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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Late to the Game: Skyward Sword: The Wrap-Up


After 53 hours and about a year of playing with my wife, trading back and forth, we finally finished The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword this Friday. And as I promised, I will give you my opinion on the full experience.

Now remember, I am a big Zelda fan. I've played just about every game multiple times. The only ones I've missed are some of the portable ones (Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass, and Four Swords w/ Link's Awakening DX), and the CD-I games, which no one counts anyway. That's a total of twelve Zelda games. Not to mention some of the best fan fiction I've written has been from Zelda. When I was writing Gatecrash, I read the Link to the Past instruction manual over and over, and kept a stack of reference material by my bed.  So now that you've got that in mind, you're ready to hear my opinion on Skyward Sword.

Fuck this game. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it.  Fuck it right in its cold hard ass.

This game's been a thorn in my side all year. Simply put: it is not fun. At least not the kind of fun a Zelda game should be. A Zelda game should be about exploration, about neat items, solving puzzles. It should not be about time-filling busy work and dull characters. I don't even know where to begin. Let's just break it down to the two major components.

Gameplay

First off, everything is beeping at me. My stamina meter is in a constant state of depletion, Navi Fi's poking me about some obvious hint, my hearts are low because the game is the stingiest I've ever seen with grass and pots, my tracking sonar is pointing to the next maguffin, and my wiimote batteries are dying for the umpteenth time.

The difference between enemies is pretty limited. You've got bats, blobs, and bokoblins. There is no Ganon, so I don't know where these guys came from or who they're working for. Are they just wildlife? But thank god there aren't many of them, because this obnoxious Simon Says game is way too picky.

There is a huge disparity in difficulty. Some enemies take one hit to kill. Some need a ridiculous amount of timing and accuracy, like the piranha plants that can only be killed a certain way, or those yellow assholes with the electric swords that paralyze you. You have never seen such frantic swinging in a game, trying to get a hit somewhere.

Here's the problem. Say I approach a monster, with my arm centered.  The monster opens its mouth horizontally. I shift my arm to the left so I can backhand swipe. But I have to do it slowly or the game'll think I'm slashing and the monster'll parry and I have to start over. But by the time I'm ready to attack, the monster switches to vertical. But now my arm is nowhere close to where it needs to be. Repeat process while some other monster is killing you. Some bosses are ridiculously easy and need no strategy, like the big scorpion.  And some are ridiculously hard, like Ghirahim, who is as difficult as he is unpronounceable.


This is the big problem with the game -- the Zelda name and art style deceive you into thinking it's a family adventure, playable by all ages. But it's not. You can have as many heart containers and potions as you want. But the boss will still be too fast, too picky, to get past.  So your game gets stuck. Is that fun? No. My wife was bored during the entire ending because she couldn't do anything.

You can't aim your sword precisely enough in the chaos of battle. The game moves too fast for you to think about what you're doing because you're too busy getting out of the way. And you're always fighting the camera, so expect to get stuck in a wall, and then get clobbered. I'm constantly in threat of dying, but I get no hearts. You can't just set a potion to a button.  You've got to click minus, hold it down, then press the A button to drink it. Then if you need another, you need to repeat the process. Good luck with that in the middle of a boss battle. And you don't get the bow until late in the game, so no taking them out from a distance.


But oh, yes, we will interrupt your ten minute fight with the four-armed Stalfos to let you know you've got some monster goo. Then it s-l-o-w-l-y slides to the menu screen to show me the grand event of its addition to my trove. This was a thing about Twilight Princess I hated -- it constantly prompts when you pick up a rupee and tells you how much it's worth. Even if you're in the last castle. Like I never saw a rupee before in my life.

They fixed that in Skyward Sword, but then they repeated the same damn mistake with the treasure. I can't believe after twenty-five years and sixteen games the programmers and designers are still getting little things like this wrong. I can't believe they are so merciless with the temples and bosses (no hints, no indicators), but they still handhold you with bullshit like gossip stones and highlighted text.

Speaking of treasure, let's talk about game length, because it's my biggest beef with the gameplay. The box boasts fifty hours of gameplay, the longest Zelda game yet. And it achieves that, but you know how? Bullshit side quests. As bad as any MMORPG.

Every game since Wind Waker has had some kind of time-filling scavenger hunt. All you do is go from point to point.  There is no challenge or effort.  You can turn your brain off, because you won't need it. In Wind Waker, it was filling out the map and Triforce charts. In Twilight Princess it was golden bugs and Poe souls. In Skyward Sword, you get both treasure and bugs. 28 types.  And you need them both to have a decent chance, because they upgrade your items and potions.


That doesn't sound like much, but this is a huge land, and bugs are pixel sized. And then once you have them, you gotta go all the way back up to Skyloft, all the way back to the bazaar, scroll through dialogue you've seen a hundred times, and then all the way back to wherever you were before.

You want a red potion? Fine, it fills eight hearts. You want to fill all your hearts?  You can't just spend a little more.  No, you've got to get three kinds of bugs in certain quantities. Bull shit. Most of our gameplay time was spent searching for upgrade components because we kept dying or needed improved equipment, lest our shield break.

Long story short, the game puts unnecessary obstacles and busywork in our way to make the game feel longer. But longer is not better. Not by a long shot.

Story and Characters

I talked in my earlier review about some of the characters. Zelda is a generic anime girl. Groose is the generic anime bully. And there are other stereotypes like the wise ruler, the old mysterious lady. None of these characters have any relation to each other.  They exist in their own schism. Everything feels disconnected.

Let's take the big bad, Ghirahim.  What is he trying to do. You get nothing of his character or back story, except that he's working for someone. Who? Why is he following me around? Or am I following him?  Is he trying to get magic? Why do I see him sometimes in the temples?  And what is he doing when I don't?  Plus he's so foppish and dandy he acts like the Volturi in Breaking Dawn. How can I take a villain seriously with hair like that, that sneaks up behind me and licks my ear?


Then the big reveal is that he's working for Demise. Who is that? Is he the big black spiky thing with the marshmallow toes? Why do I care? He's got no relation to me. His beef is with the goddess who exiled us all to the sky in the first place. Hey, maybe I'll lend him a hand.

Everything's got a different theme.  There's no connection to the sky or the loftwing or the ancient factory or the volcano or the Gorons or Mogmas or any of the characters you meet. Impa is this skinny thing who comes out of nowhere.  Groose is the only character who has any development. Not even Link goes through a transformation. The bird you're supposed to have a bond with becomes another vehicle. Another slow transport through a vast expanse of time filling space.

Anyone know who this guy is?  I don't.
The other characters are as obnoxious as the ones in Wind Waker. They're constantly bugging you with their pitiful problems, like needing their house dusted or a stamina potion. And what do these rewards get you? Depends.  There's so many currency items -- treasure, bugs, rupees, seeds, hearts, gratitude crystals -- it takes forever to save up enough to be useful.

I want to get some items from the item check, but I have to click through dialogue after dialogue after dialogue of inane chatter about how she's in love with me or her baby keeps her up. Bitch, just let me get my shit. I don't even know your name.  I don't care about your hang-up. I've got better things to do.

I hate Zelda. She's a complete wuss. All she does is float there and whine and whimper and be all girly. In Ocarina of Time, she was the badass Sheik. Wind Waker, she was a tuff-talking pirate. She wasn't in much of Twilight Princess, but at least we saw her surrender her kingdom to King Zant, which takes balls.  Plus we had Midna to fill in the gap of sassy-talking navigator/assistant. Not like Fi.


Oh, Fi. Fuck this guy. Fuck her right in her ass. (If she is a she. I'm not quite sure.)  How do you even pronounce that name? Is it Fee or Fye? And why does Fi talk like a computer?! We never find out. She's not a robot or a microchip or a hologram.  At least she's never revealed as such, even though there are robots in this world.

He/she is constantly interrupting me to tell me some bullshit information that we already know. Yes, I'm pretty sure there's more than a 60% chance of the Triforce being here. Maybe because it's on the fucking map. And if she's not yapping about your latest obvious mission, you've accidentally pressed the button that summons her, because the buttons on the wiimote are so damn small.




She was a thorn in my side from day one, as twice as useless. Half the ending is supposed to be this tearful farewell between the two of them, when Link replaces the sword. I couldn't say goodbye to her fast enough.

Ugh, the ending. First off, the final boss battle (spoilers ahead) is ridiculous. Just like the rest of the game, there's no clues how to defeat anyone. No strategy that you can deduce -- you gotta suffer and die. We had to look up YouTube videos to see that, unlike any knowledge you might have gained from the previous two battles with Ghirahim, none of it matters.

And then the battle with Not-Ganon Demise is ridiculous. Once again, it's a sword battle.  The items you spent years searching for don't matter. And when you think you've killed him, that you're going to make the fatal blow, he rolls out of the way. Then you go through the procedure again.  Again, you get the prompt for the fatal blow. He rolls out of the way again.

What the fuck?  You're not supposed to be able to avoid that.  No one ever has before.  If we hadn't looked online and saw that "on the third time, Demise will be too weak to roll away." There's no indication that he's getting weaker. I would have thought I was using the wrong strategy.  Then I would have tried doing something different, fail to kill the boss, and get stuck.


And after that, nothing is resolved. Not-Ganon Demise doesn't even know your name, but he curses you to fight his incarnation over and over again. Then it turns out Impa and the old lady, both of whom have no backstory, are the same person. But none of that matters, because as soon as this is revealed, she disappears into the ether.

Then what happens? I sure as hell don't know. Do they come down from the sky? Do they repopulate the earth? Why is there only one goddess instead of three? Because if there's no Din, Farore, or Nayru, then the Triforce shouldn't be in existence, and every game's history is now in contradiction.

But it is.  You can even get it.  That should be the end -- it grants you the power to make infinite wishes.  But when we last we see it, it's floating above the statue of the goddess, where anyone can grab it. Shouldn't it go to the sacred realm? Isn't it called the ultimate power for a reason? The Triforce is the leitmotif of EVERY SINGLE FUCKING ZELDA GAME, and its become some little quest item.

I'm not sure what this picture means, but it seemed amusing.
That's it.  After this, I'm done with the Zelda series. I've been too uninterested in the history of Hyrule for a while. Wind Waker had some good parts, but lots of empty time gaps. Twilight Princess felt too samey -- no new innovations, no risk-taking. The stuff that was new, like being a wolf, had little impact on the game.  And the characters, like "The Group", were underdeveloped and soulless.

See, in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, it felt like what you did mattered to someone. You didn't just get a mark on your map, go to its coordinates. You had to explore and uncover.  You had to do things like blast the rocks from Milk Road, or find out why a princess was missing (and that she was in a giant fish). You had to deliver some eye drops to a giant Goron or make a guy in a windmill go crazy or unfreeze a realm of Zoras. They felt like people, not obnoxious extras. You didn't need to go on the Internet, if you paid attention. But in Skyward Sword, it's a necessity.

The game feels like the programmers and designers were in an orchestra with no conductor. Even the lands are disconnected -- everything is set into three tight areas with no rewards for exploration or curiosity. When you're not fighting the MotionPlus controls, you're accidentally summoning Fi as you're frantically hitting buttons. If you're not taking out insignificant bats, you're stuck in a tiny room with a bad camera and an overpowered boss. The game goes out of its way to stop you from playing it at the speed you want.

I don't care if this is the best game for the Wii, the aggravation outweighs the fun. And by the end of it, you just don't care about helping Zelda, beating the bad guy, or doing anything other than finishing it so you can play a different game.
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