The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword Review – Part 2

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Okay, so last time we ranted on and on about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.  You all got an earful of all the terrible things that motion controlled game play causes.  So, it’s time to talk about the actual story from the game.  Spoilers to follow, needless to say.

Story wise, this was supposed to be the story that started it all.  The first Legend of Zelda.  The first appearance in any timeline anywhere of Link, Zelda, and Gan…er…wait…well..someone like Ganon, I guess.  But we’ll get to that in a minute.  The story does have some good moments.  It’s the first time in any part of the series that Zelda and Link are not just platonic hero and princess friends, but actually interacting with each other romantically.  This gives Link some much needed agency in the whole embarking on the quest bit.  Ghirahim, the main villain in the game, was one of my favorites of the entire Zelda series.  He was slightly underused in my opinion as with the number of dungeons and bosses running around, you get kind of bogged down in the quest and he becomes easy to forget.  Fi was also a joy.  Fi is the Navi equivalent in this game, and the idea that the Master Sword has a benevolent sentience inside of it, designed to assist it’s wielder is awesome.  The hinted at connection between Fi and Ghirahim was also really great, though it was only a hint and as late as it’s dropped in the story of the game, it’s just one more story thread that this game left unexplored.

Offizielle Timeline

But that’s largely the problem with the whole story anyway.  As the first Zelda game in the timeline, there was great opportunity to lay down serious work that could have explained the influences of the series and even setup later games in the future.  Unfortunately, the story is your typical rescue the princess, stop the bad guy setup, that has been done, frankly, much better by other games in the series.  You’re introduced to Gorons, though unlike nearly every other Zelda games where Gorons appear, you never see a Goron village or home.  Just a single one.  And boy does he get around.  In addition other races are introduced that we’ve never seen before and who knows if we’ll ever see again.  The Kikwi, the Mogli, even the Parella which COULD be the predecessors of the Zoras.  You have the 3 Dragons (not even one of which was named Valoo).  All of these new creatures and characters are very strange to see.  Given the vast history of the Zelda franchise you would expect that Nintendo would have mined it’s history better, but it just doesn’t seem to be the case.  The Parella are the worst examples that I can see, as they function exactly the same as every other Zora in every other Zelda game ever.  Even the dragon who is the Parella’s patron, Faron, looks like a Zora.  And not like Jabu Jabu, who has made two other appearances in the series.  All these threads and no connections, it’s like the writers for the game just didn’t ever play a Zelda game before and decided instead of looking into the older games, to just invent new constructs to help them out wherever they needed a story element, as opposed to looking at what had been done before and seeing what could be reused.

Worse then that, it’s not even good at the story it does try to tell.  It suffers the same major pacing issues that Twilight Princess suffered.  You spend 3 dungeons chasing Zelda, all while being told that you both have different but mutually beneficial destinies that you have to engage in.  Never mind that joining up together at any time would have made infinitely more sense then being split apart would have.  At one point in the game, you’re actually told to go through an old mine instead of taking the fast direct route because Zelda used that route and sealed it up behind her to keep monsters from catching her.  Hey, guys.  How about you just let ME take care of the monsters, huh?  I mean, I am the Goddess’s chosen hero right?  Got the sword?  Right?  Hello?

So of course the moment you actually DO catch up to her, she’s whisked off into the past through a gateway in time.  Why is there time travel in this Zelda game?  That’s not going to make things more confusing is it?  Once she’s snatched away from you, with literally no explanation as to why, you’re now engaged in a quest to upgrade the Goddess Sword into the Master Sword.  So it’s back to 3 more dungeons fighting your way through to do the next part of the game.  This is probably the most straightforward and easiest to understand sections of the game.  It’s also where the god-awful silent realms first appear.  But we covered those last post.

After you’ve upgraded the Master Sword you’re sent to find Zelda in the past, only to discover she’s the Goddess in mortal form and has to stay in the past and seal herself up, otherwise the big bad guy might escape.  Even though in the present he’s basically escaping and this is what set off the whole quest to begin with.  Why does she have to stay in the past and seal herself up?  Good question.  Sadly it’s never really explained worth a damn.  Only that she must sleep in order to protect her power for when the time is right.  Hey, why don’t you go complete 3 more challenges so that you can get the Triforce?  As the ultimate power, it should be enough to stop the bad guy.  Who isn’t Ghirahim by the way.  But he’s really way worse than Ghirahim.  Trust us.

So after 3 more challenges finding the location of the final dungeon, you get the Triforce.  Which is then used as a maguffin to kill the final boss for you.  No boss fight.  No fuss, no muss.  You wake up Zelda in the present and everything is hunky dory.  Why did she travel to the past again?  Oh well, doesn’t matter now.  Everything is fixed and we don’t have to do anything.  Great way to end the game.

Of course that’s not the end of the game, but you saw that narrative fake out coming right?  You forgot to finish off Ghirahim while you were running errands for the Goddess and now he’s kidnapped the freshly awakened Zelda.  But that’s not the end of the world, right?  It’s not like he can’t just go through an open doorway in time back to the past, right when Demise (the actual bad guy in the game) was first sealed up and resurrect his boss in the past, right?   Oh wait.  Now I see what that Door in Time was for.

It was for the villain.  Wow, so why didn’t you say so?  If I had known I wasn’t the main character in this story, it would have made so much more sense.

So even though you fight through the equivalent of 9 dungeons, trying your best to stop Ghirahim from kidnapping Zelda to sacrifice her for his dark lord, none of it matters.  They send you off to find the ultimate magic maguffin to put a stop to all of this and at the moment of your victory, Ghirahim shows up and does a complete end run around you and all of your work.  All in a cut scene by the way.  Using a time portal YOU opened.  Did you get all that? Let me repeat that for you.

In one cut-scene everything you’ve done for the entire game is wiped away.  You’re right back at the very beginning.  Only worse, because in the beginning, Ghirahim didn’t have Zelda.  The game isn’t actually about Link and Zelda.  Ghirahim had all the agency in this adventure and everything you’ve done has been in reaction to it.  And now, not only has he managed to completely undo all your work, but he’s going to go into the past and wipe you from existence.  Well I suppose that’s one way to create a sense of crisis, Nintendo.

And so, off you go to fight Demise.  The big bad boss of the game who’s resurrected using the lifeforce of the Goddess, hidden away in Zelda.  This is supposed to kill Zelda, so at least you don’t have to worry about motivation.  The problem though is that Demise has made absolutely zero appearance in the game before this moment, and despite the fact that his release is supposedly the worst thing that could happen, I can’t help but not care about him.  He just appeared.  He hasn’t even done anything.  It’s Ghirahim who did all the work and made everything happen.  Let me take him down.  But the game won’t let you do that.  You see Demise transforms him into a dark master sword for use as his personal blade.  I guess taking out the guy who tormented you and made you feel useless this whole time counts as a reason to fight him?  Maybe?  But Demise is literally a plot contrivance for the sole purpose of having a final boss in the game.  He looks like Ganon but he’s not Ganon.  He fights with a dark master sword, and that’s interesting.  Why is that there?  Why does Ghirahim look so much like Fi now that I think about it.  Why do I have these questions about a game that’s supposed to be a setup and answer for all the games that came before it?  For real????

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Anyway, Demise goes down and curses you and all the generations after you to fight him again.  Seen that before.  Not impressed.  Oh by the way, by defeating Demise in the past, it basically invalidates and should also irrevocably alter the events of the future since he literally can’t escape his prison to cause trouble any more.  Did they just create a time paradox?  Am I going to go back through the Gate of Time and see everything just as it was when I left it after I used the Triforce?  Why yes.  Yes I did.  Their unwillingness to link Ganon with Demise is the final major flaw in the story.  Demise is most likely Dark Link and not Ganon, a repeatedly occurring character in the series.  Demise’s final map you fight him on even resembles the reflecting pool from Ocarina of Time.   Just one more unanswered thread.

So many unanswered questions.  This is a big problem.  Understanding that this is a series and it’s likely the questions will be answered in another installment, I’m still very frustrated at the poor story telling.  As Link, you’re constantly being tugged on by Fi and the commands of the Goddess to go be the Hero and do heroic things, when all you really want is to get your girlfriend back.  Because, that’s not motivation enough, right?  Oh were you off to save the one you love?  Good for you, here is your manifest cosmic destiny attached with all this.  So get on it there, buddy.  Add to this, the seemingly willfullness of Nintendo to ignore lore from the past for no apparent reason and I’m left wondering why people think that Eiji Aonuma deserves to continue to head the franchise.  As the Director of Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and the Producer on Skyward Sword, his influence has clearly been a detriment from the story telling perspective of the games.  He strikes me as someone who understands the epic scope of the battle required to make these games work, and can do a reasonably good job executing on giving the game play the epic feeling it requires.  But, part of that epic feeling comes from having a story that is tied to that combat that makes it not just epic, but meaningful.  And while Aonuma clearly understands one, he is lost at sea on the other.

So to summarize, while there are moments of Joy in Skwyard Sword, with some new and interesting characters that could be fun, the story does very little to explore those characters and instead gives us another watered down version of the same events from Ocarina of Time and every other Zelda game ever.  The game becomes flat out problematic when you notice that it lacks any link (sorry, couldn’t resist) to any of the Zelda games that have come before it.   Because of the fact that it was the “first” game in the timeline, it would appear that the makers decided they didn’t really need to include any of the elements from previous games in a way that tied them together significantly.  And yes, defeating the final boss in the past before he can escape in the future and start you on your quest creates a paradox in time that cannot be hand waived away, even with a pretty cut scene at the end.

All is not lost however.  I do have hopes for Hyrule Warriors, if for no other reason then that Aonuma has been quoted as saying that Koei was making a game he couldn’t.  Let’s hope that the next installment of the franchise takes from the better elements of Aonuma’s work and he gets some additional help in the writing department.  Arguing with a 7 year old boy who idolizes the series, and can’t understand why you’d have fault with the narrative flow of the game, is REALLY HARD!

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