Ninja Reviews: The Legend of Zelda (Part 1 of 3)

It’s been two years since I played Skyward Sword and it still seems I can’t say it’s bad on the Miiverse without getting swamped with incorrect opinions about how great it is. Unfortunately I can’t explain why that’s wrong in 400 characters, and my other review got lost when I moved sites, so I’ve decided to go Majora’s Mask and rewrite this like it never happened.

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to get into Skyward Sword. While I did like Twilight Princess, I felt it left me wanting more. It didn’t feel unique in its own right, and tried to be dark, but it seemed very much for its own sake to try and appeal to the “adult” audience that were whining about Wind Waker’s design. It wasn’t until I started hearing the whispers; all the talk about how this was “the best Zelda since Ocarina of Time.” And back in those halcyon days, when I thought those were fighting words, I decided to give it a shot.

And I gotta say, from the beginning, I kind of found myself enjoying it. I liked that Zelda and Link’s relationship was established even if it was a little fanfictiony (like why did it have to be all anime best friend secretly loves best friend but neither one makes a move despite obvious scenarios that shows they’re in love?) And I liked how Zelda had a personality even if it was basically Tetra’s.
And I even kind of liked the bird flying, starting with a high stakes race, where everyone was fighting dirty against you. It’s just a shame nothing close to that excited happened afterwards.

And while I’m on the topic of things I like, just to say I gave this game a fair shake, the art-style was gorgeous. I loved how they used the slight cell shading to accentuate the color, and everything looked so bright and alive (unlike Twilight Princess dreary dark green and brown). And I really liked how everything in the distance blurred together to make everything look like an oil painting. Even if it was used to hide those shitty paper trees and not great textures.

And the music was superb. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it really seemed like Skyward Sword started the trend of Nintendo using lots of live orchestrated music in their games, even just as parts of the basic soundtrack. The score when flying is particularly impeccable.

And a special shout-out to the Lanarayu Desert. This is by far my favorite Zelda location. I’m a big fan of desert levels, but I really loved this one. The time stones add a very interesting dynamic, and welcome splashes of life and color to a barren wasteland. And the Sand Sea was amazing visually and as an experience. Even the dungeon was pretty cool, except for the stupid Spore monster creator tentacle glowing eye boss.

But the game cannot stand on looks and sound alone. And now we get to the meat of the review: the problems; and Skyward Sword has a lot of them.

The first problem is its story. Like I said, I found myself getting engaged with the story at the start, (even if the Link accidently becomes a warrior was done before in Spirit Tracks) I was liking how they were personifying Zelda, I even didn’t totally hate the Biff Tannen bully who picks on Link for no discernable reason, other than he likes Zelda. But then wouldn’t you know it Zelda gets sucked into a tornado, isn’t seen from again until she loses all personality and it’s standard Zelda affair. A bad guy wants to capture her so he can steal her Triforce, Link has to prove his worth to save her, despite being the only person capable of it. It’s just the bland, same Ocarina of Time story you all know and love.

The games design is also bland and boring. When I first started flying, I was really falling for it. The controls were fairly responsive, and it felt good. It was even cool how you could jump off your bird and sky dive for a bit. But it doesn’t take long for all that to wear off.

There is absolutely nothing to do up in the clouds and it is so god damn boring! Look, even the map is boring!

 

It’s just empty space. And it’s a real shame because flying around could’ve been really cool, put some monsters up there, have to fight them while you’re free-falling. And then there’s the paltry three ground levels, pulled right from the most original Mario games: forest, desert, lava (the forest pulling double duty for the Water level, but it’s really basically the same level, you just explore it with shitty motion controls).

And every level is deceivingly linear, by which I mean, you start heading towards the dungeon, halfway you hit a point where you can’t go further. So you backtrack to along another linear path, find an item that lets go get through the other half, then you do the same thing in the dungeon.

 

This is the first level, Faron Woods. See how it’s design is essentially a straight shot along a linear path. The fact that you have to find all these little Kiwi guys, by pointing your sword in the direction they’re in and then walking towards them, then findinng a slingshot that lets you progress a little further, is just pointless running around. There’s little to no room for real exploration and it makes each level boring.

And you repeat each level twice to unlock a second dungeon to do that “purifying the Master Sword” that Wind Waker did. While every level looks kind of nice and has a few good ideas, they’re not nearly as interesting as other Zelda locations, and they completely take away the free roaming connectivity of previous worlds, precisely what made them feel like they were actual worlds to explore and discover.

And the linear levels creates one of the game’s biggest problems. It’s difficulty (or lackthereof.) Everything is so safe and streamlined. You’re given an excess amount of waypoints to lay out your path in a nice neat line, and you’re constantly given ways to point your sword at the thing you need to find, assuring that you’ll never get lost trying to explore. Not that there’s much to explore anyway.

And look, I’m not saying that waypoints or direction is bad. But think about it in a game like Skyrim. Sure, the game highlights the place you need to go when you select a quest, but the world is so huge and full of things to explore that naturally you’re going to travel off the beaten path to discover caves and dungeons, and you’re gonna need a waypoint to help you when you get lost.

But in Skyward Sword, the levels are restrictive and linear. They’re not hard to figure out and none of the enemies and atmospheres are entirely intimidating. So being given so much direction, and being constantly reminded where to go removes all the teeth the game could have had.

The combat isn’t difficult, and any difficulty it does have is totally artificial, because it comes squarely from bad motion controls. It’s not exactly hard to hit enemies with your sword, but it’s a pain in the ass when you have to carefully aim it in a specific direction, and if you try to react faster than the game can process your Wii Remote waggles, you’ll usually end up getting hit because Link just swung in some arbitrary direction.

Even something basic like teleporting between levels removes all sense of difficulty from the game. You enter each level by dropping from the sky to your designated checkpoint. As you descend, you’re given a prompt to deploy your little parachute before hitting the ground, the obvious assumption is you’ll take damage or even die for not doing it. But Skyward Sword never wants anything to get too hard, and the game will auto-deploy the parachute, to make sure you’re not penalized in anyway for not deploying it in time. My only question there is, why even have the prompt in the first place? If the game is going to make sure you land safely every time, why not have just done that and cut out the middle man?

Even Skyward Sword’s item list is completely uninspired, and basically ripped wholesale from other games. The list includes, but not limited to: the slingshot (Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess and  you also get a bow, so having both becomes completely redundant like it did in TP), the clawshots (Twilight Princess), Gust Bellows (Minish Cap), Digging Mitts (Also Minish Cap), the Bug Net (A Link to the Past), and some stupid Beetle thing that needs to be controlled with shitty motion controls, because of course it does. And of course, fanboys will be quick to say “well it’s the first in the timeline, so it makes sense that those items are there! It shows where they came from.” But really? Is it that easy to defend this games utter lack of originality by shouting “FIRST! FIRST IN THE TIMELINE! IT WORKS BECAUSE IT’S THE FIRST!!!”

Then there’s the characters. Link looks stupid with his puffy lips and flared nostrils. And the way he guffaws into pitfalls like Goofy, or jumps into the air after touching lava, trying to pat out the fire on his ass just makes him look like a bufoon. It’s like they tried to take the personality and cartoon likability from Wind Waker Link, and stuck it into Twilight Princess Link’s body.

It just doesn’t look right, and it’s hard to take this “Legendary Warrior” seriously. See, it worked in Wind Waker because everyone had that chibbi aesthetic. Furthermore, Link was supposed to be a child, so it makes sense that he’d be silly and slipping on ice and falling on his face.

But Link’s not even the most insulting treatment to these characters. The main villain in the game is a warlock named Ghirahim. However, when you beat him at the very end, Ganondorf shows up, because he has to, this is a Zelda game. But rather than name the Great King of Evil, they call him some stupid, generic badguy name “Demise.” Demise? Seriously, why didn’t you just call him Evilus Badguy. And I know fanboys are quick to say “it’s the incarnation of evil that repeats over the timeline!!!” And ok, I get that, but he still could have been Ganondorf. I mean, he looks a lot like Ganondorf, I don’t think there’s any question that’s who it is. So why couldn’t it just have been him? A demon king who would succeed where foolish Ghirahim failed.

But there’s one more horrible character that takes this whole awful cake. Fi. The most annoying, bland, lifeless, expressionless support character ever conceived. Anyone who gives Navi a bad wrap needs to have a long, hard think about good support characters. All she does is hold your hand, the entire way through the game. Making sure nothing ever gets too hard for poor little baby. I can understand trying to assist the player, but it gets to a point where it’s just annoying. Most notably when you return to the Lanarayu Desert to find the second dungeon.

After getting the Master Sword Link must continue to prove his worth by finding sacred tears (like Twilight Princess, right!) to purify the Master Sword (like Wind Waker! Remember!) and find the second dungeon. Now, you complete the second dungeons in the same order as the first: Forest, Lava, Desert, because clearly variety and change is too scary a concept, so naturally, when you finish the desert spirit quest, you know the score. Find the dungeon, “new” location, bing bang boom. But Fi’s incessant hand holding reaches its peak when she pops out of your sword, and says in her stupid, boring way (and I am not exaggerating, this was verbatim) “Link, there is a 67% chance the next dungeon is somewhere you haven’t been yet.”

I seriously considered quitting at that point. To be insulted by the game in such a way, I had never experienced before. How did I possibly make it this far without you Fi? It’s not bad enough that you have to remind me every time my health is low, despite that Link’s entire body flashes red, the hearts in the corner are enlarged and throbbing, and it’s playing the classic “Zelda Chime” for when your health is low. No, I need to pick up a heart, get hit again so I’m back to that, and hear your stupid notification, thinking you might have something important to tell me about the level, when you just tell me my health is low for the 47th god dammed time! Where would I be without you?

But when you get past the crappy world, and crappy characters, you at least get crappy controls. I mentioned this earlier, but I really cannot believe how bad Skyward Sword’s controls were. For how much the Wii Motion Plus boasted, they really did not work. And to think, Eiji Aonuma actually said “Zelda could never go back to button controls” Why? Because they worked so well?

Like I said, the problem with a lot of the Wii’s Motion Control reliant games was very often the game punishes you for things that are out of your control. For example, when fighting those bokoblins with the electro sticks, they’d change their blocking stance, leaving them vulnerable to a hit either vertically or horizontally, and you’d react and slash faster than the game could process and it would just swing from your last position, getting you shocked and taking damage.
Then it works against you in the most tedious ways. Like the bomb bowling. The segment in the lava world where those fire dragons breathe an impenetrable wall of flames unless you stand a very specific distance away and roll a bomb into their hidey hole. So often was I so far, that I had to roll with force, which screwed up the curve of my shot, which resulted in wasted bombs, wasted time and increased frustration.
And even swimming! Why did motion controls needed to be applied to swimming? It’s already weird because you swim like normal, even underwater by not holding the A button, but then when you press it, you start to swim with motion controls, anxiously moving the joystick to no avail. And it’s not fun to swim, a movement that offers unlimited freedom in direction, to being limited to how you can move your wrist.

And the motion controls ruined what could have been a cool experience, the flying. Like I said before, the controls on flying are pretty tight, I’m not arguing that. But restricting the controller to only being for flying cut out any possibility to do cool things, like fight with your sword on bird back, or in the air. There could have been actual monsters in the sky you could fight with your sword like in Twilight Princess, while controlling your bird with the joystick.

So it’s got a crappy story, crappy characters, a pretty crappy world, crappy controls. What does it have then, besides a decent art style and great music? Why is it that every time I say this game is the piece of garbage it is, everyone seems to disagree with me? Would you listen if notable game’s person Arin Egoraptor Hansin said it? He seems to share my views…

However, it’s the thing I mentioned at the top that makes me wonder as well. Everyone said Skyward Sword was the best Zelda since Ocarina of Time. But that got me thinking…Is Ocarina of Time really as great as everyone says it is? You might very well say yes. I on the other hand, would disagree with you. Find out why in the Zelda Review: Part 2!

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