With every passing year, nostalgia becomes more and more powerful. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was first released in 200 and is one of my favourite games of all time. The visuals, the sense of adventure and the heavenly soundtrack combined to create a truly magical experience, and a peak which I believe the Zelda series has yet to reach again in any of the subsequent games. Replaying the HD remake for the Wii U I’m more canny, and notice the flaws and the areas where the game was clearly rushed, but nonetheless The Wind Waker holds up as a truly incredible experience.
The Wind Waker has one of the better plots of the Zelda series, taking place in a post-apocalyptic flooded Hyrule, after the three Goddesses saw no alternative to halt the resurgence of Ganon. Hyrule is gone, and in its place is the Great Sea, a massive ocean populated by a few tiny islands. Link is a young boy on the idyllic Outset Island, whose peaceful existence is shattered on his birthday when a massive bird swoops in and kidnaps his sister Aryll. Link joins a crew of pirates, led by their tenacious captain Tetra, to rescue his sister and along the way discovers a greater threat looming over the Great Sea.
Ok, so the Zelda games never have the most complex stories, but at their best they can tap into an epic, mythical vibe, telling a story by showing rather than telling. Although the apex of this was, of course, Majora’s Mask (duh!), Wind Waker does this better than most. For a game so vibrant and joyful, Wind Waker conceals some seriously dark themes, and some of the most interesting and nuanced characters in the series. Wind Waker’s Ganondorf isn’t the power hungry maniac of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, but instead a melancholy and faintly tragic figure too far gone into evil ever to return. Wind Waker is one of the games which most closely builds upon the plot of a previous game, and it’s ties to Ocarina of Time give this game a much more epic and dramatic vibe.
The sheer joy of sailing around the Great Sea is intact, and there still really hasn’t been a game like it since. Nintendo are constantly being accused of ‘remaking Ocarina of Time over and over again.’ I think this is incredibly unfair, and the only game that this might be accurate towards is Twilight Princess. Although the core mechanics are the same, the Zelda series is generally wonderful at building utterly surprising and original experiences with them. Ok, the basic gameplay of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker may be the same, but the melancholy and oppressive world of Majora’s Mask couldn’t be further from the joyful and uplifting world of Wind Waker.
Although basically the same, there are a handful of additions for the Wii U. Some of these are a silly and fun, like the ability to share photos through MiiVerse and the ability for Link to take selfies, but there are a couple which do fundamentally improve the game. The infamous Triforce Hunt is vastly improved, with far fewer maps to be decoded by Tingle, with many mini-dungeons which once gave charts now giving the Triforce piece directly. The best addition is, for reasons that I cannot fathom, hidden in an obscure and dull mini-game and barely advertised in the game itself. The swift sail, which ratchets up the speed of the King of Red Lions and eliminates the need to use the Wind Waker to change wind direction, improves the pace of this game by a staggering amount. I occasionally switched back to the old sail, and I couldn’t believe how slow the boat went. The epic and huge feeling of the Great Sea remains, but the tedium is cut out. It’s a shame that the sail can only be attained through the auction on Windfall Island, as many players are going to miss it. Still, those who do get the swift sail will find the game’s pace markedly improved. The Wii U touch screen speeds up item management, and gyroscope aiming for the bow markedly improves accuracy.
Things aren’t all perfect, and coming at this game a decade later I’ve noticed issues that I hadn’t on the Gamecube. It’s clear that The Wind Waker was rushed, with some very clear moments where further content was planned. As wonderful as Wind Waker is, I can’t help but wonder what it could have been with another year of development time. Whilst Wind Waker’s musical combat is some of the best of the series, the targeting is a mess, particularly when compared to modern games with similar control schemes such as Darksiders. Wind Waker has one fairly key deficiency; none of the dungeons, or even the bosses, are series standouts. They’re fine, don’t get me wrong, but a Zelda dungeon at its best is a symphony of devilishly clever game design and planning, and they all feel just a little bit basic in Wind Waker. It’s amazing that, despite these fairly glaring flaws, Wind Waker still manages to stand as one of the best in the series.
Wind Waker is ironically the game least in need of a visual makeover, and whilst the HD looks lovely, Wind Waker already looked lovely. The more recent Twilight Princess is much more in need of a visual overhaul than Wind Waker. There’s a little too much bloom for my tastes, but by and large the HD update is well done, and helps to make Wind Waker even more beautiful. Probably the biggest disappointment in this update is the lack of remastering of the original music. Wind Waker has one of the greatest soundtracks in any game ever, but the actual sound quality was very low, and only the most marginal improvements are made to this. Super Mario Galaxy taught us how powerful a fully orchestrated game can be, and for a remake this might be asking a bit much, but maybe they could have at least done the Great Sea theme?
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a game that has genuinely earned the often hyperbolic appellation of timeless. It’s a beautiful, stirring and swashbuckling experience, and one which really hasn’t been rivalled in a long time. The Wii U update adds some new strength, and even if it exposes a few old flaws, I think that Wind Waker will never stop being a wonderful experience.