Article by ZU forum member Jeff

All forms of art go through periods of time where one style becomes king, video games being no exception. The era of Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii has been marked by a predominately Western influence on software. Western-preferred attributes of realism, blockbuster production values, grit and seriousness have become the norm.
One force in the gaming industry that has chosen not to follow suit is Nintendo, who provided an emphatic example of what their priorities are regarding style just a few short months ago in the form of Skyward Sword.

Prior to its release, Skyward Sword was heralded by its maker as the start of a new path for the Legend of Zelda franchise. New game design, new forms of gameplay, and the highly-touted 1:1 sword combat through Wii MotionPlus was poised to change the way that the series—the entire action-adventure genre—was experienced by gamers.

Skyward Sword did just that, but its greatest accomplishment was not in bringing change to the series or to games like it. Skyward Sword’s biggest claim to fame was simply that it brought back to the gaming industry the Legend of Zelda and everything it stands for.

When first unveiled at E3 2010, Skyward Sword was viewed as a blending of the visuals found in such entries like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, with the extremely bright and colorful cel-shading as found in The Wind Waker. As it turned out, Skyward Sword’s imagery did not feel like much of a middle ground as its style stood out glaringly from the competition.

In an era where photorealism is prized by the video game industry, Skyward Sword’s vibrant array of colors was more welcome than any other time when the franchise has employed one of its imaginative artstyles. A lack of minute detail in the textures was nothing of an offense when a display of brilliant tones and hues lit up the fantastical landscapes: the vast, immaculate realm in the clouds known as Skyloft, the whimsical and serene Faron Woods, or the ancient, dusty, yet secret-laden province of Lanayru. We saw sights and explored locales we could never find in our own world, or any other video game, for that matter.

Who we encountered throughout the journey was just as much of a welcome change of pace as what we traversed across. Skyward Sword’s colorful style gave a unique identity to even its most normal members of the cast. It says a lot that the game’s renditions of the franchise’s two most common characters, Link and Zelda, are still incredibly distinct from all of their previous iterations.

They were complimented by an equally unique antagonist, although “unique” only begins to describe the self-proclaimed “Demon Lord”, Ghirahim. For the second 3D entry in a row, Nintendo opted for a thoroughly strange, off-putting villain. But while Zant was revealed as merely a puppet to Ganondorf as early as midway through Twilight Princess, Ghirahim took the center stage early on, and did not relinquish his position in the spotlight until the very end once Demise was resurrected. Ghirahim was also taken a step further in that his quirks did not end with mere insanity as Zant’s had; just about everything with Ghirahim was out of the ordinary.

Despite a very unusual character design, especially for a primary villain, Nintendo was not the least bit reluctant to show him off to fans. After being revealed in one of Skyward Sword’s earliest promotional trailers, Ghirahim garnered from the fans the good-humored nickname “Debbie”, but also some detraction from select fans. With a flamboyant appearance consisting of rather revealing attire for battle and glitzy colors all around, even in the animation for his teleportation, and an extremely bizarre personality with hints of sadism, Ghirahim was a far cry from the popular notion of a “bad[butt]” villain.

It was only fitting that Ghirahim was then joined by an army of imaginative baddies. Although Zelda has long maintained a tradition of crafting its own creatures rather than pulling from established myths and legends, Skyward Sword featured one of the most unorthodox bestiaries ever.

From the minor enemies: Staldra, Froaks, Spumes, Ampilus, Craniocs etc, to the bosses: The Imprisoned, Scaldera, Koloktos, Tentalus, Bilocyte, the creatures in Skyward Sword were anything but ordinary. It even managed to make a giant scorpion in Moldarach more expressive than a lot of speaking characters from other video games!

Similarly, Skyward Sword chose to follow the nature of Zelda and devise its own races rather than use those that are already a staple in fantasy. Painfully few high fantasy series in any entertainment genre bother to give birth to their own races, with video games of this generation being a repeat offender. Time and time again we have seen the same generic Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, with the occasional, yet equally uninspired use of Dark Elves, were-creatures or vampires.

Sure, Skyward Sword’s human characters bear some similar features to the classic fantasy Elves as penned by J.R.R. Tolkien, but the Skyloftians as a race, like their Hylian descendants, are nothing alike.

Skyward Sword proceeded to introduce us to the peculiar Kikwis, who were apparently mammals bearing plant features, and looked like anthropomorphic pears. Later, we met the sly Mogma, who can best be described as a mole, badger and jack-rabbit combination. The wide-range of colorful Loftwings was a pleasant new form of the mounts of the human race, and we even saw a few our old friends, the Gorons.

It is hard to imagine any high fantasy setting where robotics would not feel jarring and out of place—but Skyward Sword managed that. Robots existed in previous games, but never in such numbers as the expressive machines found in Lanayru’s past, or the enemies littering the Mining Facility and Sandship dungeons.

The seamless blending of the natural and magical elements with technology felt like something out of Star Wars, and the remnants of a once-scientifically advanced civilization overtaken by age, nature and magic harkened to the premise of the Shannara book series by Terry Brooks.

The Lanayru sequences were the best out of game filled to the brim with great ideas. The Timeshift Stones provided incredibly creative puzzle solving both inside the dungeons and outside across the overworld, along with some of the most wondrous sights in any fantasy adventure, most memorable being the journey across the Lanayru Sand Sea.

Just as seamless was the heavy influence of Asian culture in the visual design, specifically the temples. Imagery of Asiatic dragons, elephants and monkeys filled the interiors of such dungeons like the Earth Temple and the Fire Sanctuary, while those two featured interior and exterior architecture straight out of feudal Japan and China. The three Dragons that Link encounters throughout the journey are clearly Asiatic in their appearance, complete with serpentine bodies, whiskers, human-like faces and, at least in the case of the Thunder Dragon, a beard!

The inspiration behind the design was not always Eastern Asian culture, as is commonplace in fantasy when an Asiatic vibe is used. There were several hints of Southeastern and Central Asian culture to be found, the use of elephant and baboon imagery being one such example. The large statue in the center of the Ancient Cistern was clearly inspired by Buddha, while the dungeon’s boss, Koloktos, appeared to be a combination of Buddha and Kali, the multi-armed goddess of the Hindu faith.

Aside from all of its visual flair, Skyward Sword was also refreshing just for the gameplay it brought back to the industry. The action-adventure genre has decayed this generation: once-revered franchises such as Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider and even Grand Theft Auto no longer command the same attention they used to, many of the high quality titles are destined to be flashes in the pan only apparent in this generation (Batman, InFamous etc.), while most seem to have forgotten that there is more to action-adventure gameplay than just pure action.

Skyward Sword gave life to the ideas of that the Zelda franchise, and other more imaginative action-adventure titles—Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus—thrive on. By simply bringing back the gameplay that the Legend of Zelda franchise is esteemed for, Skyward Sword provided the industry with an injection of varied platforming, clever puzzle solving which traveled beyond the dungeons into the overworld, and whole cast of intricate boss fights—all ideas sorely missing from gaming nowadays.

Yes, the 1:1 motion control was brilliantly executed, and the swordplay set a new standard for what can be accomplished in the Legend of Zelda and its competitors. Coupled with the new formats for puzzle solving and all of the other tweaks to the structure, it created amazing content which absolutely must be commended in an entertainment field based around the interactive experience.

But it just was not as satisfying as it was to simply play a Legend of Zelda game again, during a time when video games needed the Legend of Zelda and all that it values, most.

Nintendo deserves a lot of credit for the arguably risky route they took in creating Skyward Sword. While an artstyle more akin to Ocarina of Time and Twilight would have had a much wider appeal, and is still able to have its own hints of originality, Nintendo stepped just a tad forward when giving Skyward Sword its own unique identity. They created a game that looks like nothing else in the world of video games today, and plays like nothing else in the world of video games today.

There is no better way to describe Skyward Sword, and the Legend of Zelda.

  • andee

    lol i put the first comment

  • PeacefullyCrazy

    Oh my God………I was laughing for no reason while reading this. I am insane. I am so insane.

  • bob

    Um, its also not surprising that Skyward Sword had less than stellar sales compared to Zelda games of yore. Could it be b/c the consumers of console games are vastly from Western countries? Its also the reason rpg's like Skyrim DECIMATE the sales of jrpg's.

    • Link and Cuccos

      SS sold faster than all other Zelda games. Did you compare the sales of previous Zelda games? SS reached 3 million in 10 weeks. TP was still around 2 million in 10 weeks. Especially since SS came out at the end of the Wii's product cycle, and knowing that there are quite a number of people who don't want to buy a Wii again just for one game, I was surprised SS still sold that quickly and that much in a short amount of time – not to mention become the fastest selling Zelda game to date. I don't think though that it will reach 6 million in the long run (more like 4-5 million over time), but maybe if it was ported to the Wii U also, just like how we can play older Zelda games on the Wii, maybe it'll gain more sales still. TP didn't reach 5 million until 5 years later.

      • Twilight Princess sold more also because of its appearance on both GameCube and Wii. 1 million sold on GameCube and 5 million on Wii equals around the 6 million mark which is even better than Wind Waker. Zelda Wii U is likely not to sell well unless Ocarina of Time or TP art styles are used in it. Otherwise only a particular audience will buy it.

        I've played through both games and I have to say TP shines with its storyline, settings, bigger exploration, longer gameplay (don't add the sidequests in SS and TP is longer), its similarity to Ocarina of Time, and its amazing art style helped it rule the charts.

        • Link and Cuccos

          I'm comparing 10 weeks with 10 weeks. We can't compare 6 years worth of sales with 3 months and say TP sold more. To compare overall sales in the long run, we'd have to wait probably at least 2 more years to see how SS does.

          And it took me much longer to finish SS. I feel that SS outshines TP. I do love TP as it's my 2nd favorite (SS 1st).

          • Banooru

            Thanks for the numbers Link and Cuccos!

            I think even if TP outsold SS, I think the "daring" style and gameplay of SS preserves the integrity of the franchise. Sure a game with TP like graphics MIGHT have sold more, but one reason we come back to the series is that each installment stands out.

            I don't remember the exact wording, but I think I remember Eiji Aonuma saying something about the magic of the Zelda series is that each game can be vastly different but still end up being that familiar Zelda we love.

            Each game truly is a new experience every time, but we can still expect a game that will amaze, challenge, and teach us.

    • Sanity's_Theif

      It's not just the Wii reaching it's end of life, most people I talk to have no idea what the WiiU even is, they just see Skyward Sword and don't want to buy it, most are just sticking with TP, for the people who I let borrow SS, they return it very quickly, there's a lot of annoying stuff that puts them off

  • Swift_Knight

    Not even 5 comments and already there's a mention of Skyrim…

  • Link and Cuccos

    I agree that Skyward Sword was given its unique identity with its art style as well as gameplay. It was as nice change from TP, WW, and OoT and, as the title of the article states, "A Breath of Fresh Air" from all the other games currently out. I was amazed by the art style and liked how the background looked like a moving painting at times (i.e. brush strokes on walls inside certain dungeons). The Asian influence in the art was a surprise as I didn't expect that. Ancient Cistern – very beautifully done. I do still prefer TP's realistic style, but only slightly more as I really loved SS's style. In fact, SS's art style is one of my favorites right now. Also, I had a LOT of fun with SS, and the type of fun I have with it is not something I can always get from other games. Not saying I don't have fun with other games at all (as I love games like KH)- it's just that there's something different about Zelda games that makes the fun different and extra special, and I really felt that with SS.

    I agree also about SS's ability to incorporate robots and how the Lanaryu sequences were the best – I was very surprised upon finding robots in the game, but it worked out. In fact, Lanaryu Mining Facility is my favorite dungeon out of the entire series – Timeshift Stones made it so awesome and fun. It was something new, and made puzzle solving more interesting. Before SS, I couldn't pick a favorite dungeon. There were many good ones in the entire Zelda series, but at the same time, not one really particular stood out over the other in my eyes. But after SS, I now have favorite dungeons, and both the Mining Facility and Sandship take the top 2 spots – those two were so much fun.

    I just wished that SS did a better job with the harp – that was my only disappointment. Other then that, I loved everything about the game. Replaying it on Hero Mode now.

    And Ghirahim – one of my favorite villains. He needs to be in the next Smash Bros.

  • Jeff

    i wouldn't say that nintendo was taking that big of a risk or taking a step forward with the artstyle. more like a step backwards, being that it is a cross between TWW and TP. They couldn't really push any amazing visuals with the Wii, that is probably why they didn't go for the more realistic approach.

    • Link and Cuccos

      Impressionistic art is not a "cross" between WW and TP. It's a different art style. How is it going backwards? Just because it's not realism? There are many different art styles, and to say it's going backwards just because you didn't take a realistic approach is a very narrow way of looking at art. Amazing art is not limited to realism.

      And actually, Nintendo went for SS's art style because it fit the combat with enemies better (given the 1:1 swordplay) and because Miyamoto loved the impressionistic style and approved it in the first round. They did consider TP's art style again, but the gameplay was a great factor in their decision (according to interviews). However, the end result is very fitting for the Wii, because it is true that the Wii doesn't display realism as well. And the impressionistic art worked well on the Wii.

    • Sabrina

      See, this is the exact same reaction people had when the saw the graphics for WW. Every game has its own graphic style and that's what makes Legend of Zelda unique. If someone were to show you a picture of TP Zelda from TP, you'd be able to tell it was TP style. If you were given a picture of older Zelda from OoT, you'd be able to tell that it was OoT style.

      If the producers only copied the Twilight Princess style, Skyward Sword wouldn't be as unique. The fact that they went with this style just makes the game that much better.

      By the way, the Wii can, in fact, have the power to run games with realistic graphics. Just look here:

    • Sabrina

      See, this is the exact same reaction people had when the saw the graphics for WW. Every game has its own graphic style and that's what makes Legend of Zelda unique. If someone were to show you a picture of TP Zelda from TP, you'd be able to tell it was TP style. If you were given a picture of older Zelda from OoT, you'd be able to tell that it was OoT style.

      If the producers only copied the Twilight Princess style, Skyward Sword wouldn't be as unique. The fact that they went with this style just makes the game that much better.

      By the way, the Wii can, in fact, have the power to run games with realistic graphics. Just look here:

    • Sabrina

      See, this is the exact same reaction people had when the saw the graphics for WW. Every game has its own graphic style and that's what makes Legend of Zelda unique. If someone were to show you a picture of TP Zelda from TP, you'd be able to tell it was TP style. If you were given a picture of older Zelda from OoT, you'd be able to tell that it was OoT style.

      If the producers only copied the Twilight Princess style, Skyward Sword wouldn't be as unique. The fact that they went with this style just makes the game that much better.

      By the way, the Wii can, in fact, have the power to run games with realistic graphics. Just look here:

  • Grogro

    Oh my, oh my…
    While I have been a HUGE Zelda fan since the very beginning, your article made me almost throw up – no offense. Everything is shiny and bright and brilliant and fantastic, we get it. While such overenthusiasm could have been partly understood for, say, WW, it feels completely out of place for SS.

    Of course, there were still some of those magical Zelda moments, which cannot really be described. But apart from that, Nintendo failed to set the top standard with my most beloved franchise this generation :-/
    Mario Galaxy felt incredibly fresh with perfect, spot-on gameplay, one of the best videogame experiences in recent years. Games like Wii Sports or Fable 2 were outstandingly fun and innovative concepts. Regarding an immersive and fascinating game world, titles like Fallout 3 or Mafia II easily gain the top spot. When adding a fantastic story to the mix, Mass Effect or Lost Odyssey come to mind. Compared to such masterpieces, Skyward Sword falls short in every of these categories.

    I really see how people want to love SS – I want it myself so badly. I have eagerly anticipated it for over a year, avoiding all media coverage to make my own impressions like always. The only thing I knew was its reliance on motion controls, which worked great for me in Wii Sports Resort. Congruently, I was really excited and pre-ordered two LE copies to display one golden Wiimote next to my statues.

    But when it finally released, how disappointed was I… Not immediately, the world seemed very fine in the beginning. It started, when I had to realize the sky´s not being explorable at all, like the sea in WW was (no, I never found that part boring back then!). The real letdown came, however, in the magma world, when I it became clear that the game is basically just dungeon after dungeon (minus some side quests limited Skyloft). Their design was actually pretty good. Just like other of SS elements worked for me, like the choise of items, or the the newly introduced adventure pouch.

    The missing overworld (above all other criticisms like the motion controls, which are great in theory but sometimes more than annoying in practice), however, almost completely neglected all positive aspects. For me, this hubworld (or how you wanna call it) has always represented the very essence of the Zelda series. So, while SS is in no way a complete disaster, it cannot hold up against its predecessors – that's the first time since ALttP in my opinion.

    To conclude, I don´t want to start another discussion about the letdown that is SS all in all, I just cannot understand an article such as this. I do wish Nintendo would realize they're on the wrong way, but I seriously doubt that. If the new direction should work for most other gamers, well, I have to accept that. Yet, if true, the series will never be able to match their past successes. Skyward Sword was already, with every right, reviewed worse than its predecessors.
    Zelda has never been about splitting the fan community, it was always about being fantastic in every way… Ever again?

    • Link and Cuccos

      "I really see how people want to love SS" – The majority do love SS. Look at ZU's past poll – 50% of the voters said SS had become their new favorite. In the IGN poll, people picked it as better than OoT. It also won many GOTY awards voted by users, and fans raved about it as the game blew them away when it came out. The game has received many perfect scores, and fans online praised the emotions put into the game, with men even admitting having cried in the game with "manly tears".

      Nintendo is on the right track on changing up the formula and further developing the story. OoT, TP, and WW felt very similar in gameplay. SS set itself apart from that, and is the only game to break away from OoT's shadow. It still retained the Zelda essence, but introduced new elements. It surpasses its predecessors. I would like to see Nintendo continue this route with adding new things, changing the formula more again (while still maintaining the Zelda essence), and further developing the story and characters as it did this time. As many fans are saying right now, SS is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. I'm extremely excited to see what will be next on the Zelda Wii U.

  • Sanity's_Theif

    The lack of detail in textures is a huge pet peeve of mine, I couldn't look past it, it just shouted laziness to me, paintings have a lot of detail so I couldn't understand why SS should have any less detail than TP.

    There's a lot of things I don't like about SS, but one thing I can say I loved is how they made the gameplay more action-oriented with the running/running up walls and all that, I hope that stays.

    • Rakshael

      Shouted… "laziness", to you?! You DO realize that impressionistic/cel-shaded artstyles are HARDER to make and render, right?! People are so indoctrinated with photorealism, it's ridiculous.

      • Sanity's_Theif

        Making a blur field for far away objects, I doubt that's hard, why make less detailed textures if it's harder then? Maybe it's harder to do technologically but I appreciate the mental work put into good detailed textures far more

  • ads

    jeff i love this article

  • K2L

    SS is the Sonic 2006 of the franchise. Nothing else needs to be said.

  • ZeldaPlaya

    Skyward Sword is incredible. Anybody that says otherwise needs to shut up.

    • Astaroth

      Meh. Not going to, sorry. It was about an inch short of incredible, and that little inch comes down to Link's lips, some technical and story errors, and the lack of a "field". They gave us a bird to fly on and nowhere to fly to; they gave us 1:1 motion controls but the Wii Motion Plus starts freaking out after two hours of play; they gave us a compelling storyline and beautiful budding romance (thankfully with no kissing) but then ruined it with weird over-emotional faces and grunts. And on top of it they burden us with Fi, who could have been a great companion, but was just TOO robotic. I think Wind Waker had a more compelling story, and an art style that fit the over-exaggerated emotions the Japanese love; I think Twilight Princess had better character and level design and made better use of Midna. I will praise the fighting style and item upgrade system, and some of the NPCs had brilliant personalities. The dungeons were also super fun, and the origins of the Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Hyrule itself were quite compelling. But it is just shy of incredible.
      I'll still defend against any Skyrim fanboys and Nintendo haters. But I hope the dev team learns from Skyward Sword.

  • Rakshael

    You didn't read the article, did you?

  • Banooru


    I think I said "I think" twice in the same sentence. Please excuse my poor proofreading skills.

  • Astaroth

    My biggest issue with this article and with Skyward Sword is that the art style could have been a lot better. The watercolor that fades into an impressionist painting is beautiful, but that art style did not carry over well to the character design. Link's concept art has him looking super awesome, clearly a young man waking up to the harsh realities of being a hero. The game design throws the gorgeous concept art out the window.

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