The importance of Skyward Sword – past, present and future

Skyward Bound

Skyward Sword has always been a divisive entry in the Legend of Zelda series. In fairness, every 3D offering since Ocarina of Time has faced Twitter-levels of scrutiny for one reason or another. Even the now-universally adored Wind Waker received a fervent flurry of anger upon its reveal, simply because it didn’t reflect the Space World footage of Link and Ganondorf crossing swords. Twilight Princess was derided for being too similar to Ocarina of Time, just edgier, and Skyward Sword was condemned for being gimmicky and pandering to Nintendo’s obsession with motion controls. In reality, it should have been praised for offering a realised vision and showcasing Wii MotionPlus in all of its glory.

These preconceptions are all from the point of view of the general public, it must be noted, not the critics and ardent fans who appreciate the unbridled opulence of Skyward Sword’s origin tale. That being said, because it was released at the tail-end of the Wii era when HD was in its infancy and PlayStation and Xbox were offering (at the time) hyper-realistic games, many people slept on Skyward Sword, with Wiis the world over being little more than dust traps, pushed to the back of people’s entertainment units.

To celebrate the release of Skyward Sword HD on Nintendo Switch, I will attempt to explore the importance of Skyward Sword and, in typical Legend of Zelda fashion, it will be a time-hopping trip that will look at its relevance back in 2011 when it initially launched, its purpose in the present and its importance to the future of the franchise.

A Link to the Past

The Wii was an interesting proposition. On paper, it was nothing more than a GameCube with waggle controls, but paired with an affordable price point and a KILLER piece of software bundled in, it became an accessible option that provided everyone and their Gran the chance to experience gaming. While its popularity was unquestionable, it was never seen by the masses as a serious gaming machine. Instead, it was either a portal to some light evening entertainment for all the family or a Netflix box. Every home had one, but it wasn’t for its rich array of games. By the time that Skyward Sword was released in November 2011, most people had moved on to other systems. By definition, the stakes were higher. Because of this, the origin story for The Legend of Zelda was missed by the masses.

What they missed out on was a superbly designed game with a goddess-tier story. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword tells the tale of the origin of the Master Sword, the Blade of Evil’s bane. But it does so much more through its storytelling. The dynamic between Link and Zelda is heartfelt and pure, and NPCs such as Groose further add charm, charisma and personality in abundance. If you’re set to play through Skyward Sword for the first time, you’re in for a rollercoaster of a ride. The word epic is thrown around far too willy-nilly in this most decadent of ages we find ourselves in, but Skyward Sword, for every want and purpose, is indeed an epic tale.

Skyward Sword is truly a sum of its parts however, and if the story doesn’t keep you coming back for more, the dungeons and bosses should. Zelda titles have always been famous for designing levels and puzzles around unique items, and Nintendo is at its creative best when approaching the Skyward Sword drawing board. Motion controls are oft-derided but what they add to Skyward Sword is refreshing and refined. Nintendo games often teach you as you go (the most famous example being Super Mario Bros. level 1-1), and Nintendo themselves appeared to implement that very same philosophy here. They use every trick they’d learned with the Wii Remote to add depth and precision to so many facets of Skyward Sword’s gameplay. By the time it launched, Nintendo had already upgraded Wii Motion with the MotionPlus accessory, which would become standard in later Wiimotes. From a software perspective, titles such as Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort and Wii Play Motion had developed an impressive playbook of waggle techniques. However, Skyward Sword remains the Wii console’s showcase piece for motion controls.

Ever since Toon Link awoke the winds, the graphical stylings of The Legend of Zelda titles have always been something that will be debated en masse around the proverbial water cooler. Skyward Sword adopted a watercolour aesthetic that was the perfect choice. It allowed Skyloft and the land below to shine and, with the Wii being a severely underpowered, standard definition console at this point, the aesthetic allowed the game’s boundless creativity to endear and enrapture. It’s not the graphics, however, that exponentially elevate Skyward Sword.

Instead, it’s the music. Skyward Sword saw the introduction of a fully-orchestrated score to series, something that Nintendo had done earlier in the Wii’s all-conquering reign with the Super Mario Galaxy games. What this brought to Skyward Sword was not only hugely powerful and evocative but extremely important too. We take for granted the size of media available to store games on now. But, in the days of 16, or even 8-bit cartridges, we had to rely on Midi sequencing to delight our auditory cortex. The dark world theme from A Link to the Past will forever remain in memory and is a personal favourite piece of video game music. But, hearing the Symphony of the Goddess blare out in all its pomp and purpose sent chills down my spine that I can still feel to this very day. [Note to self, schedule Dr. appointment re: tingling sensation on spine].

My presence is a present

In the here and now, Skyward Sword offers a perfect metaphor for Nintendo in 2021. Before I come off as overly critical, let me state one thing. Skyward Sword is my favourite traditional 3D Zelda title, hands down. However, when the news dropped that we would be getting a half-cooked Skyward Sword remaster and a Game and Watch to celebrate Nintendo’s second MVP, it didn’t really paint the grand picture of a 35th soirĂ©e that we were all expecting. While Mario’s own 35th knees-up was a little slap-dash, it did give us a collection containing a timeless N64 title, a misunderstood GameCube gem and an iconic Wii blockbuster. We all expected an Ocarina of Time/Wind Waker/ Twilight Princess triple pack, right? Regardless of what we thought we were due, the reaction to the Skyward Sword announcement – while not as fervent to the Wind Waker reveal of Space World 2001 – was divisive. Even so, rumour has it there were riots on the streets of Plumpton on February 17th.

In the most backward way possible, we arrive at my point. This is the Legend of Zelda game we’re getting this year. And you know what? That’s fine. With the Nintendo Switch still in its prime and with its sales numbers fast approaching those of the Wii, simply put, Skyward Sword on Nintendo Switch will have a bigger audience than it did originally. What people will discover is a game that has been refreshed and refined, offering a greater level of fluidity, elevating Skyward Sword to the upper echelons of Switch titles. Just why Nintendo waited until the days leading up to its release to reveal the raft of quality of life changes is beyond me. But I guess that’s why I don’t work for Nintendo…

Origins and codas of time

Could time travel come into play and the events of SS relate to those of the sequel to BOTW? Could the sequel to Breath of the Wild be a prequel to Skyward Sword? Hear me out before you get up on your inebriated horse.

The parallels between the E3 2021 trailer and those of the imminent Skyward Sword are eerie. Also, for the uninitiated, one of the main locales in Skyward Sword is Skyloft, a floating island above the clouds, with other islands offering various activities and respite from the main quest, which takes place in the land below. Maybe the origins of the Hero of Time will be revisited through a time-travel mechanic. Maybe Nintendo simply threw us a red herring with the intention of shifting a few more copies of Skyward Sword HD.

Skyward Sword isn’t seminal in the same sense that Ocarina of Time is, however it remains an incredibly important entry in the series. Origin stories aside, this is the last traditional 3D Zelda game that Nintendo has made and if a long way in the future, after the Breath of the Wild sequel, they decide to explore the traditional formula again, some of the touches found in Skyward Sword will provide a fantastic foundation to build upon.

As a final thought, Ganondorf was the first fighter thrown into Mount Doom by Kazuya during Nintendo’s E3 2021 Direct. Maybe Nintendo is planting a seed that the skeletal figure in both trailers isn’t actually Ganondorf. Who could it be? Well, maybe you should stop reading this and go and play Skyward Sword already.