Rewards and Character Building in Skyward Sword

HanyouJanuary 20th, 2012 by Hanyou

Goddess CubeThe Zelda franchise is famously premised on exploration. The original Legend of Zelda offered a world one could literally get lost in. Different mechanics — ranging from action to puzzle-solving — affected the way the player explored the world, but there could be little question that the whole purpose of the game was to discover.

Zelda games have always struck an interesting balance. Like Nintendo’s other major adventure franchise, Metroid, Zelda games offer the player items which both advance the story and supplement combat; they also offer power ups that allow the gamer to customize Link. This happened at a very rudimentary level in the original Legend of Zelda — rupees allowed Link to collect optional items which made dungeon crawling easier, while some items acquired from the dungeons were, at least on the surface, absolutely necessary to enter the final dungeon and fight Ganon. Items like the Triforce pieces served no purpose from a gameplay perspective, but broke other barriers to progression. This basic formula, balancing essential and useful items, nonessential items that helped make the game more customizable and in some ways easier, and essential items that served no gameplay purpose, has not been absent from any Zelda title. If Zelda games are about exploration, it’s items and collectibles that both facilitate and reward exploration. It’s the thrill of making Link stronger and opening up new areas of the world that makes Zelda games, at their core, so addictive.

Make no mistake; at base, Zelda games are, and always have been, glorified scavenger hunts.

What Skyward Sword presents is arguably the most rewarding, most extensive, most well-designed scavenger hunt yet. More than any Zelda game before it, exploration is incentivized with a constant stream of rewards for any gamer who’s alert to his or her surroundings. Every location offers bugs, rupees, Goddess Cubes, and various other items to collect. Perhaps most importantly, these items can be used for several purposes, multiplying the possibilities for customization and the relative value of every collectible.

Bug NetFor an early example, consider the Deep Woods, a small section encountered before the first dungeon in the game. The first time the player treks through it, they might be driving forward into the dungeon to advance the main quest, but if they look around, they’ll notice things. Bugs, birds, and flowers dot the landscape. Enemies offer rupees and monster horns. There may even be a Goddess Cube or two lying around for players to find later on. Rarely will anyone wring much gameplay out of any given part of the overworld on the first trip through — and even if they do manage to collect several items, they might not have anything to do with them until later in the game.

Allowing the gamer to harvest such a multitude of items has benefits that reach well beyond the scope of the gameplay itself. It also enriches the world. The fact that certain bugs, flowers, and rocks can only be found in certain locations gives those locations a unique character. Giving the gamer the opportunity to learn where items are — either through experience or through dialog with other characters — makes thorough exploration advisable. This plays off of the main quest well, as the main quest also encourages the gamer to retread old ground.

This is a logical evolution of the Gold Skulltulas, Poes, Joy Pendants, and Secret Seashells. The difference is that the items in Skyward Sword are in limitless supply, and they’re numerous enough that specific types can be found only in certain areas. The concept of the non-essential collectible has been expanded to maximize freedom and customization on the part of the player, and it makes for a more rewarding experience. It also makes exploration more important.

Once Link has attained the items he needs, the Bazaar gives him countless options for how to use them. The eventual eight adventure pouches — acquired only after the player has collected a significant number of rupees — encourage both experimentation and collection. Different in-game situations may call for an abundance of different items; a particularly hard boss might require less skilled gamers to invest time, and space, in upgraded Heart Potions, while rooms packed with enemies might call for four or five maxed out quivers. These are some of the best and most useful non-essential rewards a Zelda game has yet offered. While bottles, heart pieces, and larger bomb bags are hardly new to the series, allowing the player to micromanage their inventory to this extent certainly is. It’s integral to the process of item collection, too; without worthwhile rewards, few items reach their maximum potential easily, so there is always a reason for the player to endure the optional collecting quests. While most scavenger hunts in recent Zelda games have been one-time affairs, requiring skillful navigation of a mini-dungeon or a prolonged fetch quest, these quests rely strictly on player input.

It’s not just rocks, flowers, and bugs that add to the breadth of character building and exploration in Skyward Sword; conventional quests involving non-player characters also offer more rewards. Like the sidequests in Majora’s Mask, many of the sidequests in Skyward Sword have multiple stages. These individual phases might allow players to further explore the surface or the sky, facilitating non-essential item and rupee collection, but ultimately, the goal is to get Gratitude Crystals. There’s almost always a short-term reward as well, whether it’s rupees, heart pieces, or simply more character development for the NPCs. Often, completing sidequests can lead to more sidequests.

Upgrading Potions

While this isn’t necessarily exclusive to Skyward Sword, the way each of these elements interface with each other does make for a brand new experience in a number of respects. Zelda games have become increasingly linear with nearly every iteration. Skyward Sword not only offers a purely linear quest with dungeons and tasks that must be undertaken in a specific, preprogrammed sequence, but it rarely allows players to open up new areas of the world until it prepares them for it. The developers at Nintendo have decided to broaden each individual area and infuse it with more character through the use of collectibles, perhaps as a replacement for the previous freedom Zelda games offered. This is not just a subtle difference in design, but the kind of radical shift in gameplay we rarely see between entries in the Zelda franchise. It’s an incorporation of a mechanic that has served other genre’s games well, and adds potentially limitless replay value to this one.

Opinions may differ on how well it’s implemented or on how solid the customization options actually are. Ultimately, what matters is that they have expanded and built on the solid principle which made the franchise popular in the first place. Exploration — through sidequests, through the main quest, and through simple time-wasting — has become more rewarding, and as a consequence the gameplay possibilities for the franchise at large have expanded. Perhaps this added freedom and customization will prove as malleable and engaging for the developers as it is designed to be for the gamers.

Author: Hanyou

Hanyou has worked for the article staff, both as a writer and as an editor, for over a year. He has also been an active member of the Zelda Dungeon forums since 2008 and an avid fan of the Zelda franchise since 1998. He has degrees in writing.

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  • http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005S0W0MS/?tag=signalpublis-20 Thareous

    The upgrade system is a worthy addition to the Legend of Zelda and worked out quite beautifully, IMO, in how Skyward Sword was set up. We had three different provinces, a varying bug species from each, and multiple upgrades that gave our items/storage units more capabilities or capacity. I hope the system returns in later games, because it gives even more incentive to explore the land for sweet rewards.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you, bug collecting and treasure hunting was so much fun; it was such a revolutionary method of exploration far different from the traditional overworld.

      • Tom Clark

        YES! Finally, at the bottom of the page, somebody gets it right. This game was amazing.

  • Guest

    Pretty limited if you ask me. I want to change clothing upgrade swords, and have wayyyy more options.

    • Tom Clark

      You do change clothing, once. You also upgrade your sword, four times, and at the end, it becomes the Blade of Evil’s Bane.

  • Hero of Winds 2

    I was excited about the bug catching, and it occupied most of my time, but I loved it!

  • Anonymous

    I would love it if you could be like a evil link! Kinda like Fable where you choose what you do, except LoZ style!

    • thelinkmaster001

      you mean like dark link in super smash bros. brawl?

      • Anonymous

        Not quite… more like… a… evil person in fable? or maybe assassins creed link… that would be cool.

        • Tom Clark

          Yeah! Or he could have a katana and samurai greaves! Or Nintendo could save that crap till they run out of ideas that are actually good!

  • triforce of courage

    The only problem with the bonus material in Skyward Sword is that all of the upgrades are located in the center of the main town. There isn’t any exploration to find an upgrade like in previous Zelda games. Whereas in past games you’d have to find some secret and go exploring to find upgrades to your weapons, this one puts them all in one place and the only things keeping you from getting them all at once are rupee limitations and the inability to find certain treasure (depending on where you are in the game.) The upgrade system could have worked if every upgrade required a different super rare item of which there was only one in the overworld and you’d have to do some hidden sidequest to find it.

    • 3DS Guy

      Or have the upgrade location move around from time to time, not like “Okay it’s on Beedle’s Island and now it’s on Fun Fun? COME ON!” but have it be a random find on Skyloft almost like Beedle’s Airshop.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed the upgrade system, and I agree, it made “treasure hunting” and exploration more rewarding!  I really liked being able to upgrade my shield and the beetle and other items.  It gave me more of an incentive to look for certain treasures, items, and bugs. 

    In the future, it would also be cool if we can upgrade our attire in a similar fashion.  Like, instead of just be given, for instance, the Zora tunic or the dragon scale to swim, we have to actually look for a bunch of different items to create an underwater tunic.  Same with one that can withstand the heat in fire-themed temples.  I liked the whole weapon and potion upgrades, so I would like to see an expansion on that idea when it comes to “upgrading” Link’s attire by finding different items and components to create a special attire ourselves.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry to be off topic, but, where did you get that picture?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t quite remember.  It was a while back.  I found it on this site that had a bunch of mini Zelda avatars. 

  • Tape Man

    Glorified scavenger hunting is fun, but it tends to sink hours and hours just to find every last one. At least with bugs and treasure things aren’t a curse to track down.

    I’m also slightly thankful for dowsing so I don’t need an online walkthrough map or numerous hours futiley spent trying to find the ones in places that I’ve thought to look, but missed anyway.

  • Jollyroger919

    >exploration
    >Skyward Sword

    Excuse me while I roar with laughter.

    • Anonymous

      Are you saying there’s no exploration in SS?  Cause I had a good amount of exploration in the game, especially in Lanayru Province and Faron Woods.  For some reason, I still get easily lost in Faron Woods, even though Lanaryu Province feels much bigger. I love the whole Lanaryu section and scouting the area.

      • Darkone

        I’m going to say there’s virtually no exploration in SS, and as far as that goes I thought the item collecting really bogged the game down in comparison to previous titles, which got it right.

        or perhaps I’m just stuck in the past, meh.

        • Anonymous

          How can collecting bog the game down when it was completely optional? At no point in Skyward Swords main quest did the game come to a halt because you didn’t have what was required to upgrade an item, that is unless the player chose to.

        • Anonymous

          How is there no exploration in Lanayru Province?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Keichi-Morisato/100000966444006 Keichi Morisato

            well there certainly not a lot of places to go and i used my items more often in TP than in this game which is sad because this game was supposed to have much better equipment usage than in TP faron wood is small too small i can’t get lost in there i know where everything is and i have found and done everything in the game MY FIRST FREAKIN PLAYTHROUGH!!!!!!!!!!! normally i have to go through several just to be able to get every hearts piece or something finding gold skullitas was funner as it was harder to find and they were often in places you wouldn’t think to look. in a sense the game is small though it due to the limitation of the wii to handle a large world like Xenoblade and have motion controls. as motion control especially WM+ takes up a lot of disk space. though my main problem with the gem is no lefty mode and left handed link, which pisses me off to no end.

          • Noah B.

            Despite the fact that the items were not as focused on as they were in Twilght Princess, I still think that Skyward Sword managed to balance itself out nicely. The good thing about the exploration and item collection being so expansive is that even if you found everything in the game your “FIRST FREAKIN PLAYTHROUGH!!!!!!” you still had the opportunity to go back and find things again. If you’re truly bored with the apparent tininess of the game, try experimenting with different upgrades and item combinations within your pouch and running through the areas again. The best part about it being more customizable than usual is that you get the chance to do something like that. While I do agree that the heart pieces and certain other things have been disappointingly easy to find, I still enjoyed the game as thoroughly as I did any other Zelda game.
            Besides, you can’t really compare it to Twilight Princess, which was arguably the best in the series.

          • Tom Clark

            You know, periods are for separating sentences, not paragraphs. Also, if you don’t get lost in Faron Woods, you have been playing too long.

        • Tom Clark

          You’re an idiot.

    • the_voice

      It’s too bad you feel that way. Personally many times while playing Skyward Sword I would see a relatively inconspicuous yet out-of-reach location nearby and think, I wonder how I could get over there? Not thinking or caring about finding anything interesting, just wanting to look around. Usually once I got there I’d find a Goddess Cube or a rare bug, but the real prize for me was getting there at all.

    • Tom Clark

      What are you talking about? That there’s no exploration in SS? FUCK YOU.

  • fused_shadows

    I completely agree. The bug collecting in SS was not only fun, but exciting. I can remember spending hours trying to get that damn sand cicada at the side of the Temple of Time. I swear I tried so many times! ;)

    • Tom Clark

      I caught one cicada the entire game, and used it to make a heart potion++, which I took when I fought Demise, and totally didn’t need, obviously.

  • A_LINK_IN_TIME

    I came into this article expecting nothing special but was pleased with your detailed writing as always, Hanyou.

    Item upgrading, bug collecting, and goddess cubes truly do provide a richer Skyward Sword experience,.

  • Anonymous

    I hate it when people say a game is linear and think that is a complaint. I like linear games because they deliver the fun straight to you and I find games heavy on exploration as you wander around areas you have already been in, lost. Exploration can be cool if done right, though. 

    • The Pizzaman

      I like linear too, but never having two paths open at once is a bit frustrating for me.

      • Tom Clark

        There are always multiple paths open in Zelda. It’s just that all but the main one are sidequests.

  • Anonymous

    good article, my only problem with the collectable items is…

    1) every time you get an item when you enter an area it has to show you what is and freaking MAKE YOU WATCH THE NUMBER GO UP ON UR CHART EVEN IF YOU HAVE LIKE 30 EFFING AMBER RELICS ALREADY!!!

    2) I felt that the item distribution was really uneven. At the end of my first playthrough i had found nearly ten goddess plumes and 20 golden skulls, which are supposed to be the hardest to find, and only like five stupid normal skulls in the whole game! Those should be EVERYWHERE

    • G3hcl101

      Dude. I KNOW. Final Count: 28 FREAKING GOLDEN SKULLS, 4 NORMAL ONES!! what the heck. they’re not “rare” at all!!

      • Anonymous

        I don’t actually think that the Golden Skulls are SUPPOSED to be rarer than Ornamental Skulls. I could be mistaken; but in both Normal and Hero mode I’ve played, my boyfriend played and his sister played, Golden Skulls were WAY easier to get.

        • horseshoe

          The eff?
          I finished with like, 20 regular skulls and TWO gold skulls.

          • Tom Clark

            Okay, first off, it says the golden ones are rarer in the description. Second, how do you people have a “final count” of all the skulls you collected in the game? Did you not upgrade anything at all? Lastly, there is a thing called a “Treasure Medal.” Take it, and go to a place with lots of Bokoblins. You will find plenty of skulls.

    • 7DS

      i had (each) 60 of very common. common, like skulls 0, rare 15. it is badly distributed, yet there are very easy ways to get what your missing. with a treasure medal, youll have all youll ever need. (its not really worth carrying around if you like having tons of shields and bottles though)

    • Guest02

      Its so simple. If nintendo wants you to remember the items you pick up, they should just have an option as to whether you want to be reminded.

      Since the graphical and hardware specs was not that much of a step up from gamecube to wii, im really hoping nintendo can step up their game with the zelda  wii u iteration. They have no excuses now, no graphical or technical limitations that i think hindered skyward sword in some sense.

    • Tom Clark

      1) So true.
      2) So true. They think blue bird feathers will be harder to get, so they put them in chests… but what if you (read: I) haven’t figured out how to get bird feathers at all?

      • Anonymous

        you get blue feathers by catching blue birds.  they’re supposed to show up randomly in groups of birds, but there is always some right outside the temple in the sacred ground

  • JuicieJ

    I love all the new ideas that Skyward Sword has introduced to the Zelda series. I don’t think every single one of them should return, but things like the upgrade system definitely need to stay in the series from now on.

    • Tom Clark

      Absolutely.

  • Anonymous

    I just wish that there was more to do in the game. Before I started Hero Mode, I basically had acquired every possible item and it’s corresponding upgrade ALL BEFORE going up against Demise. Yeah, it was pretty extensive for the reason that you have to go back to each area twice after the first run, but the sidequests were easy to finish right after I got the Gust Bellows. Like, no joke. Once you’ve had the chance to buy every item once, upgrade what is upgrade-able and find all of the Goddess Cubes, it isn’t as fun.

    • Tom Clark

      If a sidequest seems like it isn’t fun, I don’t do it.

  • Anonymous

    I wish they had another big side quest for a different sword like in OoT

    • Bagajr6

      Exactly! It doesn’t have to be a different sword, but just something that makes it do double damage. It was very disappointing when they made it a necessary thing for beating the fourth dungeon. I know you’re making your sword closer to the Master Sword, but that has nothing to do with physical strength, as proven by the whole Biggoron Sword thing in OoT. It would be okay if the enemies after that point had more health, but  instead they kept reusing the same guys so it just made the game twice as easier.

      • Jongameaddict

        Nothing to do with physical strength? In Ancient Cistern, it Doubles in Length and Strength! And after the Fire Sanctuary, it gets longer and Doubles Strength again! Enemy thing =D EFINITELY!

        • bob

          Bagajr6 is saying that it doesn’t actually make you a better swordsman, so it’s not really as useful as it’s made to be. (I always found it funny that the legendary master sword of legend, the almight blade, evil’s bane, is not even the strongest sword

  • You-Know-Who

    I have 99 Bees MAX!

    • JuicieJ

      Not exactly hard to do. All you have to do is knock down a hive a few times.

      • Jongameaddict

        I caught about 160 something, and used about 50 for Heart Potion +/++. I just ran by, and when they attacked, snatched em. They provoked it, so I decided to take some Larvae every time, never going low.

  • dodongo the scholar

    you know what i hate,  I can find nearly anything, but never what i am looking for

    • Tom Clark

      What are you talking about?

  • Walter Bomba

    Yeah this game was pretty good, to be honest I wish they would make a game more like the Oracle games, they are some of my favorite along with A Link To The Past, but could you imagine that type of freedom and exploration mixed into a brand new 3D title for the Wii U, that’s my dream aha.

  • bob

    I honestly think the side quests in SS were he worst in the series.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I still like them, but not even close to OOt and MM”s side quests. THose side quests were just so mystical and fun and tricky that I actually wanted to do them and not for the purpose of having them done. ‘I found gratitude crystals boring and dumb, since they barley involved anything cool and was just a worse of the entire game, a giant scavanger hunt. The lumpy pumpkin was even worse. I never completed it because of the dumb Lyre. It it by far the worst zelda instrument, mainly because it was hard to control and never used. At least in Spirit tracks the spirit flute was important. Although I did like the upgrade system, it still doesn’t compare to other side quests. The goddess cubes were nice, reminded me of the wolf statues in TP, only not as useful and cool     

    • Tom Clark

      You’re an idiot. Fuck you. Skyward Sword was fucking amazing. Yes, the harp sucked, there was no excuse for that, but besides that, you’re full of shit. Go boil your genitals in goat semen, asshole.

      • bob

        Have fun making me feel bad. I still love skyward sword, dude, calm down. That’s just really offensive torerds me, a great zelda fan. I love SS, just not as much as other(zelda) games

        • derpaderp

          hahaha. don’t take anything Tom Clark says seriously. he’s just a troll who loves to dwell under the bridges of these parts. however, i saw like no flaws in Skyward Sword. and i actually like the harp more than the ocarina. i like how, wherever you play it, it syncs perfectly with the background music. but this is just my opinion.

          remember, if anyone’s a dick to you around these parts, don’t take it seriously. they probably just want a reaction out of you.

  • Anonymous

    besides all the ranting about the harp sucking i personally thought the harp was really easy to use, at first i thought we would spend hours trying complex songs using motion control

    • Seth

      same
      but up and down motion controls would be nice than just left to right. i would rather 4 than 2 ways to control it

  • Ari Miller99

    cool

  • VN

    Even though there was a lot to explore, in some ways, there was too much, especially in Lanyaru province.  Even in the volcano and Faron woods, the lake etc, even after multiple visits, I did not get much of a feel for the place.  I had to constantly look at the  map.    OoT had a more compact world that still had good exploring possibilities.
    The linearity of the game was also a bit off-putting, as sometimes it was either beat a boss or nothing.  There should have been more mini-games with the items, as the bellows, whip etc. were interesting.
    The hint system was good, as was the upgraded potions, for someone like who is not that skilled or patient.
    But overall, a good game.  Not as captivating as OoT was for me.

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