Finally beat all the other games I was playing, grit my teeth, and mustered up the will to power on through to the end of this without any distractions. Never touched a shield or any potions, dowsed once (locating the moving ship), left equipment un-upgraded, and had a final death count of something like... four? Died a couple times figuring out how to kill the penultimate boss and once figuring out how to kill the last one (after which both became jokes who were fairly simple to no-damage). All Gratitude Crystals collected, and all heart pieces minus one nabbed -- the usual curse which, despite my best efforts, has managed to follow me through every
single playthrough of every 3D Zelda.
Anyway, general thoughts.
+Dungeons. Outside the bland first pair, this is easily some of the best dungeon design the series has ever seen. A lot of nice uses of items from prior dungeons, most of the items themselves were fairly interesting, and a lot of the level gimmicks, made for well-designed puzzles (special shout-out here to anything involving Timestones and to all the puzzles that, in the spirit of the best of the series, span across multiple rooms). Seriously impressive stuff. If the game were just dungeons, it would be easy to understand all the ridiculous praise it gets, because they are that
+NPCs. Groose, Batreaux, Scrapper, and Rupin are great. Ghirahim fills my heart with rainbows -- in retrospect, it would be wrong for me to fault him for the failure of the writers to find anything interesting to do with his character. Even if he does not have any real villainous acts, he has the personality, the lines, and the bossfights, so in the aggregate he comes out awesome. Kind of hope we see him in a future game, which means we probably will not.
+Bosses. Several stinkers aside (the scorpion, the two whose strategies were so Ocarina of Time-era that it hurt, the final boss), these were relatively strong overall -- particularly if we include the fights with the mini-bosses when they are not lazy affairs like 'fight a pair of regular enemies'. Unlike a lot of entries in the series, a couple battles even revolve around playing the game semi-skillfully instead of the usual '100% of the challenge is figuring out some (painfully obvious) way to damage the boss's junk.
Also, I was too hard on The I---------, earlier. As time goes on, the fight becomes more conceptually interesting, has some nice musical interplay, and it sets up some very decent character development.
+Visuals. I talked about this before, but it warrants repeating, this game is beautiful. The people who say otherwise (in particular, the ones that want to take us back to Twilight Princess
's world of ugly textures, general brown-ness, and overuse of bloom) are certifiable.
+/-The SR. These parts would probably have been better as straight up chase sequences without the collecting bit. Avoiding the alerted Guardians is not a particularly difficult task, and in fact you can probably outrun them/dodge their attacks indefinitely as long as you do not do something silly like run out your dash meter. As such, these basically boil down to slightly-hurried collectathons. The only part of them that ever involved any real dread was triggering the Guardians. Not because the Guardians are scary or imposing or likely to kill Link, but because the game plays the exact same "OH NOES THESE GUISE ARE WAKING UP" cutscene transition every single time
. I guess Nintendo thought the color scheme and music going all Silent-Hill were simply too subtle.
+/-The Boss Rush. This would be a plus but for two massive amateur-hour oversights. The first is that one boss fight is, for reasons beyond me, totally excluded. The war sequence (which is itself part of another boss fight that was included separately) is counted, but not an encounter with full-on boss subtitles and everything?
The second, much dumber bit is that the player receives different prizes depending on how many of the fights they beat in a row. The prizes range from rupees to treasures to rare treasures to heart pieces to actual equipment. Why is that so bad? Any time you choose to continue and go another round -- which is kind of the whole point of a boss rush -- you completely opt out of whatever prize is currently on offer. Beat the next round, you get another prize instead of
and not in addition to
the item in question.
You beat every fight in a row without dying or taking a break? Good for you, here is a bunch of rupees. Oh, you wanted one of those other, more useful prizes? Like that heart piece? Then you should have accepted it when I offered it to you in return for quitting at that specific moment, instead of fighting on like a champion. No, even though you just demonstrated you can beat every single encounter I throw at you, if you want *that* prize, you have to play through five or eight or however many of the fights in a row all over again
and then intentionally tap out when I provide the option. Why? Because screw you, that's why.
+/- Moton controls. They work, mostly. Do they add enough to justify the game taking forever to come out? Nah. Left the game kind of wanting to just replay Red Steel 2.
+/-Combat: Apart from a few boss battles, the fighting system here is really not that improved from prior entries. Attacking from one or two specific directions out of eight requires more thought in how combat is approached, but Nintendo took that as an incentive to just slow everything down to a snail's pace. Even the second-to-last boss involves a bit where the enemy just stands there blocking with a weapon held in a certain direction, giving Link a ridiculously long window to carefully line up each slash. Not exactly difficult, just different. Usual Zelda level of challenge is in full play here, which is to say 'None'.
-Pacing/Filler. Do not get me wrong: There is an extremely good game in here. The problem is that there are also equivalently two really really
crummy games in here too, and they are all mixed together. Entering and going through a dungeon for the most part is such a wonderful experience, but then the dungeon ends, and the game kicks the player out for hours and hours on end. They try to mix things up with the pre-dungeon bits, and sometimes they even come up with non-dungeon sequences that are genuinely well-done. But for the most part? No. The ridiculous hoops involved in entering dungeon four was probably the closest I came to just pitching the game entirely. The game going Banjo-Kazooie with collecting 'Tadtones' or whatever was a distant second.
-Traversal. The bird might be my least favorite form of conveyance in the entire series (and I include the train
in that assessment), and the sky does not present any kind of engaging world to move throughout. Having to fly to an otherwise-pointless out-of-the-way location to learn songs (each of which have only one use in the entire game) is ridiculous. And as I pointed out before, the warp system was conceived by a stupid person.
-Fi. There are just so many things wrong with Fi, it is hard to know where to start. I could talk about the hand-holding and how painfully intrusive Fi is throughout the entire game (I will defend the segment where Link's sword is temporaily unuseable as an amazing sequence purely for letting me progress without
having to put up with her constant interruptions). I could talk about her creepy armless design and her creepier dance numbers. I could talk about how she has really only has one line repeated over and over again. But I will refrain because everyone else talks about those.
Instead, I am going to point out that there is this concept in writing, called 'character arcs'. Well-made main characters grow. They change. They develop
. Despite liking him, Navi initially does not think much of Link's abilities but is convinced to help him anyway and has that bit in the final battle where she has to overcome Ganon's magic. The King of Red Lions starts out as a helpful figure, is revealed to have a dark backstory, and ultimately shuts you out of making an extremely complicated decision on the fate of the world. Tatl and Midna start out using Link entirely for their own ends but throughout learn to be less selfish. The Zelda team is generally good at this with Zelda characters, and even succeed on this front elsewhere in SS.
They fail with Fi. Fi does not have an arc. She has a line. Specifically, a completely straight one that flat-lines throughout the entire game, even as story events (the sword getting strengthened, memories of the Goddess being awakened) provide great-but-ultimately-squandered opportunities for character development. This is of course minus one comment in the last scene because someone at EAD thought that throwing a single line in at the last minute was somehow not honestly kind of insulting as writing goes.
-Way too many little annoying dumb design decisions. The molasses text speed, the constant 'new' item-notifications every time you restart, the dowsing alert, the low health alert, the low battery alert, the 'Fi wants to ruin whatever puzzle is currently available and for once is not triggering herself automatically' alert.... these are not things that should have passed QA testing. Okay, you want to market this game to casual gamers, which you seem to think means 'People who are going to eat the controller unless we constantly tell them not to'. Fine. At least include the option
to turn that junk off on the off-chance that someone playing the game is *not* a moron.
-The story. They could have done with a lot less ‘clever’ references to all the other games in the series if it would have kept the plot in general from being so bland. Good prequels can be appreciated in their own right and stand alone. Bad prequels do nothing except
set up previous entries, and they are consequently predictable. Apart from the first several dungeons (where basically nothing whatsoever happens), Skyward Sword's plot is this.
That is ignoring stuff like an end-game 'twist' involving a character that gets telegraphed from a mile away to anyone paying any attention, and from *four* miles away to anyone familiar with the 2D games. Not to mention the weird blips in the dialogue, like Ghirahim mentioning how dumb it was of him to ‘let Link go' twice when the real number is closer to six
times, or another character speaking of the big bad being sealed for ‘eons’ after the game earlier establishes that at the point in time you are at, he was only just
sealed. Or a comment to Link being made by a character and then later referenced in what is apparently a wholly separate alternate timeline where logically that comment could never have been made.
-Six hearts was definitely too many hearts to start. Apart from the balance issues, the reward for accomplishing way too many things that scream 'You were supposed to get a piece of heart for this originally!' winds up being worthless rupees.
-Sidequests. What is in the game is generally good, sometimes great (<3 Batreaux ), but there just are not enough of them. So many opportunities for moments that would make for amazing sidequests are ignored entirely (reuniting the Skipper with his family, getting the one guy to stop hogging the bath, doing something for the kid who wants a bug net, doing something to make that one woman stop cooking, bringing stuff from the sky down to the various NPCs on the ground, etc).
Overall judgement, game is slightly better than Windwaker; worse than Spirit Tracks.
Final Numerical Score: 11 "Yeah, Right"s out of 7 "You Think I Have A Deathwish?"s.