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An unapolegetic rant - Suckward Sword Part 3: Design
(Moldarach in Faron woods!???)
It is true that SS was created from the beginning to be combat focused, as well heavily story driven. They never had any intention for exploration to be a factor, they purposely designed the game so you couldn’t ever get lost. They made areas compact, they gave us beacons, and the dowsing feature. I was oblivious to that fact about the game, as I was very picky about what I watched so I wouldn’t spoil the game for myself. Gameplaywise, I only watched a video of the beginning of the game, and I watched footage of the first Ghirahim battle in Skyview Temple.
I understand that bashing a game for not being something it was never intended to be is unfair, but I have my own opinions on where I think the Zelda series should go for future games, the way SS turned out wasn’t the direction I think Zelda should have gone.
My biggest issue with the game was the world. It bothered me that the regions of the surface weren’t connected via the surface itself. I can sort of see how they implemented the idea of merging the world and aspects of dungeons, they added environmental puzzles into sections of the regions. It felt unnatural most of the time, and it was an exhausting lead up to dungeons.
The biggest blow was that the Sky, which was the linking area between the surface regions, ended up too barren. There are about 46 floating objects in the sky counting Skyloft. There are 7 named Islands, Skyloft, The Isles of Songs, Pumpkin Landing, Fun Fun Island, Bug Rock, Bamboo Island, and Beedle’s Island. There are another 11 unnamed Islands that can be landed on, but none are interesting, they just serve as houses for the Goddess Chests. There were no NPCs on those unnamed Islands, no enemies, there was no point to explore the sky at all. Especially because 28 floating objects can’t even be landed on. 12 of them are those speed boost rocks, but that doesn’t make up for anything.
On my first playthrough the only reason I explored every section of the sky was because everything about the game was new. When I did Hero Mode I only traveled out when it was necessary, or to get something from a Goddess Chest I knew I needed. Otherwise it was pointless to travel such an empty void.
(Hopefully you like clouds, it’s all you’ll be looking at for awhile.)
The Faron Region in SS had more open space than versions of it in previous games, it didn’t feel like a proper forest to me though. The Deep Woods threw that open space concept down the drain, it was literally a hallway leading to Skyview Temple. Lake Floria was a let down, it wasn’t a large body of water like Lake Hylia, it was just natural underwater tunnels you explore. All I give it is points for doing something different, didn’t really work for me though.
Eldin region was what I expected. It was more elaborate than previous versions of it, but still the same overall, narrow passages leading up to Eldin Volcano, even the Mogma lair wasn’t anything new, it’s kind of like Goron City. I’d say Eldin is the only area that felt justifiably narrow in SS, just because it had always been that way in previous interpretations.
The Lanayru Region had the largest explorable area of space than any other region on the surface. It was actually my favorite region of the game, I enjoyed it alot but it was just too little to make me feel good overall about the way the surface was. The Lanayru Mines were linear, but it made sense, it’s a mine, you are exploring tunnels. It felt nice to come out of that into an expanse of desert. I also enjoyed it because Timeshift Crystals, Stones, and Orbs were an interesting addition to the game.
Here’s another big issue I had with exploration in SS, dowsing. In other Zelda games you explore areas freely, going where you want, only being restricted by certain deterrents, but what is freely accessible can be explored as you please. To stay on track you just look at the map and figure out where you need to go. But in terms of finding collectibles, like larger valued Rupees, Heart Pieces, etc… you had to just stick to exploration until you luck out and find one. In SS, dowsing completely undermines this. Dowsing is a cop out method to find any of these things with no effort at all. It’s optional, yes, you don’t have to use it, but it’s there, other games before didn’t have that. The closest thing to it I can think of is talking to the fortune teller in TP to find Heart Pieces. Even with that it’s just a picture of a place you see, it’s up to you to find that place if you haven’t already been there. Being told where to go, and exactly where to find things, isn’t as fun as figuring it out for yourself.
I’ll never be able to forget that disappointment I felt when I found out the game was even more linear than past games, and of course when exploration is bland there is no real incentive to explore, making the game unfun. Exploration has always been a big factor of Zelda games, SS failing to deliver on this aspect worked largely towards the game’s negative receptions among many fans I think. As for me, I got way more enjoyment out of Skyrim at the time, Skyward Sword dropping the ball on providing captivating exploration really put me off, it isn’t the only reason I dislike the game, but it’s by far the main reason.
It has been pointed out to me, though, that considering how the whole game was approached, a connected overworld on the surface probably wouldn’t have been some open and interesting area that I’d have wanted. (Read log from bottom to top.)
Let’s say they did have an area like Hyrule Field, it probably would have been jammed with puzzles like the regions of the surface in the game, and wouldn’t have been fun to explore.
So with no overworld on the surface, a mainly empty attempt at an overworld, in the Sky, all Skyward Sword has left is the dungeons as a core main quest element, besides story but that is unrelated to game design. Some dungeons were pretty decent, but not all of them. I feel like if the regions leading up to the dungeons weren’t so laborious the dungeons would have been appreciated more, I really do think they are a strong point of the game.
I honestly feel SS’s dungeons were so lackluster because one already had their fill of puzzles leading up to the dungeons. It wasn’t merely an occasional thing, this was the case with the lead up to every dungeon. If it wasn’t puzzles, it was just an annoying segment that was forced onto us. So it would end up one would be burnt out by time they get to the dungeons.
It was like there was always some puzzle added throughout the regions. Some areas were literally sort of like mini dungeons themselves. Solve your way through this tight corridor, and solve this riddle to open the dungeon.
Navigate up the mountain, figure out how you are going to get past certain obstacles because the approach is a puzzle in of itself. Get to the top just to go back down, navigating the terrain in search of the fragmented key just to unlock the dungeon.
In the desert, keeping in mind how Timeshift Stones and Orbs could be useful was a puzzle. Lanayru Mine I’d say runs like a mini dungeon. The desert was probably the most puzzle heavy area of the game, leading up to the eventual entrance of its dungeon. Getting the dungeon accessible required solving a puzzle as well. Figure out the order these symbols go on this giant power generator that will cause Lanayru Mining Facility to rise up from the sand. I’ll also point out that there were actually 2 mini dungeons prior to this which have to be entered in the effort to activate that power generator.
Explore a previous dungeon just to access a new dungeon.
Ride around on a boat to different islands, solve puzzles, enter a mini dungeon, then finally get to the dungeon of the area.
Collect water to get past flames blocking your way. But at the end you need a lot more water than just a bottle’s worth. Go get the water dragon’s large water basin, but you’ll have to navigate through the Eldin Region back up to the volcano summit along with Scrapper. The area suddenly has a bunch of monsters and you can’t even let them get near him or he’ll overload and you’ll start over at the last automatic save point you reached.
Collect portions of an old song. Complete another puzzle laden area (Lanayru Gorge) and plant a tree sapling in the past to get its fruit in the present. Lose all your items, even your sword, and sneak around Eldin Volcano without them - once again the area is just suddenly full of monsters. Last but not least, swim around Faron Woods because it is full of water now, and collect those tadtones.
I saw a video where a gamer timed how long those lead ups to dungeons take. If it just took like 30 minutes that wouldn't be such a big deal. In most cases it takes nearly an hour, about an hour, the lead up to some, like Lanayru Mining Facility and the Sandship I'm sure take up almost 2 hours.
It really reminds you on how pure, carefree exploration, is needed. I mean I love puzzles, I don’t mind them, but with a Zelda game I expect for there to be puzzle laden dungeons, and then an overworld where you can kind of decompress from that and explore around. Puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with seemingly no end in sight just wasn’t appealing to me within a Zelda game.
Despite dungeon quality stand alone, the lead up to every dungeon wasn’t done well enough to make me look forward to a dungeon. So although from here I might go on to say some dungeons in SS were good, that’s a separate analysis. With this established, let’s move on to the dungeons themselves.
Skyview Temple was ok aesthetically. It was the first dungeon of the game, so I expected it to be easy. It pushed emphasis of use of the sword, and even obtaining the beetle didn’t change that. Ghirahim was the dungeon’s boss and he could only be beaten using the sword. It was an ok dungeon.
The Earth Temple had a cool design, but the dungeon wasn’t much harder than Skyview Temple. I didn’t care for it. I didn’t like all the parts with trying to balance on those balls that break off those statues with the bombs on them, they were too tedious and I hated when flaming Keese would fly up. You couldn’t really roll toward them because they’d just fly back, you had to wait until they fly close enough to you to attack, usually when they are attacking. I once made the mistake of target locking them and moving forward, thinking the ball would roll forward too according to my movement. I ended up walking forward and jumping off the ball into the lava. Typically Fire Temples I really enjoy in the series, but the Earth Temple was a let down.
Lanayru Mining Facility was one of the dungeons which felt more cramped to me on account of all the narrow walkways. When people refer to the game feeling hallway-ish, one of the dungeons that comes to my mind that fits that label is LMF. It was one of the longest dungeons in the game, typically the 3rd dungeon of a Zelda game is pretty challenging and long, LMF didn’t feel challenging to me though, it was just tedious. The Gust Bellow was one of the items I hated throughout the entire game. I didn’t enjoy having to blow sand around in the game, and LMF turned into a lot of that after getting the Gust Bellow. I think this dungeon is overrated, I don’t see why people usually say it was one of the best dungeons in the game. The only thing I liked about it was the way timeshift stones were implemented.
The 4th dungeon visited, Skyview Temple… again? The Water Dragon was injured by Ghirahim so Link must obtain sacred water to refill the Water Dragon’s water basin. This requires Link to revisit Skyview Temple. I feel like it was a wasted opportunity. This easily could have been a hunt out in the Faron Woods region, a completely new area could have been designed just for that. At the very least a unique mini-dungeon could have been made but that wasn’t even done. Aside from a few differences, like doors in the temple being locked again, the dungeon is exactly the same, there isn’t even a greater monster presence. I feel like the game could have done without that backtrack. I maybe wouldn’t have cared so much if there was actually a new item hid in the dungeon that Link finds, instead the whole point of going back is just to get some water.
Following this, the Ancient Cistern is entered. I loved the concept of this dungeon. The bottom levels of the dungeon are dark and creepy. The water is poisoned, there are piles of skeletons, Zombie Bokoblins appear for the first time in the game in this area of the dungeon. The middle level is just normal, with grass, water, and regular enemies. The uppermost level contains Koloktos, the dungeon boss. The concept is the bottom level is representative of Hell, or the underworld. The middle level is earth, or the realm of the living. The uppermost level is the Heavens and Koloktos seems to be designed after the buddhist god Asura. Link ascends up a spider thread from the lower level up to the middle level which some believe is similar to the short story The Spider’s Thread. I’d say in terms of dungeon design it was the most interesting to me. Playing through it was actually a lot of fun just because of that. As far as the gameplay, I don’t think it lives up to the complexity that water themed dungeons in Zelda are known for. The Whip was also one of those items in the game I didn’t care for because I didn’t feel like it was used in interesting enough ways. They had to make switches and levels that were out of reach just to give the Whip a reason to be used. Aside from that, using it to swing between ledges, and flipping lily pads over. This is all the whip was used for. It was necessary to defeat Koloktos as well. After that it became a waste of inventory space. The only thing that can be done with it afterward is snatching monster horns from bokoblins with it, and then later it comes into play again in dungeons but in exactly the same ways it was used in the Ancient Cistern. Don’t get me wrong, the Ancient Cistern was a really good dungeon overall, I’d say it is one of the best in the game, and with its concept it’s up there alongside dungeons like OoT’s Shadow Temple.
Then comes the Sandship. We go from an awesome concept dungeon, which was very open, to a dungeon on a ship’s decks and through its bowels, which are pretty cramped. Despite that, I liked it alot more than Lanayru Mining Facility, LMF being slightly more roomy in areas. What causes the Sandship to win out for me, disregarded it’s tight corridors, is the interaction with the Timeshift Stone, I found it interesting especially with the way the Bow and Arrow came into play to strike the stone.
The Fire Sanctuary was actually really appealing to me, I felt like it was one of the more complex dungeons in the game. I liked the use of water with the lava, changing the flow of the lava. When the Digging mitts were implemented earlier in the game I didn’t think we’d get any sort of improvement of them. The Mogma Mitts came as a pleasant surprise, allowing Link to actually burrow down into the underground tunnels was something different that I liked on my first playthrough of the game.
My absolute favorite dungeon of the entire game ended up being Skykeep. Each room is designed to mimic previous areas from the game, so it’s as if the final challenge of gathering the Triforce pieces is requiring Link to use nearly every item he has to complete this final dungeon. And as an added depth to the puzzle solving, the rooms are scattered and must be moved around via control panels to gain access to certain rooms. It was a really cool idea for a dungeon.
So yeah, shocker, objectively some of the dungeons aren’t bad and I’ll admit it. Some of them I do like. It’s too bad every dungeon has a long lead up of pretty much the same stuff you’ll be doing in the dungeon. That, for me, ruined the experience.
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