The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hands-on preview exploring Skyloft

Hyrule has almost always been Link’s home traditionally, but no longer – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword takes to the clouds and begins our hero’s tale in Skyloft, a floating utopia cut off from the world below. We recently had a chance to explore this new world for ourselves, and we’re happy to report that it still very much feels like a Zelda game despite some very major changes to the formula.

Above: A glimpse at Zelda and Link’s relationship before she’s kidnapped by a tornado monster

Besides Skyloft, Skyward Sword differs most dramatically from the Zelda norm by giving Zelda a much larger role in the opening act. The game opens as usual with Link waking up in his home, but this time he’s awakened by Zelda’s Loftwing (one of the giant birds we’ve seen from a previous demo), delivering a note chastising him for oversleeping on the day of the Wing Ceremony.

As the set-up to the ceremony plays out, we get to see a lot more characterization of Zelda than we normally do. The story establishes early on that Link and Zelda are childhood friends who have grown up their whole lives together. Zelda’s demeanor feels like it points to this being early on the series’ timeline too, since the young girl seems to lack the full wisdom of her namesake. Link himself shows way more personality too – he kind of almost talks, even! Every so often, the player is prompted with a few dialogue options during story points to direct Link’s interaction with other characters. In a sense it feels like a radical step for the series, but it totally works.

Before the ceremony begins though, we set out to explore the town of Skyloft. The basic controls tutorial is camouflaged within your first mission, where Link must track down the headmaster’s lost pet, Mia, and return her for feeding time. We learn how to autojump (truly a series staple), and how to dash by holding A, which depletes Link’s stamina meter (it recharges when you’re not using it, although there’s also fruit scattered about that will replenish it too).

Skyloft’s layout is similar to a typical Hylian town but perhaps a bit larger, with various houses you can pillage, a bazaar that sells all your questing supplies like potions and arrows, plus a schoolhouse, a knights’ training facility, and several other landmarks like the giant statue of the Goddess that serves as the focal point for the Wing Ceremony.

Above: This guy is a piece of work

As we explore a bit, we soon find out that Link’s Loftwing has been kidnapped by some hooligans who are jealous of his relationship with Zelda, and have trapped the majestic bird near a waterfall. With sword acquired, we head through a small cave to rescue our friend, dispatching a few bats and ChuChu type enemies along the way.

Above: The Wii MotionPlus controls for combat worked great during our demo, and the fatal blow (bringing both Nunchuk and Remote down together) was particularly satisfying

With Link’s Loftwing rescued the Wing Ceremony begins, which should be familiar to anyone following the previous Skyward Sword demo coverage. Soon after Link’s victory at the ceremony, Zelda is snatched out of the sky by a giant tornado and sucked down below the cloud barrier, which separates Skyloft from the fabled surface below.

Nothing triggers one’s inner hero like the kidnapping of a princess, so when a mysterious being named Fi appears to guide Link to an inner chamber within the Goddess statue, we knew it was nearly time for his adventure to begin in earnest. In the center of the chamber the Goddess Sword stood, and pointing the Wii Remote downward and then pulling it up and pointing it skyward, we unsheathed it from its stony resting place. The only thing left to do was stock up on supplies before jumping off the edge of Skyloft to go in search of Zelda.

Throughout our playtime, one thing that really stuck out to us is how many cheeky references of varying subtlety Skyward Sword makes about the Zelda series. For example, it just so happens to be the 25th anniversary of the knight academy that Link attends, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the series itself. And when Link finally dons his famous tunic to set off on his quest properly, his mentor makes a remark along the lines of “Green? I’m not so sure about that color…” which feels more explicitly self-referential than the series usually gets. All Zelda games are full of fan service, but this especially feels like a love letter to longtime fans of the series. We can’t wait to venture beyond the clouds, so stay tuned for more details as soon as we have them.

Sep 29, 2011

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