It’s been a long, winding journey, but I have finally completed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (for the second time). But that’s putting the horse before the cart there. We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover!
Be warned: there are so many words here. Like, maybe pack a lunch before you dive in.
When last I left off, I had just revived the Thunder Dragon and gained a quarter of whatever magical song unlocks the last dungeon. It was a simple task that required me to traverse a new area while using tools I’d acquired to solve puzzles. This also unlocked the boss rush and let me replay the Silent Realm challenges. It didn’t feel like padding at all!
The next two dragons… didn’t fare so well.
The chase for the Fire Dragon made me climb up Eldin Volcano for a third time. Only this time around, it was a stealth mission and all of my equipment was taken away. This part really felt like padding. It would have been 100% improved if at the very least I was sneaking through a new area, like a monster base or something. But it was just the same old Eldin Volcano, this time with some new barricades and guard towers.
Meeting the Fire Dragon was a lacklustre scene as well, he just popped out of the lava, sang his song, and disappeared without so much as introducing himself. It felt unusually stunted to me, in a game where characters are constantly over-explaining everything.
Afterward, it’s a third fight with The Imprisoned. This time he’s faster than ever, and it’s just such a massive pain in the butt. Three friggin’ rounds with this guy, and it’s never fun. those long scenes of him falling over after you chop off all his toes don’t help. Yes I can see that he’s falling over. Please leave me in control for those ten seconds.
And then back to Faron Woods again, but this time it’s flooded with water and you have to swim around collecting colourful tadpoles. I want to complain about this part, but I can’t because I actually thought that it was fun to swim around and experience the area from a different perspective. A fun perspective. Not a Forced Stealth Mission perspective. But it is still padding. I mean, Link has forged a decent rapport with the Water Dragon by this point; forcing you to pass another test is just more senseless time-wasting.
After completing the Song of the Hero or whatever, you get to play another Silent Realm! I forgot about this one! It’s in Skyloft, and while it is challenging, I would say that it ranks significantly lower on the difficulty scale than the one on the volcano path. I picked up the wrong tear last, because a nearby alarm ghost caught me right after getting it, and then it was a mad dash across Skyloft to the exit with no less than six robots on my tail.
Is it weird that I found one stealth mission fun and another tedious? What differentiates the two? A smarter blogger would have studied the two situations and come to a conclusion, making for a more interesting read. Me, I’mma just move on.
Finally, we reach Sky Keep, the final dungeon. This is a really cool dungeon; it is comprised of eight large rooms that can be shifted around from certain points like a sliding puzzle. Five of those rooms are puzzle rooms, one holds a mini-boss, and one is a battle gauntlet. Each one is themed like one of the previous dungeons or major overworld areas. Your goal is to gather the three pieces of the Triforce hidden within. I think that there must be an actual “solution” to the dungeon, but I got through by just sliding around rooms whenever I needed to get somewhere. Eventually I did manage to make them all interconnect, but it took some doing.
Oh, and also, the mini-boss is a tougher rematch with the robot pirate from before. So that was pretty fun.
Then once you clear the dungeon, that’s it! You have the Triforce! The evil guy is smooshed into a fine paste and the world is saved. And there wasn’t even a boss fight! ….oh, wait. That can’t be right.
Of course not! While Link and his friends celebrate mission complete, Ghirahim pops in and whisks Zelda away to the past where Big Evil Guy is not smooshed yet. So of course you run after them to end this once and for all.
The end game goes down like this: You run down the spiral path that leads to the bottom of the sealing pit or whatever. You murder hundreds of thousands of bokoblins on your way there, and also like two or maybe three stalfos. That is it. That is the lead-up to the final showdowns.
The first time I played Skyward Sword, I was thrown completely off by the fact that Sky Keep is The Final Dungeon. Not just the last one before the Big Bad’s Castle. It’s really the very last one. It’s so weird that there isn’t something after it besides a series of battles, because that’s what we’ve been taught to expect from video games. But in reality, it does feel a lot more organic to the story. Here we are with the ancient evil that was routed ages ago, sealed under the ground, and left to be forgotten over time. It makes sense that he doesn’t have a base of operations ready as soon as he’s revived. It makes sense that instead of whisking you off to some magical fortress, he just challenges you to combat right there and then.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the final boss, you’re treated to yet another duel with Ghirahim. This starts off easy, as you just need to smack him around a bit until he falls off the floating platform to a lower platform. You then jump down and stab him in the chest. Repeat twice more. He may try to punch you if you dawdle too long. Easy as pie. The second phase is considerably harder. He summons his longsword, and then you’ve got to actually duel with him. Only a well-timed parry will lower his defence, and then you must hit him with a thrust attack, which is one of the few motion controls that isn’t terribly reliable. After a few hits, he’ll switch to a greatsword, which you have to parry, and then strike continually from the correct angle to expose his weak spot. It’s not too tough, but Ghirahim will switch defensive stances to throw you off and end your combo. This last match against Ghirahim is a good one, but not really as thrilling as the second encounter. Still, it’s an excellent boss fight, and maybe even a little more satisfying than the final duel?
Once you defeat Ghirahim for good, Demise is finally revived. He talks at you for a bit, and then teleports off to a magical realm for your final battle. I ran in headlong and got demolished. Then I loaded my save and ran back to Skyloft to stock up on potions and finally learned what bugs are good for. You can apparently use them to improve the potions you buy! Yep. Probably should have talked to more NPCs. Oh well. So then I went back with a fairy, a double-dose of full-health potion, and a potion that made me invincible for thirty seconds. That may have been slightly overkill.
My first match with Demise went badly because I was going at it all wrong. I thought that you had to swing at him until he counter-attacked, then parry him and counter. Nope, turns out that you just need to wait for him to strike and then parry. A blow after that will knock him into a stunned state where you can wail on him freely for a few seconds. This first phase of the fight took maybe four minutes on my first try, and about twenty seconds on the second attempt.
Phase two is tougher, as he will summon lightning to use as a sort of evil skyward strike against you (which seems to be unblockable). I had a ton of trouble on this phase the first time around, and got my butt handed to me very quickly. The second time, I learned that the key is to raise your own sword to absorb the lightning first, and get him with that skyward strike. Once you figure that out, the fight is a piece of cake. I didn’t end up using any of my bottled products.
Still, it’s a really fun fight. The kind I’d play several times over because it’s thrilling and cinematic and makes for an absolutely amazing final showdown. Also, when you knock Demise down in the second phase, you have to do a jump attack to finish him off (as is Zelda tradition), and when Link jumps into the air, a lightning bolt strikes his sword and it is so cool. This is so much better than the final battle with Ganondorf in Twilight Princess.
And that’s the end of it. I don’t know if I have any other little random thoughts to get out, but there is the matter of my final analysis.
I can definitely see why Skyward Sword has a bit of a mixed reputation. Like all Zeldas before, it’s got its share of issues. The number one point of contention is of course, the motion controls. I don’t have a problem with them for the most part. Honestly, they work perfectly almost all the time. Like I’d mentioned before, thrusting with the sword isn’t 100% reliable, but pretty much everything else is. Sometimes the wiimote would need a little more motion than I expected, which would throw me off, but I’d write that off as a player issue. As I got farther into the game and acquired more tools that needed to be aimed, I found that I had to re-center the pointer more often, but I think that makes sense? It’s not a perfect technology, and needing to re-centering once in a while is to be expected. On the other hand (pun absolutely intended), I can absolutely understand why left-handed people consider this game unplayable.
If you take out the motion controls, Skyward Sword is definitely a solid entry in the Zelda series, but it absolutely could be trimmed down a little bit. Having to revisit the same areas over and over gets old, especially when it’s just a flight over to the farthest point in the world to pick up a new song. I get the desire to remix existing content to make the game a little beefier without significantly prolonging development time, but is it really necessary? You could cut out a few late-game fetch quests and it wouldn’t be any less enjoyable. The whole Song of the Hero sequence was obviously just there to pad out the quest a little longer. In fact, there’s so much padding in the main quest that I didn’t even complete all the optional stuff like I normally do in Zelda games. There’s also the matter of the quest being very linear. Most people don’t like that, apparently. Being led from one story beat to the next doesn’t offend me personally, since the game is solid and makes those travels entertaining, but a lot of people prefer to just be able to roam freely around the world in a Zelda.
That want to explore is absolutely justified, as that is more or less what the Zelda series was built on. Slowly making them into more linear games has turned more people off of the series than anything, as far as I can tell. But that’s the price you have to pay when you want to tell a structured story, like we see in Skyward Sword. It’s set up so that all of the pieces must fall into very specific places at very specific times, which means that freedom to explore pretty much has to be taken off the table. Which seems strange when you consider that Skyward Sword doesn’t tell an especially elaborate tale. It’s a fun story, and I think it’s definitely up there as far as Zelda narratives go, but is it worth locking away the game behind a very rigid sequence of progression? I don’t really care, but the general consensus is a resounding NO.
All that said, the game remains fun. You do all the Zelda things, and a bunch of new things! Plus some of the regular Zelda things, but they’re twisted so that they feel new! The dungeons are simplified, but are mostly satisfying. Almost all of Link’s tools get regular use, save the oft-forgotten whip. Bosses are hit and miss, but the good ones are some of the most memorable encounters in the series.
At the end of the day, I’d say that Nintendo did a fine job in crafting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. If an HD remake shows up with traditional controls, yeah, I’m gonna buy it. The game is beautiful as-is, and would look absolutely stunning with a little more visual polish. That would definitely be worth slogging up Eldin Volcano another half-dozen times for.