Posted on September 11 2021 by Sean Gadus
Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Warning: The author of this article unapologetically loves The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
With the debut of Skyward Sword HD on the Nintendo Switch, Skyward Sword is having a renaissance among Zelda fans. Many fans are being given a second chance to play a game they may have missed, or one they did not have a great experience with when it first released. The inclusion of button controls (while imperfect) means that players no longer have to rely on motion controllers to complete the game. And the updated graphics put a new coat of paint over a game that was released just before Nintendo’s first foray into making High Definition games. Overall, there has never been a better time than now to crystalize and enumerate your thoughts on the game.
Despite the many criticisms leveled against Skyward Sword and its rerelease, I have an enduring love for the game. Yes, the Sky is disappointingly limited and small. Yes, there is some painfully unnecessary handholding that is extremely frustrating. Yes, it has some wasteful fetch quests that pad out the game’s run time. But at its core, Skyward Sword has some of the best moments in any Zelda game. Like lightning in a rain storm, the best moments in Skyward Sword, whether they be the dungeons, boss fights, or dramatic cutscenes, command your attention.
So, with that said, here are the 10 moments that made me fall in love with Skyward Sword.
1. The Wing Ceremony Scene
Skyward Sword‘s introduction is admittedly slow, but it is also delightfully character focused. The early hours in the cheery town of Skyloft define many of the key relationships in the game, including the dynamics between Link, Zelda, and Groose. Link is the lovable goofball who seems wildly out of place at an academy for future knights. Zelda is an energetic young woman who has a strong will and is beginning to feel a mysterious call towards the Surface. Finally, Groose is the schoolyard bully who is clearly jealous of the close relationship that Link and Zelda enjoy. The introduction, which includes the duo freeing the Crimson Loftwing from Groose’s clutches, does a great job of setting up the key characters and establishing the game’s beautiful central town.
The culmination of the early hours in Skyloft is the Wing Ceremony. After the player bests Groose and the other competitors in a flying challenge, Link and Zelda get to share a private moment atop the Goddess Statue. After the pair say a prayer and Link receives the Sailcloth, things get really interesting. The scene ends with Zelda getting real close to Link in a moment I truly believed would end with a kiss, but instead it involved Zelda pushing her friend off the statue to test the Sailcloth. The entire scene highlights how different Link and Zelda’s relationship is compared to other iterations of the iconic duo. While Link and Zelda are often meeting for the first time in other Zelda games, the duo in Skyward Sword have a long past together that provides Link much of his early motivation for becoming a hero.
2. Fi’s Divine Entrance
Fi has one of the best character introductions in the Zelda series. After losing the lovely Zelda to a tornado, a discouraged Link is left alone in his bedroom at the academy. With a mysterious song playing in the background, Link is summoned by the sword spirit on a magical journey through Skyloft. On this beautiful, star-filled trot through night-time Skyloft, Fi’s otherworldly design is well highlighted. The character floats several inches above the ground, capturing a sense of divine grace that fits her origins and purpose. The journey with Fi ends at the statue of the Goddess, with Link receiving the sword that will eventually transform into the Master Sword.
In a game that is heavily focused on the Goddess Hylia, Fi serves an important role as the goddess’ stand-in. Fi serves as the mouthpiece for Hylia, existing as an odd hybrid of a guiding angel and a protocol droid. With Fi’s frustrating role in Skyward Sword‘s gameplay, it is easy to forget her connection to Hylia and her role as the divine interpreter. That first sequence with Fi feels extremely spiritual; it is a vision quest that leads Link to his destiny. With Fi’s introduction, the player feels like they are doing the will of Hylia and are guided by her invisible hand.
3. Rolling Around The Earth Temple
The Earth Temple is one of the most distinct fire dungeons in the Zelda series. Filled with gorgeous mosaic floors and enormous statues, the Earth Temple looks like a lavish area that has fallen into ruins. Rather than being a labyrinth of many small rooms, the dungeon is divided into large rooms that give the place a sense of grandeur. With large tracks of the temple being covered by lava, the player must navigate the dungeon carefully or suffer through Link’s obnoxious burning animation. Overall, the dungeon has a strong visual theme and makes good use of space.
While many early dungeons suffer from a lack of items and, as a result, a lack of diverse puzzles, the Earth Temple uses movement to add an interesting wrinkle to the dungeon and compensate for that overall lack of items. By forcing the player to jog around on a giant rolling boulder, the game makes moving over lava a great deal of fun. This method of movement feels like it was ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon or a wild adventure film. Rolling on a boulder along the winding secret tunnels is extremely fun, and it is a mechanic that never overstays its welcome. The dungeon even has a great homage to the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Link running from a massive rolling rock after snatching the Boss Key from its perch under an ornate dragon statue.
Groose has an intriguing story arc for a side character in a Zelda game. Groose starts out as a clear rival to Link, resenting the attention that Link receives from Zelda. For much of the early game, his jealousy of Link is his defining trait. Even with his status as the Knight Academy’s chief bully, it is hard not to enjoy Groose. The character has a ridiculous pompadour worthy of Hylian royalty. The way that Groose’s two cronies go out of their way to cater to Groose’s needs (including a massage) feels like something straight out of a high school comedy like Mean Girls. And let us not forgot Groose’s iconic finger point, which hilariously backfires when Zelda uses the move against him.
As the game reaches its midpoint, the relationship between Groose and Link begins to change as their destinies start to converge. In a hilarious cutscene, the much larger Groose hitches a ride on Link down to the Surface. The startled Groose is terrified by everything on the Surface, including Gorons and small birds. After Link explains the details to his rival, the lovable goofball surveys the world and dubs it “Grooseland.” It is an incredibly funny moment that makes me laugh out loud each time. Humor is always a tricky thing in video games, but this moment really gets the job done. In time, Groose will learn to accept his role as a more heroic figure, but it is hard not to miss the over-the-top goofball that Groose starts out as.
5. Koloktos Fight
The Ancient Cistern is an excellent Zelda dungeon. The contrast between the lush entrance areas and the underworld basement makes it one of the most atmospheric dungeons in the entire series. The culmination of the Ancient Cistern is the battle against the enormous, gold automaton Koloktos. The massive enemy is very disquieting; it even makes strange child-like noises at certain points in the fight. Koloktos wields six oversized sword that it uses to smash Link to bits. In the fight, the player must use the whip to dismember the evil creature, which proves to be one of the coolest uses of a whip in video games outside of cracking skulls in Castlevania.
The second phase of the Koloktos fight is an absolute blast and one of the best boss phases in any Zelda game. The fight reaches its apex with Link picking up one of Koloktos’ swords and using it to cut the giant to pieces. Using Koloktos’ massive swords to slice him to pieces is satisfyingly crunchy (such great sound design), with each strike feeling extremely powerful and devastating. The battle with Koloktos is one of the moments in Skyward Sword that proved the motion controls could be extremely fun and exciting. If the fight with Koloktos would have taken place earlier in Skyward Sword, maybe some players would think of the motion controls differently.
6. Sailing The Sand Seas
The Lanayru Sand Sea is one of the most expansive and wide-open areas in Skyward Sword. The Sand Sea includes an exciting evolution of the Timeshift Stone mechanic seen in the Lanayru Mines and Lanayru Desert. With the vast ocean of sand, the famously linear Skyward Sword opens up into a large playground for the player to investigate and explore. The mobile Timeshift Stone in the Captain’s boat turns the present day sand to past water, which gives the player the sensation of floating in space and reshaping the world as Link steers the boat.
The sojourn on the Sand Sea captures the sense of scale and wonder that made The Wind Waker such a great experience. Each of the three major anchor points (The Captain’s Retreat, The Shipyard, and Pirate’s Stronghold) provides a great challenge to the player. Additionally, areas like the Shipyard and Captain’s Retreat feel like real places with real creativity in how they are designed. The Captain Retreat is built high on a range of cliffs, and the upper home provides a stunning 360 degree vista of the sea. There is a zipline system connecting the areas, which saves Link from having to navigate the tricky area on the way down the sheer cliffs. The Shipyard is also a great location, with the entire area connected by a treacherous railway taken straight from a Donkey Kong Country game. This rail system feels perfect with the robots of Lanayru, who are shown to be extremely good builders and inventors.
7. The Crystal Scene
Much like the Wing Ceremony, the crystal scene demonstrates how deep the bond between Link and Zelda is. After finally reuniting with Link, the two teens finally get a moment to discuss the tumultuous events that have befallen them. With the immaculate sounds of “Zelda’s Lullaby” playing in the background, Zelda gives a detailed explanation about her role as Hylia’s descendant/reincarnation. The spirit maiden concludes by asserting that she has to remain in the past until it is safe. This is a classic info dump that is saved by the player’s interest in seeing what happens when Link and Zelda finally reunite.
As Zelda is sealed into a large amber crystal, Link rushes toward her. It is heartbreaking to watch Link helplessly pound his fist against the crystal holding his closest friend. In the final moments before she is sealed away, Zelda asks for Link to be there for her when she finally wakes up. It is a tender moment that reminds us that this grand quest still boils down to the relationship between two people who care deeply about each other. Overall, this scene is one of the most emotional in a Zelda game and its similarities to the Wing Ceremony demonstrate how far the characters have come in their journey. Zelda has grown both mentally and spiritually, finally understanding her destiny as the Goddess reborn, while Link has developed into a hero able to sacrifice his own happiness for the good of the world.
8. The Awe-Inspiring Sight of Levias
The Zelda series has long dabbled with enormous whale creatures. Whether it is the Wind Fish in Link’s Awakening, Jabu Jabu in Ocarina of Time, or Jabun in The Wind Waker, these creatures have been part of the franchise for a long time. Despite the majesty of the previous whales, seeing Levias for the first time is an incredible sight that puts the other whales to shame. Previous Zelda games never really had a way to showcase the true scale of the whale. But watching this creature burst through the clouds feels truly special.
Though the Sky areas are often maligned in Skyward Sword, the wide-open space provides designers a way to showcase the size and scale of Levias. Like a creature straight out of Shadow of the Colossus, Levias is on a scale beyond that of previous Zelda bosses. With the blustering gray thunderhead as the backdrop, Link’s chase with Levias feels like a thrilling rollercoaster. Chasing down the Bilocyte infecting Levias on the Crimson Loftwing is a brief flash of potential that shows what the Sky could potentially have offered. Much like the chases with the Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild, the battle with Levias shows that set pieces have their place in Zelda games and that these moments can deliver great thrills for the player.
9. Ghirahim’s Final Bow
Ghirahim is a magnificent villain (see my earlier article for more details about why). The unforgettable antagonist has a perchance for sly humor, sadistic glee, and horrible temper tantrums. Like Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, Ghirahim pursues Link and Zelda for their entire adventure, intent on reviving his master Demise. While the battles with Ghirahim in Skyview Temple and The Fire Sanctuary are enjoyable sword fights, the final clash with the villain is a show-stopping duel. After capturing Zelda and sending his massive horde of minions against Link, the demon lord sheds all traces of his previous humanoid form and engages Link in one last clash of steel and wills.
The first stage of the fight requires the player to make smart use of the motion controls and choice the correct angles of their sword strokes in order to drive Ghirahim off the edges of platforms, requiring the player to think carefully rather than hack and slash mindlessly. In the second stage, Ghirahim summons the full force of his fury and hate against Link. This phase involves Ghirahim wielding a host of weapons against Link including a massive sword. What makes this fight so great is the build-up and history between Link and Ghirahim. The stakes are the highest they have ever been (Zelda’s life hangs in the balance), and the character that the player hates most stands in the way. It is an epic showdown that hammers home why Ghirahim is one of the series’ best villains.
10. Fond Farewells
Saying, “Good bye,” is hard. When you form a bond with someone, it can hurt to let go of them. The end of Skyward Sword gives us two heartbreaking goodbyes that have a powerful impact on the three main characters.
Fi’s farewell is a fascinating moment within the game. While Skyward Sword spends a great amount of time unintentionally making the player annoyed by Fi’s repeated interruptions, the game provides a bittersweet goodbye for the sword spirit. As Link puts the Master Sword to rest, Fi reveals that her purpose is complete and that she will sleep within the Master Sword. Like Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” speech from Blade Runner or the T1000 lowering itself into lava at the end of Terminator 2, this is Fi’s “robot with a soul” moment. This is Fi’s final chance to thank Link and reflect on the impact he has had on her brief life before her consciousness dissipates within the Master Sword. It is gut wrenching that Fi reveals her happiness to Link moments before she has to leave him forever. If the dialogue and presentation do not get you emotional, the heart-wrenching notes of a lonely piano farewell will cut you to pieces.
While Link’s farewell with Fi feels like a very intimate moment for the two characters, Impa’s farewell feels like it is meant for Zelda and Groose. Due to Skyward Sword‘s strange time loop, the two characters are indebted to two different versions of Impa. Zelda has been saved numerous times by her guardian through the story, and the young Impa becomes a loyal advocate and friend to Zelda. For Groose, it had been the elderly Impa who helped transform him from a bully to a helpful ally. The wise woman handed him the hard truth about his future that he needed to see. How much does Groose owe to the person who saved him from the worst parts of himself? The touching goodbye with Impa feels very similar to Obi-Wan and Yoda’s deaths in the original Star Wars trilogy, where death is seen less as violent or evil, and more as a natural part of our journey as sentient beings.
Skyward Sword is a game unlike any other in the Zelda series. The game has a distinct way of controlling Link, it has a distinct way of setting up its world, and it has a distinct way by which it develops its characters and relationships. In writing this article, some may accuse me of skipping over the issues that Skyward Sword has, but I freely acknowledge they exist. It is a flawed game, but a great one as well. Fans dream about getting their perfect games, but sometimes it is enough to say we got a great game.
What are your favorite moments from Skyward Sword? What moments in the game helped you appreciate it? Let us know in the comments below!
Sean Gadus is an Associate Editor at Zelda Dungeon. His first Zelda game was Ocarina of Time and he loves the classic 3D Zelda games from 1998-2011. He is currently of the opinion that Omega from The Bad Batch is a better character than Baby Yoda. He is currently working through his fifth year of teaching.