Blurring the Line: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is a game of gale-force winds and wide open oceans. It strays from the conventional setting of the Zelda series, but it retains the tradition of engaging puzzles and exploration that make the series enjoyable. This focus on convention isn’t all positive, however, as Wind Waker has a number of problems which are fairly commonplace to the series. It inherits inexact control and a distinct lack of originality from its brethren, as well as a few issues that are unique to this entry. The biggest of this latter category, and possibly the game’s biggest issue overall, is the boredom of sailing long distances over seemingly endless stretches of water in order to move from island to island. In the end, Wind Waker is a game that will probably appeal most to people who can get past the idea that Wind Waker isn’t a ground breaking or revolutionary entry in the series.

The events of Wind Waker, which take place centuries after the events of Ocarina of Time, focus on a Hyrule inundated by a catastrophic flood. The story begins with an extremely young Link on the island known as Outset, setting out to rescue his abducted sister. It will eventually grow into the prototypical Zelda story, with Ganon trying to gather the three pieces of the Triforce in order to rule the land of Hyrule, with very little coming as unexpected. The characters are all rather two-dimensional and the overall story hasn’t got much to say, serving mostly as an impetus to move the player from island to island, solving puzzles and gaining new weapons and tools.


As with most Zelda games, combat is handled by a free-roaming action RPG system, with plenty of focus on swordplay. Most of the enemies aren’t fights so much as puzzles to be deciphered – a fight against a heavily-armored foe will test your ability to figure out how to remove his armor more than your swordsmanship. In the end, the combat system is fairly weak, but it isn’t really the focus of the game any more than the plot is. Where the game really focuses is on the multitude of puzzles to be found deep in Wind Waker‘s dungeons. The format is supremely predictable – enter a dungeon, get a new weapon, use that weapon to get to and defeat the dungeon’s boss, wash, rinse repeat. The way it keeps things interesting is by throwing in some new tools and unusual puzzles, but the vast majority will be very familiar to players who have played other Zelda titles. The biggest difference is the presence of a watery overworld rather than a land-based one, and the unique visual style.

Wind Waker uses a fairly unique cel-shaded visual style full of bright greens and blues, which, combined with the presence of a very youthful Link, lends the game a very fresh feel. This visual style isn’t quite the sophisticated, adult link many players were clamoring for after the release of Ocarina of Time, but it is still a highly effective, well-designed look that carries the game quite well. The visuals give the game most of its sense of style, with the bright, fluid colors and swirl designs finding their way into just about every aspect of the game, from the motion lines of wind on the world map to the hilt of the Master Sword itself. The omnipresence of these design elements does make some of the game’s areas feel like repeats, particularly towards the end of the game, but on the whole it keeps up enough variety to make things interesting. In the end, the visual style is cohesive, unique, and probably the strongest part of the game.

The game’s soundtrack is much more forward than normal for a Zelda title, with bright flutes and strings taking up most of the memorable melodies. The instrumentation, however, is the only real change; the vast majority of the tracks to be heard in Wind Waker are reiterations or re-imaginings of traditional Zelda tunes. For a series that relies on tradition to the degree that Zelda does, this isn’t really a huge issue, but it does make the soundtrack feel, like the rest of the game, a bit predictable.

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Overall control is a bit of a sticking point with Wind Waker, especially where the camera is concerned. The default camera position tends to navigate corners poorly, letting Link get out of sight before re-positioning itself behind him. Basic control is a bit more responsive, with Link’s movement and item use being easy to manage as long as Link isn’t too close to the item he’s trying to interact with. At close range, the camera tends to zoom in too far, making precision control much more difficult.

As with many Zelda games, Wind Waker is fairly short and fairly easy. The game should take most people around 25 hours to complete, though it could go much higher given the amount of sailing a player is expected to do, and the obtuse, directionless nature of some of the hunt-and-fetch quests in the later half of the game. Still, the game’s overall difficulty should present no real problem for the average player, as most puzzles have fairly easy to understand answers, and combat as a whole requires very little skill.

For all the controversy it caused, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is a fairly average game. While the combat system and story are both pretty blase, the quality of the visual style and puzzles are both fairly high, which helps to elevate the game overall. The end result is a well-balanced, though not particularly exciting game. The fact that it isn’t a revolutionary step forward for the Zelda series means that players who don’t get hung up on its pedigree will find it much more enjoyable than those expecting the next major shift in the series.

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