Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker - Review

Celda: Linked to the Past
By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 8
   Originality 6
   Story 2
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Completion Time 10-30hrs  

Floating? Fun. Dungeon? Not.
Floating? Fun. Dungeon? Not.

   Nostalgia is a pretty powerful emotion and potent advertising tool when used correctly. Nostalgia was the basic concept behind Final Fantasy 9, the selling-power of Chrono Cross, the key hook to Kingdom Hearts, and gave a definite edge to the Lunars. All of these games were wildly successful - sometimes regardless of their actual merit - so when the inevitable news broke of the next iteration of the Zelda series, I knew it would push millions of copies even if was just Ocarina of Time with new dungeons. Oh, but the graphics are going to be cel-shaded? Most of the world is covered by water? The story is going to shore up the otherwise convoluted Zelda timeline? Such speculation intrigued me, as it promised that perhaps Miyamoto would come up with yet another great example of how a nostalgia-inclined game was supposed to be designed: with more emphasis on fun and innovation rather than nostalgia for its own sake... Well, two out of three ain't bad.

   Battling and exploring in Wind Waker remains the same as it was in Ocarina, with the surface changes of a more refined camera and additional combat moves. These extra moves range between easily-executed seven-hit combos to whirlwind cross-slashes, which all admittedly seem out of place for a twelve-year old Link. Also notable among the slight combat improvements are the addition of counterattacks. Pressing the 'A' button as directed - while Z-targeting a foe - will result in Link not only dodging the blow, but also tumbling behind them to deliver a powerful slice, or simply leaping over their head while skewering their face. Beyond the flashiness of the maneuver, counterattacking is sometimes the only way of defeating some of the more armor-clad foes, and those other annoying enemies which actually take the initiative to parry your blows.

   But what of the story? The adventure? No-one could describe my elation when the first full third of the game was spent without even a hint that there was a Zelda to have a Legend about. And the sailing! Oh, the sailing! Watching rain clouds abate as a sunrise illuminated the cerulean, cel-shaded Hyrulian waters for the first time ranks among one of the most satisfying experiences with the Zelda series I have ever had. Tragically, it was not quite as special the fourteenth time I seen it, putting the controller down to eat a sandwich whilst "sailing" for half and hour once again to visit a non-descript dungeon on the other side of the world. Indeed, if there was a singular thing which killed an otherwise fun game, it would have to be a lack of any motivation whatsoever to finish Wind Waker. The beginning is well-executed, intriguing, and quite fun. As the story continues however, familiar plot trappings of the series rear their ugly head around the same time you're forced to explore uninspired, painfully easy dungeons. This one-two punch is followed up by quite possibly the most pointless and excruciatingly long fetch quest ever unleashed upon the gaming community at large. Finally, for all your trouble to finish the game, the player is rewarded with the most embarrassingly cheesy incident of deus ex machina I have ever had the misfortune to witness; had I not played the game firsthand, I would not have believed such a ridiculous "plot twist" could have been seriously contemplated, let alone actually implemented.

   Countless gamers bemoaned Miyamoto's decision to cel-shade the graphics of Wind Waker, claiming that such a move trivializes the "mature" mood of the series and would make this a "kiddy" game. These gamers are mistaken - Wind Waker would be a kiddy game regardless of its visuals. Simply put, the game is mind-numbingly easy. Battling enemies takes no motor skills whatsoever, all puzzles can easily be solved by any veteran of Ocarina/Link to the Past, and it takes a conscious effort on your part before you even have the remote possibility of dying. In previous games, falling into an abyss, exploding, being impaled on spike traps, or the like resulted in the loss of multiple hearts. Imagine my surprise then, when Link was fully immersed in liquid-hot magma only to take one-quarter of one heart of damage. Realism aside, I cannot fathom why the designers felt that the element of danger needed to be removed from the game so entirely. As soon as the first bottle is discovered, players have access to a double-use potion which completely refills both the heart and magic meters while doubling Link's attack power until he gets hit, all for free. Boss characters, somewhat of a highlight of the older games, take almost no interaction from the player at all to conquer. This is especially infuriating as some of the bosses (all four of them) look pretty cool... as you swing over their heads with a grappling hook to cause a cave-in to defeat them for example. In this respect, bosses are demoted to fancy, moving puzzles just a bit more interesting than the ten or so boring ones solved to get there. Perhaps it was just me and bosses of the past games where just puzzles too. I can say though, that when I fought with Ganon in Link to the Past and especially in Ocarina, that I was actually fighting instead of running around aimlessly, waiting for an opportunity to do something indirectly.

It only looks complicated.
It only looks complicated.

   Musical genius, Koji Kondo, returns to give his best efforts in defining the aural style of Wind Waker with one-part originality, three-part nostalgia. In this sense, he succeeded brilliantly with a soundtrack that evokes pleasant memories of the previous games, with just enough hint of inventiveness to keep you on your toes. The music which plays as you are sailing, for example, provides soothing background enjoyment while you read book, just as remixed dungeon tunes create mystery and edginess where none existed in the game before. In other words, Kondo's compositions deftly pick up the slack that is Wind Waker's overall weak presentation and this ruse almost - almost - works. Unfortunately, there is only so much that audio can do, and making an otherwise insipid storyline worth slogging through for its own sake is not one of them.

   All negativity aside, is Wind Waker fun? Sure. Is it a Miyamoto game? Of course. Is it another groundbreaking, must-have Zelda experience? Eh, not really. All of the core elements of the series are there, from the rush of finding a piece of heart to the joy of using a newfound tool in an unique way. Despite this familiarity, Wind Waker lacks something intangible: neither the polish of Link to the Past nor the solid evolution of Ocarina of Time. Sailing across the Waterworld-esque Hyrule is enjoyable (at least initially), as is floating through the air with the Deku Leaf and using similarly refined tools (Grappling Hook, Boomerang, ect) for the first dozen times. Such joy is soon lost though, once the last two-thirds of the game is encountered and you find yourself trolling the ocean for hours on end instead of exploring new temples and mysterious caves. Even the amusing commentary of the random townsfolk and promise of hours of additional secret-hunting does little to stem the tides of apathy the latter portion of the game evokes. By the time Ganon's tower rolled around, I wanted him defeated not for the safety of Hyrule or out of obligation for being the hero, but out of a desire to just be done with the game.

   I approached Wind Waker with the expectation that it would be capable of clearing the bar which Ocarina and Link to the Past had raised. In the end, perhaps I simply expected too much.

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