Thursday, March 19, 2015

Skyward Sword

I don't have many found memories of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but I love the world and the characters.
Not too long ago, maybe six months ago, I spent the requisite 30 or so hours needed to finish Skyward Sword without completing any side quest or any of the mini games. I knew from the get-go that I wouldn't love the game, but I didn't want to play it to prove that I wouldn't like it, I played it to enjoy a Zelda game.

I'll start with what I really like, and maybe anyone who wants to hate on me can skip everything that follows. The characters are very well written. They're fun and alive, even if they can be a bit silly. Only a few characters play important roles throughout the game, maybe five or so, but that makes the story a bit more streamlined. The writing leaves some room to be desired, but for a character driven story it isn't bad. Being that all Zelda games are tied together, this game starts the timeline. Taking all Zelda games into consideration, Skyward Sword doesn't do well with connecting the other games together. In fact, a few things are retconned (most notably Link's hat, which has origins in The Minish Cap, a much better game.)

The timeline aside, the characters are memorable, excluding Fi, who attempts to pull a heart string right at the end, but it's meaningless. This is probably the biggest misstep, because at no point did I care about Fi. I don't like the way she talks, and I didn't appreciate her role. In fact, Fi represents one of the worst parts about Skyward Sword, and that's reiteration.

I am not every gamer, and I know what it's like to put down a game for a week or two, only to come back to confusing controls in the middle of a story I've forgotten. I say this because every time Skyward Sword is turned off and then on again (even if the last playtime was minute before) any item that's picked up will get an intro dialogue. Then a screen will pop up showing how many of that item Link currently carries. This happens every time the game is turned off and then back on. I hate this.

There are a lot of items in Skyward Sword for various upgrading systems and side quests, so I can imagine how confusing they can be. This could be worrying, but none of these items are essential. Every upgrade and side quest is optional (There are some collectibles for critical path tasks, but they're peppered at unique points in the game, which are explained in triplicate like everything else.) Most of the collectible items in Skyward Sword are for upgrading, so none of them are usables. I think except for arrows.

To me, someone who might play the game a few times throughout the day, this got really old really fast. This probably colored most of my memories of the game. I would dread starting another sessions because I didn't want to pick up items, and sometimes I would just avoid the collectibles. Even so, I wish this was the most frustrating part of the game.

I want to love motion controls, but it just can't be. For those who don't know, Link's sword is '1-to-1' with the Wiimote. You swing the wiimote left, Link's hand follows. Really, swinging in any direction comes down to swinging in 8 directions, and most of the time that could be summed up to just four directions. Enemies block form certain directions, and Link's goal is to flank them at every turn. This means that just about every enemy runs up to link, stops, and then holds their club/sword/cockandballs to one side or the other. It looks really silly. Link can also block with his shield, which has a certain durability to it, and a shield bash which counters and uses no durability.

Counter is by far the best way to beat an enemy, but waiting on every enemy to attack can get a bit annoying, Attacking an enemy is like a game of roulette. If, by the time the Wii registers a strike, the enemy hasn't moved their weapon, you'll be fine (so long as you have swung in the right direction, or the Wii thinks you have.) But all too often enemies will change where they hold their block. There is no way to know where they'll do this, there isn't a rhythm to it most of the time, and some enemies change position in the exact amount of time the Wii needs to process your swing. I never felt good fighting an enemy. The experience felt more luck based than skill, especially later in the game.

People often say that motion control is like a button that works 90% of the time, but it's more like a button that works 90% of the time that's always one second off. For Skyward Sword, 90% is actually very generous, I would put it closer to 70% (although I'm sure my attitude shapes this number.) If it doesn't work every time then take it out. No one has a problem with buttons.

Which brings me to flying, perhaps the worst offender with the motion controls, because it's only controlled by motion controls. The thing is that I didn't fly that much. Access to the hub world, where all the upgrades and side quests are, is only needed every few hours at best. Link traverses the hub world, a city called Skyloft, on a large pelican. The sky world is littered with little islands which are unlocked as certain goals are achieved in the game. I hate flying, and it's the reason why I did none of the side quests.

The bird is controlled by pointing the wiimote at the screen and shifting it around much like looking around in an FPS, but the bird is always moving forward. Gradually the bird loses height and the only way to regain it (and this took me far too long to figure out) is to 'flap' the wiimote up and down. The flapping might be the worst part, but nothing about this experience is comfortable. Pointing the wiimote down without adjusting your grip is an exercise of pure torture. Hold something shaped like a TV remote how you would normally use it, now point it at the ground. This is unforgivable.

There are SO many buttons on the controller, and there is even a joystick. When flying, only the A button is used to do an annoying twisting attack which speeds up the bird for a few seconds. The joystick goes unused. No one hates buttons. No one wants to flap their wiimote, and no one wants to damage their wrist. Flying is the worst part of the game.

I did not like playing Skyward Sword.

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