In Defense of Skyward Sword

The script is posted below the video.

The Legend of Zelda as a series is one that, often times, stirs fans into very mixed reactions. Nearly every game has been called the “best” in the series at some point or another. The latest entry in the console Zeldas, not counting the HD remakes, is the one that, despite the passage of time since its release, still seems to receive more hate than praise. In anticipation of the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we’ll be taking a close look at the game that kickstarts the whole story of the series itself, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Launching at the very tail end of the Nintendo Wii’s life, Skyward Sword is riddled with design choices that sparked a strong divide between fans. We’ll be examining three specific design choices that, based on much fan outcry, are seemingly the cause for the game’s bad reputation. To kick things off, we’ll start with the most controversial aspect of the game: the motion controls.

The motion controls in Skyward Sword are probably the most debated part of the entire game. Some argue the controls simply have a learning curve…

…while others argue that they function like a terrible port of the swordplay from Wii Sports Resort. The amount of people that bash the motion controls is staggering, but is it really as unwarranted as the diehard fans believe?

The main gimmick of the Nintendo Wii is its motion controls, which was enhanced when the Wii Motion Plus accessory released (and came pre-installed in later builds of the Wii Remote). Having a game based around this gimmick does not seem like a bad idea, as it makes the most use of the features of the controller. After all, Twilight Princess made use of the Wii Remote’s motion controls, but those were more along the lines of…”swing your wii remote in different directions to make Link swing his sword,” where in Skyward Sword, it’s all about precision.

People believe that the motion controls in Skyward Sword are too gimmicky, working more along the lines of a test demo of the Wii Motion Plus. The thought behind this is not inherently wrong, though. Despite many people complaining of constant desync of the Wii Motion Plus (which is often caused by overdoing the necessary motions), Skyward Sword actually is one of the best uses of it. While many people claim the motion controls are overly flawed, and that they hardly work, this appears to be varied from player to player. The problems with motion controls actually working is not a problem with the implementation of these controls, rather, it’s more likely caused by limitations of the hardware, or the player’s use of the Wii Remote (such as standing too far from the sensor bar and causing desync, swinging too wildly, etc.).

From a design standpoint, the focus on the motion controls make sense, as Nintendo wanted to push that the Wii Remote’s motion controls are more robust than most people expected. Wii Sports Resort, as stated earlier, was the “tech-demo” game for this. Skyward Sword was seemingly intended to be one of the main uses. The focus was to make players feel like they were Link on this adventure, holding and using his sword. At the same time, fans complain that this comes across more of “pretending” to hold a sword, rather than having an actual immersive feeling. This, I believe, is due to hardware limitations. From my personal experiences, I feel that the motion controls in Skyward Sword are only slightly less reliable than those in Wii Sports Resort, and do not deserve the hatred that they receive. (Real talk though, if this was remade on the Switch, I would love for improved motion controls on those Joy-Cons.)

One of the other main factors to Skyward Sword’s bad reputation is the companion character: Fi. While the Zelda series is known for having a rather diverse cast of characters, it has its fair share of disliked ones as well.

Navi is often the one Zelda character that people, even those who have hardly played a Zelda game, believe is annoying. Even then, though, Navi is treated like a mild inconvenience to fans when it comes to Fi.

In terms of the story of Skyward Sword, Fi was created by the Goddess Hylia to guide Link on his quest as the first hero, tasked with powering up the Goddess Sword into the Master Sword. Fi is depicted as rather robotic-like, speaking without emotions and often using percentages. From a designer standpoint, Fi legitimately serves the same purpose. An AI creation, by the developers, who serves to guide the player, and nothing more. For story purposes, Link may form a connection with Fi, and perhaps those players unaffected by her nature will as well, but Fi was not created to fill the same role as Midna from Twilight Princess. Midna’s purpose was to create a new main character that players can bond with and witness the character development unfold, while also guiding the player. Fi is not meant to serve that full purpose, as Groose is there to fill the character development.

So, why is Fi hated? Well, Fi’s purpose may be fulfilled, but it’s not done perfectly, I will say.

While it’s good to have a reminder that the Wii Remote batteries are low, rather than having them suddenly die without warning, Fi’s reminder to the player removes immersion. On top of the reminder for batteries, most other interactions with Fi continue to distance the player from the immersion of the game, be it by giving what are deemed “useless reminders” (akin to Navi), or by repeating exact information told to players, giving a feeling of redundancy.

A player becoming immersed in the game is one of the main goals of an adventure game, such as Zelda. Removing that immersion tends to annoy players, and lessen their overall experience with the game. This removal of the immersion is what I believe is the main source of hate towards Fi. From a design standpoint, having an emotionless character with the main goal of guiding the player and giving basic (and arguably repetitive) information is not actually bad. Fi (nearly) perfectly serves her purpose, but that’s it, as she is hardly fleshed out further than that, and as a result, her presence outside of cutscenes removes players from the immersion of the game.

It could be handled much better, such as with Midna from Twilight Princess, being a very emotive guide character disguised as another main character. It seems the way Fi was handled was simply not what fans were looking for.

The Legend of Zelda as a series is known for being adventurous, but Skyward Sword is often belittled for having what’s deemed “no” adventure to it. Let’s examine this further.

The land below the clouds in Skyward Sword is divided into three separate provinces: Faron Woods, Eldin Volcano, and Lanayru Desert. That’s the problem with it. It’s divided. By dividing the three main areas up into entirely separate locations, requiring the player to return to the Sky, which essentially plays the role of the HUB world, (alternatively, the Hyrule Field of this game), the linearity of the game is far more obvious than in previous Zeldas. It’s less disguised as adventurous exploring, and more obviously linear backtracking. The thing is, that’s all it is: more obvious. Skyward Sword isn’t overly more linear than other Zeldas.

Take Twilight Princess, for example: Up until about the halfway point through the game, the main sections of Hyrule Field need to be “unlocked,” and cleared of Twilight, limiting where Link can go to various degrees based on the progress through the game. Skyward Sword is not actually all that different. Sure, the Sky may seem a bit barren, but each sky island has some sort of interaction in or on it. The first area opened up is Faron Woods, then Eldin Volcano, then Lanayru Desert. Revisiting new portions of these areas later in the game keeps the familiar locations, but expands upon them in new ways utilizing new items and harder difficulty.

The same goes for Twilight Princess, where revisiting past areas in the second half of the game brings you to new sections, such as revisiting Zora’s Domain to find Snowpeak. The provinces in that game are divided into the three biggest of Faron, Eldin, and Lanayru as well. Want another example?

In Ocarina of Time, you revisit the first three areas of the game once again, finding the changes after seven long years. The Lost Woods and Kokiri Forest, Death Mountain, and Zora’s Domain would be the three “main” areas of the game. You may be asking, “what about Kakariko Village? Or Gerudo Desert?” Well, those would be additional locations to reach from Hyrule Field.

If we label the Sky from Skyward Sword as the “Hyrule Field” of this game, then the additional sky islands would fulfill these, including the additional location of the Thunderhead.

Is it bad to have less of a variety in locations, but to give those locations more depth in re-exploring (with story purpose) them? From a design standpoint, no, because it encourages players to explore an area as much as they can. They can usually tell with some sort of indication that they’ll be returning to that area. In other Zelda games though, this is disguised by subtly reminding the player where they may need to go once they get an item, or perhaps by having some NPC dialogue give hints. In Skyward Sword, however, it’s a lot less subtle. While this isn’t bad, as it still gets the point across, it makes the player feel more like the game is forcing them to revisit the area, rather than going back of their free will. Does this make it a poor design choice? Well, it isn’t the best, that’s for sure, but it is not inherently bad either. The focus of Skyward Sword was on its story. Being the game meant to kickstart the story for the rest of the series, aka the “origin story,” it’s not a bad choice to make the game on the more linear side.

Let’s summarize what we’ve covered here. The Motion Controls in Skyward Sword are actually smart, and make sense from a design standpoint. The limitations of the hardware, however, make them more faulty for some players than others. Fi’s purpose is the same to both Link and the player, and that purpose is fulfilled! There is not much more to her than that, though…so combined with her repetitive nature, fans don’t think she’s so welcome. As for the linearity…it’s not as bad as fans make it out to be, it’s just more obvious that it is linear.

So, final thoughts on Skyward Sword? I don’t believe the game has design flaws so much as it could have handled certain aspects better. The strong focus on the story may be the cause as to less focus going into “disguising” the linearity. Fi as a character may be hard to “fix” without entirely changing her concept. If Skyward Sword ever received a remake, the one “problem” that may be fixed would be the limitations of the motion controls.

Still, though, after going through the three main design aspects that spark fan outcry, I can say that I feel confident in believing that Skyward Sword is a good game. It’s certainly not perfect, but I don’t believe it deserves the hate that it receives.

What do you guys think? Make sure to let us know in the comments below. You can see where to find me, Tris, in the description below. Make sure to subscribe to and follow Source Gaming for more content like this, as well as discussions, news, and more.

 

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The music used in the video was purchased from Ben Briggs. Check out his tracks on his site, or follow him on Twitter!

 

 

 

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Tris

College student of video game design. I absolutely love video games, with the Mario and Zelda series being my two favorites. Here at Source Gaming, I mostly do video content, but I'll occasionally be found writing something! I also run my own Let's Play channel, called WiiHii!

Mains: Link (64), Peach & Young Link (Melee), Toon Link & Peach (Brawl), Toon Link, Peach & Lucas (Smash for 3DS/Wii U)
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