Is 'Skyward Sword' the Best 'Zelda' Game Ever?

That's the only question fans of the Nintendo series are asking as the latest version comes out



The Legend of Zelda released a new game yesterday to commemorate the series' 25th anniversary. There's only one question Zelda fans buying it want to know: Is this the best Zelda game of all time?

A little background: Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time in 1998. It wasn't the first game in the series, but when it came out, everyone knew that it would be a benchmark not just for the series, but for all games to come after it. It was, in the truest sense of the word, a revelation. It was the first time a 3D system had ever built a true, living, breathing, changing world for the player to explore. It was a coming-of-age story both literally and for the games industry as a whole. It exploded the idea of the art and majesty that games were capable of. It's hard to talk about because it wasn't a game defined by its story, its setting, its characters, its architecture, or its gameplay. It had all these things at once. It occupied that place in between pure games and pure stories: neither something to be played nor watched, but lived.

Since then Nintendo has made eight Zelda games and an ill-advised crossbow-centric title. Some of these were good games. In fact, by anyone else's standards, they were excellent games. The kind of game any developer would be proud to hang their hat on. But there was always Ocarina.

When Twilight Princess, the series' first title for Wii, came out in 2006, the game community looked forward to it as the first true successor to Ocarina of Time, and the greatest Zelda game ever. When it came out, they were so excited they could hardly be have been wrong.

"The debate that has waged for decades over which Zelda game should stand as the series' best will at long last come to a satisfying conclusion, as this is unquestionably the greatest Zelda yet," read Game Informer.

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"The greatest Zelda game ever created," said IGN.

Twilight Princess looked a lot like Ocarina, except grander, more detailed, and darker. It was a great game, but it was missing the indefinable, epic magic that had bound all of Ocarina. Over the years, the game community cooled, and in the buildup toward Skyward Sword, we went back to wondering if this game could finally dethrone Ocarina. The tacit understanding was that Ocarina had never been dethroned.

Six years after Twilight Princess, the reviews for Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are in, and the raving continues. "Ocarina of Time has met its match," proclaims game website IGN. It's understandable: We as gamers have such as deep abiding love for The Legend of Zelda that we want to see it succeed against all odds.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, is an amazing game. It is certainly better than Twilight Princess. Shigeru Miyamoto and team have given us a brilliant, fresh world demanding to be explored at every corner. They've eschewed many of Zelda's hallowed traditions for new items, characters, locales, and puzzles. The end result reminds the player that there was a time when everything that was Zelda was new, and can be new again. It also comes the closest of any game yet towards integrating motion controls into a traditional—but the game is so complete that this feature actually ends up feeling like an afterthought.

Twilight Princess failed for trying to become a better version of Ocarina of Time, because that was impossible. Skyward Sword is content to be itself. It rejects the open-world gameplay that it pioneered in 1998 for a more linear story, and the result is a title with something of the gentle forward motion of an old Mario game, pushing the player on his journey rather than letting the hero take his own pace. It isn't a better or a worse structure, but it is different, and that's important for a series that has stuck to the same basic idea for two decades: explore the land, find items, go into dungeons, use items, fight bosses, collect sets of different items, find the Princess, save the world. Grow from a plucky young adventurer into the storied Hero.

What's different is whether or not by the end, the player feels like the Hero. Ocarina had that. Twilight Princess, for all its striving, couldn't manage it. Skyward Sword brings it back. The game is an origin story, set before every other game in the series. Hyrule—the land that we've come to love by saving it in Zelda games countless times—is different now. It's wild, uncolonized, and brimming with secrets. From the moment the hero descends from the clouds onto an alien and hostile land, the sense of exploration and wonder that made the series stand out when it was first released 25 years ago returns.

But it's not Ocarina. That's okay. Only Ocarina is Ocarina. This is Zelda, and there will be more Zelda to come.