Saturday, 19 November 2011

First Impressions: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I must admit, the title of this post is pretty misleading. These are less first impressions, and more what I think of the twenty wonderful hours I've experienced of Skyward Sword so far. I'll let my main thoughts on how the new Zelda adventure ranks up against its predecessors right away; Quite simply, from what I've played at least, this is the best Legend of Zelda game of all time, and the closest a Nintendo game has ever come to perfection. And you can certainly trust me in saying that I wouldn't make these controversial statements often. Still, despite me being lead to believe from what I've played so far that this is the greatest Zelda adventure, it doesn't necessarily make it my personal favourite. Let me explain: In terms of what the game offers, it's absolutely incredible and pretty much flawless. I've come across practically no flaws thus far, the game harks back to its predecessors in countless ways and the plot is very well-thought out considering it's a prequel to the much-proclaimed best Zelda before Skyward Sword was released, namely Ocarina of Time. There's so much positive to say about the newest installment in Nintendo's legendary franchise that, if the game even had any flaws, it would blow them out of the water. It really is that amazing a game, and the last bit of actual story progression that I conquered was the third dungeon, meaning I'm not even halfway through this amazing experience yet.

What Nintendo has done with Skyward Sword over the past near-six years is pretty amazing. They've made a Zelda game that removes all the bad out of past adventures, borrows quirks from the majority of its predecessors and chucks in loads of new stuff in the process. It really does show that Skyward Sword has been Nintendo's most expensive project, a project they've been working on for just over half a decade. They've completely smashed the former polygonal Zelda formula and built a game that combines a perfect mix of familiarity and freshness that will please anyone who remotely enjoys anything like a past Legend of Zelda game. One might say I'm overshadowed with hype here, but I would completely deny this if anyone were to claim that I am overemphasizing things a little bit. Anyone who disagrees with my comments needs to play the game immediately. Without waffling on about how utterly awe-inspiring the game for too much longer, I'm going to talk about some of the things I've experienced in the title so far. Unless you want to know absolutely nothing about the game, I wouldn't consider a single word in the next two paragraphs to be spoiler-related at all, so no worries if you don't mind a small heap of text detailing quite possibly the biggest release of the year.

Quite possibly the aspect of Skyward Sword that deserves the majority of my praise is the fact that they've made everything outside of the main storyline properly fun now. The newest Zelda title is packed with loads of extra content, ranging from different sized side-quests to a bunch of extremely fun mini games that had me playing for hours simply because they were so fun. Practically nothing is a slog, even the slightly tedious 'travelling across a field' sections have been blown away by the system of exploration in Skyloft, the sky-bound land that acts as some form of hub in the game. You'll explore the land above the clouds, coming across small Wind Waker-esque islands that sometimes hold valuable treasure, among other things. The main on-foot hub is located in the dead centre of this sea of clouds, a huge floating island that some might refer to as Skyloft's capital. There's a ton of stuff to do here, and simply wondering around to see what you can find in terms of new side-quests and secret locations and whatnot is a joy. As I progress more through the main story, I find myself spending more time in Skyloft than when I did before I made more story progression, as more and more of the world above opened up to me. In the event that I did want to continue the plot, that was extremely fun as always too. Most of the action takes place below the clouds, with three central locations on the land below to be accessed via three pillars of light that can easily be spotted when flying around Skyloft. How do you transfer from the sky to the surface, you ask? Well, you hop off your Loftwing (your mode of transport in Skyward Sword that I must add is the best way to travel yet in any Zelda game) and freefall downwards in the direction of one of these light pillars, of course. When you're exploring the surface, the areas outside of what would typically be considered a dungeon feel less like traversing around bland landscape and more like conquering more of the game and making more progression, which is a first for Zelda.

Outside of the gameplay aspects featured in Link's latest adventure, the storytelling is also brilliantly done through some amazingly well-animated cutscenes, which are made even better by the tremendous art style on show in this title. The visuals of the game combine the best of Wind Waker's charming cartoony designs and the focused realism of Twilight Princess to create an art style very much based around impressionist paintings. What's more is that Nintendo have used this visual flair to their advantage, with background details looking like actual parts of a painting. This not only looks superb, but it also helps maintain a sturdy, solid frame-rate within the Wii's technical limitations. Quite simply, this game is among the best-looking on Wii; In fact, scratch that, it IS the best looking game on Wii. I mentioned a few sentences ago that the cutscenes in Skyward Sword are particularly incredible, both in design and ambition. These sequences really do have to be seen to be believed, as they add an amount of charm many wouldn't have considered possible in the past, especially in one of the already charming Zelda games. Quite simply, this post has been nothing other than yours truly babbling on about why Skyward Sword is the best experience I've had on Nintendo's home console in its entire lifespan thus far, and I'm not even halfway through the game yet. If you don't have The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword already and you do own a Wii, buy it as soon as your pockets are packed with enough cash to do so.

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