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

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


"Expectations can be dangerous, especially when what you get is not what you wanted. The real tragedy is that sometimes what you get is actually better than what you wanted, but you’re simply unable to see it. Ten years ago, there was a tech demo for the GameCube showcasing its power. One of the videos shown was a realistic styled adult Link and Ganondorf locked in an epic duel. Even though it was just a video that ran for about a minute to show what the console could do, and not a trailer of any..."



Expectations can be dangerous, especially when what you get is not what you wanted. The real tragedy is that sometimes what you get is actually better than what you wanted, but you’re simply unable to see it. Ten years ago, there was a tech demo for the GameCube showcasing its power. One of the videos shown was a realistic styled adult Link and Ganondorf locked in an epic duel. Even though it was just a video that ran for about a minute to show what the console could do, and not a trailer of any sort, many Zelda fans expected this to be the next Zelda game - something along the visual style of Ocarina of Time, only more gritty and realistic.

What we got instead was The Wind Waker, a cel-shaded cartoon. Although Nintendo had never promised to make that realistic Zelda game, many of us felt that Nintendo had indeed broken its promise and we simply could not believe that they would be so stupid as to alienate its fanbase in such a way. I was one of those outraged fans when I was younger and a lot less mature, and I was vocal enough to write a scathing bash review for the game some years back.

I bought The Wind Waker on release day with the preconceived notion that I hated it – something that I’d decided before I’d even taken the disc out of the case. I was instantly critical of the game, challenging it to impress me, exaggerating what flaws I could find, and I quickly stopped playing.

A few years later, Nintendo delivered the realistic Zelda that we all wanted. Twilight Princess was very good, but it lacked something. It wasn’t until I went back to The Wind Waker, my anger long since gone, that I discovered what that was - charm. The Wind Waker featured cartoonish characters with big heads and big, expressive eyes. There wasn’t much dialogue outside of necessary exposition or gameplay hints. The characters were given personality by that twinkle in the eye, the smile or the frown, the arch of an eyebrow. Link, always the silent protagonist, could suddenly communicate.

Link’s adventure begins on Outset Island, a small island community. The island is lush and green under a clear blue sky. It’s Link’s birthday, the day he is forced to wear the traditional green garb of the Hero of Legends. It is also the day his sister is kidnapped by a giant bird. He encounters a band of pirates who have been hunting the bird, and leaves the island with them.

It isn’t long before Link encounters Ganondorf. He’s been kidnapping young girls, searching for the reincarnation of Zelda. He has no time for a young boy dressed like Link, and throws him out of the tower. Link washes up on another island, having survived, and teams up with a talking boat to defeat Ganondorf. Link is given The Wind Waker, a wand that allows him to change the direction of the wind. Not only does this make sailing his tiny talking boat possible, but it also comes up everywhere in the story. The music of the wind is very important – a fact that was not lost on me when I realised that nearly every island’s music is mainly composed with woodwind instruments.

We soon learn that a few hundred years have passed since the Link of legend travelled back and forth through time to defeat Ganondorf. Hyrule has since been flooded – the castle is now deep below the surface of the ocean. This is not Hyrule as we have ever seen it before. The entire world is an ocean, broken only by a number of islands, populated by small human communities, or by new races such as the Rito (bird people) or Koroks (leaf fairies). Both of these races take advantage of the wind, further emphasising the importance that the element plays in this world.

Hyrule is a vibrant blue ocean under an azure sky, and when you sail in clear weather, an epic score accompanies you, invoking a sense of adventure, and dolphins will often swim alongside your boat. Nights are serene and calm. The moon sits large in the deep blue of the night sky, sometimes framed by a few wisps of cloud. Good weather in this game is uplifting – it effortlessly draws you into the world. Likewise, in bad weather, the seas are choppy and difficult to sail, the skies are grey and the rain is heavy. It can become very gloomy.

The sea is huge, making The Wind Waker the largest world a Zelda game has ever featured. Each square on the map grid has at least one landmark. Sometimes it’s a large island, sometimes it’s just a small spit of land with a cave with a few puzzles to solve and a treasure to claim.

You can also fight battles while out at sea. Your boat may be small, but you can attach your items to it – such as a cannon. You’ll face off against giant squids, sharks, and sometimes other people. In the shallower waters, there are guard towers usually inhabited by Moblins who will attack you if you get too close. You can either try to take them down with your cannon, or weave your boat past their fire and climb the tower to take them out personally. You’re never short on enemies when you sail the seas of Hyrule.

The lock on battle system is back and it works as well as it ever has. Battles are never frustrating due to how smoothly Link controls. It is easy to switch weapons, easy to roll to side to side to dodge an enemy’s attack and stab it in the back. The bosses aren’t as memorable as some of the monsters featured in previous games as they all follow a certain formula, which any Zelda fan will be well accustomed to by now - figure out the enemy’s weak point, exploit it, slash a few times, and repeat until dead. Some of the bosses can give you trouble until you work out what you need to do, but when you do know what you’re doing, it is actually possible to defeat most bosses without ever getting hit. They never feel too easy, though. It’s simply easy because the controls are never a hindrance.

Unfortunately, the platforming aspect of the game is not so flawless. There is no jump button – Link simply jumps if you run off the edge of a ledge, but running off at a slightly the wrong angle will cause Link to fall down. There are quite a few sequences where you need to leap from platform to platform, or swing from vine to vine, working your way up – and each fall (and you will fall!) will force you to start from the bottom.

Dungeons are few in Wind Waker. From memory, there are only six, including the final dungeon. They are well designed, incorporating clever item-based puzzles that might stump you for a few minutes, but never frustrate you too much. If you can’t figure out the solution to a puzzle at first, it helps to look at it again after receiving a new item.

One of the main themes in the story is destiny. Link was destined to become the hero when the world needed him. Tetra, the savvy young leader of the pirates, was also destined to become someone she did not want to be. Both Link and Tetra resist their fate at first, which seemed like something new for the series. Both characters had lives of their own before fate came knocking on their door. This is not just limited to Link and Tetra, though. There are a couple ghostly sages who are no longer able to protect their temples from the rising threat of Ganondorf, and it’s up to you to find their descendants to take over the role – both are characters we meet earlier in the story, again, with lives of their own.

Play them a song of the wind, and they instantly accept their destiny. They have no problems giving up their lives to guard a temple for the rest of time. While this is nothing new for a Zelda game, as the sages were often chosen by fate or destiny or the spirits, the implications of this are never really explored, and it seemed slightly insidious to me when I thought about it in more depth. If some unearthly force was compelling me to give up my life to protect a place, I don’t know if I’d be okay with that. At least they weren’t reincarnated into a talking boat.

But then I remember this is game for children, and perhaps having the supporting characters angst about cruel fate would slow the pace of the adventure. The Wind Waker never gets caught up in its own story; it simply delivers an epic adventure on the high seas. It’s different enough to feel like something new, but there’s enough of the familiar that makes it a true Zelda game.

Sometimes, when you get what you expect, there is nothing to surprise you. Twilight Princess was a fun game, but it was too similar to what had come before. The Wind Waker offered something different, defying expectations and it offered a fresh take on an old franchise. Twilight Princess may have been the game we wanted, but history will remember The Wind Waker as the better of the two. I know I do.

Rating: 9/10

jerec's avatar
Community review by jerec (July 09, 2010)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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