Posted on November 12 2011 by Djinn
With Skyward Sword coming out in just a couple of weeks, fans are anticipating a whole new dimension of gameplay, and rightly so. The bits of storyline that have been revealed by Nintendo over the last two years of hyping the game have revealed quite a bit of information regarding the story and motivation of the characters within. Talk of starting out on a mysterious floating island in the sky and riding a bird across the clouds does sound like it would be an amazing and original experience for the Zelda Fan, especially in a series that has its roots in Medieval fantasy where one expects to find such things like horses and carriages as the main means of locomotion. Nintendo has decided to shake things up in the past, however. Normally in Zelda, players had to get around the overworld on boats, trains, or the occasional domesticated Dodongo. Through all the differences between the games, many of them still often share a lot of similarities. At a first glance Skyward Sword looks to be a completely new experience, with gameplay and story unlike anything we have ever seen before. Taking a closer look at the storyline, however, it might actually be a little too similar to what we have seen in the past. Ever since Nintendo started to provide little bits and pieces of the story of the game at E3 a little over a year ago, people began to think, doesn’t this sound familiar? And in many ways it did. There appeared to be a great many similarities between Skyward Sword and the 2003 classic The Wind Waker. To better point out the similarities, we should take a look and overview each game again.
First there is The Wind Waker, set centuries after the events of Ocarina of Time. Ganondorf managed to escape his prison in the Sacred Realm, and without a hero to stop him, he terrorized Hyrule until the people had no other choice but to pray to the gods to save them. The gods instructed the surviving humans to escape to the mountaintops while the land was flooded, sealing off the evil. In the present day setting of the game, the Hylians live scattered across several islands in a vast ocean. All knowledge of the Hyrule of old is just a faded memory or myth among the people living on the Great Sea today. Link was just a simple villager on Outset Island until a large monster took his sister Aryll away, causing him to set off on his own quest to rescue his sister. Link immediately joins up with a mysterious talking boat that guides him along in his quest. Throughout the course of the adventure the player slowly uncovers the secrets of what actually happened to the land of Hyrule and attempts to stop that same evil force from returning.
Skyward Sword begins on a strange island floating in the air above the clouds. The prologue tells an ancient legend about the people once living on the land below, and how a great evil appeared and terrorized the land. The Goddess gathered the survivors and sent the land they gathered on into the sky to keep them safe from the evils that dwelt on the surface. Centuries later all memory of the land below or why they live in the sky is a long lost legend; no one today knows what lies beneath the clouds. Link was a simple villager living in the floating island of Skyloft until a mysterious accident caused Zelda to fall down to the world below. This causes Link to venture down to the land below to rescue her, discovering that the land was overrun by evil. Link is helped in his quest by a mysterious character that guides him. Throughout the course of the adventure the player slowly uncovers the secrets of what actually happened to the land and attempts to stop that very same evil force from returning once more.
It is clear how similar these two games are in their basic setup. However, in their own way almost all Zelda games have more than a few similarities as they are sequels in a franchise. A young farmboy somehow getting caught up in a situation greater than themselves and discovering that they are the hero of destiny is a very common fantasy storytelling convention. Zelda does have its share of fantasy game and story clichés and many of the titles copy elements used in previous games. Even colorful side characters will reappear in sequels that are only loosely related to the previous game they appeared in. All Zelda games have certain aspects that will be present every time no matter what. It is important to maintain a few things that are characteristic to the series, as that is the basis for a franchise. Most fans want to see the Master Sword, Epona, the green hat, and a few mysterious gold triangles in each game. These are things that are most recognizable as something that is purely Zelda; the game might not be the same without them.
In the case of The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, they are similar in more ways than just the few common elements that are present in all Zelda games. Enough that one could come get the feeling they are replaying a game that they have played before. First of all is the setting of each and that they are both different from the norm, in a very parallel way. Both games begin with Link living on an island with Hyrule being nothing more than a distant memory. The people inhabiting these areas are only there due to some unfortunate events involving an ancient evil long ago in history. These people today are the survivors that have only managed to maintain a life because of divine intervention, delivering them to these safe places. In both occasions the current people are ignorant of the old world hidden just below them.
Second, a character that is close to Link is taken away by a mysterious malicious force. First by a large monster searching for a girl in The Wind Waker and then by a tornado sent by Ghirahim to look for a certain girl in Skyward Sword. Both events cause Link to leave his home and go out on his quest into the unknown and bring them back. Already the basic events that drive the beginning of the story are too identical. Normally that could be brushed off as a common driving theme, but there are actually many more similarities between these two games when one takes a deeper look into them.
The very next concept is the alternate forms of travel used in the games that set them apart from the average Zelda title. Normally Hyrule is a fantasy Medieval European setting complete with forests, mountains, and deserts. The most common method of getting around is on foot or in later games, by horseback. The Wind Waker decided to change the formula by having the setting be an ocean and having a small boat as the primary means of moving around from place to place. Skyward Sword shook things up yet again by having Link fly from floating island to floating island in a colossal open sky realm. Both types of travel are very different from what players were used to and make each game unique with an original experience. That is not to say that these forms of travel are totally new to the series. In the original Legend of Zelda Link had a small raft that was used in very limited fashion to move across water and gain access to islands, while in A Link to the Past Link had an upgraded form of travel by way of a small bird that was called by the flute. The bird could only fly to a few pre-selected points and could not be used to fly freely, however.
Another aspect that is in both games is the mysterious origins of the world that Link lives in. As was said earlier, each game starts out in a small island location populated by a people who are ignorant of the world they come from. They do not know how they came to live on the small islands they are on today or that there is a much larger world hidden just beneath them. Throughout the course of the story Link will meet with many strange and mysterious characters that know more of the old legends, or are old enough to have lived in the times that are only thought to be myth. Link slowly learns that the tales of the old world are actually a true story. Link will rediscover the ancient ruins and explore the old forgotten places of the old kingdom.
Next is the rest of the plot; Link only sets off on his adventure in order to rescue someone dear to him, yet ultimately becomes the hero responsible for rescuing the entire kingdom. The villain that is the initial cause of the entire chain of events beginning the story is directly related to the ancient evil mentioned in the legends. The ancient evil that was the cause of the demise of the previous kingdom is actually trying to free itself and rein terror over the land once again and Link must do whatever it takes to stop that from happening.
Another large aspect of the gameplay present in both games is the need to power up the sword. In each game Link has a sword that is very important to the story and was instrumental in defeating the ancient evil, only now it appears to be too weak to do the job needed of it. So a large part of the quest is dedicated to the revival of the powers of his sword. Only when the sword is at its full power can Link continue on his journey to stop the villains of the game.
Both The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword are very strongly tied to Ocarina of Time. In the intro sequence of The Wind Waker, a story is told about the original hero and how he saved Hyrule from an evil force, alluding to the Link of Ocarina of Time. Later on Link would meet characters such as the Great Deku Tree and Jabun who also mention the hero of the past. There is even a stained glass window depicting the sages the Hero of Time met who helped defeat Ganondorf. Through all these references the player learns that The Wind Waker is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. Skyward Sword however is said to be a direct prequel to Ocarina of Time. Originally said to be the origin tale of the Master Sword, Eiji Aonuma has mentioned in a few interviews that the player would pick up on certain connections between the two games.
The art style used in Skyward Sword is very close to that of The Wind Waker as well, with cell-shaded graphics and a heavy amount of bright and vibrant colors. They both stand in contrast to Twilight Princess which might be why a lot of fans have equated the two. Other than the return to cell-shading, more unrealistic character designs have returned as well. The Wind Waker introduced an all-new art style consisting of more cartoony looking designs for all the characters, complete with highly exaggerated details and overly expressive faces. Skyward Sword has maintained a more normal anatomy for the main cast of characters, but the side characters like those found in the Skyloft Bazaar are a nice drawback to the old colorful characters of Windfall Island.
One could say that one great game inspires another and that throughout all these similar aspects Nintendo chose to stick with what works best, only changing the principal gameplay to keep things fresh for players. After all, mysterious long-lost civilizations and ancient sealed evils are some very common fantasy story conventions. No matter how many times they are retold in however many stories, they still manage to draw in the interest of fans. For a game such as Zelda that has a long-standing tradition of having the player delving deep into unknown dungeons and ancient ruined temples, it seems all too clear that the stories involving a mysterious past will be used more than a few times. Nintendo will most likely continue to invent and reinvent similar gameplay and story elements for future sequels later on down the road.