Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's epic franchises. Can the Wind Waker do the legend justice?

Ten years ago, "The Ocarina of Time" raised the bar of gaming standards to a new, unprecedented height - Its unique battle system, innovative "Z-Targeting" system, and utterly captivating storyline stunned gamers worldwide. Millions waited for another Zelda game to be released that would match, or even remove, Ocarina of Time from its pedestal. Unfortunately, many were disappointed with Majora's Mask; a brilliant game, yet it did not quite capture the magical essence that The Ocarina of Time had. With the dawn of the GameCube, many were eager to see what the next instalment of the series would present. The question was finally answered with the arrival of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Immediately it was evident that Wind Waker was going to be different from the previous Zelda titles, the cell shaded graphics were the noticeable change. Initially, these graphics were host to a lot of scepticism; they seemed to turn our hard hitting hero, Link, into a softer cartoon version. This bold new step of changing the design to the series presented gamers with ambivalence and leaving them all the more curious as to how it could work. However, this is Nintendo, and it would be wrong to judge the game purely on the graphics. The Wind Waker can only truly be appreciated as an all time classic once played and completed.

The new legend begins on the aptly named Outset isle; Link's childhood home After about five minutes it becomes apparent that, unlike the previous titles, you are surrounded by water and restricted to a small island. This instantly separates Wind Waker from the earlier Zelda games. However, like the other titles, you are plunged straight into the action when a giant bird drops an unexpected guest onto Links tiny island. Of course, overcome by curiosity, you venture towards this unknown addition to your island. First though, Link changes from the pyjamas he started in and dawns his trademark green tunic. A quick sword tutorial is all you have before the adventure begins and you cross the rope bridge towards the forest; to where this mystery character has just been dropped. As is always the case in life, the giant bird decides to kidnap Link's sister, and before you know it, your adventure becomes that much more complicated. You need to pair up with pirates and visit a sinister prison in order to save her. From this point on the storyline rapidly evolves into a massive adventure that will take you from the deep haunting prison, to the heights of mountains and across the vast sea.

As your adventure begins, Link's itinerary quickly expands and soon you receive the world map. At first glance it can seem quite daunting; the world of Wind Waker consists of many small islands that are scattered about in difficult locations. Never fear, as you will soon meet “The King of Red Lions”- your very own talking-boat! This so called King of Red Lions helps you navigate through the ocean that divides the countless islands. This navigation becomes easier with the added help of a sea chart and an item called the Wind Waker- an instrument with the ability to alter the direction of wind with a musical twist. Exploration out at sea is a deep and lengthy process that some people view as a bad point to this game. Scattered throughout the world, you will encounter many interesting and peculiar characters. Despite their cell shaded appearances, Zelda veterans will see several familiar, mostly hostile, faces. Majora's Mask fans will especially rejoice as rupee-loving Tingle makes a welcome return... although your wallet many not appreciate his presence quite as much!

Players should not look too negatively on the sometimes tedious amounts of sailing required throughout the game. Instead, the simple truth is that sailing is what truly makes this game a masterpiece; not only does it allow you to stray from the storyline at your own leisure, with remarkable freedom, but it also allows for a ocean full of countless side quests. Another point that must be cleared up is that it is actually hard to get lost within the world of Wind Waker. Constantly throughout the game, the world map highlights the locations that are most crucial to Link's progression within the storyline. These locational hints do not spoil the element of adventure; most of the time knowing a location is not enough. To gain access to many areas you will need to show initiative. Of course, the helpful fish that dwell near each island will offer help if you truly get stuck. There are also several warp songs, that when found, will instantly transport Link to specific locations on the map; this is handy for those who get sea-sick easily.

Like all previous titles in the series, the dungeons prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of this game. It is within these dungeons that Wind Waker shines. The true beauty of the visuals stand out, as each dungeon is brought to life with an astounding amount of detail that ranges from a cracks in the wall to relentless lava rivers. It is not just this detail that makes the dungeons so enjoyable. Wind Waker does what all Zelda games do - pulls out all the stops in order to challenge the player. Thankfully none are quite as frustrating as the water temple from Ocarina of Time. The successful completion of dungeons rely on the acquisition of specific items that allow you passage to areas which were unreachable. Half the time you will be fighting your way through a dungeon, and the other you will spend solving one of the countless puzzles.

Within these dungeons you will need to show your mastery of the fantastic combat system. Sticking close to the classic Z-targeting system adapted since Ocarina of Time, the combat gives the player a great sense of being directly involved. The battles feel as intuitive as ever; you are able to jump forwards, backwards and sideways, as well as being able to launch an flurry of lethal moves. Unlike The Ocarina of time which merely had only four strikes and Links famous spin attack, Wind Waker has attacks that enable you to roll around enemies and strike from behind, jump over your aggressor whilst slashing at their head and a whole host more that add a deep level of strategy to some of the tougher battles. These are all crucial to your progression as some of these tougher enemies will only be defeated by using correct attacks against their weak points; the usual strategy of pummelling foes with Links spin attack will not always have the desired effect. Don't worry though, mastering this combat is as easy as Hya!-Tick!-Hiiyaa!

While Wind Waker's dungeons number less than previous titles, they have become more adventurous. In some dungeons you will be aided by a co-partner; not only will you have to depend on items, but you will also need the ability to work well with your partner. If the dungeons overwhelm you, then never fear, Tingle is here! Wind Waker utilises the GBA-GC connectivity to incorporate Tingle as a dungeon companion. Using the 'Tingle Tuner' you can seek help from the little green guy, for a price. Though in truth you actually don’t need the Tingle Tuner to successfully complete this game; it is a feature most likely to be needed by younger children, as a guide to get them through the game.

I’ve said bits here and there about the graphics and how they did receive scepticism at the beginning. Needless to say, these opinions were quickly brushed aside. At first Wind Waker seems to offer only unsophisticated graphics, thrown in with a spectrum of bright colours. Nevertheless, when you get down to it, it is the detail within that immerses players in this captivating world. Only when you start exploring the vastness of the Wind Waker's world do you truly start to appreciate the game's visuals; the graphics bring this game to life in a way that the 'normal' visuals could have never achieved. Whether it’s the humorous element added to the expressions of our hero, which lighten the text based feel of the game. Or merely just the care free way grass bends in the wind, and the countless other details that shows, creatively, Wind Waker stands unchallenged by any other adventure title.

When it comes to music, Link's latest adventure does not disappoint. The score to the game is perfectly composed; it ranges from calming serenades, to engaging battle music that fires you up. Most of these melodies can be recalled from previous Zelda titles - if you have had the pleasure of playing them. Regardless of source, the music that accompanies the Wind Waker fits together flawlessly, generating a truly individual aura fitting to the games vibrant visuals. There is still no voice acting though; just like the previous games, characters make incoherent noises when they talk with our Hero, who, as always, has his own screams, whelps and shouts.

All said and done the Wind Waker will take the average gamer 15-20 hours to get through the main story. If you take into account side-quests, and the collection of heart pieces, bottles and treasure, the game's lifespan increases dramatically. Wind Waker is short enough to keep the casual gamer interested, yet at the same time it offers that extra depth hardcore gamers look for.

Conclusion

Overall the Wind Waker is a huge achievement in every way, a must have title for your GameCube library. It provides a decent storyline, complemented by stunning visuals, beautiful melodies and a fantastic battle system. Despite this great combat system, fighting offers no real challenge at all, even the boss battles are too straightforward and simple. The large chunks of the game dedicated to collecting various items may also frustrate for the more impatient gamer. However, these flaws pale in comparison to the breathtakingly refreshing appeal the visuals have created.