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The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker - Review

The Wind Waker was one of the most controversial Zelda games to ever be released. It was the first Zelda game of the Gamecube generation, and players were in awe at the prospect of playing a game that expanded on Ocarina of Time with modern upgraded graphics. This prospect was reinforced by a Gamecube teaser trailer, showing Link and Ganon doing battle in a more 'realistic' graphical style. However, what players got was something they were not expecting at all. On that fateful day at E3, Nintendo revealed the latest Zelda game, The Wind Waker, to be a cel-shaded cartoon adventure. This was to the amazement of some fans, but also to the dismay of many others.

Unfortunately, The Wind Waker has always had a certain stigma that suggests it is notably inferior to games like Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Largely, this is down to the disappointment some felt with the game's style and graphics, rather than qualms about how the game actually played out. Certainly, The Wind Waker is far from a perfect game, but it is much better than many fans have made it out to be.

Nintendo may not have been too familiar with cel-shaded graphics before The Wind Waker's development, but they adopted the graphical style with remarkable fines. Even if you aren't a fan of cel-shaded graphics, you have to admit that Nintendo has managed to make one of the best looking Gamecube games ever. The cel-shaded graphics brought many advantages to the game that would have been difficult to pull off using realistic style graphics. For example, the sea of Hyrule looks excellent in it's cel-shaded format, and it probably wouldn't have looked as smooth or stylistic had it been rendered otherwise. Another example is the character expressions in the game, which cel-shading allowed to be rendered far more dynamically and accurately.
So much goes on in The Wind Waker. As well as all the excellent graphical details such as the detailed models and particle effects, the world of Hyrule is bursting with colour and life. The waves roar and ripple, plants and trees breeze in the wind, and light and darkness combine in the dungeons. Even plenty of minor effects, such as heat shimmering and visual wind effects, are present. Sometimes the graphics look a little blurry, but overall they are outstanding.

Zelda titles have never used voice acting, and The Wind Waker is no exception. However, the usual sounds that characters make when they are talked to exist here, and more importantly, the music in the The Wind Waker is as good as ever. Some of the tracks are repetitive and some are not as composed as well as the others, but generally the music is excellent and adds plenty of atmosphere to the game. Some also criticised the lack of voice acting in the game (and in subsequent titles), but personally I feel that voice acting just doesn't suit the Zelda series.

The Wind Waker's gameplay mechanics are quite similar to Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. All the usual gameplay elements are here - assigning items to buttons, a variety of sword attacks, the targeting system, and so on. However, the controls are also improved over Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. In particular, the game feels much smoother and easier to control. Sometimes in Ocarina of Time it was annoying to move Link around and the controls felt a little unresponsive, or restrictive, at times but this is something you don't get in The Wind Waker. Of course, the most unique addition to the Wind Waker is the ability to sail over the seas of Hyrule. Sailing is a very important aspect of the game, as you need to go from island to island finding treasure, visiting towns, entering dungeons, and so on. Also, there are many hidden parts awaiting you throughout the sea, ranging from treasure chests to whole islands. The sea contains a whole new dimension of exploration in it's own right.

The dungeon system that is used in many of the other Zelda games is also faithfully included in The Wind Waker. The dungeons are generally quite large, and the puzzles are very fun. Towns are filled with NPC's, mini games, and side quests. The traditional Zelda format remains largely intact in these respects, but then again, why mess with a winning formula?

There are a few problems with the gameplay, though thankfully they are not significant problems in my opinion. Firstly, sailing across the sea can be fun, but it can also get tedious. Nintendo reduced the tedium as much as possible by including enemies, treasure maps, and so on, but a lot of the time you are merely sailing over computer generated sea. Secondly, another problem is the game's difficulty. There are some tricky puzzles to solve, but generally you have to really screw up in order to get Link killed. The difficulty of the enemies and bosses generally ranges from easy to normal, and on top of that the game is filled with hearts, so your health is constantly replenished against the little damage that enemies deal. The difficulty curve of the battles doesn't get much higher as you progress, so as Link finds more heart containers, fighting gets much easier. Finally, it would have been nice if Nintendo had axed some of the smaller islands in order to create one or two extra large islands, enabling you to do plenty of on-foot exploration.

Life Span
The Wind Waker is a sizeable adventure, with many dungeons and secrets to uncover. If you want to complete the game along with all the side quests, you are looking at around 20 to 30 hours of gameplay time. It's not the hardest game in the world to say at the least, but there is so much to do and so much fun to be had that thankfully the difficulty does not significantly detract from the overall experience.

The Wind Waker is not perfect, but it is up there with the best Zelda titles. If Nintendo had balanced the difficulty better, this game would have been near-perfect. However, despite the low difficulty, The Wind Waker is packed with things to see and do and, above all else, it's an extremely fun game to play.
Rating: 9.5/10