The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD (WiiU)

The word “underrated” is misappropriated when it comes to the Zelda franchise: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is “underrated” because no one appreciates its side-scrolling. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is “underrated” because it was a Game Boy game that got lost in the shuffle. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is “underrated” because its time mechanic alienated fans. And, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap is “underrated” because its gimmick, the ability to shrink, is under-appreciated and unique.

Personally, I don’t consider any of the core Zelda games, even the “bad” ones, “underrated”, but that didn’t stop fans of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker from touting it for years. It got so bad that I actively avoided seeking it out, even though I owned a Gamecube and could’ve easily rented it from Blockbuster. It doesn’t help that I have my own share of issues with the Zelda franchise, and that this game, judging from footage, seemed to embody most of them. Still, my curiosity did eventually kick in, so I went out and purchased a copy of the WiiU port. Having now beaten it, I can assure you that the game was exactly what I thought it’d be in some ways, yet surpassed expectations in others.

It begins with an exposition dump explaining the tragedy of Hyrule, and how it was flooded over to reveal a new world with scattered islands. One of these is Outset Island, where our hero, a 12 year-old boy with blond hair, dons a ceremonial tunic, sword and shield after his younger sister is kidnapped by a giant bird and taken to The Forbidden Fortress. Initially teaming up with rogue pirates, led by a spunky 12 year-old named Tetra, to rescue her, he soon learns that this was planned by the evil Ganon to see if he’s the legendary Hero of Time. Exiled to the farthest reaches of the sea, he’s saved by a talking boat called The Red Lion, who tells him that he has to stop Ganon once-and-for-all.

Right away, the game shows its biggest strength and greatest setback: it’s an ambience experience. The overworld of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is vast and covered with water, and most of the game’s objectives are scattered all-over. You’re forced to sail portions of this overworld on The Red Dragon to get from dungeon to dungeon, all-the-while relying on the tides and wind patterns. You have a trusty Wind Waker, a metal baton that can change the winds, to help, but it’s quite a trek.

And here’s where the sailing becomes hit-or-miss: on one hand, it can be relaxing and alleviate the tensions of the journey, as the overworld moves at a slow pace. It also breaks the flow and helps to absorb the visuals and atmosphere, both of which are excellent. On the other hand, however, the constant back-and-forth can get tedious and boring. Add in that the overworld is largely bereft of enemies, and you’re left with blank space that isn’t terribly impressive.

This also factors into some of the game’s biggest annoyances. For one, the Wind Waker, while definitely a neat little instrument, has quite the learning curve, and while the orchestrations you learn are all recorded, memorizing every tune is a juggling act. The Red Lion is also equipped with a crane for excavating sunken treasure, yet using it is a pain. This is made worse by one of your objectives later on, i.e. collecting all eight pieces of The Triforce of Courage, obligating you to use it, and it’s a living nightmare. And, of course, being forced to buy food for map locations is no different than in-game DLC, an annoyance given that the overworld practically requires memorization without it. I’ll give the game’s ability to warp later on to different areas as a positive, but acquiring that ability is tedious and really difficult.

Fortunately, the game’s strengths far outweigh any and all complaints. For one, the dungeons, though relying too heavily on past franchise knowledge, are as fun as ever, even being more linear than older entries. Combat is especially great, with in-game feats that make it more fluid and exciting than earlier Zelda games. The story, though not too deep or well-written, is investing, a first, in my opinion, for Zelda games to that point. And the character interactions are as interesting as ever.

As a side-note, the game’s the right balance, at least for me, of hard and fun. I’ll forever attest that there’s no “ideal” difficulty, as it’s too subjective, but one of my many gripes with previous games was that they were too challenging to fully appreciate. That I was constantly chained to walkthroughs and video guides, and even then was still unable to beat a few entries, was a testament to that. With The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, however, I only had to resort to a walkthrough a handful of times, and even then most of the solutions were pretty obvious. The exception was hunting for The Triforce of Courage, but the less said there, the better.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, in a nutshell, is at its best the furthest it strays away from the franchise’s more cumbersome elements (like backtracking, repetitive boss fights, obnoxious side-quests and un-obvious puzzles). It’s when it revels in them, however, that it falls short of brilliance. Still, credit where credit is due. This is a fun game, and one I’m glad I played. I’m not sure where I’d place it in my personal pantheon of Zelda games, but it’d probably be somewhere near the top. If only other Zelda games were this accessible, but I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it too…


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