August 08, 2009
Why The Wind Waker might be the best Zelda ever
As the years go on I find myself having more and more affection for The Legend Of Zelda: The WindWaker. It was summer 2003 whenever I first set sail on the Great Sea and I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of WW. It felt like the game my expectation had built in my mind, it didn't disappoint. However, my overall affection for The Ocarina Of Time won over, with Windwaker always placing alittle behind.
While I'm not ready to say WW is better than OOT- I find it catches up alittle every year and each time I play it. Here's some of my thoughts as to why- in years to come, the WindWaker might actually be considered as much of a masterpiece as Ocarina is.
Twilight Princess helped me realize that Zelda is in danger of getting old, it's in danger of repeating itself and never breaking any boundries. WindWaker was exactly what Nintendo need now. It's fresh, unique and at the very least- its style would provide us with a current gen visual experience, helping Wii owners to forget they're playing with the least power. I feel it's actually quite amusing how Twilight Princess, the game everyone wanted Windwaker to be, has ultimately been the game that has revealed just how tired Zelda has become. So like I said right from day one- Long Live the Wind Waker.
The Windwaker is beautiful. The goal to create a 'living cartoon' succeeds on every level.
It pays tribute to the franchises roots with clear inspiration showing through from earlier 2D games; it summarizes perfectly what Zelda is all about. Cleverly- the visual style not only presents Zelda in an all new way but it goes leaps and bounds beyond what we expect the Gamecube to be capable of, with seamless loading through the overworld and high resolution textures, first class animation and just sheer brilliant art design.
Thanks entirely to such a brave move concerning the Art direction, WW is ageless, looking newer now than any Zelda game since and easily one of the prettiest games Nintendo have ever made.
It stands the test of time.
While the WW arguebly does nothing to reshuffle the Zelda deck, the strong visual idenity does more to freshen the franchise than anything before or since. And on closer expection- elements we've seen again and again in Zelda titles aren't quite the same in WW.
For example, the Overworld is gone in this game, there is no vast stretch of land connecting the points of our adventure. Instead, for the first time ever, we're given an entire sea to play with. A brave move that ultimately could have backfired if Nintendo had not of created an 'Epona' that would completely change how we play Zelda.
The Boat in WW is something I feel a lot of people take forgranted, to craft a vast ocean and to have our hero sail across it, taking the wind into consideration, the speed, the waves, the weather and for it to feel natural and simple for the player- that is an incredible achievement. Far more challenging, from a design point, than giving us a horse and a field.
The combat is as well refined and polished as OOT first made it. Only now it combines brand new elements of parrying, dodging and acrobatics- making each fight an intense experience of speed and reaction. In addition- a curious element of note chimes climbing in pitch combined in relation to your strikes informs you just how much more damage your enemy can take. Tying in beautifully with the games Musical conductor theme and at the same time providing vital information about how close you are to success. Combat in WW is a unique, perfectly crafted system that is an absolute joy to execute.
WW has no prentences, it doesn't think it's any other Zelda- it's a brand new story. It hasn't got the problems most of the other 3D Zeldas have, which is the obvious burden of topping OOT. The WW has confidence in itself and it shows through the major design choices. There's a sense that this game is proud of how different it is and that the difference is what saves it from the OOT trap.
Ultimately at the core- it's the same game we've come to expect, that is why it works. But there are so many new layers to WW that people forget just how different it really was. It's about as different as any Zelda has been without breaking the forumla.
The story combines all the Zelda elements but all begins with a simple mission to save a little sister from harm. Innocently, Link becomes involved with a far larger picture and we discover each part of it with him, as we adventure across the ocean for answers. The Story in WW is an adventure, we feel the need to explore and hunt for the answers as much as Link does and I feel that is the key to the success of WWs story. We don't have some predetermined path of righteous justice, we don't have knowledge of the world we're venuturing into. We're just some little kid from a happy little island who ends up being the boy who saves the world. That's an adventure. That's Zelda.
No other Zelda like it.
The WW style hasn't died completely, it lives wild and free on the ever popular DS. Phantom Hourglass and the upcoming Spirit Tracks both lend themselves to the beautiful art direction composed for the WW. However, they aren't 3D Zelda games, they're a whole beast of their own, with excellent precision controls and the gameplay flow we've all come to expect from Zelda. As great as that is, it isn't the same as the experience had on Gamecubes WW and Fully 3D Zelda titles. This makes WW one of a kind and I wish it wasn't. I long for another fully 3D WW adventure but to be honest, I feel that the knowledge that I won't ever get one is what helps elevate WW even further in my mind.
When you set sail on the open Ocean in Windwaker, the waves crashing against your vessel, the seagulls racing along side you and the gloomy tower on the horizion lurching closer, this is an experience that no other Zelda has ever given us.
You can actually feel the wind in your face.
If you never played it, play it right now. If you did- go and replay it.