Written by Nathan Love
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is the dark horse of the Zelda console family. If the recent Zelda games were presidents, Ocarina of Time would be George Washington, Twilight Princess would be the evil twin of George Washington, and Wind Waker would be like, say, Zachary Taylor. Sure, Wind Waker is oft-maligned by fans, but it held the Union together against Southern separatists by force. Wait, no, I mean, it was a creative and inventive Zelda game at a time (one could argue that still continues today) when Nintendo realized it could make a whole lot of money by capitalizing on its legacies.
Everyone knows Wind Waker gets a lot of hate. Before it even came out, when screen caps were released, fans began mocking referring to it as “Cel-da” and “That damn cartoon Link crap”. People were hungering for the epic sequel to Ocarina of Time that Majora’s Mask came so tantalizingly close to offering, and Wind Waker definitely did not provide that. It was Twilight Princess, three years later, that would give the fandom what it had been clamoring for, and bafflingly enough, would be a far less interesting game than Wind Waker.
The plot is pretty much carbon-copy Zelda fare. You play as Link and you’re out to save the world by acquiring the Triforce, all the while battling your legendary fated rival Ganondorf and his forces. The controls are more or less the same as in Ocarina of Time as well, and the gameplay itself feels very similar. So why do I call it the interesting and inventive one in the series?
Well, for the setting, thematic depth, and art direction. Wind Waker is a very vibrant world, and I have fond memories of spending hours in front of my television grinning from ear to ear while playing it. The art, to this day, is beautiful. Had they given it the standard 3D rendering treatment, it would look as dated as Ocarina of Time does. Instead, the cel shading gives the look of the game an absolutely timeless feel. It’s still pretty. Most detractors of Wind Waker focus their hatred on this, but it’s my belief that they’re just bitter that they didn’t get an attempt at hyper-realism. The artwork fits the whimsical nature of Wind Waker perfectly.
More to the point, Wind Waker provides, without a doubt, the most tortured and complex Ganondorf to date. In previous and subsequent installments of the series, Ganondorf is the Big Bad. He sits at the end of the game, waiting for your challenge, and when you take him down, he is simply the faceless personification of evil. In Wind Waker, he is more of an Anti-Villain, with all the complexity such a character implies. Watching his descent into madness throughout the game is fantastic and gives the game that much more depth.
The music is great. Some of the most memorable in the series, in fact, and on the whole the soundtrack trumps that of Twilight Princess. The Wind Waker is an unspeakably cool artifact. Conducting the winds through song is easily on par with a magical ocarina. (Blasphemy!) The game is lighthearted and fun, and never takes itself too seriously- a hallmark of the series missing from Twilight Princess.
The other thing that people complain about is the tremendous amount of sailing to be done, and it can get tedious, until you remember that you’re charting out unknown lands and being an explorer of the ancient remnants of Hyrule, and then you realize that it’s completely awesome instead. The world of Hyrule, in this context, feels incredibly real and incredibly ancient, and it’s pretty awesome.
This probably seems like a needlessly effusive review of Wind Waker, and it probably seems like I’m talking a lot of smack about Twilight Princess. The games simply have different strengths. Wind Waker lacks the difficulty and complexity in puzzles of Twilight Princess, and it’s certainly aimed at a significantly younger audience. (Twilight Princess remains the only Zelda game rated T.) It’s not a challenging game, and because of its lighthearted feeling, it’s not a standard grand epic Zelda adventure. But what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in charm and creativity, and remains a game that is fun to play even today, eight years later.