Looking back at The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, it's completely insane how so many of us–myself included–were skeptical of the game just because of the shift in art style. After seeing that much more realistic Zelda demo at Spaceworld 2000, many of us were hoping for the series to go in a more mature direction. Yes, Ocarina of Time was a bit darker, and Majora's Mask was pretty mature with its recurring themes of death and destruction, but a lot of us wanted a mature Link to face off against a devil-like Ganondorf in a completely dark world on the advanced GameCube.
Well, that's not exactly what we got with Wind Waker, but you know what? That's a damn good thing!
This is what we thought we were getting.
As Wind Waker's launch drew closer and closer, and as Nintendo revealed more information on the game in interviews and features, I grew much more excited for the game's release. I ended up preordering it, getting the Ocarina of Time Master Quest disc, playing both versions of that game in anticipation of Wind Waker, and then spending hours upon hours with Link's vast oceanic quest. I was completely enthralled in the game's universe, and I truly adored the world, the lore, and the aesthetic of Wind Waker. To this day, that title is one of my favorite Zelda games, and I hold it right up there with Ocarina of Time as one of my all-time favorites.
The first thing I want to discuss is the visual design in Wind Waker. Yes, the same thing that I was ever so skeptical about when I was just a graphics-loving lad is the first thing I want to pinpoint here. Simply put, Wind Waker was a mighty good-looking game back in 2003, and it still is today. The cel-shaded graphical style of the game is something that has held up remarkably well over the years, and it goes without saying that Wind Waker is one of the best-looking Zelda games ever made (along with Skyward Sword, of course). In addition to the lovely character and enemy designs, the world itself is a sheer joy to look at, and the animations are smooth and lively.
Speaking of smooth and lively, the music in Wind Waker fits both of those descriptions. At times you'll hear serene, melodic themes, while other times you'll be treated to songs that are a bit louder and action-oriented. The soundtracks in Zelda games have always been strong, and Wind Waker dared to do a lot of things different than its predecessors as far as its sound design is concerned. Not surprisingly, it worked, and this shift in style fit perfectly with the whole pirate vibe of Wind Waker, all the while adhering to the quality of the series' standards for music.
This is what we got, and it was amazing.
Gameplay in Wind Waker is broken up into several parts. First and foremost, there's the sailing. This aspect of the game tends to fall under some criticism from a few fans, but I never had a problem with it, and I still don't. I love the idea of sailing across the vast ocean, encountering enemies, discovering secrets, and searching for the Triforce. This aspect of the game–at least in my mind–gave me the feeling that I was truly a small speck in a massive world.
Several other gameplay elements make up Wind Waker, most of which we've seen in other Zelda games. Combat is still simple, but that's not a bad thing. It's fun battling Ganondorf's legions, and the newer combat mechanics that were introduced in Wind Waker are still awesome. Expect to talk to a lot of characters and visit different islands (which take the place of towns and villages from other Zelda games). If you're really into voice acting, the loads of text in Wind Waker may not appeal to you. Still, this is a Zelda game from 2003, so you can't go into this expecting incredible voice-overs like you might with many more recent games.
We can all agree that the dungeons in Zelda games make up a lot of the enjoyment that there's to be had in these experiences, and Wind Waker truly does the series justice. While there are only six main dungeons (not counting Ganon's Tower), there is still plenty of fighting and puzzle-solving in the game's dark dwellings. One thing that I've always admired in Wind Waker is just how active the dungeons feel, and this is thanks in part to the cel-shaded graphics. The bright colors and smooth animations really make everything pop a bit more, and there's definitely a lot to like in the dungeon design of this game. Oh, and of course there are the bosses, which are as massive as ever and truly a wonder to see.
Wind Waker is one of the most charming and visually pleasing entries in the Zelda series.
In case you couldn't already tell, I really love Wind Waker. It's one of the best Zelda games I've ever played, and it truly is a game worth revisiting. The art style is much different from its predecessors, but that's a good thing. Hell, it's a great thing. While Wind Waker is most certainly more of the same, it's a great package that was absolutely stellar when it launched, and there's enough that's different here to make the game stand out among its brethren. Even now, this is a game that you should definitely experience all over again, even if you've played or are currently playing Skyward Sword. And if by some chance you skipped this entry in the Zelda series before, I implore you to find a copy and play it. If that's the case, you're pretty lucky–it's not every day that you can experience the magic of Wind Waker for the first time.
The verdict: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is an amazing game that holds up incredibly well. Whether you're playing it again or experiencing it for the first time, this GameCube title is truly a work of art, not just because of its visual design, but because of its gameplay, music, vast world, and the very feelings it creates within the player.