First I must begin with an apology because it is extremely difficult to review any Zelda release. When Famitsu awards a perfect score, the recipient is not to be taken lightly: even if it was the most controversial game of the last few years. If this were a trial, the judge would have dismissed the jury due to the press headlines, as it is hard to remain neutral by it all. This game has divided many, yet there is no disputing its pulling power for Nintendo, who need all the help they can get.
The stopwatch on my corner table currently displays 29 hours, 32 minutes and only now have I paused the timer, because only now do I feel ready to judge Zelda: The Wind Waker. These last few days I’ve been blessed with no distractions, and no workload to disturb my quest. Zelda has been my existence. So much so that the bonus disk remains undisturbed. Not since Phantasy Star Online has another game caught my attention, and extracted my life such as this. Others may pick up a game and dash through it thereby missing most of the work and detail that has gone into such a world as this. I say it is only fair to judge once you have experienced almost everything. For a game such as this there is no 100% because there is so much to see and to experience. Such individuals/sites/publications are not only cheating themselves, but you also. Still, I have tried my best, now let us begin.
It is difficult to know where to start, as such is the size and scope of Zelda: The Wind Waker. You soon realise that there are games, and then there is Zelda. The foundations may be similar to those in the N64 releases but the experience is totally new and revolutionary. The game design and detail is far beyond what other games offer, in fact it puts almost everything to shame.
The Legend of Zelda is entirely that, a legend that is passed down to each subsequent generation. Wind Waker is set 100 years after Ocarina Of Time. Those who lived through that turbulent period have passed away but the awareness of what happened still exists. So when evil appears in the land once again it is no surprise that a boy in green is ready to continue the tradition. Initially the story begins with your sister (Arilla) being taken away by a giant bird and this quest allows you to learn the controls and world in preparation of bigger and better things that lie ahead – similar to Kokiri Forest in Ocarina. Teaming up with pirates is normally not advised, but you find yourself working alongside this guild and this section allows you to leave the island for the first time. Travelling on the high seas is an unforgettable experience and brought back memories of a Viking cartoon I watched as a child. I will say no more on the story as it would be unfair but evil has returned and only you (through time) can defeat it. The cut sequences that continue the story are amongst some of the best I have witnessed and show that a different approach to Final Fantasy can work just as well.
There are plenty of distractions and submissions within this game but there is one area that has captured my imagination. We all feel an urge to explore and the Zelda games manage to satisfy our needs. Zelda: The Wind Waker goes even further by offering a sailing boat and with this you can explore. I cannot even begin to guess the size of the ocean but islands and outposts await you – if you seek them out. Unlike Skies of Arcadia here you are guided by the wind but the feeling it gives you is enchanting and relaxing – far better than riding horseback. The effects and graphics here are my favourite in the game as they display great imagination and style.
Life is in the details and beyond the story there is much that awaits you. For instance you have the alphabet which at first may seem like a novelty but does have a purpose. Then you have the link up function with the Game Boy Advance, similar to the system shown in Skies of Arcadia. Using the hidden underground areas of the N64 incarnation as its inspiration, you can use your GBA to guide you. Yet another reason to go back across old ground. The integration with the GBA almost turns The Wind Waker into a two player marathon as the handheld becomes a vital tool for earning rupees and acquiring knowledge.
The level of control offered and interaction has always allowed Link to be one of the most versatile gaming characters. It is the same in this game. The control system was perfected on the N64 with the inclusion of the Z-lock, items and buttons corresponding to buttons and automatic jumping. These are present once more but the C-stick gives you move control over the camera, even offering a fixed first person view: so you can appreciate every even more. This is good, as the camera is not as fluid as one could have hoped for, however the level of control and changing angles to highlight enemies manages to limit the damage. The integrated help system is also reminiscent of the N64 releases and for more experienced players proves to be an annoyance and personally I prefer the N64 controller.
There was much derision when the cell shaded Zelda was first revealed, much of it from America it has to be said. Now they cannot argue because Zelda: The Wind Waker looks glorious, far more detailed than any cartoon and you become more emotional involved because of it. I spent a few hours watching the inhabitants of this world, their facial expressions and reactions – all brilliantly implemented. Plant bombs and watch their reactions or even those of Link as the fuse burns to its devastating end: genius. It is as if your Gamecube is host to a real world, full of real people, eager to live on your television screen. Again, so much detail it becomes frightening.
Everyone will discuss the graphics, as I did at first but please try to avoid this trap because I suggest you listen to this game. Everything captures the mood of the game and your actions within it. Games today offer soundtracks which enhance their host and this is the finest example. For instance when fighting the music will emphasise the action, the blows and the moments of rest. It is so well done that you do not realise initially the influence your actions have, but then you experiment and Zelda again sets itself apart. Fighting is even better if you can believe it, with more variety and freedom when engaging foes. The Z-lock always kept you facing opponents but now you can roll and learn jump attacks – needed because enemies are far more intelligent.
Many of the puzzles will be all too familiar to many of you and only those, which involve the element of wind, feel at home here. Many friends disliked previous Zelda games because of the reliance on temples and large puzzles. I do not think there is much change here to entice such players into the Zelda world, as the formula is simple: explore, puzzles, temple, boss. The pattern applies once again but the exploration is bigger and better.
So I hear you ask why not a perfect score? Well the temptation is great as is the temptation to reveal all the wonders that await you, but many parts of Zelda: The Wind Waker feel more like an evolution than revolution. Just like Mario Sunshine the standard is excellent but like Mario you feel something is missing, for all your initial bewilderment many parts of the game are familiar to those who enjoyed the two N64 outings. This is no bad thing, but it is reason enough not to award a perfect score. Content yourself with the fact that Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of the finest releases in the last few years. It does not matter what score you provide as this is a fact. Now if you excuse me I have to return.