Earlier this month, Nintendo released its latest Legend of Zelda game, an HD remaster of 2011’s Skyward Sword. Since its initial release, Skyward Sword would go on to become the most divisive game in the entire franchise, with critics arguing that finicky motion controls, a lack of an expansive over-world, and overuse of revisiting the same areas time and time again all add up to the worst 3D Zelda experience. To be fair, the worst Zelda game is typically far above the best game in any other series, but it is still something to consider when picking up the re-release on the Nintendo Switch.
With the release of 2017’s Breath of the Wild, it looked like Nintendo got back on the right track. Gone were the hours-long tutorials at the beginning of the game. You want a massive over-world? You got it. Annoyed at sidekick Fi constantly interrupting your gameplay? No problem–there is no companion throughout your adventures in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule. Tired of revisiting the same places over and over again? Well, in this game you can, but you certainly don’t have to. In fact, you can go wherever your heart desires, any time you want to. It seems like the thesis for the creation of Breath of the Wild was “how can we make the anti-Skyward Sword?”
However, in a post-Breath of the Wild world, replaying Skyward Sword really shows that the game introduced several of the groundbreaking concepts Breath of the Wild would go on to claim credit for. With the benefit of retrospection, playing through Skyward Sword now shows that it was not the game that shined a light on the tired and over-used Zelda tropes. It was the game that really started to play with them and paved the way for Breath of the Wild to completely throw the rule book out the window. There are several things that were introduced in Skyward Sword that Breath of the Wild improved upon:
- Gliding and stamina meters
- Let’s start with the similarities that are the most readily apparent. In Breath of the Wild, one of the true joys of the game is scaling a tall tower or mountain, finding your next destination, and then jumping off and using your paraglider to traverse the skies. Skyward Sword incorporates a similar mechanic, although you can’t change the direction in which you are gliding—you can only use it to cushion your descent from the skies.
- A second easily recognizable similarity is the use of a stamina meter. In both games, you can run faster, climb walls, or push and pull heavy objects, but only for as long as your stamina meter has juice. You can also upgrade your meter in both games through the use of various potions.
- Items and dungeons
- The typical Zelda game progresses very linearly–you enter a dungeon, solve puzzles, find a specific item, use that item to continue solving puzzles in the dungeon, defeat the dungeon’s boss using the item you found, and then rarely use the item again through the rest of the game. In Skyward Sword, they shook up the formula quite a bit. Some items, such as the clawshots, are found before you even enter a dungeon, and a lot of the items are used both outside their dungeon of origin and in other dungeons. Breath of the Wild obviously took this and ran with it by scattering items all over the map for you to find by chance.
- While puzzles were usually confined inside dungeons in previous games, Skyward Sword relocated some of the puzzles to the areas before you enter a proper dungeon. Looking specifically at Lanaryu Desert, there’s a whole segment of the game happens before you step foot in a dungeon and contains several puzzles that you have to solve before you can continue on your quest. Breath of the Wild adapted this idea with the use of shrines, many times making finding the shrine a puzzle itself.
- Zelda has more to do
- After decades of just being the damsel in distress, Zelda takes a much more active role in both Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild. Sure, her actions happen off screen in Skyward Sword and only in memories in Breath of the Wild, but this isn’t a princess who is sitting in her castle waiting for Link to come and save her. The Zelda featured in both games has her own path she is following and has much more personality and characterization, from which she benefits greatly. There’s no question that other games have given her a bit more to do—you can even kind of play as her in Spirit Tracks, but only to control other characters. However, Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild finally treated her as her own character for the first time in the series. (Side note: where’s the Zelda’s Quest DLC for Skyward Sword HD, Nintendo?!).
- Collecting items and upgrading weapons
- Both games dive a bit deeper into RPG territory, allowing you to collect materials and items throughout the world to upgrade your weapons and outfits. Breath of the Wild obviously takes this much further and makes the process a much deeper one, but Skyward Sword was one of the first mainline Zelda game to incorporate more of these elements, albeit in a much scaled-back way.
- Weapon durability
- While weapon durability is one of the most debated topics of Breath of the Wild, with one camp loving the mechanic of weapons breaking over time and another camp absolutely hating it, the idea of a weapon’s durability was explored more deeply in Skyward Sword than it had ever been prior to that game’s release. Shields had a meter underneath them that would deplete after use, ending with the shield eventually breaking unless you upgraded it or got a new one. The idea that your items may not be with you for your whole adventure added a new level of strategy to how you played the game.
- In Skyward Sword, if you are looking for a particular person, item, or place, you can have your sidekick Fi set it to your dowsing ability and use your sword essentially as a high-powered metal detector, but not just for metal items. In my opinion, its clumsily executed in Skyward Sword, but it is a good way to quickly let you know where you need to go. Dowsing was expanded and improved upon in Breath of the Wild, with the Sheikah Slate acting as the locating device based on anything you take a picture of.
Looking at the list above, it is clear that Breath of the Wild took several of the new concepts introduced in Skyward Sword and improved upon each one of them, but there is no question that Skyward Sword paved the way for Breath of the Wild’s innovations. In a pre-Breath of the Wild world, it was easy to downplay Skyward Sword as the game that proved Zelda needed to shake up the formula. But now, in a world where both games exist, it is clear to see what Skyward Sword truly was: the Zelda series doing what it does best—paying tribute to its storied history and expanding and improving upon it in innovative and creative ways. I can’t wait to see what Nintendo does next with this series.