Wind Waker Is Flawed, But It’s One Of The Best Zelda Games

Summary

  • Wind Waker stands as one of the best games in the Zelda series, characterized by its refreshing open seas and exploration.
  • The game’s fast and responsive mechanics, along with its beautiful cel-shaded art style, make it a visually stunning and engaging experience.
  • However, Wind Waker suffers from a rushed development and a divisive final stretch, with a disliked Triforce Hunt questline and pacing issues in the story. Despite these flaws, the game still leaves a positive impact on future Zelda entries.


Few gaming series can match the prestigious reputation of The Legend of Zelda. Throughout its nearly four-decade history, Nintendo’s legendary fantasy franchise has delivered some of the most famous games of all time, with classics like Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past still being considered masterpieces by fans and critics alike. The series constantly amazes players by finding creative new ways to craft unforgettable adventures with each installment. However, even the best Zelda games aren’t perfect. Whether it’s the infamous water temple from Ocarina of Time or the unreliable motion controls of Skyward Sword, every entry is defined by its unique strengths and weaknesses. No other Zelda game embodies this more than The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

For many players, Wind Waker ranks among the best entries in the Zelda series. Not only did it improve on nearly everything that fans loved about the previous 3D Zelda games, it also took the series to an exciting new setting. Rather than returning to the familiar lands of Hyrule, Wind Waker features a seafaring journey that will have players sailing across the Great Sea, exploring dozens of unique islands, and venturing into the depths of puzzle-filled dungeons. While it comes incredibly close to being a perfect Zelda game, Wind Waker is also notorious for the major flaws that undermine its best ideas. As a result, Wind Waker represents an odd chapter in the Zelda series, one that features both the best and worst parts of any Zelda game.

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Wind Waker Is 3D Zelda At Its Best

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Wind Waker was designed with the lofty goal of making a worthy successor to Ocarina of Time. The Nintendo 64 classic wasn’t just notable for being one of, if not the best Zelda game, but also for completely redefining what fans expected from all future Zelda sequels and action-adventure games, in general. Ocarina of Time immersed players with its scenic environments, dynamic combat, and cinematic cutscenes that few other games of the era could match. The original versions of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask may seem dated by modern standards, but these revolutionary titles shook the gaming industry and drastically raised the bar for all subsequent adventure experiences. Even now, Ocarina of Time is considered by many to be the greatest game of all time. Unsurprisingly, this meant that expectations for the next major Zelda title, Wind Waker, were immeasurably high.

Although Wind Waker wasn’t as influential as its predecessors, it still surpassed most expectations. The Great Sea brought a refreshing shakeup to the typical Zelda overworld and allowed for more freedom in exploration than any of the previous entries. Each island housed lively towns, intricate dungeons, or unusual secrets that kept exploration fresh and exciting. Even the most minor islands contain significant rewards or unexpected surprises that encourage players to scour every part of the game’s expansive world. The few instances in which Wind Waker does block the player from certain areas don’t even feel restrictive, as it presents these occasional roadblocks as puzzles to be solved that often point players toward the direction of their next goal.

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While sailing between islands, players will come across helpful characters like the traveling merchant Beedle, or the fishmen who reveal new parts of the map in exchange for fish food. However, the Great Sea also serves as home to hostile foes such as pirates, sentient tornadoes, and Kraken-like creatures known as “Big Octos.” But even in the quietest moments of Wind Waker, when players are surrounded by clear skies and the endless horizons of the ocean, the game can still be incredibly captivating. Between the calm of coasting along the rocking waves and the excitement of heading into uncharted waters, the journey across the Great Sea is a rousing (and sometimes relaxing) experience that few other games can replicate.

Like many other Zelda games, players will also spend much of their time puzzle-solving and monster-slaying their way through a variety of complex dungeons. While this is a common part of nearly every Zelda game, Wind Waker‘s improvements to the series’ mechanics left a significant impact on its gameplay. Both combat and movement were much faster and more responsive than in prior Zelda games, with Link possessing an expanded range of tools, attacks, and the ability to wield different weapons. Likewise, being able to quickly use items without the hassle of going through menus removed much of the frustration that arose from the limitations of the Nintendo 64 controller.

All of this is supported by Wind Waker‘s gorgeous cel-shaded art style. Over 20 years later, Wind Waker is still one of the best-looking titles on the Gamecube. Nearly every part of the game is brimming with color, from the vibrant blues of the Great Sea, the lush greens that decorate most islands, or the soft yellows that fill the sky during sunsets. Likewise, every character in Wind Waker is expressive and full of personality, including Link himself. It’s the perfect art style to match the game’s lighthearted tone while also allowing the story’s most dramatic moments to seem even more impactful.

Wind Waker Fumbles At The Finish Line

Official artwork of Link and Zelda fighting Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

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At its core, Wind Waker is a near-perfect Zelda game. It improves on the foundation set by the Nintendo 64-era Zelda titles while also offering far more freedom than any of the previous entries. Moreover, it doesn’t suffer from the restrictive design and overabundance of pointless features that dragged down many of the series’ later 3D installments. With all these advantages over the franchise’s other games, why is Wind Waker still a divisive title among Zelda fans? Unfortunately, Wind Waker fell victim to a rushed development, resulting in two entire dungeons being scrapped from the game. This not only meant the final release of Wind Waker was unable to meet its original vision, but the game’s cut content also led to one of the most widely hated questlines in any Zelda game.

In place of the removed dungeons, Wind Waker introduces a lengthy fetch quest known as the Triforce Hunt, which tasks players with finding the eight missing shards needed to reconstruct the Triforce of Courage. However, this process isn’t as simple as it sounds. Before finding each Triforce shard, players must also track down a Triforce chart and have it deciphered by Tingle (which costs 398 rupees per chart) to reveal the shard’s location. This process quickly takes up much of the player’s time and funds, and its sudden placement in the final stretch before Ganon’s tower makes it feel like an unnecessary interruption rather than a goal players can gradually work towards throughout the game. Wind Waker HD, the 2013 remaster for the Wii U, partially streamlined the Triforce Hunt by only requiring players to acquire three Triforce charts. But even with this improvement, most players still consider the Triforce Hunt to be the worst part of Wind Waker.

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Wind Waker‘s problems don’t end there, as the final stretch of the game also highlights many of its lingering issues. The early hours of Wind Waker are a blast to traverse, with its open seas initially appearing to hide plenty of mysteries and secrets across its many uncharted islands. But after seeing everything the map has to offer, the appeal of Wind Waker‘s sailing quickly fades away. The massive scale of the world may seem impressive at first, but it soon becomes obvious that this just leads to large swaths of empty space. Going from one location to another eventually starts to feel slow and repetitive, often leaving players with nothing to do while sailing other than wait until they reach their destination. As with the Triforce Hunt, Wind Waker HD attempts to alleviate this issue by adding the swift sail, which greatly increases the boat’s speed and isn’t affected by the current wind direction, though this doesn’t make sailing in the game’s latter half any more engaging.

One aspect that Wind Waker is almost universally praised for is its story, which includes one of the most shocking twists in a Zelda game. Halfway through the journey, Link learns that the Great Sea is actually covering the kingdom of Hyrule, which had been submerged underwater to seal Ganon away from the rest of the world. This twist reframes Link’s entire adventure in a dark, post-apocalyptic context without compromising the game’s lighthearted tone. Sadly, this fantastic revelation is also followed by a sudden decline in the story’s pacing. Immediately after this moment, the story rushes past multiple plot points, leading to Tetra’s jarring personality change after she discovers her true identity and a quest to restore the Master Sword’s power that seems surprisingly brief. These two events are then followed by the Triforce Hunt, which puts a sudden halt to the already oddly paced story. All of these plot points ultimately lead to a climactic and satisfying finale, one that gives a surprising amount of depth to its iconic villain, but the journey to this ending is soured by the numerous pacing issues that appear in Wind Waker‘s second half.

Wind Waker’s Impact On The Zelda Series

Link traveling the seas on his boat in the WInd Waker

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Despite its flaws, Wind Waker still left a positive impact on the Zelda series. Future entries like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword learned from the rushed nature of Wind Waker and focused on taking the time to flesh out their world and characters. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom similarly avoided the mistakes seen in the massive scope of Wind Waker‘s open world. Whereas Wind Waker failed to keep players engaged due to its repetition and limited interactivity, these games delivered some of the most immersive and entertaining settings in any open-world titles. Along with learning from its failures, many later games also took inspiration from Wind Waker‘s best aspects. The cel-shaded art style reappeared in Wind Waker‘s handheld sequels, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, as well as other entries like The Minish Cap and Four Swords Adventures. Likewise, future games continued to expand upon Wind Waker‘s improvements to 3D combat and movement, with Twilight Princess adding numerous new attacks to Link’s repertoire and Skyward Sword using these innovations along with improved motion controls to immerse players in its battles.

Wind Waker isn’t perfect, but even with its obvious problems, it still managed to deliver one of the most well-crafted adventures in a Zelda game. When most people discuss Wind Waker, they often focus on the game’s wonderful art design, memorable characters, and unrivaled sense of exploration. The flaws certainly drag down the latter half of the game, but they aren’t enough to spoil the entire experience. It’s a testament to the game’s quality for it to still be considered one of the best games in the Zelda franchise despite its significant shortcomings. Wind Waker stands as an example of how the Zelda series has consistently overcome its own faults, and how even its rare missteps have shaped the franchise for the better.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The incredibly successful Zelda franchise executed one of the boldest moves in video game history back in 2002. Before the release of Wind Waker, Zelda games were enjoying time in the spotlight. Whether Nintendo released a Zelda game on the Super Nintendo, Gameboy Color, or the Nintendo 64, they immediately enjoyed commercial and critical acclaim.

So, it was a massive surprise when the first mainline game on Nintendo’s new GameCube console looked nothing like a traditional Zelda game. Wind Waker sports a cel-shaded art style. This implemented a huge shift in tone that was not received positively by many fans. You either loved the new look or hated it. This led to a divide in the fan base. The split resulted in low sale numbers.

Despite the average commercial performance, the game itself was a masterpiece. To this day, Wind Waker is considered one of the best Zelda titles of all-time alongside the legendary Ocarina of Time. It managed to pick up several game of the year accolades due to its beautiful art, intuitive gameplay and expansive story. Wind Waker was never meant to be a permanent departure from the traditional Zelda art style. However, its success spawned several sequels sporting the cell-shaded style along with a HD remake released on the Wii U in 2013. It takes tremendous courage to switch up a formula that had produced nothing but hit games. Ultimately, Nintendo’s risk paid off in a huge way that resulted in the expansion of Hyrule and the entire Zelda franchise. Wind Waker went from being underappreciated upon its release to later being regarded as a classic.

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