The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Like other Links before him, Skyward Sword’s Link is a silent protagonist with a flat character arc. His silence is not nearly so pronounced as in other games, however, as the player is often given dialogue choices that allows Link to express himself in subtly different ways. Unfortunately, none of these dialogue differences impact the story in any meaningful fashion, so Link’s spoken expression is limited to flavor text. This isn’t to say that Link is devoid of character, though. While the game illustrates Link’s personality through NPC dialogue, those descriptions paint an inadequate and inaccurate picture of his personality. His true character comes through in his expressions, movements, and relationships with other characters.
Link’s personality also comes through in his decisions. When Zelda is ripped out of the sky by a tornado, his first instinct is to search for her. When Groose falls to the surface with him, Link sets aside their rivalry and explains everything that’s happened since the tornado. He’s left slack-jawed when Zelda reveals her true identity as the Goddess Hylia, and he bangs on the walls of her crystal seal when she locks herself away. His actions show not only the Triforce’s chosen traits of power, wisdom, and courage but also empathy and compassion.
As the mortal reincarnation of the Goddess Hylia, Zelda possesses little of her previous power, but her memories from her time as a deity persist inside her. By awakening those memories, Zelda undergoes a transformation from academy student to living avatar of humanity’s hope. However, this transformation does not remove the memories she made as Zelda, which creates a complex internal struggle as she juggles the conflicting roles of goddess, daughter, and friend.
In the Opening, Zelda’s character is established through a series of scenes on Skyloft. When she first meets with Link, she’s thrilled to be playing the role of the goddess (foreshadowing her destiny). Her father points out how much she worries about Link shortly thereafter, and this concern is reinforced when Zelda stands up to Groose before the ceremony. By asserting herself, she quickly proves to be both confident and kind.
Zelda’s character is further developed when she’s alone with Link before the ceremony. As she stares over the clouds, she hears a voice calling out to her and says:
“Have you ever wondered what’s beneath the clouds? Some say that it’s an empty, barren place, or even that there’s nothing at all below, but I just have this feeling that they’re wrong….Someday, I want to see for myself.”
This dialogue demonstrates that she has individual desires, which combine with her personality traits to give dimension to her character.
Zelda’s story takes a difficult turn when she gets sucked down to the surface by a powerful tornado. She lands in the Faron Woods, where the elderly Impa finds her and guides her on a journey to learn her true identity: the goddess Hylia reborn. This awakening leaves her conflicted, which comes across when she reveals the truth to Link. She is unsure how to refer to Hylia, switching between first and third-person. The one thing she is certain about is her desire to apologize for all the hardships Link has endured. As a goddess, she recognizes that Link needed to fight for the sake of humanity; as a friend, she mourns the time they’ve lost together. She tries to explain this to Link, saying:
“…Until my memory of things before our lifetime returned to me, I had no idea we were fated to carry such a heavy destiny. Before all this, I was happy just spending my days hanging around with you in Skyloft. I wanted that feeling to last forever. While it’s true that I am Hylia reborn, I’m still my father’s daughter and your friend… I’m still your Zelda.”
To fulfill her duties as a goddess while atoning for her sins, Zelda chooses to seal herself inside the temple until Demise is defeated. She asks that Link wake her up, just as she used to do with him, and then seals herself in a crystal tomb that can only be opened when Demise is gone.
Zelda’s sleep represents the last development in her character arc. As soon as she awakens, she’s taken by Ghirahim and stripped of her soul. It doesn’t come back to her until after Demise has been defeated, and the story is focused on wrapping up loose ends. Although these final scenes don’t change her, they allow her to show her appreciation for those who have helped her along the way. They also give her a chance to express her wish for the future: living on the surface and guarding the Triforce. Her willingness to decide for herself shows her self-assurance one final time, but it also shows her dedication as a goddess. By living on the surface, she’s able to reconcile the two sides of herself at last: the student who yearned to explore the surface and the goddess who needed to protect her people.
With clearly stated desires and a strong character arc, Groose is one of the most well-developed characters in the Zelda series. While his initial scenes depict him as selfish, short-sighted, and cruel, he’s shaped into a better version of himself through confrontation and self-reflection. In the end, he emerges as a caring, clever individual who bears little resemblance to the bully he once was, yet he still maintains the humor and bravado that define his character.
In Skyward Sword’s opening scenes, Groose is introduced as the academy bully who hid his rival’s Loftwing so that he could win the ceremonial race. His motivation for doing so is the race’s prize: a moment alone with Zelda atop the Goddess Statue. He brags about it to his friends, saying:
“Zelda’s playing the role of the goddess at today’s ceremony, and I’m gonna be the one to claim that Sailcloth.…Yup, I can see it now. First, I win the big race, and then Zelda and I finish the ceremony together on the statue. Just the two of us…“
Zelda’s attitude towards him proves that his dreams are mere delusions, but Groose won’t let that stop him. Unfortunately, his desires go unmet, as he’s defeated by Link and misses his moment alone with Zelda
Groose doesn’t appear again until the game’s Midpoint. When Link returns to the Faron Woods, Groose follows him off the edge of Skyloft. After a harrowing fall, they land in the middle of a clearing, surrounded by a world Groose has never seen before. This is a classic step in any character arc: the journey to the unknown world.
The new environment leaves Groose reeling, and he’s forced to ask his rival to explain. While Groose is relieved to hear that Zelda is fine, he’s not going to let Link play the hero any longer. Instead, he’s going to save Zelda himself. Groose expects that Zelda’s guardians will accept this, but instead, the elderly Impa turns him away. Groose responds about as well as one would expect, saying:
“Shut it, Grannie! You obviously don’t know me well, ’cause if you did, you’d know that if anyone’s gonna save Zelda, it’s Groose! How could it not be me? Plus, if it ain’t me, why would I even be here?“
Once Groose sees Link in the temple, he realizes he’s been beaten and leaves in a huff. The rise of the Imprisoned cuts Groose’s sulking short. As he watches Link fight back the demon, he realizes that he can’t help and sinks into despair. Even when the elderly Impa—Grannie—tells him he’ll contribute in his own way, he abandons her, sobbing to himself: “I couldn’t do a thing! I’m totally useless!” This represents the lowest point in Groose’s character arc: the moment when his entire self-image has been invalidated, and he must either rebuild himself from the ground up or resign himself to despair.
Somewhere between Link’s first trip to the Isle of Songs and his acquisition of Din’s Flame, Groose finds a calling: building the Groosenator, a rail-mounted catapult that will fight off the Imprisoned when it returns. He gets his chance when Link returns to open the Gate of Time, and the Imprisoned breaks open its seal once more. His pride is evident as he shows Link his creation, saying:
“You wouldn’t believe how much time I put into building this beauty…All by myself, of course. I don’t know what came over me! I had no clue I had the talent to make something like this, you know?“
Groose’s talent becomes evident as he fights the Imprisoned with Link, driving back the demon with the Groosenator’s bombs. Once the Imprisoned has been defeated, Grannie thanks both Link and Groose for their efforts. Groose shows some humility, saying: “You give me too much credit, Grannie. You were the one who got me to stop feeling sorry for myself and put my energy into doing what I could to help.” This admission demonstrates a remarkable amount of growth while remaining true to his personality. He still maintains the pride he has on Skyloft; it’s merely been redirected to something helpful rather than harmful. It’s this redirection that allows him to forego visiting Zelda with Link, as he believes it’s his duty to defend Grannie while Link is gone. He reiterates this belief after Link returns from visiting Zelda, saying:
“I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going back.…Aww, don’t look so bummed out. Do I look sad? Nah, I’m doing what I want to do! I don’t know how to explain it. I got this feeling in my belly that there’s work to do here.“
Groose has several more appearances before the story comes to an end, but his character arc essentially concludes after the second battle with the Imprisoned. He’s gone from a schoolyard bully who can’t win a race without cheating to a caring guardian who uses his newfound skills to benefit others. Even in the climax, when the danger is closest, Groose is there to catch Zelda when she falls and provide moral support. Although the death of Grannie comes as a blow to him, his improvement holds in the game’s final moments, when he’s seeing flying with his friends and waving happily to Zelda and Link. By enduring hardship and reexamining himself in the process, Groose grew more than any other character in Skyward Sword and most characters in the Zelda series.
Skyward Sword‘s strong characterizations fall apart when it comes to the antagonists. The secondary antagonist, Ghirahim, lacks direction and never grows as a character. It’s only his distinctive personality that him a more memorable character than the main antagonist, the stoic Demise.
Ghirahim’s personality comes from his distinctive animations and design—not to mention his inability to respect personal space—but his bizarre dialogue also plays a role in defining his character. He demonstrates extreme mood swings in the span of sentences, uses five words when one would suffice, and describes acts of violence with childish glee. Unfortunately, his colorful descriptions never translate into meaningful actions, and he’s left meandering throughout the majority of the game. With no direction of his own, the only way he’s able to reach his goal of resurrecting his master is by blindly following others, and his success results in his sudden removal from the story.
If Ghirahim’s character had changed even the slightest bit as the narrative progressed, he could have been a compelling villain, but instead, his character growth was pinned on the eleventh-hour reveal that he was a sword, like Fi. It’s this reveal that allows Demise to eliminate him from the story, converting him into his sword form without any dialogue between them. Whether this is what Ghirahim expected all along is impossible to say, as there isn’t enough evidence in his dialogue to point in one direction or the other. Had the game expanded on this and hinted at the truth earlier, it would give Ghirahim more to stand on than personality alone.
The entity known as Demise is present throughout the entirety of Skyward Sword, but it isn’t until the climax that he regains sentience and a personality. Once both of those are available to him, he uses his brief time in the story to expand on his desires, but there’s unfortunately little to expand upon. Based on his limited dialogue, he seems to have three defining traits: contempt for humanity, respect for strength, and hatred of the old Gods. Unfortunately, none of those give him any personal connection to the world, the characters, or the story. The source of his grudge against Hylia, arguably his strongest motivation, is told through dry legends that lack personal details. Had he ever been in any scenes with Hylia, their interactions could have colored their feud, but Demise’s resurrection hinged on Hylia’s defeat. Ironically, the very conceit that brought him into the story limited his ability to engage with it. With no personal interest in any other characters and no real reason to claim power, he is not so much a character as he is another trial to overcome.
* Reference Run: ZorZelda. Zelda Skyward Sword HD 100% Walkthrough (1080p 60 fps) (No Commentary). YouTube, 2020.
** Reference Script: VisionofChaos. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Game Script. GameFAQs, Gamespot, 2015.