The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is due for a November 20th, 2011 release date here in the United States [release dates elsewhere being Nov 23 and Nov 18]. From an experienced Zelda player’s standpoint, it is shaping up to be the next Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past in form and stature. It is known to have a full-fledged upgrade system, massive overworlds which appear to have the capability to stage out-of-dungeon boss fights, and characters that resemble those of Majora’s Mask in term of development. The story seems to be on the path to greatness. The gameplay, from what we’ve seen thus far, is fully refined and ready to be put into action. The items appear to be diverse in use. So, how in the world could Skyward Sword mess up Zelda? Well, I’ve thought of five ways it could.
1. Story – Recycled and Rehashed
Skyward Sword’s story doesn’t appear to be that of a traditional Zelda, instead being more of a dramatized chase movie plot with highlights of stereotypical bullying here and there. These are completely fresh ideas within the Zelda series, and they are welcome. However, movies, and even old ones, have used the idea of chasing the enemy – and the damsel – throughout the lands, usually with a rather predictable ending. As far as we can see through the ever clearing mist, the story could be stifled with cliches.
We’ve seen nightmares turned real back in Link’s Awakening. The Princess has been captured ever since the original Legend of Zelda. The Hero has always succeeded. The villain has always come up with devious intentions and goals that induced rage in the Hero and often the Princess as well. When will we ever see beyond this choking curtain, and breathe the fresh air of a much welcomed change? The tempo of Skyward Sword’s story may be different, and it may be under subtly different themes, but they are just that – subtle. It is known that SS is, from Miyamoto’s viewpoint, trying to compete with Ocarina of Time in everything Zelda related. What that means is Skyward Sword will try to do everything the best it can, but with the presently known “high speed chase” arc of the story, the goal of beating even Ocarina of Time in the scale of stories seems to be quite unrealistic.
2. The Upgrade System – Really?
Zelda is in need of cutting-edge, creative changes. If it doesn’t happen now, who knows what will become of the series? Luckily that’s irrelevant, because the fact is we’re getting those changes soon enough in the form of a completely brand-new reworking of how we obtain new items… based upon fetch quests previously seen in other RPGs.
The “uniqueness” of the upgrade system featured in Skyward Sword really isn’t so unique. As soon as I saw the video presentation of the system, I immediately thought of the Kingdom Hearts series. The memories I had of collecting countless materials across the various areas only to have to trek back to the hub surged through my mind. How is it original for Zelda to essentially copy and paste the very same system used in many games before it? In any case, it has been done before countless times. Past Zelda games have even built up to using the system as well – inspiration or at least the framework for something similar to an upgrade system was presented in the various trading sequences throughout Link’s Awakening as well as the massive Kinstone trading sequences used within The Minish Cap.
The upgrade system could turn Zelda into a generic series. Currently, Skyward Sword still has that Zelda core, but if the system is met with extremely positive reception, no doubt Nintendo will retain it for a future Zelda title. Why is that a bad thing? As stated before, things like the upgrade system have already been done before. Zelda has always been known to be different, hardly if ever borrowing concepts from other games. With the adoption of an upgrade system that doesn’t differ from those of other games, people will start to be able to compare the Zelda series with other series. The point here is that Zelda has always been its own genre, at least as far as the fans are concerned.
3. Massive Overworld – Not again, please.
It is quite obvious from recent trailers that Skyward Sword will indeed have a grand overworld. What we know so far is that the bird’s acceleration will be greater than that of the King of Red Lions in The Wind Waker and that The Sky will be filled with life and things to do, in stark contrast to Twilight Princess’ Hyrule Field. Battles have the potential to take place outside of confined dungeons and there may not even be a cue as to when and where those battles will take place. Those are all positive things, to be sure.
Of course, there is no reason to suggest that all battles will take place in the grand overworld, and it is quite obvious seeing what Nintendo has done in the past that there will be battles in slightly more confined areas. The mixing between the two may be perfectly done, or the more likely thing that would happen would be that the other area gets more battles and would become supersaturated with the smaller area essentially being closed off.
Where is the problem in that, you ask? The problem is specifically that the grandness of the overworld suggests that everything will be scattered out to the point of long fetch quests a la Twilight Princess, or the more likely case is a condensed overworld with not much to do but the same lethargic sidequests that have been done for over a millennium. Some players have a problem with that while others don’t; it truly depends on player preference.
That begs the question of whether it is really necessary to have large scale battles just for the sake of deviating from what is usually seen. Would it be so distinctly bland to have regularly staged battles in that same dungeon setting versus having the metaphorically speaking prairie view of the outside realm all the while being chased by the villain whom you were seeking in the first place?
So far, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry about the characters; they appear to be well thought out. However, there is always the chance that the characters will be as shallow as the ones who appeared in all the previous installments of the series, such as Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, where they only spewed out one or two lines before running out of dialogue. There is also the chance that, while developed nicely in the beginning, characters will become unimportant and fail to be memorable members of the cast in the long run. Villains can be written rather poorly, most exemplified in the ending of Twilight Princess and the pathetic “sacrifices” made out of the villains of Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons; the heroes (Link; Zelda) could be so Mary Sue in nature that flaws are completely overridden, to the point where weaknesses really are not present in any capacity. Even minor NPCs could have great development in the beginning. That gives the illusion of a great and well-developed character, but in the end they could easily be essentially dropped from the cast. This is best seen in characters like Ilia and The Group from Twilight Princess who both were relatively important to the story, had somewhat great development in their introductions, but were not even needed later in the game; the Sages who, despite their importance in the overall story, had next to no true development in Ocarina of Time; and lastly in characters such as the Tingle Brothers who admittedly were heavily involved in the biggest sidequest of The Wind Waker, but ultimately fell short of great characterization. A load of unreasonable, unimportant characters could do a number on the Zelda franchise, the mere thought of which Nintendo isn’t considering at all.
Now, there is no hope for complete originality in this day and age; every Link thus far, including Skyward Sword’s, has always been a courageous young boy. Princess Zelda, though not a princess by definition in Skyward Sword, naturally has been the damsel in distress; somehow or another the formula hasn’t changed throughout the 25 years of Zelda canon and frankly, it seems as if fans are tired of this. In other Zelda titles, the Princess Zelda has served a slightly different role – she is featured as a semi-playable character in Spirit Tracks and one can argue she is perhaps the deuteragonist alongside the protagonist Link; within The Wind Waker, the Princess is hidden within the frame of another character, thereby giving off a distinctive personality from her ‘alter ego’. However, we know for a fact that Link and Zelda will take up their traditional roles in this game with a just a semblance of human personality bleeding through. Is that really what the fans want? What Nintendo wants? I am begging to say no, as the way SS is shaping up the characters don’t deserve the same monotone, cliché roles they have served for twenty five-and-counting years.
5. 1:1 Gameplay – Completely Unnecessary
We’ll finally get to have strategic fights! No longer will everything be easy-peasy!
I think this is the most ridiculous thing that has been implemented into Skyward Sword, the 1:1 swordplay. Yes, 1:1 greatly increases the precision with which you strike your blade. Yes, pointing is no longer a hassle with this system. But what lies underneath all of that pleasant makeup is artificial difficulty. A main point of the 1:1 Gameplay, gathered from an interview from way back during E3 2010, was that Twilight Princess’ hack and slash-type play was forcing the gameplay to be too ridiculously easy, and to remedy that we now have the 1:1 gameplay to FORCE us to make precise strikes. That by itself isn’t bad, but with the way the enemy AI works, it makes things more complex and in that way it makes the game artificially difficult. Say, for example, you are at the end of the game, but you forgot to get that one measly upgrade for your 100 percent run! So now, you have to travel back to the point in which that particular material drops and instead of simply defeating an enemy for that material, you have to sit through the tedium of fighting it with realistic swordplay.
Yes, the fear is now their defense, not how much damage they can deal in one swing. No longer is it ‘where is their weak point?!’ but how annoying it will be to hit. The enemies of SS are shaping up to be ridiculously tedious to deal with, seemingly so combat is no longer just hacking and slashing. From what I’ve seen of the TGS trailer and subsequent gameplay, the enemy AI is too simple to pose a real challenge outside of your first encounter with that type. Damage wasn’t being dealt in reasonable amounts, similar to how it was in Twilight Princess, and there is a lingering doubt that the problem will change. Enemies aren’t smart, they just run on a code that automatically determines “when [Player Character] makes an attempt to swing, detect direction of swing and block in said direction” OR “when [Player Character] makes an attempt to swing, make a ridiculous motion which registers as a dodge, then jump back”. They don’t know how to attack intelligently, and we can’t properly deal damage because as I’ve said, it is too tedious to break through their initial defenses.
If the enemies you face aren’t just cinder-blocks of the highest rank of impenetrability, then they are of the type where that precise motion must be made or else it registers as a miss in the game system. It is just too tedious.
These reasons may seem ridiculous to most. After all, we’ve seen firsthand what a new control style can do; Ocarina of Time continues to garner critical acclaim for its targeting system and representation of enemies in three rather than two dimensions. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that Zelda requires a few diversities here and there, and what better a place to start with the button-mashing style we’re so accustomed to? There may be nothing to worry about as far as the characters and story go – for one to know the lick of things they have to experience it for themselves. Reliance on mere assumptions isn’t the most beneficial route to go. However, if you review each reason and compare them to past occurrences in the Zelda series and maybe even abroad, you’ll see why they are valid concerns. You must ask yourself, is the 1:1 gameplay truly necessary to give off the “brand new Zelda” vibe? Is the story and upgrade system too terribly used up by other franchises that, in the long run, will keep Skyward Sword from becoming the cornerstone of future Zeldas? Is the overworld scale factor featured in Skyward Sword truly detrimental to the possible experiences one may encounter? With naught but a week and a few days left from release, the true, unadulterated answers will surely shine through the clouds.