Skyward Sword – Wrap-Up Post

Skyward Sword by muse-kr

I found all the heart pieces, I collected all the items and upgrades, I upgraded all the upgrades, and I got all the gratitude crystals.

This occupied 75 hours of my life.

Sara Goetter, who I just started following on Tumblr, once called Skyward Sword “Legend of Fetchquest: The Game,” and that sounds about right. I actually spent good portions of the back half of this game playing while listening to my backlog of This American Life podcasts to keep things interesting during the rote and mechanical gameplay. Don’t get me wrong – this game is gorgeous and creative. Still, drags a bit at the end, and the last fifteen hours weren’t strictly necessary.

Skyward Sword has a major issue with pacing and story development. For example, during the first hour or two of the game, Groose is a major character, and then you don’t see him at all until the last third of the game, when suddenly he’s supposed to be a big deal. Likewise, Link chases Zelda without really seeing much of her for the first half of the game, and then she totally disappears. When she comes back, it’s difficult to care, so the game manipulates the player’s empathy by damseling her.

And holy abysmal mother of Cthulhu is Zelda ever damseled. The game is super focused on her pain as Ghirahim performs his magic ritual throughout the sequence leading to the final boss fight. You’re fighting your way down into the pit of the Imprisoned, and then the camera will cut to Zelda writhing and moaning, and then it’s back to you butchering hordes of small creatures that have been coerced into battle against you. It’s more than a little gross, to be honest.

My main complaint is the controls, however. I have been given to understand that there was a great deal of debate concerning the validity of this complaint, and most people eventually came down on the side of “man up and adjust your motion sensor.” There were a few people who agreed with me, however:

Destructoid
Gamespot
Holden Link
Game Critics
Thunderbolt
What Culture
Financial Post
gran viaje
Tim Rogers on Kotaku

This video also provides a nice summary of angry forum posts and comments.

I’ve found that unusual motion controls can work extraordinarily well. For instance, I really enjoyed the stylus input in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, as well as the gyroscoping in the 3DS releases of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Unfortunately, the motion controls in Skyward Sword were unresponsive and counter-intuitive for me. It took me dozens of hours to get used to the controls for the sword and the bird, and I never fully mastered gliding or playing the harp. I really wanted to enjoy playing this game, yet it refused to make it easy for me.

Skyward Sword isn’t one of the strongest games in the Zelda series, in my opinion. Of course, complaining that Skyward Sword “isn’t one of the strongest games in the Zelda series” is like saying “it’s only in the top 2% percent of all games ever made.” Although I feel like I’ve done nothing but criticize it, I still love Skyward Sword. I’m fascinated by its characters and mythology, and I wish there had been a stronger focus on worldbuilding. Oh well, I suppose there’s always fan fiction.

Next up is Twilight Princess!

( Header image by muse-kr on DeviantART )

Skyward Sword – Battle Against Demise

Link vs Demise

Ghirahim takes Zelda back to the past by means of the gate in the Sealed Temple, where he intends to perform some sort of ritual that will channel the divinity of her soul into Demise, giving him the strength to rise once again as the Demon King.

In order to buy himself time, Ghirahim magically fences off the edge of the pit containing the Imprisoned and sends out hordes of Bokoblins (with a few Moblins and Stalfos mixed in for good measure) to slow Link down. What follows is absolute carnage as Link mows down everything in his path. There is no art to these battles, just frantic Wiimote waving.

Link makes it to the bottom before the ritual concludes, so Ghirahim fights him himself on a series of glowing platforms suspended over the pit after revealing that, like Fi, he is the spirit of a sword. This battle is really cool in terms of its mechanics and its visual design, but it’s over quickly. Ghirahim is still primarily focused on the ritual with Zelda, after all. At the end, Ghirahim is horribly wounded, but Demise is resurrected.

And oh man is he ever. Wow.

Can I just talk about how Demise is no shirt no shoes all service? This dude is gorgeous and he knows it. During his monologues, he tosses his flaming hair like it was a shampoo commercial. The cute starter pokémon that is the Imprisoned leveled up and evolved into a total beefcake. If someone were to tell me that Nintendo is secretly controlled by gay men and straight women, I would totally believe it.

Demise doesn’t fight Link immediately but gives him some time to think about whether or not he’s man enough to handle Demise’s no pants policy. He says:

You can spend what little time your world has left cowering and crying, as befits your kind. But if you truly desire to raise your blade against the world I would build, come for me. I’ve waited eons to return. I can spare a few more moments to let you decide.

That’s… awfully considerate of him. Also, Demise’s mention of “the world I would build” is interesting in its implication that his goal is not destruction, but creation (or possibly reconstruction).

I managed to dominate Ghirahim without sustaining too much damage, so I still have a fanny pack an adventuring pouch full of potion. I also have a powerful lust for bara realness, so I go ahead and hop right into Demise’s quivering black portal (sorry not sorry).

Oddly enough, Demise has transported himself to the sky, where he is silently contemplating the clouds. Why is the first thing he wants to see after his awakening the realm of his enemy? I have a whole boatload of personal feelings about Hylia and Demise (THEY ARE IN LOVE AND LINK’S ANCESTOR IS THEIR BABY), but putting my weird fantasies aside for the moment, it’s clear that Link is party to an epic rivalry between the solar sky goddess, an avatar of static order, and the geothermal earth god, an avatar of dynamic chaos.

Demise beats the everloving crap out of Link, but Link has enough healing potions to win the fight eventually, somehow not becoming completely distracted by the fact the Demise is totally not wearing any pants. Demise is too hot for pants. Demise is so hot he’s literally on fire, oh my!

After Demise is defeated, he does not say that he curses Link and Zelda, but rather that the three of them are cursed to constantly meet each other on the battlefield. His rage is not directed at the two of them, but rather at the gods who presumably ordained this conflict, possibly as a means of periodically cleansing the land through the fires of war.

Campy humor aside, the Zelda series can be really dark sometimes.

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Skyward Sword – Skyloft Silent Realm and Sky Keep

Link's Battle Against Levias

I raced through the end of Skyward Sword.

Link flies into the Thunderhead, talks to Levias (who is totally the Wind Fish from Link’s Awakening), gets the last part of the Song of the Hero, goes back to Skyloft, and plays the song next to one of the lighthouses. Despite all this trouble, I still couldn’t hum the tune to you if you asked me. It sounds sort of like the main Zelda theme, but… It’s not very catchy, I guess.

Having played the Song of the Hero, Link enters the Skyloft Silent Realm, which is a lot of fun. To me, the Silent Realm areas are always fun. This is partially because Link doesn’t need to use his sword or worry about taking damage, but I also enjoy spending more time engaging with each of the area maps. Since I’ve spent so much of the game exploring and becoming familiar with Skyloft, navigating the island’s Silent Realm was an especially cool experience.

Once the sequence is over and done with, Link gets some sort of ruby that he needs to place in the eye socket of a Loftwing statue near the entrance to the cave under the waterfall. A part of the island under the Statue of the Goddess falls away, revealing a stone structure spiraling down. This is the Sky Keep, and Link has to get all up in there to find the Triforce.

The Sky Keep is based on the conceit of a sliding puzzle on which tiles correspond to the rooms of the dungeon, and I imagine that this would have been quite frustrating were I not relying on a walkthrough. Except for the entrance room and a room that serves as a convenient connector (and actually resembles something that might actually exist within the ground supporting a flying island), each of the rooms is supposed to be representative of one of the game’s dungeons.

These rooms test Link’s mastery of his tools, and most of them are cleverly designed, but the room with the flowing lava river was broken in all sorts of ways and had me yelling at my television screen like a crazy person (which is why I eventually ended up resorting to a walkthrough).

Once Link recovers the three pieces of the Triforce from the dungeon, he is transported to the cupped hands of the goddess statue, which form the platform he had initially jumped from during the ritual he enacted with Zelda at the beginning of the game. The Triforce assembles, and Fi tells Link that he needs to focus his heart and pray as sincerely as he is able for Demise to be destroyed.

That’s… kind of harsh, you know?

Like, Link isn’t supposed to pray that Zelda be saved, or that he can save her, or that Ghirahim finds a new hobby, or even that the people of the sky find lasting peace and understanding with the people of the earth, but rather that Demise dies. That is intense.

Link, who has not questioned his orders up to this point and isn’t about to start now, does as he is asked, and the entire island supporting the Goddess Statue drops to the surface, the spiral of the Sky Keep neatly fitting into the spiral of the pit where Demise is imprisoned.

Demise dies offscreen, Zelda wakes up, Groose is a big nerd, and everyone is happy until Ghirahim shows up to kidnap Zelda, who screams and cries and is totally helpless to resist him, because apparently that’s what the plot requires. Yay sexism in video games!

My adventures on the lava river took all my red potions, so I send Link back up to the sky to restock and get his business in order. Surprisingly, no one on Skyloft seems particularly concerned that a part of their island has suddenly fallen. What is wrong with these people? I think it might be possible that they’ve been up in the clouds too long. If Ghirahim hadn’t come along and stirred things up, they probably would have all died from sheer complacency.

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Skyward Sword – Lanayru Gorge

Link and Groose Plant the Tree of Life

When Link touches down at the entrance of the Lanayru Desert mine, the scholar Goron that he’s been crossing paths with over the course of the game tells him that he’s found a tiny passageway in the tunnels that seems to lead to a new area. He says he’d investigate it himself if he weren’t such a big dude, but maybe Link can squeeze his slender bishōnen self through?

The traveling scholar Goron is one of my favorite characters in this game, by the way. I love that guy.

After some fun with bombs, Link emerges into the Lanayru Gorge, where he finds nothing but an enormous skeleton. He therefore goes back into the mines, where he has to run through a timed obstacle course that involves quickly defeating monsters. Because I can never get the motion controls to work properly, I suck at enemies that require precision swordwork, and those types of enemies (mainly Deku Baba, Technoblins, and Beamos) are all over the map. I died many, many times.

The point of this immensely frustrating exercise is to get a mine cart bearing a large timeshift stone from one end of the tunnel to the other so that it ends up in front of the skeleton. When Link activates the stone, he finds the Lanayru dragon alive in front of him. The dragon is sick, however, and it needs to be healed with the fruit from the Tree of Life. Unfortunately, the Tree of Life planted in the desert has died because this is, you know, the desert.

Link therefore returns to the forested Faron Region, where he travels to the distant past via the gate in the Sealed Grounds. He plants the Tree of Life sapling and then returns to the present, where Groose is waiting for him with a ripe fruit from the fully grown tree.

I adore Groose. I didn’t care about him for most of the game, and then I cared about him a lot. That boy is such a cutie pie.

The Lanayru dragon, once healed, teaches Link his part of the Song of the Hero and then offers Link the chance to play some minigames. I have never once been able to do well enough at one of Skyward Sword’s minigames to get a piece of heart as a reward, so I turn him down and use the three to four hours that I would have wasted playing this game to do something productive with my life.

I love the story and characters and visual design of this game, but I really, really despise the controls. I can’t possibly be alone in this. I should probably do some research about how this game was received.

( Header image by u on Pixiv )

Skyward Sword – Kina and Guld, Batreaux and Kukiel

Tea Party with Uncle Bats by Stickynotelover

Cleaning up the Bokoblins from the Eldin Volcano unlocks the final Gratitude Crystal quest.

Kina, the daughter of the owner of the Lumpy Pumpkin tavern, needs someone to help her plow the pumpkin patch. By this point Fi is apparently fed up with the Pumpkin’s Landing sidequests, so before Link can agree to do it himself she pops out of his sword and says he would be better served by finding someone else to do Kina’s dirty work over in the Eldin region.

Link dutifully goes down to the surface and brings back Guld, the leader of the Mogma tribe. Guld has grown tired of searching for treasure in the earth and longs for the sky. Kina butters him up in the same way she used to coax Link into performing manual labor for her, and he takes the bait hook, line, and sinker. I’m not sure how having a mole person digging tunnels in a floating island is a good idea, but Guld seems to be happy, so that’s all right then.

Kina is at first startled that Guld can speak like a person, but she gets over her astonishment quickly in much the same way that Instructor Owlan became accustomed to the Oolo the Kikwi. Although it’s touching how unalarmed Owlan and Kina are by the appearance of non-Hylian sentient races, it’s troubling how they both position the creatures as less than fully human (Owlan, for example, wonders how best to “classify” Oolo). To me, this emphasizes how weird it is that Hylians live alone on Skyloft as the chosen people of the Goddess Hylia.

Or rather, they don’t live quite alone.

With the final five gratitude crystals in hand, Link finally has the requisite number to transform the demon Batreaux into a human. I was half expecting there to be a Beauty and the Beast style sequence in which Batreaux transforms into a gorgeous beefcake and his house is suddenly clean and shiny, but instead he becomes an avuncular middle-aged man who is just as silly-looking as he was as a demon. His house is still gross, and the huge portrait of him still shows a big blue batman. Batreaux is such an adorable nerd, and I love him.

His friendliness makes me wonder what a demon – and only just one demon – is doing hidden on Skyloft anyway. I’m fairly certain that Batreaux is an oblique reference to the Moblin in the original Zelda game who hid underground and gave rupees to Link. The “it’s a secret to everybody” line implied that the Moblin was bribing you not to reveal his location not just to Ganon’s forces, whom he had presumably betrayed or just flat-out didn’t want to join, but also to other Hylians, who would see him as an enemy and attack him.

It’s sad that Batreaux feels a similar need to hide himself away in a dingy hole underneath the Skyloft graveyard, a remote location where no one could accidentally find him. The reason he wants to become human is so that he can spend time with Kukiel, the little girl who likes to hang out with him and have tea parties. The two of them are super-cute together, and there is nothing even remotely creepy or threatening about Batreaux.

Why was Batreaux worried that the Hylians wouldn’t accept him if he revealed himself? The only person in the sky who knows anything about him is the old man who hangs out in the Lumpy Pumpkin, and no one believes him. This makes me think that perhaps something happened in the past…

Once Batreaux becomes human, the monsters that come out at night on Skyloft disappear. The catlike Remlit creatures that laze around the island during the day also stop attacking Link at night. What’s going on there? If demons aren’t inherently evil, why would the presence of a demon inspire such vicious behavior in wild animals? What is it about Batreaux that makes him “inherently evil”? Is it simply the circumstances of his birth as a member of a non-Hylian race? If so, that is extremely troubling.

Wow. I just got really invested in a random minor character. I should probably stop.

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Skyward Sword – Eldin Volcano and Bokoblin Base

Skyward Sword Dragons

The clock on the Quest Log screen tells me that I’ve been playing this file for 68 hours. I like to consider myself an expert on the Zelda series, but I really suck at this game.

Skyward Sword is fairly linear and not particularly difficult, but the controls are impossible.

I started and quit the game once because I couldn’t figure out how to fly the bird for the race that occurs during the opening scenes. I started and quit the game a second time because I couldn’t figure out how to glide during the scene that plays after you win the race. I started and quit the game for the third time because I couldn’t figure out how to control the sword appropriately during the first battle with Ghirahim. That was back in 2012.

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to play this game from start to finish no matter what. No matter how many hours I invest into developing my skill set for this game, I still can’t get the controls to work the way I want them to 100% of the time. I especially hate the harp. Every time the game requires me to play something, I know I’m looking at an hour of uninterrupted trial and error.

I’ve been working on this game since January. I’ll go through periods of enjoying myself, but then it will force me into a situation in which the controls absolutely fail to work properly, at which point I’ll put it down for a few weeks before forcing myself to continue.

I was actually driven to spend an inordinate amount of money on a new Wiimote and Wiimote sensor, and I’ve even re-arranged my living room several times, but I just can’t figure out what this game wants from me. It’s like the worst sort of romantic partner, and I resent it.

Anyway.

The gimmick for Link’s third descent into Eldin Volcano is that he is captured by Bokoblins after he falls from his bird during an unexpected eruption. The grumpy little critters take his sword and all his stuff, so of course he has to go get everything back. This means two things. First, Fi doesn’t bother you during the entirety of this mission. Second, Link gets to go on a fun stealth adventure that is all about map reading and puzzle solving.

I suspect both of these elements are supposed to be stress-inducing, but I enjoyed myself immensely. Although I love Fi as a character, her barrage of unnecessary messages annoys me; and, since I can’t get the sword to work anyway, most of my playthrough has already been a stealth adventure in which I’ve done my best not to put myself into situations where I have to start killing things.

The dragon at the core of the volcano (who is also named Eldin) sings Link his part of the Hero’s Song without any trouble. If you come back and talk to him later, he tells you that the mountain used to connect the people who lived on the ground with the people who lived in the sky. Does this mean that the civilization in the sky was once much more advanced, and that the people on Skyloft are the only remaining descendants of a much larger population?

( header image from Zelda Dungeon )