By Mento 6 Comments
Racking my brain on how to address Skyward Sword and the larger Legend of Zelda franchise with a blog, I decided to create a new feature that is very similar to one I did some time ago about the Final Fantasy franchise and how the previous games of that series separately inspired the newest entry (at the time) FFXIII.
The Legend of Zelda is perhaps one of the most infamous series for self-cannibalizing ideas, so it's very common to see recurring features throughout its long tenure as Nintendo's second most profitable franchise. This actually makes it tougher to single out unique elements of each game, let alone the next step of comparing them to a specific aspects of Skyward Sword, but I gave it the old college try regardless. Let's see how badly I messed this up.
The Legend of Zelda
As the antecedent to the entire series, I'm tempted to just put "the whole basic structure" here and call it a day, but let's see if I can't try a little harder than that. Shigeru Miyamoto often cites his childhood summers exploring the forests and caves of the countryside as his biggest influence when creating the Legend of Zelda. This is at its most prevalent in this, the inaugural title, where there are very few NPCs and a hell of a lot of roaming around on monster-infested terrain. It imprinted the game with an intrepid frontier spirit, something I feel has perhaps only since been replicated with Skyward Sword to its fullest extent.
While you could claim the endless skies suggested a sort of "new world to be explored", similar to how Skies of Arcadia also reproduced its serial adventure matinee feel, the sky parts of Skyward Sword are actually fairly trivial. Besides a smattering of tiny rocks and a few NPCs, there's not a lot to be seen above the cloud cover. It's underneath the clouds, with its sparse population and decrepit ruins, that you get a true sense that the land has been abandoned and unexplored for ages untold. An expansive world that most sentient life had long since abandoned as myth. I legitimately think how it plays around with the idea of a fabled surface world is one of the game's few unspoken coups. Even though the cloud cover vanishes while you're under it. Weird.
Adventure of Link
This might seem a bit minor a comparison, but I feel the strongest link (so to speak) between the Adventure of Link and Skyward Sword is the level of difficulty. Specifically with the swordfights. Regarded as the black sheep by many, the Adventure of Link eschewed the original's top-down gameplay for a side-scroller with a stronger focus on action and RPG-style character development. In some respects it was aping other popular sword-and-sorcery side-scrollers like Dragon Slayer and Ys, somewhat neglecting what endeared the first Zelda to so many.
The swordfights though, are where Adventure of Link truly felt like a challenge. Not the insane, obtuse (or outright lying) clues from NPCs, nor the enervating constant random encounters, nor even the labyrinthine dungeons. If you didn't know the "sore knees" trick with Shadow Link, you were going to get your ass handed to you in duel after duel with your shadowy doppelganger. Likewise, the stance shifting Darknuts and Horseheads would whittle you down if you weren't focused at all times. Skyward Sword's equally challenging duels seem disingenuous alongside how easy the game is determined to make every puzzle. It's the only Zelda game to the best of my knowledge to start you off with six hearts instead of three, and that's because you'll need them.
A Link to the Past
Probably my favorite Zelda game of all time, the Super Nintendo's sole Zelda game A Link to the Past is a colorful and expansive adventure that took everything that made the original Legend of Zelda work (all but ignoring the sequel) and added more besides. Nintendo's the master of updating their treasured franchises through generational leaps, as proven by this entry and other fan favorite Ocarina of Time.
Really, the only element I've found that exists in Link to the Past and Skyward Sword and nowhere else (well...) is the Bug Catching Net. A not-so-vital tool that allows Link to explore his lepidopterist and coleopterist aspirations. It speaks to the success of Link to the Past that so much of its content is carried over in subsequent games, leaving it somewhat bereft of unique identifiers. Or I'm just blanking on it.
Link's Awakening proved the versatility of Nintendo's little box of beige, allowing an adventure every bit as far-reaching as its SNES cousin. In a slighty trippy twist, Link washes up on an imaginary island and must discover some way of waking up the mythical Wind Fish from its ovoid prison. Obviously this requires going through several dungeons and locating a series of McGuffins, in this case musical instruments.
I guess what Link's Awakening really began, and I'll readily admit to several others in the series with shades of this, is the very odd sense of humor that became characteristic of the series. Since Link's Awakening essentially started as some sort of illegitimate spin-off of Link to the Past, the creators had some fun with it, introducing cameos from other Nintendo franchises (most notably BowWow the Chain Chomp) and some extremely odd individuals. Ironically, this lack of deference to the franchise's seriousness probably helped it become more accessible. For a specific Skyward Sword comparison, I'll evoke characters like windbag Groose, the disquieting fortune teller Sparrot and the gratitude-starved Batreaux.
Ocarina of Time
The first 3D Zelda and probably the most fondly remembered, Ocarina of Time set the bar for every 3D Zelda to come. Dekus, Gorons and input-based musical compositions all originated here.
As a 3D Zelda itself, Skyward Sword takes most of its content from the Ocarina of Time model. The free-form dungeons, Z-targeting, the day/night cycle, using a mount to cut travel time, gossip stones, rolling into trees to knock stuff down.. so much gets carried over every time. Like Link to the Past, this is largely due to how successful this game was and how it continues to be perceived as the brass ring as far as this type of game goes. As such, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword have borrowed anything of note from OoT and made it as much their own, leaving it with just its legacy as the progenitor of those tropes. But I guess none of the other games has a bald fisherman from whom you can hook a hat?
The Wind Waker
I'm leaping ahead now, since there's no way I'm going to cover every Zelda game and so many from this point are content to borrow almost entire swaths of features from previous games. All I've got for Twilight Princess so far is "they both have some clown with a cannon", for goshsakes. Also this blog is already super-long and people are probably restless for some goofy-ass comics. The Wind Waker is perhaps the last notable leap to try something new with the franchise with its vast seas and stylistic cel-shaded cartoon graphics, so here goes.
The most immediate comparison to make between the Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, besides the alliterative titles, are how the worlds are presented as being largely buried under seas and clouds respectively, and how a considerable amount of time is spent crossing these empty expanses to the next vital area. There's tinges of melancholy as you explore wonders of the past world that remain buried and unknown by the larger populance and also that ever-present menace that caused the downfall being constantly in your peripheral. Some decried WW's sailing as pointless and uneventful, but I felt it was instrumental to the adventurous (and post-apocalyptic) mood the game was setting. Soaring around on your Loftwing is highly reminiscent of that experience despite the reduced scale of the Sky world, which was truncated presumably to avoid a recurrence of those aforementioned Wind Waker complaints.
I kind of made it clear that most of what makes Skyward Sword what it is are past games of the series (especially Ocarina) but perhaps I'm not giving enough credit to what the game has originated. While Twilight Princess flirted with motion controls, having a GameCube version ensured that they could never be the focus. While I can take or leave Skyward Sword's often imprecise sword fighting (or I just suck; I never rule out that possibility), it perhaps has some of the best uses of motion controls I've ever seen from a game. Nothing too horribly gimmicky nor too many instances where you felt like there should just be a button you could push instead, which I appreciated. Then again, Nintendo's had long enough to get it right.
If your low tolerance for motion controls or the Legend of Zelda's endlessly repeating structure has turned you off games in the past, there's probably nothing about Skyward Sword to change your mind. But I think it's cool? I guess that's a review? Like a really terr-
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword