Skyward Sword Replay Thoughts

NA Release Date: November 30, 2011 (Wii)
Initial Playthrough: c. May, 2012 (Wii)
Replay: November, 2018 – September, 2019 (WiiU)

Oh Skyward Sword- where do we begin…? As was discussed in the overview, SS got me back into playing Zelda after a long absence, so I’d guess due to that I always think back on my time with this game really fondly. Maybe… too fondly? Parts of this playthrough were a tough climb for me- so tough that I put it down for about six months not too long after starting it.

Upon picking it back up though, I decided to grind it out no matter how angry I got with the motion controls… which brings me to my first comment:

I Did Not Enjoy The Motion Controls
Part of this is I did not spend enough time to really ‘learn’ them, and I was picking the game back up far-removed from any tutorial element that probably was trying to explain to me how I could be less awful at it. What was unfortunate was that most of the game lets you get by just hacking and slashing and shield-bashing and strafing. Run around, swipe the sword, you’ll probably be fine. Unless you run into a Quadro Baba or a Lizalfos or Demise, and then you (or rather, me) are basically screwed in the main. While at it’s core, I certainly admire the novelty of the 1-to-1 motion control concept and its delivery on the promise of the Wii as a console, it didn’t land for me. It always seemed fidgety, and I’d end up having to contort my wrist and arm in weird ways to get Link to do what I wanted on the screen.

Hello darkness, my old friend.
[Credit: Bwar/Zelda Wiki]

But! When you did land the correct angle of yours of swipes, it was pretty satisfying. Almost as satisfying as trying to draw a rupee on a wall to get some mon-ay. And whatever the lethal-blow insta-kill finishing move thing was- that I did enjoy, with relish, nearly every single time. But the motion control annoyances don’t stop with combat… let’s discuss briefly next,

The Tacked-On Musical Mechanic
I’ve read places that they were trying to include elements from all the older games as some type of nostalgia overload in SS, so I can only assume that’s why the Goddess Harp was shoehorned into the game. The fact that it doesn’t really do anything besides make you wait longer for the story to progress is frustrating- it doesn’t warp you anywhere, it doesn’t generate any useful magic effects or alter your environment- it’s just an excuse for Fi to dance around. And even that I could get on board with if the song-learning Isle of Songs sequence wasn’t so dang corny.

Halfway through, the background just disappears, and suddenly Link is surrounded by a rainbow-colored flock of Loftwings, standing on nothing (I see you, concluding scene of OoT) in the middle of the damn air. Did I mention that what started this off was a stone statue singing with jaw articulation inspired by what I can only assume was a nutcracker?

I can’t caption this, it’s too silly.

Taking a step further back, I am actually down for the Isle of Songs. A giant monolith encased (inexplicably, for the most part) in THE THUNDERHEAD, where the Goddess has stored away some good hero secrets for you? Awesome. Having to crawl through that stupid hole each and every time you go back there? Ugh. I can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic or not when I say it’s undignified- what was the creative rationale there? It took something that could’ve been grandiose and mysterious and made it feel a little dumb (see: above image).

While we’re still near the topic of music, how about

A Few Thoughts On the Song of the Hero Sequence
Looking back at my notes, for whatever reason I really enjoyed the stealth sequence going through the Eldin Volcano without any equipment. That was a fun, if a little tried, shakeup in the late stages of the game. Getting the one from the woods, though? You march on in to this flooded area, swim up the tree, and find your old pal the Water Dragon who, lest we forget, we saved from a mortal wound the last time we met her. So you ask for the fragment of the Song of the Hero, as one does, and her response… well let me see if I can find the exact dialog:

Wait, what? You must not know who I am.

The fate of the world, or at least Zelda’s life- vessel of the Goddess, no less -hangs in the balance, and this powerful being who has a divine mandate to help Link, the Goddess Hylia’s chosen hero, is going to pull a fetch quest from the ether to stall me for a while longer? You’ve got to be kidding. I understand it’s a game, and they gotta cram the content in where they can, but this felt pretty lazy from a writing standpoint. At least say the stupid tadtones ran away… or something? Ugh, tadtones…

The end bit was cool though, since I like Levias. He was putting out some pretty strong wind-fishy vibes, and as we’ll see in a few entries, I am down for that in a very major way. Plus starting off fighting a battle on him to was pretty rad, and his design was way more impressive to me than the dragons proper.

The Silent Realm is a Goddess-send
I was so grateful for these little breaks. The first time I remember being annoyed at how contrived they were (you need to fill some vessel to show spiritual growth, which you achieve by sneaking around a nocturnal hellscape where everything is trying to find and kill you…?), but this time through it was just nice not to have to mess with the swordplay for a little while. Pulling one of these off was very satisfying, even if it took you a bunch of tries, because to complete it you have to do it perfectly at least once. Even if it is a blatant rip-off borrowing send-up of a similar mechanic in Twilight Princess, the sleepy dream-world aesthetic, coupled with the really impressive character design of the guardians, made these pretty fun for me.

Must go faster, MUST GO FASTER.

I Guess This Is an RPG Now?
Upgrading the equipment was fun, but hunting the bugs was less so. Even still, it was satisfying to tinker around with the equipment I liked using the most. Nothing was quite as edifying as upgrading the Goddess Sword to the full-blown Master Sword, though. In particular, the blade-purification cutscenes somewhat makeup for their semi-analogs in the song-learning section discussed above. With one exception though: in the Lanayru Desert you work your way through a silent realm and the sand sea, both of which I enjoyed a lot, ditto for the Scervo battle (and Tentalus to a lesser extent), all the way through the timeshift stone mechanic on the boat, and finally you get the flame. The prior flame made your sword longer and more powerful- what will the next one do?!

Now I can Not Dowse twice as much as I had been prior.

Again, maybe this is me, someone who chronically avoids completing games 100% (invariably there is some fraction of that about which I simply can’t bring myself to care), but I only found myself ‘dowsing’ when absolutely necessary. The notion now that I was somehow constrained by the limited number of dowsing slots before this point is laughable. Mostly just bummed that one of the strongest stretches of the game had such a disappointing end. Fortunately though, Skyward Sword really hits its stride in the endgame.

Seems It Was Worth the Wait
As you can see, lots of little things to gripe about, but by the time the game starts winding down, the best has been saved for last. Once you’re through the last excellent Silent Realm in Skyloft, your prize is a weird talisman/token thing. You run around Skyloft long enough, and you find it’s actually the missing mate of a bird statue you’ve probably run past dozens of times in the course of the game. You put it in, and the weird looking bird… turns into a cannon? And fires a projectile at the base of the chunk of Skyloft that was risen up from the Sealed Grounds. The shattering of the rocks to reveal the Sky Keep is one of the few jaw-dropping moments of this game to me.

It nearly makes up for the super-dopey loftwing design.

In my head, this plucked the same thematic cord as when Indiana Jones drops the staff into the model of the ancient city, and the amulet refracts the sunlight to show the location of the Ark. It’s a breathtaking reveal that is all the more surprising in our case since we’ve spent the whole game with this structure, only to find the Triforce was under our collective noses all along.

And that’s not to mention what a fantastic dungeon the Sky Keep is inside. With minimal combat and puzzles that require innovative combinations of the full complement of equipment assembled throughout the game, this last dungeon is all the more satisfying since solving the puzzles nets you the Triforce! While so many games center around just putting back together the parts of ‘one Triforce’ here you simply work through the Keep and snap up all three like it’s no big thing. It’s one of the few times the pieces are successfully assembled and used to grant a wish; in this case, it’s Zelda’s wish to drop the Sky Keep back onto the Sealed Grounds. Even she is sick of watching Link fight the Imprisoned for the nth time at this point.

There’s some last minute time-travel tomfoolery though, so you end up needing to dance with both Ghirahim and Demise. The battle with the former was pretty fun, though due to my ineptness with the Wiimote, the latter has always been brutal IMO. Points for the aesthetics of the weird water/lighting battleground setting, even if it didn’t make much sense.

Wrap-Up: Winners and Losers
Winner: Groose. Character development! He has learned humility and the value of friendship.
Loser: Demise. No real motivation for why this massively powerful being sets off a perpetual cycle of rage-fueled rebirth that will cost the lives of untold thousands across time immemorial? I guess it is a game for children…
Winner: Fi. The idea of her as this weird anachronistic computer in a fantasy game was a clever angle…
Loser: Fi. …but we are too busy desperately begging her to shut up with all the useless information (she even whines at you when the Wiimote batteries are low…) to actually appreciate it.
Winner: Impa. Even if the identity of the ‘old lady’ is telegraphed so hard and so early, it’s probably the most well-executed aspect of the half-assed Gate of Time gimmick (despite the Temple of Time location being impeccably designed out there in the desert). Plus, her younger self had a great character design and was given a lot of power/agency, which was fun to see.
Loser: Gaepora. Zelda needs to step up her Father’s Day game apparently, because this dude could not much seem less motivated to try and find his daughter.

Final Thoughts
I like that Skyward Sword somehow met its dual mandate of being something significantly different from the games before it while also paying homage to some of our favorite things in those 25 years of games. It’s a textbook example how how even when a concept doesn’t quite land, the ‘floor’ in Zelda is so high the experience remains largely pleasant and always memorable. Due to the motion controls (and the mixed reception to them) I worry this release might languish in its original form many, many years into the future- frozen in time by its own achievements in leveraging that unique hardware.

Still, it remains a worthy entry, and serves as an admirable jumping-off point for our chronological replay.

Up Next
The Minish Cap (WiiU Virtual Console)