The perks of Skyward Sword: Things I loved about the game.
Adapted from Dani Kelley: Skyward Sword perks and pitfalls.
I’ve seriously been playing Zelda games ever since I picked up Twilight Princess in 2012. I’ve gone through Twilight Princess another time, Skyward Sword, Wind Waker twice, Ocarina of Time, and Link Between Worlds (I’m holding out on really playing Majora’s Mask until there’s a 3DS or Wii U release of it). The storylines and gameplay and puzzles and design are all just utterly delightful to me. In general, my favourite Zelda game is whatever one I’m currently playing. Which right now happens to be Skyward Sword. As I was wrapping up my first playthrough, I wrote about it here. But going through it a second time, I’m noticing a lot of different things that I’d like to parse out. Spoilers abound, so be aware.
The story begins in a town called Skyloft, which is spread across several islands in the clouds. A small settlement lives there, coexisting with large birds called Loftwings that serve as both pets and transportation between airborne islands and are the bird of choice for the knights of Skyloft. There are rumors that there’s an entire world beneath the clouds, but most people don’t believe it. Link is a student at the Knight Academy, and is best friends with his fellow student, Zelda (who happens to be the daughter of the headmaster). It’s clear that Link and Zelda are in love, though it’s never been stated. After Link wins a race that puts him at the top of his class, while he and Zelda fly out together to celebrate, a terrible storm rises from the clouds and carries Zelda below. Link learns that there is indeed a world beneath the clouds, called the surface, and that the goddess has chosen him for a special journey. As he travels throughout the various regions on the surface in search of Zelda, he encounters a demon lord called Ghirahim, who is also searching for Zelda with plans to use her spirit to awaken his evil master, whom the goddess imprisoned thousands of years ago. In due course, it is discovered that this is possible because Zelda is the goddess herself, reincarnated as a mortal. Aided by Fi (the spirit of his sword), the citizens of Skyloft, a handful of Gorons and a few dragons, Link fulfills his mission as the hero of the goddess and defeats both Ghirahim and his evil master. He and Zelda opt to remain on the surface together rather than rejoin Skyloft, and we leave them sitting happily together in the beautiful woods of Faron.
The perks: things I love about the game.
The cinematic nature of the cut scenes. Since story is one of the main things that draws me to the Zelda franchise, I’m really delighted with the quality and quantity of cut scenes in the game. So much is explained, and it’s done so well that it keeps my attention and draws me into the story even more.The graphics and art style. Honestly, there hasn’t been an art style yet for any of the Zelda games I’ve played that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed (other than the original Ocarina of Time. That shit was hard to look at it, and I seriously couldn’t get a handle on it until I picked up the 3DS version). But the attention to detail, the impressionistic feel (seriously, Faron Woods reminds me so strongly of Monet that it’s breathtaking at times), the life-likeness all around from character design to enemy design to even the inclusion of the insects and birds. It’s gorgeous, and for me, as a visual person, it’s a huge perk and makes the game so much easier to play. My only complaint, which is so minor I’m not even putting it in the pitfalls section, is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell that vines are vines. That’s only a problem I’ve run into in Lanaryu Desert, though, and my partner assures me that it’s just me.
The wealth of characters and side-quests. I feel like this is something Zelda has done well ever since Ocarina of Time, but it strikes me as particularly strong in Skyward Sword. Forming relationships with everyone on Skyloft and throughout the surface is intensely satisfying for someone who likes to talk to people and explore as much as I do. Fulfilling sidequests (when it’s optional) is equally satisfying, I find, especially the different quests I’m able to do differently on a second play-through. Link is often given a choice of action or response, and I love how this helps flesh out his character and changes the gameplay slightly in different scenarios. I also really enjoy collecting bugs and gratitude crystals, and working off my debt at the Lumpy Pumpkin after destroying his chandelier for a heart piece.
On that note, as I mentioned in my review from last year, I particularly enjoy the character development of Groose, Zelda, and Link. The journey that they all go through, together and separately, feels authentic and helps me better connect to the game and the story.
I also appreciate the role that the Gorons are given in the game. It seems consensus among Zelda fans is Gorons are typically a strong but dimwitted race, and I’m excited to see them portrayed as anthropologists and archaeologists, thirsting for knowledge and willing to share that knowledge with all they meet.
The mechanics and Motion Controls. Being able to sprint for short distances is really handy (and, of course, necessary for various sections of the game). Also being able to dash up walls to grab onto ledges and being able to dart up or down vines and ladders was awesome. I find myself trying to do those things whenever I go back to playing the Wii version of Twilight Princess. I love the indicator when throwing bombs, and especially that you can store bomb flowers in your bag. Zooming in when shooting arrows is really helpful when trying to take out enemies that are really far away. These are all little things, to be sure, but they help make the gameplay a little more seamless for me, and I’d love to see them retconned in re-released of other games.
I also like being able to recenter the control when dowsing or using items like the beetle or the whip, which I know is something that many people really despise. To me, it functions exactly like targeting, so it’s something that feels pretty natural to do (and makes it easier to play sitting in different positions, because I can just recenter the controls to work from wherever my arm naturally falls). In some ways, I really like how the motion controls make you work with the sword. Basically, I like feeling more engaged in the game by being more physically engaged with what I’m doing.
The Ancient Cistern. This is by far the best Water Temple I’ve ever played. It’s based in part on the story of The Spider’s Thread, which adds a lot of background to the temple from a philosophical and historical standpoint, and the juxtaposition of the beauty of the upper temple with the scariness of the bottom dungeon is breathtaking. (Seriously, though, the dungeon aspect puts me in mind of the Spirit Temple in Ocarina.) It’s definitely a typical water temple in mechanics, as far as having to raise and lower water levels, but it feels so fresh and innovative that I just can’t hate it. It also houses my favourite boss of the game, Koloktos.
The Timeshift Stones. While Lanaryu Desert is by far my least favourite section, I can’t help but love the ingenuity of the Timeshift Stones and how they function within the game. They make solving puzzles within the game really satisfying, and seeing areas transform instantly from the past to the present is fascinating to watch. I love seeing what’s changed and what hasn’t.
Ghirahim. By far my favourite villain ever. (Zant had so much potential. I think Ghirahim is what I wanted Zant to be.) I love his sass, his rage, his playfulness, and how terrifying he is when you first come upon him as a boss. The battles against him are frustrating but enjoyable, and the music for him is just the perfect mix of epic and terror-inducing.
The music. I’ve heard lots of people say that they find the orchestrated music to be lacking the character that the music of previous games had, but I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve always found that music is one of the strengths of every Zelda game, and this game was absolutely no different. Inspiring, haunting, epic, and evocative, it really helps me connect to the story and the gameplay. I especially like that they brought back the thing from Wind Waker, where the music reflects when you strike enemies. It’s just a little something that adds so much.