A month before The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword released in North America, I wrote an open letter to the possibilities of what the game could be. I recently decided to take a look back at this article to see if the game lived up to my high expectations as I continue my second serious playthrough of the title. And while the game certainly is not (and should not be) a mash-up of every title I listed, it almost strangely satisfies my demands.
Skyward Sword absolutely keeps the charm and playfulness of Wind Waker, but provides a more rich and complicated world without bogging it down in vapidity like Twilight Princess. The game never plunges to the desperate pits that Majora’s Mask indulges in, but certainly leaves room for darkness with unsettling elements. When I first played the game, I was very alert to recurring gameplay elements. I would recognize the task to collect “tears” from Twilight Princess combined with the need to utilize a mix of stealth and speed to avoid the invincible guardians from Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks and chalk up the experience to my memories with those games. Playing Skyward Sword a second time is allowing me to experience what the gameplay is like for its own merits, and I am glad I am able to see it that way now. The sections – although there are only three – are thrilling and more challenging than initially expected, and are accompanied by the perfect music.
In fact, this second playthrough has also allowed me to take a deeper appreciation for the music. While the overworld music is pretty and appropriately epic, it is the only disappointing track because it must be compared to the stellar overworld tracks from other titles in the series. Skyward Sword‘s overworld music only tops Majora’s Mask‘s uninspiring use of the main Zelda theme. Otherwise, the soundtrack weaves in and out of the game’s many moods and backdrops while not ignoring melody and its need to maintain a cohesive feel.
Because of the large number of familiar elements, it was initially easy to dismiss the many changes to the Zelda formula. Certainly the familiarity is there (and arguably necessary to allow the series to remain itself), but just being able to check off the expected locations of forest, mountain, and desert and their inevitable dungeons would do a disservice to how the game is continually throwing the gamer’s expectations out the window. Sure, some of these attempts fail (I am specifically thinking of having to re-enter the first dungeon and the three bosses that need to be beat multiple times), but the overall success is well-worth the stumbles. What the player assumes to be a pattern is finished and taken over by a new pattern before it is switched up yet again. In fact, it is a surprise that the game feels as cohesive as it does, considering the many winding paths the gameplay takes.
One area in which I am maybe most pleased that Skyward Sword apparently listened to my letter was in its decision to make Zelda do more as a character. Her adventure with Impa is just as crucial to the story as what the player takes Link through. This fact is especially stressed by the developers when the credits roll and are accompanied by images of Zelda’s previously-only-hinted-at adventure. Not only that, but Zelda is a well-rounded and flawed character. She is not some vapid princess who only exists to give purpose to the protagonist (*cough* Peach *cough*), but instead has to make complicated decisions in order to do her part to save the world. It not only gives the titular character the respect she deserves, but gives Link’s story more weight as his relationship to Zelda is with that of a human being, not some one-dimensional symbol.
When I replayed Twilight Princess I was reminded of cool moments and excellent dungeons and bosses, but was more urgently reminded that the game felt largely empty beneath its tight design. I was worried that returning to Skyward Sword would provide the same revelation. Happily however, like all good art, more of the game revealed itself over time and further examination. This has certainly also been true for masterpieces like Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Shadow of the Colossus, and Majora’s Mask, and it appears as though Skyward Sword is joining the ranks.
Eiji Aonuma talks of the upcoming Wii U Zelda game as if it is going to further deconstruct the way we look at the series and rethink the typical structure of the games. After the success of Skyward Sword, this is a very exciting prospect to me. Twilight Princess proved that trying to remake Ocarina of Time would provide diminishing returns, so I welcome change to the series. Now only if they could include a “I have played a billion Zelda games before” option to allow for less hand-holding in the opening hours, I would be set.
What about you, LusiSwords? Have you revisited Skyward Sword or another favourite and been very satisfied in the way it ages? Let me know in the comments below!