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Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is arguably one of the greatest video games ever designed.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the Legend of Zelda series the game is played in the 3rd person and you are the main character of Link. Your job is to save Princess Zelda. Though in this game Zelda isn’t exactly Zelda, she is…well, I won’t spoil it.  

The game is cel-shaded which is a fancy way of saying it looks exactly like a cartoon. Previously the series had tried to make Link and his environment look as realistic as possible, but this game marked a radical departure from the traditional style that not everyone thought was an improvement. Personally I thought the cel-shading made it much, much more beautiful. Given the hardware limitations of the Gamecube I think it was the right call. You can make a stunningly beautiful cartoon or you can make an okay-looking computer graphic. And the graphics of the Wind Waker are indeed stunning. Not just in terms of what the objects look like, but in the design of the objects themselves. Generally you don’t think of “art” and gaming in the same breath, but the Wind Waker is in many ways a serious work of art. In most traditional video games objects exist in a purely functional sense. That is to say there is a plain wooden crate in front of you because you’re supposed to smash it to get a health packet and it’s never intended to be beautiful. In the Wind Waker everything seems to have been designed with a specific intent in mind. There are no “throw away” objects or filler. All of it seems to have been painstaking crafted and designed.  

The sheer beauty of the game is enough to distinguish it from its contemporaries (notable exception: Metroid Prime. Another stunning beautiful game), but what elevates Wind Waker to rarified realms is the game play. In most games the objectives are straightforward. You find a gun, you shoot the endless hordes of generic bad guys and pause only momentarily to reload your virtual ammo. Not so with the Wind Waker.  

Early in the game you find the Wind Waker, which is a wand that allows you to control the weather. You do this by learning certain melodies. The controller allows you to play certain musical tones by pressing up, down, left, right. So if you conduct the melody correctly and with the proper musical timing, then the spell is cast and you can change the direction the wind blows. This ability comes in handy when you acquire your sailboat. If you want to travel across the sea to explore a nearby island you simply pull out the Wind Waker, conduct the proper melody and then tell the wind which way to blow to power your boat.   That in and of itself is light years ahead of other games in terms of sheer originality. But it gets better. Infinitely better. And much more creative.  

In most games if you were to sail for Point A to Point B it would be done instantly, the assumption being that no one wants to “waste time” virtually sailing a boat for 2mins. The Wind Waker dismisses that assumption and actually has you physically sail a virtual sea from one island to the next. It is a surprisingly immersive and relaxing experience to sail your virtual boat to a new island. But they didn’t stop there! The game designers also added weather. Sometimes you get rained on! They also added a day and night cycle too. The attention to detail in this game is jaw dropping.  

The game is revolutionary because it isn’t afraid of down time. Most games insist that something be “happening” at all times in order to be exciting. You’re either constantly being shot at, attacked by zombies, etc. In the Wind Waker it’s okay to just sail around. Or fish. Or stop by an island and wander around exploring the area to see what is or isn’t there. Some islands had nothing on them. Just grass and rocks. You could sit and watch the sun set or just run around the virtual beach making foot prints. Or test out your trusty telescope to see if you can see anything of interest on the next island. Of you can jot a note down on your map of what you found (or didn’t find). The portions of the game where “nothing” was happening proved to be just as stimulating and engaging as the huge Boss fights at the end of every chapter. Fighting a dragon in the center of a burning volcano is undoubtedly exciting, but so is trying to find “unimportant” items hidden in small caves in remote islands seemingly totally disconnected from the main plot.  

And the puzzles where challenging too. Whereas most games demand nothing more than continuous button-mashing, this game required a lot of thought. At least it did for me. There is nothing more satisfying (video game-wise) than finally figuring out where the iron boots are and what they are used for.  

It’s challenging to describe this game to people who haven’t played it because it is so unlike any game on the market (even though it is over 5 years old at this point). Trying to describe the Forsaken Fortress and what it’s like to tip-toe past a Moblin with a barrel over your head is difficult at best.  

Suffice to say that Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of my favorite games.

niceguyinhell niceguyinhell 31-35, M 4 Responses Jun 15, 2009

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i can't help but say the first thing that popped into my head when i read the title was 'zelda: the wind breaker'<br />
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love zelda games XD

Have you played Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask.<br />
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I believe that took the cake for best story in the franchise.

It's an older game (for the GameCube) but it is definitely worth exploring. It is very....unique. <br />
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I have to give credit to Nintendo for having the guts to take the road less traveled. It seems that while both Sony and Microsoft have invested everything into making games exclusively for male teenagers -- meaning hyper violent 1st person shooters like Halo or Grand Theft Auto -- Nintendo had the courage to go in a different direction. They weren't afraid to make games that might not be considered "cool" by the 14-15 old male hardcore gamers.<br />
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In fact, the Wii has been kicking *** on a Biblical scale for years now despite originally being written off as a non-starter in the next-gen wars. <br />
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"That's just a kids toy!" the critics would say dismissively of the Wii. "I mean...it's not HARDCORE like the PS3 or the Xbox! Where's all the naked chicks and dead bodies? No one is going to buy a system without those gaming staples."<br />
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Now I like naked chicks and dead bodies and intense 1st person shootouts against nameless generic Cuban/Russian/Nazis bad guys as much as anyone else....but variety is the spice of life and the other two systems just didn't deviate from the tried-and-true formula too often.<br />
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They are deviating from their scripts NOW, but without the massive success of the Wii they probably would never bother making any games other than Halo or GTA. <br />
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I imagine its much like how the iPhone is literally driving innovation in the cellphone market. Prior to the iPhone there was no radical innovation in smart phones from one year to the next. Apple came in with the iPhone and shocked the market....suddenly cellphone manufacturers were falling all over themselves to copy Apple's style or race to come up with new innovations.

I LOVE all the Zelda games. My favorite is still the first old one though .. :) This sounds great that you can control the weather, etc. Thanks for the review!! I love video games ... and I really hate playing sucky ones ...