Anyone who gets to know me quickly finds out that The Legend of Zelda is probably my favorite video game franchise of all time. I haven’t in any way played ALL the games in the franchise, but I’m pretty familiar with the major ones. I’ve played through most of the original Legend of Zelda and Link’s Adventure, though I didn’t beat either of them probably because I was too young and ADD to put up with the frustration. I played and beat Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess multiple times. I came close to beating Majora’s Mask, but something came up and I never got back to it. I’ve never played Wind Waker, but I know a lot about it because I’ve completed most of its direct sequel, Phantom Hourglass, and Wind Waker is on my radar to get for the WiiU this fall.
I’m also a fiction writer, and fantasy is my first love. It’s the story and mythology of Zelda that really draws me in. There’s something captivating about these stories, something I’d like to emulate one day in a novel.
Recently I finally completed Skyward Sword. I know people have been raving over this game, raving that it’s probably the best Zelda game ever. That’s quite a tall claim. In fact, I firmly do NOT think it even comes close to the best Zelda game ever. At best, I’d rank it as #3 or 4. And here’s why…
1. Disappointing controls – When this game came out people gushed over the controls. I found them annoying and disappointing. Yes, it was pretty cool to have a one to one ratio between the Wii remote and the sword. But all it amounted to was a lot of hopeful hacking on my part. I only slowed down when I needed to. And if you didn’t put your sword away, Link wound up running about with the sword stuck awkwardly in the air. The shield was also awkward to use. I forgot it more often than not, and when I remembered it I couldn’t make as much use out of it as I wanted. Switching weapons quickly during battle was confusing, because you had to put one weapon away before the controls would let you pull the other out.
What all this means is that there are no longer any special battle moves. You’re on your own. No combos, no tricks…except for a couple types of spin moves. The variety of battle strategies you could develop in Twilight Princess is gone. You simply walk up to an enemy, shield bash if you can remember how, figure out what angle to swing the first stroke, and then bash away until you get blocked. It’s just not as exciting anymore.
2. Chasing Zelda – This is a small thing, and I realize that you don’t actually rescue Zelda in every game. But most of them involve a short quest at the beginning to prove yourself the hero, then you use your skills to rescue the princess and defeat the bad guy. But in Skyward Sword you spend the first part of the game chasing Zelda and the rest of the game proving yourself as the hero. The end goal was never very clear-cut except “to stop Demise.” That’s not personal enough. I want a goal more personal to the story.
3. No fairy fountains or magic – Magic last appeared in the major console games in Wind Waker, but the transformation and teleportation processes in Twilight Princess were very magic like. The Great Fairy made a brief appearance in Twilight Princess, but has been prominent in all the games prior. In Skyward Sword, there are neither. The lack of this magical element is glaring to me. It always gave the Zelda games an otherworldly and supernatural feel. Skyward Sword loses some of that, instead emphasizing ancient technology.
4. No civilizations – Most Zelda games give the player an opportunity to visit other civilizations or towns, in order to experience different cultures. It started in Link’s Adventure and was there in Link to the Past when Kakariko Village made it’s largest debut. From then on the cultures of the Zoras, Gorons, Gerudos, Castletown, and the villagers of Kakariko have been standard. In the Wind Waker thread, entire islands were given their own cultures. Skyward Sword has NO OTHER culture to explore. No town or anything. The closest you come is when you use time-shift stones to experience robot workers. There are a few other species you can talk with, but no city or civilization to explore. The ancient remains are there…but where did everyone go? The only thing representing a town is Skyloft…the home base, castle, and village surrogate for the entire game. Which leads me to the next point…
5. No castle – Um. Where’s the castle? There’s ALWAYS a castle in Zelda. Even in Wind Waker, you have to explore the ruins of a castle. Skyward Sword has plenty of ruins, so where’s the castle? The creators of the game went above and beyond to show that the area had a long and ancient past. But at the same time it feels sparse, unpopulated, and forsaken. It’s not believable. If there was any kind of ancient civilization, then show me a castle. It’s just not a Zelda game without one.
6. Not dark enough – Twilight Princess was very dark, and I liked it like that. It transcended the emotional content of all the previous games. Majora’s Mask was extremely creepy and arguably the darkest of all the Zelda games. Ocarina of Time was all happy-go-lucky, until the time shift…then it got very serious, and very ominous. The same applies to Link to the Past…the light world was fine, but the dark world was exactly what it claimed to be. The only thing dark about Skyward Sword was the creepy penultimate bad guy Ghirahim. Except, he wasn’t creepy as in keep-you-up-at-night-with-bad-dreams creepy. He was creepy as in why-is-uncle-Eugene-wearing-harlequin-tights-earrings-and-eyeshadow creepy. Even the “zombies” in the game were purple, cartoony, and google-eyed. A good Zelda game should be believably ominous…and this was not.
7. Not a true open world – You know…the rest I can put up with and overlook. But this is truly unforgivable. Every Zelda game…EVERY ZELDA GAME…is open world. Open world means every location within the game is connected directly with each other. If you wanted to run from one end of the world to the other with no other purpose than to time yourself, you could. You could go for a stroll from Kakariko Village to Zoras Domain, if you wanted. One. Big. Open. World. It was a revolutionary feature when the original Legend of Zelda came out and has been a hallmark of all other Zelda games since. Skyward Sword lost it. There is no true open world here. You can’t go from one location to another simply for a scenic walk. You have to use the “portal” feature of the game, transitioning to the sky first and then going to your next drop point. Each area of the world is self-contained and not transitionally connected. This loss of the open world feature is very disappointing to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Skyward Sword. A lot. For what it was, it was a great entertaining game. The graphics were beautiful, the cinematic cut scenes stunning, and the live orchestral soundtrack amazing. On these three features alone, it blows all the rest away. It was a GREAT game. It just wasn’t a great Zelda game. There were too many characteristics of the great Zelda games of the past that were missing. It didn’t feel like a Zelda game. It felt like something different. I get that this was an “origin story” for the franchise and that some of the elements are missing simply because they haven’t had time to develop yet in the mythology. I get that. I except that. It still doesn’t make me feel any better about it. Sorry.
For what it’s worth…I can’t wait now for the HD upgrade to Wind Waker. It just might prove to be the ultimate Zelda game on ALL aspects.