Reevaluating the Canon: How a Remaster Impacts a Game’s LegacyGames Features Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is now out on the Nintendo Switch with a host of “fixes,” alterations and visual upgrades that will not only adapt the game for a modern audience 10 years later, but may turn the tide of the game’s icy reception. While it’s yet to be determined if the remaster actually will significantly affect the game’s standing in the canon of Zelda games, it’s at least sure to start a conversation. This is the very least Skyward Sword could use considering how poorly it’s thought of now. Its standing is so bad, the announcement of the remaster (instead of, say, a collection of widely heralded titles in the franchise) was basically received like a slap across the face.
Skyward Sword’s place in The Legend of Zelda’s legacy is fascinating. Where Ocarina of Time, for example, has largely been held as one of the greatest games of all time, Skyward Sword has always been in flux, though more consistently on a downward trend. Critics raved about it at launch, and fans seemed to be all about it, but in time it has settled into a lower position on the totem pole. It isn’t the only title in the series to have such a polarizing trip: Wind Waker always had its supporters, but was initially hated by a very vocal contingent of Zelda fans. Eventually it grew into a beloved installment, making its own remaster on the Wii U a home run. Skyward Sword is different in that years later, no one really seems all that sure of where it actually sits.
This canon, which rigidly locks these titles into a place and transforms them into unassailable texts, seems the antithesis of a legacy. Where a legacy might naturally ebb and flow, a canon denies the individual aspects the ability to breathe. A canon freezes these works in a time and place and seals them away, never to be pondered about again. As you may begin to understand, I think canon is bullshit.
I’m interested in the release of Skyward Sword on Switch for a few reasons. Most personally, it is my chance to make up my own mind about it. A decade of hearing what other people have thought about the title (mostly disdain) has almost surely loaded the dice against it, and yet nonetheless I’ll happily pick it up and dig into it. In this sense, the remaster is going to give me the ability to cut through the noise and dismiss the canon that would tell me it isn’t worth the time. But more broadly, I wonder if the remaster will mark an inversion in fan reception and whether this is the trajectory of revisiting games with so much frequency now.
Remasters are commercial products that cheaply squeeze what life they can from older material, but most games that get remastered are at least widely beloved in order to incentivize people to cough up for it. Skyward Sword on Switch won’t struggle to sell-pre-orders for it have already done well enough-but it interestingly faces a cultural uphill battle. Will tweaking it improve how people think of the game? Is this release going to be a second lease on life for Skyward Sword as a cultural touchstone beyond being a punchline? Will it blow up the Zelda canon to see it in a different light?
What the remaster will definitely succeed at is being a part of a conversation. All we do online is talk incessantly. Gaming circles in particular seem to hover over the same few topics, the rotating one typically being the flavor, or game, of the week. And then we pick it apart for everyone to watch. Even when we’ve got nothing to talk about, we find something. A remaster of a title in a legendary franchise, especially a title with a legacy, is sure to be at the heart of a few discussions online, which is potentially promising for Skyward Sword this week. Discussions will get people thinking and they’ll likely invest in it if they haven’t already and keep the conversation going. This isn’t bad, but it is tiring. We, as a culture, refuse to move on from just about anything, which is why the same exhaustive talking points, discourses or debates pop up cyclically. But nestled in there is the occasional glimpse of something resembling a breakthrough.
Earlier this year, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a collection of remasters for the original trilogy from Bioware, came out and at the center of at least some conversations were the changes being made to the earliest title. The original Mass Effect, released in 2007, has been mostly accepted as a product of its time. The prevailing narrative has become that it doesn’t run particularly well, and for folks like myself who only played the later installments, it controls like a different game. It’s an unwieldy beast, and that’s being polite. It’s not a reviled game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the oft-neglected one of the bunch, typically set aside in favor of the more streamlined and grandiose follow-ups. With the Legendary Edition, Bioware sought to bring the first game more in line with its sequels, however, so they modernized it. They adjusted the handling on the infamous Mako land vehicle, supposedly sharpened some of the gunplay, and altered the visuals of at least a few settings and models. For some, this meant nothing and to others it meant the world. Here folks were, fumbling around with the “text” of what fans had previously thought immutable. They were altering its legacy, even if a bit. This tension fascinates me to no end.
Countless conversations (which likely turned extremely sour) sprang from these revelations, and while online discourse is toxic and almost surely caused it to suffer, I’m also glad these rereleases are serving as prompts for folks to assess the legacy of the works we hold in such high esteem. I don’t think Mass Effect Legendary Edition changed the way most people saw those games, but in pockets at least, it prompted a reexamination. No one engaging in these discussions serves to gain anything from preserving a canon so rigid. And so I like the idea of us all being able to revisit something we’ve largely categorized in one specific way, and then blowing that perspective to bits. The jury’s still out on Skyward Sword HD, but at least it’s out.
Moises Taveras is a former intern for Paste Magazine and the managing editor of his college newspaper, the Brooklyn College Vanguard. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.