I was gonna review both of the Oracle games and Minish Cap, but I decided to save those for another day. Mostly because I don’t really care for any of those games and going through them was starting to get a bit tedious.
Of all the Zelda games, Wind Waker is one of the most interesting to me. Mainly because people have always found the dumbest reasons for disliking it. “The original E3 teaser was photo-realistic looking and the actual game is this goofy cartoon, I am so mad!” Like, what? The graphics are timeless, even on the original GameCube version! All the Wii U version did was make it smoother and brighter!
No, the cartoonish graphics aren’t the issue. This game has plenty of those, don’t get me wrong. Still, despite those, I’d say that Wind Waker is one of the best Zelda games of the lot. Not the best, but that’s not saying much when basically every game in your series is a timeless classic.
It’s Link’s birthday! And what a happy day it is! He got some new clothes from Grandma, a pretty pirate was dropped into the nearby forest by a giant bird, and his little sister was kidnapped by said bird! Oh… maybe not such a happy birthday. Now Link must go on a grand adventure across the great sea, along with his new companion, the King of Red Lions (AKA one of the coolest boats ever), in order to rescue her!
It’s a Zelda story. It isn’t especially complicated. ‘Go on an adventure, defeat Ganondorf, watch the credits.’ The narrative is fairly predictable, even if it does put some fun twists on the Zelda formula. Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. The story is mostly just there to give you a reason to play the game.
Not that they really need one. It’s a Zelda game; people were always gonna play it.
To be fair, though, this game has some of the best narrative scenes in any Zelda game. For example: they actually gave Ganondorf some depth in his backstory! And some of the new characters in this game are incredibly fun and charming! I’d give my right arm for Melody in a heartbeat! This version of Tingle is the most creepy and despicable in the series to date (money-grubbing asshole and his Tingle Charts…), and this game took Beedle from Minish Cap and made him a series main-stay! Plus, the King of Red Lions is easily one of the best companions in the series, mainly because he isn’t frustratingly obnoxious.
Still, charming as the narrative and characters are, it really isn’t anything particularly special. It’s a Zelda plot, and by that standard it’s above-average. Even still, it isn’t the main focus of the game.
Now, let’s talk graphics. As alluded to earlier, this game has a very bright, cartoonish cell-shaded style. Everything is extremely colorful and every single character simply oozes personality. The whole game looks like something you might see in some mid-2000s children’s cartoon and I love it! Whether you’re playing the original GameCube version or the updated Wii U version, this game simply looks astounding!
That said, it isn’t perfect. I played through the Wii U version for this review while spending some brief time with the original for comparison purposes. Between the two, I noticed some huge frame dips in the Wii U version. The Dragon Roost Island boss fight legit started chugging so hard I thought the game had crashed! Thankfully, most of the experience is a smooth one. But when those frames dip, they dip hard!
You know what else goes hard, but in a good way? The music! Saying that Zelda games have good music is as obvious a statement as complaining about the cold in the winter or the heat in the summer. But even by the series high standard, Wind Waker is something else! I particularly love the theme for Dragon Roost Island; that banger slaps so hard that it puts the rest of the soundtrack to shame!
Wind Waker may not be the best Zelda game. But I’d make a strong argument for it being the prettiest. At the very least, it sounds the best.
Question is: does it play the best?
At its core, Wind Waker follows the Ocarina of Time gameplay format. The Z-targeting system is back once again, so combat feels as familiar as ever. Exploration and puzzle-solving is all as simple as ever; find the item you need to do the thing, change something in the environment, rinse and repeat until you get the thing at the end. You know, all that classic Zelda stuff.
Luckily, this game does add a few things that spice things up. For one: combat has a bit more depth than before. Link now has a small selection of extra moves to perform in battle with his sword, making the young boy feel like a true swordsman. On top of that, the items you get in this game are much better tailored for battle, giving you a reason to use them beyond just ‘it’s what makes that enemy vulnerable’. You can even pick up enemy weapons!
In terms of items, this game is… okay. It’s got some really fun stuff, like the Deku Leaf and the Skull Hammer. But for the most part, it’s the usual Zelda fare. The boomerang, the hookshot, the bow and arrow, the iron boots, so on and so forth. Not all that exciting.
I do love the Wind Waker, though. Definitely one of the more fun Zelda instruments.
Exploration is a mixed bag. It is fun to find islands and solve the puzzles some of them hold. But getting around can get a bit boring sometimes. Even with the fast sail they added in the HD version, it feels like it can take forever to get where you need to go! Sure, you can go fishing or shoot a cannon, but sometimes I just want to get to the next dungeon!
Speaking of those: I’m really not a fan of the dungeons in this game. There aren’t that many, but they make up for their low quantity by being much bigger than your average Zelda dungeon. Playing through them the first time is fun enough, and the boss fights at the end are decent. But on subsequent playthroughs, they are unbearably boring.
On the subject of boring, let’s talk about the Triforce Hunt. Much like the original game, you need to seek out the broken shards of the Triforce of Courage in order to face Ganon. Unfortunately, this fetch quest can be pretty dull and uninteresting. Luckily, you can grab a few of them before you need them, so you can alleviate some of the time later in the game. And they made it a bit more bearable in the HD version. Still, it isn’t ideal to have all momentum halted so that you can go on a less-than-stellar treasure hunt.
The side quests are pretty bland, too. None of them are bad; manipulating merchants for the merchant item questline can be pretty convoluted and repetitive, but it’s still fairly enjoyable. And you’ve got your typical Zelda side stuff, like finding little kids for a lady or gathering specific little treasures for one character. Not bad, but incredibly forgettable. Especially after playing Majora’s Mask, which had some truly stellar side quests.
As a whole, I really like Wind Waker! It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it’s charming as all hell! It looks and sounds great and it added a lot of stuff to the gameplay that would become staples in Zelda going forward!
Still, it isn’t really a game that holds up to multiple playthroughs. I can play it once, then not touch it for a few years. And it certainly isn’t a Zelda game that I’d play to completion, unlike games like Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past.
Despite its issues, however, Wind Waker is still a classic in every sense. It’s a game well-worth playing even today, and will hold the test of time for years to come. This is definitely one of the better Zelda games.
And I still prefer it over the next one. But we’ll get to that in due time.