It has proven difficult to find big glitches in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is why speedrunners haven’t yet figured out how to complete the game in less than five hours. Other big Zelda games, such as Ocarina of Time, are far glitchier and therefore far easier to speedrun.
But a new discovery, which has led to a plethora of fresh skips and sequence breaking, has brought new life to Skyward Sword.
Speedrunner gymnast86 is known for running numerous Zelda games, including The Wind Waker HD, Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild. The 21-year-old runner is also a skilled glitch hunter whose knowledge has helped push these games to further heights. When the Holy Grail “Barrier Skip” glitch was found in The Wind Waker HD, allowing players to skip a supposedly impassable barrier, gymnast86 figured out a consistent set up for making it happen.
In the last few days, he’s uncovered numerous skips for Skyward Sword using a new glitch that he calls “Reverse BitMagic”.
In three Zelda games, Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker, you can use a glitch to access a trick called “Back in Time”, or “BiT”. Triggering it involves dying as Link and resetting the game immediately after selecting continue. The window for this trick is small, roughly half a second, but the result is that Link can access the maps used on each game’s title screen.
In Skyward Sword, the trick loads Link into a different version of Skyloft, the game’s main hub. From there, speedrunners can access a variety of quirks that make it easier to finish the game as quickly as possible. For instance, the door to the Goddess Statue is open on this map. This allows players to get the Goddess Sword earlier than intended or skip picking up the Sailcloth.
The Back in Time trick also allows players to tinker with save data. Gymnast86’s “Reverse BiTMagic” takes advantage of how Skyward Sword organises data within memory to perform certain actions in Skyloft that then affect the rest of the game world.
As an example: Entering the Earth Temple usually requires finding five pieces of the door key. To skip that, gymnast86 loads into the BiT version of Skyloft, triggers a cutscene to open a shed in the town’s graveyard, and then loads another file in the Eldin Volcano.
This has a ripple effect on the loaded file that immediately triggers a cutscene that brings the player into the Earth Temple. No need to find all those pesky pieces of the key.
“When you select a file, the flags get updated to the area the file is saved in,” gymnast86 told Kotaku via Discord.
“When you start the file it reloads them right after you press start. When we open the shed door after pressing Start, we’re updating the value for the area after the recheck has already occurred, so that value of the shed opening on Skyloft will stay during the load to the Eldin region.”
Put plainly: Trigger an event in Skyloft, quit and load fast enough, and the game’s memory will actually make the change happen wherever you load. Open a door in one place, load to the other, and you can make the game open a different door or trigger a different cutscene.
Skyward Sword is notoriously resistant to glitching compared to other Zelda titles such as Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker HD. Those games have seen speedrun times cut drastically over the last few years, but Skyward Sword speedruns take more time. The Any% run, in which players seek to reach the end as fast as possible, has a current world record of 4h 50m 59s.
There are still more discoveries to be found, so the total amount of time saved using this trick is somewhat unclear.
“As a conservative guess, I would say that all of this stuff probably saves at least 40 minutes as of right now,” gymnast86 said. That would theoretically allow speedrunners to cut down the world record to closer to four hours.
This total comes as a result of the various skips found with Reserve BitMagic. For instance, runners can now open a gate in Eldin early that allows them to essentially skip half of the Sandship dungeon and save nearly 15 minutes.
In special runs such as Harp%, in which speedrunners rush to grab the Goddess’s Harp, Reverse BitMagic lets them skip an entire dungeon and will likely lead to drastically reduced times. That’s impressive, especially considering gymnast86 wasn’t even specifically looking for this glitch.
“I actually wasn’t intending to find this trick the way I did,” gymnast86 said. Instead, he was searching for a way to access a locked off area in Skyloft.
“But during the process of trying that and after staring at how the game updates its memory of these values, I began wondering if there was a way to apply Skyloft value changes to other maps.”
Instead of trying to make changes to Skyloft’s data, gymnast86 started to search for ways to change the rest of the game. That search has paid off.
The discovery is altering Skyward Sword at a rapid pace. The result will be faster records, and even further discoveries. Skyward Sword hasn’t always been the most popular of the Zelda games for speedrunning, but that could change as the times start to drop.
“I’m glad there’s been interest in this game again. It’s kinda been dead for a while, but thankfully this should change that. I really like speedrunning this game and I hope others may try it and have fun also,” gymnast86 said.