legend of zelda

Symphony of the Goddesses

If you haven't heard of the Symphony of the Goddesses tour... well, you need to check it out. That goes double if you love Zelda and that goes triple if you love symphonies. I was fortunate to be heading to my hometown for a few weeks at the end of July when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was doing a leg of the Symphony of the Goddesses tour. For those unfamiliar with symphonies, the orchestra plays four movements to tell a story. Naturally, this is perfect for Zelda, as the game has a strong story.

Naturally, the BSO did a fantastic job. I wasn't surprised about that in the slightest. (I even started tearing up during the Wind Waker symphonic movement because it was so beautiful.) What I find the most inspiring about the Symphony of the Goddesses is the combination of two different mediums and how it introduces people to classical music, and further how it changes the stuffy, high-class atmosphere of traditional concerts.

First, Zelda music has evolved. Game music in general has evolved so much from the days of clean chiptunes with a memorable melody. We have full-scale movements, background music to set the mood (think of the Journey soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory). It's complex. It can be soothing. It can be unnerving. It can be exciting. It can be cute. It can be serious. Game music can be any one of these things. Perhaps it'd even be better that it's a mix of several different things as music is a tool to draw the player in and evoke a particular emotion in them. While many of the themes in Zelda we know today actually date back to A Link to the Past, the way they're played in <i>Skyward Sword</i> or <i>Twilight Princess</i> or even <i>Wind Waker</i> is so drastically different from the classic music on the SNES. I think it's amazing how there can be symphonies of video game music. I don't think this fact by itself shows that games and game music has matured (as cutesy, fun music is still important in some games), but it does show that no two games have the exact sound. As they shouldn't! A game's music should be unique to that game's theme.

Second, a few years ago, I would never be caught listening to symphonic movements. The only string instrument I got behind was a guitar because rock music is cool. And given the choice between classical music and rock music, I'd take rock. But video games actually got me interested in more traditional forms of music.

Most importantly, and much to my concert music veteran sister's dismay, there was no universal dress code at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that night. Tickets for the majority of symphony orchestras are not cheap. The tickets to Symphony of the Goddesses weren't that cheap either, but I was able to get a good seat in the center, rear orchestra seating for $45. I had planned on attending the concert in a Zelda t-shirt and jeans; however, my sister gave me enough crap about it that I ended up changing into a nice shirt and skirt. Lo and behold, when I arrived, most people wore casual clothing, and some people had come in costume. It's amazing what a different atmosphere the symphony hall had that night, and the amount of passion the audience, the conductor, and the musicians all shared that night.

Skyward Sword: Taking Leaps in Storytelling

Is Skyward Sword old news now that it's 2012? I doubt that. With a game this impressive, I can surely say that people will be playing this game for a while. (If the Silent Realms don't scare them off.)

In the newest Zelda game, Link lives on a land above the clouds, put there a long time ago by the Goddess to protect her people from the evil land-dwelling monsters below. Link lives a happy life, as do the other people of Skyloft, training to be a knight at the academy. On the first day of the game, he has a race against his classmates. The winner gets to fly around with Zelda for a bit, receive her sailcloth, and advance to the next class at the academy.

Fortunately, the game explains flying on your Loftwing pretty early in the game with the help of Zelda.

...After she pushes you off a cliff.

It's how she shows her affection.

Now, even if you suck at flying (which I did during the race), you'll win, so just take it at your own pace and you'll be with Zelda in no time.

Oh, wait--just kidding.

The story seems like same old Zelda games by that point. Link has to go save Zelda because he's the Goddess's chosen hero. Link will go through dungeons getting new equipment and chasing after Zelda, as well as going through trials to prove his worth as a hero. But wait--there's so much more!

The characters in this game have never had more personality. Link and Zelda have a strong relationship, and they care about each other. However, they can both survive on their own. This game forces them apart to each grow. You see Link go from a boy who likes his childhood friend to a young man who not only runs into battle with determination but also acts out of desperation when the person most important to him is in danger. Zelda is no damsel in distress. She may have fallen to the dangerous surface, but she's got plenty of spunk. She takes care of herself while she enters dungeons long before Link has the chance to do the same. Even when saved by Impa later on, Zelda knows when she has to put her foot down. She'll sacrifice the time she has with Link so that she can save the world. Link and Zelda are a team of heroes. Without either, the world will perish by the hands of demons.

This game doesn't just beat you over the head with "They like each other!" This game will make you feel it by stabbing you in the gut. It's the first Zelda game to make me openly cry.

And it's not just our protagonists who have dimension. We have Zelda admirer and slick pompadour-wearing Groose! He starts off on the wrong foot (ain't nobody hurting my bird!), but he's honestly a sweet guy. And even this secondary character is essential.

If there isn't a spin-off game about Groose, I will be so upset.

But my all-time favorite character is Lord Fabulous Ghirahim. With a creepy tongue, flamboyant personality, and weird tendency to hit on Link, he steals the show. He's the primary antagonist in the game, and while he's pretty awful at pursuing a young blonde girl, he's pretty great at getting in your way. Even he's got a personality.

Just look at those supple arms.

It was the lack of personality in the majority of characters in Twilight Princess that didn't make me fall in love with the game. It had a good story and it was fun, but it's got nothing on the characters of Skyward Sword.

Only one character has no personality (but not without development!), and that's by design. Fi, the spirit within the Master Sword, aids Link on his journey and gives advice, hints, rumors, and analysis when prompted. Most of the time, her dialogue goes something like this, "Master, there is an 85% chance that there is a key to this door somewhere within this dungeon," which roughly translates to, "Go find that goddamn key."

There is a 100% chance that you are an idiot and will need my assistance.

The motion controls set this game apart from the rest of the series. In Twilight Princess, all you really had to do was flail the wiimote around. Battles in Skyward Sword take more patience as most of the time you need to swing the sword in a certain direction or even thrust the sword. You start off with more hearts than usual for a Zelda game, but those extra hearts are necessary at the beginning. You will get pushed around, beaten up, and killed by a stupid spider just swinging back into your face. When the motion controls are finicky (it was difficult to get the wiimote to realize I was thrusting and not slashing), it's frustrating. If you have problems, recalibrate your wiimote, which you can do on the main menu screen in game, and then practice slashing and stabbing in the air.

This especially takes patience.

But what I love the most of all is the music in Skyward Sword. Each song tells a story on its own and makes a scene more powerful without the aid of voice actors. The orchestra is incredibly talented. The music sometimes blends into the background just to suddenly erupt when the time is right, and other times it gives characterization to the colorful band of characters in places like the Skyloft Bazaar.

Skyward Sword provides an excellent backdrop to the whole series, giving origins to many important pieces in Zelda (such as the Master Sword and Zelda) and as to why there are so many different time periods and worlds that have Link and Zelda playing the roles of hero and goddess.

To those who criticize the graphics, saying that they're not nearly as beautiful and detailed as the graphics of Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword is not Twilight Princess. The latter was a darker game and required minute details. Skyward Sword is more akin to an impressionist painting with beautiful colors blending into each other.

Is Skyward Sword the best in the series? It's really up to you. For me, thanks to the beautiful storytelling, it is--without a doubt--my favorite.