Classic Link meets brand-new Ghirahim

I won’t even bother trying to hide my excitement: I think Skyward Sword is poised to be the best Zelda game ever. In that



shamelessly promoted hype generator of an article I list a number of reasons why I have faith in the game, but I think the kicker is its efforts to bring so many elements from previous games together in a new and better way (in my humble opinion). It’s a strategy that I feel only Ocarina of Time has really successfully tried so far, and one that I think will really make this game shine for longtime fans as well as those who just jumped on board with Twilight Princess, the DS outings, or Ocarina of Time 3D.

There are so many examples of such elements that I don’t even know where to start, but I just can’t contain myself any longer. Check out this list of my top 10 favorite things that Skyward Sword borrows and improves upon:

10 – Tears of Light + Stealth

You might be thinking: “Tears of Light and stealth are on your list of ‘bests’?!” Yeah, I hear you – the Tears of Light sections weren’t my personal favorite parts of Twilight Princess and the Temple of the Ocean King has gotten a lot of bad rep, but hear me out. What was missing from the Tears of Light sections? Never mind, I’ll answer that for you: suspense.

'Best of Zelda' Top 10 - #10: Tears of Light + StealthEven keeping the fact that the world is covered in darkness at the forefront of your mind as you explored the Twilight Realm to try to purge it of evil, there wasn’t much of a threat looming over you as you traveled through it. The enemies were by and large the same as the ones you fought in the Light World, and the people, while stuck in spirit-like forms, tended to barely know that anything had happened and just went about their lives as usual. There wasn’t really much of a compelling sense of danger outside of a couple not-entirely-convincing cutscenes.

Add the fact that the Twilight sections were basically fetch quests on top of that and you have what may have been the most disappointingly-executed elements in any Zelda game. (By “disappointingly-executed,” I’m referring mostly to all the wasted potential; purging the Twilight could have been the edgiest part of the game had it been done well.)

The issues with the Temple of the Ocean King, on the other hand, stemmed mostly from one aspect of its execution: repetition. Most people were not compelled by the idea of going through the same dungeon over and over again. Even the shortcuts you can take using your new items, which were the game’s saving grace for me, didn’t satisfy many of the more vocal fans. The general concept of a dungeon filled with invincible enemies doesn’t seem to have been the problem, since Spirit Tracks replicated it, ditching the repetitive elements, with the Tower of Spirits and fans by and large approved.

That’s why I’m stoked about Skyward Sword‘s “Siren World.” I really don’t have anything against collecting Tears of Light – it’s a good way to encourage players to explore, particularly when the world’s full of hidden places to find – so adding the suspense of a stealth element where you have to avoid invincible enemies seems like a good change of pace. It should make exploring the Siren World seem more dangerous than the Twilight, and thus collecting the Tears of Light will be less a chore and more a matter of “oh crap I need to find those things before the guardian finds me.”

9 – Flight + Island Exploration

Again, this might sound crazy, given that I constantly express my hatred of the flight mini-game in Twilight Princess and the exploration in The Wind Waker didn’t exactly go over with universal acclaim, but from what I’ve seen and understand about how the two elements are getting fused together in this game, I’m actually super excited about this.

I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the flight in Twilight Princess per se. It was actually developed pretty well and reasonably fun. My main beef with it was that it was too much of a peripheral experience and not well-incorporated into the main game. The Zelda series is one that I believe can’t afford to deviate too far from its core values and mechanics. Mini-games are good and well, but they need to be tied to the core gameplay – that’s why I don’t respond to the archery ranges, Bombchu bowling, and other similar diversions from past games with as much disdain. In Twilight Princess, however, the flight existed for the sole purpose of the mini-game. It wasn’t a core mechanic.

'Best of Zelda' Top 10 - #9: Flight + Island ExplorationIn Skyward Sword, flight has been elevated to a central feature in terms of transportation and exploration. No longer is it just a peripheral experience; it’s an integrated part of the core game. This alone neutralizes any of the negativity I expressed towards Twilight Princess. Whether or not it’s fleshed out enough to really be a strong addition to the game remains to be seen, but that they’re trying to expand its use at all is a good sign.

As for the island exploration, I actually rather enjoyed it in The Wind Waker. It seemed to mimic the original game’s overworld with its grid-like format, hidden caves, and general spirit of treasure-seeking. Even I’ll admit though that the content most of the islands offered wasn’t enough to fill the game’s ambitious sense of scale.

Skyward Sword‘s approach to incorporating islands seems to be much less ambitious and more content-driven. I don’t know what exactly these other islands will entail, but I imagine they’ll still offer many of the same things Wind Waker‘s islands did – secret items, mini-dungeons, sidequest content, and so on. This time, however, the sky doesn’t make up the bulk of the world, there’s an entirely different land below the clouds that falls more in line with the traditional Zelda overworld… which leads me to my next point…

8 – Two Lands… That Aren’t in Separate Dimensions

The two parallel worlds thing has really been done to death. A Link to the Past, Four Swords Adventures, and Twilight Princess did it with their various Dark World incarnations, Ocarina of Time and Oracle of Ages used time travel to produce two different time periods, and The Minish Cap had a normal-sized world alongside a Minish-sized one. Sure, Skyward Sword seems to be at it again with the Siren World, but there’s a more important dichotomy at the forefront: the sky world versus the surface.

'Best of Zelda' Top 10 - #8: Two Worlds…that Aren't in Separate DimensionsIt’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual parallel world structure in just about every possible way. Previous parallel worlds always closely resembled one another, usually because one was an alternate version of the same place. Now the two worlds will actually have some meaningful variety: Skyloft seems to be totally different from the surface land. But what I find more interesting is the potential for some meaningful connections between the two worlds in the traditional sense: the two actually exist in the same dimension.

That means their histories will be more closely intertwined, that events in Skyloft will likely actually mean something to the timeline, and that a relationship to Hyrule will consist of more than just something that happened a long time ago. There’s a lot of potential to expand the series’ lore this time around without being limited to explaining how Skyloft came about as an alternate space – Skyloft is very much a part of the world of Hyrule, so much so that its people will play a role in the creation of the Master Sword itself. That’s a rather exciting prospect.

7 – When Graphical Styles Collide

No matter your feelings about the art or graphical styles seen in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, I think Nintendo’s done a good job making use of the best of both of them. The Wind Waker‘s colorful vibrancy left a strong mark on the series, one that recently crept into the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time, and largely for the better. Meanwhile, Twilight Princess was a refinement of the traditional anime-style the series had used for fifteen years by the time The Wind Waker came along, and its strong attention to detail captured fans everywhere and was probably the biggest hype generator the series has ever seen.

'Best of Zelda' Top 10 - #7: When Graphical Styles CollideSkyward Sword blends these two styles together to create something truly unique, and it’s a style that I feel is a more natural evolution of the original series art than either The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess were on their own. Add in the sometimes-subtle, sometimes in-your-face painterly touches and it really does feel like you’ve stepped into a fantasy tale. Feel free to disagree, but I’d like to encourage you not to make your final judgment until you see what the game looks like in person. Net-based video feeds and screenshots don’t really do it justice.

6 – Incorporating Dungeon-Like Features in the Overworld

Here’s something we’ve almost never seen: dungeon-like overworlds have only really appeared in the form of “caves” in the classic titles: Zelda II, A Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening. Now we’re getting dungeon-level exploration, enemy volume, and likely even puzzle-solving opportunities out in the field. We’ve only seen a small snippet of this in the form of the forested area from the original Skyward Sword demo, but it’s enough to get me excited about the prospects for the rest of the game.

You'll have to use items to progress a lot more frequently in the overworld this time aroundThat the overworld seems to consist of a maze-like network of doors and pathways to explore, where you can find hidden places to bomb, secret spots to scout out with your Beetle, and in general just a whole lot of content really makes me feel like we’ll be getting bang for our buck with this one. We haven’t seen a world this packed with stuff since Link’s Awakening.

When I get the chance to play the full version of the game later this fall, I’ll be able to report more directly on just how much content there is to be had. And yes, I’ll likely be able to field general questions even before release.

5 – Those Charming Village Folk

Aside from having a kickass overworld and dungeons, Majora’s Mask was my favorite game because of its strong attention to its NPCs. At the time, it sported the most fully fleshed-out character sidequests of any Zelda game, meaning that every person you met had a story to tell and a role to play in some gameplay scenario. While normally I prefer non-scripted sequences driven by exploration rather than a linear set of tasks, something about the way Majora’s Mask‘s sidequests all interlinked just worked.

Skyloft looks like it's going to have more than its share of NPCsWithout the three-day system, interlinking is going to be a lot more limited than before, but the Zelda team seems to be focused instead on linking up the characters’ stories to what’s going on in the main plot. Still, it’s going to be fun to explore the towns and find out what everybody’s up to, as well as what rewards you’ll get for being a diligent citizen.

I’m hoping that this time around sidequests are more mingled with the core of Zelda: world exploration and combat. Maybe we’ll have to travel to a hidden, monster-filled cave on a far-off sky island to find something a Skyloft denizen needs? As long as this doesn’t turn into a basic talk-driven fetch quest, where we’re simply hopping between characters to complete chores, I’m stoked about the possibilities of Majora-like side content.

4 – The Prequel Effect: Expansion of the Core Zelda Mythos

The best Zelda stories all seem to be prequels. Zelda II first laid the groundwork for legendary tales with its sleeping princess myth, which in turn inspired all kind of backstory tales in future games. A Link to the Past had the epic creation myth and Imprisoning War chronicle, which later went on to inspire an expansion: Ocarina of Time. What did many people enjoy most about Twilight Princess in terms of story? It wasn’t so much what it offered as a sequel, but rather the way its backstory interlinked the ones seen in A Link to the Past and Ocarina. What’s more, these games that touch on the core lore tend to be the most successful at market: I mean, look at the cast list – A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess.

Both of the major games coming this year are origin stories in some waySkyward Sword seems to be a continuation of that tradition. We already know that it will explain the origins of the Master Sword and set the stage for Ganondorf’s appearance in Ocarina of Time, and likely the meaning of the Hylian bird crest, a new hero garb tradition, and the founding of the Hyrule kingdom we see in most of the games, but that doesn’t mean it has to stop there. The game is poised to tell pretty much anything the creators could want to explain – it’s hundreds of years before the traditional Zelda tale of Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf begins, and we have a surface world just waiting to be inhabited by the Hylians.

  • Could we see the origins of the other Hyrule races?
  • What about a closer look at the creation myth?
  • Will Ghirahim’s tribe be the dark tribe from Twilight Princess?
  • Will the Triforce play a role in this game?

This time, the sky’s the limit – and in a much greater way than ever before. (Oh wait, did I just make a bad pun?)

3 – Dynamic, Action-Based Combat

I’ve praised this one a million times already, so one more time won’t hurt: the combat in this game hearkens back to the classics in more ways than any other 3D game before. Directional attacks have been a staple of challenging series enemies like the Darknut and Iron Knuckle since the NES days, and now they’re back and being featured in a better way than ever. Every major enemy has its own way of avoiding your attacks, whether it’s a matter of blocking them with swords or shields, having to be hit in a certain way in order to be taken down, or simply using evasive maneuvers to get away from you before you can strike. The result is a combat system that’s more engaging than anything we’ve seen before.

It can take awhile to get used to the Motion Plus controls, but when you do it's definitely the most satisfying way to playNot only that, but to properly attack enemies you’ll have to make proper use of the Wii Motion Plus controls. Sure, you may get lucky with the usual Wii waggle here and there but generally if you’re not willing to pay attention to enemies’ patterns and react accordingly your attacks will fail, giving your foes the upper hand. We’ve all known about how this would work from day one, but I can assure you, having tried it out for myself at this year’s E3, that it’s really something and exactly what you’d want out of a motion-controlled Zelda title.

2 – Wii Motion Controls + Wii Motion Plus

This is exactly the controller I want to use to play <i>Zelda</i> from now on” src=“×700-10221.jpg” width=“50” height=“200” class=“mt-image-right” style=“float: right; margin: 0 0 20px 20px;”/></a></p>
<p>Okay, so I kinda already talked about motion controls in the last point, but I want to expand on how it applies to <I>everything</I>, not just the combat. Motion controls play a part in almost every aspect of the game. Flying on your Loftbird? You’ll need to properly point the remote to steer. Want to shoot something with your bow? Use Wii Motion Plus and hold the remote like a real bow. Want to change items? Hold down the appropriate button to open up your inventory and cycle through with motion gestures. It’s all been thought through, and it’s all <i>very</I> precise and feels great.</p>
<p>Eiji Aonuma talked about this being the new standard for <i>Zelda</I> control, and he’s right on the money. This is everything you wanted out of <i>Twilight Princess</i> in terms of strong motion controls (I loved <i>Twilight Princess</I>‘s motion additions as it is), except now it’s been put to use in ways you might never have expected before. I don’t know what they have in store for Wii U, but I hope it involves the control scheme laid down in <i>Skyward Sword</I> rather than completely abandoning it for the new tablet controller.</p>
<h3>1 – Everything You’ve Come to Expect from a Good <i>Zelda</I> Game</h3>
<p>Don’t get me wrong, though – this is much more than just a Wii Motion Plus sales pitch. This is classic <i>Zelda</i> at its finest. Dungeons feel very free and open-ended – in the demo you could go after the Beetle upgrade or skip it entirely and focus on making it to the boss door, a style that closely resembles the original game. You might need some of these item upgrades later, but they’re not necessarily required to finish the dungeon. The whole game comes together in a way that’s distinctly <i>Zelda</i>, and like I’ve said throughout this entire article, it’s very much a fusion of the old-school ideas about world design and combat with newer features like the Wii Motion Plus, flight-by-bird, and character-driven sidequests.</p>
<p><a href=Definitely a game worthy of the <i>Zelda</I> name” src=“×313-7976.png” width=“450” height=“313” class=“mt-image-center” style=“text-align: center; display: block; margin: 0 auto 20px;” /></a></p>
<p>As I said in a previous discussion, I still have my doubts and concerns – namely about pacing, whether the difficulty will fall flat, and whether the surface overworld will inevitably wind up being as deep and interconnected as the lands of previous <i>Zelda</I> titles – but everything I’ve actually experienced so far has been rock-solid. Will it be better than <i>Twilight Princess</I>? Easily. Will it be the best <i>Zelda</I> game of all time? I can’t say for sure, but I’m certainly willing to place my faith in it.</p>
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