April 12, 2017
Wind Waker is, in many ways, an amazing game. The art style is gorgeous (particularly in the HD remake), the story is engaging, and the soundtrack is one of the best in the series. But both times I’ve played through it, I’ve ended up feeling like it could have been SO MUCH BETTER! So, just what is it about Wind Waker that makes me feel like it left so much potential on the table?
Hick and I have discussed on more than one occasion that the first half of Wind Waker is among the very best stretches of any Zelda game, before or since. Outset and Windfall Island were beautiful, large, and felt very alive. Tetra was a fun, interesting companion. The buildups to Dragon Roost Cavern, the Forbidden Woods, and the Tower of the Gods were well done. And how about the trip to visit sunken Hyrule?? That is one of my all-time favorite “Wow!” moments in a Zelda game. But somewhere between obtaining the Master Sword and the final showdown with Ganon, Wind Waker’s shortcomings become more and more apparent.
First, let’s talk about islands. I mentioned how much I liked Outset and Windfall Islands (in fact, Windfall Island came in at #7 in our Top 10 Zelda Areas ranking). To a lesser extent, Dragon Roost Island and the Forest Haven were also well-developed islands. But other than those, the remaining islands are tiny, dull, and bland by comparison. There are literally dozens of islands scattered around the Great Sea for you to discover, but other than the few mentioned above, they just aren’t that interesting or worthwhile.
Speaking of the Great Sea, I was extremely disappointed that it felt like side quests in Wind Waker were largely replaced by the annoying treasure chest hunting. The process of finding treasure charts, then finding the corresponding square on the Great Sea was tedious and a lazy substitute for actual side quests that fleshed out the game world. And don’t even get me started on the disappearing rings of light that made it infuriating to haul in the treasure chests!
The lack of detailed side quests also led to the game having very few memorable side characters. Outside the major characters, such as Link’s sister, Tetra, Medli, and Makar, I can barely name a single other person from the game.
And then there’s the last two dungeons of the game (not counting Ganon’s Tower) – the Earth Temple and the Wind Temple. Anyone who has listened to our commentary long enough knows how much I hate escort quests in all video games. These two dungeons each require Link to escort someone through them from start to finish. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they require you to play the Command Melody over….and over….and over to position the accompanying character correctly. Escorting the sages completely ruined these two dungeons for me (and was a big part of why the Earth Dungeon was ranked as our #2 worst dungeon in our Top 8 Worst Zelda Dungeons ranking).
Last but not least, there’s the Triforce quest. Not only was it an extended version of the treasure hunting mechanic I mentioned above, but it also felt very anti-climactic. The Triforce is one of the most important items in the Zelda universe. It shouldn’t be something you just find in a treasure chest with nothing more than the standard fanfare when you receive it. It should feel like a monumental moment, like finally touching it at the end of Link to the Past. Instead, Wind Waker reduces it to just another item Link holds over his head, like rupees or heart pieces.
Despite these complaints, Wind Waker really is a great game, with a first half that’s as good as Zelda gets. Unfortunately, a flawed second half keeps Wind Waker as a whole from reaching the upper tier of Zelda games in my personal opinion.