|Release: November 20, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Fantasy Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
The Zelda series began in the NES era, when plot wasn't a huge part of most game design. This was a generation when developers were just starting to get technology that allowed them to create complex character models and use more than a handful of colors onscreen at once, so it's no wonder that even an adventure game as sprawling as the original Legend of Zelda was somewhat sparse on story.
The thing is, when later entries in the series were introduced that expanded the Zelda mythos with Link's further adventures, the fans weren't simply going to forget about the earlier titles. Neither was Nintendo, and series creator and game design legend Shigeru Miyamoto claims that there exists a record of the Zelda timeline, twisted and gnarled as it may be by alternate pasts and side-stories from outside developers. There even exists a split-timeline theory that depends upon the events of Ocarina of Time and has been confirmed as highly accurate by Miyamoto. So when a new game in the series was announced in the form of Skyward Sword, there was doubtless a moment in which hardcore fans of the series held their breaths, crossed their fingers, and prayed to whatever deity would listen that this newest entry in the series wouldn't muck things up too badly.
Those prayers were answered, as Nintendo came right out in stating that, chronologically, Skyward Sword is the earliest entry in the entire series. Its plot does not begin in Hyrule proper, instead joining Link and his friends in the land of Skyloft, which floats high above the clouds. Flight is a common method of transportation between the floating islands of which Skyloft is made and life is good, though the people do not know of (nor do they consider) the existence of great evil in a land below the clouds. The people of Skyloft, in fact, do not even know that such a land exists, assuming that theirs is all that there is.
Gamers who know their Legend of Zelda will not be surprised when the eponymous lead, a childhood friend of the hero rather than the princess of other titles, disappears from Skyloft. It is unlikely that they will be surprised by the discovery of the Skyward Sword, which allows Link to move between Skyloft and the deadly world below the clouds, in search of his missing friend. The Legend of Zelda, after all, has long made use of duality, with opposed worlds linked primarily by the player's character and his actions.
No, the draw, story-wise, is not in the basic structure of the tale, but in its action, in the way it is played out and in the reveal that this tale is the one that finally tells of the origin of the Master Sword. As all Zelda fans know, the Master Sword is a series-spanning relic that can be wielded only by a Hero of Time, the power of which has been shown to conquer the darkness and alter even time and space. It can be presumed that, if this is the origin story of the Master Sword, it is also the beginning of Link's heroic lineage, kicking off the legends of both Zelda and her hero.
With regard to gameplay, there have been notable changes that tickle one's nerves with both excitement and apprehension. Using the MotionPlus for enhanced swordplay is something that Zelda fans have been requesting since Twilight Princess first teased our sword and sorcery fantasies with its underwhelming waggling. Now, enemies are geared to challenge your coordination, with patterns that require them to be struck at specific angles at certain times. The Zelda games pride themselves on puzzles, and the combat has always been more in line with that than with more traditional action games, lending itself to the deliberation of accurate sword-combat.
On the other hand, the traditional structure of overworld-dungeon-overworld has been tossed, with the labyrinths integrated into the overworld in such a way that progress between them is meant to be more organic, lending itself to purposeful backtracking and fluid exploration. All of this is aided by Link's expanded (and more acrobatic) movement options. This increased agility must come with being a righty, as the traditionally left-handed hero has had his sword and shield swapped to appeal to the proclivities of the bulk of the population.
Past entries in the series have promised innovation, but, since Ocarina of Time, have offered little more than changes to art style and sparse new abilities. They have certainly been controversial, as all highly anticipated titles are (often for doing too little to differentiate themselves from their forebears), but Skyward Sword is finally polarizing for the right reasons. It's shaking up the Zelda formula in some deep, key ways and hoping to demonstrate that a Zelda game is defined by more than just is classic rhythm and enjoyable puzzles. Will it refresh the franchise? We'll know this holiday season when it hits store shelves.
CCC Contributing Writer