Do you believe in destiny? Is there a predetermined role we were meant to play regardless of any efforts to deviate? This seems to be the eternal theme for our green-clad hero Link, even if this particular one is the first in the line. In the latest entry to the Zelda saga, Link has been inexplicably chosen by the goddess to be the legendary hero, just as Zelda is locked to her own fate, as are other characters. And throughout the game, they rigidly follow their roles.
So, too, does Skyward Sword seem to have its own destiny; one which it does not deviate from, but yet heroically lives up to. It is as enjoyable as any of the main console-based Zelda titles, and while it does not extend far beyond what is expected of it, it manages to reinvent itself within its established framework.
This, perhaps, explains the curious “mixed” reaction (if it can be called such) of those who find Skyward Sword to be a breath of fresh air, and those who simply see it as more of the same. But the game does find its own ways to separate itself from its predecessors.
Most significantly is the way the gameplay feels. This is due mostly to the additions of motion controls and the stamina meter. The whole game was designed around the use of Wii Motion Plus, meaning that it simply would not play as well if it were adapted to a standard controller. Nearly everything is a puzzle that must be solved not only with cunning, but also dexterity. Link is more agile in this game than in previous adventures, and while the stamina meter limits some of his more taxing maneuvers (and prevents the player from spamming certain attacks), it also adds a refreshing sense of risk and urgency to the action.
The inventory system has also been completely overhauled. No longer are new items a permanent part of your arsenal, but rather there are a limited number of slots to carry items in, with the rest held in storage, and it requires a bit of strategy and planning for whatever situation you’re about to take on. Best of all, items and weapons are all accessed on the fly rather than having to pause and go to a sub-menu (always a pet-peeve of mine), so the action is never interrupted. Additionally, there is a crafting system that adds yet another surprising layer of depth not often seen in a Zelda game.
And then there’s the heart of every Zelda game: the dungeons. While there are fewer here than in most previous installments, and they are spatially smaller, they are the most well-designed dungeons of any game in the series. Organic, compact, and always deviously clever, the efficiency in design is highly impressive.
In fact, the same goes for the game as a whole. Skyward Sword does more with less, and delivers a concentrated experience with so little filler that it’s the closest the 3D Zeldas have ever come to having the pace of a 2D Zelda game. With the exception of flying around in Skyloft, Skyward Sword delivers an almost relentless experience in which there is always something in front of you to hold your attention and keep you fully engaged.
If this game’s destiny was to follow in the footsteps of previous legends, then it accomplishes exactly that. It is a Zelda game through and through, quality and all. It is as polished, playable and entertaining as every Zelda game has ever been. It establishes its own identity with unique elements and gimmicks, just as other previous Zelda games have done.
Is that enough? It was for me, but maybe it was the destiny I expected.