The word Zelda means a great deal to a lot of people. It conjures up memories of feeding Dodongos a heaping serving of bomb pie late at night as you scurry about the screen with only a fourth of a health heart left, or opening that original NES game box and staring in awe at the cartridge’s wickedly-awesome gold metallic paint job and just knowing that something special was in store for you at the other end of your control pad. The Legend of Zelda is one of, if not the most well-known and established franchises in the history of gaming. The first game in the series was released for the Famicom and NES nearly 20 years ago. And even then, in the series’ infancy, it was apparent that The Legend of Zelda was bound for greatness.
Shigeru Miyamoto created a truly epic quest with that 8-bit phenomenon, filled with detailed and expansive areas, littered with secret passageways and caves – the man single-handedly reinvented the landscape of digital entertainment. The Legend of Zelda was the first game to utilize battery-based backup and it featured an unprecedented metallic gold paintjob that told consumers “hey, this game is different.” Miyamoto’s dedication to excellence found its way into every successive Zelda title he had a hand in, and in the process he has borne an instantly identifiable personality and forged an on-going and unforgettable tale woven of might, magic, and the unrelenting imagination of one of the greatest minds to ever grace the videogame industry.
It is with many technological and artistic awards under his belt, countless accolades, and the knowledge that he has already proven himself many times over that the King of interactive entertainment releases his newest entry into the Zelda universe. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is yet another extraordinary, haunting, touching, riveting, and ultimately awe-inspiring experience that will go down as one of the greatest videogames ever made. Recognize, fool.
From that fateful day when young Link found the key to the Spirit Realm by happening across an inconspicuous Ocarina, to his misadventures in Eastern Hyrule which resulted in the awakening of a mysterious Wind Fish, the legendary “Helper of Hyrule”, reborn many times over in ages past, has always stood for three things above all: Power, Wisdom, and Courage. These are the three cornerstones that make Link who he is and indeed creation itself. The youthful elf, while merely flesh and bones, is actually an embodiment of something much greater, he is meant to symbolize a profound bond the Three Goddesses possess with the world that they created. Each Goddess forged a contribution: Din’s was the Triforce of Power, Nayru created the Triforce of Wisdom, and Farore contributed the Triforce of Courage. When each piece of the Triforce combine, they form the ultimate sacred Triforce.
Upon the land where the Triforce stood was developed a prosperous and joyful kingdom, the Kingdom of Hyrule, and it is here that our green-garbed hero emerges time and again, invigorated with the three virtues of the Goddesses, to ward off the dark and disparaging future that Ganondorf, the king of thieves, would summon upon the world, had he only the chance.
But The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker isn’t about a boy from Hyrule at all. In fact, The Wind Waker takes place in a time when Hyrule has disappeared into the depths of time, and knowledge of its existence is survived only on the wind’s breath. The Link in this game is from a place called Outset Island; a cheerful chunk of land inhabited by comfortable folks who want nothing more than to simply live in peace. A longstanding tradition of Outset Island is to dress young boys in green when they come of age. The story of the Wind Waker begins on Link’s birthday, the very day custom dictates he don the outfit of a long forgotten hero. On this day, Link’s little sister Aryll is kidnapped by a monstrous bird and taken away to the Forsaken Fortress where the evil Ganon resides. Link sets out to rescue Aryll and thus sets off a chain of events that will ultimately lead to Link fulfilling his destiny, and all that that entails.
It shouldn’t take too long to familiarize yourself with The Wind Waker’s control system, things haven’t changed all that much from the previous N64 games, but there are a few notable differences. While Link retains the Z-targeting system that allowed him to lock-on to an enemy and strafe around it, he is now able to perform counterattacks as well. When locked on to a baddie, Link’s sword will brightly glow right before the opponent attacks. If you hit A at that exact moment, Link will perform a counterattack. There are two different counterattacks that Link is capable of, depending on the circumstances: either he’ll roll around to the back of the enemy and then perform a jumping slash or he’ll jump into the air while flipping and slash the opponent in the back as he lands. Other than that and a tweaked-for-maximum-excitement combo system, you can expect to be able to jump right into The Wind Waker.
In the previous Zelda games, Link had to get around on foot – or horse if he was lucky – but in The Wind Waker, Link gets to travel in style. Link will sail from island to island by way of a wise old boat … that can talk. The boat is known as the King of Red Lions. To push the story forward, you’ll sail to different areas that are marked on your map or otherwise clearly illustrated to you. So not knowing where to go is rarely an issue. Thing is, even though you may know exactly where you need to go, it may be a while before you actually reach your destination, but you’ll find plenty of time to pre-occupy yourself with various side-quests along the way. Using the wind to your advantage and sailing from location to location is a game in itself. Finding new opportunities to get your hands on some treasure, warding off a surprise enemy attack, just barely steering out of the way of powerful tornados, chatting it up with a talking fish, or simply coming across an island formation you’ve never seen before – the possibilities seem endless every moment.
It’s easy to be captivated with the sea in The Wind Waker. Something about it – the size and scope, the seemingly limitless potential that it harbors – something, or perhaps everything about this world that Miyamoto has created is enchanting beyond my ability to articulate with precision.
But the open sea and all its majesty make up only one half of the experience. The other half is spent doing the things that make a Zelda game so, uhh, Zelda-like. Like acquiring new items, tools, and weapons that will serve to protect Link in tense situations or allow him to reach that previously unreachable platform. The classics return in The Wind Waker. You’ll acquire a myriad of items introduced in past games such as the boomerang, the hookshot, bombs, power bracelets, the Hero’s Bow (along with four types of arrows), and a communication device that lets you converse with the Princess Zelda. New to the game are items such as the Deku Leaf, which Link can use to fan large gusts of wind or to hold over his head and glide over pitfalls. The grappling hook can be targeted at specific attach-points from which Link can swing back and forth to gain momentum and jump onto a nearby platform or it can also be used to steal loot in combat right from out of the enemy’s pocket. The titular item, the Wind Waker, is a conductor’s baton with which maestro Link can conduct different songs to manipulate the wind to varying affect. One song allows Link to change the direction of the wind while another song summons a tornado that warps him to various points in the game world.
There are also plenty of items whose purpose is a bit more specific. The Bait Bag, for example, is used for carrying Hyoi Pears that Link can hold above his head, at which point it will be eaten by a seagull thus giving Link the ability to not only take full control over the flying bird but see through its eyes as well. This is useful to do when you find yourself exploring islands for the first time since a bird can get the lay of the land much quicker than the two-legged Link. The Bait Bag also carries All-Purpose Bait, which can be used to beguile rodents into selling you items (no, seriously) or dropped on certain areas of the vast sea in order to get the attention of a jumping fish who will fill in a portion of your overworld map. The overworld map is broken up into small squares and each square is a piece of the map that can be uncovered by tracking down the jumping fish in that area. Uncovering pieces of the overworld map is important for two reasons. First, it permanently marks the name and location of the island(s) in that particular area for future reference. Secondly, you are shown a visual outline of the islands in that area which you can then match up with treasures maps, uncovering super secret booty. If you have a treasure map that matches the shape of one of the islands you’ve uncovered then you can go treasure hunting, X marks the spot. So as you can see, mapping the places you visit is both practical and profitable.
These items, both new and old, prove to be most useful in the game’s many dungeons. Each dungeon is completely unique in terms of gameplay style, look, and design -- running the gamut of plant, wind, fire, and ice motifs. The puzzles you’ll face in these dungeons often call for outside-the-box thinking to solve. A couple dungeons even take a cue from Ico, placing you in control of not only Link but a sidekick whose independent usefulness is severely limited. But since you can simply conduct the Command Melody at any time, taking direct control over characters, the difficulty level stays well within tolerable limits.
In terms of visuals, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker features one of the most artistically creative and architecturally impressive virtual worlds ever to grace a videogame. Sure, the proceedings are a bit on the cutesy side of the tracks, but the environments are vast and the innumerable graphical nuances that are generously peppered throughout the experience is a genuine sight of digital magnificence. Every frame of the game is like a meticulously hand painted work of art. The attention to detail is incredible; water will drip off of link as he emerges from a pool of water, Link’s facial expressions are constantly changing and his eyes constantly flit about looking at the various points of interest in his surroundings. Link’s hat will blow in the breeze as he sails, his eyes fixed on the sea ahead as large waves of water are thrown to either side of his talking boat. As innocent as young Link may look, you’ll be shaking in your boots the first time you encounter some of the game’s more intimidating bosses. You just never get tired of watching the splendor and fluidity of every second. The soundtrack boasts some of the most memorable orchestrations to be heard in the series and old-schoolers need not worry, there are also a few tracks that mix up the original theme song pretty creatively. The aural presentation is perfect all around.
The Wind Waker is a pretty easy game all in all. It is rare for any damage that Link sustains to take away more than a single heart. In fact, Link can fall 80 feet onto hard ground and only a quarter of a heart will be taken away. Nevertheless, it should take well over 20 solid hours to beat the game and twice that long to discover all that the game has to offer hidden away in its countless nooks and crannies. This is Shigeru Miyamoto’s greatest Zelda-themed creation yet and frankly, you’d be a fool to let this one slip by.