The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker review
Zelda Sails In
Makes good use of the GBA linkup
Sailing is boring and long
Too easy in general
Mention the name 'Nintendo' and you'll almost certainly think of Mario first. Yet, just behind the multi-talented plumber stands another gaming icon, who has been just as instrumental to Nintendo's success. Link does for the adventure genre what Mario does for the platform genre, and without even asking for credit in the series name itself. Wind Waker marks the series first entry on the Gamecube, and it's not what people were expecting.
OK, let's get the deal breaker out of the way. At the Spaceworld event in 2000 Nintendo put on a little demonstration of what the Gamecube could do. This little demo featured a familiar elf boy, as well as a certain nemesis. It was a dramatic sword fight between an adult Link and Ganondorf, and while we can look back now and say it's a little dated, there's no denying that this demo was visually awesome back then. Fantasises of what the Legend of Zelda series could accomplish in creating an immersive world ran wild. Ocarina of Time? Pfft. Who cared about that when there was the next Zelda game in the works?
Fast forward a bit and Wind Waker gets officially announced. Excitement spikes - until the screens are shown. Huh? Did someone record something off Cartoon Network by accident? No, this was actual game screens, and the sheer disappointment could be felt everywhere. It looked like a cartoon.
To the dismay of some, this style didn't vanish anywhere. Wind Waker's visuals are strictly cel-shaded, to give them an appearance more fitting to that of an anime (or cartoon, if you want). Realistic isn't on the agenda, but despite the initial disappointment it is actually a pleasing, if slightly flawed, look.
Colourful is definitely a term to describe things. Wind Waker goes all out to replicate a cheery image, with all colours used very vibrant. The blues of the ocean or the greens of the grass beam out of the monitor. It's a nice image to look at, even extending so far as to the dungeons having such an appearance. That said, use of lighting and shading has been expertly handled, to the point that the colourful dungeons still come across as foreboding and dreary. A difficult combination done well.
Character models tend to be a good as well. Colouring and shading extends to the characters too. In addition they have such amazing expressions that come across well thanks to the style used, and the way they animate on the screen is also superb. Link's literal jump in the air when surprised or exaggerated running are perfect examples. Even the generic enemies will display things like shock, giving the game such a wonderful cast.
Unfortunately, these models aren't perfectly. Sometimes the defining lines on characters aren't the best, and some characters seem to be a little too simplistic in design for their own good. These issues are minor though.
There's also a high level of animation involved here. The water ripples as you would expect when the boat cuts a path through. Visible wind swirls around. Link's own clothes can be blown about as well, making for a less static main character. It's refreshing to see clothes that appear to actually be made of cloth and react to the environment.
No doubt the change from the expected realism is disappointing, but the game still has an amazing charm to it.
The Legend of Zelda series has always been well known for grand music that conveys the epic nature of Link's quests well, and Wind Waker is no different in that respect. It's obvious that a lot of work has gone into the music accompaniment that plays along as you explore the Great Sea and its islands.
The main track you'll be hearing most often is a clever remix of the classic Legend of Zelda tune that started in the original NES game. The quality is obviously much better and the changes do lend a suitable sea feeling to proceedings. Yet, enough of the original melody remains to make it instantly recognizable and still retain what made the tune great in the first place.
There's a variety of other tracks on offer here, and all of them have that Zelda feel without feeling like recycled music. Windfall Island has a busy nature, so the music matches this with a higher tempo and pitch. The Earth Temple is eerie, so the music is more subdued to highlight this.
There's a wide collection of sound effects to go along with the music selection as well, and all of them work hard to create a world that sounds as it should. Of particular note is the sound of the swirling winds that blow across the lands and seas. Given the focus on the element it is important to get it right, and that is exactly what Nintendo have managed. It's slightly exaggerated while still maintaining a sense of realism.
This statement could very well apply to a lot of sound effects. You can hear Link's sword slice through the air as he battles his enemies, or explosions rock the surroundings as bombs explode. There's a distinct sense of 'hear me' without being excessive, and it's this balance that makes it work so well.
True voice acting doesn't really exist in the game. Conversations occur through the old textbox system with everything. That said, the characters aren't totally mute, and what vocal tracks are used add a little personality to those that receive them, even if the words are unintelligible. Link is especially vocal, despite not having any actual words in conversations. Just as his animations help convey his emotion, so does his voice. Every sword swipe is joined by a battle cry, really giving a sense of a young boy against the odds. Cries of pain and shocked gasps help mould our otherwise silent protagonist into a find hero that the player does care about.
No Legend of Zelda game would be complete without an epic tale to give rise to such an adventure, and Wind Waker aims to deliver on that as well.
The game begins with a telling of an old legend. Long ago there existed a land called Hyrule, where the people lived happily. A Golden Power lay hidden in this land, which gave rise to the events that followed.
A monster came to Hyrule and took the golden power for itself. Using this power the creature plunged Hyrule into an age of darkness. Yet, when all hope had seemed lost, a hero appeared from nowhere wielding the sword of evil's bane. The hero defeated the monster and sealed it away.
Shortly thereafter, the hero left on another journey and peace reigned again - for a time. This monster eventually broke its seal and resumed its terror reign over Hyrule. However, this time a hero did not appear. The people appealed to the gods, who took the desperate act of flooding Hyrule. Some of the people fled to the mountaintops, which became the islands of the Great Sea.
Since then it has been a custom of a certain island for boys to wear the same green clothes as the hero when they came of age.
This sets a nice bit of background for the events of the game, but there's more to it than that. While filling in details it also has meaning for long term fans of the series. The first half of this legend is a retelling of the events from Ocarina of Time, the first 3D Zelda game. It's quite a cool thing to recognize part of what is being said.
The story is only part done by that point though. After a few brief actions Link's younger sister Aryll (yes, Link has a sibling here) is kidnapped by a giant bird, who mistook her for a young pirate captain who had previously escaped its grasp. The pirates (reluctantly) agree to help Link reach the bird's lair, but Link's adventure is only beginning.
It's quite a compelling and charming story. It hasn't really got any major plot twists or anything like that, but you still want to push forward to see a resolution to things. All credit to Nintendo for putting quite a fresh spin on the whole Triforce saga, as well as offering much deeper character development that such characters had lacked in previous titles.
Fans of the series will already know the basics of what is here, but for those that are new then here's the details. Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is an adventure game that combines exploration, puzzle-solving and exploration into a single package.
Controlling Link couldn't be much simpler. Push the analogue stick and Link moves in that direction. The amount the stick is tilted affects how quickly Link moves. That said, there's never really much need to actually walk so players can run around all they want. Both A and R act as action buttons. A receives the most use, as actions such as talk, jump and open are commonly accessed through the A button. The R button handles the occasional action like grabbing, but most often is used to raise the shield in defence. Action commands are situational, but allows the setup to offer a myriad of options while maintaining simplicity. It works extremely well, with actions making themselves usable only when needed.
The camera tends to be a hindrance to many 3D games, often having problems with where it points or how it is controlled. Imagine the joy of a camera that actually behaves itself. That is the camera in the Wind Waker game for you. The standard camera simply follows Link at ground level. A tap of the L button when nothing that can be targeted flicks it around to Link's back. The system comes from Ocarina of Time and it still works.
WW expands upon this system through the use of the C-Stick. Unlike previous games, a tap of the C-Stick launches the camera into free mode, where the camera can be zoomed and rotated as needed. The awesome thing about this is that the camera actually does what you want it to. There's never an instance of the camera swinging around to a different angle because the system thinks it knows better than you do. You put it at the desired zoom and angle and it maintains them. The only automatic movement is the camera continuing to follow Link. There was never a single moment where I thought I couldn't work the camera. A note to all developers - this is how a camera system is done.
Wind Waker contains an extensive item system as well, even though it's actually trimmed down from the games from the previous generation. Select Items are usable items that are assigned to either X, Y or Z. Once assigned you can use the item by pressing the relevant button. Three item slots makes for a lot of flexibility and it works really well most of the time. There are occasions in the later part of the game that involve a bit of item swapping, but it is kept to a minimum and so doesn't detract greatly.
These items play a very important role in the game, as it is through their use that allows Link to progress further into his quest. Some items will be familiar to long time fans, like the explosive bombs used to blow objects apart and the hookshot used to reach new areas. You also have various new items like the grappling hook (it's like a trainee hookshot used to swing across gaps). Even some returning items have received changes, like the boomerang that can lock onto five targets to hit them all in one throw.
This item system is further extended by the bags Link can grab. Three are three bags in all: one bag holds ornamental objects that can be displayed in stands (usually around Windfall Island), the second holds spoils from defeated enemies and the third holds onto your bait. These bags essentially act as their own subscreens, allowing for a bigger item selection than what is first apparent without cluttering the item screen.
So, what are the items in these bags used for? The ornamental objects are simply part of a sidequest; a trading sequence that can result in some extra items. They can also be used to decorate Windfall Island, although the return for doing so isn't big. Enemy spoils have all sorts of uses. Chu Jelly can be exchanged for potions, for example. Some of them (like skull necklaces and knight crests) are needed for sidequests. All of them can also be sold for money.
Last is the bait. All purpose bait is the most common one used. Feed it to the strange manfish that seems to be at every island and that part of your chart will be filled in. The Hyoi Pear is a little more strange. It can be used to takes control of a passing seagull (the animation showing Link sit the pear on his head is quite amusing). The seagull can fly around and can be used to hit switches Link wouldn't otherwise be able to reach. It's novel, but unfortunately it's also underused.
One select item to mention specifically is the Wind Waker. Yes, the subtitle of the game is also an item. Past Zelda games have tended to give the hero a musical instrument to play. This time, instead of playing an instrument Link gets to conduct melodies. When Link pulls out the Wind Waker the action around him freezes and a bar appears on screen, with a sliding marker moving back and forth. A tone is made based on how Link is holding the baton when the marker sliders past the centre point. The C-Stick can be used to alter the number of tones. Players can even alter the pitch with the analogue stick, although this part isn't actually needed. It's interesting to note Link actually moves his free hand when altering the pitch, showing a high level of attention has been paid to this part. It's a curious departure from the ocarina of the past two games, but ultimately doesn't actually feel better than the old system.
Link also picks up other items that instead go to his Quest Status subscreen. Equipment items are here, although they cannot be changed like in previous games. To keep things simple Link's equipment is simply replaced when he gains new, stronger items.
Other Quest Items aren't actually used, but simply appear in this screen to record that Link has them. These items are usually what drive the story forward and are necessary to complete the game. The melodies Link has learned are also recorded here for easy reference.
Heart pieces have been a staple part of the series since A Link to the Past, and they return here as well. Link starts his quest with a mere 3 hearts to his health gauge. Defeating bosses is rewarded with heart containers, which adds 1 heart to the health gauge. Players wishing to do so can hunt down heart pieces to further extend their health gauge. Four heart pieces equals one new heart, and this system encourages players to explore and try out the various sidequests the game has to offer.
Sea charts are new to Wind Waker, and offers a second type of item to be collecting away from the main quest. Most of these charts are treasure charts that reveal the location of sunken treasure that Link can then haul up to claim. Once a chart has been gained and opened the treasure will be marked by a glowing ring on the game screen to make it easier to pinpoint the location. The rewards tend to be either rupees (the game's currency) or heart pieces.
Exploring is always a vital thing to do in adventure games, and in Wind Waker this comes in two flavours.
First is the land exploration. This is the first type you'll encounter, but it's also the less common one. The game throws a number of dungeons to plough your way through for a start. These dungeon areas offer a variety of puzzles to tackle as well as hordes of enemies and even the odd secret area to find. The puzzles themselves are usually old news to long term fans but those new to the series may find their minds challenged by them. They never go beyond the realm of seemingly possible though, which is a bonus.
Unfortunately, there exists little land exploration outside of dungeons. There is only a handful of town areas to visit, as well as a few places of worth like the cabin. Many islands simply have very little to offer you, and chances are once you've been there one or twice you'll have no real reason to return. 49 areas on the Sea Chart may seem massive, but when so many areas don't actually have all that much it becomes disappointing.
That brings us nicely onto water exploration, which is what really drags the game down. Since much of the field is covered in an expanse of water Link must use a sailboat to travel between islands. Doesn't sound all that bad, but experiencing it is another matter, and the problems soon become apparent.
First of all, it takes way too long to get anywhere. There is simply too much water between islands. This alone wouldn't be a problem, except the Great Sea itself is just incredibly boring. You have the occasional enemy or submarine pass by, but most of the time is spent simply staring at the horizon. Ironically, the presence of the occasional shark prevents the player from allowing the boat to sail itself to the next destination, which just makes things worse.
Yet the sailing hits another snag - wind direction. Since you're in a sail boat then your speed relies on the wind direction (and of course, sailing into the wind won't get you anywhere). It's logical to necessitate changing the wind direction for this purpose, but it also makes it very annoying when you're sailing to different locations. The main game actual require this, so it's not even as if it's some sidequest consequence you can optional avoid.
Despite the limitations put on exploring the game still manages to cram in a whole lot of sidequests and minigames. One minigame involves running off a pier and gliding as far as you can, making sure to hit the wind updrafts to stay high in the air. Another involves firing a cannon off to hit floating barrels. Most of these are pretty fun to do and do extend the lifespan immensely.
That said, some of these extras just flop. The battleships-style game is too reliant on luck to get anywhere, and there's a watering sidequest that calls for too much sailing about and running back and forth.
Combat plays an important role in the game, and thankfully Wind Waker has a very solid system for this.
Swordplay is Link's primary means of fighting enemies, and this is kept to a simple scheme while still offering a variety of options. Wind Waker offers a lock-on system through the use of the L button (commonly referred to as L-targeting). While locked on Link will continue to face the target, allowing him to circle enemies and unleash aimed attacks. The A button also changes during this. A roll attack or jumping attack (depending on whether Link is holding his sword or not) is executed when Link isn't moving or moves towards the target. The roll attack is pretty useless but the jump attack is a hard to land but more damaging blow. Pressing A while moving to the side or backwards executes evasive jumping to avoid blows. However, the shield tends to be far more effective.
B causes Link to swing his sword, with the style of swing determined by how the analogue stick is used. Repeated taps of the button causes a four hit combo attack, resulting in a stronger blow that knocks enemies away. Some enemies leave themselves open to a parry attack when they go to attack, which results in the A button flashing. A quick press causes Link to avoid the blow and deliver his own attack. Parry attacks add something new to fighting, but at the same time the game is simply far too generous. After the first couple of tries you'll land parry blows very easily, making what should be a difficult counter system too easy to exploit.
Unfortunately, intelligence of the enemies isn't very high, and the game rarely throws numbers of them at you. As a result it feels a little too easy to plough right through them.
The game also has its fair share of bosses to challenge you with. The bosses themselves are certainly impressive and will give more of a challenge than the generics will. Defeating a boss comes down to finding their weak spot, which is usually done with the item you gained within that dungeon. That said, boss battles really aren't as epic as you would expect. They lack the defences and damage capability one would normally associate with bosses.
Wind Waker is also one of the few Gamecube games that tries to use the Gameboy Advance linkup system. Once players have stumbled across Tingle (for the record: one of the freakiest video game characters ever) they receive the Tingle Tuner. Using this item causes a linked GBA to go active. A second player (or a single player doing a juggling act) can then direct Tingle. Tingle doesn't actually appear on the TV screen, but a flashing icon indicates where he is. Tingle can use items at the cost of Link's rupees, such as dropping bombs or regenerative Ting (potions that restore HP and/or MP).
This system also has a sidequest that can only be done with this. In five of the game's dungeons there are Tingle Statues hidden. The chests containing them only react to a Tingle bomb (a normal bomb won't work).
This is the first time I've seen this system actually used effectively. Chances are some gamers won't have the setup for this, but if you do I encourage you to try it out.
On its own merits Wind Waker has a pretty good lifespan. The main quest might end before you'd like it to, but the sheer amount of minigames and sidequests will no doubt help you to keep going for a long time. Fans of the series may no doubt feel the game is too short though. Ocarina of Time felt bigger and it came from a previous generation of consoles.
Wind Waker no doubt manages to capture the magic that comes from the Legend of Zelda series, but a combination of a difficult that is too easy and a poorly executed sailing system drag the game down a bit. Despite these flaws this is still an excellent adventure game that offers a lot to those willing to invest the time and effort.
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