic Zelda game filled with lots to do and an engaging story. It is as colorful and sounds beautiful. Nintendo has done an excellent job in making a game that truly encapsulates everything that makes a Zelda game great. It is a must have for fans as well as Wii owners in general.