The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, released in late 2011 for the Nintendo Wii, is a noteworthy entry in the series both for its position as the start of the timelines and its adoption of motion controls. For the first time in Zelda history, players could control the movements of Link’s sword as if they were holding swords themselves. Whether those controls enhanced or detracted from the Skyward Sword experience is debated to this day, but there is no question that the design decision impacted every aspect of development. Even the narrative takes its queues from the controls. The motion-controlled sword that gives the game its title is central to the narrative, possessing a personality and voice. While centering the game’s story around its newest feature is a logical choice, that choice highlights one of the narrative’s biggest issues: its relationship to the gameplay.
From start to finish, the story of Skyward Sword exists in service to the gameplay, rather than the other way around. While this makes perfect sense for a video game, it creates structural deficiencies at multiple points in the story. To show off the game’s many unique mechanics and mini-games, the players are asked to return to the same areas again and again, which slows down the story as a consequence. Add in repeated encounters with the same bosses, and the narrative is reduced to a loop with no room for character development. Consequently, the game has few characters who are changed by the story, and the main exception is a minor antagonist introduced for comic relief. The antagonists have no personal connection to the protagonists, which limits the threat they can impose. The game’s theme, embracing destiny, is also an unfortunate choice for the story. It rewards the characters who go with the flow of the narrative without asking tough questions or making difficult choices. The characters who do as they’re told succeed, whereas the characters who question their fates are punished for it. These weaknesses of theme, character, and narrative structure combine to deliver an uneven experience that squanders its strongest points and emphasizes its weakest.