The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Introduction

The year 2001 marked the launch of the Nintendo 64’s successor, the Nintendo GameCube. Fans began waiting with bated breath for their big-name franchises to make an appearance on this new platform. In particular, they couldn’t wait to see a new installment in their venerable The Legend of Zelda series. Expectations were at an all-time high; after all, with Ocarina of Time, the series broke into 3D, allowing it to grasp something it needed to evolve that was always just out of reach in its early days. Ocarina of Time could claim to have been the most acclaimed game in history when it was released. Majora’s Mask did the impossible by surpassing it a mere two years later. With its surrealistically morose setting, Eiji Aonuma and his team achieved a level of greatness a majority of creators go their entire careers without reaching.

Before Majora’s Mask was completed in 2000, Nintendo formed plans for a new installment for their upcoming console. Much of the team returned for this game as well; Eiji Aonuma helmed this project while Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka served as producers. Early concept art followed the aesthetics established by Ocarina of Time. To demonstrate the new system’s capabilities, the team created a brief clip of series protagonist Link facing off against Ganondorf, which was then shown at the 2000 Space World exposition. It resonated with fans, who hoped it was a preview of the new game.

Behind the scenes, however, the team had difficulties incorporating this art style into their project. Mr. Aonuma in particular hated the clip, feeling it was too derivative of the past installments. Production stalled until designer Yoshiki Haruhana created a cartoonish drawing of Link’s younger self from Ocarina of Time. The instant design manager Satoru Takizawa saw it, he saw limitless potential.

“With a character like that, we can give him actions that will look and feel good no matter how he moves!”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Haruhana drew a Moblin, one of the series’ famous reoccurring monsters, in a similar style. From there, the rest of the team also began to also see the possibilities afforded by the art style. To render it properly, they used a technique known as cel shading, lending the presentation the feel of an interactive cartoon. It proved to be exactly what the team needed, and development began to proceed swiftly.

In the 2001 Space World exposition, Nintendo presented a new clip. Though the franchise had gained many fans thanks to the success of their previous two 3D games, the reception of this clip was deeply mixed. Some enjoyed the new look while others derisively dubbed it “Celda”. More than a few posts on gaming forums mocked the character design, believing it made Link look like a girl. Mr. Miyamoto was surprised at this response, and decided the best course of action would be to not reveal any further information about the game until the team finished a playable demonstration.

Next year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference, the game was shown alongside another upcoming GameCube Zelda title. In a case of poor timing, Mr. Miyamoto’s presentation was plagued by numerous glitches as he tried to showcase one of Link’s new abilities. Despite this, the tentative game received more of a positive reception than it did at Space World. Nonetheless, the divided response to the art style hounded the game for the rest of its development cycle. In October of 2002, the game’s full name was finally revealed to the public: The Legend of Zelda: Baton of Wind. Later in December, the game saw its domestic release. In 2003, the game would be released in North America, Europe, and Australia under the name The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Any negative sentiments lodged toward The Wind Waker during its development did not reflect in its critical reception, as much like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it proceeded to win countless “Game of the Year” awards. Even with the evidence right in front of them, many fans refused to play it simply based on its art style, and this adverse reaction affected sales. Years later, many of those same people who thoughtlessly dismissed it began to look upon it more favorably. By the end of the decade, many declared it one of the best games of the decade with some declaring it a superior effort to Ocarina of Time. Just what did those fans choose to mock in the early 2000s?

Starting the Game

WARNING: There will be unmarked spoilers throughout this review.

The known world is a vast, seemingly endless ocean filled with many small islands simply called the Great Sea. Though settlements are separated by large expanses of ocean, an ancient legend persists. There once was a prosperous kingdom where an omnipotent golden power resided. A great evil found and stole this power, using it to subjugate the land. One day, a young boy sealed the evil with the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Peace reigned for some time, but the evil managed to find a way to escape its fate. The people waited for the boy to return and vanquish the evil force once more, but he did not appear. Having no one to turn to, the people prayed to the gods. The fate of this kingdom remains unknown.

There is a small settlement in the southern portions of the Great Sea on Outset Island. The protagonist is Link, a young boy who lives on this island along with his grandmother and sister, Aryll. He has reached the same age as the boy in the legend. When this happens, they are to dress in the same green clothes worn by the young hero. This is done with the hope that the courage which led the hero to victory is reborn anew for another generation. For this occasion, Aryll allows Link to borrow her telescope for the day. He then notices a giant bird carrying a girl in its talons to a nearby forest, flying away from a pursuing pirate ship launching stones at it. Knowing he must do something about this, he receives a sword from Orca, an elderly fisherman versed in the art of combat.

It is at this point that you’re formally introduced to basic swordplay. Once again, the sword is assigned to the “B” button. By pressing it without holding any other buttons down, Link will perform a horizontal slash. During combat, you can hold the “L” button down to focus on a certain target. The targeting system functions in mostly the same manner as it did in the Nintendo 64 installments. The biggest difference is that it is not contextualized in the narrative as an ability of the protagonist’s fairy companion. This time, it is purely a game mechanic.

While in this state, Link will perform a vertical slash by default and stab the blade forward if you’re holding the control stick in the direction of the enemy. Furthermore, when targeting an enemy, the “A” button can also be used for sword attacks. By default, pressing the “A” button will have Link jump toward the enemy in a downward strike. If you allow an enemy to advance toward Link while focusing on them, you can press the “A” button just before they strike to have him carry out a parry attack. The exact moment you need to press the “A” button is signposted by its graphic on the interface changing shape and an accompanying sound effect. If done correctly, Link will automatically dodge the enemy’s strike and launch a devastating counterattack.

With all of this knowledge under his belt, Link sets off to the forest. Though he manages to rescue the girl, the monstrous bird captures Aryll almost immediately afterwards. The girl Link saved introduces herself as Tetra. She is the captain of the seafarers who were attempting to knock the bird out of the sky. Though reluctant at first, Link convinces her to take him to the bird so he may save his sister. The bird is a monster known as the Helmaroc King. It has been sighted in various places across the Great Sea, kidnapping young women for an unknown purpose. Tetra’s sources have told her the monster resides in the Forsaken Fortress, a stronghold situated on a remote island that was once a base for pirates. Due to its ominous atmosphere, most people tend to avoid it.

When they approach the fortress, Tetra decides that the only way for Link to infiltrate it is to be launched out of a catapult in a barrel. Unfortunately, during his flight, Link loses his sword. Though this game received vindication as one of the GameCube’s best offerings, the Forsaken Fortress is a frequent target of criticism. It’s plain to see why; you’re made to go through your first dungeon without the sword you just learned to use. A reoccurring trope in action-adventure titles is the protagonist being robbed of their gear, forcing the player to complete a section without the usual weapons. These tend to occur part of the way into the game with extreme examples taking place in the final act. They tend to be irritating more often than not because they grind the pacing of the game to a halt and the player has to adopt a style they had no reason to practice beforehand.

“It’s just a barrel.”

The fact that the player gained experience playing the game with a full arsenal is a major factor for why it’s so jarring. On the other hand, The Wind Waker demonstrates that relegating such a scenario to the beginning of the game doesn’t work either. Here, the problem is that the player hasn’t experienced enough of the game to be proficient with its controls just yet. This is a major issue when they’re made to play a game in which stealth is not a primary mechanic as though it was. Link must avoid any Moblin guards as he makes his way to his lost sword. In a manner that wouldn’t seem out of place in an average Metal Gear game, he can hide in barrels to sneak past guards. As long as he stops moving whenever they face his direction, he can fool them.

Generally speaking, unless a game is specifically designed around stealth, sections in which a covert tactic is required tend to be awkward at best. The Wind Waker is no exception, as even someone experienced with the series will inevitably get caught multiple times just figuring out where to go next. To be fair, there’s isn’t much of a consequence for getting caught – Link is just thrown back in his cell. As Moblins are more known for their brute strength than their perceptiveness, exiting the cell is a mere matter of navigating a conspicuous crawlspace. Link is allowed to take weapons he may find along the way, including from defeated enemies so he has a means of defense. However, they aren’t nearly versatile as Link’s sword, rendering the advantage moot more often than not. What’s worse is that they’re difficult to hold onto for a significant length of time, so you’ll probably end up losing them quite often.

Once Link perseveres and reaches his sword, he is ambushed by a monster. It proves to be no match for the young, brave hero. Reaching a larger holding cell, Link is reunited with his sister. The celebration is short-lived, as the Helmaroc King swoops in and grabs Link in its beak. The titanic bird brings him to a mysterious robed figure. Without saying a word, the figure commands his servant to toss Link from the island. It complies, and Link is left to be consumed by the endless ocean.

Delving into the Experience

Barely surviving, Link awakens to someone calling his name. Opening his eyes, he is shocked to learn that the voice belongs to a talking boat. He calls himself the King of Red Lions, and he was the one who rescued Link from the sea, taking him to Windfall Island. He is aware of Link’s quest to save his sister, and tells him that the enigmatic master of the Forsaken Fortress is Ganondorf, the evil spoken of in the legend. In order for him to stand a chance against the ancient evil, Link must travel to the east to Dragon Roost Island, and obtain a treasure that resides there. After obtaining a sail from the town on Windfall Island, Link and the King of Red Lions depart on a journey that will take them to every corner of the ocean.

It is here the mechanic that gives The Wind Waker its identity is finally established. One of the most memorable moments from Ocarina of Time occurred after that incarnation of Link obtained the first Spiritual Stone. Outside of the Kokiri Forest, a massive, sprawling field unlike anything gaming enthusiasts had seen before greeted them. The idea of seeing an area in the distance and being able to visit it by heading in that direction for a long enough time was practically unfathomable back in 1998. After lacking an area that boasted the same sense of scale in Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker attempts put the Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time to shame with the Great Sea.

Because the King of Red Lions operates with a sail, you naturally need a strong tailwind to get anywhere. Once Link reaches Dragon Roost Island, the boat gives him a baton known as the Wind Waker. Functioning in a similar fashion as the titular Ocarina of Time, it allows its user to conduct the voices of the heavens. Conducting these voices is done in a more realistic fashion than playing songs in Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. In those two games, all you needed to do was play the notes in the right sequence – it didn’t matter if your tempo was completely off. In The Wind Waker, the songs you learn can be in 3/4, 4/4, or 6/4 time signature. For the most part, it was more successful at integrating the music into the gameplay than in any previous attempt, turning the task into a series of simple timing puzzles.

One of the first songs allows you to direct the wind, obviating the need to adjust your sail. This is the aspect of The Wind Waker that tends to draw the most criticism. I didn’t find it particularly annoying when I first played this game, but it’s easy to see why many people would have a problem with it. This is because it takes a lot of effort to get anywhere. While you could simply walk to an area in any previous game, The Wind Waker requires you to look at your destination on a map, change the wind to blow in that direction, and set sail. When it comes to simple tasks in video games, rarely is it a good idea to add steps to accomplish them. It doesn’t help that the Great Sea, being an ocean, doesn’t have much variation other than the occasional island.

Though I personally agree with the detractors in that navigating the world can get tedious, I find myself admiring this aspect at the same time. In 2003, very few games could claim to have as big of a world as The Wind Waker. Of the few that existed, almost none of them took place on an endless ocean. In some ways, it’s less remarkable that the sailing is criticized than Nintendo finding a way to make it so fascinating. The Wind Waker truly captures the essence of a swashbuckling pirate epic. Though the inhabited areas are far and few in between, quite a lot of effort was put into building this world. One of the races that inhabit this world is the Rito tribe. They’re a bird-like species with the ability to fly. In a world predominately covered in water, they are the ideal candidates to be mail carriers. Similarly, the most successful merchant in the land owns a powerful boat, allowing him to conduct business in a variety of locations.

What I particularly enjoy about this motif is its influence on the gameplay. Many of the things Link can do throughout the game would certainly not be unfamiliar territory for the average experienced seafarer. To wit, one item you obtain early on is the Spoils Bag. In addition to the standard rupees or health pickups, certain enemies may drop specific items upon defeat. These items have a use that aren’t immediately obvious, but if collected in a great enough quantity, can be exchanged for rewards. For example, one enemy you will frequently encounter is a ChuChu, a gelatinous blob-like creature. They leave behind jelly, which can be harvested and brought to a potion maker. The kind of potion he brews with the jelly corresponds with the color. The colored potions are the same as they were in previous games: red restores health, green restores magic, and blue restores both at once. This development entertains the idea of Link plundering items from his foes without him actually becoming a pirate himself.

Moreover, during his travels, Link will find treasure charts. As one would expect, their cryptic, yet concise directions will lead him to a treasure should he decipher it correctly. The item you obtain in the first dungeon is the Grappling Hook. In addition to allowing Link to swing across large gaps, it can be equipped to the King of Red Lions. If the two of them are above an area that has a treasure, Link can use the hook to reel in the box buried on the ocean floor. These chests typically contain helpful items that can’t be found anywhere else such as Heart Pieces or large amounts of rupees. Considering that discovering new areas and finding treasures formed the backbone of the original game, this was a logical destination for the series to reach.

If it’s one minor improvement I greatly appreciate, that would be the new interface. This time around, the “X”, “Y”, and “Z” buttons are the ones to which you assign inventory items. Considering that the “C” buttons weren’t used in Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask to control the camera, it was incredible in hindsight how cooperative it managed to be. Nonetheless, I have to say being able to freely control the camera with the “C” stick in The Wind Waker was unquestionably a step in the right direction. I remember completing this game when it first came out only for me to be slightly disappointed when I later revisited Ocarina of Time; I had to remind myself the feature didn’t exist back then.

Ocarina of Time was arguably the first installment to feature a strong ensemble cast. This was taken a step further in Majora’s Mask in which nearly every NPC had a name and schedule Link could influence using his unique three-day time travel ability. This Link does not have the ability to manipulate time, so the cast’s prominence in The Wind Waker falls on a level between those two titles. That is to say, most NPCs have names and speaking with them reveals they have distinct personalities, yet you understandably won’t find a sidequest as involved as the most famous one from Majora’s Mask. Nonetheless, the art style gives The Wind Waker plenty of charm, allowing the often unique characterization to shine in this installment as well – albeit in a different way.

One of the first major changes a player would be able to appreciate concerns the protagonist himself. This Link shows a lot more emotion than any previous incarnation. The sequence where he’s being loaded into the barrel so Tetra can fire him at the Forsaken Fortress is a stand-out scene that perfectly captures the tone. It’s a lot like a good animated film in that it has a sense of humor throughout, yet knows when to put on a serious face. The two moods have a perfect balance, never clashing with each other at inopportune moments. What I particularly like about the animation is how it influences the experience. The development team jokingly suggested that Link should be able to shoot beams from his anomalously large eyes, but from this, they decided to have him focus his gaze on significant objects. If standing over an enemy’s weapon, he will direct his attention toward it. Because observant players can learn what to do next by taking note of his facial expressions, the act of appreciating the animation is rewarded, making the art style itself a gameplay feature.

Link’s animations aren’t just there just to amuse the player, however. Though the Link of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask had no shortage of character development – an impressive feat given his status as a silent protagonist – with this Link, the change is even more obvious. He doesn’t physically age at any point like his Ocarina of Time counterpart, but there is a subtle, yet major difference between the Link you’re introduced to and the Link you see when the credits roll. It’s clear that when he sets out with Tetra for the Forsaken Fortress he has never left his peaceful island life. This is reinforced later when you visit Outset Island only to learn that Link’s grandmother has fallen ill – a condition implied to have been born out of worrying. By using a fairy to cure her, she will give Link a bottle of homemade soup. In a nice touch, while Link doesn’t seem too thrilled entertaining the notion of drinking a standard Red Potion – his subsequent reaction to doing so suggesting it has an unpleasant taste – he is noticeably excited to feast on his grandmother’s soup. By the end of the game he is a true hero, and being away from home doesn’t even faze him.

The protagonist isn’t the only one who undergoes an arc. One of the first tasks you’re given is to collect three pearls representing the goddesses who created the world. The first pearl is indeed on Dragon Roost Island, which is home to the Rito. In a creative twist, you don’t receive the pearl from the dungeon’s boss. Instead, it is in the possession of Prince Komali. In their coming-of-age ceremony, the members of the Rito tribe traditionally climb to the summit of the mountain to receive a scale from their guardian, the dragon spirit Valoo. As of late, Valoo has grown violent and unpredictable, scaring the young prince, who in turn refuses to take part in the ceremony. It is ultimately revealed that a monster was torturing Valoo by grabbing onto his tail from the room below. Once Link vanquishes it, Valoo returns to his normal self. Komali thanks Link by the pearl to him while vowing he will meet Valoo soon. In a later scene, he uses his newfound gift of flight to rescue Link from a powerful foe. What I like about this is how in a largely unprecedented move, Link’s heroism is shown to be an inspiration for another character, prompting him to become a better person himself.

When Link arrives on Windfall Island for the first time, he may happen upon a poor man who begs him to save his daughter Maggie. She was one of the three girls captured by the Helmaroc King. The third, Mila, is the daughter of the town’s wealthiest man. After rescuing the three of them, a reversal of fate occurs. Mila’s father had spent his last penny attempting to find her, and they’re forced to give up their luxurious lifestyle as a result. Meanwhile, Maggie became infatuated with a Moblin guard, who gave her a Skull Necklace as a gift. By selling it, she and her father made a fortune, allowing them to move into Mila’s mansion. This change is evident in all of the people involved. It’s clear Mila’s father deeply cares for her; he was not swindled out of his money – he willingly paid every rupee with the hope of finding her. Mila herself goes from being a spoiled rich kid to making an honest living with Link’s prompting. On the other side of the equation, Maggie’s father goes from being a depressed, fearful man to arrogant snob shortly after receiving his fortune. It’s from here that, with Link’s help, Maggie tries to get a degree of independence from her fiercely protective father. There’s no reason to interact with any of them once Link has saved them, but it’s a well-handled arc nonetheless.

Though Majora’s Mask is one of my favorite games of all time, one of the very few aspects I found disappointing about it was that it featured only four dungeons. Though The Wind Waker doesn’t feature as many as Ocarina of Time, it takes after Majora’s Mask in how the act of reaching the dungeons requires a lot of effort. Partially owing to the art style, the dungeons themselves tend to be a lot more dynamic than the typically monotone, if well executed ones from Nintendo 64 installments. Indeed, the first proper dungeon is a cavernous area that has a few outdoor portions which run along a mountainside. I once remarked that in Ocarina of Time, dungeons ceased being video game levels and started being legitimate areas important to the local citizens. With little touches like this, the transformation becomes even more apparent – especially when you revisit the older installments.

Discussing the Ending

WARNING: This section of the review will contain major spoilers.

After getting all of the pearls and placing them on the statue of three separate islands, the Tower of the Gods rises from the ocean. After exploring it and defeating its guardian, Link is taken to a mysterious land on the ocean floor. Everything appears to be frozen in time. After searching a nearby castle, Link procures the Master Sword, the blade said to be the bane of evil. With his new weapon in tow, Link returns to the Forsaken Fortress and emerges triumphant against the Helmaroc King, freeing the captives in the process.

Link’s luck runs out when he comes face-to-face with Ganondorf. He puts up a valiant effort, but the ancient evil king strikes him down with little effort. The Master Sword’s power has been drained, robbing it of its ability to repel evil. Just before Ganondorf can deliver the finishing blow, Tetra intervenes. As she appears, the Triforce of Power held within Ganondorf begins to resonate. It is here that he realizes who Tetra really is: Princess Zelda. Before he can do anything, the tower is assaulted by Valoo, and two of the Rito swoop in to save Link and Tetra.

After making their escape, a mysterious voice speaks through the stone that Tetra gave Link, telling them to return to the kingdom hidden on the ocean floor. There a man dressed in a regal robe formally introduces himself. He is Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, the king of the country mentioned in the ancient legend bearing his family name. The King of Red Lions was merely a guise for him to communicate with Link. What the king has to say turns the setting on its head. The people’s prayers to the gods were indeed answered. With nothing to stop Ganondorf’s influence corrupting the land of Hyrule, he along with the kingdom were sealed away with a torrential downpour. The gods then commanded the survivors to take refuge in the mountaintops. The islands Link has been traveling between were, in reality, the mountaintops of an ancient land long lost to the sands of time. In other words, The Wind Waker was a post-apocalyptic story bearing a cartoonish art style this whole time.

It is also here that Tetra learns the true meaning behind Ganondorf’s words – she really is Princess Zelda. Ganondorf had sent the Helmaroc King to capture young women with distinctively long ears attempting to find her reincarnation. The stone Tetra wore as a necklace was actually a fragment of the Triforce of Wisdom, and when the king combines it with his own, the relic is complete, and Tetra’s real form is revealed. From here, Link must travel to the ancient temples of earth and wind to restore the Master Sword’s power.

When Link reaches the temples, he discovers to his horror that the respective sages have been killed by Ganondorf. Their spirits ask Link to seek out their descendants so they may take their place. As it so happens, the people you need to find are on the islands that housed two of the pearls. In these respective dungeons, the game turns into an escort mission of sorts in that you need their unique abilities to progress. In fact, through conducting a certain song with the Wind Waker, you can take control of them directly. Thankfully, the designers completely mitigated the most annoying aspects of these kinds of tasks in that failing to protect them doesn’t automatically result in you losing progress. Indeed, most instances in which they get captured are scripted events and thus required to proceed.

Once you’ve restored the Master Sword’s power, you must recover the Triforce of Courage. In what was possibly a clever nod to The Legend of Zelda, the relic has been divided into eight segments. Finding the fragments is a matter of sailing around the world in search of Triforce Charts. To the game’s credit, it does give you a chart for locating all of them, though it costs a hefty 201 rupees to obtain. Though a lot of the trials you go through to obtain each fragment could be seen as analogous to the shorter dungeons of the debut game, the goodwill dries up almost instantly when you learn the full extent of what you must do.

When you find a chart, you’ll realize that Link is unable to decipher it. In order for him to learn where the Triforce segment is, he must take them to a man named Tingle. An alternate version of this character debuted in Majora’s Mask. From there, he quickly became a fan favorite among Japanese fans, who enjoyed his childish demeanor. Western fans didn’t exactly have the same amount of admiration for the character, but this is the game that made them outright despise him – and for a good reason. You can rescue him from a cell as early as the first time you reach Windfall Island whereupon he awards you with the Tingle Tuner. By hooking a Game Boy Advance to the GameCube, you can use this item to perform extra functions for a price such as dropping bombs in certain spots or restoring some of Link’s health.

There’s nothing particularly untoward about him at first, but the reason why he draws so much ire from Western fans is because he’s the one who can decipher the Triforce Charts. This by itself is annoying, as it often requires you go out of your way to visit his island, but what makes this borderline untenable is that he charges an exorbitant 398 rupees to decipher each chart. This means in total, you need 3,385 rupees to complete this quest. Don’t think you can memorize the fragments’ locations to skip this sequence either – they won’t appear until Link has paid him. Combined with the generally detestable manner with which he treats his brothers, you have a recipe for a thoroughly unlikable character.

Fortunately, The Wind Waker resumes being good once you return to Hyrule for the endgame. After obtaining the completed Triforce of Courage, the king dubs Link the Hero of Winds. By using the Master Sword on the barrier surrounding Hyrule Castle, Link can reach Ganon’s Tower. Inside, he receives the Light Arrow, the very same weapon that felled him in the distant past. Upon reaching the top of the tower, Ganondorf immobilizes Link. With the three Triforce bearers gathers in one spot, the whole relic is formed. He explains to Link and Zelda that his country was in a vast desert. There, the winds brought death. Only in the fertile lands to the east did the winds bring something other than despair. Wind was only ever seen as a positive force throughout the game, so hearing it have a negative effect on a group of people allows its presence to become much more nuanced. Depending on one’s interpretation, it could add a layer of complexity to Ganondorf’s motives or just be a megalomaniac justifying his own horrible actions, and this ambiguity is what makes the narrative so powerful in this moment.

After disclosing his motive to the two heroes, he is ready to make his wish. Before he can do anything, however, the king of Hyrule reaches the relic first. His wish is a simple one: he wants Link and Zelda to build a new future and wash away the past. After those words are spoken, a torrential downpour ensues. Outraged that his plans were ruined, Ganondorf vows to kill Link and Zelda.

I deliberately held off on discussing Tetra because it wasn’t until now that I could explain why she manages to be such a great character. From the very beginning, her tomboyish attitude proved to be an interesting foil to Link. While he had never left his island, Tetra was knowledgeable about the world. Later, when Link is setting out to find the third pearl, she ends up forming a short-lived rivalry with him, promising that she and her crew won’t set out for the treasure until sunrise. When she learns of her true identity, her overall personality serves as an interesting contrast with her new appearance. It’s to the point where she insists she’s Tetra first. This fact is thrown into sharp relief when it comes time to fight the final battle.

While her counterparts in older games couldn’t assist Link in battle, there’s nothing stopping this incarnation, and she easily pulls her weight. Taking Link’s bow, she fires Light Arrows at Ganondorf. This stuns Ganondorf, allowing Link to strike. Eventually, he will begin dodging the Light Arrows. In turn, Zelda begins firing them at Link, allowing him to use the Mirror Shield he obtained in the Earth Temple to reflect them at Ganondorf. After a fierce battle, Link deals the finishing blow.

Those people who dismissed The Wind Waker as a kiddy game had some serious egg on their faces.

Once all is said and done, Link and Tetra are transported to the surface encased magical air bubbles. Link tries to save the king, but the latter ultimately refuses, accepting his fate. They make it back to the Great Sea and reunite with their friends. Deeply affected by their journey, they depart from Outset Island again in search of a new land they can call Hyrule. The Wind Waker had its ups and downs, but this was a masterfully crafted ending that demonstrates why they’re so important in this medium.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Great level design
  • Incredible music
  • Memorable cast of characters
  • Excellent art style
  • Many new power-ups to find
  • Camera is easier to control
  • Abundance of sidequests
  • Fluid, intuitive combat controls
  • Large world to explore
  • |Unique post-apocalyptic setting|
Cons:

  • Sailing can get a bit tedious
  • Difficult first act
  • |Endgame Triforce fragment hunting is annoying|

With the many people willing to sing praises of The Wind Waker these days, one might openly wonder how it managed to fall by the wayside like it did. In fact, considering how many hardcore enthusiasts insist that graphics don’t make the game, one could say the preemptive backlash was outright hypocritical. A lot of it can be attributed to the general attitudes regarding animation at the time. Strict guidelines were imposed upon animation in the United States sometime around the late sixties that persisted throughout the seventies. As a result, many generations of people grew up with the perception that animation was solely for children and no one else – even the success of shows such as The Simpsons did little to assuage this belief. Many popular anime challenged the notion, but very few could be said to have broken into the mainstream in the West. In the strictest sense of the term, almost all video games are animated to some degree, and The Legend of Zelda was no exception. However, when The Wind Waker was revealed to have a more obviously cartoonish look, it offended those sensibilities, lending the impression that Nintendo intended to pander to little kids. Admittedly, they didn’t help their case when they made the insufferably puerile Yoshi’s Story five years prior, but that was a minor slight in the grand scheme of things.

Either way, I myself remember the cacophonous backlash, and I have to admit I was slightly skeptical of the art style as well. After a certain point, I remembered that, with the exception of the aforementioned Yoshi’s Story, Nintendo hadn’t steered me wrong before, and the Zelda series in particular had an impeccable track record. Though I can’t say The Wind Waker is my favorite game in the series, it is absolutely worth playing. Don’t let the art style fool you – the plot, though not unduly serious, is much more mature than one would expect. For those getting into the series, this would be a great one to start with. If you do intend to try it, I recommend the remastered version, as it does address many issues I had with the original game. Much like Metroid Prime, which was released around the same time, the naysayers were proven wrong, and The Wind Waker has its rightful status as a classic 2000s game. Both demonstrate why it never pays to jump the gun – especially when you’re dealing with truly talented people.

Final Score: 8/10

20 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

  1. I also remember the dislike for the art style at the time, but this happens to be one of my favourite Zelda games. The art style really works for me and makes it incredibly distinct at the time (and even now). The sailing was something I really enjoyed, but would probably hate now.

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    • Though I wouldn’t be quick to call it my favorite game in the series, I’m glad that it received its vindication. The art style makes the game look better than efforts ten years after its release that went for a realistic look, giving it a better chance of standing the test of time. I too enjoyed the sailing, though I can understand why someone would have a problem with it. I too get the feeling I would find it more tedious if I were to replay the game.

      Thank you for reading!

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  2. I always felt alone when it came to The Wind Waker. When I saw that first trailer, I was absolutely ecstatic! It looked so new, fresh and vibrant. Meanwhile, that Space World demo that everyone fawned over looked flat-out generic. Today, Wind Waker still looks new, fresh and vibrant, while the Space World demo now looks laughably bad. I never, ever understood why people had a problem with Wind Waker’s art style, especially considering the early 2000s were the years where everything in gaming was aiming for “dark and gritty.”

    While I admit the sailing could be tedious, and that Triforce fetch quest is absolutely pace-breaking, this was still probably my favorite 3D Zelda up until Breath of the Wild. Granted, Majora’s Mask is a game that keeps looking better and better to me, but Ocarina of Time, though great, always felt like “A Link to the Past…but in 3D” to me (not that that’s a bad thing, but I feel like Mario 64 took a more unique approach by deviating as far from Mario World as it did…even if Mario World is the better game). Twilight Princess was also excellent, but I think Wind Waker felt like a nice balance between refinement and newness. Sure, it’s not perfect, and the Triforce quest is telling that the game was missing a dungeon or two. But if it’s unfinished, then Wind Waker might be the best unfinished game ever made.

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    • I have to be completely honest – when I saw that trailer for the first time, I wondered what on Earth Nintendo was thinking. Unlike most people with a similar reaction, I did eventually warm up to it, and I’m glad I did because The Wind Waker is an excellent game. You’re right – that Space World demo is dated like crazy by comparison while the visuals in The Wind Waker have barely aged at all. With that in mind, one could consider it an ahead-of-its-time rebellion against the direction in which the rest of the AAA industry was heading.

      When it comes to 3D Zelda games, the only one I would rank The Wind Waker higher than would be Skyward Sword. In the series overall, it ranks 5th, being the best game of the ones I have (or would) place in the 8/10 tier.

      Yeah, there weren’t a whole lot of dungeons to be found in The Wind Waker, but as with Ocarina of Time compared to A Link to the Past, they definitely went for quality over quantity. Despite that, I never really got the impression that The Wind Waker was unfinished.

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  3. I really enjoyed this. I’m not sure where it’d rank among Zelda games for me. Perhaps in the middle somewhere, but in a series like Zelda that isn’t so bad. I think the dungeons left something to be desired when compared to other entries (dungeons are my favorite part of the series, so that makes a sizable difference for me). And you have nicely outlined the issues I had with both the Forsaken Fortress and the Triforce hunt here. But I loved the characters especially Link and Tetra. The world, the artstyle, some of the core mechanical improvements, the Deku Leaf (I just love paragliding items like this in games), the ending and final boss, etc. It’s a really good game.

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    • I would rank it 5th or so myself. I think it’s better than any 2D Zelda game, but the only 3D Zelda game I would rank it higher than is Skyward Sword. I agree – one of the greatest draws to the series is the dungeons, which is a major reason why I think Twilight Princess is one of the best games in the series. That said, Majora’s Mask is my favorite game in the series despite only having four of them while Breath of the Wild outranks Ocarina of Time despite going for quantity over quality with its dungeons.

      The Forsaken Fortress is a really terrible opening dungeon, and the Triforce hunting is an awful way to spend the third act. The way it’s structured reminds me of System Shock 2 in that the worst parts of the game are in the beginning and the end. It fares better than System Shock 2 in my mind because A) it sticks the landing far better and B) you can’t potentially make the game unwinnable because you leveled your character wrong.

      I’m really glad this game introduced the concept of paragliding only for it to appear again in an even better form in Breath of the Wild. I would say the cast is a bit more colorful than that of Ocarina of Time, but they don’t quite reach the level of Majora’s Mask. Either way, warts and all, this is an excellent game that I’m glad history has vindicated.

      Thank you for reading!

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  4. I remember really enjoying the art style when they started releasing press leading up to Wind Waker and being one of the only people I knew who did. Once the game came out, it felt like a lot more of my gaming circle came around to it.

    I’ve had a hard time getting deep into Wind Waker in the past due to the first act of the game and the sailing- two things you outlined that I immediately resonated with- but I always wanted to play it because it looked so interesting, especially with how expressive Link was and how interesting and different the world felt in the grand Zelda mythos. Tetra/Zelda was always a draw, too, since I dig when Zelda is included in the action alongside link usually.

    Given your review of this, I may have to check it out again soon and try it or maybe hunt down my copy of Wind Waker HD.

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    • Yeah, it seemed like people warmed up to it when they remembered, “Oh yeah, Nintendo made this game; that means we’re in good hands”.

      The Wind Waker is surprisingly difficult to get into considering how the average game in the series is usually easy to pick up and play. If that wasn’t enough, the final act has another portion that has a terrible sense of pacing. Usually, a game whose worst aspects are at the beginning and ending isn’t one worth playing, but this one really manages to stick the landing. I really liked that Zelda takes such a proactive role in helping Link in the final battle. It was a nice touch that reminds you that she is still Tetra first.

      Replaying the game would be a great idea. I don’t think you could go wrong with either version, honestly.

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  5. When it was new, I wasn’t so into it. I had absolutely loved Ocarina of Time, and snatched up Majora’s Mask as soon as I could, so it’s a little odd to me that I didn’t connect with Wind Waker, but I didn’t pick it up for a long while. Before I played it, it just seemed very different than the Zelda I knew, and I didn’t end up buying it until years later.

    And it was very different than the Zelda I knew. But that’s a good thing. The Wind Waker was trying a lot of new things, and when you do that, not all of them are going to work out. That was definitely the case with the Wind Waker. And it’s really a shame that led to such a weak opening, because that’s really not representative of the rest of the game. Once you do get the King of Red Lions and the Wind Waker, the game really does start getting a lot more fun.

    If they did simplify the sailing, I think it would have made transporting a lot better. As it was, sea battles were always a bit of an irritation, as you could only go in one direction without going through a 15-second distraction. I can definitely see why the triforce hunt was so off-putting, and they really should have done something better with it, but I love exploring, so it didn’t bother me all that much. And honestly, loving exploring made this game feel a lot more tailor-made for me.

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    • I have to admit I too wasn’t won over by the art style at first, though it ultimately didn’t stop me from buying the game on launch day.

      I have disqualified games for having bad endings, and though I don’t have a similar rule regarding openings, The Wind Waker really does have an appallingly bad first act that doesn’t set the player up for what the rest of the experience is going to be like at all. Nonetheless, I give the team a lot of credit for trying new things; it almost seems like a rough precursor to Breath of the Wild, though it takes a lot of effort to reach the part where it opens up and becomes consistently good.

      I think the Triforce hunting would’ve worked better if you didn’t have to pay so many rupees to get them interpreted; at one point, getting them just turned into busywork. I get finding a purpose for money after several games in a row where it ended up being practically worthless, but it wasn’t a particularly good solution. Indeed, that’s one of the things I give Skyward Sword credit for – it found a way to make money a constant necessity without making the process of obtaining more feel like busywork.

      Despite all of this, I still really like The Wind Waker, and I’m glad people are willing to acknowledge how good it is these days.

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  6. “What I like about this is how in a largely unprecedented move, Link’s heroism is shown to be an inspiration for another character, prompting him to become a better person himself.”

    I really loved this about Wind Waker as well! The whole Link-Komali-Medlii arc was really well done – Zelda storytelling at its best.

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  7. It is always interesting to see games reevaluated in terms of their historical context and impact on industry. It is always a pleasant change of piece to the live-blogging and unrelenting pace of online news. Wind Waker is arguably a part of a wider development chain that goes through the Zelda series and will continue now past BoTW. It has been a pleasure to play a small in that development process – even with the Adventures of Link.

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    • Stuff like this has happened across several mediums; as it would turn out, video games were no different. There could very well be a game no one is thinking highly of right now that will be considered one of the greatest ever made several years later. Though it’s not my personal favorite game in the series, I’m glad it fared well in hindsight; it really demonstrates the importance of giving any work a chance before judging it.

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  9. Terrific in-depth assessment of a great game. I was only 11 when it released, so I don’t remember much of the outcry about the art style. Very interesting to learn about.

    Though it is my 2nd favorite Zelda game, I agree that the lack of dungeons is disappointing. It’s the exact same issue I had with BoTW. Also, the sailing does get tedious, especially when searching for the Triforce shards 😧.

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    • I’m fairly certain I was in elementary school when the backlash started, but I was just internet savvy enough to have personally witnessed it. Even I was personally underwhelmed by the art style, though it didn’t stop me from getting the game on launch day and warming up to it. By the end, every single one of those cynics had egg on their faces.

      Yeah, I find it strange how I’ve always thought the dungeons were the main draw of a Zelda game, yet in practice, Majora’s Mask is my favorite game in the series with Breath of the Wild not lagging too far behind. Either way, though The Wind Waker is only my fifth favorite Zelda game, it is a classic game well worth playing.

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