Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (2)

Genre: Action-Adventure
Year: 2002
Developed by: Nintendo EAD
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Gamecube
Feeling Like: Full of hot air

Fuzz, Stephan and I were on a bus. We were heading to Moncton for a very specific reason. I had pre-ordered The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker at the EB Games in Champlain Mall. Sackville, New Brunswick didn’t have a video game store, and nobody had a car in residence. The journey, in retrospect, seems unnecessary. A return bus ticket, and a brand new video game, is an enormous luxury for a 1st year student with no income.

I may be more grown up 18 years later, but my fundamental desires are the same. When it comes to big Nintendo games, specifically any Legend of Zelda, I don’t have a choice. I’ll make it work, if that means sacrificing other financial activities I have ( in 2002, that would have consisted of drinking and…well, mostly drinking) then so be it. It would be worth 10 drinks or so, right?

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (3)
Speaking of needing a drink…

After going to all those lengths to purchase The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I didn’t even touch it for three years. Vance and a few others were always welcome to give it a try on my Gamecube and the tiny TV I had in residence, but something held me back. Did I had other things to do? School? Movies? Residence Life? Beer? Hardly.

I felt apprehensive and my interests were guided elsewhere. It could’ve been the influence of the internet – if you weren’t around for the first reveal of the cel-shaded graphics for this game, you wouldn’t believe the vitriol fans spewed online. The SpaceWorld 2000 demo showed a “realistic” new Link fighting Ganon that sent us all into a frenzied anticipation. This new style of graphics didn’t endear Nintendo to the masses, particularly when the Gamecube itself was already perceived as “kiddy.”

Not that I give a shit about any of that today, but I may have back in the day.

Vance (4)
Vance playing Wind Waker in my room at Bigelow, 3rd year.

I have to get the bad out of the way; this is one of my least favorite Zeldas, for a few very specific reasons. It’s not the cartoony graphics, which hold up marvelously. Turns out, Nintendo knew what they were doing.

For the most part. One location in particular is just putrid. You’re sent into the Forsaken Fortress early in the game, vastly under-equipped which is sort of the point. You don’t have a weapon, you’re still getting used to the mechanics and you’re out of your league. Intriguing, and certainly something new for a Zelda game. BUT. It has instant fail stealth mechanics. If you’re spotted, you’re back in jail. And for an impatient, stubborn player like myself, this is absolutely kryptonite to having fun. I hated this place with a passion, I still seethe at the memory of getting thrown into a dungeon over and over by an enemy I could easily overpower if I JUST HAD MY SWORD. LIKE IN VERY ZELDA GAME.

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (1)
The HD Remake makes a stunning looking game even stunning-er

Balls to that.

Sailing also lacked panache. As I’ve mentioned before on the 500, I’m not exactly the sailing type. There’s a reason Suikoden 4 isn’t on the 500 at all. In Wind Waker, you careen across an ocean that’s flooded the entire world, looking for pockets of land to explore and treasure to dig up. That’s all fine, but I found adjusting the wind to be a tedious process, and screen after screen of water not enticing. Just not my jam. My frustrations continued with an end game fetch quest that forced a LOT of mundane travel. There’s also fewer dungeons than previous Zeldas; the meat and potatoes of the franchise. Boo.

So…did I like anything about it? Why is it at number 300, beating out 200 others, if all I’m going to do is complain?

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (5)
Here’s one reason.

Since the Legend of Zelda is among my Mount Rushmore for video game experiences, it means that even a mediocre Zelda is still great – I should point out here, my opinions aren’t shared by the collective Zelda fandom. Most have Wind Waker among the best Zeldas. Far be it from me to dissuade them, but I’ve said my piece as to why I can’t put it any higher than 300.

So, the good.

The return to Castle Hyrule part is incredible. One of the major strengths of the game is how it ties into Zelda lore and history. The timeline and chronological happenings  in the Legends of Zeldas have always been loose, likely because they didn’t intend for any of the games to Link (boo!) together. But Wind Waker FEELS epic and big. It plunks you down in Hyrule history and I was determined to change the world and steer the timeline in a different direction than what Ganon desired. It drops sparse, but meaningful story beats along the way. When you finally go beneath the waves to Hyrule Castle, frozen in time, my breath was taken away. This is a spectacular moment that rewards long-time players of the series, and newcomers alike. The visual contrast adds to the ominous feeling. Where did the colors go? What happened here?

Legend of zelda Wind Waker (4)
It may get old, but the sailing traversal is gorgeous to look at

Another home run is the theme of the Dragon Roost Island. The quality, the instruments , the melody, the feel are all so perfect that they’ve re-used this theme in many other games, including The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild to great results. It’s instantly recognizable, melancholic and hopeful. It perfectly encompasses the game’s atmosphere, and is one of video game’s crowning jewels in terms of soundtrack entries.

Finally, the end boss fight against Ganondorf. No need for a spoiler tag there, unless you’ve never played a video game before. The Princess is urging you on, supporting you with Light Arrow blasts. Eventually, she’ll prompt you and rebound an arrow off your shield, stunning your rival. You move in for the kill and HOLY HELL YOU LEAP IN THE AIR AND STAB HIM IN THE FOREHEAD.

It’s extremely satisfying and watching him turn to stone with your blade engraved in his skull is a fantastic visual. If the game had been more like this, and less dumb, dumb, dumb stealth mechanics and slow sailing around, it would be far higher on the 500.

There are a million details I didn’t mention. I appreciated how the sound cues punctuated your direct hits on enemies, or how intricately detailed some of the visuals were, or the general pleasantness of the villagers on Outset Island. As a package, I can’t give it a higher recommendation but I certainly understand why others love it. The HD Remake apparently cuts out a lot of the extraneous nonsense, and I’m sure my patience has increased over the years. If I gave it another go, I’m confident it would be higher. Should the 500 be a time capsule, like Hyrule Castle? Or should it be like the surface, constantly shifting with the winds? I aim to find out…200 down, 300 to go!

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