Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Review by Old
As a card-carrying, certifiable member of the "senior citizen"
community, I often shy away from sharing my love of PC/video gaming
with acquaintances. It's acceptable to talk about travel, tennis,
time-sharing, medications and surgeries. But video games? Clearly
they're for adolescents, aren't they, with many of them being too
nasty to discuss at the AARP gathering. And console games! My goodness,
they involve fighting, shooting, racingall stuff we're much
too old and sophisticated for. Don't they? Wellyes, no and
maybe. Much like books in a library, you can often find what you
wish to find. For every Postal 2 there is a game like
The Longest Journey, and for every Soul Caliber
fighting game, there is a console experience like Zelda:
The Wind Waker.
I must share a caveat regarding this review. Wind Waker is
not only my first Zelda experience, but also my first GameCube title,
and even my very first console game! With over 300 games in my PC
library, and having played most of them (a lot or a little) the
last seven years, I've just never ventured into the world of the
gamepad. So please be patient when I reflect naivete regarding consoling
in general, the gamepad in particular, and Zelda as a revered franchisea
franchise with which, to my regret, I had not been acquainted.
LinkPast and Present
"Legend has it that whenever evil has appeared, a hero named
Link has risen to defeat it." So goes the continuing myth of
Zelda and its primary hero. The original Legend of Zelda appeared
in 1987 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with Zelda II:
The Adventures of Link debuting a year later. In 1992, Zelda:
A Link to the Past made the leap to the Super NES console, with
Zelda: Ocarina of Time bringing 3D to the Nintendo 64 in
1998. Finally, Zelda: Majora's Mask, a dark adventure, made
its way to fans in 2000.
Zelda: Wind Waker has been eagerly anticipated and has a
lot to live up to in order to please its zealous fan base. Considerable
attention has been drawn to the use of cel-shading, an overall cartoony
appearance, and the generally more light-hearted theme of this latest
iteration. Again, being naive, and not having played any of the
illustrious predecessors, I can only speak of the relative merits
and demerits of my experience with Wind Waker.
An Evil Wind Is Rising
Many years after the Link of legend has brought peace to the land,
a young lad celebrates his 12th birthday. He, also, is named Link.
As is the custom at this time of "coming of age," he dons
a green outfit, as did the hero of tradition who once conquered
the evil of that time. This happiest of days is shattered when Link's
sister, Aryll, is carried off by a monstrous bird. Link later learns
that "young girls with long ears" are being kidnapped.
Enlisting the support of a motley group of pirates (the leader of
whom Link has helped) and having secured some minimal training and
equipment, Link ventures forth with all the enthusiasm of an adolescent
to find Aryll and perhaps even unravel some deeper mysteries. Of
course, Link, and we the players, soon discover that the kidnapping
is but a harbinger of a much deeper threat to the people of Outset
Island and all the civilized lands of the vast sea encompassing
this flooded world (cf. Waterworld).
Now is a good time to speak of the incredible size, scope, variety
and depth of the worlds depicted in Wind Waker. There are
49 islands to which Link may sail, many of which are inhabited,
can be explored, present challenges, and have residents with whom
interaction may occur. Using a ship (more on this later) to traverse
the sea (also inhabited by roving submarines, octos, and shop ships),
Link spends considerable time and effort, sometimes boringly so
until midgame, getting from place to place. These minor tedium tasks,
though, are more than compensated for by the payoff of variety and
adventure once landing.
We often speak of the optimal desire of having a game world that
is open-ended, that we are free to roam, that is populated by colorful
NPCs with whom interaction may or may not occur. Yet we also like
to have some sense of direction and goal orientation. Wind Waker
satisfies these desires as well as any game I've ever played.
"Falling Isn't Part of the Program, Swabbie!" Friendly
Pirate to Link
Or "where's the mouse?" As mentioned, this is all new
to me. However, even for an old guy with barnacle-encrusted brain
cells, the learning curve of Wind Waker is very gentle. The
first portion of the game has a running basic tutorial, supplemented
throughout the experience by occasional updates as to what button
or lever to push for which action. Indeed, the upper right portion
of the screen shows the controller, along with labels for actions
of the keys, sometimes changing according to circumstances ("sidle,"
for example). The GameCube controller fits nicely in my smaller
hands, with the clearly labeled and very tactile buttons soon becoming
Link is viewed from an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective,
with as fine a camera placement and movement as one may expect with
that setup. Further, the area around Link may be viewed vertically
and horizontally in almost 360 degrees. This often is essential
in order to plan the next movement. Link jumps and climbs automatically
when necessary, can crouch and crawl, and exhibits a variety of
sword and other fighting techniques. Speaking, opening, and other
actions/interactions are obvious when a large yellow arrow appears
as Link approaches the appropriate object/person. All in all, and
even after having now tried several other GameCube titles, I cannot
imagine controls more straightforward and "automatic."
Towers, Temples, Fire and Ice
The first 15 minutes of Wind Waker lead one to think of
Disney, children's cartoons, cutesy games. Don't be fooled. This
rendition of the Zelda series at first appears, with its cel-shading,
large character heads and eyes, and vibrant colors, not to be for
adults. However, the themes, storyline, fighting, humor, sophistication
all are most satisfying to this adult, even though possibly also
appropriate for children around the age of 10 (rating is "E"
Graphical detailing, apparently helped by the use of cel-shading,
is phenomenal. Facial animations, particularly of Link, express
emotions of surprise, suspicion, fear and joy. The islands are alive
with activity, each having a distinctive look. Colorful characters,
figuratively and literally, go about their daily routines. Monsters
and bosses are frightening, sometimes huge. Link makes footprint
impressions on the sand, drips water a bit after emerging from a
swim, glances with those huge eyes to potential interactive objects/persons.
The horizon is vast but often can be brought into stunning detail
with the use of Link's telescope. Weather effects are realistic,
particularly wind and storms. The destruction of enemies in a puff
of smoke is satisfying without being gory. Lava and flame effects
are terrifying. Even the most jaded of gamers would have to become
immersed in this admittedly cartoony, but also strangely real, world
Speak up, Link!
There is no voice acting in Wind Waker. Indeed, Link doesn't
speak at all! Considerable, and very well-written, text becomes
available upon Link's interaction with everyone from his grandma
to any resident he may bump into, to the King of Red Lions, his
magical talking boat. Given the often-uneven quality of voice acting
in games, I'm happy with the decision to let me use my imagination
with the expositions of characters. As to Link not speaking at all,
even in written text, apparently this was a deliberate designer
decision to allow even further use of the individual player's idea
of what might be said in given situations. Whatever the thinking,
it works, and works well.
Environmental sound effects and musical accompaniments are perfect.
From the softness of Link's footfalls to the clank of a sword on
armor, everything works as it should. Wind rustles the leaves, whooshes
or howls, depending on circumstances. Storms rage, boats creak,
doors squeak. Clearly, the "aural detailing" of Wind
Waker was done with as much love and care as the rest of the
game. Indeed, the musical themes are so memorable that a CD has
been issued in Japan. The opening theme is a melody you'll be sure
to hum even when away from the game.
Link the Swinger
No, not that kind of swinger. This is a full family game, after
all. Our Link enjoys rope and chandelier swinging. And platform
jumping; and fighting, bomb and boomerang throwing, puzzle-solving;
swimming; flying; sailing; even sneaking about. Indeed, at one point
I was thinking of "Splinter Link"a la the wonderful
Splinter Cell game involving as much quiet discretion as
all-out action. Those who take pleasure in the subtleties of sword
play, including defense and rolls, will enjoy the lively encounters
with multiple "bad guys" along Link's path. But I would
think of Wind Waker as being more of an adventure than action
experience. There is nothing truly insurmountable, if you're willing
to explore the surroundings first and engage in several trials.
Perhaps one of the biggest threats is not paying attention to an
imminent danger due to looking at the gorgeous environment the first
time through a particular episode.
Clues abound, sometimes given by Link's peculiar companiona
talking boatthe King of Red Lions. At other points, a person
to be aided, such as Medli, a young female bird who has trouble
flying, will give countless hints, along with considerable humor.
Sea charts, dungeon maps and a compass all become available and
are readily accessed with the control pad. Objects and items can
be called up from inventory and assigned to the X, Y, or Z button
for immediate usage. Among these is the Wind Wakera magical
baton allowing Link to direct the wind behind his boat's sails and
other important actions. As an addendum, Link is also able to access
an attached Game Boy Advance for special hints by using his Tingle
Link seems to have nine lives. It's very difficult to deplete the
"life gauge" if you take care in the observation and accumulation
of hearts. So, too, with rupees, which abound in sufficient amounts
to readily allow purchase of upgrades along the way. Game saving
is done automatically at level changes and can be done manually
within a level. However, on restarting you are brought back to the
beginning of the level, even though you still keep acquired items.
This doesn't turn out badly at all, and typically it takes only
a few minutes to return to the place of saving. It's even easier
just prior to a "boss" encounter, where you have the option
to save at that point in case things don't go well the first (or
second, or third, etc.) time through your battle.
Saving only at one point throughout the game was a feature I was
prepared not to like. However, even though I would prefer multiple
saves, such as with the levels in GameCube's 007: Nightfire,
this singular approach of Wind Waker works. The story
is fairly linear, but Link can return to previously visited locations,
talk to residents, gather more information and even shop for items.
Many side quests are available, some of them incidental to the main
narrative, others fairly essential in terms of rewards, and all
of them interesting and fun.
Welcome to the Chorus
I'm often an oppositional kind of guy. Zelda: Wind Waker is
one of the most praised games of all time, on any platform. So one
of my initial inclinations was to find something wrong, some components
to complain about. It can't be that good, can it? Yes, my friends,
it can be and is. I'm now prepared to blend my melodic bass renditions
with the grand chorus of Wind Waker accolades.
Wind Waker has it all. What do you wish for in your "perfect
game?" Is a story that involves you, leading you to be anxious
to "turn the next page," important? Wind Waker has
it. Is a huge and fully realized world in which you can roam, with
countless quests, ingenious levels and dozens of possible interactions
significant? Wind Waker has that. Are fine graphics, character
depictions, environmental sounds critical for your gaming enjoyment?
Wind Waker has those. Is a gradual building of your hero's
skills, accompanied by a gentle learning curve, desirable? Wind
Waker exemplifies the best of that game involvement. Adventuring
... hero development ... variations of combat and fighting ... challenging
and fun side quests ... a literate script enlivened by humor ...
up to 50 hours of available playing time ... flawless control scheme
... Wind Waker has all of these. And needless to say, it's
all tremendously entertaining!
Of the 300-plus games I have played, Zelda: Wind Waker ranks
in my top three of all time. It's elegant, enchanting, engrossing,
beautifully stylized, perfectly polisheda gaming work of arta
masterpiece. This game alone makes the GameCube a worthwhile purchase,
becoming the most easily recommended game I have ever reviewed.
Release Date: March 24, 2003
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