This is going to sound surprising to some, but the first time I played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was when I was twelve years old — over ten years ago. And as you might expect, children don’t exactly have a long attention span at that age. Given that I was no exception to this rule, I may have chosen the worst possible Zelda game to play. Seriously, the original version was riddled with excessive cutscenes and dialogue, and I lost interest after just a few hours of playing. The recent release of Skyward Sword HD quite literally changed the game, then — and after ten years of leaving this title incomplete, I was finally able to finish what I started over a decade ago. Although this is not my favorite entry in the Zelda series, it’s certainly one worth taking a second look at, even all these years later.
When Skyward Sword HD was first announced, social media went crazy — and not necessarily in a good way. Some dedicated fans found the game’s high price tag a bit unreasonable and cited a lack of meaningful changes. This was all justified, too: for whatever reason, Nintendo chose not to share any of the game’s much-needed quality of life updates until just a few weeks until its release. I’m not exactly why they decided to go this route, but it kept people talking about the game until its eventual release on July 17. Perhaps that’s what they had planned all along?
Though its price tag is steep, Skyward Sword HD is – in my opinion – a significant upgrade compared to the original. I disliked the Wii version’s focus on motion controls; playing the game felt like more of a commitment than I wanted it to be, plus it was difficult to find the motivation to pick it back up again after taking a break. The HD release fixes almost all of this, as Skyward Sword is now easier to pick up and play than ever before. I don’t even think an emulator could refine the experience as intelligently as this remaster has, and that’s saying a lot!
Before we get into the gritty details, I would like to point out that we’ll be covering spoilers in the sections to come. I’m assuming not many of you are actively trying to avoid them, but if you are then here’s your warning! There’s tons of information to go over here, so let’s start by talking about what you’ll notice first: the game’s general presentation.
Story & Presentation
This may be a hot take of sorts, but I don’t think The Legend of Zelda has ever been known for having a particularly strong storyline. Sure, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of those found in the Mario and Pokémon series, but it’s still somewhat basic in the big picture. With that in mind, I’ll say this about Skyward Sword’s narrative: it’s important. This was one of the first attempts to tie the entire Zelda series together with a timeline, though whether it was successful in doing that or not… the answer is often different depending on who you ask. My answer would be “kind of”.
In this game, Zelda isn’t even a princess. She’s a normal girl living on an island above the clouds called Skyloft, and this area houses what remains of the Hylian race. Link lives there too, of course, and toward the beginning of the main campaign, he’s tasked with winning the Wing Ceremony, which is when residents of Skyloft race their Loftwings (giant birds that let them cruise through the clouds) and chase down a golden bird holding a Bird Statuette. The winner is allowed to offer that statuette to the Goddess Hylia — and to receive a sailcloth from Zelda. Shortly after Link wins the ceremony, Zelda is swept up by a tornado and flung to the surface world, which prompts Link to search for and rescue her.
For the next twenty in-game hours or so, Link repeats the process of almost finding Zelda but then realizing she’s gone on ahead because she “had something important to do.” The game takes a long time to tell you exactly what’s going on, and it isn’t until the very end that she finally takes a moment to explain. When she does, things start to make sense — but I occasionally felt frustrated because I’d spend an hour going through a dungeon only to be met with the same result each time: your princess is in another castle. Part of Zelda’s explanation is that she knew that Link was destined to assume the role of the legendary hero, so she purposefully went on ahead just in time so that he’d continue growing stronger, using the thought of seeing her again as his motivation. I suppose that makes this okay, but I’m not sure it was the best way to go about it.
Thankfully, Skyward Sword also gets a lot right. While it doesn’t introduce many new characters, there are three in particular that players like most: Groose, Ghirahim, and Demise. Groose lives on Skyloft too, and he’s sort of like a bully to Link. His character is developed and fleshed out quite nicely as time goes on, though he does disappear for a good while. Ghirahim is flat-out goofy while also being strangely intimidating, and as a result of his unique personality he’s become one of my favorite villains in the franchise. Demise only appears toward the end of the game, but his general attitude is surprisingly calm and respectful. He’s not quite your stereotypical final boss, and I enjoyed that aspect of him.
Now then, visuals. Skyward Sword HD is impressive because it makes it very easy to forget that you’re playing a ten-year-old game. Its art style is sort of a mix between The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess; the characters’ proportions are mostly realistic but the detailing on their models is simple and stylized. The environments’ themes are as basic as they get (there’s a forest, a volcano, and a desert), but their visuals are about as solid as can be for a Wii game. The forest was – in terms of visuals – my favorite of the three, what with its lush greens and deep browns and such. As always, I do have one complaint — I think the characters’ faces are a little janky. They’ve got big noses and somewhat strange-looking mouths, though this is admittedly a very minor issue that I got used to as I played the game. Overall, I like the aesthetic this game has going for it, but I wished there was more diversity in the area themes. I’m mostly neutral toward forest levels, and I tend to dislike volcano and desert levels. That opinion did not change after playing through the main story.
This game also has a really impressive soundtrack! From the now-iconic Ballad of the Goddess to the cozy tune of Skyloft to the climactic final boss theme, this game’s got it all. It’s an incredibly varied score full of catchy tunes — perhaps even some of the best in the whole series. For the first time in the franchise’s history, each track is fully orchestrated, and there was no better game to start with. As we’ll mention later on, Skyward Sword – particularly its finale – feels very important and impactful, and the orchestrated soundtrack helps enforce this feeling.
Skyward Sword has some of the smoothest (and slowest) gameplay in the series. Compared to the previous titles, it’s introduced a stamina wheel that lets Link run for a short period. It drains incredibly quickly, though, and I often found myself feeling impatient when I had to slow down and walk for a while. That being said, I think I’ve chalked that up to being more of a me issue than a game issue. Another notable difference here is that you can no longer mash the button to swing your sword: instead, you’ve got to figure out its slashing angle using either motion controls or the right joystick. This adds an additional layer to combat, as you have to be sure you’re placing your sword exactly where it needs to go. Certain enemies can block attacks that would hit their sides, so you’ll have to carefully examine your opponents to determine which areas your sword can hit. We’ll talk more about how the controls work in the next section, so hold on for just a little while longer!
Next up, the main items that Link obtains from dungeons are really fun in this game. My favorite was the Beetle, a projectile that you can send out and control to pick up items and squeeze into tight spaces. The Whip, the Gust Bellows, and the Clawshots were highlights as well. Speaking of dungeons, Skyward Sword’s might actually be the best the series has to offer. Each one is cleverly designed to make use of each of your items, and some of them will really make you think if you’re not using a guide or walkthrough. Key item selection is also pulled off well, and it works kind of like the tool ring does in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You press the ZR button, input a direction, and boom — you’ve got your item ready to go. This is handled even better than Runes in Breath of the Wild, which require you to scroll through a list instead. You wind up switching items a lot in this game, so I’m grateful they didn’t go with the scrolling list.
These key items are used in the game’s boss battles, which are mostly hit-or-miss. The battle against Koloktos (an ancient robot wielding several swords) is my favorite boss in recent memory, but the fights against Tentalus and The Imprisoned rank towards the lower end of my hypothetical boss battle tier list. You fight The Imprisoned three times over the course of only a few in-game hours, and by the second fight, I was wishing it was over already. When I realized there was a third fight that was virtually identical to the first two… hoo boy.
Now that we’ve handled some of the positives here, it’s time to take a dark turn into the negatives… and there are quite a few of them. As you might have gathered from the previous paragraph, certain elements of this game become repetitive fast. Like I mentioned earlier, there are three major areas in this game: the Faron Woods, the Eldin Volcano, and the Lanayru Desert. In the first quarter of the main campaign, you’re tasked with visiting each location and solving some problems before going through a dungeon and tackling a boss character. After scouring all three areas, you eventually learn that you need to go back to each area and re-explore it for a different purpose. All in all, you’ll go back to each location at least three times, traversing much of the same geography over and over again. This game really could make do with a fourth area — perhaps a snow or ice-themed level could have worked to break up the repetition?
Of course, not all of Link’s adventures take place in the surface world. At several points you’ll have to return to the sky to access side quests, shops, and other surface locations. You travel between these places on your Loftwing, which can be controlled with the left joystick this time around (as opposed to the motion controls that were required in the Wii version). This is a neat gimmick at first, especially given that the game makes a point to show the player how important Loftwings are to the people of Skyloft. Unfortunately, it stales rather quickly when you realize just how slow traveling between locations via Loftwing really is. Sure, you can press a button for a quick burst of speed, but it doesn’t change the fact that sky travel takes a long time. It doesn’t help that – to 100% complete the game – you have to do a ton of flying, and this issue is never resolved with a new item or technique during gameplay.
Later on in the game, Link is tasked with completing four challenges called Silent Realms. For these levels, you’re thrown into an alternate-dimension version of an area you’ve already visited, but with one notable change: they’re stealth missions. Link must collect several items which are scattered about, and if he goes too long without collecting one then a team of dangerous Guardians activates and chases him down. If he’s attacked even once, the challenge ends and must be restarted from the very beginning. To be fair, I didn’t have much trouble with these; in fact, I only lost once. But I did find myself losing a bit of motivation to play the game every time it told me I had to do another Silent Realm challenge. That’s a key point with Skyward Sword HD: many of its levels and elements become repetitive because they’re used so often. To sum up each of these repetitions: the game’s three areas are used repeatedly, there are multiple Silent Realms, and there are many near-identical boss fights. Perhaps this game had to be rushed to meet its deadline? We’ll never know for sure.
One thing I will give Skyward Sword credit for is its excellent finale. If you don’t know this already, this game is the first in the franchise’s chronological timeline. This means that – by default – the final boss feels impactful. As mentioned earlier, this time around Link must defeat the demon king Demise, who is reincarnated in later titles as Ganondorf. Indeed, upon defeating Demise, he tells Link that his kind will be followed by an everlasting incarnation of his hatred for the rest of time. The actual fight is excellently done as well; its soundtrack is climactic and the battleground is beautiful and dynamic. What stuck out to me most, though, is that while defeating Demise marks the end of Skyward Sword, it marks the beginning of the rest of the Zelda series. That’s pretty cool.
Skyward Sword HD – despite its initial criticism as an expensive remaster – actually includes a wide variety of welcome changes. As mentioned earlier, Nintendo took their sweet time showing us these changes, and as it turns out there are actually quite a bit of them. Let’s start with the self-explanatory ones first, then: there are now multiple save slots (rather than just one), Fi and tutorial dialogue is cut down (especially in the first few hours of the campaign), cutscenes can be completely skipped, and item descriptions only appear when you collect that item for the very first time. Though we’re sort of glossing over these adjustments, they save a lot of time and help prevent players from losing patience or motivation early on.
The name of the game might have clued you into this, but Skyward Sword now runs at 60 frames per second (as opposed to the original’s 30) with full high-definition visuals. Personally, I always play my Switch console in handheld mode, and I’m happy to report that I only encountered notable slowdown once within my thirty hours of playing. Said slowdown only lasted for a few seconds, so it’s safe to say that you won’t notice any performance issues as you journey through the skies of Hyrule.
Next are the refined button controls. In the original Wii version, players were forced to utilize the Wii Remote’s motion controls at all times. In Skyward Sword HD, players can choose between separated Joy-Con controllers for upgraded motion controls or they can use a traditional controller (attached Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller) and use the right joystick instead. This may actually be a rare scenario where the motion controls are slightly easier to pick up — when playing in handheld mode, the right joystick controls Link’s sword and the game’s camera, and you have to hold the L button to switch over to camera controls. You also can’t tilt the camera while running. It took me a while to get used to this layout; personally, I would have preferred an option to hold the L button to control the sword instead, but after a few hours of playing the motion became natural anyway. Quick note: this is a really bad game to play if your Joy-Cons are drifting.
Then we’ve got the new Zelda & Loftwing amiibo released alongside Skyward Sword HD, and … what a nightmare. The figurine retails for $24.99 USD and, when tapped in-game, allows Link to return to the sky regardless of his current position on the surface. This isn’t a huge deal, per se, as Bird Statues (which have the same functionality) are rather common and easy to find. What does matter, though, is that players can use the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo again while in the sky to return to their exact location on the surface. As you might expect, this becomes crucial in speedruns, and at the time of writing you can’t even find the darned figure for any less than $70 USD. Seriously, if you’re going to lock this kind of functionality behind an amiibo, you should at least make sure there’s ample stock available. It is a nice-looking figure… but why doesn’t the Skyward Sword Link amiibo (which was released several years ago) work with this game?!
Skyward Sword HD’s price tag might be steep for some, sure – and understandably so, given its status as a decade-old game – but it’s a fantastic way to experience one of the Wii’s final Nintendo-developed titles for the first time. If you haven’t played Skyward Sword before, I’d recommend doing so while tempering your expectations. Certain aspects of the game are reused to hell and back, and this might frustrate players who become easily bored. But there’s still a mostly-great game beneath these flaws, and it’s certainly one well worth your time.
First-party Nintendo games rarely go on sale, but if you’re able to find a listing of Skyward Sword HD for $40 USD (or even $50, perhaps) — then you should absolutely pick it up. My first run of the game took me somewhere around 35 hours, so you can expect that the game will last you about that long, too. Whatever you do, though — don’t be tempted to buy that Zelda & Loftwing amiibo from a scalper!
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