High adventure. Big, beautiful worlds. Fun action gameplay. Exploration and puzzles. Epic boss fights. These are a few of the hallmarks of the acclaimed, long-running Legend of Zelda series.
Chances are that you are familiar with the series if you’re reading this, so I won’t spend any time making the case for why Zelda is such a pivotal piece of video game culture. Instead, I’ll jump right into describing my favorite game in the series.
It’s not the most common choice (that’d be Ocarina of Time), but my favorite Zelda game is the Gamecube entry, The Wind Waker.
Why is it my favorite? For starters, it was the first Zelda game I played end-to-end on a TV console (I beat Link’s Awakening a couple times on Game Boy). But it’s more than just a sentimental favorite: There are a bunch of things specific to Wind Waker that make it my favorite.
To start, I’ll address the “elephant in the room,” the number one complaint people always make about this game: The sailing portions. I’ve read frequently that people find these dull. I suppose they’re repetitive, but isn’t pretty much any game exploration or travel system?
The open seas give you an enormous horizon, so you can see islands that are miles away as just a speck. There are no loading screens or transitions, so traversing the world is one continuous experience. It makes the whole thing immersive. (Other than having to change the direction of the wind every five minutes — that part IS annoying.)
I also find the whole experience to be somewhat peaceful. It gives a rhythm to the game: In between the action, you have the quiet sailing trips. It builds up the tension leading to each dungeon or event and gives you some quiet between the intensity.
What really makes Wind Waker stand out is the whimsical presentation and design. The cel-shaded look gives the game a timeless feel, and the bright colors feel fresh in an age where big-budget games are dominated by realism and “grit.”
The cartoonish look doesn’t prevent the game form telling a gripping, emotional story, either — check the intro video at the top of the post or the big twist about a side character. In fact, the expressiveness of Link’s big eyes and goofy facial features make him more endearing and relatable here than in any other Zelda I’ve played.
The gameplay is, by and large, very fun. The puzzles are challenging and fun, the dungeons are big and varied, and the combat is fluid and engaging (if a bit on the easy side). It’s just a fun, sweeping adventure.
If I had to pinpoint the game’s “secret sauce,” though, it would have to be the music. I love the music in this game. From the perfect intro (go watch it again, at the top of this post), through Dragon Roost Island (whose theme I sometimes put on loop when I want to concentrate), and beyond, this is a beautiful and perky score.
As an added touch for fans of the series — and playing off the the idea that this Wind Waker’s world is a post-Noah’s Ark type-apocalypse version of the worlds from previous games — some songs are variations of songs from previous games in the Zelda series.
A couple other thoughts:
- I respect it as a design choice, but I have to say the stealth dungeon that appears early in the game is a little bit of a drag during replays.
- The photography mini-game is one of the most extensive minigames I am aware of in any game. The goal is to take a picture of literally every character in the entire game.
- Link’s voice while slipping on ice is one of my favorite sound effects in any game.
- Worth watching (and eerily matching my opinion) is Yahtzee’s review of Wind Waker HD. I haven’t played the HD remake, but I hear it’s the original with a few refinements and a graphical update.