The Wind Waker is a whimsy Legend of Zelda title that has gained a lot of praise, but it is not without its faults

Rewind Review – The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker

The Wind Waker is a whimsy Legend of Zelda title that has gained a lot of praise, but it is not without its faults
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Week 9 of the Legend of Zelda Rewind Review is upon us, officially landing us at the halfway point of this beautiful – and beloved – Nintendo series! Last week we looked into the travesty that was Four Swords on the Gameboy Advance, but this week we will be looking at a much more… colorful Zelda title. I’m of course talking about The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker on the Nintendo Gamecube!

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As with all Rewind Reviews, The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker will undergo a review process through the eyes of a modern critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse this game from anything that we – as modern gamers – would expect to see in the genre today.

Of course, no Rewind Review would be complete without considering remakes or remasters! As such, this Rewind Review will also briefly look at features of the Wii U HD remake. With that said, let’s command the wind and sea in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the Nintendo Gamecube and Wii U!

The Plot

The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker starts out much like several other Zelda titles: Link is asleep. In fact, we do not get our first glimpse of our cartoonish hero until his sister – Aryll – wakes him up at Aryll’s Outlook. It is here that we learn that it is Link’s birthday, and he has now turned the age of the hero of legend – this alluding to Ocarina of Time’s Young Link.

As per Outset Island’s traditions, Link trades in his islanders clothes for the ceremonial Hero’s Tunic. It is not long after this, however, that Aryll spots a girl being dropped by a giant bird that was being chased by pirates. At his sister’s request, Link saves the girl, but the bird returns and mistakes Aryll for the pirate leader – Tetra.

After bargaining with the pirates, Link sets off for the Forsaken Fortress to save his sister. His mission fails, and he proceeds to go on an adventure with a talking boat known as The King of Red Lions to become stronger and save his sister from the clutches of Ganon.

Link’s farewell is perhaps one of the most touching moments in The Legend of Zelda, and makes the player sympathise with many of the characters

Wind Waker marks the return of the unlikely hero version of Link, the Hero of Winds having no ‘chosen hero’ trope to back him up this time around. Instead his desire to become the hero is fueled by his love for his sister, and his choice to protect his friends. In fact, I’m almost certain that this is the only title where a character explicitly says that “Link is not the hero we were searching for”.

It is a heartwarming little story that is much more fleshed out than previous Legend of Zelda titles, and as such I would actually rank it among one of the best stories in the series (although it is far from being the best).

The Gameplay

The Beautiful

The Wind Waker follows in the steps of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask before it, providing a 3D Legend of Zelda environment that near-mimics the previous games. This is to be expected as the 3D Legend of Zelda titles (as well as the 2D titles, in a sense) follow the formula of the best-selling Legend of Zelda for either genre to the dot. That means that Z-targeting (now L-targeting) returns, as well as puzzles in 3D space, and a focus on combat over dungeon crawling.

Wind Waker’s L-Targeting system now uses an arrow over the enemy’s head instead of the crosshairs seen in the N64 titles

While this could be considered stale, it really isn’t. There was nothing wrong with the 3D Legend of Zelda formula in 1998, and there’s still no problem with it now. However, Wind Waker has made some improvements to the battle system to keep things fresh.

The first addition is the counter-attack system. In The Wind Waker, Link can leap, roll, or side-step enemy attacks at the touch of a button – the A-button to be precise – before counter attacking. In a sense this makes the combat in The Wind Waker much easier as Link is nearly invincible so long as the A-button is pressed in a rather forgiving amount of time. However, mixed in with Link’s beautifully choreographed attacks and the tradeoff is a well-received fast paced battle system that functions better than the robotic sword-and-shield dance presented by Ocarina of Time.

Link parries a Darknut’s strike from above in this beautiful screenshot

The game also provides interesting new thematic items and weapons to Link’s arsenal. One such item is the Deku Leaf which allows Link to glide around at the mercy of the wind. Another item is the Grappling Hook (right) which allows Link to latch on to various areas to swing across gaps in true pirate fashion.

The Wind Waker HD also provides many improvements to the gameplay and narrative structure. While these features don’t entirely change the experience of the game, changes such as the added Hero Mode, making timed quests more lenient, and making travel easier. For a full list of changes you can find out more in this NeoGAF thread by Nyoro SF.

The Bad

The game’s titular item, the Wind Waker, is perhaps the most poorly designed music-item in the Legend of Zelda series. Why? Due to its nature of being a conductor’s baton, the player must wait for the metronome at the top of the screen to hit the center before the next direction can be selected. At best this is a minor inconvenience, however, if one is unable to remember commands quickly then it can result in the player having to restart the process over again. This is – of course – only a minor problem, but it is one nonetheless.

Then there’s the main problem with the game: the boat. While sailing might seem like a fun concept on paper, spending half an hour trying to get from one side of the map to the other is not. Even after getting the Ballad of Gales you will still be spending at least 5-10 minutes to get to any destination on the map – especially for those at the top-left part of the Sea Chart.

Furthermore, the Great Sea is just what you would expect. Water. Lots of it. In fact, you can literally leave your game running, grab a bottle of… something… and drink it long before your boat runs into anything. The AI of the aquatic enemies is also so terrible that you can do so without fear of Link dying.

I see seas of blue… Skies of blue… My mast is sort of blue… Oh god there’s so much blue… and I think to myself: “Oh, please someone help me!”

What can make this worse? The main quest requires you to use the boat to go to seven out-of-the-way islands to find Triforce Charts which you need to pay hundreds of rupees to translate, then sail to another middle-of-nowhere forsaken island to drag it up from the bottom of the sea. It’s a painstaking task that makes the later half of the game too tedious to play again.

While The Wind Waker HD added the Swift Sail to speed up sailing, and removed several Triforce Charts from the mix, it doesn’t make enough of a difference to warrant the empty space that is the Great Sea. Considering that the Swift Sail is obscurely hidden at the Auction House as well, it’s not that much of an improvement.

The Presentation

This game is beautiful. Whether you pick up the Gamecube or Wii U version of the game, either title will present a certain form of beauty that you can’t find in any other Legend of Zelda game to date. I will note, however, that the Wii U version and the Gamecube version have different visual styles due to the lighting and texture changes. While the original game had a more cartoonish style to it, the Wii U version seems almost like a remake of the game using porcelain models instead of pastel drawings.

Don’t take my word alone for it though. Here’s GameExplain’s side-by-side comparison for good measure:

Wind Waker’s characters are memorable. Their designs and over-the-top personalities staying with the player long after completion

One thing I would like to point out in particular is the character design in this game. I found that this game – more than previous titles – really highlighted personality traits through the overall silhouettes and details of each character model. Thanks to the cartoon style, the characters also have a ridiculous amount of emotion portrayed in both body language and facial expressions. While this would seem to take away from more serious scenes, it actually works quite well in those as well. It almost feels like you’re playing a cartoon.

As for the music, The Wind Waker‘s irish-inspired soundtrack is a perfect match for the nautical voyages Link takes part in during his journey. Coupled with more dramatic numbers such as [SPOILERS] the King of Red Lions death theme [END OF SPOILERS] it makes for perhaps my favorite soundtrack in the series thus far.

You can check out the beautiful soundtrack for yourself in the YouTube video below:

The Verdict

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker helped the Zelda series make a successful transition to the Gamecube. While the graphics may have disappointed some players at the time since they were expecting something closer to that of the tech demo at Space World 2000, it nevertheless is a beautiful game. The music really brings out the personality of the game, and the art style makes characters pop out in a way that they can’t in more serious Legend of Zelda titles.

That said, it has a few mechanical flaws. The Triforce quest, the sailing, and several other minor flaws prevent the otherwise beautiful game from surpassing the fame that Ocarina of Time presented its players with. However, if this is the first Legend of Zelda title you play, I can imagine it will stay with you as a favorite for a long time to come.

As such, The Wind Waker gets an 8/10 for executing the 3D Legend of Zelda formula well, but falling short on a few technical details.

And that’s it for Week 9 of the Legend of Zelda Rewind Review! Be sure to check back on this article or the GameSkinny front page next week for future reviews, as well as swords and sorcery action as we make our way from the original 1986 release of The Legend of Zelda on the NES to the 2013 release of A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS!


Reviews in this Series:

Rewind Review – The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker
The Wind Waker is a whimsy Legend of Zelda title that has gained a lot of praise, but it is not without its faults

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David Fisher
Author, GameSkinny columnist, and part-time childhood destroyer. David W. Fisher (otherwise known as RR-sama) is a no B.S. reviewer and journalist who will ensure that you get as close to the facts as humanly possible!