The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker

A game whose adventurous heart and spirit transcend the realm of words and adjectives

wind_waker2On a tiny remote island, a boy comes of age and – as tradition dictates – must garb a green tunic that pays homage to a legendary hero of ages past. The celebration has a reason: a tale told through countless generations speaks of a long-vanished kingdom where a brave young man dressed with the colors of the forest sealed an immense demon after a hard-fought battle between the powers of good and evil for the control of the mighty Triforce ravaged the land.

What was meant to be a day of joy, however, turns to sadness when a gigantic bird who had been flying across the seas kidnapping blond girls with pointy ears mistakes the boy’s sister for a female pirate he had been carrying. As he decides to abandon his peaceful life and journey with the pirates towards the ominous fortress where all missing girls are reportedly being kept for mysterious reasons, the wheels of one of Nintendo’s greatest and most epic adventures are set in motion; the Wind Waker sets sail.

The first thing one takes notice of when playing the game is obvious: its famous cell-shaded visuals. The artists responsible for the game struck on a look that set this particular entry in the series far apart from anything else that had come before, and – more than that – from any other game to ever employ the very same cartoonish technique. Its vivid colors are used in ways that match both the quest’s highest peaks, conjuring feelings of adventure that are unparalleled in the history of the saga; and the hero’s darkest and most dangerous hours, portraying threats and forebodingness in their full glory.

wind_waker5That overflowing prettiness sometimes, though, obscures the two greatest victories found within that stellar art style. The first one is that, even over a decade after its release, when many games of the Gamecube era are starting to show wrinkles, the Wind Waker has simply not aged; as if preserved inside a time-proof bubble, it looks far better than many first-party games that came after it. The second one, meanwhile, lies in how full of expression the characters look. Paired with the huge eyes, which – in the case of Link – can serve as pointers to important items in the scenario, the very distinctive lines of each and every one of the hundreds of characters that populate the game’s universe clearly broadcast endless feelings, thoughts, and intentions with flooring ease.

Looks are not the only road the Wind Waker utilizes to set itself apart within a franchise with such a rich history of unique installments. Its gameplay is also distinctive, and it all starts and goes through the sailing. Set in a world where a gigantic ocean separates forty-nine islands of different shapes, sizes, and purposes, the hero will eventually acquire a talking sailboat – royally named The King of Red Lions – which he will use to travel across the vast water expanse.

True to the rupture it causes in the Zelda fanbase, the sailing has both a bright side and a negative one, but the former outweighs the latter so categorically that its flaws become negligible. Given the nature of his vessel, depending on his next destination, the protagonist must often change the direction of the wind, which breaks the pace of the exploration and does become annoying quickly. However, differently from other Zelda games, on which the focus is on locating the dungeons and tackling them, the Wind Waker feeds on adventure, and that is precisely what the sailing provides.

wind_waker4For starters, as soon as the boat is acquired – which happens very early, players are free to head to wherever their hearts desire. Many of the smaller optional islands are filled with puzzles and treasures that can only be accessed with certain equipment, but whether or not the hero has what is necessary to reach them, it is still rewarding to know what is out there and plan future explorations.

In a way, to those who truly become enchanted by Wind Waker’s explorative nature, the unveiling of the game’s secrets will play out like a Metroid game set at sea: new terrain is easy to find, but most of it requires that Link backtrack there once he is properly equipped.

To those folks, even traveling through relatively long space that separates each island will feel like an exciting activity due to the game’s constant vibe of discovery. The ocean is far more than a huge expanse of blue emptiness punctuated by islands, as its waters are brimming with submarines, aquatic monsters, observation towers, and fish that – when fed – spill out gossip, rumors, and other tales that, aside from making the ocean come alive with personality and activity, often serve as key clues in the finding of items and locations that are either necessary to the completion of the quest or entirely optional.

That incredible sense of freedom serves as fertile ground for what is perhaps Wind Waker’s greatest prowess: its sidequests. They are ridiculously abundant and fun to go through, especially since many of them feature some of the game’s finest moments of puzzle-solving, writing, and exploration. Those become exceptionally engaging due to the fact Wind Waker has interesting rewards to give away. Other than the traditional heart pieces and rupees, the game is loaded with valuable charts that – pirate style – mark the resting place of chests lying on the ocean floor with a cross.

wind_waker3It is true that most of those maps, namely the dozens of ones that are not mandatory, lead to chests packed with rupees, but the exploration is fun nonetheless; in this case, the means are more interesting than the ends. The sheer amount of cash players will collect, though, comes in handy late in the game when a specific portion of the storyline will require unbelievably fat pockets.

Some might feel such demand is a very cheap method Nintendo unearthed to pad the game’s length and force players into taking missions that are otherwise facultative, which is a fair assumption; but most who balance doing sidequests with clearing the main plot will not have much trouble getting by that undoubtedly onerous portion of the quest.

Besides its great degree of exploration, the Wind Waker moves forward much like any other Zelda game; it intercalates investigation and good doses of dialogue with lonely dungeons. The former portion is remarkable. As far as the Zelda franchise goes, no other game nails plot development like Wind Waker. The script has mysteries whose scope is on par with the game’s gigantic ocean, and the storyline unravels constantly, always finding ways to reward players with new tidbits of information or stunning plot twists as major goals are achieved.

wind_waker6To go along with that amazing tale, Nintendo has crafted a set of characters to match. Whether they are involved directly with the inner workings of the plot, or are just part of the peripheral peoples that inhabit the sea (which includes the fantastic Windfall Island, a sort of nautical version of Majora’s Mask Clocktown where civilians with their own secrets and urges go about their daily business in timed and synchronized fashion), remarkable likable characters – perhaps aided by the lovely visuals – surge from every corner.

Sadly, the dungeons just do not follow the same level of superb quality. While none of them are decidedly bad, they fail to be awe-inspiring, often succumbing to tiny design flaws. One of them, for example, which could have become a creative gauntlet focused on sneaking, has the annoying habit of sending Link back to his starting point whenever he is caught.

Meanwhile, the three final labyrinths, which hold top-notch puzzles, fall victim to the fact Link carries allies into them, forcing gamers to constantly have to play a song in order to assume control of the sidekicks, an action that grows dull really fast, constantly stops the exploration on its tracks, and that could have been easily mapped to a button press.

As a more positive turn, though, all dungeons – without exception, are crowned with astounding boss battles that push the game’s graphics to their absolute peak. Even if they are easy, they are positively exciting because of the visual fireworks they provide, which border on cinematic due to their giant smoothness, and the cleverness of their design.

wind_waker7The difficulty issue of the boss battles is also translated to the other combats. The game’s combat system is a slightly refined version of the one present on both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The locking and camera work are flawless. The added twist is that, when the time is right, a loud sound will indicate players that the enemy is vulnerable to a powerful blow, and a timely button press – which is not that hard to pull off – will make Link unleash an effective and visually flashy slash. It is a cool addition, but – for the most part – minor enemies do not pose much of a threat.

A technically perfect game, the Wind Waker complements its visuals and soundtrack, which are the peaks of the franchise in both areas, with a quest whose theme of adventure is executed brilliantly through incredible sidequests, a moving plot, an absurd degree of free-roaming exploration, and a fascinating gargantuan ocean that is populated by easy-to-love characters that give the place life and lore. Its tiny flaws in no way diminish the overwhelming greatness emanating from nearly everything it touches, and the result is a masterfully designed game whose adventurous heart and spirit transcend the realm of words and adjectives. It is something that must be felt either through the over fifty hours of its full content or via the thousands of unforgettable moments that populate its unforgettable quest.

Final Score: 9 – Phenomenal


18 thoughts on “The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker

  1. 9.6?! Boo! It’s a 10! Best Zelda ever in my book, except maybe A Link to the Past. Easily the best of the 3D entries. Everything about this game is beautiful and brilliantly executed.

    Now I need to write more game reviews and catch back up to you (yes, it’s a competition for me).

    1. Sorry to disappoint you… hahaha… I can’t bring myself to give it a 10 because of the dungeons and the wind-direction mechanics.

      But I sort of agree with you. I think Ocarina of Time is a better game, but Wind Waker is my absolute favorite.

      My next review is only coming in 10 days, so you have time to catch up.

  2. Wind Waker is certainly a great Zelda game. Then again, it’s such an amazing franchise that the question of which game is the pinnacle of the series is one with many right answers. I remember having a lot of fun with it when it was released twelve years ago. It’s amazingly difficult to achieve 100% completion though – possibly the hardest of any Zelda game to do so considering the existence of the Nintendo Gallery sidequest!

    1. The Nintendo Gallery is brutal! As much as I love WW, I could never bring myself to completing the gallery. Seeing it totally filled up must be quite satisfying, though.

      And yeah, figuring out which Zelda game is the best of the bunch is a tough task.

  3. I picked it up and have to go back to it and finish it, but I enjoyed what I played so far. Not sure why it got so much hate when it came out; even my husband, who has played every console Zelda game, didn’t finish this game. It’s the only one he didn’t complete. I, however, really enjoy it and will probably go back to it when I finish FF Type-0.

    1. It got a lot of hate due to the art style, which was far removed from what people expected the new generation Zelda to look like. Everyone thought the new game would borrow the graphics and art from the Zelda GC demo Nintendo had showed at Space World, but it was radically different.

      But ever since it came out people have been gradually forgetting about all of that commotion. Nowadays it is widely beloved.

  4. I’m glad you brought up that point about the dungeons. For me, they’ve always put a damper on this otherwise amazing game. In addition to just sort of having forgettable designs, I also really hated how drab and barren I thought they looked in comparison to the visual charisma of the rest of the game. The overworld though is definitely an amazing place that just has this great feeling of boldness and adventure that perfectly encapsulates the ideal Zelda game to me.

    Interestingly, I wonder if Nintendo felt the same way about the dungeons in Wind Waker. Twilight Princess feels like its overcompensating by having excellent dungeon design, but I though it was heavily lacking in all the other elements that Wind Waker nailed.

    1. You are right about their barren visuals. It is all really dull and monochromatic.

      I think all 3D Zelda games have stellar dungeon design. Even Majora’s Mask, which only has four of them, has the awesome pair of Stone Temple Tower and Great Bay Temple.

      It’s a shame Wind Waker does not have the same quality in that department, because – everywhere else – it is the best Zelda game.

  5. I’ve got really mixed feelings on this game. The graphics and sound are great and there are some really cool individual moments but the whole package just didn’t hang together for me. I hadn’t thought about the dungeons as unmemorable before but you’re absolutely right! Plus, and maybe this is a weird complaint, but I felt for large portions of the game post-Forbidden Fortress that I didn’t understand the story motivations behind what Link was doing. It’s a small thing but it makes the game feel more padded than it actually is.

    1. Many people complain about the quest for the Triforce pieces (to the point Nintendo made big changes to it on the Wii U remake) and maybe that is the source of most of your mixed feelings.

      While I understand why some people see it as dull padding, I love it! Having to scour the map (with the help of the very useful hints given by the fish people) goes right along with the game’s sense of adventure and exploration and it makes you discover many of the game’s other minor secrets.

      But yeah, the dungeons are subpar, and it’s a shame!

  6. Dungeons are my favorite part of the series and this one didn’t deliver in that regard. Still a great game, but I prefer a couple of the other 3D Zeldas over this one because of that. The visuals still look amazing though and I love the cast of characters. Especially Tetra!

    1. Tetra is a remarkable character indeed! Wind Waker has a very strong supporting cast, something that Twilight Princess failed at, even though I do love Midna and Zant.

  7. I have played this game and I have mixed feelings about it. I prefer less cartoony and more realistic designs in Zelda games, however, I do think the graphics were done well and I agree with your statement that the vivid colours are able to portray both joyful settings and foreboding terror. I did find the sailing a little annoying though, to get to distant areas, the player had to wait while the boat sailed through large spaces. However, I felt there was an effort to reduce this by using good quality effects to show the passing of the day and portray a dynamic ocean and by adding the mentioned submarines, towers, characters, etc. to break up the sailing. I enjoyed the different islands and the individual designs. I actually liked the dungeons and was slightly disappointed there were not as many in this game. I did not find they had design flaws, even though I agreed with your point about the dungeon sending the player back to the cells (is it Forsaken Fortress?), especially those arms that come out of the walls and grab Link. I quite liked the plot, with the quests to retrieve the orbs, find the sages and return to Hyrule. I particularly liked the enemies frozen within the castle, which gives an eerie feel to the ancient structure, and the torrent of water engulfing the land.
    By the way, am I the only one who found those multi-colour demons a little creepy? The ones that follow Link, grinning while muttering some tune? I could not understand where the islands came from. If the Great Ocean is supposed to be a flooded Hyrule, where have all the mountains come from? If Ganondorf is released years before, why has he waited so long to do anything? What happens to the Gorons? The game shows the evolved Zora and Kokiri, but only a few Gorons remain, who seem to keep their faces covered. I remember having to raise loads of money to pay Tingle, but I enjoyed the searching, particularly the effect of the light on the sea.

    1. Yes, the whole “sending players back to the cell” comment was aimed towards Forsaken Fortress. The whole “stopping to play a song so you can take control of another character”, which is done on the very good Earth and Wind Temples also annoyed me quite a bit. A button press would have sufficed to perform that action, and the dungeons would flow much better!

      And yeah, the plot is spectacular! I feel it is, by far, the game of the series with the strongest storyline.

      Those demons are indeed creepy. I do love slashing dozens of them and watching as they turn to dust. It is quite satisfying! It makes you feel powerful… =P

      Maybe Hyrule has far more peaks than we know. Dragon Roost seems to be Death Mountain, but the others are pretty unknown.

      I agree with your overall comments on the game. It seems you really liked it!

      Thanks for the comment and for reading the review!

      1. A button press, like using a special item, would probably be less annoying than performing the song each time.
        I felt the developers added an interesting plot device in the game. When the game is first played, there are a number of characters (such as the dragon, the huge fish and the Gods) that speak Hylian. When these characters speak, the player is not able to read the speech and can only understand what is said based on the response of the King of the Red Lions. When the game is re-played, the character wears invisible clothes (which basically means he wears his costume from the beginning) and can understand Hylian. When the player reaches the specific characters, they can read what is said and understand how the information is linked to the story.
        It is interesting what you said about the mountains. I did not realise Dragon Roost could be Death Mountain until you said.

        1. That was a nice twist indeed!

          And if we are going to speculate how the WW locations relate to the ones portrayed on OOT, I would argue Forest Haven is probably the area where Link found the Great Deku Tree on OOT. When it died, it sprouted a new tree that probably grew into the one we meet on WW.

          I am sure there must be some elaborate theory out there making smarter links than those I have mentioned. =P

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