7 Ways Skyward Sword Influenced Breath of the Wild

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Improving upon an established framework is always a challenge. Organizations are more likely to fix problems than change a system that works; however, inaction also has consequences. From lost opportunity to irrelevancy, the status quo is often more dangerous than evolution. For the video game industry, static franchises quickly become stale if developers fail to innovate. The Legend of Zelda series experienced this phenomenon with the release of Twilight Princess. Although critically acclaimed, the game relied on the same proven formula. The Zelda team recognized this shortfall and drastically changed the approach in Breath of the Wild. The game won multiple awards including game of the year; however, the previous installment, Skyward Sword, laid the foundation for the groundbreaking innovation. Below are seven ways that Skyward Sword influenced the development of Breath of the Wild.

1. Weapon Durability

Although Zelda fans welcomed most of the changes in Breath of the Wild, weapon durability created a spirited debate amongst the series’ faithful. While a segment of the fan base tolerated the new mechanic, breakable weapons annoyed the most passionate Zelda communities. The irony is that the Legend of Zelda first introduced limited durability in Skyward Sword.

After Link obtains the Goddess Sword, Knight Academy instructor Owlan bestows the hero with a Wooden Shield. Though familiar, players instantly recognize the durability meter, which diminishes whenever the shield absorbs damage. Players can restore the durability meter by using a revitalizing potion or visiting the Scrap Shop in Skyloft. This option to preserve the perishable tool garnered fewer negative reactions than Breath of the Wild’s approach; hence, the sequel on the Nintendo Switch could adopt Skyward Sword’s method.

2. Upgrades

Fairy fountains have a wide range of applications in Zelda games. While some merely restore hearts, others serve as an medium of exchange for item and weapon upgrades. Breath of the Wild’s version of Fairy Fountains expanded upon the latter concept by allowing players to upgrade armor sets in exchange for collectible items. The Zelda fan base praised Nintendo for its innovation; however, Skyward Sword laid the foundation for the Breath of the Wild upgrade system.

Scrap heaps might be the resting place for discarded treasures, but in Skyward Sword the Scrap Shop is the Breath-of-the-Wild equivalent to the Fairy Fountain. Instead of limiting the upgrade system to armor sets, Skyward Sword allows players to upgrade a host of items. From Shields and Satchels to Bows, Beatles, and Bug Nets, the Scrap Shop can enhance a sizable portion of the permanent items in Skyward Sword. Just like Breath of the Wild, the materials scattered throughout Hyrule are the key to strengthening Link’s inventory. Perhaps the next Zelda game will employ a wider range of upgrade possibilities.

3. Stamina

As with upgrade systems, stamina meters have a long-standing history in video games. While various genres employ the mechanic for different reasons, the underlying premise is to limit the use of certain actions. For sports games, the stamina bar simulates human fatigue by limiting the use of certain players; whereas, in action-adventure games, such as Dark Souls, every action requires stamina, which adds complexity to the game’s difficulty. In Breath of the Wild, the stamina wheel serves as a limitation to vertical exploration. While progressive for the series, managing the stamina meter in Skyward Sword is slightly more taxing.

By completing 40 shrines, Link can triple his stamina wheel in Breath of the Wild. In stark contrast, Skyward Sword adopts a consistent model for the entirety of the game. Although players can augment stamina with a potion, the gauge permanently limits the distance that Link can run, jump, and climb. As a result, the Zelda developers carefully crafted the overworld and dungeon puzzles based on this static mechanic. Late-game solutions proved to be narrow and constrained; however, Skyward Sword set the stage for Breath of the Wild to innovate. While admittedly rudimentary, Skyward Sword’s stamina-based puzzles are still creative and revolutionary for the series.

4. Side Quests

The dawn of the 16-bit era introduced side quests into the role-playing and action-adventure genres. Though optional, these additional challenges added validity to the world-building and created emotional depth for characters. Today, players expect games to offer deviations from main quest lines; however, the Zelda series has been slow to adopt this industry standard. While Zelda fans praised Breath of the Wild for finally adopting optional quests, Skyward Sword was the first game in the series to introduce this mechanic. Although cryptic, Skyloft’s side content creates a more organic experience.

Upon locating the demon Batreaux, players learn that the monster desires to be a human. Link can facilitate this change by collecting enough Gratitude Crystals. Eighty crystals are required for the transition, and solving problems for Skyloft’s citizens is the key to obtaining the materials needed to free Batreaux from the curse. Dubbed “good deeds,” these opportunities arise as players naturally progress through the main story. Unlike Breath of the Wild’s disjointed approach, Skyward Sword’s quests focus on a singular, cohesive goal. Although the rewards are trite, finishing the game’s extra content provides unique perspective into the motivations of Skyloft’s characters.

5. Physics-Based Puzzles

Although video game technology has progressed spectacularly over the past 35 years, realism in games remains a challenge. While the industry has made significant strides in character models and voice acting, studios continue to struggle with physics engines. As a result, laws of nature in the real world do not always translate well into video game worlds. Breath of the Wild shattered industry norms with its innovative approach. Gravity and precipitation influenced objects in the game, which created opportunities for realism and unique puzzle-solving. Although critically acclaimed, Breath of the Wild was not the first Zelda game to employ a physics-based system.

While admittedly simple, Skyward Sword was the first Zelda game to fully embrace physics-based puzzle-solving. Instead of merely bombing walls or pushing blocks, the game added weight to weapons, which react to the shape of the terrain. For example, when Links rolls a bomb down a hill, the explosive device follows the contour of the hillside. In addition, wind is also a factor in determining the accuracy of Link’s weaponry. The result is an engine that forces players to adapt to the game’s physics in order to solve puzzles. Although not as robust, Skyward Sword laid the foundation for Breath of the Wild’s unique gameplay options.

6. Waypoints

As open-world games grew in size and scale, players had difficulty maintaining a sense of direction. While more adept gamers used terrain features for navigation, others constantly referred to overworld maps. If buried in the game’s sub menus, maps could detract from the overall experience. To keep players immersed, studios created the waypoint system. This mechanic allowed gamers to place beacons on the map, which would display in the real world. Instead of constantly referencing a map, players could follow a path of light or a navigation icon in the heads-up display. In Breath of the Wild’s massive overworld, the waypoint system was critical to navigating the difficult terrain; however, it was not the first Zelda game to employ this mechanic.

Comparable in size to Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword’s overworld has large, open areas as well as winding corridors. As a result, players can easily stray from their intended course. The development team recognized this problem and implemented the first official waypoint system in Zelda history. By using the sub-menu map, players could place a beacon over a desired location. Once placed, the beacon would display a blue ray of light in the overworld, which helped players maintain their bearing. Although waypoints are not a new mechanic in gaming, the Zelda community welcomed the change.

7. Temporary Stat Buffs

The Zelda franchise has employed stat buffs since the NES era. From spells in Link’s Adventure to potions in Twilight Princess, players can temporarily augment Link’s defensive and offensive abilities. Earning new gear or buying potions was the typical method of unlocking these temporary buffs. Breath of the Wild innovated on this system by allowing players to craft their own potions from collectible items found in the world. By combining special ingredients with monster parts, Link can cook potions that temporarily increase life, stamina, attack, defense, speed and elemental resistance. While revolutionary for the series, Skyward Sword laid the foundation for Breath of the Wild’s innovation.

The Bazaar in Skyloft is home to a number of changes for the Zelda series. From the customization of the Scrap Shop to gear storage in the item check shop, the Bazaar is ripe with new mechanics. Perhaps the most innovate is Bertie’s Infusion Shop. Unlike potion shops from prior games, Bertie can augment the strength and duration of a potion’s temporary buffs. By offering the right combination of collectible items, Bertie can turn almost any bland potion into a life-saving concoction. This new system not only created an incentive to gather collectible items but also paced the way for Breath of the Wild’s breakthrough changes.


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