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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) artwork

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) review

"“This game looks stupid. The Zelda series is ruined.” "

“This game looks stupid. The Zelda series is ruined.”

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a revolutionary game and is still heralded as one of the best games of all time. Fans clamored for a sequel, and Nintendo delivered Majora’s Mask, which failed to live up to the expectations of many and left fans awaiting another entry that could match the spectacle that was OOT. When Nintendo finally revealed Wind Waker for the Gamecube, these anxious fans were disgusted. Wind Waker does away with the realistic graphical style of the N64 Zelda titles and instead opts for a bright, cel-shaded world that defied people’s expectations at the time. The masses might have scoffed at the idea of a kid-tested, mother-approved take on the series at first, but The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is definitely a worthy entry in the series.

From the outset, Wind Waker is a departure from the Zelda mold. Of course, you still play as Link, but rather than being tasked with saving Zelda as you’ve come to expect, you ally with a group of pirates in order to rescue your sister. The storyline is less than epic at first glance, but the plot develops quite a bit as the game progresses. Link will soon discover that he is the reincarnation of the legendary hero who controlled the wind. Of course, this means that you’re fit for the task of saving the world from eternal enemy, Ganondorf. By the end of the game, you’ll be enthralled in a quest that’s more interesting than anything the series has seen prior. Particularly impressive are the characters you’ll encounter on the journey. Every important character is brought to life by superbly written dialogue that’s funny and that gives each character a certain charm. From Link’s dear old Grandmother to your talking boat (yes, a talking boat), there’s nary a soul without something interesting to say. The game never becomes as dark and gloomy as past installments have, but you won’t miss it because Wind Waker still provides a compelling enough tale to warrant playing from start to finish.

Perhaps the most drastic change from Zelda norms is the world you’ll explore. The series has always offered a vast overworld, but Wind Waker’s is absolutely massive. Instead of traversing by foot, nearly all of your travels will take place in open water as you sail from island to island. As you might expect, this dramatic increase in scope also means that there’s much more territory to explore than before. Luckily, you’re armed with your trusty sea chart which serves as a map of the world and also keeps track of the locations of treasure scattered throughout. However, your sea chart is essentially blank when you first receive it, and to fill in the details, you’ll need to enlist the help of some very talkative fish you’ll find as you sail through the ever-expansive sea. These fish will not only illuminate bits and pieces of your sea chart; they’ll also inform you of the location of useful items or provide other clues for your quest. Wind Waker packs an unfathomable number of side quests and items to uncover, and discovering everything will take a lot of time and dedication.

Link joins the yacht club.

The sheer size of the game’s overworld is impressive, but this sadly proves to be something of a double edged sword. There’s simply too much empty space in Wind Waker’s seas and it can take an annoyingly long time to progress through the game when all you want to do is sail from point A to point B. The exploration segments would have benefited from a more compressed world and even though you eventually gain the ability to teleport between several select locations in the world, travel still takes an unreasonably long time.

The one aspect of Wind Waker that remains completely unchanged is the dungeons, but that’s a very good thing. Dungeon crawling still consists of fighting enemies, solving clever puzzles, and eventually taking on an even cleverer boss battle. The dungeon layouts are excellent and the puzzles here are some of the best in any Zelda game. There’s also quite a bit of variety to the dungeons, and while they do boil down to the conventional “fire dungeon” and “forest dungeon” archetypes, you’ll never get a feeling of déjà vu at any point in Wind Waker. As always, you’ll uncover new equipment in each lair, but there are disappointingly few items that are new to this game. Still, every piece of equipment that you do obtain feels like a valid addition to your repertoire. Boss battles are exactly what you’ve come to expect from the series, as well. Fights are rarely straightforward affairs and require you to figure out how to damage your enemy rather than hack away mindlessly. You’ll face off against some pretty creative monsters in these battles and these encounters are exceptionally fun, for the most part. There are a few fights that aren’t particularly inspired, though those situations are in the minority and are certainly made up for by some of the game’s grander duels. As a whole, Wind Waker’s dungeons don’t disappoint and have some of the strongest designs the series has seen yet.

Combat is an integral part of any Zelda experience, and it’s been overhauled here. Link has the standard strike, thrust, and spin attacks, but there’s more emphasis on combos this time as you can now execute a flashy flurry of strikes by simply hitting the attack button successively. This makes the combat slightly more fun than in past Zelda games, but the more interesting addition is the counterattack that you can execute by hitting the attack button right before an enemy’s attack. When performed correctly, Link will spin to the back of the enemy and deliver a fatal attack that’s quite satisfying to watch. Some enemies require that you use the counterattack in order to defeat them and it’s an invaluable move for fighting everything else, so this makes the game feel slightly less like a button-masher in combat. Link admittedly won’t need these techniques at his disposal, though; as this is arguably the easiest adventure he’s ever had. Enemies do very little damage and if you’re experienced with the series, you’ll likely never come close to dying. There’s also a number of enemies that seem as though they’re intended more to annoy you rather than provide a legitimate challenge of any sort. The combat is still reasonably fun, though, and the lack of difficulty should only be of concern for a few particularly jaded gamers.

Wind Waker isn’t quite as good as it could have been though, and the culprit is inconsistent gameplay. The vast majority of the game is phenomenal, but there are still a number of annoyances like pointless fetch-quests and mandatory platforming segments that serve as little more than a nuisance. There’s even a particularly lame stealth segment at the beginning of the game that will doubtlessly scare off people who don’t know what a treat the game is after that portion. The developers tried to diversify the gameplay a bit too much and artificially extend the length, and the result is a game that has some noticeably lacking sections. That said, when Wind Waker is good, it’s very, very good. Even with its annoyances, this still nails the core Zelda mechanics and is a very enjoyable ride.

Dungeons have been, and always will be, Zelda’s high point.

So about those graphics…

Wind Waker is one of the most saccharine-sweet games ever produced. Everything is cel-shaded, cute, and you’re constantly bombarded by bright colors. While this might make the game seem as though it’s only for the kiddies in the audience, this approach to the graphics works flawlessly regardless of age group. Wind Waker’s style is distinctly its own and there’s really no other game that has this level of graphical creativity. The animation is what seals the deal – it’s unbelievable. Everything moves fluidly as if alive and the overly cute animation matches the graphical style perfectly. The combat engages you in a parade of flashes, sparks, and a number of other subtle effects that further prevent this game from looking anywhere near generic. Wind Waker is a game that needs to be seen in motion to be appreciated. The only visual shortcoming is the camera system which desperately needed to be revamped. There are far too many instances where you won’t be able to get an adequate view of your surroundings, and the camera can turn combat in tight rooms into a mess. It’s a disappointment, but the visuals are so beautiful otherwise that you likely enjoy whatever the camera does choose to show you. Surprisingly, those same graphics that looked like they’d ruin the game are what make the game shine brighter than anything else the series has to offer.

The sound, on the other hand, is somewhat of a disappointment. The musical score is pretty bland and devoid of even a single truly memorable song. Most of the tunes are little more than background noise, but there’s also some remixes of songs from previous games that thankfully turned out well. The sound effects are similarly unremarkable and there are quite a few sounds that stick out as being very low fidelity. It’s a little sad to see the aural aspect of the game neglected like this, because it prevents Wind Waker from exuding that epic feel that past games had.

Wind Waker isn’t perfect, but it’s still a very strong entry in the Zelda series. Does it surpass Ocarina of Time? Not quite. The game is mostly excellent, but a few poor design choices keep it from realizing that level of quality. Even so, if you consider yourself a Zelda fan, there’s no reason not to own Wind Waker. Link’s seafaring adventure is still one of the best games to grace the Gamecube, and it’s a voyage that few will regret embarking on.

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Community review by Daisuke02 (October 21, 2007)

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