Note: Instead of reviewing a recent product for BlackHeartedWolf's latest Writer's Guild Weekly Challenge, I chose to follow the spirit of October's main feature and take a look back at what I consider to be my favorite entry into the Zelda franchise. Spoilers are possible, so beware!!!

I remember first playing Wind Waker, and imagining that I was trapped inside a living painting. Of course, when I was a child and I observed various pictures by themselves, I could imagine various things happening within the work itself, but I could never quite develop the sense I myself was an active participant. With video games, that changed, not only because of how entertaining they were - an aspect often used by reductionists to demonstrate their superficiality- but also because of their power as a storytelling medium.

Instead of reading a story and imagining a scene between the protagonist and a certain character, you could hear and see this event occurring as you actively experienced it. With respect to the Zelda series, I considered my favorite to be Ocarina of Time, an epic game that allowed players to travel the world with Epona. That of course changed after I played Wind Waker, which I view as Ocarina of Time's spiritual successor, due to how similar - and yet, different- the games felt. Looking back on this title, I must say that it not only epitomized what the Gamecube could offer players, it stands out, in my opinion, as one of the boldest iterations of the series. 



The general story is set about a hundred or so years after Ocarina of Time, in a world of islands in a vast ocean where legends are all that remain of the Hero of Time's grandiose defeat of Ganondorf, hellbent on ruling the world via the powers of the Triforce. Link is a young boy living on Outset Island at the ripe age of adolescence, when he's given a green robe similar to that worn by the hero of their legend. This event sets the stage for the rest of the story, which evolves from a rescue mission to an entertaining odyssey involving a lively cast of new and familiar characters, dungeons, and twists. One can't forget the Wind Waker itself, the titular magical item given to him by the King of the Red Lions, an animate boat aiding Link in his adventures.

As a mostly linear affair, Wind Waker's level of detail spruced up and expanded the world created, with numerous side quests and puzzles to be completed, an obvious nod to the influence of Ocarina of Time's formulaEven key aspects of game play controls, etc., evoked memories of the N64 classic. With everything from empty jars and heart pieces to collect in addition to the quest-related items, players found themselves devoting dozens of hours to the game's stellar execution and level design.

While an easier Zelda title than usual, Wind Waker still rose leagues above any competition, with wonderful quirks that improved exploration and combat. Including a countering feature allowed players to do everything from brutally finish their enemies to disarm them and even remove armor off of otherwise unstoppable brutes. Weapons Link disarmed could then be used by Link in addition to his already healthy arsenal of tools. He may be a kid, but by the time you reached the final dungeon, Link was a one man army.


Perhaps one of the especially gratifying implementations came from the game's excellent incorporation of Link's items. Players could use a boomerang to target multiple enemies; the hookshot allowed Link to reach tricky platforms and even reined in neighboring enemies. The hammer not only decimated tough enemies, but also unlocked hidden areas. Hang-gliding with the deku leaf high above the water was just another highlight of a game that made exploration feel every bit as exhilarating as the impressively rendered world.



Wind Waker is a well-oiled machine, with a visual style underscored by its impeccable design and expressive art direction. Bombs explode into stylized plumes of smoke. Enemies creep around at night as wind brushes the grass. Faeries glimmer as they flit in front of you, and vivid lights stab through the moonlit sky in contrast.

Enemies and other NPC's flow with sometimes hilarious animations as you travel throughout the expansive world. Themed dungeons and bosses overwhelm you in scale and beauty, and never become a bore - in spite of the relative simplicity of most boss battles. Yet there are plenty of clever challenges and secrets for you to unlock and master, from treasure chests revealed by certain maps you can find, to grandiose battles with giant squids in whirlpools and stormy weather.



Complimenting Wind Waker's superb style and gameplay is its score, a nostalgic blend of classic tunes, a few new themes, and vivid sound effects - there are no voice recordings for the characters, although I prefer it that way, given the minimalist undertones. Bubbly music is heard as you sail throughout the day, with a slightly mischievous score accompanying your nighttime exploits, evoking the overall emotion of each place you'll travel. Perhaps my favorite examples came from the tense and moody music that injected a burst of urgent chords each time you and Phantom Ganon exchanged turns batting balls of energy toward each other. When taken into account with its other features, the player can't shake the sense that they're participating in an arthouse experience that demands your appreciation and attention.

There were some flaws to this otherwise perfect game, from a mandatory fetch quest later on that felt transparently contrived, to issues with lack of difficulty, and, depending on your tastes, the frequent use of the Wind Waker baton. Material in the Japanese version of Wind Waker was thankfully scrapped from the American iteration that would have undoubtedly exacerbated this. However, just as the main story seemed to be spreading itself thin, the game returned to form with an impressive final dungeon and Ico-esque showdown with Ganon, serving as the capstone to an exceptional narrative. This doesn't include the hours of additional material available to players, including replay, although players still craved more dungeons to explore; a testament to the title's success.



Concluding, Wind Waker honored its classic predecessor while reimagining the series' beloved hero. As a result, Wind Waker is a tour de force that will remain one of the most distinctive games created, even in a rapidly dawning age centered around hyper realism and consumerism. Wind Waker is art not because it played it safe, but because it challenged players to reconsider the prevailing aesthetic while rewarding us with an intricate and nuanced interpretation of a classic story we love. Wind Waker isn't simply a game to be played, but one to be experienced.


What are your thoughts?