Thursday, March 4, 2010

Outdated Reviews #2: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

So, not wanting to go too long without a post, I've settled on something to talk about.  Zelda Wind Waker was a game that I, like many, was originally very skeptical of but remains to this day one of my most notable gaming experiences.  Zelda has a very tried-and-true method of development but Wind Waker introduced several little new things; some good, some definitely bad.  The change that caused the most initial controversy was the move to cel-shaded, cartoon-proportioned graphics; something I was firmly against in my 12-13-year-old state in the time leading up to release.  Nonetheless, I loved the game through and through when I first played it.
I recently completed my third run through the game, my first in the last 6 years (as I've mentioned in the past) and feel like I have a much more critical, yet still loving, view of the experience.  To get the issue out of the way, though it doesn't really seem to be an issue with anyone anymore, the cel-shaded graphics were a stylistic choice that worked very well and just looked plain awesome, realism aside.  By the time you reach the second dungeon, it starts to become very apparent why this style was chosen.  Several aspects of the gameplay, namely the use of a giant leaf (Deku Leaf) as a gliding parachute, are quirky and lighthearted and it's very hard to imagine these things taking place in a more realistic world.  Visually, nothing seems to fall short within the style; that is, pretty much everything in the game looks like how you would expect it to within the look and feel of the game, in spite of the technical limitations that come with being on a game console.  To put it simply, there's no room for complaints about the quality of the graphics; they're beautiful.
Looking at past (Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask) and future (Twilight Princess) 3D Zelda titles in the time of Wind Waker's release, the formula for the gameplay mechanics has remained fairly unchanged.  You're given three buttons (X, Y, Z) to assign tools to, A is saved for universal actions (talking, reading, rolling, etc.), and B operates the sword.  So the game is very familiar to those who played the N64 titles.  While the interface is very much the same, there are some interesting new tools to use introduced in Wind Waker.
The first main dungeon tool you get is the Grappling Hook, which isn't an entirely unique departure from items in previous games but it proves useful and a fun gadget to mess around with.  Next among the major tools you acquire is the aforementioned Deku Leaf.  This one is completely unique both being totally new to the series and thus far existing exclusively in The Wind Waker.  As I said, it is a giant leaf that's used as a parachute of sorts to glide through the air.  It also serves a second purpose; when on the ground, using the Deku Leaf will result in Link flapping it causing a fast gust of air to shoot forward.  Both of these functions are used pretty frequently in the game to solve puzzles both in and out of dungeons.
I'll leave later tools to discover for those who have yet to play the title; though the remainder of the arsenal is mostly taken from previous titles (at the moment, I can't think of any other newly introduced tools).
Something that's more or less standard for Zelda titles, right from the beginning, is the usage of magical instruments.  The Wind Waker is no exception, in this case using the titular item...The Wind Waker, a magical conductor's baton that can control the direction of the wind; among other things.  Like the Grappling Hook, the Wind Waker doesn't introduce anything thoroughly unique to the series but proves fun to use and extremely useful upon learning the Ballad of Gales; a song that let's you warp to places of high significance across the all-too-great Great Sea (the world of The Wind Waker).
That said, now would be a good time to focus on one big issue with the game:  The size of the overworld.  Large worlds are always welcome but they should have the features and tasks necessary to fill that space.  Playing through The Wind Waker, several times you'll find yourself traveling from point A to point B, a distance that could take a good few minutes to cover, with literally nothing to do.  The distance between every bit of land is simply too large.  The game would have greatly benefited from either having a smaller overworld or just having some small islands here and there to cover up some of the gaps; preferably islands with at least some rupees on them to find.
Something to note in terms of the game's somewhat apparent lack of content (in some ways) is that during development, two more dungeons were planned than the amount that were present in the final product.  This becomes awkwardly apparent when acquiring the third Goddess Pearl, the three relics required before obtaining the Master Sword (a la the Spiritual Stones of Ocarina of Time), which is simply given to you when you find and talk to a certain character.
Less apparent as a replacement for one of the scrapped dungeons, though I'd confidently wager that's what it is, is the late-game scavenger hunt for the Triforce of Courage.  In homage to the original Legend of Zelda, the Triforce of Courage (note it was the Triforce of Wisdom in the original game) is split into eight shards that you must find.  This is probably the worst endeavor of the entire adventure to experience and the most blatant and shameful length-padding I feel I've ever seen.
The shards themselves are scattered among the Great Sea, which already sets off the Annoying Alarm, and you must fish for them using the Grappling Hook, which becomes a salvage arm when used while boating.  What makes this take so long is that before you can find the shards, you have to find the charts that show where they are in the sea.  And after you find the charts, you have to decipher each one individually by paying Tingle the ludicrous amount of 398 rupees.
I'd have no problem with this part of the game if the Triforce Charts were replaced simply by the shards themselves.  You have to go through a mini-dungeon of sorts for a few of the charts anyway and forcing the player to fish for the shards feels like so much wasted time.  Not to mention, swapping the Triforce Charts with the shards would eliminate the need for Tingle to be in the game.  I have yet to find anyone who can explain why Tingle stills exists in the Zelda universe, nobody likes him.
I suppose it's unfair not to mention the Tingle Tuner which allows a second player to join the game with a Gameboy Advance hooked to the Gamecube console.  The tuner does have a few uses but none are necessary.  I like it, would not like to see it go, but it could have simply had a different name and design and be obtained from a different character.
Well, there's not too much left to say now.  I should note that for the most part, the dungeons are excellently executed with the tricky puzzles and interesting themes that one would expect from a Zelda game and then some.  Bosses, while far on the easy side in the case of most of them, are pretty interesting as well.

I think we can wrap things up now:
1.  Beautiful game
2.  Familiar, timeless control scheme
3.  Some new introductions to the series
4.  Oversized overworld
5.  Annoying *mandatory* fishing quest
6.  Great dungeons
7.  Very easy bosses

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a game I highly recommend to those who haven't played the 2003 title, but I recommend it with an asterisk; an asterisk noting points 4 and 5.  Sad to say, the final dungeon of the game is probably not really worth putting up with fishing for the Triforce Shards, but nearly everything leading up to that is a must-play.

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