Final thoughts on Skyward Sword (Wii)

Now I’ve beaten Skyward Sword, I want to follow up on my previous post with some concluding thoughts. Although I stand by my earlier opinion – the game is awesome – I have to admit that Skyward Sword is also a flawed game. And funnily enough, the game’s strengths magnify its flaws. 

zelda skyward sword wii 8

As I said, this game gets so much right. The mechanics are fantastic, and the game puts them to excellent use in the overworld and dungeons. The puzzles are brilliantly designed, head-scratching but always manageable. It’s not even that they’re so ingenious or anything, what’s amazing though is how consistently well put together they are. Despite finding the game hard I never had to look at a walkthrough for a solution – this isn’t even a humblebrag, it’s purely down to the brilliant level design. The clues are always there, but they’re subtle. I can only imagine they playtested this thing to death to make every single puzzle/challenge the right balance of doable and difficult. That level of polish coupled with the satisfying mechanics mean that, moment to moment, Skyward Sword is the most fun Zelda game and maybe even one of the best games I’ve ever played.

But, when all’s said and done, the game doesn’t quite come together. Why? Believe me when I say it has taken a long time – one whole year actually! – for me to reach the conclusion that often it’s one key element that can make all the difference: the story. Not the plot, per se, but the story. The motivations for the characters are ambiguous, the world isn’t cohesive, and the pacing is poor. And each of these issues has a negative impact on the game as a whole.

Let’s go through each aspect in turn: motivations. What do these characters want? It’s so muddy – the first half of the game you have no idea what is going on, and then in the second half you get too much info… I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t played it, but for anyone who’s completed the game, can you explain just what the hell Zelda is by the end? I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

Who are you? I feel like I don't even know who you are anymore.

I feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore…

Second: lack of world building. Now personally I don’t have any problem with the clear separation between the land and the sky, and the relatively small sky area and few areas on land. What did bother me was how the game handled dragons. Minor spoiler (but not really), there are dragons in this game. But unlike every RPG ever featuring dragons, where NPCs would talk about legends, myths and fables that talk about dragons, only to conclude that dragons don’t exist, Skyward Sword ignores the existence of dragons until you’re directed to find one. It’s just plain weird and it contributes to the bizarre feeling that certain portions of this game were rushed and not especially well thought out – even though that may not necessarily be the case, it feels that way, and it’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by other people who’ve played Skyward Sword.

Skyward Sword could've taken a leaf from Panzer Dragoon Saga's book, crafting an interesting, believable world.

Skyward Sword could’ve taken a lesson or two from the Panzer Dragoon series, which has a compelling fantasy world filled with myths and legends.

Third is the pacing. This is kind of similar to what I talked about earlier with the character motivations. The pacing is weird because, like everything else in Skyward Sword, there’s a disconnect between the world and the dungeons – the dungeons are extremely well paced. (I mean they are superb, the way everything builds on what has come before, the way new elements are introduced right up to the end of the game, it’s a marvel) But outside of dungeons and the more puzzle intensive moments on the land, the pacing is a lot worse.

The problems start after a certain point in the game (specifically, once you’ve collected the “flames”). Suddenly the game loses its way in terms of pacing – the ending of the game feels imminent, but in reality there are many hours of gameplay still to go. Rather than building tension and excitement for the finale, the lack of any clear signposting about when the game is going to end gives this final stretch of the game a distinctly rough and meandering feel that could’ve been easily avoided. Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely interesting and cool gameplay ideas and twists that happen during this section of the game, but the lack of clear direction made everything feel like a fetch quest, an arbitrary distraction to keep from reaching the end of the game.

zelda skyward sword wii 12

“Oh you want this? You just need to do this.” Got it. “Oh you did that? OK, great, now you just have to do this one other thing.” OK… am I at least close to the end of the game now? “Oh, by the way, also the legend states that a true hero…” Forget it, ball sack!

So those are my issues with Skyward Sword. Obviously it doesn’t entirely spoil the game for me by any means – Skyward Sword remains awesome. But if any game has showed me that excellent mechanics and gameplay can’t stand alone, it’s this one. They need to be married to characters with clear motivations, strong pacing and a cohesive, inspired world. That’s why I always go back to earlier titles in the Zelda series, titles like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Link’s Awakening, which have all of the above and great gameplay to boot.

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18 comments

  1. Red Metal

    I definitely agree that the filler after completing the sixth dungeon was ridiculous. For one, I have never been a fan of levels that take away all your equipment. The only one from the Zelda series that was vaguely tolerable was the Forsaken Fortress from Wind Waker, but that was because it was early enough that you didn’t have an elaborate arsenal of weapons to lose. I also admit that some of the Metal Gear situations where you lose all your weapons aren’t so bad either because they’re in a series where stealth is encouraged anyway, so it fits the genre. It doesn’t work so well in non-stealth games.

    Looking back, I have to admit that Skyward Sword is probably my least favorite 3D Zelda game, but that just goes to show how great the series is – that one of the weaker installments is still an amazing experience (indeed, it’s still better than certain other series at their best).

    • veryverygaming

      While I can certainly understand why some people wouldn’t enjoy Skyward Sword as much as me, and it is flawed – although I actually quite liked the part where you lose your equipment – in my eyes it’s the best 3D Zelda since the N64 games. And I hated the Forsaken Fortress in Wind Waker, partly because it is so early in the game! I remember showing Wind Waker to someone who was new to videogames back when it came out, and we played up to the Forsaken Fortress… and that killed their interest in games stone dead right there. Of course everyone already familiar with the series knows that level isn’t really representative of the rest of the game at all, but I think putting that upfront at the start of the game was a big misstep.

  2. themancalledscott

    Definitely agree with those points, especially the last one. I remember Skyward Sword got to the point where the quests segued into so many other quests that it would be hours, if not entire play sessions, before I remembered what got me started on those endeavors.

    Also, you forgot to mention that Fi is the worst thing to have ever happened ever.

    • veryverygaming

      Yeah I was muddled too as to the purpose of what I was doing late in the game. Collecting musical notes now? OK. Also, I like how both of your comments on these Skyward Sword posts are blatant attempts to get me to bash Fi, aka Fi-bomination. I wish I had some good bile for you here but she didn’t bother me that much! Sure, she’s a total non-character, which is a bit weird after Midna was so strong, but she doesn’t talk much which is a plus. I think you were right in your other comment to compare her to Navi, who’s also a bit of a non-entity. At least with Fi I never felt the need to hear her inane advice just to turn off an annoying notification sound 😛 Hey! Listen!

      • themancalledscott

        I’m not trying to get you to bash Fi, I just hate everything about that non-character. “Master, there’s a 99 percent chance you need to replenish your health.”
        No! Ya think! My hearts are just almost empty, the game is making an urgent beeping noise, and Link is acting fatigued! What tipped you off, you armless waste of code?!

        And yes, let’s leave the collecting of musical notes to Banjo-Kazooie (and Mario Galaxy).

  3. moresleepneeded

    I agree that the story for this game is a bit strange. The game begins by setting up Skyloft and Link’s life before the beginning of the adventure. Princess Zelda is kidnapped and Link has to rescue her. Then the game seems to have very little story, with references to destiny and Link building his power. The villains seem to have very little presence in the game, occasionally The Imprisoned appears and has to be thwarted and his henchman seems to only appear about three times in the entire game (unlike other Legend of Zelda games, where the villains are shown to have irritated everybody). I actually liked the dragons, it was interesting to see dragons used in a Legend of Zelda game (as they are rarely used, despite being a staple of fantasy fiction) and the designs were good. I did feel that the fact the game was supposed to be set before all other Legend of Zelda games was underused. I agree that the ending did seem to go on longer than expected and the backstory was a little confusing.
    How did you mean the dungeons flowed?

    • veryverygaming

      I liked the design of the dragons too, I just had an issue with how the game throws these surprise elements (like the dragons) at you, without generating any kind of suspense or anticipation. I hadn’t thought of it, but your point about the villains not affecting anyone is spot on, and it’s an example of the same thing too. The world the game creates just feels kind of disconnected and not especially well thought out.

      As for the dungeons, I felt they constantly introduced new items and ideas in each dungeon without abandoning old items and ideas. Then, by the end of the game you’re doing puzzles that require the use of several different items in combination, and in some really clever ways.

      • moresleepneeded

        When I first heard about the water dragon, I did think it would turn out to be a huge monster. Much of the game does seem to consist of Link searching for Zelda, only to discover he needs to find a certain amount of things, then continuing his quest followed by finding out he has to search for a set number of items.
        It was interesting how the items are constantly used throughout the game (such as defeating specific enemies), unlike other Legend of Zelda games where certain items are only used at specific parts of the game.
        I think I mentioned some religious aspects of this game in your post about Nintendo’s religious policy. Do you agree with them?

        • veryverygaming

          I had a look at your comments on that post and I couldn’t find any references to Skyward Sword… in general though I think the game handles the religion aspect OK – there’s nothing shady or anything. But I also don’t think the mythology/goddess stuff is done especially well either, it feels a bit thrown together and unnecessary.

          • moresleepneeded

            OK, I thought I had made that comment because some aspects of the game seemed more spiritual than other Legend of Zelda games and were relevant to that post. The way the Goddess is entered into the story and the fact Zelda has to be cleansed and purified in a ritual seemed to be quite religious.

  4. Matt

    I really like SS, especially its dungeons, which make up the best set of mazes in the series’ history, but I agree with the flaws you pointed out, the second of which I had never really thought of.

    • veryverygaming

      The presentation of the world and the lore is straight up odd to think about, isn’t it? Honestly I would never have given it a second thought if not for Maya lecturing me on the importance of narrative these past few years. I always thought it was such a cliche when you have characters referring to some legend that they then dismiss, but I think Skyward Sword shows the importance of letting the player anticipate things that will happen in the game. Otherwise you end up with an experience that feels disjointed and all over the place.

  5. Mr. Panda

    I loved Skyward Sword, but I agree with your points. The biggest disappointments for me were the lack of world cohesion and the padding. I’m fine with flying down to the overworld, but when they don’t even connect, it feels lacking compared to other Zelda maps. Then the points you bring up regarding world building ring true and is something I didn’t even think about. My other issue is the padding, Going through each place the 2nd time around was okay, though I hated the stealth segments (I generally hate stealth in general). Going through the third time was too much and made the padding issue stick out. It’s still an overall great game, but the points you mentioned do reveal that this wasn’t the best put-together game.

    • veryverygaming

      Thanks for commenting! A lot of people don’t like the Silent Realm, fortunately I’m not one of them 🙂 I know what you mean though about the third time around – the desert segment getting to the dragon was the best one in my opinion, and even then that last bit with planting the tree to help the dragon… not good. The sad thing is both the world building and the padding could’ve easily been dramatically improved! For one, as you say, it would be easy to just add corridors that connect some of the different environments. Second, I really do think just having those cliche myths and legends floating around in conversations with the characters would help a lot with making the world feel more cohesive. Third, the idea that a Zelda game has to be X hours long regardless of how much actual content there is, is such an annoying, arbitrary thing. Skyward Sword is a fully-featured, lengthy game even without the padding, they should’ve ditched it.

  6. darthtimon

    I hate it when as the Legendary Hero, you face – and conquer – so many trials, only to be given more for completely arbitrary reasons. Worse, some of these (like collecting the song pieces) were horribly frustrating. If I’d been Link I’d be inclined to say ‘sod it, if you don’t believe I’m a hero by now do it yourself’.

    Some of the control mechanics for me weren’t the best either. The game felt unresponsive at times and this annoyed me greatly. It’s a good game but these little flaws deny it being a great game in my view.

    • veryverygaming

      Completely agree on the quest side! Again it comes back to that pacing/storytelling issue, where the main story is doled out in about three big chunks throughout the game, and outside of those odd moments the rest feels unrelated and as you say arbitrary. I didn’t run into any control issues, the only thing I didn’t like was flapping with the sky bird. Was there anything in particular that felt unresponsive? It did take me a while to get used to calibrating regularly. This is pretty much the first MotionPlus game I’ve played a decent amount and it’s quite different to the standard Wii stuff.

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