Should I Buy? – Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Alright, here’s a confession of mine. Despite having played games since I was a kid, I’ve never really been into Zelda. I skipped straight from a SNES where A Link to the Past was too tough for me to a PS1, so I never played Ocarina of Time until a few years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Zelda, conceptually I love it and I love watching it. I just don’t love playing it.

That being said there is a special place in my heart for The Wind Waker. I first came across it when my cousin was into it, and he eventually got me trying it. So when the time rolled around and I got a Gamecube of my own I finally played a Zelda game properly.

And I had a great time with it. It got a lot of flack for its cel-shaded art style, but I think it’s given the game a unique look and meant that graphically it doesn’t really look to have aged at all. Don’t be put off by the way it looks, or just deride it as ‘cartoony’ or ‘childish’.

The basic plot of this game is the same as all the others, Ganondorf is seeking the Triforce and you’d rather he didn’t. Personally, I feel that the specifics of this game’s story are better than the other Zelda games. Still, I guess you’re not here for that, are you?

The main feature of this game is that instead of wide open world to explore, Wind Waker has you sailing across the seas on your voyage to stop Ganon. There’s a lot of people who hate this mechanic, but personally I think it’s great. Though a particularly long trip can and will get boring, it’s an effective way of breaking up the islands which are effectively isolated puzzles to be solved for prizes.

A downside to this potential exploration is that it doesn’t open up to you until quite a way’s through the game. Until then you’ll be railroaded into the locations it wants you to visit. Once the world does open up, and you’ve got access to the Wind Waker itself, a magical conductor’s baton, you’re able to explore pretty much the entire huge map.

If you take the time to do so, you’ll find that this is where a huge chunk of the game actually is. If you want to stock up on heart pieces and secret equipment upgrades, you’ll need to go hunting for it. Unfortunately however, this exploration is compulsory at a few points as the plot stops in its tracks with only a vague indication of what you need but no real direction. There’s no shame in using GameFAQS for this.

When you get round to the dungeons themselves, I personally think they work better than Ocarina or Twilight Princess and are never too challenging that it’s unreasonable to expect a newcomer to the series to beat them. Oh sure, it’s the old formula of ‘find new item’, ‘solve the obvious puzzles with it’ and ‘beat the boss with it’ but it’s a good formula refined to something instantly comfortable yet still able to be challenging.

The sad part is that Wind Waker is when Shigeru Miyamoto started paying attention to deadlines. Reports vary, but anywhere between two and six dungeons were supposedly cut. This is the reason behind the latter half of the game’s reliance on overly long fetch quests that can take an age to start, let along figure out the resolution too.

Before I wrap up, I’d like to give particular mention to the sound design. Everything from the music to the moving around the menu noises are brilliant. They fit with the art style and setting, while still keeping an upbeat adventure tone to the whole proceedings. Say what you will about Japanese game design, but all the best examples of video game music are Japanese.

[EDIT: The above was written before I played Bastion. That game has such awesome music, you should go buy it. You’ve played Zelda before, you know what it’s about! Go play Bastion! Now! And buy the Soundtrack too!]

This is a Zelda experience that differs from the norm about as much as any of them is ever likely too, and I love it for that. The game mechanics all flow very well, and though you may have to work to find the fun at times, it’s there in abundance. I’m not going to say this game is perfect, far from it. I’m not even saying everyone will love it because I know how divisive it is.

What I will say is don’t dismiss it.

NOTE: Most of the Zelda series can be downloaded through the Wii’s Virtual Console.

Price: (CEX) £12 – Gamecube


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