The day The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hit the shelves, I was there. In fact I had pre-ordered it back in March of last year.
I've been a long time fan of the series. I'm too young to have been involved from the beginning and grew up in too poor a family to own consoles until they were out of date. Like many fans, Ocarina of Time was my first game. I was 9 years old and saw the commercial featuring the white horse. I had
to have a game that involved horses. As it turned out, I never got to ride that horse, but Epona was fantastic. I fell in love with the game. Obsessively. I've clocked that game more times than I could count. Last weekend I did so in 3D with the new 3DS version, and am now beating it in the whole new Master Quest version of the game.
As a kid I lacked the financial ability to keep up with the series. Dad bought us Majora's Mask when it came out. But we were graphics snobs and so when we saw Wind Waker we weren't even interested in upgrading to a GameCube. We missed out on an amazing game. 5 years ago, when Twilight Princess came out on the Wii, I was still not in a financial position to buy a console just to play a single game. It was last Christmas when I was finally able to do that, and I encountered one of the most amazing Zelda games ever. Possibly my favourite.
So getting Skyward Sword on release marked a significant point for me. Being able to get the limited edition gold version, even more so.
Last night I finally clocked the game. Herein is when I am going to spill my thoughts on it.
I'm one of those people who, upon seeing the E3 trailer of Skyward Sword, was disappointed. I was hoping for a realistic game. "Graphics don't make a good game," I had to tell myself over and over again. I was still high on having just finished Twilight Princess and wanted more of the same. Fact is, the cell shading betrays what are amazing graphics. They are essentially the same as Twilight Princess, just cell shaded. Having said that, the choice of art style is beautiful. The game looks like a painting come to life. What's more, Link is more expressive than ever. Emotions are portrayed via subtle changes in expression and this creates more emotive scenes than ever.
And the story, oh it was beautiful. It made me laugh, it had me almost crying, and it had me excited to see what would come next. The story after all, is the prequel to all the Zelda games. It tells of the origin of the Master Sword, the origin of Link and Zelda, and the origin of the evil they are bound to eternally face.
Then there's the gameplay. This was the most challenging Zelda game I have encountered. You essentially are Link. His sword moves exactly the way you move. Nothing was easy any more. The most basic of enemies require very specific sword strikes to defeat, or perfectly coordinated shield bashes: you can't hide behind your shield because that takes damage and will break, and you can only deflect attacks by timing you shield bash correctly. You can't even roll by just pressing "A". You have to run forwards, "dash" and then shake the nunchuck. Even retrieving the Master Sword was done by a series of movements to involved you literally acting out unsheathing the blade and raising it above your head.
But by far the hardest of all challenges was The Silent Realm. You have to undergo 4 of these Trials set by the goddess Hylia for the chosen hero. The first 3 in each realm give you a gift that you need to access the temple, the final one is to prove that your heart is pure enough to obtain the Triforce. You have to collect 15 Tears of Light that are scattered around the region. Sounds simple enough, right? Fi, your guardian and the Spirit of your sword, explains that, "However, this is not as a simple task as it would seem. Your work in this region is referred to as a trial for a good reason." The realm is full of guardians that are searching for you. A single hit and it is game over. As Link's spirit has separated from his physical body to enter the realm available only to the chosen hero, you have no items. Your only advantage is that each time you find a tear of light, it freezes the guardians for 90 seconds. To make it even harder, the realm is also full of lantern carrying ghosts that cannot be frozen - if they see you, the guardians will be immediately woken and alerted as to your presence. The same goes when you initially step outside the circle, and if you step into the numerous pools of water. Some tears are located right beside guardians, directly in the path of the ghosts or over pools of water. But the worst part is that as soon as the guardians awake, the realm goes from the lovely soft blue hues and gentle music, to one of red with pounding drums that make your heart race and your mind panic.
Here's a video of a speed run to give you the gist of it. This is a revisit, in the main quest you don't get the timer at the start, just Fi telling you how badly you are about to get buttraped.
It is the single biggest adrenaline rush of any game I've ever played. My hands would be shaking so much by the end that I would need a break. I thought this was weak until I watched YouTube videos of other fans playing it and read the comments and saw all the comments talking about how much it freaked them out.
Another big step forwards for the franchise is the blending of the overworld/underworld. Dungeons and side quests are no longer distinct. They blend into one another. Boss fights occur outside dungeons and the quests pre-dungeon are filled with puzzles and are as challenging as any dungeon you will encounter.
The game itself is based more on the style of Wind Waker in the way the enemies die (the little ghosty) and many of the items and such. But it harks back to many Zelda titles. It's clearly influenced by the style of Twilight Princess in layout, names and even some of the characters. Certain characters clearly relate straight to Ocarina of Time, whereas other dialogue incorporates tributes to pivotal dialogue in the original Zelda titles.
The game lacks none of the usual quirkiness, either. Skyloft is home to the cat-like creatures called Remlits. They sit curled up in their favourite sunny spot until Link is nearby, where they will stretch awake, meow and chase after you. They are so adorable you could waste hours playing with them. You can pick them up and play with them. Throwing them off the edge of Skyloft reveals the purpose of their giant ears: they will fly back to you. They even swim after you should you jump in the water.
Then there's Scrapper, who despises Link but does your bidding due to his crush on Fi, your guide.
Ah, Fi. Ever the optimist.
While Fi lacks the charm of Midna, she is an endearing character regardless. Her robotic, emotionless personality is a new aspect to the series, and is not without her precious moments. At the end of the game she asks you to sheath your sword in the pedestal of time, thus beginning the history of the Master Sword. As the spirit of the Sword, she is bound to it and hence it comes time to say goodbye.
And then there's Ghirahim, one of the main antagonists who is possibly my second favourite character (Midna being my favourite) in the whole of the franchise. His flamboyant, narcissistic, self-involved personality is incredibly endearing. You face him several times throughout the game, sometimes in battle, sometimes not, and he switches between humorous and ruthless: a personality combination that is difficult to make work, but he pulls it off so well. At times he acts flirtatious, other times wacky and crazy. But when his end goal is in sight he takes no prisoners. The final boss battle he unleashes upon Link is like no other (the few hundred enemies he conjures to stall you while he performs his ritual being just the beginning).
All in all I loved this game. If I could fault it anywhere it would be for repetitiveness: you revisit each area thrice and some bosses you fight multiple times. But even there the game has a way of making each experience feel new and fresh.
I'm not sure that it is my favourite game ever, as saying so would probably just be a product of just having finished it. If I played Twilight Princess again right now I would probably still call it my favourite game. But Skyward Sword is right up there. This is a franchise that just keeps evolving and delivering. I cannot wait to see what comes next.ETA: One final first for the game: this became the first game where I encountered a fatal glitch. Here is the aftermath.