Friday, December 23, 2011

Terminal Review: Zelda is Supreme


****NOTE: This was also posted December 6th on the SA Current’s website, under the blog titled “People’s Gamer”. I am re-posting it here to keep my professional and personal work together for others to find. Hope you enjoy!

Cast aside what prejudices you have against Nintendo; let go of the fanboy arguments and die-hard allegiances you may belong to. Video games are, like other media, diverse and fascinatingly engaging. They are about telling stories, about paralleling reality, about imbuing power in the hands of the player. But underneath all of that, there is a common element among all games–having fun. The Legend of Zelda has been Nintendo’s flagship series since the days of the NES. Most would agree that Zelda games are system pushers, guaranteed to put Nintendo’s newest console in the homes of many, and they’d be right.

But Skyward Sword is not simply a Wii-pusher. It is not worthy of settling for such casual adjectives like “great” “entertaining” or “moving”. It is what I can only admire as a video game masterpiece. Seldom are games made that can perfect the balance between passion, technology, adventure and innovation so intuitively–and I’ll gladly admit the Wii is a system far removed from the term “intuitive”. But Nintendo has no qualms taking time and patience when it comes to their precious Zelda series, and it shows brighter here than ever before.

At its heart, Skyward Sword is a story about childhood friends coming through for one another. Link and Zelda share a definite emotional bond that surpasses anything depicted from past Zelda games. Though the story turns into one about destiny and salvation, Skyward Sword never strays from the friendship these two share as you can feel the emotion emanate from Link each time he gets closer and closer to saving Zelda.

But Nintendo also ensured the “destiny” portion would not be left waning either. As the story unfolds, you are shown the deepest insight into the legends of the Triforce and Master Sword than ever before, each temple seemingly unfolding one more chapter into Zelda lore that fans have been clamoring for ages to know. For the hardest of core, Skyward Sword does not disappoint. Perhaps the game’s greatest achievement is intertwining these distinct yet connected stories into one poetic tale about two friends discovering more about themselves–and their world–than they ever thought possible.
Speaking of the world, Skyward Sword takes the Zelda franchise to the skies and beyond, literally. Traveling is accomplished by soaring through the skies on the back of Link’s trusted bird, called a Loftwing. Taking full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus addition to the Wii Mote, tilting and angling the Wii mote is all that’s needed to send link gliding through the clouds from one land to another. For those who remember Wind Waker, flying definitely brings back memories of sailing through the ocean on Link’s talking ship, but now feels perfectly refined and incredibly easy to use.

But Skyward Sword’s biggest challenge was integrating that same level of integration into combat. Since we first learned that Link would have true one-to-one combat motion with the player’s movements, everyone has been wondering if Nintendo could actually pull it off, unlike Twilight Princess’ constant waggling motion as an excuse for sword swinging. After playing through Skyward Sword, however, I don’t think I can ever go back to normal button-mashing ever again. The combat controls are so smooth and precise to my own movements that at times, I admit to even feeling a bit like Link himself. Most of the enemies you face in Skyward Sword are built on this new premise as well, quick to punish those who try to mindlessly swing their way through the crowds. Temple bosses don’t just take the usual 3-round attacks to die; each of them require a new level of timing and precision that no Zelda before has ever come close to.

Also new to the series is the ability to customize your equipment. Through the collection of various bugs and items dropped by monsters, Link can exchange them for unique upgrades to either his equipment or potions. A few rare bugs will boost a red potion to maximum efficiency, while a few monster horns and ancient flowers can upgrade your bow’s damage (though to be fair, I’m not quite sure how that works). While the upgrade process works great, the collection portion has a few nagging issues. The sensitivity of catching bugs quickly becomes more frustrating than it is worth, and the constant sub-window popping up every time I collect something occurs so often you’d mistake it for Navi from Ocarina of Time (HEY! LISTEN! YOU PICKED UP AN EVIL CRYSTAL! HEY! LISTEN! YOU PICKED UP SOME MORE MONSTER TAILS! and so on…)

Finally, I want to commend Skyward Sword for the natural feeling of evolution from beginning to end. While it is true most developers strive for a narrative backbone that can progress relatively naturally from one point to another without sacrificing depth or pacing, it is incredibly difficult to achieve. While most of the Zelda games are excellent in their own right, I never quite felt like the story was taking me somewhere besides simply saving a royal princess. Skyward Sword, on the other hand, succeeds where its predecessors could not. Perhaps it is because of the emotional context stated earlier, but I believe it’s much more than that. As one progresses through Skyward Sword, the narrative leaps are never too great, and the feeling of something being left out or avoiding plot holes has completely disappeared. It is an adventure in its purest form, from beginning to end. Blazing new trails while paying humble homage to what made past games so memorable, Skyward Sword is both a tribute and a new chapter for the Legend of Zelda series.

Though I’m sure Nintendo has many more triforce related stories to tell us, I’m happy to say this is undoubtedly the greatest Zelda game ever made, and one of the greatest games ever designed.

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