The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a 2003 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo GameCube. Before the GameCube had been released, I had seen a tech demo for a new Zelda game. My friends and I were all really excited to see this new Zelda. We were growing up, we were excited for a dark Zelda game with realistic graphics. Unfortunately, six months before The Wind Waker was released, Nintendo revealed the first screenshots and trailer. The artstyle had changed from realistic to cartoony. My friends and I were devastated. We felt that they ruined the game. They were turning Zelda back into a childish game.
Even though I hated the direction Nintendo took the game in, I was still probably going to buy it. The gameplay would at least be fun. Over the months leading to launch day, Nintendo released small tidbits of information. As I read about all the new features, I slowly started to accept the new graphics and like the new gameplay options. I finally preordered the game about two months before launch. Things worked out even better because I ended up having to do an operation at the dentist. I was going to miss a week of school to recover from the surgery. It just so happened that the Wind Waker released that same week. Since I was recovering my mom picked up the game for me along with the strategy guide.
I started up the game that night and became totally immersed. I had all the time in the world that week, so nothing held me back from exploring everything. I ended up loving the new graphics. They were just so crisp and clean. It looked like a real cartoon TV show. The animation was that good. Most people who just saw a video of the game wouldn’t be able to tell it was a video game. I loved the seamless, open seas. I could set sail in any direction and see what was out there. Usually, I’d find a treasure chest with some useful goodies. The Great Sea in The Wind Waker was like Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time times ten. It was just so much bigger and more interesting to explore.
There were some downsides though. While exploring the seas was fun, the rewards quickly lost their usefulness. The player needed a lot of Rupees, the in-game money, to complete the game, but I explored so much I was pretty much constantly at the maximum Rupee total the whole time. The other notable treasure, Heart Pieces, increased the character’s life total, but the game was easy enough I didn’t really need most of them. Early in the game, exploration felt rewarding as I reached the Rupee maximum and increased Link’s life total. Later in the game, exploration felt like a waste of time. It was still fun to figure out the puzzles on some remote island, but it would have been better if the payoff was just as good.
Another problem was that at a certain point in the story, the player had to go searching for Triforce Charts. The game gave very few clues on how to get these. Usually, the player could talk to these fish people near each island to tell which island had a Triforce Chart, but they didn’t usually give enough detail on how to get it. I was glad I got the strategy guide or else I would have spent countless hours searching for those charts. This kind of tedium would be fine for a sidequest but not for the main quest. Nintendo should have made another dungeon or two instead of a long treasure hunt with few clues. A large part of the length in the game was having to sail everywhere. I really liked the sailing but it did start to get boring having to wait for the boat to get to the next destination.
Compared to Ocarina of Time, the Wind Waker wasn’t as revolutionary. Ocarina of Time was the first 3D Zelda game, and they did amazing for figuring out how to do that well, not having an earlier, successful game to emulate. The core gameplay of The Wind Waker was mostly the same as Ocarina of Time. They didn’t have to create as many new things to make it a good game. It played pretty much like Ocarina of Time, better in some areas but worse in others. It was a great game but not revolutionary. It is still a timeless game though. I went back to it recently and was immersed again just like the first time. The good things about the game greatly outweigh the flaws.