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The Exquisite Liminality Of Zelda: Skyward Sword


Link Falling To The World Below

Over the vacations we’re republishing a few of our greatest options, interviews, opinion items and speaking factors from the earlier 12 months from workers and contributors alike — articles that we really feel signify our greatest of 2021. In them you may discover our regular mixture of thoughtfulness, frivolity, retro experience, gaming nostalgia, and — after all — enthusiasm for all issues Nintendo.

To have fun the thirty fifth anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, we ran a sequence of options taking a look at a particular side (a theme, character, mechanic, location, reminiscence or one thing else solely) from every of the mainline Zelda video games. Right here, Kate compares Skyward Sword to a hall, or one thing…

Skyward Sword. A two-word title that strikes worry into the center of many. However fear not, my expensive Zelda-loving/hating mates – I come to ‘bury’ Skyward Sword, to not reward it. A few of our Zelda essays have been about how a lot we love a selected recreation, and do not get me mistaken — I’m a Skyward Sword apologist — however this isn’t a kind of essays. I wish to speak, as a substitute, about an attention-grabbing characteristic of probably the most divisive Zelda recreation – its fascination with liminality.

Ah, liminality: the good friend to all college essay-writers and pretentious video games journalists alike. The time period comes from the Latin for “threshold” — limen — and that is precisely what it means: an area between. A liminal area is the edge between doing one thing or being someplace, and what comes subsequent, an area that — maybe unsurprisingly — can elicit emotions of pleasure, reverence, trepidation, or worry.

The moment when Link accidentally turned on the big light instead of the reading lamp when he went to the bathroom at 2am
The second when Hyperlink by accident turned on the large gentle as a substitute of the studying lamp when he went to the lavatory at 2am

It may be a spot in time — a sundown, for instance, which is a liminal area between evening and day — or a literal place, like a ready room, a parking lot, or a hallway. It could even be a sense that is laborious to pin down, a sense as if you are stepping from the previous into the long run, like if you take your closing examination in college and also you assume to your self, “wow, I will by no means have to put in writing one other essay ever once more,” and then you definitely write 2,000 phrases on liminality in video video games although nobody requested you to. One thing like that, you realize.

Zelda video games are full of liminal areas. The Temple of Time is a giant one — the edge between youngster and grownup, mortal and divine, loud and quiet — however the smaller, much less apparent ones are simply as lovely. There’s the Kokiri Forest, the final monster-free space in Hyrule, the place the Kokiri stay within the perpetual state of childhood, like Peter Pan. Afterward in Ocarina of Time, Dampé mans the creepy graveyard, and ultimately even crosses the edge between life and demise himself, turning into a ghost like these he guards.

Bird hats: a liminal space between bird, and hat
Chicken hats: a liminal area between chook, and hat

In Minish Cap, the portals to the world of the Picori are excellent liminal areas: hollowed-out stumps and pots that shrink Hyperlink into mini-Hyperlink, a metamorphosis which takes place in an ideal sunbeam, virtually like a temple. After which there’s Majora’s Masks, a recreation so dang obsessive about liminality that it might be simpler to search out an instance inside of a non-liminal area.

However we’re not speaking about Majora’s Masks as we speak. We’re speaking about Skyward Sword, and also you already know my emotions on it (it is good, truly), so slightly than making an impassioned case for the sport that we’ll all presumably be replaying this summer season, I wish to speak as a substitute about how Skyward Sword makes use of liminal areas to kickstart the legend of Zelda that everyone knows so effectively.

We start Skyward Sword with a narrative of excellent vs evil. A disembodied voice tells us the story of demons plaguing the newly-born world: “The earth cracked extensive and malevolent forces rushed forth from the fissure.” Alright, that is fairly darn liminal – the forces of evil create a literal passage from the realm beneath to the land above. However then, after all, to guard the people of the land, the goddess Hylia sends them up above the clouds, to Skyloft – a spot neither on land, nor really belonging to the sky. Since then, the Hylians have dwelled there for ages, and the legends of the world beneath have been misplaced.

So, instantly out of the gate, now we have three realms: the place beneath, the place evil lives; the place above, the place Skyloft is; and the place in-between, the land that may turn out to be Hyrule. However maybe it is a good time to pause, and focus on why liminality issues, and why it is used so closely in Skyward Sword and all different Zelda video games.

Which one of these terrible haircuts would you prefer to have?
Which one in every of these horrible haircuts would you favor to have?

Inserting the gamers in a liminal area isn’t just about creating the sensation of unease or of anticipation, however of telling a narrative of transition.

Many heroic legends (and tales typically) are about transition. Turning into a hero is way extra attention-grabbing than already being one, in any case. Liminality and legend go hand-in-hand, as a result of each are all about rituals – the ritual of turning into, the ritual of discovering, the ritual of transferring in direction of the following factor. Liminal areas set the tone for one thing massive occurring, whilst you’re nonetheless within the deep breath beforehand.

Being in a liminal area, like Skyloft, implies that you do not belong – you are solely there till the following factor comes alongside. It is that sense of not-quite-belonging that drives Hyperlink on his quest – issues can not keep excellent and idyllic if you’re solely midway to the purpose. Both you alter the place you might be, or one thing will change it for you.

Lil Nas X stole his "pole down to hell" idea from Skyward Sword
Lil Nas X stole his “pole right down to hell” thought from Skyward Sword

As a result of liminal areas are sometimes issues like ready rooms, petrol stations, and that bit proper earlier than you go to sleep, they typically include emotions of nervousness and stress. There is a sense that you just’re anticipating one thing to occur, as a result of whilst you wait, you are abruptly made susceptible. That stress could be leveraged right into a cool story very simply. Probably the most thrilling factor a recreation can supply is an unlimited unknown, able to be plundered for its secrets and techniques and mysteries, simply barely out of attain – and Skyward Sword’s expanse of clouds that cover the earth are precisely that.

Hyperlink himself is on the verge of maturity, as he often is in Zelda video games. He additionally has actually creepy lips, however that is not related to the thesis of this text, I simply needed to say it. And, as a result of I’ve actually received to drive this level house, his day begins in a nightmare – and goals are a liminal area between awake and asleep, the place you might be each directly.

The Silent Realm: possibly the reason I have anxiety today
The Silent Realm: presumably the explanation I’ve nervousness as we speak

Let’s skip ahead slightly. Hyperlink travels beneath the clouds, and lands himself on the world beneath, the place monsters (which have conveniently advanced to require slicing in a selected route) abound. Even additional into the story, Hyperlink will break by the boundaries of clouds elsewhere to search out the hidden Isle of Songs, the boundaries of the spirit world to enter the Silent Realm, and the boundaries of time itself in Lanayru Desert – all because the embodiment of evil, The Imprisoned, makes an attempt to interrupt freed from the boundaries of its cell. And what are boundaries however (you guessed it) liminal areas that exist to maintain two issues separate?

Each impediment to each Hyperlink and Demise — the sport’s Large Dangerous — lies between them, earlier than they even realize it. Each time Hyperlink breaks the guard of Ghirahim, or opens a brand new door, he strikes nearer to Demise. Each time Demise breaks freed from the seal, or makes an attempt to destroy the Gates of Time, he strikes nearer to his purpose of acquiring the Triforce, however unknowingly nearer to his closing, impassable hurdle: the Hero, Hyperlink

Just cut the rope. You have a sword
Simply reduce the rope. You’ve a sword

(And, by the way in which, the Triforce itself exists as a complete triangle damaged up by a pretty liminal area proper within the centre. Additionally, the Goddess Harp that is instrumental — ha — to the plot? An attention-grabbing selection of instrument – maybe one of many only a few which might be performed by strings between one thing, slightly than on high of one thing. This theme goes deep. Or perhaps I simply have a fine-tuned sense of the best way to stretch out an analogy.)

It is all Matryoshkas inside Matryoshkas, all the way in which right down to the center of it, the center of each Zelda recreation: the ultimate battle between braveness and energy, gentle and darkish, good and evil. There are liminal areas between the 2 in life, after all — the gray space the place individuals are neither wholly good nor wholly dangerous — however Skyward Sword, like all Zelda tales, and all heroic legends, is about breaking by all of that and discarding every part gray till there are solely two truths left: the Hero, and the Villain.

Skyloft is a lovely place to live if you don't mind feral cats and occasionally falling off the edge to your death
Skyloft is a stunning place to stay if you happen to do not thoughts feral cats and infrequently falling off the sting to your demise

So, there you might have it. Skyward Sword is all about breaking by boundaries, dwelling within the areas in-between, and the stress of transition. Maybe a few of you might be pondering, “this essay is a bit more than a janky motion-controlled Zelda recreation deserves,” and also you’re in all probability proper – however, let’s be trustworthy, video games journalism is mostly only a massive ol’ nerd writing about lovely toys for grown ups, and we take what we are able to get.

As an entry within the bigger sequence, Skyward Sword itself is a liminal Zelda recreation: it is only a few individuals’s favorite, nevertheless it’s actually not the worst; it got here on the very tail finish of the Wii’s lifecycle, simply as Nintendo was about to transition to the Wii U; and, what’s extra, it was the sport that got here proper earlier than Breath of The Wild’s open, borderless world. Skyward Sword is stuffed with limitations, gates, doorways, hurdles, and limits, and that is a big a part of the explanation why individuals do not prefer it. But it surely’s additionally what makes the story so quintessentially Zelda, even because it throws numerous conference out the window – and what made Breath of the Wild really feel so unusually, unexpectedly free.

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