Posted on June 21 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
First off, I want to thank Oni Nick, one of our fans and regular commenters, for inspiring this particular article. A lot of people, not just this fan, are under the impression that Skyward Sword’s combat is just a “puzzle”, thus making the entire game a puzzle. Fans such as the one above are more impressed with not needing to worry about attacking being blocked and simply just using the right item at the right time.
We’ve already seen and experienced that Skyward Sword’s combat has variations to it. There are several different ways to beat enemies with different items. We’ve witnessed Jimmy Fallon flailing around and spin attacking a Stalfos to death. We’ve seen people repel the Stalfos attack with their shield blocking, which caused the enemy to fall back a bit and lose balance, leaving a nice opening to swing away. We’ve seen people pinpoint their attacks to the openings around where enemies are blocking.
We’ve seen certain directional slices needed to kill select enemies such as Deku Babas. We’ve also seen enemies like Keese simply needing to be hit in any fashion to take down. We know vines can be cut with arrows, the sling shot, or even the beetle. We know that just like in any other Zelda game, there is more that can be done to beat an enemy than the one trick pony moves.
This is what Zelda has always been. Find what way you think is best to beat an enemy and do that. Next time around, maybe you want to try it a different way. Even just in the Sword combat, there appears to be multiple approaches to just using the sword and shield.
The reason this topic of “combat” in Skyward Sword comes up is because the puzzle nature of encounters (needing to hit enemies in certain spots in certain directions) is apparently being perceived as “not what Zelda is” and making the entire game a puzzle. Reality is, this is exactly what Zelda has always been. It’s arguably what any AI enemy always has been.
We all know too infamously what it usually takes to kill a typical boss. Side step their attack, hit them in the eye to stun them, and then hack away. Thankfully in the two semi boss fights we have seen, there is no “stunning” and “eye hitting” – it’s been completely based on the skill of the player to read and react.
I say most games are this way in terms of scripting because you’re facing an AI (artificial intelligence) that is programmed to only do so much, and to only react in so many different fashions to the player. This is why multiplayer online matches have become so popular, because it requires a lot more skill than killing scripted enemies.
In Skyward Sword, we’ve been shown that enemies block attacks. That we have to hit them in a certain fashion. How is this different than any other Zelda game? In The Wind Waker (see our Wind Waker Walkthrough for evidence) enemies blocked your attacks all the time. The reaction to that was simply targeting them and waiting for the A to light up so we could do an around the back counter. In other games, the blocks usually meant we had to use a different item, or find a way to stun them.
All enemies are scripted – hence, they are all “solved” just like a puzzle. The key is figuring out the solution. Luckily Zelda usually provides multiple ways to get that solution and it appears Skyward Sword, from our hands on experience and just observing from a far, fits that mold just the same as the ones before it.
Nintendo has not forgotten what Zelda is in terms of combat. They simply amped it up to require player skill. That’s right, you actually being good at Zelda makes a difference in the game. No more button mashing, now you have to think.
This isn’t unlike real life combat either. You think Boxers freely swing at their opponent hoping to win, knowing that if they keep freely swinging they will end up on top? Hardly – the ones that do that never make it anywhere and get completely destroyed before their career even starts. Everything in that sport is about reading, reacting, and looking for an opening to strike. While different in weapon choice, it’s the same thing in Skyward Sword’s combat. You’re looking for an opening and trying to hit it with precision.
Another sport more comparable is Fencing. While I have only done it once and I got my butt handed to me (hey, I never trained for it!), it’s completely about reading and reacting. Even as the aggressor, you’re sizing up your opponent and what they will do if you do this, and if they are quick enough to block this angle or that angle. It’s pretty much exactly like boxing in terms of how the process of hitting your opponent works. Ironically, it’s exactly like Skyward Sword as well.
The biggest difference in Skyward Sword in terms of it’s combat compared to a real life sport is that it’s more predictable. After all, you are facing a pre-coded unit with limited reaction capability – where as being a player you have the advantage of critical thinking. Enemies may hold a club above their head, to you this means slash for the belly. To the enemy it means once hit there try to block there, thus leaving the head open. It’s pretty much how all video games work. Some get more complex with quicker reactions.., and as we saw with Ghirahim, adjusting their defense based on where your sword was located.
I guess the point here is that while the combat is puzzle like, it’s exactly what the combat in Zelda, and really in the real world, is like. It’s a game of chess, over and over again, with each new enemy providing you a different sort of opening game. Honestly, I find myself wondering what took Zelda so long to reach this point. They’ve always had this in their games, but never to this extent. Players who love to button mash to victory just don’t feel like the real players in my book. No offense to those that like that, but where is the sanctification of actually killing something? When it’s as easy as locking on, hitting A (or B), and not even looking at the screen to win… one has to wonder what the point is.
This is the #1 reason, in my book, why Skyward Sword is likely to vault itself to the top of the Zelda pile. Forget atmosphere, story, side quests, and character development. Skyward Sword, as Alex Plant put it, is the best combat in any adventure game to date. So good is it, that it is very hard imagining going back to anything that is less than what Skyward Sword is establishing.
If you want further hands on evidence, look no further than our official Skyward Sword Demo Walkthrough, and of course check back later this year for our official Skyward Sword Walkthrough, which will naturally feature the many different ways to beat enemies.