Times are dark, sinister and dangerous, or to put it in one word “dark“.
People live in fear and their country is being harmed by an evil force without parallel. The people have reached the breaking point, and are all looking for a hero.
In this instance the hero is the diminutive Link, an elvish character dressed in green. In the game Link’s little sister Aryll gets captured by an cruel bird, which is one of dark lord Ganon’s merciless minions. This is reason enough for mister “my-cape-is bigger-than-my-head” to embark on a journey to rescue his sister.
Ok, now you have a rough idea what The Wind Waker’s story is about – it’s not on the same level as epic Final Fantasy plots, but it does stand its ground very well, by concentrating on a tighter storyline using the well-known Zelda flair.
Before its release there had been a major debate over the graphical overall style of The Wind Waker, which differed substantially from previously posted screenshots. Earlier, Link was supposed to look rather realistic, but now has a cartoonish appearance, a tiny figure with huge eyes and non-existant nose.
Surely Link’s new appearance is a controversial matter, but that is just the kind of refreshment the dusty Action RPG genre was in need of.
Since all previously released Zelda titles have been memorable milestones in the history of video gaming, Miyamoto Shigeru’s decision to present something completely unexpected like The Wind Waker’s visual concept made it possible to maintain the uniqueness of the game. This is no run-of-the-mill mainstream title but one of Nintendos flagships and it therefore has to be a little on the edge.
Nintendo once again impresses the audience with the creation of an enormously colorful and highly detailed world which, due to the high level of interactivity, seems to come alive from time to time.
Take Townpeople for example: You’ll never to see a single face twice, as everybody “alive” in this world has his or her unique features, be it their moves (or dances), mimic, or gestures.
The bunch of small children on the first island you visit has the habit of forming a circle around Link and following him wherever he goes. As you start talking with the island inhabitants you soon find out the huge amount of things that can be done without proceeding in the main plot. Sub quests abound, ranging from hide 'n’ seek and collecting pigs to taking photos and sorting letters - everything plays, feels and looks just like some sort of high quality cartoon!
We are sailing, we are sailing.....
As always Zelda provides huge amounts of land to be discovered by the player, which consequently leads to the need of some mean of transportation, like the horse in Ocarina of Time (N64), or the flying rooster in Link’s Awaking (GB).
Since the world of Legend of Zelda -The Wind Waker is covered by a huge ocean it is fortunate that Link encounters a dragon-headed talking boat which allows him to sail away to distant shores.
With the use of the magical Wind Waker tool our little hero is able to control the wind (who’d have guessed?), which turns out to be rather useful in a world of water and sailing boats.
Sailing with the wind is not only a funny way to get from point A to point B, but also one of this game’s key elements, for it helps greatly in creating the atmosphere and impression of a vast world without limits.
Once out on the ocean you are free to go anywhere you please. The whole continent is covered with secret places to be found, mysterious objects to be figured out and dark lairs to explore.
Although you are granted total freedom of choice and movement there is a fixed way in which you have to get through the various dungeons. To act freely without a guiding hand would probably have been too much of a challenge for less experienced players.
With The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker the celebrated cell-shading technique reaches its current pinnacle – and it will surely take much to outdo this game in visual terms.
It is quite obvious that these minor, but pleasant features listed above add very much to the overall depth of gameplay and keep motivation to play high.
What’s it like to control a cartoon?
Over the decades the complex yet intuitive handling of our cape-bearing alter ego has turned out to be one of Zelda’s biggest advantages compared to other games of the genre. Being very similar to the one in Ocarina of Time/Mayora’s Mask, The Wind Waker’s system is even more sophisticated. For example, it is now possible to control the camera angle manually which leads to a massive increase in overview.
The way to fight the ever-so-threatening-evil has been improved as well. On the one hand tapping the “A” button just before an opponent’s attack Link performs a dodge-counter inflicting even heavier damage than usual. Another additional feature is that weapons like the boomerang may target (and hit) up to 5 objects at one time.
Dungeon design is clever, thrilling and diversified as usual – lots of riddles to solve, boxes to move, torches to light and enemies to fight. It is the unique mixture of those factors that has lead to Zelda’s success in past times as well as today.
I can hear the sea
Soundeffects are high quality, be it the howl of the wind, the sound of a sword hitting stone, the distant cries of seagulls, the breaking of the waves or the excited outcries of villagers. Everything seems so natural and real that one easily forgets his/her actual whereabouts and joyfully dives into a sea of sounds.
Nintendo’s decision to do without real voice acting will of course be matter of further discussion. Pros and Cons of voice acting are obvious - a game could either gain massively, by enabling professional voice actors – like in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy X, or lose tremendously, due to the lack of the voice-over. Sadly, the later has been the case with many American and European conversions.
Personally I prefer mute characters to carelessly synchronized ones, but since this impression is highly subjective, this is something everybody has to determine for him/herself.
Background music supports and matches the scenery perfectly, but doesn’t really break new ground with videogame soundtracks, although the re-arrangements of all-time hits like Zelda’s main theme do create a nice ambience.
At first blush this game does not seem to be outstanding, but over time it improves. This is one of the rare occasions I have had a game of nearly flawless quality which sets new standards for both visual appearance and interactivity.
The Legend of Zelda – The Wind Waker once more ensures that Nintendo’s rise to the throne of Action RPGs is justified.