Yeah, gasp and shock, I know, I sometimes do thing that AREN'T kaiju-related, at least not directly
Oh, and be warned, spoilers abound.
Anywho, as anyone who knows me is patently aware, I'm a pretty damn big Zelda fan. So much so that it's really a huge shame that I don't get to do more Zelda fan art. Ah, 'tis life. So, you can naturally assume that I was pretty excited for SKYWARD SWORD when it came out. Not as excited as I was for, say, TWILIGHT PRINCESS (that game ATE MY SOUL with what I put into it...and yet I still hold WIND WAKER in higher regard), but I was still pretty Goddess Damned excited (see? I'm using Zelda puns!).
A few weeks after finishing it? I traded it in at Gamestop and picked up a copy of VANQUISH for the PS3. A much better game.
Since that decision, I've been trying to explain it over and over again to various friends and confidants who gasp in shock or hang their heads in shame...many of whom have yet to finish the game, mind you. So I decided, instead of retreading that old ground more times than I can count, to just sum up my thoughts in one little journal entry. Be warned, I get pretty ranty ahead, and for that I apologize in advance. There's an excellent chance that some of you reading this will want to tell me how wrong I am and even become furious at me, and all I ask for is a little patience and understanding. I love Zelda as a franchise, and as such I just want it to be the best it can be...which SKYWARD SWORD is definitely not, in my opinion.
Simply put, though SKYWARD SWORD is not a completely terrible game, it's definitely not a great game, and most especially not very fun. True, I had fun a few times, and there were tiny twinges of moments where I got that "Zelda feeling," akin to a sort of meditative bliss for gamers. However, the game is so badly buried under a myriad of terrible design choices, not to mention a story that ultimately feels not only patronizing, but has almost no ultimate payoff where it really counted.
I'll mention just a few problems I had -
- The opening of the game has a SEVERE amount of dead time. In OCARINA, you're plopped into a small, controlled area so you can get a knack for all the basic controls, and are basically cut loose. There's a lot of signs and characters everywhere who are perfectly willing to hold your hand or give you broad hints, but most of it is optional, so if you're replaying the game, you can skip all of that and go right to getting the sword and shield. In SKYWARD, however, literally the first hour of the game (or more) is spent slowly, SLOWLY tutorializing you, holding your hand and making you do stuff that, quite frankly, isn't fun at all. The instant a game becomes a chore more than fun, it needs to fix that FAST in order to justify itself.
- Every time you pick up an item, such as a bug or a knick-knack, the game stops, tells you what it is with a wall of text, then opens your bag and SHOWS YOU were it's putting it. This sort of thing only happens when you pick up an item for the first time...but when you load the game back up, it happens again...FOR EVERY ITEM YOU PICK UP.
- Like I mentioned above, the game simply can't seem to resist grinding to a halt to explain things to you, something that past Zelda games managed to resist to an extent. The support character, Fi (who never endeared herself to me, and her completely arbitrary speech at the end about learning what happiness was or whatever was never foreshadowed because she literally has no personality or does anything fun or entertaining...God I miss Midna) continually has to break things down for you or talk down to you...which even Navi didn't do. All Navi did was keep you on point.
- Man alive, I can't quit harping on Fi, but here's another thing: traditionally, when Link's hearts (his health meter) dwindles down to single digits, a chirping repetition of noise begins that alerts you to the problem, and simultaneously becomes an extra incentive to break off from the fight at hand and find some health QUICK, if only to make that noise stop. The same thing happens here, but the game, for whatever reason, finds the need to have Fi herself start chirping with an EXTRA layer of beeping noise, so that you'll select her, and she can STOP THE GAME and remind you that, Hey! You're about to die! Might wanna' get on that! Ugh. Let the player think for themselves, for Din's sake.
- A huge part of Zelda games is the feeling of adventure. That is to say, you set out on a quest, leaving your home behind, and venture out into the wide and perilous world. Part of what makes the past games compelling is The Return, a Joseph Campbell-esque story moment where Link returns to his home village, more powerful and better equipped than before, but his former home has been ravaged or taken over by darker forces. It tricks you into a feeling of nostalgia, returning to the womb, so to speak, but layers it with a sense of melancholy thanks to your home being no longer the happy, safe place you always held it in your heart. SKYWARD, instead, opts for a central hub city, where everything more feels like you're running errands. Nothing ever really happens on Skyloft, so there's no tension, just busywork. You come and go as you please, and thanks to the positively BARREN sky world (a far cry from WIND WAKER's vast ocean, sailing regardless), there's nothing to do up there except buy shit and tiredly converse with the repair shop owner and the bedraggled potions-mixer.
Those are just a few of the problems I had, in addition to things like backtracking across a total of three barren, tiny, uninteresting environments literally three times apiece (or more), not to mention that the story completely STOPS after the halfway point and now you're just going through the motions, but one of the last nails in that coffin was the very end of the game. Turn back now if you don't want spoilers.
At the absolute finale of the game, after the bad guy's been beaten and the story tries to tug your heartstrings in completely pointless ways (since we never really got to know these characters), Zelda and Link are standing on the statue of the Goddess Hylia, looking over the beautiful land of the surface. Zelda decides that she wants to stay on the surface and make a life there. She casually turns to Link and asks "What are you going to do?" to which Link simply smiles.
Almost the entire game is built around Link and his undying love for Zelda, not to mention the other way around. It was a refreshing change of pace for a Zelda game to be so centrally focused on a relationship rather than just The Quest, to the point where there's even some nice sexual tension and playful flirting early on. Of course, I never expected the two to have a big End-Of-Story kiss (since all-ages Japanese stories don't work that way), but that final line, not to mention Zelda's overall lack of general affection for Link after he saves her, really feels like a gigantic missed opportunity, not to mention pretty much blowing the payoff. It would have been SO simple...all Zelda had to do was say "Link...will you stay with me?"
Right there? That's some romantic shit, right there.
(Yes, I'm reading WAY too much into this...but I take Zelda games pretty damn seriously and shut up leave me alone
Look, I didn't completely hate the game, there were quite a few things that I genuinely liked. I liked the chemistry between Zelda and Link early in the game. I liked that Link was basically a bodyguard who was late for his job, which added a sense of urgency. I liked the Item Check Girl. I liked Groose, who was awesome. I liked Demise, who was extra-spicy-awesome. The motion controls were kinda' cool, though I would have preferred a classic controller option. The boss battles were creative (at least, anything that wasn't Ghirahim and his apparent inability to move his hand WHEN HE'S LOOKING RIGHT AT MY SWORD). I REALLY liked some of the dungeon puzzles. I liked the Silent Realm...the first time, before it became a complete and total chore. I liked going all manhunter/commando to get my gear back on my third retread of the volcano area. The soundtrack's really nice as well (though those BS lyre tunes were totally dissonant). Oh, and that whole thing with the Windfish (or whatever it's called now)? That was pretty awesome. And I thought the little video playing over the credits showing bits of Zelda's own quest was a really creative touch.
Ultimately, who do we keep games? The same reason we keep movies and books and the like. We love them, and we want to revisit them, to make them a part of our lives. When I restarted the game on Master Quest mode, my eyes immediately glazed over, as I felt absolutely no desire to slog through all this dead air to find the handful of little gems in the game.
Of course, to make up for betraying the Great Miyamoto, and to win back his favor so he doesn't smite me from his Cloud Kingdom of Money, I DL'd LINK TO THE PAST for my Wii. Started playing it, loving it so far