Poll a group of Zelda
fans and ask them what their favorite title in the series is. Chances are you’re going to get some pretty diverse answers. Many would probably say the era-defining masterpiece, Ocarina of Time
. Perhaps older players would answer with 1991’s amazing-for-the-time A Link to the Past
. Surely the beautiful and artistic Wind Waker
would garner some votes, as would the moody and atmospheric Majora’s Mask
. Perhaps you would even get those that would argue that this year’s reimagining of the Zelda
series, Breath of the Wild
, is the best of the series yet.
None of these would be wrong answers. And yet, it’s unlikely that a vote would be cast for the Zelda title centered around motion controls and released in the dying days of the Wii. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t frequently mentioned among the greatest Zelda games.
But it should be.
The Curious Case of Skyward Sword
So why does this game get shit on so much?
Well, that’s what we’re gonna try and figure out! Let’s break down the most common complaints and counter-argue them, and then, after we’re done, maybe we’ll all have some second thoughts about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Swing Your Sword Like You Mean It
Okay, so the biggest point of criticism pointed towards Skyward Sword
centers around it’s motion controls, and the perception that they don’t work. This is a stigma that plagued Skyward Sword
from the moment it was unveiled at E3. As we’ve talked about before, you never get a second chance to make a first impression
, and frankly, Nintendo really buggered up Skyward Swords’
first public appearance. This really hurt the game in the long run because it gave people the perception
that the motion controls didn’t work, regardless of whether or not that was true.
I can only speak for myself or course, but mine worked perfectly. In fact, the only time I ever had any problems was when my cat ate my Wiimote sensor cord (arrgghh) and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t moving. Sure, Skyward Sword asked a little more of you when swinging and slicing than Twilight “Flap Your Wrist Around and Call That Swordplay” Princess did, but wasn’t that what fans were asking for from Nintendo for years? For a precise game that would fully take advantage of the Wii’s unique motion capabilities? That’s exactly what Skyward Sword did, and it did it damn well.
Enemies required strategy to beat, and timing, and it wasn’t just a hack and slash until they’re dead kind of approach anymore. Many puzzles were centered around Link’s more precise sword movements. It added a fresh coat of paint to a formula that was beginning to show it’s age a little bit. I wouldn’t go so far as to say motion controls added to every aspect of the game they were put into – I think we would have all rather flown our Loftwings with traditional controls – but by and large, the controls did what they were supposed to: give the players even more engagement with Link as his peril became our own.
Yes Fi, I Know My Controller Batteries Are Low
Okay. I get it. Fi can be annoying. “You have a 0.002% chance of survival, never tell me that odds, yada yada yada”. I understand. But here’s the thing: Almost every companion that you get in The Legend of Zelda
series is annoying. Ocarina of Time
is my favorite game ever, and yet I still feel like strangling Navi every time she reminds me that I should probably visit Saria in the Lost Woods. Midna’s annoying cackle and condescending attitude made me want to drop kick the little midget every time she started mouthing off to me. Tetra, Tatl, Elzo, all these guys got on my nerves. But I also love the companions despite all this for the sole reason of they’re on this journey with me and we either succeed or fail together.
Call it an unreasonable emotional attachment to these often annoying companion characters, but these guys are the Samwise Gamgee to my Frodo. Frodo wouldn’t have made it Mount Doom without Sam pestering him about making sure he ate and slept enough; telling me the odds, reminding us of Wiimote situation, that’s just Fi’s way of looking out for us. She’s a program after all, and that’s how she keeps her Master safe.
But as the ending of Skyward Sword shows, even program can grow a heart. Maybe I wouldn’t like her as much as I do if not for her final scene; but after everything, Fi, who’s been so stoic and professional about her and Link’s arrangement, has a hard time saying goodbye to her Master and friend. She tries to make their departure business as usual and slips away into the Master Sword. But then, in an instant that the program Fi probably didn’t understand herself, she calls out to Link and gives him a heartfelt farewell (set to the best piece of music this series has produced) and leaves him with these iconic words:
“Our partnership is at end, and even as we speak, I feel my consciousness fading away, before I enter the sleep that calls me to the sword, I wish to relay to you words that I recorded many times over the course of our journey. Many have said them to you thus far, but I now wish to say them for myself. Thank you, Master Link. May we meet again in another life…”
Some people cry that this scene isn’t earned. I say bollocks. You and Fi forged the Master Sword together, touched the Triforce together, and shaped the future together. I’d say that her connection with Link is not only earned, but one of the best in the series.
We’re Here Again?!
The last major point of criticism I found when looking at the reasons for Skyward Sword’s
supposed bad rap is the repetition in where you go. To be fair to that point, this game doesn’t have you traversing to vastly different locales like previous Zelda
games did. Rather, you spend a lot of time in the Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, Lanayru Desert, and Skyloft. This would be a problem if you kept going back and it was the same thing, over and over and over in these locations… but you don’t.
The first trip you make to the Faron Woods plays out like a typical Zelda experience of Link entering the woods for the first time. The charming music, the whimsy of the setting, the paintbrush like aesthetic make it one of my favorite Zelda areas in any game. This being said, it’s a very different story from the second time you go there and explore Lake Floria, and it’s a vastly different experience the third time you there and the whole damn place is flooded.
Every area in Skyward Sword offers this type of diversity. Yes, you’re back tracking to the same couple areas repeatedly, but each time is a different area with different goals. Skyloft itself is probably only second to Clock Town in terms of a lively city setting that feels like real people live there. I agree that the overworld in the sky is pretty drab compared to Hyrule Field or Termina, but then again, I thought the overworld in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess weren’t exactly a treat either. Perhaps it’s the Metroid fan in me that’s grown accustom to back tracking and exploring the same areas for new clues, but I was constantly impressed with Skyward Sword’s many different ways to keep the same areas different.
The storytelling of Skyward Sword
, it’s presentation, it’s narrative beats, is something the Zelda
series hasn’t matches so far. Breath of the Wild
was many great things, but a powerful character based narrative it was not. The story wasn’t just lacking – it was pretty much non-existent. Compare that to Skyward Sword
Fi’s growth from computer to friend. Groose’s character are that saw him go from giant A-hole to hero of Hyrule (we need a Legend of Groose sequel). Zelda’s struggle at learning her own powers, finding out who she was and who she’s meant to be. The best iteration of Impa the series has seen. Ghirahim’s creepiness, Demises all encompassing evil, the origins of the Master Sword, the backstory of Demises Curse, it was all there, and told in an amazing way throughout the game. Skyward Sword is the pinnacle of Zelda storytelling. Hell, it’s the pinnacle of Nintendo storytelling. It was stylish, it was goofy, it was epic – everything a good Zelda should be.
I know I probably haven’t changed anyone’s mind about Skyward Sword. If you don’t like it by now, you’re probably stuck in that frame of mind. But instead of thinking of Skyward Sword as the buggy controlled game with the annoying sidekick that makes you travel to the same spots time after time, think of this. Think of the precision in the controls. Think if the companionship of Fi. Think of the diversity these same areas offer you every time you come back. And think of the best storytelling The Legend of Zelda has ever seen.
Think about all that. And next time someone asks you what your favorite Zelda game is… maybe give Skyward Sword a second thought.
It deserves it.