The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword -- In The Beginning There Was Skyloft
Nintendo recently let me play a nearly-finished version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and over the next few weeks, I'll be able to share more about my experiences with my hands-on time with it. I want to walk you through what I discovered from my first moments with the game. Skyward Sword begins with a dream. Zelda, a young blond girl, is falling through the sky towards a black whale-like monster with multiple rows of teeth. Link awakens from the dream when Zelda's Loftbird drops off a letter informing him she's waiting for him before their Birdrider Ceremony begins.
Skyward Sword opens in Skyloft, a floating city consisting of bird-worshipping people who depend on Loftbirds for transportation. Their homage to birds is made even more clear by the bird statues littered through the level. Link is encouraged to "pray" to these statues in order to save the game. Loftbirds and their human masters are parts of a whole; they have an emotional connection where Link needs only whistle and his bird will be there. Think Avatar.
Skyloft will act as your home base throughout the game. It has a training academy, a bazaar, graveyard and many of the other places you've come to expect from a Zelda town. In the beginning of Skywards Sword as Link sets off into the town, his headmaster requests your assistance in finding Zelda's pet, Ming. This is an opportunity for gamers to become familiar with how Link jumps, climbs and runs.
Skyword Sword will be not be a game where gamers will be able to spam A to roll. I assume this is the way most people play Zelda, it's certainly how I do. For the first time in the series, Link will have a stamina gauge. Running, jumping, swinging a sword: these all take up energy. If the gauge runs out, Link will slump over and drag himself along until the gauge is replenished.
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The gauge isn't all bad though. Holding down A lets you sprint. Link has never been much of a jogger; not without a bunnyhood anyway. Running quickly not only saves you time but it allows you to channel Ezio and parkour your way up to higher ledges. With a running start, Link can jump further distances too. You'll use these skills to get to the top of the building where Ming, a mix between a raccoon and a kitten, is hiding.
After you find Ming, you can finally meet Zelda. It becomes clear through your interactions with other villagers that Link and Zelda have been best friends throughout their lives. Zelda is waiting for you by the statue of the goddess, a likeness she is trying to emulate with her pink dress and wrap. The wrap was handmade by Zelda and is intended for the winner of the Birdrider Ceremony.
Zelda and Link share some awkward dialogue consisting of Zelda wanting Link to tell her she was pretty but Link was just so clueless, typical! Okay, that's just my interpretation of the scene, I'm a perpetual 15 year old girl, I get it. The moment is ruined by Zelda's father Gaepora, sound familiar? Winged eyebrows, a long brown robe, Nintendo didn't even try hide the similarities to Rauru. After some encouraging words, Zelda urges Link to practice before the race.
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To call a Loftbird, one jumps off solid land and dives into the air and a simple whistle will summon your bird to immediately carry you. As Zelda begins to push Link off the ledge, he warns her that he can't detect his bird's presence. The warning comes too late as Link's bird is nowhere in sight as he spirals towards the clouds.
This where the "school drama" comes in. Shigeru Miyamoto warned us the game would have a plot twist in the beginning and I admit I immediately wrote it off as a Zelda meets Degrassi. It's actually much more simple. The town bully pines for Zelda and as her affections are clearly with Link, trouble ensues. Suddenly, Link's Loftrider is kidnapped (birdnapped?), by a group of his classmates. The boys were last seen by the waterfall, a place not for the weak of heart, or hearts. (You start out with six rather than the normal three.)
Before Link can embark on his side-quest to the waterfall, he'll need to find a sword. Hint: Go to the training academy and take one. The sword master will teach you how to use your blade but his text instructions may not be enough. This is not a game where you can flail to win. Swift and subtle wrist movements are needed to attack enemies.
Once properly equipped, Link can head to the waterfall, which is a small area of Skyloft. It has the only monsters in the level that appear during the day. There's nothing in this area Link can't handle. These early enemies don't have armor or weapons. Flying enemies can be killed with an up/down movement with the wiimote and ground enemies are best taken out with sword spin. After dispatching a few keese and blobby things, Link will find his way to his Loftbird, a big red duck-raptor. I think duck-raptor is the best way to describe them. They're not quite as cool as that but my mind needs something big to fill Epona's horseshoes.
Reunited with his Loftbird, Link is ready for the ceremony and as a gamer, I was ready to fly. The Birdrider Ceremony is a special race whose winner progresses one step closer to knighthood. The competition is essentially Quidditch with a small bird statue as the golden snitch. Catch the snitch, win the competition. This isn't a spoiler, it's just plot progression, Link will win.
Flying isn't second nature the way riding a horse would have been. One up and down movement will cause the Loftbird to flap its wings sending it higher into the air. By tilting the controller left and right, the rider can steer the bird. This particular sequence wants you to win so your inaccurate movements may be forgiven in the name of getting to the next cutscene.
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Needless to say, I got to the next cutscene. Link meets Zelda on top of the goddess statue. She echoes how proud she is of you, how she hoped it would be you up there with her. Again, I'm a girl whose last three boyfriends were BioWare characters, I knew where I wanted this scene to go. Zelda began to detail the wrap she wore around her shoulders, than she slowly took it off. Zelda is such a tease. She then got close to Link and asked if he knew what the next part of the ceremony was.
I'm not saying I'm into these types of things but I was silently chanting "kiss, kiss." Zelda leaned in, and pushed Link off the statue. Part two of the ceremony is to use the wrap as a sailcloth and drift gracefully to the center of the courtyard below. The sailcloth is accessed by using B while falling a great distance. This item stays equipped as you'll be falling a lot in this game.
To finish up the moment Zelda makes one more request, to fly together. Romantic, right? Wrong. Just as Zelda tells Link there's something she wants to tell him, a black tornado appears. The violent storm takes Zelda, and sends Link spiraling off his bird. The moment becomes the dream from the beginning of the game and Link is jolted back to reality. He awakens in his bed with Gaepora towering over him. Zelda is still missing.
Confused, Link staggers out of his bed to find a pale, thin, oddly-shaped woman in his path. Never one to avoid chasing the odd, the weird woman leads Link and I to the goddess statue where an opening has appeared. In the center of the chamber stands a pedestal and in it, a sword. I've played enough Zelda games to know that I needed to pick up that sword. Before I had the chance, I got a good look at the woman. She was Cortana-blue, purple, and angular. She floated in the air and had a vacant expression. Her name was Fi, which I assume is short for fishnets since she was wearing them. I don't want to comment on Skyward Sword's fashion choices but Fi just didn't look like she belonged in the series.
Then she spoke. Her voice sounded similar to GLaDOS and she used words like "calculations" and "logical." It's possible she is not meant to be of the same world as Link. She seemed like a character of TRON moreso than Zelda.
I got over her hosiery in time to listen to her origin story. She was created for the sole purpose of guiding the wielder of the Skyword Sword on his journey to stop the apocalypse. Gaepora entered the chamber, in shock at what he had witnessed. He explains the past events and this chamber all confirm that the legends that have been passed down through the generations are coming true. Link has to save the land from an impending evil.
Fi explains that a world exists below the clouds. This is where Zelda is now and Link must soon follow. Using a piece of stone, Link is able to open a green beam of light which appears in the clouds. This will act as his portal to the land down below, which I assume is Hyrule, but at this point, hasn't been confirmed in the game.
Link knows what he must to do, but before he descends on the evil-ridden land below he must better equip himself. Gaepora supplies Link's green garb and his headmaster gives him a shield. Townspeople will encourage you to get a potion while you're at it. Time for a trip to the Bazaar.
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All of the stores in the town are in the same place. There's your standard store which sells you goods: shield, bombs and deku seeds. At this point I could only buy a shield, which I already had. Across the way was the potions saleslady. She took pity on me and gave me a bottle and a potion. Another clerk offered item storage and the final one was weapon crafting. Sadly, I didn't have the items needed to upgrade my shield.
There were still plenty of side-quests to do, but it was time to embark on the journey laid before me. There was a beam of green light with my name on it...and for the rest, you'll have to stay tuned to my next preview coming soon!