I make no secret of the fact that I love The Legend of Zelda series, nor am I stranger to writing about certain games of the series. Band of Bloggers was created by a trio of rad Dtoiders (Dreamweaver, Fenriff, and The Scholarly Gamer) as a video game book club where we look at a certain game or series, and this month is all about The Legend of Zelda series. However, rather then going down memory lane or talk about a game I'm not a fan of, I decided that I would discuss and analyze my favorite game in the series. A game that I was excited for and defended in my early days of Internet browsing. A game that got me back into the series after my disappointment over Majora's Mask. The game I liked before it was cool. I'm of course referring to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker; in case that wasn't obvious already.
Released in Japan in late 2002 (with Europe and North America getting it in 2003), Wind Waker was initally slammed by many gamers and members of the press for being "too cartoony", was called by one of my friends as "baby's first Zelda" at one point, and was even being compared to the ill-fated CD-i games. Naturally, all of these claims were unfounded, and Wind Waker would get universal praise by critics and gamers (though it fell way short of sales expectations and is the main reason Twilight Princess was darker). I was one of those people who loved the game, from it's bright art style, to it's lovable cast of characters, to the silly yet kind of sad story, and yes even the sailing. But the biggest thing in my mind that stuck out about Wind Waker and what's made it amazing even after all these years was how much it eschewed a lot of the familar tropes we've grown accustomed to when it comes to playing Zelda games, often going against the norm. The end result of this is a game that embraces what made past Zelda games amazing, but at the same time isn't afraid to shake up some of the more cliched characters and ideas the series has become famous for, and the game is much more interesting and engaging because of it. Here are just a few examples of what I mean.
Oh by the way, before I go on, this is your one and only warning but: SPOILERS AHOY. So if you've never played Wind Waker and don't want the game spoiled for you, you might want to close the tab now.
Let's start with the famous and easily recognizable hero Link (or Toon Link as he's been retroactively been called since Brawl). In most of the games, Link is a brave, strong, stoic hero who will save the land of Hyrule because it's his destiny (there are some slight variations, like where he lives, but for the most part it's pretty much the same). Toon Link on the other hand? He's brave.....and that's about it. He's young, naive, reckless, and not all that bright at times, with many characters reprimanding him because he goes into situations without thinking, often ending with him getting his butt kicked not once, not twice, but THREE times (at least according to my count). Heck, the only reason he's wearing his trademark green tunic is because it's a tradition on his home island of Outset Island to dress young boys as the hero of legend. In other words, at this point in time of Zelda's history, the green tunic is on par with lame holiday tradition that people do for no reason other than because it's a tradition, like not wearing white after Labor Day.
At the same time however, while Toon Link lacks a lot of the qualities of other iterations of Link, he has one thing going for him, and that he's more relatable as a character. Besides the fact that he's a lot more expressive in this game, Toon Link isn't sailing around this huge ocean, fighting hordes of monsters, and exploring dark dungeons because it's his destiny, but because his sister was kidnapped at the beginning of the game by the Helmaroc King, a giant bird, due to mistaken identity (the Helmaroc King was originally aiming for Tetra, who I'll talk about in a bit). This is a lot more meaningful as we all have someone important in our lives who we would do anything to save, and in that regard we as players can let some of Toon Link's reckless behavior slide because we would probably do the same thing. And yeah, it's established early on that Ganondorf is behind all of this and later in the game it falls into the traditional "great evil has returned, awaken to your destiny and stop it", but by that point it doesn't matter. Because by the time you get to that part of the story, you've already explored this vast world as a young boy on a quest to save his sister, so when the King of Red Lions (a.k.a. the King of Hyrule) tells you to revive the Master Sword and stop Ganondorf, you've not only explored the world enough that you're familiar with it, but you also have a personal investment to save it as well, as you have to stop Ganondorf not just because it's your destiny, but because doing so also protects Aryll, Link's Grandma (yeah he has a grandma in this game), Tetra and her pirates, and all the other NPCs you've met throughout this adventure, and that to me is much more of an impactful story than other games; not to say that Zelda games have terrible stories (far from it, I actually enjoy many of them for their narratives), but as a player, it was a lot easier to get invested in Toon Link's plight than in other games.
Wind Waker's version of Zelda (a.k.a Tetra) is another perfect example of a new twist on a classic character. In most games, Zelda is a kind, wise, caring ruler that is beloved by everyone. Tetra on the other hand, is the leader of a band of pirates and cares more about treasure, at least at first. In the beginning, she's bossy, makes a lot of jokes, and even a bit mean, making fun of Toon Link at the beginning of the game because of how sentimental he's getting over leaving his home for the first time. It's not until later in the game that she begins to open up more and shows that she is a kind caring indvidual, eventually forming a bond with Link and doing all she can to help him. Hmm, that sounds familar, doesn't it?
Tetra is an interesting version of Zelda, and not just because she serves as the basis for Midna (who is one of my favorite characters in the series). What makes Tetra interesting is that much like Toon Link, while she possess the basic, common traits of her counterparts, at the same time what makes her an endearing character is how much she isn't them; in other words, how un-princess like she is. She doesn't sit in a castle waiting for Toon Link to save her, but takes the initative, at one point saving him twice in the Forsaken Fortress. She cracks jokes, like in the final battle against Ganondorf when she apologies to Toon Link that she didn't help him sooner because she overslept. And while they don't go over it too much, she also has to deal with the death of her mother. All of this makes for a familar yet unique vision of the Princess of Hyrule. And while she may not get as much screen time as Toon Link, Tetra/Zelda without a doubt leave a mark.
Finally, let's take a look at the big bad of this game, Ganondorf (I swear this one won't be as long). Now throughout the game, it's no secret that Ganondorf is responsible for all of the monsters you fight, including the Helmaroc King (a.k.a the giant bird) who kidnapped Aryll. After giving the overgrown bird a few whacks of your Skull Hammer, you fnally meet Ganondorf. He tells you about the Master Sword and how it acted as a key to his power, and that by pulling it you've brought him back to full strength; he then blocks an attack from Toon Link and says that the Master Sword is useless in it's current state. Tetra shows up to help, but she doesn't fare much better, and it's not until Valoo, a giant dragon shows up and attacks that the two are able to escape. Ganondorf isn't seen again until he kidnaps Zelda and you must climb his tower to get to him. When you meet him, he goes on about how the Gods, not him, have destroyed the world, as the Gods decided to flood the land of Hyrule and turn it into the Great Sea you've been exploring this whole time (told you there were spoilers). This is interesting because it shows a side of Ganondorf that we haven't seen before in previous games (or since for that matter), as in a weird way Ganondorf begins to justify why he's done what he's done. But the real shocker when you reach the top of the Tower, and Ganondorf tells you a bit of his youth. About how growing up in the Gerudo Valley, the wind would always bring death and hardship to him and his people, while in Hyrule, the wind would always bring forth life and hope, and how he began to covet both the wind and by assocation Hyrule.
Now this doesn't seem like much, but in the context of both Wind Waker and the Zelda series as a whole, this is Ganondorf's Killing Joke moment. By that I mean, is that much like The Killing Joke, this sheds some light on the tragic backstory of a well established villian, in this case Ganon. It isn't much, but by giving us this bit of info, Wind Waker takes one of gaming's most famous villians and gives him a motive, a reason for the evil things that he's done over the years, and by doing so, Ganondorf becomes an interesting character in his own right. It's kind of a shame Nintendo never really built on this, because Wind Waker not only made me interested in Ganondorf, but made me kind of feel sad for him in a way. At least until he straight up decks Toon Link.
I could probably go on for ages. I could talk about how the Rito and Koroks are the polar opposites of their ancestors, the Zora and Kokiri respectively. I could talk about how vast and empty the Great Sea is, or how the destruction of Hyrule at the end of the game is symbolic of the Wind Waker as a whole washing away the past Zelda games to try something new. I could go on about all kinds of stuff about Wind Waker and why I love it so, but any more and this is going to turn into a novel. These were just a few of the observations that I found while playing through Wind Waker again for the first time in a couple years.
I love The Legend of Zelda series. They're fun, immersive, engaging with interesting stories, great soundtracks, and memorable characters. Some of them are better than others, but of all of the games I played, Wind Waker is the one that hold a special place in my heart. It had an interesting combat system, the game was colorful, the characters were memorable, and the story was great, dealing with themes of regret, destiny, and clinging to the past. On the surface, it doesn't look like Wind Waker is those things, and not everyone will love it. But much like the Great Sea the game takes place on, all one needs to do is look beneath the waves to find a game that is truly a treasure.