For those of you who’ve been playing Skyward Sword, you know that the game poses a lot of interesting questions. In fact, it made me think of a lot more questions than it actually solved for me! And so today, I want to delve into the story of Skyward Sword and ruminate on the backstory of the game in an article.
This naturally will have Skyward Sword spoilers. Specifically, this article has spoilers up through and including the part immediately after the sixth dungeon. Read at your own risk.
For a game that’s supposed to be the origin of the entire Zelda series, I’m actually very surprised at how few hat tips Skyward Sword makes to its eventual sequels of Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I suppose those hat tips are actually really there, but only if you consider the occasional name drop a full acknowledgement of significant continuity. Yes, the regions of the game are named the same as they were in Twilight Princess. Yes, there’s a character named Impa that looks characteristically Sheikah. Yes, the Temple of Time is standing tall and proud (though not exactly as we’d remember it from Ocarina of Time). And yes, the Gorons are present as one of the original races that inhabited the world.
Yet Skyward Sword’s attention and interests seem to be wholly focused upon something besides creating a nice, continuous story that properly links in every game beyond it. Instead of diligently trying to set up the groundwork for the series’ future and tying everything in with robust fidelity, it seems to be dedicated in establishing a link to the past (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)—as in a past that exists even further in history than Skyward Sword itself. While it’s hardly the only example of the game’s obsession with the past in the game, the entire Lanayru region is focused upon giving players a glimpse into the life of the surface world hundreds or thousands of years prior.
Thank about that. A game that’s intended to be the series’ ultimate prequel makes you look even deeper into the past in order to have a full understanding for the world as a whole.
LIT: The Lanayru Institute of Technology
But Lanayru province is unique in two other aspects as well. First and foremost, it is one of the primary locations that seems to have significant ruins that detail the existence of human life on the surface before Hylia raised up Skyloft into the clouds. While we do have the occasional dungeon, temple, or cistern scattered about the area, Lanayru is different because it isn’t just the occasional obligatory monument plopped down for the sake of providing a proper dungeoneering experience. Instead, the entire area was heavily industrial before the rise of Skyloft. Just consider the fact that Lanayru has a mining facility, a factory, warehouses, and most of all an entire port in place for the shipping of goods to goodness knows where over both land (via what appears to be trains) and sea.
While structures exist in other parts of the world—the Sacred Grounds, Skyview Temple, and Earth Temple—the existence of these locations (as with most dungeons, actually) seems less to do about permanent dwelling places for humankind and more about semi-religious places to be visited on pilgrimages and for holy rites. (Honestly, just what was Ocarina of Time’s Shadow Temple even for, eh? Honestly, who builds a temple full of invisible floors and bottomless pits?) There’s no doubt about it; humans at one point lived in the Lanayru region.
But the more interesting bit raised by Lanayru is the fact that you just aren’t exploring the past alongside Link; you’re exploring the techno-past, an ancient civilization powered by technology the likes of which Zelda has never ever seen before, even perhaps surpassing that of Spirit Tracks’ steam-powered locomotives.
The primary inhabitants in this neck of the woods don’t have a proper name (unless you count LD-301 a proper name), but Zelda Wiki has taken to calling them the Ancient Robots. Powered by electricity (and presumably either magic or some sufficiently advanced physics), these robots were quite obviously the result of a huge excavation in order to dig for ore in order—presumably at least— to fuel the civilization that lived upon the surface world at the time. It seems more or less to be the purpose of the entire province, really.
For a Zelda game, this seems like a pretty farfetched idea, especially for the origin title of the series.
Yet more specifically, the Ancient Robots were specifically interested in a type of stone called Timeshift, and it’s this substance that poses the biggest problem to figuring out the mystery of the area. The Timeshift Stones, when struck, allow the striker to shift himself or herself and the immediate surroundings through time. With Link, the Timeshift Stones seem to consistently send him backward through time several hundred years to the beginning of Lanayru’s decline, which appears to be some point in time after the goddess Hylia worked her magic since there aren’t any humans to be found anywhere.
So I have to pose the obvious question: What purpose did Timeshift serve for them? What purpose does it have outside of being an incredibly clever gimmick for an rather clever though occasionally complicated or unintuitive puzzle? Honestly, I really have no clue. The game is very lax in giving us details regarding the history of these robots or the area except as it directly relates to the goddess Hylia. There are no real known records or information about them other than the robots advise everyone to be extremely careful when handling the stuff.
There’s only two primary theories that I have, both of which are a little bit farfetched; however, I don’t think any attempt to really explain the purpose of Timeshift could be anything short of crazy (especially given that the time-travel aspects of Timeshift don’t even respect the general principles of causality). The first possible explanation for Timeshift is that it somehow provides some level of protection to the robots from the Technoblin monsters that invaded the area. As is witnessed early in Lanayru Desert, Link saves one of the Ancient Robots from Technoblins who were going to drain its electricity for their own purposes. Seeing as how the Technoblins are pretty much the same race as your standard Bokoblin, it seems fairly logical that Demise’s invasion of the surface brought forth these enemies in droves across the landscape, and the Bokoblin horde crafted weapons using electricity with which to conquer those that resided above.
It seems a little strange at first, but it perhaps does explain why Timeshift seems to be purposefully sprinkled throughout the landscape in very convenient intervals, not to mention equipped upon every vessel in the open sea. However, what protection the Timeshift would give the Ancient Robots from the Bokoblins seems dubious at best.
The other possibility is that Timeshift was being used to keep track of the world in the future. We already know that the denizens of Lanayru knew that the area wasn’t best suited for plant life (despite the fact that the world looks surprisingly green pretty much everywhere in the ancient past), and there’s a notice posted in one of the warehouses urging everyone to keep Lanayru green, perhaps yet another allusion to their awareness of the dismal future. Could it be that they knew that mining the area so heavily would cause desertification? Perhaps they used Timeshift to look into the future and see how bad it was and then attempted to counteract this?
There’s one more hint that might support this second theory, and that actually falls on the shoulders of Beedle, who creates the electricity needed for his flying shop using his bicycle in an effort to make “green power.” Whether or not this has anything to do with the former or not is very unclear, especially since all of Skyloft except for Gaepora are blissfully unaware of the surface world and their society’s origins. And ultimately we never actually get to experience such forward-motion time travel using Timeshift, but it’s still one crazy possibility.
Ultimately, the Bokoblins take over Lanayru Mining Facility in the ancient past and gain piratical dominance over Lanayru’s sea, practically swarming over every square inch of the techno-past that we can see. And given that Bokoblins pretty much have Ghirahim’s signature written all over it, we pretty much have to look to the epic struggle between Hylia and Demise to flesh out the rest of what happened in the surface world.
The Ancient Struggle for the Surface
First off, I was earnestly surprised by Hylia’s inclusion in the history of the surface world at all. So much of The Legend of Zelda from the first game up through now has been that the plight of the world has always been in the hands of humans vying against the forces of evil. Demise isn’t so much a stretch, really; in many ways he gets lumped in with all the other random, nebulous forms of evil such as the phantom Bellum and the other demon lord Malladus, perhaps even Link’s Awakening’s Nightmares. But to have an immortal being other than Farore, Din, and Nayru be directly involved in the story of Zelda is something that’s actually rather new and strange given the lack of references in forward games to any goddesses other than the Golden Three. (Unless you consider the Four Nose Gods having had played a significant role in Majora’s Mask, of course, but that was Termina anyway.)
The origin of Hylia as a goddess is perhaps the largest mystery, and there’s not really anything that will properly explain it. The explanation of Hylia’s story begins after she has already begun her sacred duty to watch over the surface world and keep it from harm. Simultaneously, she’s watching over the Triforce and making sure its power isn’t being used to the detriment of the world.
Knowing Hylia’s role seems to me to bring a bit of confusion when it comes to divining the nature of the three golden goddesses themselves and what exactly they stand for. The only direct involvement the three goddesses have ever undertaken in Hyrule up until this point was to seal away Hyrule beneath the waves in Wind Waker’s backstory once Ganondorf was at the threshold of destroying the land due to the absence of the hero. Yet consequentially, it was the three goddesses themselves who created the very artifact that, due to Ganondorf’s misuse, has threatened Hyrule again and again. Naturally, a Link and Zelda have arisen each time evil has threatened to engulf the land, and verily they always manage to keep said evil at bay (unless you count this new third timeline thing). Yet the one time that didn’t happen, when a hero didn’t emerge, the goddesses ultimately intervened.
And here we see the same thing happening again, only now with Hylia. Except this time, she’s been watching the world proactively, making sure that power was granted to the correct individuals, generally keeping the land free from supernatural evil and possibly more besides. And her role was given to her by the gods of old, presumably the Three.
You know, given their sometimes-involvement and sometimes-abandonment, I can’t help but wonder just what it is the Three are actually hoping to see happen in their creation. Are they actively pursuing goodness to prevail, willing to step in to thwart evil whenever the tide turns? Or are they more distant, hanging back in hopes that their created humanity will rise to the challenge to tackle the problems set before them? Or is this all just a game of whimsy to them with humans as pawns on a chessboard, mere objects in some heavenly game?
No matter what, Hylia’s watch ultimately ends with the demon lord Demise invading the land alongside his sworn sword Ghirahim and the Bokoblin cavalcade. What’s interesting about Demise is that Hylia seems to be unable to properly do anything about Demise, at least directly. Skyward Sword’s introduction almost seems to cast it as Hylia being asleep at the switch when the five-alarm call came, but that’s not really the case. Demise is, after all, trapped within the Sealing Spike deep within the spiral pit, thwarting him from taking over the surface world—and eventually Skyloft—for the time being. After sending the humans to Skyloft as the last line of defense against the underground demonic horde, Her Grace was able to unite the races—in fact, the five races remaining on the surface world: the Kikwi, the Mogma, the robots, the Parella, and the Gorons—that remained on the surface and pushed back.
Yet instead of having Demise killed outright, Demise was just sealed. While I suppose it wouldn’t make it much of a game if the baddies were totally defeated before the hero even arrived at the scene, there seems to be a trend going on. The Three didn’t quash Ganondorf’s ambitions with his death in Wind Waker’s introduction; instead, they just delayed them and bought humanity the time they needed to resolve the situation themselves. Similarly, Hylia, by her direct involvement, merely seals Demise away and then creates this complicated prophecy in order to give it all another go hundreds of years later. It seems that there’s some sort of cosmic or self-enforced limitation of their power; they always require the hand of one of their created beings to actually do the dirty work if the evil is to be totally slain.
But that’s just Demise, however. There were Bokoblins streaming across the land both then and now. And the question also arises as to what happened with Ghirahim all the while. He was obviously with Demise back then; did he just take a thousand-year nap and then come back when the time was right?
The Role of the Sheikah
Let’s be honest, Hylia just bought herself some time in order to handle the situation in a manner that actually could win the day. So that a human could do what a goddess could not—destroy a supernatural evil—she set into motion a complicated chain of events in the form of a prophecy that would one day redeem the land hundreds of years later, all beginning with sacrificing her immortality so that, when she’s reborn as a human many years later, she can actually do something about it. (Though that said, her involvement in “doing something about it” seems to be limited to forcing herself to sleep for a few thousand years so that Demise is forced to do the same. Class act—here’s a gold star for you, Hylia.)
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but envision Hylia’s death at the hands of Ghirahim himself, much in the same manner that Obi-Wan Kenobi was killed by Darth Vader. Ghirahim seems to be fully aware of this little prophecy Hylia predicted in order to bring about Demise’s own demise; Ghirahim seems to have all of the details and has been one step ahead of Link at every turn, reaching temples before him and knowing just a little more than Link ever knows at any given point. My mind comes alive with this fantasy scene that, with Demise sealed or at least otherwise preoccupied, Ghirahim comes after Hylia herself, and it’s then and there that she sacrifices her immortality (because really, if she was immortal, what could Ghirahim honestly do to her?) as a last resort to stymie his efforts at conquering the land.
And so Ghirahim, untouchable by the goddess if even she’s alive (and certainly not if she’s dead), must wait endlessly for either The Imprisoned, his dear, transformed master, to either break out of the Sealing Spike out of his own sheer force of will… or for the exact date of the prophecy to arrive. And, almost on cue, once he identifies Zelda as the goddess reincarnated, he brings about a plan to hijack the prophecy. After all, it was the old lady in the temple that said the black tornado was a blatant attempt to do just that, destroy the prophecy by slaying Hylia before she had a chance to act.
Of course, the thanks go in part to Impa for thwarting Ghirahim’s plan. I found it very interesting that Nintendo actually explicitly referenced the Sheikah in this game, though certainly not how we’ve been used to. Impa is “an agent of the goddess” Hylia. It’s hard to say what that means. The goddess wouldn’t originally have needed protectors as, after all, she was immortal. What I take it to mean is that the Sheikah were the enforcers of the goddess. Given that the goddess’ hands are tied when it comes to completely circumventing the will of others, the Sheikah instead function as the goddess’ hands instead. Impa is able to attack both Ghirahim and his minions in the second and third dungeons and directly affect the outcomes of history.
But what are the Sheikah exactly? And do they have any connection with the Sheikah from Ocarina of Time? My hunch is yes, though whether it’s in actuality or just in name only is a debatable point. The Sheikah I would suppose are much like people would call archangels, divine beings that wielded the power and might for the purpose of their god. They would be Hylia’s champions and executors of her will, ultimately becoming Zelda’s protector in the present-day portion of the story.
And so, knowing Her Grace’s plan from before Hylia as an immortal perished, she (and any other such Sheikah) would have spent her centuries thwarting Ghirahim and his Bokoblin army from totally obliterating the other five races, especially given how more or less weak they seem to be in the face of danger. And it’s possible that Link came to the surface none too soon. While I’m not going to say that the only Kikwis, Mogmas, and Parella that exist in the world are the ones strictly visible on screen, do note that the robots are now merely a footnote in history, completely rusted and corroded beyond recognition, and the Kikwi, Mogmas, and Parella seem more or less incapable of handling the invading threat on their own accord.
Impa, along with whatever other Sheikah existed (if any), were the ones making sure that there was a surface world left to be saved once Link came to remove the Bokoblin threat from the world.
Now all of this is really just sort of theoretical play. There’s not a lot of solid details that delve into the specifics and structures of the ancient era of Skyward Sword. All we have are a few hints and a few clever little puzzles to really make heads or tails of the entire thing. Yet I can’t help but feel that there’s a huge world of story that exists behind the scenes of this game, but it’s beyond frustrating to know that so much of it is veiled and not clearly spelled out for us.
And for a game to be a prequel to the entire Zelda series and yet spends so much effort validating its own existence by creating a thin veneer of history to prop it just seems… an interesting strategy to me. Yet the game is ultimately what it is, a shallow dive into the history of the land that would one day become Hyrule. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s early glimpse into pre-Hyrule is all we’ll ever see of this world or if Nintendo will one day want to flesh out that pre-dawn world of Zelda even further.