Among all of the video games ever created, a select few titles have managed to attain such popularity that they are instantly recognizable to almost anyone, even those who have never held a controller. One of these games is The Legend of Zelda. Ever since the series was first established in 1984 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it has been incredibly successful, with each game in the series achieving an amazing level of quality. With the guidance of game design legend, Shigeru Miyamoto, the series has become what many consider to be the pinnacle of action-RPG gaming. Needless to say, the most recent title in the series had much to live up to. Thankfully, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker succeeds on all counts, ranking among the finest video games ever created.
The Wind Waker opens on Outset Island with Link celebrating his 10th birthday. His grandmother gives him a ceremonial green tunic and his sister, Aryll, presents him with her telescope as a present. While toying with it, Link sees a pirate ship on the cove attacking a gigantic bird holding the limp body of a young girl. The massive bird is hit and the maiden goes crashing into the forest on the island. Link hurries to rescue her only to have his own sister abducted by the same creature. From there, he teams up with a group of pirates in hopes of finding her and sets off into his first dungeon. This initial stage serves as the game's tutorial, allowing players to become familiar with the controls without throwing too much at them all at once.
Soon afterwards, Link meets up with his boat and his baton, and that's where the game really takes off. I won't go into anymore detail, as there are actually a few surprising twists throughout the story. The Wind Waker actually reveals quite a bit about the background story of the series. Without a doubt, the tale in this installment dwarfs any of the previous games. However, it still doesn't quite reach the level of complexity that most traditional RPGs manage to attain. Since the game's focus is almost entirely on the gameplay, there's little plot development along the lines of Xenosaga, or even a recent Final Fantasy game.
Much has been said of The Wind Waker's unique visual style. Ever since it was first shown in video form at E3 2002, it has been a hotly debated topic among gamers everywhere. Some found the cel-shading to be a refreshing change from the norm, while others were incredibly upset by the decision to adopt a more cartoonish style. All of the controversy was unwarranted, however, as the graphics in this game are absolutely brilliant. It simply must be seen in motion to be truly appreciated. Everything looks as though it has been ripped straight out of a high-quality cartoon. The animation is smooth and natural, from the individual blades of grass to the extremely emotive facial expressions. The environments are simply stunning, and the viewing distance is astonishing. While standing in an open area or sailing across the seemingly endless seas, even the most distant objects can be viewed with Link's telescope. The game is so beautiful, in fact, that many people seem to be content with simply watching another person play.
The Wind Waker also manages to improve upon previous games in the series by providing a much stronger narrative to guide the player along his or her quest. It also marks the first direct sequel in the series' history. Although Ocarina of Time was "continued" with Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker actually expands upon Ocarina of Time's story and forms a sense of cohesion between the rest of the games in the series by providing information as to why the games seemingly had no direct continuity between them.
The Wind Waker plays in a way that is very similar to the other two 3D games in the series, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Like those two games, combat is executed in a way that is simple and nearly flawless. Once again, players are able to lock onto enemies using a trigger button. From there, it's just a matter of performing various sword maneuvers and acrobatic moves. For The Wind Waker, Miyamoto added a new feature to the mix: the parry. During combat, players will occasionally notice that the icon representing the A button will change. This indicates that a parry move is possible. Timing is important to pull of these moves, as there will usually be only a split-second to act. If successful, the parry move can stun the enemy, remove their defenses, or just allow the player to dodge an attack. Later in the game it becomes necessary to make extensive use of this technique. In fact, certain enemies can only be defeated through the use of successful parries. This seemingly minor addition adds a layer of depth that was missing from the combat in previous games in the series.
The other main gameplay difference between The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask is the way in which the overworld is explored. Rather than presenting the player with a massive landmass to explore, the game's world is a massive ocean, punctuated with islands of all shapes and sizes. Obviously, some form of transportation is necessary if one wishes to traverse such vast amounts of water. That's where the sailboat comes in. Early on in the game, a talking sailboat presents itself to Link. After a short while, he gives Link the "Wind Waker," a magical conductor's baton. This is where the game begins to take off. The Wind Waker functions as the ocarina did in Ocarina of Time/Majora's Mask. Instead of controlling time, however, you'll be using it to alter the wind's direction, allowing you to easily navigate the seas. It also factors in as another element used to solve puzzles throughout the game's dungeons.
The Wind Waker continues its wave of success in the sound category. While voice acting is pretty much restricted to Link's various grunts and yelps, the excellent soundtrack and sound effects more than make up for it. The music ranges from good to brilliant, though many of the tracks aren't particularly memorable. The highest points of the soundtrack are the remixes of classic Zelda tunes, which are chock full of nostalgic value for anyone who has played the previous games. The sound effects are equally wonderful, from the clang of Link's sword striking an armored creature to the sound of the waves as you sail across the sea. Overall, the game is almost as lovely to the ear as it is to the eye.
When Ocarina of Time was released in 1998, it set a standard for controls in 3D games. Its revolutionary "Z-Targeting" system became a necessity for any 3D action adventure game that wanted to succeed. The Wind Waker takes this control system and improves upon it even further. The game's camera can now be freely moved about on a whim by simply by moving the c-stick. This seems like a minor addition, but is actually quite useful. Rather than entering the first-person view every few seconds, as in Ocarina of Time, you can simply rotate the camera bit to see what you need to. Thankfully, the rest of the controls are left largely unchanged from Ocarina of Time. Controlling Link is both intuitive and responsive without any clunky moments or strange button combinations. Like many of Miyamoto's other games, someone who was completely unfamiliar with video games could easily play The Wind Waker. This doesn't mean the game is overly simple, just that the gameplay easily becomes second nature
Overall, The Wind Waker is one of the finest video games ever created, and some players may even find that this Zelda surpasses what was done with Ocarina of Time. It goes without saying that anyone could enjoy Link's latest adventure, regardless of whether or not they even care about video games. The Wind Waker is beautiful, accessible, and most of all, just plain fun. What more could anyone ask for?
© 2002, 2003 Nintendo. TM and the Nintendo GameCube logo are trademarks of Nintendo. © 2003 Nintendo.