Monday marked the 25th Anniversary since Link first set foot in Hyrule and begun the seemingly endless task of saving the land from evil. In the 25 years that followed that pioneering adventure, Link has travelled across the vast landscape of Hyrule, but has also shown his heroism in different dimensions and even a dream land inhabited by some of the weirdest creatures seen yet in the series (Chain Chomps?!). But for me there is one game that stands head and shoulders above the rest as a timeless testament to the series; a game that for me, resulted in a deep connection to the series and what even to this day remains as one of my fondest gaming memories. And no, it’s not Ocarina of Time. The game in question is The Wind Waker.
Now it’s not that I consider Ocarina of Time a bad game, far from it, but for me, the Zelda series was defined the day I first set foot on Outset Island and began what can only be described as a quite epic adventure. There are so many contributing factors as to why I consider this the finest game in the Zelda series that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I guess I should just start from the beginning and tell my tale of The Wind Waker.
The Gamecube was the first console I owned where I actually understood the concept of release dates. Prior to this, my purchases were based on word of mouth of seeing games in shops and impulse buying them, but as 2002 began, I had entered a phase where I was becoming truly obsessed with all things Nintendo, and not just playing Mario All-Stars over and over (which isn’t a bad thing of course). I fondly remember picking up my first issue of CVG magazine and flicking through the previews section and instantly wanting to buy a Gamecube. The two big previews in that issue were of Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and even though I’d never played a Zelda game before, something told me that this series was special and I needed to take note. Those two previews were read constantly for months after that (I still have the issue stored away) and when I eventually got my Gamecube, I played Sunshine constantly.
But there was always that feeling of waiting for something else, and that something else was Wind Waker. As soon as the game’s release date was revealed in the magazine I made my first ever pre-order on a website that looking back, probably wasn’t the safest one on the internet (they went bankrupt soon after), and awaited the magic date of May 2nd 2003. The next few months were the longest of my life, and to this day I’ve never anticipated a game so much. It seems remarkable to me now that at that point, I’d never even touched a Zelda game, let alone had any idea what the gameplay was like. Something told me I needed this game, and I read every last scrap of information I could find on it. Finally the day arrived (later on I would realise I’d got lucky and got the collector’s edition with Ocarina of Time Master Quest thrown in) and as soon as the logo appeared on my little 4:3 TV screen, I knew the wait had been worth it.
Everything about playing that game is such a fond memory. From setting foot on Outset Island to getting those famous green clothes to sneaking around the Forsaken Fortress (which at the time took me ages to complete), everything about the game resides in my mind as a memorable moment. I could go on and on about my favourite moments from the game as for me, every experience was memorable and great. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t until many years later that I would discover Ocarina of Time and make the connection between the games; ignorance was bliss and every moment was a discovery of a great series reaching its pinnacle.
Having never played a Zelda game before it was hard to know what to expect. I quickly learnt that the story-telling was second to none, but I wasn’t sure how the game would actually play. As it turned out, it was perfect, feeling instantly comfortable and natural. The island and level design was superb, and even with the Triforce fetch quest (which I actually didn’t mind as it added some more exploration), the game was an absolute joy to play. The world was bursting with life, and the characters remain some of the most memorable to this day (Hoy small fry!).
But there were two more things that I would consider Wind Waker’s greatest legacy, the first of which was the then controversial issue of the graphics. When it was revealed (unbeknownst to me) that Wind Waker would be cel-shaded there was anarchy in the streets. Well not quite but there was a major backlash from the Zelda community, a backlash only the name Wii has generated since. At the time Nintendo said that in years to come the game would remain fantastic whereas other realistic looking games of that generation would fade. It is certainly true that while Ocarina is a great game, as the years pass the more likely the game’s legacy will be hurt by the graphics (hence a remake for the 3DS is in the works), and when we look back today, Wind Waker remains an incredible looking game. The scope of the world and the vibrancy with which it’s been created remain superb to this day, and the expressive characters are something that could only have been achieved with cel-shading. Toon Link has since made a name for himself as an off-shoot of the main series, and while Twilight Princess Link was great, I must admit Toon Link is the one that I always prefer the graphical style of. It’s a testament to the game that 8 years on it still looks as brilliant as it did on day one.
The other legacy this game leaves is in the music. The incredible, stunning and sweeping music. In no other game since have I been content to wander aimlessly around an island just to listen to the music or sail the ocean for considerable lengths of time just to hear that iconic tune. The music is quite simply stunning, and is memorable even to this day. The Great Sea theme is etched onto my mind permanently and hearing it brings back great memories of sailing with the King of Red Lions across a flooded Hyrule. No game before or since has left such a lasting musical impression as Wind Waker.
From the shores of Outset Island to the bustling market town of Windfall Island to the beautiful Forest Haven, everything about the Wind Waker is perfect. True, Nintendo wanted to make a bigger game, and it’s clear where dungeons would have fit in (just obtaining the last pearl with no effort for example) but regardless of these omissions, Wind Waker is engaging and brilliant throughout. When I played Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time through I always found myself missing a certain connection with the characters that I had obtained in Wind Waker. It may have been the sheer quantities of time I spent on each island in Wind Waker that allowed me to connect with every character, but it’s more likely that the characters themselves are just that great.
Ganondorf’s final line is the now iconic “the wind… it is blowing”, which symbolises how even though he is dead, the wind still blows and Hyrule lives on in Link and Tetra/Zelda. Even today, the wind of this game still blows on, allowing new gamers to discover what for me is one of the greatest games of all time. From the unforgettable characters and locales to the shocking plot twists that have yet to be beaten (Hyrule is under the sea?!), Wind Waker has it all. So this week, as we celebrate Link’s 25th Anniversary, take a moment to think back 8 years and remember the pinnacle of the series. Even to this day I am still completely mesmerised by this game; a game that is so important to me in so many ways. Not only was it my most anticipated game of all time and my first ever pre-order, but it was also the first game I ever reviewed, and the beginning of my writing career. Not before nor since have I ever been so engrossed in a game, and I can’t see that ever changing.
With Ocarina getting a 3DS remake, the future of Toon Link could be promising. There’s the potential there for a 3D remake, and naturally, we can be hopeful that all the features they didn’t have time for on the original release could be added in. That’s more dungeons, more locations and more enjoyment. But for me we need to see a new console game in this style. Yes, the Zelda games are always great but The Wind Waker is so captivating, so brilliant and so engrossing that it deserves another spot in the limelight. Will Nintendo listen? We’ll see.