I heard something recently that made me raise an eyebrow. Just one, and raise it considerably high. That Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was going to be the best Zelda game ever made. As we all know, Legend of Zelda has produced some of the greatest games of all time (I probably don’t need to mention the likes of Ocarina of Time, or A Link to the Past, but there, I did), so I think it’s understandable that I had trepidation buying into this bold claim.
I have since purchased this game, and am giving it a whirl, but I have a few things to say about some noteworthy design choices. I do this primarily because Skyward Sword makes some pretty important deviations from the traditional Zelda model, for better or worse.
First is the combat. Being one of the first games to take advantage of the Wii MotionPlus, the combat is done very well. It’s engaging and interactive, and really all that I hoped it would be. Having to predict enemy blocking patterns and attack from varying angles with your sword, coupled with using the nun-chuck to utilize your shield, results in a very satisfying combat experience. Possibly more so than any other Zelda game.
However, combat is not the primary focus of most installments in the series. Boss fights are usually done very well, and Skyward Sword is no exception there, but Zelda has traditionally been about solving puzzles, exploring dungeons, and saving the princess. And herein lies my largest design gripe with Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:
Do you remember playing Ocarina of Time? Or Majora’s Mask? Wind Waker, even? Every time you’re going through one of the primary dungeons, and happen upon a large treasure chest, you know that shit is going to be something useful. A new tool, a map, Something good. Now? Eight times out of ten, it’s another “Monster’s Claw”, used to upgrade a shield, to increase its durability, so that it takes slightly longer to break.
Treasure chests have largely lost the ability to induce that elation you got from finding something rare that provided a guaranteed benefit. Now they’re littered everywhere, and grant you crafting items that you may or may not be able to even use (depending on what type of items you’re trying to upgrade, only certain materials can be used).
This is beside the fact that in order to justify crafting to begin with, they had to alter the function of core equipment. Namely the shield. With shields being able to be broken rather quickly (if not upgraded), I’ve found myself either bringing two to three shields to a dungeon just so I won’t have to leave half way to get them repaired. That, or becoming fed up with them breaking, and simply do the dungeon without a shield at all. Something that I won’t judge in context of previous Zelda games (which would put it in the realm of patently absurd), but something that feels wrong in it’s own right. A lot of emphasis is put on your shield, In combat, controlling your shield is all the motion your other hand is going to be making. Implementing a system where it’s less of a headache to simply forego it, as opposed to grinding out the effort to make sure you have one suitably upgraded and repaired, or enough of them so that you can trade them out, ala the dueling scene in 13th warrior (This scene), reeks of unintended repercussions of the decisions Nintendo made.