I’m not here to defend all of the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I know the tutorial will take years off of your life, and I know the community has plenty of gripes with the game’s dungeons. I get it, it’s a bit messy, and those critiques are all fine. I mostly agree, too. What I can’t stand though, is a dismissal of Skyward Sword altogether because it gave us something important. Through all of the wrist pain from crummy Wii controls and the exhaustion that comes with relentless backtracking, we still got her. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gave us the best version of Princess Zelda.
Looking back on my childhood, I feel like Ocarina of Time’s Zelda was my first instance of craving more from a leading lady. Princess Zelda in Link’s iconic Nintendo 64 adventure had some semblance of a characterization. You only got brief glimpses of her, sure, but she was trying to save Hyrule and preempt Ganondorf’s reign of terror long before anyone even realized what was going on. She failed, obviously, and Link, of course, swoops in to save the day. I love Ocarina of Time’s Zelda, and I went on to adore Wind Waker’s Tetra, too, but when I look at Skyward Sword, I realize this was the first version of the young girl that caused my heart to ache. Skyward Sword marks the first time Princess Zelda truly felt like an actual character.
Our introduction to this spunky version of her highness is a portrayal that maybe took a few notes from Wind Waker’s Tetra. She certainly has the poise you would expect from Nintendo’s classic portrayal of royalty, but this Zelda likes a bit of mischief and sass. Just like Link, Zelda can command and ride her own Loftwing, but fate strikes, and Zelda is whisked away by a tornado while out flying. She’s not a willing participant in her destiny just yet, but this version of Zelda goes on to embrace – and drive – the action this realm needs her to take in order to save it from Demise.
Princess Zelda is the mortal reincarnation of a dying goddess, Hylia, who longed to save the people of her world from the Demon King, Demise. She is what remains of a goddess who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up divinity and immortality to bring peace to her people, and even orchestrated a series of fail-safes should Demise return. Obviously, the Demon King does find his way back, and Zelda must answer the call – in Skyward Sword, Zelda feels equal parts necessary for the land’s safety as Link does.
And this Skyward Sword Zelda shows conflict. She has no drive for royal duties, and her path was something thrust upon her. She’s also torn over Link’s role in the quest. Zelda admits to using him to further her goals, but it’s a sin she couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, change. The Chosen Hero and her dearest friend is a piece of the puzzle she needs to guarantee the safety of her people and the imprisonment of Demise. In her monologue before Link, she’s more upset over the supposed manipulation than he is, but Zelda knew he’d chase her to the ends of the earth – and that’s why she’s led Link to his destiny.
But beyond all that, after the princess orchestrates a plan to deliver the world from doom once again, after she sets out on an adventure to take on this challenge, and after learning she is a goddess – Zelda is still Zelda. In my favorite moment of all of Skyward Sword – and perhaps the entire series – she explains her destiny and divine nature. Zelda walks away from Link, ready to be sealed away for an indefinite amount of time to restrain Demise, and makes peace with her fate. Her farewell to Link sends me into a crying fit every time, “While it’s true that I am Hylia reborn, I’m still my father’s daughter and your friend… I’m still your Zelda.”
I think I could even say Skyward Sword’s portrayal of Zelda even does Link a favor. The silent protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality on his own, no matter how many times you’ve saved the world in his little green tunic, but it’s Zelda’s interactions with him that give him any sort of crumb of characterization that’s worth admiring. Before Skyward Sword, I only liked Princess Zelda because Link did. Now, it’s Zelda’s love for Link that makes me love Link – and without that, I don’t care much about him.
At the end of Skyward Sword, Fi locks the Demon King away in the Master Sword, but you know that this is not the end for Zelda or Link. And perhaps it’s the realization of knowing all of these iterations of our beloved princess are doomed to fight Ganon again and again that makes me long to save her from her fate in this entry. Demise curses the future of Hyrule in his last breath during Skyward Sword’s final cutscene, and you realize he’ll later return as Ganondorf. This is when I empathized with the Zeldas of the past and present more, knowing it was the Zelda of Skyward Sword who made it possible for this world to exist.
If you believe that each Zelda is also a reincarnation, then there’s a bittersweetness to Skyward Sword in knowing what’s to come later on in Nintendo’s rather messy timeline. Zelda will live lifetime after lifetime, destined to spend it beating back the Demon King. This version of her gives each entry some added context that makes the princess more admirable and more tragic with each addition. It’s the indomitable will of Hylia, who cared so deeply for others that she commits herself to hundreds of lifetimes of fighting to make sure every generation is safe – ensuring Zelda will always be there to meet Demise. So, regardless of how much you hated swinging that Wiimote around, I hope we can at least agree that Skyward Sword gave us the best version of Princess Zelda.
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Andrea Shearon is a news editor at TheGamer who loves RPGs and anything horror related. Find her on Twitter via @Maajora.
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