The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker

Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the elite games in the Gamecube arsenal arrives in the archive. Zelda has an effect on gamers that few other series’ can match. Even now we’re waiting for the next Zelda experience.

Writer: AC

Published: March 2003

windwaker

What is more astonishing than the sheer scale and scope of Miyamoto’s adventures in and around Hyrule is the distance they’ve travelled in the last 16 years. From innocent yet bold beginnings on the NES in 1987 through to the 64-bit crowning opus that was Ocarina of Time in 1998, gamers have begun to expect, and receive, gaming legends. A few blips in the schedule (The Adventure of Link, and those CDI ‘interpretations’) aside, the Zelda games represent the very apex of game mechanics and level design, and few can argue with that save ignorant zealots.

Presented with a vast, freely explorable Overworld and a series of unfolding Dungeons, the games make no apologies for following a set of strongly defined guidelines, or standards; progression on the Overworld is limited in key areas until items and abilities are got from the associated Dungeons, and thus the storyline finds its pacing and structure. The Wind Waker keeps to this tradition intently, yet offers a wildly different, initially jarring change to the normally lush green fields of Hyrule: the Great Sea. It’s difficult to explain why without giving away spoilers, something Gamestyle tries intently to avoid when reviewing such games, but it’s fair to say that any reader interested in the game has certainly seen screenshots and previews, and as such will be well aware that the majority of the travelling on this particular Overworld is done in a small boat, sailing from island to island. It’s this initial change to how the game works, much like Mario’s recent acquisition of FLUDD in ‘Sunshine’, that seemed to find gamers first source of angst. Further gameplay reveals that a good amount of time is spent travelling to and from certain islands, indeed, but ultimately this is much like the horse infused roaming in Ocarina of Time, and that game aside Link has often been forced to walk the required distance to his destinations.

Naturally, the great expanse of water means that a good deal of time will be spend staring at blue waves, but cynicism aside this is not a deliberate attempt to extend the duration of the game; rather a way of creating a feeling of size and depth. In contrast, return to Ocarina of Time (supplied free with Wind Waker, gratefully) and notice how small the Overworld is now compared to your initial awe-struck introduction to Hyrule Field some 5 years ago: if nothing else, Wind Waker offers a lot of ground to cover. Not that this is an entirely positive experience, mind, and until you obtain the ability to warp instantly to key areas of the Overworld far too much time is spent on the back of your boat. However, the disciplined amongst you will take this time to map out the islands you’ve visited, a task made much easier by the release of the somewhat dumbed-down American version (maps fill themselves in automatically, certain treasures are now much easier to find, and so on) – it’s now immediately clear that the first initial bouts of sailing are designed almost entirely to force you somewhat into partaking in a spot of cartography: certainly you’ll be rewarded later in the game for your efforts earlier on.

Again, it’s easy to explain why you’re doing all this sailing but then the joy of a Zelda game (and much of Nintendo’s games in general) is finding out the details for yourselves, and so Gamestyle won’t be spoiling the story here. It’s fairly obvious, though, that this sailing is interjected, several times, by the need to venture into the Dungeons of the game. With less in number than most Zelda games – Majora’s Mask aside – it’s down to how well they are integrated with the story and how fun they are to play that’s key. Thankfully, they shine brighter than ever: each and every dungeon is a masterpiece of level design, surpassing even those from Ocarina of Time for sheer brilliance and ingenuity, but Gamestyle will give nothing away here regarding themes or bosses, safe to say that everything just fits in beautifully. The logical and structured progression of the Zelda series is in full effect here – Link will start out with nothing but his pyjamas, but will gradually collect and use the various weapons and tools that he has done throughout the other games. New items include (naturally) a sail for the boat and alternate uses for the grappling hook and bombs, but you’ll have to discover what those are when you play the game.

The last few Zelda games (including Capcom’s Gameboy Colour titles) have all utilised some method of controlling nature, be it through time travel, or changing seasons and so on. In Wind Waker, Link obtains the eponymous Baton of Wind, and conducting said item offers similar scope to the Ocarina of Time, but with naturally more earthy results. Graphically it’s a step away from the Nintendo 64 Zelda games, this time opting for somewhere between cel-shading and old-school cell animation. Suffice to say that the new look has garnered a great deal of attention, not always positive, but when you finally get to play the game you can see that Nintendo have made a brave but inspired decision: the animation is offered room to breathe and looks tremendous, and although still screenshots may make the characters and landscapes look simple and ill-defined this couldn’t be further from the truth – aesthetically the game offers the most suitable graphics possible and the consistent quality and depth throughout the entire game is incredible.

We’d mention the flickering lights, the infinite view distance or the amazing polygon count on certain islands, but then we’d have to tell you spoilers, too. Aurally it’s a similar matter: whilst few of the characters actually ‘speak’, most have a few token soundbites, half of these suit the game’s underlying humour perfectly. Link’s trademark shouts and screams are present and correct, and most of the music is recycled and remixed from earlier games, which rather than sounding old and reused actually bring a sense of familiarity to the game – fans of the series will recognise when there’s danger about, or when daylight is about to break just by the music played, and new gamers will no doubt love the score too. Obviously, with this being a Zelda game fans can expect much of the same with enough new twists (and a fresh story) to make them happy enough to splash out the cash; certainly the generous inclusion of Ocarina of Time (running high resolution on the Gamecube, naturally) and its Master Quest, a purchase of Wind Waker offers tremendous value for money. Whilst Link’s latest adventure certainly isn’t the longest, and many of the side quests don’t actually require completion, it’s still a brilliant game.

It’s perfectly formed and structured (especially if you discipline yourself to map out the Overworld as you go rather than leaving it until the very end) and fans of the games will adore the familiar mechanics. It’s not for everyone, sadly, but for anyone with the faintest love of adventure and who possess that ‘saving the world’ gene that most of us have, Wind Waker is unmissable.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

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