Now, this is an oddly topical recommendation for me.
Nintendo is re-releasing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Switch this week.
I don’t think I’ve ever done a recommendation the week of a new (re)release before.
Similarly, it’s probably a little strange that I’m recommending a Zelda game, given that I try to keep my recommendations limited to things that everyone doesn’t already know about.
And, uh, I’m going to hazard a guess that everyone does know about Zelda at this point. Though that is perhaps somewhat mitigated by the fact that the original Skyward Sword came out eleven years ago for the Wii.
I feel like that’s long enough ago and that my audience skews Young Adult enough that some people reading this may have missed out on Skyward Sword the first time around.
And I’m sort of taking a different approach to this recommendation.
Basically, this won’t be in praise of Skyward Sword the Game. This is going to be more a discussion of Skyward Sword the Artistic Achievement.
The short version is that Skyward Sword is absolutely my favourite Zelda game from an artistic and thematic standpoint. Thing is, I couldn’t muster up the willpower to actually play all the way through it.
For what it’s worth, the only Zelda I’ve ever actually played start-to-finish is Twilight Princess (which remains my favourite Zelda in gameplay terms; also, Midna‘s awesome) — though I did watch my cousin and my older brother play through Ocarina of Time once each.
In fact, my clearest memory of the day my little brother was born is that my older brother beat the Shadow Temple while my parents were at the hospital…
Now, “I couldn’t finish the game” doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement
Which is why my point in this recommendation isn’t “play Skyward Sword“, it’s “experience Skyward Sword.” Play it, watch your older brother play it while awaiting the birth of your little brother, watch a streamer playing it.
Skyward Sword is stylish enough that it’s a good time even if you’re not the one playing it. Depending on your temperament, watching it might even be a better time than actually playing it.
There are a couple of really, really stressful recurring gameplay segments that ultimately turned me off my playthrough.
Namely, every dungeon has to be opened by completing something called a Silent Realm, where you have to collect magic Things while sneaking around to avoid to giant unkillable guardian monsters who can kill you in one hit.
Also, there are multiple fights with the Imprisoned — the monster most of the game is devoted to stopping — where you have to prevent him from reaching the game’s primary temple as he comes up with novel new ways to make your life as hard as possible.
Now, maybe I just suck at video games, or have too low a threshold for stress and frustration, but these sequences always felt more frustrating than fun to me and the fact that they were recurring elements of the game is what ultimately turned me off trying to play through Skyward Sword.
I had the same fundamental reaction to Breath of the Wild.
It was obvious from the get-go that the game was a technical achievement and probably the most notable evolution of the franchise since at least Ocarina.
But the open-ended, go-anywhere, minimal direction approach to the gameplay honestly filled with so much paralysing existential dread and an all-pervading sense of “Oh no, what do I do now?” that I couldn’t actually have fun playing the game.
On the plus side, there was real voice acting.
And sidebar: as much as I was scared off by the actual gameplay, I loved basically everything else about Breth of the Wild (much as was the case with Skyward Sword) and I feel like Age of Calamity, being a Warriors game, really allowed the world and the characters to shine, backed by gameplay that is about Infinity Times more accessible and less daunting than the original Breath of the Wild.
Again, I’m not saying “this game sucks”. I’m saying “I personally really, really didn’t enjoy some of the recurring segments”.
Maybe you will.
And if you don’t, it’s 2021, video game streaming is an industry in itself at this point. Finding a streamer to watch play it has never been easier.
And Skyward Sword is, again, a sufficiently stylish and interesting game that even experiencing it second-hand is a worthwhile game to spend a few days.
So, clearly, Skyward Sword has some pretty low lows, but when it’s hitting its highs, it’s awesome.
The first boss fight is better than some games’ final bosses and most of the other bosses are similarly awesome.
Most of the dungeons are brilliant — my personal favourite is the Earth Temple, which involves navigating a river of fire by rolling around on a giant boulder, culminating in an Indiana Jones-esque “Run Away From a Big Rock” sequence.
And, basically, everything involved in the production values is phenomenal.
The music is awesome, even for a Zelda game (it’s been ten years, and the Earth Temple music is still stuck in my head). The art direction is awesome, taking the Xenoblade approach of making up for the Wii’s lack of graphical power by using a stylised, exaggerated art style that looks amazing even without sheer graphical power.
It’s like playing a painting.
And, as a side note, Skyward Sword has my favourite design for Zelda in the series. She’s usually regal and elegant as befitting a Fantasy princess.
In Skyward Sword, she’s more of a girl-next-door type ingenue. She isn’t the demigoddess Sage-Princess, because the game is driven by her coming into her destiny as demigoddess Sage-Princess.
Notably, she’s also a fairly self-driven, capable character in Skyward Sword. She accomplishes most of the aforementioned coming into her destiny by herself. She does spent a good chunk of the game basically in a magical sleep and therefore vulnerable and dependent on Link’s help, but even that is a necessary, plot-relevant step in the whole demigoddess Sage-Princess thing.
I kinda feel like I’ve buried the lede here, but one of Skyward Sword‘s major selling points in the initial marketing and promotion was that this is the first Zelda game (in terms of in-universe chronology, if that needs to be clarified).
This is the game that explains why all the Links are the Hero, why all the Zeldas are the demigoddess Sage-Princess, that explains the origin of the Master Sword, that explains the origins of Hyrule, that ultimately explains (eventually) where Ganondorf comes from.
Look, don’t get me wrong here.
The Zelda timeline is a complete, unmitigated mess and the attempts to codify an actual, definitive timeline are the worst thing that has ever happened to the franchise.
That being said, that Skyward Sword is basically the franchise’s origin story is another reason why it’s worthwhile to experience in some way, shape, or form.
As much of a mess as the later timeline becomes, the fact is that Skyward Sword ends up providing the in-universe explanation for most of the franchise’s recurring and most important elements does, in fact, add a lot of the franchise lore.
But, yeah, the rest of the timeline still sucks.
All in all, I’m glad Skyward Sword is getting another chance. And I’m sure plenty of people are glad they’re getting a second chance without motion controls (which, honestly, I never had any real issues with the first time around).
Like I’ve been saying this whole time, it may have some not insubstantial gameplay issues, but it’s compelling enough to be witnesses somehow.
Play it, watch it, have somebody describe it to you, whatever. Just give it a chance.