Reading articles, comments, forum posts and so on around various websites, I can’t help but feel there is a slight sense of uneasiness spreading around the Zelda community in regards to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The game has undoubtedly generated much hype and speculation, but it’s what we have come to expect from a Legend of Zelda console game – after all, Twilight Princess managed to stay fresh enough for nearly two years before it was finally released. However, one crucial difference exists between the announcements of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – people have began to question seriously the direction of the Zelda series.
It’s difficult to tell exactly what people want from Skyward Sword, but the flavour of the month seems to be radical change in the tried and tested Zelda formula. Certainly, the generic structure of the Legend of Zelda is rather rigid, and it is a structure that has, with little exception, been followed from the beggining. I think your typical Zelda game goes something like this: Players are presented with a reasonably spacious overworld where they progress through dungeons and quests in a linear fashion, with some leeway for exploration. The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess expanded, but never breached, the Zelda tradition. Both games made room for additional exploration. For instance, The Wind Waker had you sailing to and from all sorts of islands, but a lot of the time you were just going through computer generated sea. Twilight Princess had a large overworld, but you were still ‘stuck’ in the same style of environment we saw in Ocarina of Time, consisting of a central hub that sprouts liner paths to other areas. Now, with the traditional Zelda format arguably being pushed to it’s limits, and the revival of Ocarina of Time that was Twilight Princess being done and dusted, it seems Zelda fans finally want something different.
I feel that some have been overly dismissive of Skyward Sword, and I think that, realistically speaking, it has the potential to be up there with the best Zelda titles. In some ways, it’s easy to see why concearns are sprouting accross the Zelda community. Nintendo’s handling of the game has not been optimal, to say at the least. The demonstration of Skyward Sword at E3 was a disappointment, with serious infra red interference mucking up the sensitivity and accuracy of the Wii controllers. Developer comments have been rather conflicting as well. Despite promises of Skyward Sword being a break from the traditional Zelda format, other comments have not been so comforting, such as Eiji Aonuma’s comments about providing a more compact (ie. smaller) Zelda world compared to Twilight Princess, and Aonuma conveying a ‘back to basics’ message. We’ve all seen the game for ourselves as well and while the graphics are impressive, the gameplay looked like the same old Zelda we’ve seen before. So, how can Skyward Sword possibly hope to capture of the hearts of the millions of apprehensive Zelda fans?
Firstly, I think people have forgotten the fact that, thanks to Wii Motion Plus, the controls of Skyward Sword are going to be vastly different to any Zelda game, including Twilight Princess. If Nintendo gets the controls right, we’re looking at a fantastic Zelda game. After all, what better way to revel the Zelda experience than mimicing your Sword attacks, bomb throws, hookshots and so on with the Wii controllers? Shigeru Miyamoto’s E3 demonstration of Skyward Sword may have been a disappointment, but reports from those who got the chance to play Skyward Sword suggested the game’s mechanics to be very accomplished: both sensitive and accurate enough. The new controls could potentially add so much extra depth to the game, especially since you can swipe in different directions at will, shield bash with the nunchuck, charge spin attacks more ‘naturally’ by holding the Wiimote still, and so on. The question is if Nintendo can create the enough depth through the Wii Motion Plus system, and things are looking good so far – It’s not like they are just copying over the same system from Wii Sports Resort, at least. Automatically, Wii Motion Plus ensures we are going to experience something very new with Skyward Sword.
Another interesting concept that has been overlooked are the changes made to the dungeons. In an interview with Gamespot, Eiji Aonuma mentioned ‘maybe we can make some field areas that operate sort of like dungeons.’ He also suggested that some dungeons could be played without your sword, implying that you would need to use stealth and wit to progress through the dungeon. I especially like the idea of open dungeons. It would make for a much less predictable adventure, and it would make the world of Skyloft feel very integrated. Sometimes the dungeon system feels too fragmented, and it’s great that Nintendo are taking some initiative and addressing the issue.
I do not believe it is necessary to make Zelda a more ‘universal’ game. By this, I mean making a gigantic world with ridiculous amounts of land to explore, thousands of NPC’s and locations to discover, and so on. Games with huge exploration elements are immensely popular at the moment – just look at Red Dead Redemption. However, I’m sure most of you will remember the time when Resident Evil 4 was released. The gaming world went Resident Evil 4 crazy, and the game became a smash hit (deservedly so, as it is one of the best video games ever created in my opinion). Yet the game was unashamedly linear, in fact, almost totally linear, with only some backtracking and minor sidetracking. The same is true of other classic titles, such as Final Fantasy X. If Zelda were to become too open, it would devalue the game’s concept of setting out on an epic quest. Zelda should not have to ‘borrow’ popular ideas from games. In fact, it’s nice to have a game that doesn’t exactly conform to modern industry standards.