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The Memory Card .47: A castle stuck in time

4:21 PM on 12.11.2008 // Chad Concelmo

Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar:

You are playing a videogame and reach a section that is absolutely beautiful to look at. Instead of playing through quickly, you take your time, even moving your character at a snail’s pace just to take in all of the game’s gorgeous visuals.

To take things even further, you start spinning the camera around your main character in focused, choreographed patterns. You start to combine the two, moving your character around corners while manually controlling the camera to make the reveal of the striking environments all the more effective. In a way, you become the game’s director, making sure each delicate polygon gets the artistic respect it deserves.

While I do this in almost too many games to count (what can I say? I really appreciate videogames as art!), the eye-catching sequence I think I cherish the most occurs in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube. More than any other scene in the history of videogames, this specific sequence offers a joyous combination of beautiful graphics and truly heartwarming nostalgia. In a word, it’s spectacular.

Hit the jump to revisit a moment that holds a very special place in my heart.

The Set-Up

This is the second time The Wind Waker has been featured on the Memory Card. The first dealt with the surprising revelation that (SPOILER ALERT!) Tetra is really Princess Zelda in disguise. Even though it’s a great moment, finding out Tetra’s true identity is actually not my favorite part of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Regardless, if you want to find out more about the beginning of the game and the backstory of Tetra and Link’s relationship, you can click here. For this article, however, I will mostly be focusing on the specific events that lead up to this week’s extraordinary moment.

As with most Zelda games, The Wind Waker follows Link as he travels from one superbly designed dungeon to the next in an attempt to save Princess Zelda and the world around him. But with Wind Waker, players were shocked to find Link and company living in a world covered in water! The familiar fields and forests of games past had been replaced with miles and miles of blue ocean and mysterious islands.

After traveling though the first section of the game and getting used to his brave new world, Link is assisted by a boat that calls itself the King of Red Lions. This small vessel becomes The Wind Waker’s Epona, basically serving as Link’s means of travel throughout the vast, water-covered world.

Once retrieving three mystical pearls and returning them to their respective islands, Link and the King of Red Lions unveil the massive Tower of the Gods in the middle of the ocean. The tower, serving as one of the game’s dungeons, is a multi-level fortress full of fearsome creatures and, like always, exceptionally designed puzzles.

Upon reaching the top of the tower, Link battles and defeats a massive boss named Gohdan. As the epic boss falls, a ring of light appears in the center of the tower’s calm waters.

Curious about what awaits him, Link and the King of Red Lions quietly sail into the beckoning light.

As the light surrounds the two, they are unexpectedly pulled into the sea. At first Link freaks out, fearing that he will drown under the gradually darkening water. Slowly, though, he realizes that the magical light is protecting him and allowing him to breathe!

Link and the King of Red Lions continue to be pulled downward until something even stranger happens: the world becomes black and white, with only Link and his nautical ally maintaining their original color.

As Link sinks farther and farther into the sea, a huge castle comes into view adorned with the symbol of the all-powerful Triforce (the iconic symbol of the Zelda universe).

Wait, the Triforce? Where is Link headed and what is his purpose in this strange underwater castle? All of these answers can be explained in this week’s stunning Memory Card moment: A castle stuck in time.

The Moment

The King of Red Lions finally comes to a halt in a small pool right outside the grand castle. Even though he just traveled for what seemed like miles underwater, Link finds himself in the outdoors, with trees, flowers, and rolling hills surrounding him. Although they are in black and white, their beauty intrigues Link since he has never seen so much land in his entire life.

As Link steps forward he immediately realizes the entire castle exists in some kind of bubble, a huge dome shielding it from the surrounding ocean.

Showing no signs of hesitation, Link quickly runs into the castle to find out more about what the heck is going on.

When Link steps foot in the castle and his eyes adjust to the new light, he can’t believe what stands before him. Instead of a castle bustling with people and life, the black and white interior is motionless, all of the creatures within literally stuck in time and not moving.

In the center of the castle’s entrance is a huge statue of a hero that, strangely, looks almost identical to Link (although a little older).

This is when the player realizes where they are.

You see, Wind Waker takes place 100 years after the events of classic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In that game, “Link” was the Hero of Time and worshipped by everyone for saving Hyrule and putting an end to Ganon.

The underwater castle that this game’s Link now stands in is the same Hyrule Castle from Ocarina of Time. After Ocarina of Time, this modern day Hyrule was covered by a massive amount of water, forcing all its citizens to move to the top of all the mountain peaks, the “islands” of this new world.

As Link makes his way through Hyrule Castle, he notices some gorgeous details along the way: paintings of the king, statues of Princess Zelda. It’s almost as if Link is stepping into a moment frozen in the past.

After solving a simple, Triforce-related puzzle, Link is granted passage to the basement of Hyrule Castle.

Here, he stumbles upon a giant room full of giant suits of armor that surround none other than the resting place of the fabled Master Sword.

Knowing what he must do (he is the “hero in green” after all), Link steps forward and removes the sword from its home.

As the smooth metal slides out of the pedestal, the giant suits of armor come to life.

A flash of white temporarily blinds Link.

Like the light from a newly risen sun, color starts to cover the castle. The creatures that had been trapped in time for numerous decades slowly start to move again.

Hyrule Castle returns to life.

In a proud moment, Link raises the Master Sword above his head. A new hero has been chosen.

At this point in the game, Link must escape the castle (now filled with the enemy creatures that have been brought back to life) and return to the King of Red Lions.

The battles are numerous and offer some of the greatest and most rewarding challenges in the game, but eventually the Hero of Winds successfully returns to his ship and makes his way back to the flooded world above.

With the Master Sword in hand, Link vows to save Hyrule once again.

You can watch the jaw-dropping sequence right here:

The Impact

The first time I reached Hyrule Castle in The Wind Waker I was blown away.

Now, I know I say that often, but, literally, the set piece took my breath away.

Obviously, the scene in gorgeous. As I mentioned in this post’s introduction, I think I just walked around the black and white, motionless castle for a good half-hour before doing anything. With my right thumb on the C-stick, I made sure to check out every square inch of the nostalgic castle -- I just had to take in all the stunning visuals!

Just the way the scene is created -- the contrasting color/black and white, the paralyzed creatures that can be viewed from all angles -- is truly a work of art.

But as a Zelda fan, this scene delivers far beyond just the striking visual beauty.

As most people will agree, Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest videogames ever created. Leaving that world behind in the late 90s was sad, to say the least. And when Wind Waker was released, a lot of people freaked out, not only about the beloved series’ complete visual overhaul, but about the lack of a true Hyrule.

After playing through Wind Waker for a significant amount of time, receiving a payoff such as this is incredible. IT’S HYRULE CASTLE, for crying out loud! And that’s a statue of the Link from Ocarina of Time! And, for the true lovers of details, if you look close, the stained glass windows that surround the Master Sword actually display all the sages from Link’s Nintendo 64 adventure. The whole sequence is absolutely amazing-- I really can’t say it enough.

Up to this point in gaming, there really had only been a small handful of games that revisit a famous place from an earlier game in the series. As fans of the Metal Gear games know, this very same technique was used to perfection in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. While it may not be as dramatic, Wind Waker did it first ... and did it just as beautifully.

While all the Zelda games are amazing in their own ways, Wind Waker really raises the bar in terms of visual presentation and story. It can be argued that no Zelda since has even come close to the game’s uniqueness and visual fireworks. Heck, the Hyrule Castle sequence alone helps Wind Waker stand tall as one of the best entries in the series.

It really says something about a game when I can, literally, run around for large periods of time only swinging the camera around my main character and just letting the beauty of the in-game visuals seep into my mind.

To this day I still do this with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 - .20 (Season 1)
.21 - .40 (Season 2)
.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)
.42: Pyramid Head! (Silent Hill 2)
.43: Waiting for Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)
.44: Solid vs. Liquid (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.45: The birth of the cutscene (Ninja Gaiden)
.46: Insult swordfighting (The Secret of Monkey Island)

Chad Concelmo,
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