Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 1, 2014

Email: Confession: I used to love Wind Waker but…

I have a confession. Wind Waker used to be my favorite Zelda game.  Here’s the thing, it was not the first one I played.  In fact my first Zelda was the original Zelda followed by Zelda II.  But for whatever reason I missed out on all the ones in between until Wind Waker (long story).  Now I totally get why it wasn’t a massive hit for Nintendo.  At a time when Nintendo was dealing with a “kiddy” image on the Gamecube, doing a cartoony cell shaded Zelda was not a good idea.  Even when I first saw it, I was like “really.”  I’m not going to go all out and say I was one of those who protested it and kept an open mind but I know I’m not the majority and trying to convince the masses to overlook the visuals, well I’d have an easier time making water not be wet.  Even the much lauded sailing didn’t bother me. Then again I was young and in college and perhaps I was ok with wasting time sailing around and just exploring each area in the ocean and seeing what there was to find.
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Fast forward to the HD rerelease of Wind Waker.  I ended up getting the WWHD bundle because the store was out of the NSMBU bundle so it was Wind Waker, Skylanders or Nintendoland. You see my dilemma.  Going back to Wind Waker, now that I’m older it is amazing how much the game wastes your time.  Sure you have the swift sail which speeds up sailing but I don’t know if you knew but in order to get it, you have to visit the auction house and hope that the time you visit, it’s on the block or wait around and bit on heart pieces and other crap.  Given how much the swift sail was touted, why was that not available from the time you buy the sail on Windfall Island?
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But one thing never mentioned in various criticisms of Zelda is the wall you hit after the midpoint of the game. (Spoilers ahead) After you beat the tower of the gods, get beat up by Ganondorf and find out Tetra is Zelda, you’re sent back to the ocean to find the sage temples.  This is where the game’s terrible design really shows.  Up to this point, you had a general idea of where to go and what to do but if you try to go to either sage temple, one is blocked by high winds, the other by a large stone statue head. What do you do?  Well you talk to the fish by feeding him, he tells you the islands where you can get said items to get you through the doors.  When you travel to those islands, one is covered in ice and the other is a volcano. What do you do? Feed the local fish AGAIN and he tells you the island where you can find the ice and fire arrows, but you sail to THAT island only to find it inaccessible. The fish here only mentions how you can’t get inside.  So now what?  Well the first time I played this I ended up sailing the ENTIRE Map, feeding every single fish for advice and it wasn’t until the very last panel I reached where he informed me to shoot arrows at the tornado and THEN you gain the song you can play to get you to the inaccessible island to get the fire and ice arrows to get into the ice and volcano islands to continue the freaking game.  I have no idea how I had the patience back then.  I didn’t want to look it up online because I like to challenge myself.  And sure there was a lot of mindless wandering in the original NES Zelda, but there I felt like I was making progress.  In the original Zelda, I’d wander around just to see what there was and I found useful items, hidden areas, things I would want to return to later. In Wind Waker, it’s all vast ocean with a few small islands where you can do more Anouma puzzles that only gets you more heart pieces or treasure maps that leads to more pointless sailing around (oh goody).  Not to mention some of the most tedious side missions like taking pictures to make a figurine collection or swapping various items with shop keepers that only gets you a heart piece.  At least in Ocarina the long trading sequence game got you a bigger, stronger sword.
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But I didn’t tell you about an even bigger flaw no one points out.  Once you get the items that make the sage temples accessible. You go into either temple and you STILL can’t enter it. Why?  You have to find the sage to play the song to open the door inside and to do co-op puzzles with your sidekick.  Meaning back to the ocean, luckily by this time you can warp to the respective islands.  One is on the island of bird people and the other is on the forest island.  But the game doesn’t mention this or indicate this in any way.  If you try to get the forest sage first, the game will not let you. Even though you got the item and can reach the Wind Temple, you HAVE to do the Earth temple first with its respective sage.  The fact that THIS is never brought up in criticisms of the game nor was it fixed in the HD remake is mind boggling.  I gotta wonder how many people thought the game was broken when they went to Forest Haven and couldn’t find who they were looking for and gave up, if they didn’t already prior to this point.  I stuck through it because I was young and stupid I guess.
There was a bright point in Wind Waker.  There’s a place called “The Savage Labyrinth” on the beginning island where one of the Triforce shards is hidden.  This is nothing but a gauntlet of enemies. None of which drops health.  You progress through one room after another as the enemies get stronger, the deeper you go.  It’s all combat, no puzzle nonsense, of course this is Anouma Zelda so the enemies aren’t that hard to beat and if you got all the bottles and stocked up on potions, you can survive it fairly easily. The best part comes is after you reach the room with the Triforce piece, you can still continue deeper where the enemies get even harder though the reward is just a trinket mask that isn’t that important but it was satisfying to be able to engage in some worthwhile combat.  This concept did carry over to Twilight Princess in the Geurdo Desert when you removed the missing Bridge of Eldin piece, but I don’t recall anything like that in Skyward Sword and definitely nothing like that in the DS Zeldas. Guess Anouma didn’t want gamers enjoying mindless hacking and slashing through waves of enemies.
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Some would argue Wind Waker’s ocean encourages exploration like Skyrim or GTA or the original Zelda would, but the ocean for as big as it is, is full of a lot of nothing.  You occasionally encounter a giant squid to fight, there are all the little islands to explore that are almost all some sort of puzzle or you can search for treasure but nearly all the treasures you find are just rupees which are pointless since all the enemies drop all the arrows, bombs and hearts you’ll ever need or heart pieces which just make the game easier than it already is.  I remember when I played the original NES Zelda, the first time I moved the Armos and found the secret shop with the blue ring and after that spend a good amount of time grinding Rupees to get it because who wouldn’t want something to reduce your damage?  I know Anouma claims this new Zelda’s going to have a big open world but I honestly expect it to be Wind Waker on land meaning vast expanses of nothing littered with small areas of puzzles to get heart pieces and Rupees.

 

Yes, Wind Waker is very lame game. I have noticed that younger people tend to not notice the time-wasting aspects of it. My 14 year old nephew doesn’t mind the game. I expect that to change when he gets older.

It is easier to catalog the good things about Wind Waker instead of the bad as it is a much, much shorter list. Wind Waker is very bright and inviting game. It is not brown or gray or drab like many other games. I will give it that. Wind Waker’s idea of adventure on the ocean is very sound (the idea, not the implementation) as it is found in the deepest of mythology such as the Odyssey (a shame there is nothing mythological after that). The immersion of being out on the water is cool because there aren’t that many ocean type games. The final battle is pretty cool.

But that’s about all I’ve got.

You know, it is fun to see Nintendo developers’ opinions as a strange type of parallel universe. In this universe, Zelda 2 is The Worst Game Ever Made along with Zelda 1 and Twilight Princess. The best Zelda ever made? Oh, that Wind Waker. The only good thing with Link to the Past would be cutting the grass. This is the world Nintendo developers live in. It is quite fascinating and horrifying to see gaming from their perspective.

 


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