In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, not to feel left out, I went on my own legendary adventure and saved Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf.
Before this game, I had only played one proper Zelda title in my entire life: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I felt like a lot of the game was lost on me as I don’t have the nostalgia for A Link To The Past, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. Wind Waker is my first introduction to the ‘main-line’ Zelda games and I have to say, it is a hell of an introduction. It is just pure, unadulterated fun from top to bottom. A sublime game that has very few faults and those it does have are just minor quibbles.
Wind Waker looks incredible. The cell-shaded graphics really pop and everything feels cheerful and warm. Even in the game’s darker moments, the graphics still retain a sense of fun. The animation is also impeccable. Link’s facial expressions are particularly hilarious but every NPC and monster has a little quirk that really adds to their character. And the music! The soundtrack to Wind Waker really makes you feel like you are on a jolly old grand adventure. It can be moody and atmospheric or even threatening at times when you are fighting but also light and whimsical when exploring the high seas. I have to say that there isn’t a single part of this game that doesn’t look or sound as perfect as a game with this graphical style could be. Yes, one could argue that there is a lack of variation in the over-world (there is only so much emerald sea, golden sand and lush green islands one can take) and that Okami may have a bit more substance to its cell-shading when compared to Wind Waker’s slightly flat textures. But the game is a joy to watch and doesn’t feel dated in the slightest.
The main crux of the game is exploring the world on a boat, solving puzzles, killing enemies and completing quests. The combat is fun, if basic. You can almost mash your way through each enemy encounter that is until the game throws enemies at you that either require you to counter-attack or use a specific weapon to weaken them enough for Link to murder them. Wind Waker isn’t a difficult game, especially by the end where I had more hearts and ways to kill things than I knew what to do with, but never stops being fun.
That isn’t to say that it can’t get hairy in certain combat encounters (the final dungeon is a real pain!). Traversing the over-world on the boat starts off rather annoying as you have to change which way the wind blows every time you want to go a different direction but the further along you get, the easier and less tedious it becomes. There is a great deal of exploring to be had in the surprisingly vast map, which always keeps you on your toes. You can’t zone out when you are sailing as you will miss a lot of treasure and cool mini-dungeons.
Much like the combat, the puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, either. A couple stumped me but you can generally work out every puzzle by just using the new item you received. This is mostly just in the main quest, however, as a lot of the side activities has some seriously fiendish stuff in there. Hell, I finished the game and I still don’t know what the hell Tingle’s Golden Tuners are as I never found one. The ‘quests’ in the game are treated like puzzles as well. There isn’t a log so you have to remember what a character asked you to do, which is usually pretty cryptic to begin with, and then work out how to do it. It was a source of great frustration followed by an “aha!” moment when I completed the quest. A journal or something wouldn’t have gone amiss though, that is for sure.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is as close to a perfect game as I can think of, really. It is polished to a mirror shine and filled with delightful quirks, unique locations and some cool characters. Hell, even the story, something that is very vestigial in a Zelda game as far as I am aware, had a shocking twist in it and an excellent ending. It doesn’t break any boundaries, but the game is the equivalent of a band going back to the well and just really perfecting what they did previously.
Next up on Breaking Down the Backlog: The Fall.