Isn't it typical that just when that certain game you have been waiting that long for is finally released, something comes up so that you're not able to play it the first couple of days? I feel that has been the case with my list of new games this fall (like my PS3 dying just as I got my hands on Uncharted 3), and Skyward Sword was no exception. Rest assured it was nothing dramatic; my dad travelled from my home city in Norway to visit me at my current home in London, UK. Sunday evening, after saying goodbye to my dad, I finally got to spend some time with the game and played until I was at the doors of the Forest Temple.
The biggest impression I got is how HUGE this game seems. After the handful of hours I put in to it so far (I'm not sure exactly how long I ended up playing it, I left the game on as I had dinner so the in-game timer is off.) I still haven't started the first dungeon! First, the introduction from start to becoming the green-clad Link we all know (and love?) was much longer than I remember any of the other The Legend of Zelda games' intros to have been. I didn't find that to be a bad thing, because the pace of the events was good and I felt I got a thorough impression of the world and the customs of the characters. Even after Link got his uniform and up to the point of finding the first dungeon, namely the Forest Temple, it didn't feel like the developers had put a lot of stuff in there as a poor excuse just to make it longer. I was never bored or felt like something was out of place. I remember reading that the game is 70 hours long, which I felt sounded a bit exaggerated when compared to the other games in the series. After this long introduction, I'm thinking that estimate might be right after all and as long as the intro speaks for the rest of the game, I really don't mind it being that long.
Speaking of huge, I don't just mean the length of the main story or the size of the world. There was so many things that kept distracting me from the main quest! I found myself hunting for bugs and flying to different islands in the sky to explore and helping characters with tasks. This really pleased me, as the feeling of being in an open world has been lacking in some of the later installments in the series. After finishing the main story in Twilight Princess, for example, I felt that there was nothing left to do in the world. That really disappointed me, as I spent hours doing side quests and collecting things in Ocarina of Time and to a little less extent in Wind Waker (oh, that photography side-quest...). I'm very glad to see the emphasis on side quests being back.
I'm one of those 'look at everything and talk to everyone' kind of players, and I really enjoyed how lively the characters are. They all have their own unique design and mannerisms that brings them to life. I know that this is how it always is with Zelda games, and I'm glad they have kept up the high level of memorable characters as in the previous instalments. I had fun getting to know new faces as well as meeting some familiar ones (Beedle is a personal favourite of mine, and meeting the first Goron filled me with nostalgia from the OoT days).
I addition, I really liked how Link is actually a trained knight in this game. In most of the games he has been a young boy that sort of stumbles into a destiny and have to bring down forces of darkness with weapons he somehow instantly know how to use. I know the Zelda games are not high on realism and are fantasy adventure games, but I still like how this new Link seem more prepared for the challenges ahead.
Even if I am very positive to the game so far, I am a bit sceptic to some of the new elements introduced in Skyward Sword. The durability on the shield has left me slightly frustrated already. I just don't see a reason why such a mechanic was introduced. It seems like a hassle to always make sure you have a magic shield-repair potion with you when I'd rather use that inventory space on a health potion. I wonder what would happen if the shield broke in the middle of a dungeon. Do I have to interrupt my progress to fly back to a store that can fix it? Most likely. And then what? Do I have to start the dungeon from the start and walk all the way back to the point where I left? Or can I 'warp' back to the last checkpoint in a way? Both options are equally dumb, as they are just an annoying interruption and waste of time. The whole thing seems like nothing more than an annoyance and not like it's there to balance any kind of gameplay mechanics.
The stamina bar, like the durability system, seems like an equal frustration. I don't see why adding limiters to how long you can run or hang from an edge will balance or help the gameplay in any way. Is it possible to upgrade it eventually? I haven't gotten the chance to play around with it much, but I hope it won't turn out to be a hindrance.
My point is that these two new mechanics don't seem to have a good reasons for being implemented. The Zelda games are known for being challenging on account of tricky puzzles and strategic boss battles. I hope these new mechanics don't turn out to be cheap excuses to make the game more 'challenging'. However, I don't see any other reason why they are implemented.
Upgrading items seems a bit neat, but I can't really speak for it yet as the only items I can upgrade are the first shield and my newly acquired slingshot. As you could upgrade some parts of your equipment in previous games (like the Bomb bag) it seems logical that the developers would want to make it into a proper system. It also encourages you to kill monsters in case they drop needed materials. It makes battles a bit more rewarding as you don't get any exp or similar from them anyway. I just hope that the upgrade system is kept a bit casual so that you can, but don't have to upgrade everything possible to make it through the main quest.
Finally, I want to mention the motion controls. I have to admit that even if I bought the Wii shortly after it's release, I haven't used it much and this is the first game I have played using the Motion Plus controller. I think Skyward Sword is a great example of how natural it can feel to use the motion controls when designed right. Other Wii games have felt awkward to play because of bad controller design, but with SS I felt like I could continue playing for a whole day without problems. I wish all game designers would take the time and effort to make motion controls this good!
In the end, my first hours of Skyward Sword left me wanting more and I can't wait to spend more time with it and explore what this world (Hyrule?) has to offer.