It’s that time of year again, when couples around the world buy each other chocolates and tacky heart shaped gifts. Soon it will be Valentine’s Day, the most loved-up day of the year, and it’s got us thinking about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: a worrying indication that our priorities aren’t matching the romantic occasion.
Skyward Sword is still very much on our minds, however, as it’s such a memorable gaming experience. While much can be attributed to the MotionPlus gameplay, terrific art design or the sweeping orchestral score, it’s important not to forget the role of the storyline. The basic plot isn’t exactly revolutionary, but its delivery, arguably, sets new standards for the franchise, with well-directed cut-scenes and some of the most expressive character animations seen on a Nintendo console. These beautifully animated facial expressions contribute to a key part of the story: the innocent friendship between Zelda and Link.
We say friendship, but the developing relationship between them could easily be interpreted as something more intimate. Even the opening scenes of the adventure emphasize that they've known each other their whole lives: Zelda is protective of Link and our hero, it must be said, brightens up whenever he’s around his oldest friend. For those of you who haven’t played this epic title – go and play it now — we’ll avoid spoilers, but it can be safely said that Link will go to any lengths to rescue Zelda.
We say friendship, but the developing relationship between them could easily be interpreted as something more intimate.
In fact, in this respect Skyward Sword forges new ground in terms of Link’s motivations: his priority doesn’t appear to be saving the world or Zelda through a sense of duty, but rather because he can’t contemplate a world without her. Your actions in the adventure lead to the usual acts of collecting relics, powers and defeating evil, but Link is driven by a need to be reunited with Zelda: it’s a bond that he cannot bear to be broken.
In comparison to other major titles in the series such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, this is a different approach to storytelling from Nintendo. In both of those titles, for example, the relationship between the two characters is portrayed as a friendship brought together by fate: their two paths intertwine and they help each other in a quest to save Hyrule. Even if we dive into handheld titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, the relationship is based on trust and, to an extent, mutual dependency: we’d argue that romance doesn’t necessarily come into the picture.
There have been hints of romance for Link before Skyward Sword, however, particularly in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. In this title Link spends some time with Marin, who he appears to mistakenly believe is Zelda at the start of the game, and there are moments where romance isn’t far away. There are occasions of words not quite spoken, a confession from Marin that she wants to know everything about Link, and an iconic scene where the two characters overlook the sea. Both characters are young, but there is genuine friendship and empathy between them that arguably moves beyond a normal fate-based relationship.
It’s against this backdrop of limited relationships in the Zelda franchise that the portrayal of Link and Zelda in Skyward Sword becomes all the more relevant. In fact, looking beyond the Zelda franchise, there are very few occasions where first-party Nintendo titles explore themes of romance. When looking for other examples we actually struggle, as the continual cake-sharing between Mario, Princess Peach and the lovelorn Bowser doesn’t quite fit as a genuinely romantic story. There are perhaps undertones in Metroid: Other M, but that’s a storyline that is far from being universally loved.
There are multiple reasons why Nintendo stay away from these themes. On the one hand a lot of its major franchises are pure video-gaming fantasy that make the idea absurd. The concept of characters such as Donkey Kong or Wario portraying serious feelings beyond retrieving bananas or gold coins is unfeasible. DK may occasionally be tasked with rescuing another character, but it’s nevertheless all about the gameplay, with the plot being secondary. Nintendo has always been in the business of producing fun gaming experience above all else, with little focus — apart from series such as The Legend of Zelda and Metroid – on developing complex stories or lore. Romantic themes can be found in titles published by Nintendo but ultimately developed elsewhere, such as Xenoblade Chronicles, but the big N rarely does this itself.
Perhaps the trouble with Other M, as an example, and the relationship between Samus and Adam Malkovich, was that it wasn’t absolutely clear whether it was paternal or more intimate. Many were possibly too distracted by the voice acting or style of the elaborate, space-opera cut-scenes. This title was the definitive example of how to divide a loyal fan-base, and in the arguments about gameplay, storytelling and a particular scene with Ridley, not much attention was paid to Samus and Malkovich’s relationship.
It’s in this respect that Skyward Sword bucks the trend, and shows ability within Nintendo to portray a serious theme while maintaining innocence and clarity in the storytelling. As we said earlier, the main goal is still to defeat evil and save the world, but the reasons are different. While fate makes its appearance in the plot, the reasoning for Link to risk his life is simply to rescue and be reunited with his friend. It’s a closeness that resonates throughout the whole game, giving key moments an emotional impact that is memorable. It also helps to move Link and Zelda away from what have, arguably, been stereotyped roles as the silent, indefatigable hero and the noble, brave Princess. It elevates Skyward Sword to a new level of storytelling, something that we’d like to see more of in the future.
If any of you think that we’re over-analysing the idea of love between these characters for the sake of Valentine’s Day, then maybe we can convince you that this has always been on the cards. We’d simply like to mention the ending to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s not much of a spoiler in the overall scheme of the game, but as the curtains fall on the final screen the two characters make a definite move towards each other as if to embrace. What’s going on? Early signs of Nintendo moving the two characters closer together, romantically?
Either way, we’d love to hear your thoughts about Link and Zelda’s relationship in Skyward Sword, or any other romantic storylines that you remember from Nintendo titles. Keep your eyes peeled on 14th February, also, as we have a special Valentine’s Day feature on the way.