Are you familiar with The Legend of Zelda? If not, then I must assume you either:
- A) are not a gamer
- B) do not and have never owned a Nintendo console
- C) are some kind of horrible Madden/Halo 2 sort of gamer
- D) have no soul
- E) some combination of the above
I mean, really. The Legend of Zelda is, uh, legendary among gamers. It’s possibly the holiest grail outside of the Mario franchise. A new Zelda game gets announced and people’s ears perk up. A new trailer is released and the Internet is deluged with opinionated superfans speculating where it might take place in the series’ timeline (don’t even start with me about that) and Tingle groupies demand to know if their favorite fairy man-child will show up.
Zelda‘s an almost instantly relatable experience among gamers. Remember the first time you pulled the Master Sword from its pedestal in the Temple of Time and became Adult Link? How about the first time you defeated Ganon? Or the first time you met the Princess Zelda? It’s in this way that I think it’s fair to liken Zelda to the Star Wars of video games. Hell, it can practically be a cult if you want it to be.
I say all this so the uninitiated among you can understand the shitstorm that was unleashed when Nintendo revealed its plans for the first Gamecube iteration of the venerated franchise. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker would be the first in the series to have a radical graphic departure from what the series had been known for. A switch to colorful, expressive, cel-shaded graphics made the group of Zelda fans hoping for a Zelda title more in the vein of the Gamecube tech demo released earlier nearly homicidal in their rage. Cries of “Zelda? More like Celda!” rang through the Internet for months. Even now, if you put your ear to your computer, you can hear the faint echoes of the fanboys gnashing their teeth at watching their pubescent fantasies of Link being in a “like, dark and shit” Zelda game being dashed against a rock by Nintendo. At the time.
Not as much complaint was immediately lodged against the title’s gameplay changes. Instead of running through a verdant Hyrule, Wind Waker‘s world was comprised of a huge ocean with little islands sprinkling through it. Surely there was some fuss made, but many simply couldn’t get over the new graphics to start complaining about the gameplay, too.
But enough preface! What of the game itself? Wind Waker begins with an interesting bit of prologue, with backgrounds looking like they came straight from a medieval illuminated manuscript vaguely describing the events of Ocarina of Time, and how the Hero of Time defeated the evil Ganon and restored peace… but then disappeared. When Ganon reared his head again, there was no one to stand up against him. The king of Hyrule finally implored the goddesses to wipe Hyrule away where Ganon couldn’t touch it, and the goddesses complied by way of sealing the entire kingdom underwater. Thus our story of Link begins!
Link this time is a young boy that lives with his grandmother (!) and sister (!!) Aryll on Outset Island. Yeah, the names of the islands are fairly obvious. Anyways, everything’s going peachy until Aryll is kidnapped by a giant bird! With a steely resolve and new green duds, Link teams up with the sassy pirate lass Tetra and her motley crew to mount a rescue mission that will land them in the middle of an ancient conflict between good and evil. Standard stuff, really.
Zelda has never been about its stories, although they’ve usually been just good enough to pass mustard and keep from making you fall asleep. The story here is even more intriguing if you happened to be a longtime Zelda fan, especially one of Ocarina of Time. The beginning of the game is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Ocarina of Time references, the story which ostensibly began the eternal battle of Link versus Ganon. I was genuinely curious as to what happened to Hyrule so long ago that made it disappear. To someone that’s played and come to love Zelda, Hyrule is something special. To not have it anymore leads to almost a period of grieving!
It doesn’t help when the replacement is as meager and ill-conceived as it is in Wind Waker. As mentioned earlier, the world map is now comprised of a 7×7 grid, each coordinate containing an island or some other point of interest. Doesn’t sound that bad, you say? Have you tried thinking of what it would be like to sail to each and every one of them? Yes, you have a boat (a talking boat, at that) and you will be required to get a sail and sail to each destination in the game. Sounds fun and interesting, you say? Aaaaahahahahahaha. Yeah, it was. For about 15 minutes. Then the full realization of what this meant hit me, and I began to sour on the idea. See, I can understand where the Zelda team was coming from on this. A change to a completely watery environment IS an interesting decision, full of new possibilities. One of Zelda‘s cornerstones has been exploration. Hell, the idea of Zelda came to its creator, Nintendo superstar Shigeru Miyamoto, from experiences as a child exploring caves near his home. Searching and charting the unknown is a bit thrilling, and seeing a new and unfamiliar island on the horizon never fails to tweak at something in my brain.
But the COMMUTE. Someone should time how much of the game time is spent traveling from one place to another in Wind Waker, just sailing in the empty sea. It’s ridiculously boring after a while. I would literally set my course, then get up from the game, get a snack and come back. The destination on my horizon would literally only be a little bit bigger. So much of Wind Waker is just WAITING to get to the place where you want to go. For as many places as there are to go in the game, they actually take up little space. The majority of the game space is just barren ocean. It makes you feel lonely and miserable. I don’t care how frustrating and fast-paced your life is, I don’t know how you could take enjoyment from sitting in your boat, sailing through the night sky, feeling like you aren’t getting anywhere. Wind WAITER, more like it.
There are other problems besides the logistics of its game world, though. As in Ocarina of Time, the title of this game refers to a magical instrument you’ll be using almost constantly, the enchanted baton called the Wind Waker. I actually think the Wind Waker is cooler than the Ocarina because the notes are less annoying and the interface is certainly interesting. You point the baton with the C-stick and as the measure passes the middle point of the time gauge it conducts a note. You use this. A lot. Basically it’s your most important method of transportation, since your boat is dependent on the wind’s fickle moods in order to travel. So you need to conduct the wind with the Wind Waker in order to sail the boat where you want to go. Which is another huge reason the sailboating in this game is annoying instead of fun. Every time you want to go another direction, you have to play the same song that you can’t skip through. I mean, really, I wonder how much of my play time was spent just watching the conducting animation. To top it off, the songs you can play on the Wind Waker aren’t nearly as memorable as the ones from Ocarina of Time.
But it’s all worth it if the gameplay’s golden, right? Well, yeah, kinda. The classic Zelda “feel” is there. But the game is a cakewalk. I rarely ever was challenged mentally by the puzzles. I think part of it must be having played several Zelda games by now. Zelda games usually rely on similar sorts of puzzles to populate their dungeons, and by now we’ve seen nearly every variation that the designers can cook up in 3D. Sort of disappointing. Maybe if the major change in gameplay was something other than sailing, it would have more relevance to the puzzles in the game. Not to mention that there’s a paltry number of dungeons in this game compared to most other Zeldas. I mean, at one point in the game, they just GIVE you an important story item that you’d usually have to beat a dungeon to get. The designers even admitted that they had to scrap plans for some dungeons because they ran out of time. Designers at Nintendo said this; Nintendo, who can usually delay a game until the end of time and not have people raise eyebrows. I have no idea where all their time went. Maybe it went into coming up with the AWESOME idea of bringing partners into dungeons. NOT. It was completely un-fun to have to switch between partners in two of the major dungeons. Very tedious.
Not to mention that to pad time, they had you spending the last third of the game hunting down Triforce maps and pieces in the ocean. Now just the fact that they had the temerity to plop a big, fat fetch quest in our laps should be enraging enough, but to have you resort to paying that fucking bastard Tingle a fortune to decode each map? I spent more time trying to come up with the scratch than I did trying to find the maps. That’s a crock right there. I also think the developers did this to force us to visit most of the silly, lame, deserted islands in the game. A cruel trick, Nintendo! Maybe we all deserve it for begging for the Triforce in Ocarina of Time. :(
Even battles are fairly easy in the game, with enemies rarely taking off more than two hearts at a time. I can understand making Zelda accessible, but sheesh. I completed the game with almost no trouble with only a little over half the maximum amount of hearts you could get. Combat’s simple and sometimes fun, but never a challenge. My favorite enemies were those dog knights. Is Link allowed to strip them in an E-rated game?! Just don’t let those devil-goats get near me. D:
So the sailing’s mainly boring, the game’s fairly short and easy and the Wind Waker becomes the bane of your existence. Is there anything to crow about in this game at all? I think there is. Wind Waker has, bar-none, my favorite look for Zelda. I mean, do you remember what people looked like in Ocarina of Time? They were ghastly. Who’d want to save those mutants? I will smite them with the moon myself! Luckily they have another designer for Wind Waker, and he’s on his game. Everyone looks distinct and adorable, most of the humans looking like happy little Muppets. A big improvement over the genetic mistakes in the other 3D Zeldas. And Link’s expressions are varied, appropriate and sometimes hilarious. It makes having a silent hero a lot easier since Link can say a lot with just a wink and a grin. Yes, this is all quite subjective, but I found it to be a big plus in the game experience. Hell, I’d say with its simplified models and emphasis on charm, Wind Waker had better graphics than Twilight Princess. My opinion? Yes. But also one you should listen to!
The game also gives a surprising amount of development to both Zelda and Ganon. Zelda is given quite a fierce, independent personality this time around and even has a series first in joining you in combat against Ganon. Ganon himself seems to have gained some weight since Ocarina of Time (banishment seems to add 100 pounds), but also some pathos. Before your grand battle with him, he finally reveals some motivation to his evil schemes beyond just being “evil,” and I have to say, I sympathize with him. I’d like to bring back Hyrule, too, rather than fuck around with these dinky islands. I mean, really, at that point in the game who really agreed with the King of Red Lions and Zelda? The ocean fucking sucked!
There’s also a pretty cool segment involving Hyrule Castle, but I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say, whenever I enter Hyrule Castle in a Zelda game, I get chills. This was no different.
So how do you solve a problem like
Maria Wind Waker? It’s an overall interesting and entertaining installment of a classic franchise with crippling flaws that shouldn’t have happened. At all. But it doesn’t end at Wind Waker! In Japan, a DS sequel called Phantom Hourglass has been released, with controls almost exclusively relying on the stylus. Will this be the game Wind Waker wasn’t? Will the stylus controls be fun and immersive rather than gimmicky and unreliable? Will there be more intolerable sailing? Apparently the Japanese are eating it up like no other Zelda game in quite a while. Which would mean more if this wasn’t a fucking DS game. I mean, you could put out a DS game that did nothing but hurl insults at you and it’d probably sell a few hundred thousand copies in Japan. Add to that the fact I’ve never really been wowed by any of the portable Zeldas, and you have quite the variable. I just hope it can whet the appetite that Wind Waker provoked. I’m so hungry, I could eat an Octorok. |:3