Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Preview

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Preview

Five years ago, Nintendo managed to launch a system with a major first-party title by giving players exactly what they wanted: a new Legend of Zelda. Twilight Princess was far from perfect, and some even considered it to be a bit too much of a change, but nevertheless, Link was there at the beginning of it all. Well, it looks like Link is going to there for the end of things by rounding out the Wii’s life cycle with another romp through Hyrule, and this time, some of its surrounding areas.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess brought gamers one step closer to becoming Link without having to clamor about in green garb wielding a plastic sword, chopping at cats in the living room. However, TP was plagued with a myriad of issues that ultimately disengaged the gamer from the overall experience and, in my case, prevented me from wanting to finish it until years after its release.

Thankfully, the Wii has matured over the years and aged like a fine Scotch. New additions like the Wii Motion Plus have given the Wii the ability to provide true 1:1 accuracy, something that is a must for games that require motion controls. Why the system launched without that is beyond me, but it certainly would have made TP more enjoyable. But I digress…

Fans typically have to wait for a whole new system before they can return to the wonderful land of Hyrule and save Princess Zelda from the clutches of some new evil. However, before it gives up the ghost and makes way for the WIi U, the Wii is going to drop one more golden egg – hopefully – with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Skyward Sword is initially going to be a better Zelda game simply because it is being designed from the ground up for the Wii, unlike Twilight Princess, which was originally planned for the GameCube and then later ported to the WIi for launch. Skyward Sword also has the advantage of learning from mistakes made by other Wii titles as well as utilizing the Wii Motion Plus to actually put gamers in Link’s boots.

Ever since The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Nintendo has been looking for ways to revitalize the franchise and give it that new-car feel again, but things have been rather hit or miss. Skyward Sword is looking to change that and attempt to give gamers the same sense of wonder and awe that the N64 title gave so many years ago.

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t played the Ocarina of Time, and those who have played it will more than likely agree that stumbling out of the forest and drinking in the expanse of the Hyrule field was one of the most invigorating experiences in video gaming. Nothing of that scale had been done before, although by today’s standards it is quite miniscule. Nintendo tried to recreate that experience with subsequent games like Wind Waker, but that feeling of expanse was nothing more than sitting in a boat and increasing the distance between islands. There really wasn’t any substance to the expanse; thus the concept hindered the game. Skyward Sword is hopefully going to recreate of its N64 counterpart by providing gamers with access to a multitude of surrounding areas by allowing Link to do something he has never been able to do: take to the skies.

As the title suggests, Link is able to explore a variety of gravity-defying islands using giant birds as his main form of transportation. This concept seems to be a direct spin-off of the Wind Waker’s maritime adventures, but the skies are said to be much more populated with things to do, and travel between the sky islands will be filled with adventure. An overall sense of scale is the focus of Link’s latest adventure, but it is far from the only aspect of the franchise that is getting revamped.

Time and Time Again

The Legend of Zelda rarely changes up the overall tone of the story from game to game. Link begins his adventure as a young boy or teen who suddenly discovers he is to play a much larger role than originally anticipated. He goes through some sort of proving trial before he is notified that he must save the damsel in distress, after which,he heads out into the world to do his chivalrous duty.

One would think that the whole ‘rinse and repeat’ approach to the story would hinder the franchise, but there is one saving grace that keeps the series fresh with each new installment: how Link is introduced, and where he lives.

I am going to avoid tackling the concept of how all the Legend of Zelda titles tie together, simply because nobody really knows. However, Nintendo has said that there is a definite correlation between all of the titles. Where Skyward Sword fits into the mix has yet to be seen, but we will be treated to yet another Link who is growing up in a very unique place.

Skyward Sword is going to take place in the fabled land of Hyrule, but not exclusively. A young Link resides in the floating land of Skyloft where he is apparently oblivious to the existence of anything below the clouds. However, he soon learns that there is in fact a land down there, and it is being ruled by the evil Lord Ghirahim. Ghirahim fancies himself the figure of authority in the land below and summons a tornado in Skyloft that sucks up Link and Zelda.

The way the story is told is going to be one of the game’s major focal points this time around. In previous titles, the story has always taken a backseat to combat, dungeon crawling, and puzzle solving.

For the first time, Link actually knows Zelda before he begins his quest to save her. The two live together in Skyloft and no, this time around Zelda is not a princess. She does have some sort of important role within Skyloft, but it surely isn’t royalty. Rather, the two have a long-standing connection and friendship that is going to be the driving force behind Link’s quest.

Seeing as how the first portion of the game is going to feature Link and Zelda among their friends at a boarding school in Skyloft, the game’s plot is going to play out somewhat like a school drama. The flight demo that was shown at E3 sees Link competing against his schoolmates in some sort of bird flying race or competition in preparation for some type of ceremony. You will instantly notice that one of Link’s schoolyard buddies has that overall ‘bad guy vibe’ and obviously has a thing for Zelda.

Eiji Aonuma has made reference to the fact that Skyward Sword is taking a few notes from the often overlooked Majora’s Mask. NPCs are going to play a much larger part in the story, as you will be revisiting Skyloft throughout your adventure.

The game’s setting is a drastic left turn from what we have seen in the past, but drastic changes are not always a bad thing.

One-on-One With Link

The very first E3 appearance of the game was rather choppy and broken, but it gave us hope for a Zelda game on the Wii that promised a truly immersive sword fighting experience. Thus, the entire combat system for Skyward Sword has been revamped to take full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus. A true 1:1 tracking system should have been launched with the Wii, but unfortunately we had to wait for that to be included.

Twilight Princess offered a general idea of what sword-swinging gameplay could potentially become, but it was, at its core, gesture-based and rather stale. Thankfully, the Wii Motion Plus allows Skyward Sword to provide near perfect, 1:1 control of Link and his sword. No longer are you relegated to a pre-determined set of gestures. You lift the Wiimote up and to the right, Link lifts his arm up and to the right. You slash horizontally, Link swings his sword horizontally. Everything you do will be almost perfectly matched on screen. The inclusion of 1:1 swordplay is going to open up a whole slew of possibilities for Link and will quite possibly do for the combat system what Z-targeting did for the industry back on the N64.

Z-targeting has had an undeniably enormous impact on combat within games over the past 15 years, and Skyward Sword is not looking to reinvent the wheel here. Z-targeting is still in full effect, but unlike Twilight Princess, the shield is going to be responsible for shielding Link. Yes, TP did have nunchuk shielding, but not like this. Plenty of Zelda games of the past found you locking on to a target while holding the shield button.

Every shield in Skyward Sword is going to have different sized health bars, forcing you to actually forego the whole “block until the most opportune time” tactic. That means you are going to actually have to get in there and put your best swordfighting skills to the test. However, through the several tech demos made available, it has been noted that an effective parry with your sword is not possible. Meaning you cannot attempt to intercept an opponent’s sword swing with your own in hopes of preventing them from landing a blow. But that’s a small complaint, and something that many people may never notice or even bother to think of.

The Fabled Roc

Unfortunately it looks as though you are going to have to set aside your equestrian obsession this time around, seeing as how horses lack the ability to properly transport people across vast expanses of sky. Thankfully, Link has made a few new friends who are able to do just that. Probably the most famous shot from the upcoming Skyward Sword is that of Link falling off a cliff into the abyss of clouds below. What we didn’t get to see in that trailer is what happens after Link disappears into the pillow of clouds.

No, he doesn’t plummet to his demise. Rather, he belts out a whistle that calls forth a giant bird that swoops in and casts Link to its backside. Could this giant bird be the fabled Roc, whose feathers we have used to thwart many a pitfall in games past? Perhaps!

This bird is going to be your main mode of transportation between Skyloft and Hyrule, aside from your trusty feet. The bird is controlled by twisting the Wiimote left and right to tip the bird to either side while flapping the controller up and down will cause the bird to do the same with its wings. I am having nightmares about this bird controlling like those found in the Super Mario Galaxy series, but seeing as how this is the main form of transportation, you can more than likely count on Nintendo to do it correctly and provide gamers with an intuitive flight mechanic.

Another Bag of Goodies

One of the most engaging aspects of any Legend of Zelda title is the variety of weapons that is available throughout the game. Each game tends to introduce a few new weapons that revolutionize the gameplay in some way, shape, or form. However, most of those items are relegated to the latter parts of the game and only see a small portion of gameplay as a result.

Thankfully, Miyamoto himself recognizes that gamers enjoy the novelty of a new weapon, and has said he is going to change the traditional way items are introduced. Skyward Sword is going to feature a whole bunch of new items that are actually going to appear quite early in the game, thus giving gamers ample time to enjoy them.

How Link interacts with his weapons has remained largely unchanged over the decades. Typically, an item menu is the only source of organization for Link’s seemingly limitless inventory and had to be accessed by pausing the game, thus interrupting the overall experience. However, Skyward Sword is going to do away with the concept of an inventory menu and replace it with a radial menu, dubbed the “item pocket,” that is accessed by pressing the “B” button. This new menu system allows Link to switch weapons much faster and on the fly, thus leading to fewer hiccups in the action.

Very few of the actual items are known at this point, but one of the best items in recent Zelda memory, the whip from Spirit Tracks, is going to be making an appearance in Skyward Sword. From what has been seen so far, it still has the ability to hit enemies, grab items, and swing Link from place to place.

Another goofy item that Link now has access to is simply referred to as The Beetle. This item allows Link to control a flying bug which can be used to explore new areas, grab items and rupees, and trigger switches.

Maybe not knowing a full list of weapons is a good thing. There is nothing worse than a spoiled surprise.

Items aside, Link himself is going to be learning a few new tricks this time around. For the first time ever in a Zelda game, Link is going be able to run and jump! Link has been able to run and jump in the past, but not without the aid of the Pegasus Boots and Roc’s feather. However, this time around Link can do without those items and make use of his own muscles to jump up onto items rather than climbing. However, his newfound abilities come at a cost.

Link is quite a stud, and few will disagree with that statement, but he will not be able to climb and hang from vines forever as in past titles. A new run and jump meter are being incorporated which is pretty straight forward. Once the meter runs out, Link can no longer continue doing what he was doing. It’s a fairly logical move.

A Change in Tone

The Legend of Zelda is a pretty hard franchise to mess up, especially after the success it’s seen in the past. However, that hasn’t stopped the team from making other tweaks here and there.

Although Link and the rest of his compadres still suffer from a massive case of silent movie-syndrome, the music surrounding them is going to be getting one heck of an upgrade. Believe it or not, much of the music in the Zelda titles, including Twilight Princess, was in the fabled MIDI format. Skyward Sword is going to change that by incorporating an entirely orchestrated soundtrack.

Final Thoughts

The Legend of Skyward Sword is going to be a smash hit regardless of how much the game really changes. Nintendo fans love their Zelda and will buy it on the namesake alone. However, Skyward Sword, if it lives up to everything that has been shown, is poised to end the Wii’s life cycle with quite a bang as well as advance the franchise yet again.

The graphics as of now look incredibly rough, and as of E3 2011, the game was said to be complete. Let’s just hope that the graphics for the demos being displayed were dated and have since been touched up. I must say though that any lack of graphical prowess, whether it be due to the underpowered Wii or oversights on behalf of the developers, can be forgiven on account of the insanely cool new art style. Skyward Sword looks to bring every single Monet painting to life.

Over all, it’s hard not to be excited for this title, especially since the Wii has been suffering from a relative drought over the past few months. The holiday season cannot come soon enough.

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