Having passed its 25th anniversary, The Legend of Zelda has finally been given an origin story worthy of the name ‘Legend’
Every legend gets its start somewhere in the annals of history; a prelude to the myths and stories that will follow. A beginning that sets down the foundation for an epic such as The Legend of Zelda is not something to approach lightly and Nintendo knew this. However, after 25 years of groundwork The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword brings us back to the dawn of Hyrule, the forging of the Master Sword, and the very first Hero of Time.
With so much history in a series that has defined the evolution of Nintendo, it’s hard to imagine they have another unique chapter to unveil, yet they deliver in spades. We find Link and Zelda living their lives on the floating island of Skyloft, blissfully unaware of a future fraught with peril and adventure. Adventure that will take them out beyond the boundaries of their world and down beneath the clouds where thousands of years before, a great war was fought between gods and demons.
This war sets up the foundation of Skyward Sword’s story; a Goddess, Hylia, leads the war against Demise, the living incarnation of evil and hatred. Before doing so, however, she gathers the humans together on a piece of land and raises it high above the clouds to protect them from the ravages of the coming battle. Once they are safely tucked away in the heavens, Hylia leads the other races of the world against Demise’s own army and vanquishes Demise, sealing him away for millennia.
Fast forward back to the present day and the rumblings of a long forgotten evil are starting to become apparent. Link and Zelda journey beneath the clouds; one to follow a destiny that is only now becoming apparent, and the other in search of that which matters most.
Along the way, the spirit Fi that resides within the sword that Link carries will offer advice, hints, and a deeper look into how our Hero’s role will play out during his adventure. The player will also be introduced to a large cast of characters, a collection with somewhat flat personalities (as is a series standard), and others with a more dynamic demeanor. The latter are certainly key to Link’s development because as they grow and evolve, so too do they reflect the changes within our Hero as well.
Link’s display of emotion is perhaps at its highest point in Skyward Sword. His worry over Zelda is genuine, and his defiance in the face of evil is steadfast. At this point, the Zelda series doesn’t need voice-acting for its characters because they present their emotions so well through facial expression, body language, and interaction with others.
Character models showcase a great amount of detail and cutscenes are well animated, boasting a large range of movement in the characters. Enemies and NPCs are all uniquely presented, but the sheer presence and power of bosses is the most impressive. Boss sizes range from at a height with Link to many, many times his size (to the point where you’re actually fighting part of the battle on their back).
The provinces of the world below the clouds are well populated with vibrant flora and lively fauna. Colors are beautifully rendered and I often found myself forgetting that the Wii’s graphic capabilities were still behind those of its competitors. Skyward Sword will definitely test the console’s limits and then push just a little more.
The Wii Motion Plus control has been implemented over many of Link’s actions, but the most apparent is in wielding his blade. As I moved the wand through the air, the tip of his sword followed almost perfectly (within a certain boundary of course). Combat is designed with this functionality in mind as I found that I often had to fake out my enemies by moving my sword to one side to draw their attention and then quickly slashing from the other side at their exposed flanks. And strategies like this are crucial if you want to get anywhere in Skyward Sword, because combat could be extremely difficult without them. A minor drawback is that sometimes movements aren’t correctly registered, leaving Link to flounder for a moment while he gets his bearings.
The newest Zelda game also brings an assortment of new tools for use such as the Beetle and Light Whip while old faithfuls like Bombs and the Bow also make a triumphant return. As a nice complement to the standard item set, some tools can also be upgraded for extra effects as well.
Items open up many paths throughout the three provinces, allowing the level designers to reuse locales while still maintaining a fresh vibe within the various environments. I visited lush forests, barren deserts, a volatile volcano, and other regions, all packed neatly into the world map that does a good job of providing an illusion of immensity without overwhelming. The atmosphere in each area is well suited to its surroundings and provides a vibrant world for Link to explore.
The timeless music of Zelda has gone through many iterations over its 25-year lifespan and Skyward Sword is highly representative of this fact. While much of the score is quite unique, it also contains hints of that culminated experience that complements the game’s melodies extremely well. Atmospheric sound effects throughout each region give a sense of life to the game’s environments and the quirky nonsense sounds that NPCs make usually succeeded in bringing a smile to my face.
Perhaps my favorite feature of Skyward Sword’s musical composition however, were the melodies playable on the Goddess Harp. The beautiful string melodies accompanied by the synthesizer that represents Fi’s voice is a wonderful combination that is both inspiring and invigorating. My only qualm is that I could not replay any of the songs except for at key locations within the game.
When all is said and done, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword embodies everything that the Wii has to offer and just a bit more. With graphics I would not have thought possible, it provides a deep, immersive landscape for players to enjoy. The masterful composition that accompanies its graphical representation promotes a grand beauty that others will be hard pressed to come close to matching.
While motion controls may never be a first choice among many gamers, there is no denying that Nintendo have mastered what their hardware can do. The near-one-to-one motion capture coupled with the ability to track Link’s sword in time provides a feeling of control that can be rather addictive – provided it captures correctly. Perhaps the most gratifying part of this title however, is the masterful way that the origin of one of gaming’s most iconic characters has been introduced. Many tales take time to tell, but only a Legend can truly be discovered over the span of decades.
Tested on Wii
Review copy supplied