Being a Legend of Zelda simp can be a bit of a tumultuous experience. Of course fans have had to wait nearly six years and counting for the much anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. But even bigger frustrations stem from Zelda fans not really knowing or even understanding what they want, let alone what makes each entry in the franchise so special.
New entries into the Zelda series have an odd history of receiving the highest of praise at launch, garnering perfect scores from major critics and gaming journalism publications, only to fall out of favor with fans within a year or even a few months.
The trend of knocking a Link-centered adventure off its pedestal isn’t uncommon from other fandoms, though if you want a look at what popularized it to the hot-take culture it is today, you can trace the history back to YouTube thinkpieces attacking industry-changing classics like Ocarina of Time. But again, this is more a catalyst than an isolated incident. Wind Waker received backlash for being too cheery, Twilight Princess for being too dark, Majora’s Mask for being too complicated, and Skyward Sword, one of the most fluctuating in fandom opinion, for babying its players.
Carrying the mantle of the first in the series’s often confusing timeline, Skyward Sword offered a grand linear origin story, filled with creative dungeons and temples, and the first ever major Nintendo title that required slicing a Wiimote through the air as a core motion control mechanic.
Skyward Sword garnered countless perfect scores from across the industry, but once the dust from the sheer epicness of the 25th anniversary had fallen off, many began to call out Skyward Sword for having countless cracks, and within only a few months, gamers had changed their minds. That grand storyline was now too linear, the motion controls were gimmicky and unreliable, and those puzzles weren’t as enjoyable with a sidekick who kept interrupting the action with an obvious piece of advice at best. And countless series fans bemoaned its perfect scores, listing its artistic, mechanical, or even positive accessibility advancements as evidence the Zelda series was falling apart.
Like any fanbase, the Zelda community loves its own share of drama, arguing over the best, worst, or most under- and overrated entries. And like many fanbases, this discussion can cloud the strengths and successes of a game, which explains how there was such vocal ire for Skyward Sword, a game that, quite frankly, absolutely slaps.
Whether it’s the innovative new weapons like the flying beetle or the whip, the gorgeous watercolor cel shading, the quirky yet lovable character design, or the game’s ability to create a water dungeon that for a change was one of the best in the entire series, Skyward Sword prods the mind at every angle with colorful whimsy and creativity. But there’s also a continual sense of foreboding desperation, with Zelda and Link’s relationship being the driving factor for the player to push through each dungeon and battle each boss as a means to reconnect the story’s destined pair.
One of the biggest complaints about Skyward Sword I’ve yet to mention is its motif of repetition. But while dowsing for items can admittedly become tiresome by the third mission, revisiting fights like The Imprisoned not only heightens that sense of darkness inevitably taking control, but it also provides moments for our heroes to shine against this same darkness. As memed as Groose has become at this point, the third Imprisoned fight is so powerful because it’s the conclusion to his redemptive arc, showing care, ingenuity, and most importantly growth.
Similarly, while each realm is revisited three times, Skyward Sword finds creative ways to re-contextualize those areas. Returning to realms you may find them flooded, taken over by bokoblins, or home to hidden dragons. Other times, the game will rely on the knowledge you’ve learned there to successfully speedrun them while navigating the horrifying and pulse-pounding Silent Realm challenges. While there is repetition in these visits, it’s all designed with progression in mind.
There are plenty of other things to celebrate in Skyward Sword. The hub city of Skyloft is vibrant and full of secrets, sidequests, and goofy characters. Dungeons like Ancient Cistern and The Sandship are some of the best in the series. Heck, there are even so many delightful small details that stand out, like the way the score sneaks in some trombone to represent Groose during beautiful orchestral arrangements. It’s all the great features that were there on the first playthrough but take time and replays to fully appreciate.
After an HD Nintendo Switch re-release, more fans have remembered these good times with Skyward Sword, and it highlights the cycle of appreciation with Zelda series entries. With nearly every major entry, fans can set their watch to its fall from favorability, to a beloved resurgence years later, and Skyward Sword is somewhere on the up-and-coming end once more.
This is the same cycle Wind Waker dealt with, first facing accusations for its kiddieness, only to later be regarded as one of the series’s greatest. Majora’s Mask went from being seen as an awkward sequel with a weird time mechanic to being understood as the brilliant masterful work of fiction from games. Twilight Princess, Link’s Awakening, and even Spirit Tracks have been in the midst of their own rebirths or renaissances over the past five years.
If anything, the Zelda appreciation cycle hardly stands alone as something exclusive to Zelda fans. Fans love a hot take, a controversial opinion, or some exciting piece of news or opinion to make that wait between games more bearable. And in that process of waiting, fans lose patience and turn on the very media they adore as a sort of coping mechanism.
“Oh, that movie sequel I’m waiting for can’t be that good if there were so many holes in the thing before it I liked.” Or, “Ugh, I can’t believe this revolutionary new game didn’t evoke the exact same feelings my 10-year-old self felt about a wildly different game.”
Whether fans can’t stand to live another minute until that new piece comes out or a fan didn’t get verbatim what they were craving after waiting so long, it’s not until after we are removed from that waiting where we can truly appreciate a game for what it truly is. Luckily for Zelda fans, whenever they pick up an older title after some time away, there’s a good chance they’ll find a lot more reasons to love the game than criticize it.