The Armory: Master Sword
The Armory is where the greatest weapons of videogames get to take their place in the Pixels or Death Hall of Fame. They are powerful, spoken of only in hushed tones. They are unique in both design and application. But most importantly, these are weapons you remember long after you put the controller down.
You stumble about in the forest, lost and confused. Your goal is somewhere in this forest, but where, you have no idea. There are numerous decoys in your path: a deterrence to those before you, who have wanted the sword and failed. But you are persistent. You need the sword if you have any hope of defeating the Evil that has taken over Hyrule.
Then, just as you begin to lose hope, you find yourself in a grove. In that grove, there is a pedestal. And in that pedestal, you catch your first glimpse of the Master Sword.
If you were anything like me, the moment you pulled the Master Sword out of its pedestal in A Link to the Past, you had only one thought: Hell. Yes. How could you not be excited to see it? Though it takes many forms, the Master Sword always looks amazing: A double-bladed longsword with a blue hilt, and The Triforce engraved into the blade. Link simply looks cool when he finally obtains it.
It is a weapon that is as legendary and iconic as the series it comes from. It is a sword that has been apart of Zelda lore for twenty years now. You can’t think about the Legend of Zelda without having the Master Sword come to mind.
If you’re big on Arthurian literature, you can probably draw some parallels between the Master Sword and Excalibur. Both were left in stone pedestals, each awaiting their turn to be chosen by a hero with the ability to unlock their full potential. There’s something about this particular fact, that only you can wield the Master Sword, that allows you as the player to connect with it. It exemplifies something that only videogames can do. In movies and books, you are a passive viewer. But in videogames, you are the defining factor, able to influence the events of the world around you. Being the only one who can own the Master Sword cements that metaphorical and physical power.
The Master Sword’s first appearance is in A Link to the Past, but historically, its origins are explained in Skyward Sword. It is created by Hylia, originally as the Goddess Sword. From there, it goes through a cycle, being handed down from Hero to Hero, passing through Zelda game to Zelda game.
It is this recurrence throughout the Zelda Series’ history that makes the Master Sword such a memorable weapon. From A Link to the Past onward, the Master Sword has appeared in some form in every core Zelda game. No matter the Zelda game you play, you are more than likely to go through a series of trials to get the sword. In Ocarina of Time, you must go through three trials to unlock the Master Sword’s resting place, within the Temple of Time.
In Windwaker, you must complete those same trials once more, to prove that you have the “Spirit of the Hero.” And in Skyward Sword, you forge the sword yourself, using the Sacred Flames in order to temper the blade, all while strengthening your personal bond with the sword. From game to game, the Master Sword has a permanence in the Zelda series: always waiting, like a silent guardian of the realm of Hyrule. It waits for its master, a hero worthy enough to wield it against evil.
That hero – you, the player – is always waiting to get the Master Sword as well. The Master Sword, from a gameplay standpoint, is a milestone; a great accomplishment for reaching a certain point in a Zelda game. It is a vivid indicator of progressing through the plot, and a reward for surpassing the challenges you have had to face thus far. Whatever sword you have, the Master Sword is able to take its strength and double it (Biggoron Sword notwithstanding).
In Ocarina of Time you can bounce back and forth between time periods using the sword, and in Twilight Princess, the Master Sword can be upgraded to instantly kill Twili. This is what makes the Master Sword such an amazing weapon. When you get it, monsters that you had trouble killing before can be easily dispatched once the sword has been obtained. With the Master Sword in your hands, obstacles that you couldn’t get past as Kid Link are trivial matters as Adult Link.You feel stronger when you get it.
The Master Sword also represents something else. When you’ve obtained it, you know that you’ve reached the end game, as you know that the sword is the only thing that can kill Ganon. As such, once the sword is in your hands, you know you only have one thing left to do: defeat Ganon. The Master Sword delivers with aplomb during the final showdown, exhibiting its true power in banishing evil, and working exceedingly well in propelling the player forward towards the final stretch of the game.
At the same time, though, the Master Sword can be considered a Macguffin; an object that you come to love that exists simply to move the plot forward. It is a point to your quest, but it is not the point to your quest. In some Zelda games, it feels as if finding the sword is simply padding; a method to create more gameplay.
I particularly felt this way when obtaining the Master Sword in Windwaker, in what is quite possibly the most anti-climactic “weapon-get” in my gaming career. You obtain the sword, then find out that it needs to be “powered up.”
Bear in mind, this “powering up” only occurs as a plot device. The doubled power of the Master Sword over the Hero’s Sword is the same, even after repairing it to its “full strength.” But its there anyways, a plot device in which the only purpose is to put two more dungeons in between you and the final boss.
As such, the process of obtaining the Master Sword can be formulaic; you can always count on going through some sort of trial to get the sword, and afterwards, using the sword to defeat Ganon in one-on-one combat.
Its appearance can be predictable, its purpose even more so. It’s this predictable nature that makes the Master Sword so important to the series: the push and pull of obtaining the Master Sword, defeating the Ultimate Evil, and returning the sword to its pedestal. There the Master Sword will rest, waiting to start again the cycle as reliable and changing as the ocean’s tides. I couldn’t picture a Zelda game without it.