The Beautiful Liminality Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Exquisite Liminality Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

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 symbolize our better of 2021. In them you will discover our regular mixture of thoughtfulness, frivolity, retro experience, gaming nostalgia, and — after all — enthusiasm for all issues Nintendo.

To rejoice the thirty fifth anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, we ran a collection of options taking a look at a particular facet (a theme, character, mechanic, location, reminiscence or one thing else fully) 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 pricey Zelda-loving/hating associates – 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 sport, and do not get me mistaken — I’m a Skyward Sword apologist — however this isn’t a type of essays. I need to discuss, as an alternative, about an attention-grabbing characteristic of essentially the most divisive Zelda sport – its fascination with liminality.

Ah, liminality: the pal 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 house 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 massive mild as an alternative 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 house between evening and day — or a literal place, like a ready room, a carpark, or a hallway. It may even be a sense that is exhausting to pin down, a sense as if you are stepping from the previous into the longer term, like whenever you take your ultimate 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 definately write 2,000 phrases on liminality in video video games although nobody requested you to. One thing like that, you understand.

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. In a while in Ocarina of Time, Dampé mans the creepy graveyard, and ultimately even crosses the edge between life and dying himself, turning into a ghost like these he guards.

Bird hats: a liminal space between bird, and hat
Hen hats: a liminal house 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 change which takes place in an ideal sunbeam, virtually like a temple. After which there’s Majora’s Masks, a sport so dang obsessive about liminality that it could be simpler to seek out an instance inside of a non-liminal house.

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 moderately than making an impassioned case for the sport that we’ll all presumably be replaying this summer season, I need to discuss as an alternative about how Skyward Sword makes use of liminal areas to kickstart the legend of Zelda that everyone knows so properly.

We start Skyward Sword with a narrative of fine vs evil. A disembodied voice tells us the story of demons plaguing the newly-born world: “The earth cracked large 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 actually belonging to the sky. Since then, the Hylians have dwelled there for ages, and the legends of the world under have been misplaced.

So, instantly out of the gate, we now have three realms: the place under, the place evil lives; the place above, the place Skyloft is; and the place in-between, the land that will grow to be Hyrule. However maybe this can be a good time to pause, and talk about 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 house isn’t just about creating the sensation of unease or of anticipation, however of telling a narrative of transition.

Many heroic legends (and tales normally) are about transition. Changing into a hero is much 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 shifting in direction of the subsequent factor. Liminal areas set the tone for one thing large taking place, when you’re nonetheless within the deep breath beforehand.

Being in a liminal house, like Skyloft, signifies that you do not belong – you are solely there till the subsequent factor comes alongside. It is that sense of not-quite-belonging that drives Hyperlink on his quest – issues can’t keep excellent and idyllic whenever you’re solely midway to the objective. 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 all the way down to hell” concept 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 rigidity. There is a sense that you just’re anticipating one thing to occur, as a result of when you wait, you are abruptly made susceptible. That rigidity may be leveraged right into a cool story very simply. Probably the most thrilling factor a sport 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 wished to say it. And, as a result of I’ve actually bought to drive this level house, his day begins in a nightmare – and desires are a liminal house between awake and asleep, the place you might be each directly.

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

Let’s skip ahead a bit of. Hyperlink travels beneath the clouds, and lands himself on the world under, the place monsters (which have conveniently advanced to require slicing in a selected course) abound. Even additional into the story, Hyperlink will break via the boundaries of clouds elsewhere to seek 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 Huge Unhealthy — lies between them, earlier than they even understand 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 objective of acquiring the Triforce, however unknowingly nearer to his ultimate, impassable hurdle: the Hero, Hyperlink

Just cut the rope. You have a sword
Simply reduce the rope. You may have a sword

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

It is all Matryoshkas inside Matryoshkas, all the way in which all the way down to the center of it, the center of each Zelda sport: the ultimate battle between braveness and energy, mild and darkish, good and evil. There are liminal areas between the 2 in life, after all — the gray space the place persons are neither wholly good nor wholly unhealthy — however Skyward Sword, like all Zelda tales, and all heroic legends, is about breaking via 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 beautiful place to dwell should you do not thoughts feral cats and infrequently falling off the sting to your dying

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

As an entry within the bigger collection, Skyward Sword itself is a liminal Zelda sport: it is only a few folks’s favorite, but it surely’s definitely 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 bounds, and that is a big a part of the explanation why folks do not prefer it. However it’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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