A good game, but nowhere near Zelda's usual quality.
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Being a Nintendo fan ever since the age of three, I have seen Nintendo in every form. NES, GameBoy, Super NES, N64, Gamecube, heck, even the Virtual Boy! That being said, I have also known and loved their Zelda franchise at the same time. Nearly every single Zelda game has been about a wondrous adventure to save the land while gaining strength and ability along the way, with the player choosing to go wherever they wish in order to finish side quests. This has made almost every Zelda game feel like a fantasy adventure similar to Tolkien, only with more action.
When news of the Wind Waker reached the Zelda faithful, most of us cried foul at first, thinking that Miyamoto had finally started to feel the effects of age as we were shown a Zelda that looked like a cartoon, rather than the realistic look we had gotten used to with Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask respectively. Now the game is here, and has been here for quite a while. I intend to determine, at least in my eyes, does Wind Waker keep the Zelda magic?
Even just a few hours into the Wind Waker, possibly the most prominent change to one of Nintendo's best franchises is the fact that the land of Hyrule is basically no more. According to story details, Ganon somehow broke out of that seal the sages imprisoned him with back in Ocarina of Time, and because Link didn't show up (or maybe he did... we'll probably find out in Twilight Princess) the Hylians flooded the land in order to stop him.
What this means for the player is that almost all of the fun stuff from Ocarina is gone. No exploring the landscape looking for heart containers any more, nor for rupees or additional items. In order to get anywhere, the player is forced to go on Link's quest by sailboat, and let me tell you, sailing is no picnic. While the actual sailing itself is fairly easy, it quickly becomes quite monotonous, and a player can take from twenty to thirty minutes at a time sailing just to get to a important story location, or even just a small side quest. While some of the boredom in sailing can be helped through exploring islands along the way, most of these islands aren't open until later in the game and the purpose becomes moot.
Wind Waker fortunately does keep quite a lot of things from its N64 predecessor. The entire combat and control system from Ocarina remain relatively intact and combat is pretty much perfect. There are only two significant changes to the combat; the first is that parrying has now been introduced; pressing the A button at an opportune time results in a parry which can damage enemies to a large extent and is needed to defeat certain enemies later in the game.
The other, more glaring change is that Wind Waker's difficulty during combat is much too easy, as even bosses can be taken out in times five minutes or lower. That certainly didn't happen in the older Zeldas. Well, not unless you knew how to finish them off. Many of the Zelda basics are still retained in Wind Waker. Link still journeys to fight Ganon and keep the Triforce safe with Zelda at his side; the arrows, bombs, bottles, boomerang and most of the other major items are here as well. There are plenty of side quests to get heart containers, rupees and upgrades. The elements ARE there.
In Ocarina of Time, the item that was the game's namesake was essential to the game. Players unlocked many doors, warped throughout Hyrule, manipulated the elements and even managed to freeze the undead. The Wind Waker, by contrast, is not nearly as interesting. While the magical baton can learn songs and cause Link to warp and manipulate the time of day like the aforementioned Ocarina, the Wind Waker for some reason doesn't seem as ?magical' as Link's Ocarina did. Possibly because its main use is to constantly change the direction the wind flows. While at first this isn't such a bad thing, the constant repetition soon gets irritating and the Wind Waker starts to feel like a cheap imitation of the Ocarina.
Possibly the biggest reason that Wind Waker feels like such a disappointment (at least to me) is that it is the shortest Zelda game there is. Argue if you want that the NES game is shorter by geographic size, but if you didn't know both games, which would take you longer to finish? Wind Waker only has five main dungeons, quite a surprise to the Zelda faithful as the dungeons are part of the Zelda series' charm. While these dungeons can be very fun, especially with the new items gained from within (the Deku Leaf is awesome) but they are very short, and very easy. If you know Zelda, or even if you aren't an expert, the puzzles and enemies won't give you any problems.
Remember the Water Temple in Ocarina? What about the Sky Temple from Minish Cap? The Wind Fish from Link's Awakening? Or the infamous ninth dungeon from the original Zelda? No such dungeons exist in Wind Waker, and while the game has it's own charm, it is sadly lacking in originality. It is safe to assume that Zelda was rushed to the masses in order to satisfy fans who were having a Gamecube drought. This becomes most evident after players have finished the fifth dungeon and are sent on a quest to retrieve eight Triforce shards from all across the ocean. Now this might have been fun if it were done in a few more dungeons, but what we get is just more repetitive sailing while getting not only the shards but clues needed for said shards. What's scary is that the Japanese version is apparently even more irritating in this particular quest, making one of the only times I don't envy the Japanese in regards to video games.
Many of you are wondering and probably have already made a decision on the graphics. Well, surprisingly, the game's visual style is one of my favorite parts. The game looks and feels like a living cartoon or Japanese Anime, and the animation that comprises it is superb! Facial expressions, fluid movement, and enemies poofing away into clouds of smoke are all very impressive to witness and when you aren't sailing, the visuals in certain areas can amaze you. I'm amazed that Nintendo was able to do this within just a year or so of the Gamecube's lifecycle, and look forward to seeing what they can do with the upcoming Phantom Hourglass. Forget Cel-shading, look at full-cel like Zelda's!
Overall, Wind Waker is certainly no Ocarina of Time. However, if you are willing to overlook the game's constant and monotonous sailing, as well as the short length and easy difficulty than you can have yourself quite a good time still. While flawed, Wind Waker is still better than almost ninety percent of any game on the market. So if you have a few days to spend and don't mind some repetition, go out and get it! Now the rest of us, who have long since played the game, long forward to better things in Twilight Princess. You'd better not disappoint us again Nintendo!
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