by Andy Barney
All images are gameplay screenshots from the YouTube channel ZorZelda.
2021 is here, and, man, is it a big year for The Legend of Zelda franchise! Not only is it the 35th anniversary of the franchise, but it is also the 15th anniversary of Twilight Princess and the 10th anniversary of Skyward Sword. Since these are perhaps my two favorite games, I could endlessly speculate and wish for HD remasters/ports to come to the Nintendo Switch. However, that’s not what I’m here to do. Instead, I would like to celebrate Skyward Sword—perhaps one of the most underappreciated games in the main series—by praising its thematic elements, most notably its centric theme of “awakening.”
No, this is not intended to relate to the game Link’s Awakening, but I do believe if the title had not already been used for a previous game, it would make a suitable alternative title for Skyward Sword.
First things first: I think it’s important to introduce this idea of awakening in the game. One of the very first cutscenes in Skyward Sword depicts one of Link’s recurring nightmares of what we learn to be The Imprisoned. In this dream, the monstrous (and slightly dopey-looking) beast towers above him, and Link hears a voice emitting from a ball of light above the creature:
“Rise, Link… The time has come for you to awaken… You are fated to have a hand in a great destiny, and it will soon find you… The time has come for you to awaken...”
This has both a literal and metaphorical meaning, as Link quite literally awakens to the face of Zelda’s Loftwing sticking its head through his window, but this quote also foreshadows his character growth. The pre-quest phase of the game introduces us, the players, to not just Link’s character and personality but also to all of the people he interacts with during his daily life. Groose reveals that Link is the “heroic” type, as we generally assume. Link is very lackadaisical, always sleeping in, and--quite literally--has his head in the clouds. Despite these poor qualities, Link has two traits that help to enable him to become the hero we love and know. First is his talent in swordsmanship and marksmanship (though we don’t know if he had ever practiced slingshot or bow before his quest). We know he had some skill with a sword beforehand, thanks to the instructor from the Sparring Hall. The second and more important quality is his selfless and often reckless effort to save the people he cares for (cough Zelda cough).
When the black tornado formed by Ghirahim abducts Zelda and knocks Link out, he once again has a similar dream; however, this time there is the clear call to destiny. The dream begins with Link falling, and the first thing he sees is that ball of light--but this time he can see a figure within that light. This being calls to Link: “I am waiting for you. The time has come for you to awaken. You are vital to a mission of great importance.” Immediately after he hears Zelda’s voice call his name, and then he realizes the two of them are falling. He reaches for Zelda, but he can’t make contact. Then Zelda falls straight into the open jaws of The Imprisoned. Fortunately, this was all just a dream, but it was foreshadowing his reality all too well.
Those who have played through the game know that Link then hears the sound of the figure from the dream outside his dorm and follows it all the way to the Goddess Statue, where she reveals herself to be Fi, a being created to aid Link on his journey requested by Hylia. What’s interesting is that Link was obviously curious to find out who this spirit from his dream was, but Link doesn’t actually seem to have interest in anything Fi is telling him… until she mentions Zelda. Hylia even tells Link that she chose him for her sacred mission because she “needed someone with an unbreakable spirit,” one of the required traits to wield the full Triforce, and “[she] knew that if it meant saving Zelda, [he] would throw [him]self headfirst into any danger, without even a moment's doubt.” Despite Link’s lazinesses and other un-hero-like qualities, this one virtue alone was enough to “awaken” his potential.
In the earlier stages of the story, Impa harshly lectures Link on the fact that he had failed to protect Zelda. This clearly upsets Link but makes him determined to improve himself to save his best friend. Later on, Link learns more of his divine quest assigned to him by Hylia and learns he must undergo three trials to enhance his spirit, which we learn to be the Silent Realm trials. Although the actual gameplay in these trials is essentially just the Tears of Light quests from Twilight Princess on steroids, these trials actually represent Link gaining spiritual enlightenment. The second goal of each trial is to imbue his sword with the divine essences of the Force--otherwise known as the Sacred Flames--to enhance both his sword and his spirit. After each Sacred Flame, Link obtains a piece of the Triforce, which begins to glow on his right hand. As we quickly realize, this does not mean Link possesses each piece of the Triforce; rather, he has “awakened” his potential and developed the virtues of the Triforce.
This concept of awakening also is shown in the other main characters, Zelda and Groose. In Skyward Sword, Zelda is portrayed as a charismatic, giddy, and occasionally reckless girl, and the interactions among Link, Zelda, and Groose strongly resemble school relationships. Zelda goes from this girl who mainly wants to spend as much time as she can with Link and fly alongside him through the clouds into a dutiful character who must put her feelings aside to ensure the future of the world. Sure, awakening to retrieve her memories of her past life as the Goddess Hylia may have forced her character development, but, nevertheless, I believe it’s still an uplifting growth for Zelda as a character. She tells Link in her emotional cutscene: “While it's true that I am Hylia reborn, I'm still my father's daughter and your friend… I'm still your Zelda.” This alone shows that Zelda is still herself, but, like Link, has “awakened” to fulfill her eternal destiny.
Even Groose has a similar transformation. At the beginning of the game, he is essentially Link’s bully and seeks Zelda’s affection. He even has a punching bag with Link’s face on it in his dorm room. This doesn’t make him a bad guy; it’s just high-school immaturity and jealousy, which are prevalent in his character and actions in the early phases of the game. After being exposed to the world below and being forced to come to terms with the fact that Link is the chosen hero and must be the one to save Zelda, Groose initially becomes depressed, but as he has some time to himself, he accepts his reality and makes the best of it, becoming a very likable and helpful character. He even becomes a sort of hero himself by constructing an epic bomb catapult, which is almost necessary to hold back the Imprisoned, and catches Zelda after Demise flings away her limp body after his resurrection.
Link’s “awakening” of his spirit in Skyward Sword saved the world for his era, which was needed, but his spiritual development was vital for the sake of Hyrule for millennia to come. His legacy made him become known as THE legendary hero referenced in many of the games. In Twilight Princess, Faron the Light Spirit tells the Hero of Twilight, “[T]he powers of the chosen one rest within [him]… and they are awakening…” and then tells him to “look at [his] awakened form…” Link is then shown wearing the clothes of the legendary hero, referencing Skyward Sword Link (note: Many believe the “legendary hero” the Light Spirit refers to is the Hero of Time, but this is incorrect. The tunic the Hero of Twilight wears has an identical design to the Hero of the Sky’s and even has the same fit chainmail). Although Skyward Sword is one of the least-played 3D Zelda games, Link’s trials and sacrifices were necessary for any of the other heroes to have existed, making this incarnation of Link even more influential to Hyrule’s history than the Hero of Time’s. After all, his determination to awaken his potential to save his best friend led to his being the first lifeform to ever wield and use the full Triforce, an accomplishment most other incarnations of Link never made.