One thing I haven't really had a chance to get into in my last couple of previews of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is how much more immersive the entire world actually is compared to past Zelda games. In some ways, it's almost like playing a "Bethesda-lite" version of Zelda.
You see, much like in Wind Waker, you're constantly collecting stuff in Skyward Sword -- you may remember the trailers that show you picking up all sorts of random objects. The big difference between this and Wind Waker, however, is that the objects are truly important to the overarching quest, and being able to properly level up requires collecting items to build up stats.
However, don't be scared off into thinking that this means there are long collect-a-thon sections, as was the case in certain portions of Twilight Princess. Quite the opposite, actually. In Skyward Sword, collecting items from fallen foes feels natural, and the payoff for doing so is quite nice.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Release: November 20, 2011 (US) / November 18, 2011 (EU) / November 23, 2011 (JP)
In my last preview, I mentioned something about how catching bugs is an important part of the game's economy. Just as item-gathering is important, catching a wide variety of bugs is also incredibly important, but for an entirely different reason. In fact, as you may have noticed in older trailers (including these ones from way back in the middle of September), your inventory screen has two large, separate boxes -- one for bugs (12 types in total) and one for items (16 in total). While 12 types of bugs may not seem like a huge amount to catch, it's not a matter of catching one or two sparkly bugs of each to fulfill a sidequest where said sparkly bugs fly around your head as a weird, super kawaii princess girl congratulates you for your efforts.
This time around, the bugs are actually needed if you ever want to have potions that grant you additional power. Within the item shop in Skyloft's main bazaar, a little man-witch stirs bug-filled potions that improve upon those you already have, such as a more powerful heart potion that refills more health than the standard version. Considering how challenging even the weakest of the Bokoblins are in a fight, you're going to want to collect bugs.
Fortunately, good ol' Beedle is back in Skyward Sword, flying around Skyloft in a little airship. While I never got to actually meet the newly revised Beedle, I was told that he was up there waiting in case I ever needed a net. If I had more time to play, I would have figured out how to get up to him and bought myself a net post-haste.
Though I was interested in updating my potions (seriously, the base potions are basic), I was actually more interested in the thrill of catching some damned bugs! In the volcanic Eldin Province, I found the most adorable little bugs ever! I guess they were technically a sort of dung-beetle, but instead of dung, these little tiny bugs were rolling little tiny boulders. Seriously! Little tiny bugs rolling little tiny boulders! I was so excited by this random detail that I immediately began chasing after them. They ran away like crazy with their boulders in tow and then committed suicide by dropping into the lava that covers the Eldin Province. Later, I tried to catch them again by running at them and succeeded in squashing them all. I was clearly pretty clumsy without a net.
Speaking of the Eldin Province, I have to admit that I never actually made it into the second dungeon. In fact, I don't think I saw a single journalist face off against the boss waiting for them at the end of that dungeon. In my seven-plus hours of straight gameplay, I focused only on the primary quest and made it as far as almost being granted access into the second dungeon, the Earth Temple, which looked (from the journalist playing next to me who got a little further) like a classic fire temple.
There were several times when I came across special cubic stones called Goddess Cubes. Using my Skyward Strike technique, I whisked them away to another location, where a sidequest that would lead me to a treasure waited. At any point, I could find one of the many bird statues that dotted the landscape and served as quick travel points to take to the skies and seek out where these Goddess Cubes would lead me. However, as I looked at the clock and noticed how much time I had already wasted, I bypassed all of them to see more of the main quest. In the same way, I never had a chance to upgrade my gear. I did get very close to finally collecting the right items and the necessary number of each to get my wooden shield upgraded to the banded shield, which supposedly has more durability than the first version that falls apart after the first Bokoblin attack, if you don't know what you're doing.
The Eldin Province is massive in its own right, and it's also where the real challenge begins. It's incredibly dangerous to traverse with all of the lava and fire-breathing enemies. When you first make your way to the volcanic region, you meet the species of friendly creatures that live here. Instead of the boulder-eating Gorons that you'd expect, though, they are mole people called Mogmas who ask for your help in defeating a band of Bokoblins that has been causing trouble around their peaceful villages as of late. Once you agree to help them, they provide you with digging mitts, which pretty much work as expected.
One of the bigger advantages of the digging mitts is that they help find steam vents that can be used to reach higher ground via your sailcloth. Considering how rocky and treacherous the terrain around the Eldin Province is, this ability comes in handy on more than one occasion. Bokoblins have set up camp throughout the region, and much of your exploration involves knocking over their guard towers to create new paths or finding steam vents and running up steep hills from where they're hurling boulders down on you.
In order to gain entrance to the Earth Temple, you have to collect five shards of the key that will open the way. This part took me more than an hour on its own, and I never actually managed to find the last shard. Nintendo has added some really devious puzzles, and the Eldin Province overworld pretty much acts like a dungeon itself, with exploration rewarded by new areas and possible shard locations.
The enemies in this area are tricky to kill. Aside from the ever-pesky Bokoblins, there are these strange little fiery seal-like creatures called Pyrups that like to hide among rocks or inside wall cracks and spit a constant stream of fire at you. The trick to killing them is to either roll a bomb into the nooks that they peek out from like demonic hermit crabs or to toss one into the holes above them. I had some trouble with this, as every time I tried to get close enough for an easy roll, they began spewing fire, immediately ruining any hope of not blasting a bomb in my own face. Tossing the bombs into the holes above was a much easier task, as I could often find higher ground to simplify matters.
After spending so much time with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I still feel like I've only scratched the surface. I never actually caught a single bug or followed my dowsing beacon to a single Goddess Cube's final location. I barely even explored all of Skyloft or had time for any of its inhabitants' possible side quests (save for helping a kitty that later turned demonic at night, forcing me to throw it off the side of the floating city, the little bastard).
Somehow, I spent a full seven hours of a day exploring dungeons, fighting a wide variety of tricky enemies with a range of different attack strategies and novel combat concepts, skewering pumpkins, smashing innocent little bugs, and collecting all kinds of items that could help me in my quest.
The wait until November 20 is going to be a hard one.