On a whim, I decided to play this game again just to see how it would look on the PVM 20L5 (it’s gorgeous of course, but that’s a bit besides the point). But it somehow managed to draw me in further and I couldn’t put the game down.
While the opening is a bit constricted, I found it quite charming. Skyloft is a very well designed and beautiful “hub” and Zelda, herself, actually has some personality here. The writing is wittier than I remember too. And although the feel of an epic quest is not immediately apparent, it’s actually sort of a good thing. The high school-esque drama of the Groose-Zelda-Link love triangle dynamic makes for what I know will turn into a fun redemption story later on. And the NPCs, especially in the shop, are freaking adorable.
In a single play session, I pushed through the opening and just defeated the first dungeon and, man, this game is every bit as brilliant as I remember. Even in a post Breath of the Wild world, this game still manages to shine. While the game does not have a massive coherent over-world or unrestricted freedom that many modern gamers denounced it for all over online forums, the combat is actually very satisfying if you can wrap your head around the motion controls the way they were meant to be used (calm tennis-like strokes, not aggressive flailing).
And while the dousing sections are clearly a misstep for the game, they are not egregious and are actually kind of ignorable if you just want to explore. You don’t need to rely on dousing (at least in the opening section) because the hiding spots of the Kikwi are all in areas that you were going to want to explore anyway, right near the critical path of the game. Truth be told, I think these were sections of the game that people objected to most, along with Fi’s chatter.
Speaking of Fi, sometimes she does say things that are dumb, but it’s honestly hyperbole that she “ruins the game” with her advice. It doesn’t add or detract from the experience - it’s nothing.
The environmental design of the forest itself - not even getting into the dungeon yet - is actually something that had me nodding my head in approval as I played. It was very clear that the team here had finely honed level design skills because the atmosphere is as magical as something like BotW, while also having an incredible amount of verticality and shortcuts you could open up. It’s VERY tightly designed, perhaps more so than another other 3D Zelda game. The forest section basically reminds me of how a 3D version of Link’s Awakening would play. Every inch of the area is used to perfection to create an incredibly dense gameplay environment.
The actual structure of the level has cool pathways that weave and intersect, yet look entirely organic at the same time. And, while it is cliche to reference it, the constant shortcut opening that you do throughout the area, and the overall scale of the pathways vs. open spaces reminds me a little bit of a Souls game. Which is just fine by me
Then when you actually get into the dungeon, you’re treated to some of the most well designed gameplay in the medium here. The atmosphere, again, evokes a magical feeling of wonder that BotW also tapped into and exploited throughout it’s incredibly diverse open world. But here, it’s utilized to virtuosic effect to create linear puzzles that somehow look entirely organic. Even for someone that plays video games as much as I do, I’m not sure what Nintendo does to teach its designers to have this much slight of hand to achieve the effect in what appears to be an effortless fashion. The dungeon, and the surrounding forest, looks every bit as believable as what the team went on to accomplish with BotW - it’s just much smaller and self contained in scale.
I will also say this - as someone who has played every single Zelda and beaten nearly all of them (I have yet to complete Zelda II and Spirit Tracks), I have to say that this game is on par with the best in the series. I think it’s as good as something like Ocarina of Time or BotW. I’ll even go further to say that it’s a BETTER game than Twilight Princess (which is, itself, a fantastic game in it’s own right).
I think Skyward Sword is the culmination of the Ocarina of Time formula worked to perfection, while reaching a new plateau of level design by eschewing an overworld in favor of more Souls-like pathways.
While I’m glad that this was the final game that utilized this formula - let’s face it, BotW is maybe the greatest reinvention of a series in modern times - what is here, is absolutely magical. It has that pure Nintendo magic that is so easy to love, with charm, excellent level design, and very tight gameplay. The only thing working against it is that many people probably saw it, and perhaps Nintendo as a whole at the time, as an anachronism when viewed against the backdrop of the entire video game landscape.
Skyrim was a thing at the time that had a similar title and, until BotW, became the standard upon which grand video game adventures were judged against. And when viewed that way, SS does appear to be rather quaint in scope and restrictive. But going back, I really don’t care. I’m having a blast and think SS is unfairly judged by many people who attempt to spin this narrative that it’s “not a good game.”