The Wind Waker is the true sequel to Ocarina of Time, telling the story of Hyrule’s fate centuries later. The game starts on Outset Island, a small and isolated island in the south of the Great Sea. On the same day as Link’s coming of age ceremony, a pirate named Tetra is kidnapped by a mysterious bird. Following her older brother on a rescue mission, Aryll, the bird’s true target, is snatched and taken far away. This sets off a chain of events which will reveal the true destinies of Link and Tetra. 8
While The Wind Waker adds a lot to the basic game design of Ocarina of Time, it screws up in big ways, and in some places, regresses on advances made with Majora’s Mask. I’m going to split the two diametric opinions on the game to highlight just why this game is so hard to like, yet so hard to hate.
At least Jabun hands the Pearl over to you - the final mission would have been a dungeon for the Triforce, but that was replaced by a horrific fetch-quest that involved finding Triforce Maps, rupees to decipher the Maps, and then finding the Triforce pieces themselves. Terrible game design. 6
After Nintendo showed a GameCube tech demo of Link and Ganondorf fighting, fans were hyped for a more realistic-looking Zelda. At E3 2001, Nintendo showed off a drastically different style, the cel-shaded look that caused so much “Celda” controversy. It was unthinkable that they would make a Mario game look more realistic, while making a Zelda game more cartoony.
Gradually, people began to accept, and even like, the new style, and while it lends a certain feel to the game, it does strip it of some of its atmosphere. Certain things can be created in this style that would look out of place with more realistic graphics, and fights would need to be less animated. My main complaint is that this gorgeous new engine is wasted on a bland sea and sparse islands rather than a rich, rolling landscape. 9
The sound was the one aspect of the game I was most looking forward to. If anyone has heard Ocarina of Time’s Windmill, Lon Lon Ranch, or Gerudo Valley themes, then they’ll know the ludicrously high standards of the Zelda series. The Wind Waker is no Ocarina of Time. You can describe the game as “pretty good”. Unfortunately, this is how you can describe the soundtrack, too. Pretty good. Just okay, sometimes. Remixes and classics aside, the new tracks aren’t catchy. They’re nice, but you won’t fall in love.
Sound is used most effectively during battles. As I’ve mentioned, instrument effects are used to highlight attacks and combos. After fighting in The Wind Waker, battles seem a little flatter in other Zelda games. The developers use a clever trick late in the game where you fight one battle, and all is silent. You just hear the little thuds of your sword, and it emphasises the relative powerlessness of young Link. 9
This is one big area where the game falls down. While some dungeons are technically good, and the scale of the game is pretty epic, the game loses a lot of atmosphere evident in past Zelda games because of the cheer of the graphics, but also because of the misuse of them.
The engine’s strength is colour, and yet it is set largely on a uniform, blue sea. Midway in the game, you see something from past Zelda games (though you’re not allowed to go to it) that shows how vibrant a game set on land could be with this style. It could have been a game of majesty, but instead, it loses a lot of that grand atmosphere. 7
The Wind Waker’s main contribution to the Zelda series is a fantastic part of Hyrulian lore, thanks to a story realised like no Zelda before it. There’s also the sun-drenched graphic style used in the game’s sequel, Phantom Hourglass, but aside from these advancements, TWW brings with it a lot of regressions, repetitions, and missed opportunities. 7
While undoubtedly a good game, The Wind Waker fails to capture what makes a Zelda game great. To give it a 9 would be to put it on the same level as Majora’s Mask, and that is slightly insulting to that masterpiece, so I feel the game deserves a solid 8.