“We named the protagonist Link because he connects people together.”
If The Legend of Zelda has one true unifier, it’s Link. The relationship between Link and the player is the only consistent mainstay the series has had over the years– Zelda’s only real guarantee. Link is a traditionally silent protagonist, but not without depth. Beginning with Ocarina of Time, a greater effort was made in giving the character an arc– development through his actions & subtext. All the while, his silence ensured we could see his growth as ours. In his foreword for Hyrule Historia, Shigeru Miyamoto writes, “I said the name Link came from his role as a connector, but Link is you, the player.” No medium has the benefit of interconnectivity quite like video games, and Link has long stood as The Legend of Zelda’s way of making heroes out of anyone.
There’s an intimacy to the mere act of controlling a character, and few series beckon audiences into their world as well as The Legend of Zelda. The original Zelda & Zelda II offer immediate control while A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, & Ocarina of Time awaken players into their journey. It’s never long before control is handed over, but just as Nintendo saw fit to experiment with the franchise surrounding Link, Miyamoto recognized the early 2000s as an important opportunity to reinvent gaming as a medium. Explaining why Nintendo chose to pursue motion controls for the Wii, Miyamoto said;
“The classic controller was something we had become fond of and gamers had become comfortable with. It had many important elements. But it also had come to dictate a lot of what went into games— the way graphics were made, the way battles were fought in role-playing games, the arc of in-game stories. They were all being made to fit one standard. Creativity was being stifled, and the range of games was narrowing.”
The Wii’s motion controls were a conscious rejection of where gaming was going as a medium, an attempt to ensure creativity didn’t dissipate amidst a sea of derivative titles. More importantly, motion controls inherently bolster the player/avatar relationship through added physicality. While Wii Sports served as the hardware’s tech demo– packaged with every console– the Wii launched with one notable killer app: Twilight Princess. But in spite of being a great game in its own right, Twilight Princess simply wasn’t as strong of a representation of motion control as Wii Sports.
The only reason Twilight Princess has motion controls, to begin with, is because Eiji Aonuma– The Legend of Zelda’s producer– felt the game was missing a “punch.” Originally slated as the GameCube’s swan song, development was reworked so Twilight Princess could serve as a launch title for the Nintendo Wii. Motion controls would help Twilight Princess “stand out” from other Zelda, particularly in regards to bow & arrow aiming (which the Wii release admittedly does very well.) This improvement in aiming would go with downgrades elsewhere, however. The map had to be mirrored to accommodate a predominantly right-handed population– losing the game’s aesthetic cohesion in the process– while the franchise’s most in-depth swordplay up to that point was replaced with light flicks of the wrist.
Twilight Princess strived for greater interconnectivity but didn’t truly succeed. The game’s motion controls are superficial because it’s not a Wii game. It’s almost shocking how much more comfortable TP becomes when playing with a GameCube controller, but this shouldn’t be taken as a fault of motion controls or the Wii. Twilight Princess doesn’t reflect the motion controls or the intimacy the Wii promised, as it’s a late-gen GameCube game dressed up as a Wii launch title. Per Hyrule Historia, Miyamoto’s developmental philosophy posits that “The most important aspects of a game are the game system, the action, the sensory experience, the creativity, the production values, and the performance.” It’s not a sentiment which reflects Twilight Princess’ Wii port, but it does ring true for 2011’s Skyward Sword.
Development for Skyward Sword was rooted in improving upon Twilight Princess’ failing. Reflecting on the title, Aonuma said, “With Twilight Princess, we challenged [ourself] to create the most vast and realistic world the series had ever seen, but we don’t feel that we were able to fully complete this objective.” Worth noting, Aonuma likely is not referring to Twilight Princess’ “realistic” art style, but what Miyamoto describes to be the nature of The Legend of Zelda: “Zelda is a game that values reality over realism.” Aonuma clarifies, “In the art world, realism is a movement to faithfully replicate the real world to whatever extent possible. Reality is not mimicking the real world, but rather making players feel like what they are experiencing is real.”
With Twilight Princess’ limited motion controls, how could it possibly make players feel like what they were experiencing was real? If anything, the Wii port’s unique distraction ultimately takes away from the experience, diminishing Twilight Princess. The fact of the matter is that a motion-controlled Zelda was too ambitious for the Wii’s launch, but it was an important fumble for them to make. Only through Twilight Princess could Skyward Sword strip realism to find reality. The Wii MotionPlus certainly does help, though.
Skyward Sword would not have been possible without an upgrade in motion control technology. As an accessory, the Wii MotionPlus clicks into a Wiimote in order to improve its motion control capabilities, but Nintendo would soon develop a Wii Remote Plus controller with the WMP’s benefits built-in. Offering more reliable motion than the standard control could with Twilight Princess, Aonuma felt that the Wiimote had become like a “tool” by the time Skyward Sword began development. In discussing the boon of WMP, Miyamoto similarly said,
“Wii MotionPlus allows us to detect how the remote is being tilted, so you don’t have to point it right at the screen to get it detected any longer. In other words, all you have to do to move the cursor is to change the angle of your wrist. It’s kind of like a 3D mouse that way. You can also press down on the control pad if the cursor’s offscreen to reset its position to the center of the screen.”
In practice, Skyward Sword does perform better when in-line with the sensor (along with requiring recentering,) but the Wii MotionPlus’ boot-up calibration goes a long way in keeping motion controls intimate– encouraging fuller gestures akin to what Link is performing on-screen. Outside of bow & arrow aiming, Twilight Princess’ controls were a poor approximation of reality. Swordplay in particular was relegated to flicks of the wrist combined with button presses, leading to fairly stiff combat. Compared to its fluid GameCube release, it’s clear Twilight Princess’ foundation was not designed with motion control in mind. That said, TP’s motion controls nonetheless bridged a gap between the audience and Link– a detail which Skyward Sword doubles down on.
Specifically, Nintendo saw the Wiimote as a proper stand-in for a sword, influencing every facet of Skyward Sword’s design. “This time, the theme is the sword which makes use of the Wii MotionPlus accessory. When you think of a sword in The Legend of Zelda, you think of the Master Sword. Rather early on, we decided to address the origin of the Master Sword.” The idea of embracing the “sword” at the center of The Legend of Zelda was further characterized by the introduction of Fi, Link’s companion whose soul resides inside of the Master Sword. While Fi is something of a contentious character, she’s one of Link’s most steadfast companions. The Wiimote’s speaker even outputs sound when Link sheathes & unsheathes his sword, a reminder Fi is always by his side.
Holding the Wiimote like a sword, with Skyward Sword itself treating it as such, naturally makes in-game tension feel personal. It’s easy to pin frustrations on faulty controls, but most mistakes really do come down to user error. Smart reflexes are more important than quick reflexes, with players whipping their wrists around wildly like in Twilight Princess punished for their transgressions. Patience, an eye for telegraphs, and indistinguishable arm gestures are all necessary. Swordplay no longer requires button presses, allowing the player to act unburdened while freeing up the rest of the controller for Link’s other actions. Held down, A now makes Link dash (complete with a stamina meter) while the button is reserved for context sensitive actions otherwise. With A as Link’s all-purpose mobility button in combat (dodging, jumping, etc.) and B dedicated to his items, Skyward Sword circumvents TP’s clunky combat.
That said, Skyward Sword does introduce a few issues of its own: While more precise on a whole, Wii MotionPlus can be too sensitive at times (most notable when playing the harp or flying for too long.) The game calibrates the Wiimote every time it boots in order to keep control stable, but recentering will be a frequent occurrence. As the ‘3D cursor’ will naturally drift, you’re expected to press down on the D-Pad to recenter the controls while aiming or in a pause screen. That said, it’s really no trouble so long as you diligently do it– it takes a second, exists by design, and can be done pretty much anywhere & anytime it’s needed. Unfortunately, while there’s an easy fix for unstable controls, there’s no getting around the physically demanding nature of Skyward Sword.
Skyward Sword is an uphill battle for anyone with arthritis or carpal tunnel, and is just plain unfriendly to the left-handed. Sky diving & bomb bowling make sharp wrist movements an inevitability. They’re well integrated gameplay mechanics, but not the most physically accessible. For all its faults, Twilight Princess’ Wii port won’t be leaving many sore. That said, it is important to play at a pace that suits you. Skyward Sword is a deliberately slow & methodical game, more so than any Zelda before it. Lengthy play sessions are doable, but they’re something to build up to. Skyward’s swordplay is like any physical activity– some days will be better than others, but treating your body with respect and knowing when to put the Wiimote down paves the way to success.
“In the name of my creator, draw the sword and raise it skyward.”
Similar only to Zelda II in this regard, Skyward Sword’s combat genuinely requires practice, patience, and perseverance, albeit not on as intense a scale as its NES ancestor. While the WMP will register turns of the wrist just fine, combat requires full movements– think about how you would actually hold and use a tool. Swordplay is involved enough where if you aren’t going to commit to the physicality, there’s little point bothering. Swinging the Wiimote draws Link’s sword, and while the gesture doesn’t need to be hard, there should be some weight behind it. Link’s movements aren’t quite 1:1 in combat, but the end result is a fun approximation of swordplay. So long as players are mindful of how Link’s arms are moving on-screen in conjunction with their own, the action is as accurate as it needs to be.
It should also be pointed out Link can’t attack in any direction. Rather, his sword makes use of omnidirectional swinging from the waist up. Link can cut vertically, horizontally, & diagonally with any wiggle room resembling one of eight actions (think the compass in The Wind Waker or Simon’s whip in Super Castlevania IV.) While Link can truly only swing in eight directions, it’s not all his sword can do. A steady, firm forward jab of the Wiimote will make Link stab whatever’s directly in front of him– complete with puzzle integration– while shaking the Wiimote & Nunchuck at the same time will result in Link’s signature spin attack if done horizontally, and a spinning flip attack if shaken vertically.
Notably, Skyward Sword is the first 3D Zelda to bring back Link’s Sword Beam as a natural part of his toolkit. By holding the Wiimote directly skyward, Link can charge his blade with the Goddess’ power to store it for his next attack. Once charged, the Skyward Strike can even be used as a makeshift projectile to damage enemies from afar. Unlike with Link’s other techniques, there’s deliberately less room for error with the Skyward Strike. Pulling off the move requires Link’s arm to be center in-game and simply holding up the sword won’t imbue it with any power. That said, it will catch an enemy’s eye.
Combat is far more skill-based than any 3D Zelda, requiring reflexes rivaled only by The Wind Waker’s Parry Attack. Enemies always telegraph when it’s safe to act, but it’s important not to wind up attacks. Pulling back towards the right to swing left is only going to make Link swing right. It doesn’t matter where you’re holding the Wiimote so long as Link can make an action in-game. That said, where other Zelda games task the player with knowing when to attack, Skyward Sword asks that you know how to attack as well. Enemies will often feature only one vulnerable area at the time, blocking the rest of their body, and getting in a counter should Link whiff his swing. Bokoblins and Lizalfos won’t wait around forever, but they’re generous enough to give players a second to realize they need to come in from the upper-right.
Rushing in wildly without considering how the enemy will react almost always ends in disaster. Most opponents follow Link’s sword with their eyes, blocking in accordance. Crafty players can use this to their advantage by actively creating openings to exploit– a skill Skyward Sword teaches during the fight against Ghirahim. From there, it’s on the onus of the player to keep their reflexes sharp and their sword hand steady. The only time it’s justifiable to rush in headfirst is when an enemy is down for the count and needs further punishment for good measure.
With the Wiimote filling in as Link’s sword, the Nunchuck resumes its shield duties from Twilight Princess, but with considerably more depth & versatility. Shaking the Nunchuck in combat will have Link ready his Shield, while shaking it again will have him perform a Shield Bash. Counter an enemy with a Shield Bash right as they strike, and Link can create an opening that players can exploit. This is a technique that’s as useful at the start of Skyward Sword as the end, so the sooner it’s mastered, the better. What’s particularly notable about the Shield Bash is that a successful strike completely circumvents the new shield durability system.
Link’s shields could be eaten by Like-Likes or stolen by birds in previous games, but now they can outright break. Blocking too many attacks will result in a shield being worn down. Link can repair his shield at the Skyloft Bazaar, but it’s gone for good if it breaks. Pairing off the durability system is a brand new progression system broken down into four tiers of shields. True to form, Link’s first shield is wooden and rather weak compared to his later upgrades. The Wooden Shield is weak to fire (as to be expected,) but it can also catch arrows for Link to pick up while resisting electric attacks without damaging Link.
On the flip side, the Iron Shield is much more durable and resists fire, but will conduct electricity into Link should players deflect the wrong attack. The Sacred Shield presents itself as a mid-game upgrade to both the Wooden & Iron Shields, but its low durability can be punishing for anyone who hides behind their shield. At the same time, the Sacred Shield innately repairs itself while repelling fire, electricity, and cursed enemies outright. Link’s final shield is the familiar Hylian Shield, available only at the very end of the game and after clearing a reasonably difficult boss rush.
Shield effects are situational (& detrimental) enough where only the late-game Hylian Shield is explicitly better than the rest, but the Wooden, Iron, & Sacred Shields all feature unique upgrade lines. Monster spoils aren’t new to The Legend of Zelda, but it’s commendable how well Skyward Sword weaves enemy drops into a dynamic upgrade system. All upgrading really does is increase durability and change the shield’s appearance, but it allows for each type of shield to progressively improve. The Braced Shield is still weak to fire, but it’s a wooden shield worth taking into the finale. Similarly, the Goddess Shield maintains a fairly small durability meter to ensure players can’t comfortably ignore their other shields wholesale.
Along with allowing Link to upgrade his gear, the Skyloft Bazaar serves as the player’s all-purpose hub. Link can purchase and infuse potions with bugs he’s caught at Luve & Bertie’s Potion Shop; there’s a Gear Shop to restock on ammunition and replace broken shields, and Peatrice’s Item Check counter allows Link to store any unwanted items. Which in itself is worth mentioning. Skyward Sword does away with Link’s limitless pocket space in favor of Adventure Pouches. While traditional equipment like Bows & Bombs will always be on-hand, players need to manage their extra bomb bags, quivers, bottles, and even shields. Link has a maximum of eight Adventure Pouch slot at his disposal, but since he begins with only four, quite a bit of item management is necessary early on.
This drives Skyward Sword’s gameplay loop, requiring players to exercise foresight in regards to the items they’re bringing with them. This goes double when taking Medals into consideration. Medal are equipable items that give Link buffs when placed in his pouch. The Heart Medal bestows an extra Heart Container, the Rupee Medal increases the Rupee spawn rate, etc. Medals tend to be the rarest items in the game, but their benefits are always worth considering and add another layer to item management. That said, it’s also worth considering the extra bomb bags and quivers Link can stock in his Adventure Pouch.
While Link’s non-sword weapons aren’t as useful in combat as they used to be, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth using. Slingshot pellets stun enemies, the Whip can steal the horn off a Bokoblin’s belt, and the Gust Bellows does a surprisingly good job at antagonizing & subduing smaller foes. By tilting the Wiimote downwards, Link can bowl his bombs into groups of Bokoblins from afar– scaring them– or just kill any Chuchus in his path. Similarly, bombs can blow up a Stalfos’ body, easing encounters with them. When bombs are present as an environmental hazard, Link can even use his Beetle to aerial bomb enemies from up above.
The real star of the Link’s equipment, however, is his Bow. While players can hold down A to aim & steady their arrow, holding C while shaking the Nunchuck triggers a fast aim that’s immensely satisfying to pull off when mastered. The Bow’s full gesture makes it one of Link’s swiftest weapons, capable of picking off enemies from afar with ease. Fully upgraded, the Sacred Bow can drop Moblins in just three shots. With just about every tool in Link’s kit having some practical combat use, any extra ammunition goes a long way. Especially since the level design isn’t always generous with item drops.
“This is the fabled surface that has long been a part of Skyloft legend.”
Skyward Sword is one of the most linear entries in the Zelda franchise, if not the most. This is a series founded on exploration, but Nintendo had been following a trend of making The Legend of Zelda more restrictive for some time. The natural end result was Skyward Sword, a game with little to no optional exploration. This isn’t a bad thing, however, and it’s important to recognize that linearity versus non-linearity is not a matter of good design versus bad. In practice, Skyward Sword uses its linearity extremely well. Exploration is internalized in structured areas with an emphasis on environmental puzzles to create shortcuts and progress towards the next “stage.”
Taking cues from Super Mario’s level design, Skyward Sword’s overworld areas are much more compact than in previous 3D Zelda titles. There’s rarely any empty space, filled either by enemies, secrets to find, or just puzzles to solve. There are only three overworld regions Link can visit, and they’re not even internally connected, but this is because Skyward Sword structures itself like a never-ending series of dungeons. Each overworld area is often a dungeon in and of itself, complete with a dungeon item that fundamentally changes how players approach their surroundings.
Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert are revisited multiple times over the course of the story, but it would be wrong to call this backtracking. The first few times Link revisits a region tend to be accompanied by him gaining access to entirely new areas with new puzzles to solve & items to find. The few straight retreads are often accompanied with unique setpieces. Players will scale Eldin Mountain four times, but between Link stealthing his way up with no weapons and sniping enemies from afar to protect his robot companion, they’re hardly comparable. One could argue the Silent Realm trials are a case of backtracking since they reuse maps wholesale, but these set pieces are stealth focused, feature unique enemies Link can’t fight back against and are incredibly tense by design.
It’s also worth mentioning that Skyward Sword does open up by the last act, opting for some endgame non-linearity. When Link is tasked with learning the Song of the Hero from the three Dragons, players are free to go about their mission in any order. By this point, virtually every side quest is open and the entire world can be explored, making it easy to appreciate everything Skyward Sword has on tap. The Song of the Hero setpieces changes up their areas dramatically. Faron Woods is now completely flooded– forcing players to swim their way through the forest with the Wiimote– while Lanayru Desert sees Link following a minecart that reverts the nature around it to its past self.
As Skyward Sword’s level design is denser than previous titles, Dowsing was introduced as a means to keep players on track. By pressing C on the overworld, Link will enter first-person view and take out his sword to dowse for whatever he’s looking for– whether that be the next plot-related trigger, some hearts, or bugs. Rather interestingly, Hidemaro Fujibayashi (Skyward Sword’s director) expressed that Dowsing was meant to downplay exploration in an Iwata Asks;
“Until now, we’ve prepared landmarks that you could see from afar or we devised something or other to lead the players to avoid anyone getting lost, but with Dowsing, we don’t have to do that.”
What’s more interesting is how this doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. It’s perfectly possible to get through Skyward Sword without dowsing by relying solely on the world’s visual cues. Every province is filled with distinct landmarks, sticking out all the more thanks to the impressionist art style. The very geography of the world flies in the face of why Dowsing was included, but the mechanic at least makes finding secrets a breeze by the end of the game.
Exploring the surface is a slower process than in other Zelda games. Something as rudimentary as creating a path to a dungeon can take an entire day’s worth of progress. Treating these sections of the game as something to rush through in order to get to the next dungeon is one the quickest ways of ruining Skyward Sword. It’s worth taking your time, especially since many of Link’s pre-dungeon sequences are genuine highlights. Boating around the Sand Sea is just as memorable as the Sandship, the Fire Sanctuary’s ascent is the perfect opportunity to put your marksmanship to the test, and the lengthy narrative build-up to the Ancient Cistern makes entering the dungeon feel like a legitimate turning point.
On a whole, Skyward Sword’s dungeons are some of the finest in the franchise. With the higher difficulty curve afforded by the combat, along with a greater volume of puzzle-solving than usual, all seven of the game’s dungeons warrant at least one playthrough. It’s inspiring just how creative some of the dungeons are. Skyview Temple is surprisingly thought-provoking for a first dungeon, requiring players to think laterally about Link’s sword and how enemies react to it. Fire Sanctuary makes great use of claustrophobic tension with a dungeon layout that evolves as you manipulate lava & dig underground to move gates. The Sky Keep alone manages to ensure Skyward Sword ends on a high, arguably the best designed final dungeon in Zelda.
It’s not unusual for the series’ final dungeons to lift from previous set pieces and puzzles, but the Sky Keep connects its rooms together through a series of sliding block puzzles. Along with needing to figure out the correct block orientation in order to progress, each room has its own series of puzzles that must be solved before Link can move on. Every dungeon is represented well, featuring puzzle design that’s often harder than the actual dungeons themselves– a surprising rarity for Zelda. With the premise of the dungeon seeing Link acquire all three pieces of the Triforce, the Sky Keep is an amazing way to ease into the final boss fights.
Better yet are the trials Link must accomplish before he can earn his Triforce. The Trial of Power forces Link to traverse enemy-infested lava, striking a tense balance of action & puzzle-solving; the Trial of Courage is a gauntlet of mini-boss after mini-boss that tests your swordplay & endurance with little room for error, and the Trial of Wisdom features some of the hardest puzzles in any final dungeon. The Trial of Wisdom makes you think about the room’s layout and how you’re manipulating it through the Timeshift stone. The Sky Keep turns one of the game’s best puzzle mechanics into one of the series’ best final exams. The only downside is that there’s no in-dungeon boss, but that’s only because the final fights are stationed elsewhere.
On that note, Skyward Sword certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to boss fights. Scaldera, Moldarach, Koloktos, and Tentalus all test how well players can precisely maneuver their Wiimote to varying degrees, while the three battles against Ghirahim are basically midterms for swordplay– challenging Link at key points as a means of ensuring players aren’t just brute-forcing their way through the game. The Imprisoned can be a rather frustrating fight considering the first and second rematch are fought in close proximity to one another, but all three Imprisoned battles offer something new– whether that be the David & Goliath narrative of the first duel, the Groosenator of it all in the second, and the sheer heart-pounding tension of the third.
Bosses are aggressive, more so than enemies, and aren’t nearly as generous with their timing. Battles can take their time, and it’s often in your best interest if they do. Duels against Ghirahim can especially get chaotic once he draws his sword. Lose your composure, and it’s all downhill from there. If you lack the reflexes to keep up, read boss movements, and learn their telegraphs before blindly attacking. They stand in stark contrast to the more passive enemies of the overworld, but it’s for the best that Skyward Sword indulges its difficulty curve when it comes to boss fights. It would have been easy for Nintendo to see motion control as a reason to hold back, but Skyward Sword embraces the notion that an epic needs a challenge.
For all its strengths, if there’s one area where Skyward Sword does unfortunately falter, it’s in its Sky. The Surface is segmented and noticeably linear, but the level design is tight and the overworld consistently uses its pre-established set pieces well. The Sky is an actual husk by comparison. While it’s littered with a few enemies to fight and floating islands to visit, there’s actually very little reason to explore without triggering Goddess Cubes beforehand. Goddess Cubes populate the Surface, and trigger Goddess Chests up above when struck with a Skyward Strike. These Goddess Chests are automatically marked on the player’s mask once plunderable, and completely inactive beforehand.
If nothing else, locales like Pumpkin’s Landing and Bamboo Island at least give players something to seek out in the Sky when there aren’t any Goddess Chests around. The flight controls aren’t too shabby either. Link rides a Loftwing, (basically the King of Red Lions meets Epona meets a shoebill,) and flight is controlled exclusively with the Wiimote. The Loftwing is steered with left & right turns, rises in the air when the Wiimote is shaken, and descends while picking up speed when dipped. Long flight sessions will require recentering, and subtle movements are key to keeping them stable. Riding Link’s Loftwing isn’t an unpleasant experience, but it’s hard to feel much of a connection to the bird– a pity in an otherwise strong story.
“I’m still your Zelda.”
Skyward Sword sets itself up as an origin story for The Legend of Zelda as a franchise and ends up taking a more myth-like approach to its main cast as a result. Link’s arc is filled with him performing Herculean Labours that gradually see him developing into someone worthy of saving Zelda. Link begins the game as a lazy, late, lovable loser who goes on to prove himself by undergoing a continual baptism by fire. He braves sacred temples forgotten by time, overcomes four Silent Realm trials, tempers the Master Sword with Sacred Flames, and removes a parasite from an ancient & wise whale in order to glean knowledge of the Triforce.
Taking cues from The Wind Waker’s facial animations, Skyward Sword’s Link is one of the most expressive. He furrows his brow in genuine rage when tested by Ghirahim, visibly breaks down when Zelda is placed into a millennium slumber, and actually reacts to dialogue with subtle facial tics– showing that a silent protagonist isn’t a substanceless protagonist. All the same, holding Link’s sword in your hand blurs the line between player & avatar even further. The fact Link has dialogue trees now (complete with recurring snarky comments) helps in allowing the player to still project themselves onto their heroic counterpart. Link is the most nuanced he’s been, but that’s also why he’s one of the best examples of interconnectivity in the franchise. Link’s training arc is your training arc, as his swordplay only improves if you do.
In the foreground of Link’s arc is Fi, the spirit embodying the blade that eventually becomes the Master Sword. Fi is often criticized as one of the series’ lesser companions, but she ends up being a fairly useful gameplay tool in her own right. Fi can not only analyze enemies, she learns more about them over the course of the game. The more variants Link kills, the more Fi will know about her Master’s foes– offering insight into weak points & strategies. Her recaps are thorough, but brisk enough to catch players up to speed in seconds, and her hints are actually more restrained than Midna’s. Fi will point out a puzzle’s central mechanic in some instances, but she never actually solves anything for the player. Fi is certainly more intrusive than she should be (there’s no reason she should inform players they’re dying while Link’s hearts are beeping,) but she’s really no worse than the average Zelda partner.
Fi’s arc is particularly interesting when framed through Link and the player’s growth specifically. Skyward Sword is a 45+ hour adventure, and all that time spent will naturally make the control scheme more comfortable. Demise is a hard enough final boss where defeating him might as well be proof of one’s mastery of the control scheme, and it’s only in mastering their sword where players are forced to part with Fi. Fi’s farewell is similar in tone to Navi’s at the end of Ocarina of Time, but Skyward Sword plays its goodbye between Link and Fi for all the drama it’s worth.
While a robotic character, Fi features enough subtle character development where her goodbye does land and make for a tender note to end the story on. She very slowly grows feelings over the course of the story, developing a sarcastic sense of humor similar to Link’s by the end of the game. Where she’s cold & calculating with her Master early on, she “eagerly” awaits Link’s return during his first Silent Realm trial. She shows agency by urging Link to internalize a prayer after acquiring the Triforce, and assures Link she’ll be with him before the fight against Demise.
Fi’s signs of humanity are understated but deliberate, so as not to take the focus off the narrative proper. She even opts for a private farewell with Link, disregarding that she’s in the presence of a Goddess. Fi really is nothing new on paper– an amalgamation of Navi, Ezlo, and Midna– but motion controls go a long way in keeping her presence even when she’s not engaging as a character. Link’s very sword represents that he & Fi are on this journey together. If anything, Fi could have benefitted from a few more bonding sessions with Link– though Link playing the harp while Fi sings makes for nice shorthand.
Zelda is not a princess this time around, but she’s the most divine and mythical in the role she’s ever been. In making Zelda the reincarnation of the Goddess Hylia, Skyward Sword plays around with the “legend” at the center of The Legend of Zelda. Such a turn should naturally make Zelda a harder character to relate to, but the script goes through quite a lot of effort to ensure Link and Zelda have a tangible relationship rooted in who they are– not who Zelda was. The romance between them is barely subtext, with Link driven by his sole dedication to saving Zelda. Even when he’s told that he’s just a pawn of destiny, he plays his part since it aligns with what he already wants.
Destiny as a theme is prevalent throughout Skyward Sword, with Link and Zelda fulfilling predetermined roles that were already chosen for them. Zelda embodies this best as it was her former self who orchestrated the events of the story, but Link and Zelda still do struggle. The fact Ghirahim and Demise come as close as they do to succeeding suggests that Zelda is fallible. All things considered, it makes for one of her better depictions in the series, and her scenes with Link tend to feature some of the script’s best writing. The Legend of Zelda often banks on the player already wanting to save the princess, but Skyward Sword’s is the Zelda you’d actually want to save.
With Zelda so likable, Ghirahim ends up being one of the series’ best villains. His flair for drama & theatrical personality make you love to hate him, and he’s a genuine thorn in Link’s side. All the same, he has real character flaws and underestimates the Goddess’ Hero continually– not that it stops him from achieving his goals. Ghirahim serving as a Fi-esque entity to Demise really isn’t as surprising a twist as the story thinks it is, but it’s good enough payoff to Ghirahim’s arc and allows for Skyward Sword’s narrative to end on a self-reflective note.
Demise, Ghirahim’s Master, is Ganon distilled to his purest elements. He’s pure hatred, hungry for nothing more than blood, but he’s surprisingly compelling with shades of barbaric nuance. Demise meets Link with patience & politeness that would make the demon king seem honorable if not for his horrific backstory. While he accomplishes little in the plot, Demise makes for an excellent final boss– a representation of the eternal conflict between Link, Zelda, and Ganon. Demise even leaves the audience with a “curse” to ponder on, a reminder that this is only the beginning of a war with no end. Having Link defeat the spiritual embodiment of evil is as poignant an end to any hero’s journey.
Skyward Sword is often criticized for what it’s not: It’s not as exploratory as other Zeldas, as freeform, or even as accessible. But that doesn’t prevent Skyward Sword from being compelling. A franchise of Skyward Swords would wear out its welcome fast, but as the sole game that puts the Master Sword in the player’s hands and not just Link’s, Skyward Sword has immense value. A remake would certainly round out the game’s edges, but it likely wouldn’t do Skyward Sword the justice it deserves. Skyward Sword is intimately attached to the Nintendo Wii’s hardware, its history, and its legacy. Skyward Sword is the culmination of Nintendo’s career with the Wiimote– everything the Wii was building up to from the moment Twilight Princess was made a launch title. Just as Fi is an extension of Link, Link is an extension of ourselves. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword wasn’t the revolution Nintendo envisioned, but it’s a motion control masterpiece in its own right.