Skyward Sword HD Review: Third Playthrough’s a Charm

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is an enhanced remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The original was developed and published by Nintendo and was released on the Wii in 2011. The remaster was released in June 2021 for the Nintendo Switch. MSRB is $60. This is a review of the HD Switch version.

Back in 2018 when I reviewed Skyward Sword on the Wii, I mentioned how a remaster could address all of the game’s flaws, trim the fat, and create an ideal experience. Last year when I saw the announcement of Skyward Sword HD, I was initially elated, and then disappointed. The game would keep all of the unnecessary padding (my biggest issue), and it would cost a full $60. I didn’t buy the game at launch; I waited for a 50% off sale this year. When I finally put the game into my Switch, it marked my third playthrough. I was both hopeful and doubtful that I’d enjoy myself better this time.

And then, as I watched the opening cutscenes where Link and Zelda awkwardly take part in their village’s Goddess Ceremony, I found myself tearing up.

Why?

Being coming-of-age stories, the 3D Zelda series has long embraced the bittersweet theme of growing up, and all of the joys and pains that come from that universal experience. Skyward Sword gets more than a few things wrong, but in previous playthroughs I missed the one thing that Skyward Sword did get right: its melancholic themes. That might sound strange — its art style is brimming with bright watercolors (which received an amazing HD glow-up) and the supporting characters are equally as quirky. However, as I walked around Skyloft and read the dialogue of those first few hours, I knew that this little cradle of innocence was going to change for everyone, including the schoolyard bully Groose and his gang. It felt like everyone was on the cusp of a high school graduation, with their crushes and petty rivalries, completely unaware of how life would soon change them. This cluster of tight-knit people wouldn’t be the same after the events of this game.

Those opening hours brought back memories of my high school friends. Last year I went to a wedding for one of these friends, and I was reunited with a small handful of my old friend group. It was exciting to finally see them again, and yet, there was something beautifully sad about how we’d all become different people. My high-demand religion had defined who I was, but thankfully I also had all the charisma of an sheltered, awkward, nerdy teenager. And yet despite all of that I still somehow made lasting friendships. During the wedding reception we talked about my changes, and we dove into topics that I would’ve never considered as a teen. We could commiserate about we, the Millenials, have gotten the short end of the stick over the past 10 years, the difficulties of adulthood, and our hopes for the coming Gen Z to help finish what we started.

The cast of Skyward Sword, in a way, symbolically treads through the same perils, triumphs, and setbacks that I’ve experienced since those hopeful high school days. Even if you manage to keep in touch, your relationships with people are always evolving. Careers, children, aspirations, failures… they change you.

As I set off on Skyward Sword‘s many quests, sidequests, and backtracking quests, the one factor that made this playthrough more enjoyable was the newfound perspective I had as an adult, an adult with a decent fraction of time etched away on my lifespan. Yes, the better motion controls helped, and the improved frame rate made the game feel even more responsive than before. Yes, the button controls (once I got used to them) made the experience smoother, and it eased the painful moments where the game is obviously padding for time (anyone want to go swimming for tadpole notes?). And yes, I enjoyed revisiting the highlights of the game, like the dramatic sky battle with Levias, or the superb dungeon design of the Ancient Cistern.

However, the entire time I was playing, I had one foot in the game, and the other foot in the fast-paced memories of my 20’s. The repeating bosses, as annoying as they were, became my younger self’s presistent doubts and issues. The friends that Link meets along the way became the people who helped me and befriended me through college. Maybe that’s why I completed more side quests this time. I actually returned to the tavern The Lumpy Pumpkin to fix their chandelier after I had so rudely broken it for a Heart Piece. I actually helped the demon underneath Skyloft turn into a human. I caught as many bugs and trinkets as I could find so that I could upgrade my gear and brew the strongest potions, even though I wouldn’t need them.

As I faced the final boss again, defying his all-too-confident attempt at conquering the world (though if I were a god of destruction, I would think Link was unimportant, too), I felt ready to take on the new challenges facing me for my third decade of life. I remembered to have patience, dedication, and kindness. I remembered that even if I can’t always see my friends, even if we change and grow in different ways, we are together in spirit, braving this chaotic world.

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