Playing Skyward Sword, then, is a feeling of slowly dawning horror: Nintendo has made a game interested in defining the timeline they released for the series last year. But rather than be horrified, I found myself strangely captured by Skyward Sword’s analysis of modern mythology, the place that The Legend of Zelda holds in all of our lives.
To the close observer, then, the Zelda games bore similarity to the Final Fantasy titles: iterative rather than consecutive, building themes rather than nested narratives. Your first Zelda is a sentimental favorite, same as a first Final Fantasy: they are nostalgic monomyths, told by Japanese designers to us as impressionable children. They are your story, not the stories of those who precede you or follow you.
Skyward Sword, then, shares space with Majora’s Mask as the most curious of Zeldas. But while Majora’s Mask was a rare science fiction turn for the series, Skyward Sword is equal parts mythic deconstruction and character narrative. It couches its timelines and theory in small stories about familiar characters, and posits itself as the mother from which all the others were born.
Gaepora, for instance, Zelda’s father in Skyward Sword, represents a clear mythic touchstone, a base from which future characters were “born”. His resemblance, Ocarina of Time‘s owl, immediately calls to mind the series’ connections. The same is true with Fi, who verbally resembles Navi and physically Midna—she is reminiscent, instantly, of two of the series’ characters, and she fills the same role as they do.
Skyward Sword claims these stories are part of the same cycle, a story that repeats and reiterates. It actually claims this, in its closing hours, rather than imply it, like the previous Zelda games. Here, de jure rather than de facto, is Levi-Strauss writ large, a series of stories passed down through generations like the narratives of early North and South America. Here the tellers are not Native American travelers but instead Japanese game designers, each telling their own version of a classic story.
That said, Skyward Sword presents itself as the first event, the mother myth, enabling the series to take a narrative turn. While other games were wrapped up in mythological obscurity, Skyward Sword is a straight ahead narrative, the way things actually happened, and this gives life to characters like Groose, who’s one of the most interesting in the Zelda mythos. Ironically, he’s one of the few characters who doesn’t have the mythological backing that the series is built on: rather than the previous incarnation of Link, Zelda, Ganondorf, Navi, or anyone, Groose is Groose.
Groose, your rival turned staunch ally, represents the part of mythology that Twilight Princess, the least successful Zelda title, missed: it represents the individual spin of the narrative-maker. Twilight Princess lacked any sort of individuality, despite its attempts to be visually noteworthy: there’s no noteworthy character in that game that exists outside the mythic tradition. Even Gant, its attempt at uniqueness, finds a home in the monomyth, Agahnim or Ghirahim in different clothing. Its own characters, the children kidnapped in the beginning, limply roll through the narrative, neither interesting or compelling the same way Groose does.
To some, this is why Twilight Princess works so well: it is atmosphere and monomyth alone, without its own agenda. Skyward Sword, meanwhile, has an agenda. It’s a bildungsroman, emphasizing Link’s growing up, using Groose as the yardstick to explore your progress. When he’s grown up, so have you. Skyward Sword adds other pieces to the monomyth to deepen its point: Pipit and Karane explore young love, the dragons mentorship, the other characters around Skyloft, and Link’s growing respect from the community. The main figures are twisted, as well, to emphasize its themes: Ghirahim is effectively a sexual predator, Zelda is less chaste than in other incarnations, and Fi is more an equal companion through the throes of adolecense than a chattering nightmare.
This is what makes Skyward Sword work so well, paradoxically: in embracing its identity as a monomyth, it enabled the game to stretch out into different directions. Once it is accepted that you are telling The Same Story Again, there’s a certain freedom to twist and angle so that your interests and ideas are highlighted over those of the previous incarnations. It’s what sets Skyward Sword, the one game to explicitly identify as monomyth, apart from its fellow fables.