No other video game series has touched my soul or inspired me more than The Legend of Zelda has. For both myself and many others I'm sure, this is the case. In terms of Zelda games that really are the full package combining innovative gameplay, lovely fantasy art styles, and powerful musical scores with impactful storytelling, the 3D entries come to mind. For many, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may be the new gold standard in those departments. But for me, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword still reigns supreme in all categories.
For the sake of controversy and my personal standards, I'm going to compare Skyward Sword to Breath of the Wild in this editorial. I consider them by and large the two best Zelda games, and in some aspects, for very different reasons.
I view these two titles as nearly perfect in their own niches in the pantheon of Zelda; since Breath of the Wild came out this year, I have said these two games are two sides of one marvelous Zelda coin. Breath of the Wild is the escapist's Zelda game. It's all about exploring, actively choosing what to do, and adapting to whatever the land of Hyrule can throw one's way (which is a hell of a lot in terms of combat, puzzles, and more). Skyward Sword, on the other hand, is all about precision. The precise motion controls, wonderfully executed narrative, and linear design all echo that sentiment. The thing is, if I was forced to choose one of the two, I would choose Skyward Sword any day.
After saying something that bold, I doubt anyone still reading this would be shocked to hear that story can be just as important to me in a video game as the gameplay itself. I can still play a game like Super Mario Bros. and be completely satisfied. That being said, I know what I can and should expect from the Zelda series. And Skyward Sword's story is by far the best in the entire franchise.
That might actually be the only thing about Skyward Sword people agree on. I'm betting that few people would make the argument that the story of Breath of the Wild is superior to that of the 3D Zelda adventure before it. That's not to say the story of Breath of the Wild is bad, far from it; heck, I even wrote an editorial about why the story of the newest Zelda is so freaking amazing.
It's actually just testament to how nearly flawless the storytelling in Skyward Sword is. What with two imposing (and for completely different reasons to boot) antagonists, some of the most fleshed out side characters in the series, and epic moments aplenty, it's hard to know where to start gushing about the plot, tone, and characters of Skyward Sword.
The most sensical origin point then must be the motivations. Link's driving force at the start of his adventure among the clouds is no intrinsic desire to be the hero or because some fairy told him to get out of bed. Instead, Link, the Chosen Hero, does everything in his journey first and foremost for Zelda. The romance between them in this game is strong and full of heart. Whether this relationship is providing some of the most memorable moments in the game through cleverly timed comedy or dramatic tension, it's always driving Link, and therefore the player, forward.
If story means little to you, that's just a bit of context to surround you as you move your way through dozens of hours of adventuring. But if you become as connected to the characters as I always do at the start of my playtime on Skyloft, then this driving force to save Zelda or assist her becomes the most potent narrative force in almost any video game.
Everything Groose, Ghirahim, Demise, Fi, Impa, and the supporting cast do to either help Link or stand in his way is also made more profound and important due to the relationship between Link and Zelda established in the long but necessary beginning hours of the game.
And since this is a video game after all, what the player does is important too. With the enhanced capability of the Wii MotionPlus, every movement the player makes is more important than ever before in Nintendo gaming. One-to-one swordplay works amazingly well still to this day. For the flight of things that are practically extensions of Link's being such as the Beetle and his Loftwing (*cough* his name's Crimson in my headcanon *cough cough*), the player's arm movements are replicated to a tee.
Every item being motion controlled in Skyward Sword honestly serves to immerse the player more. Thank Hylia it works nearly all of the time if your Wii is set up correctly. Otherwise, this sense of immersion would have been lost, and an ambitious gameplay goal would have fallen flatter than The Imprisoned after Link's wish on the Triforce.
For me, this balance of heartfelt, well-paced storytelling and unprecedented interactivity with Link's arsenal creates an addictive phenomenon in Skyward Sword that no other game can match. Every move I make ties into the game's plot somehow, both in little ways like when rolling a bomb to blow away rocks blocking the way or in big ways like using a Skyward Strike to unlock the Gate of Time. Every bit of progress I make seems to be rewarded with an amazing moment, like a transformation in one of some of the best dungeons in the series, a reaction from my lovable devil Ghirahim in a duel, or a tear-jerking monologue from Zelda herself.
That type of feedback loop is so satisfying to me, the player (or the hero if I must indulge myself). And not even Breath of the Wild has topped Skyward Sword's implementation of it in my opinion.
The only thing that could make all of Skyward Sword's Zelda goodness better for me is an HD remake (do it, Nintendo!) because while I dearly love the watercolor art style that smartly masks some of the Wii's limitations, the 480p game can still leave a lot to be desired in looks. Otherwise, get rid of the game's redundant explanations for treasure and bugs every time you turn the game on again, and we're set. We already know the game's soundtrack is perfection (the best in the series as well if I must say so), so Nintendo really better make a re-release of this gem happen on the Nintendo Switch, or there'll be Demise to pay.
So what about you? What are your thoughts on Skyward Sword? Do you understand my love for this wonderful game and could you perhaps share my sentiments? What is your favorite Zelda game, and why? I can't wait to read your thoughts, and thanks for listening to some dork's opinion on an underrated beauty in gaming's greatest franchise!