The Wind Waker from The Legend of Zelda series is known for being a game with a message. It is a tale of letting go of the past and washing away the bitterness of regret. A tale of not being held back by the circumstances of the present and living for the future to come.
However, The Wind Waker goes further than it is often given credit. The game conveys that life is not about simply remaining optimistic, but also that direct and proactive action must be taken to seize the desired future.
The Wind Waker also makes a distinction between truly earning the future of your dreams and trying to take it by force out of jealousy. The game uses the Kingdom of Hyrule as a metaphor for the ideal paradise, both the paradise that has been lost to the past and the paradise yet to be obtained in the future.
During the time of The Wind Waker the land of Hyrule is sealed away beneath the waves of the Great Sea. The memory of the once great kingdom has vanished as its king, Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, continues to linger beyond his earthly years in regret and despair.
Daphnes spends the game under the guise of The King of Red Lions, Link’s boat and companion for the adventure. The King uses Link in an effort to rid the world of Ganondorf and to reawaken his lost kingdom. He seeks to overcome his regrets about his empire being laid to waste by Ganondorf and then sealed away by the Gods.
In the plot’s climax, Daphnes speaks of having wished daily that he “could do things over again.” He admits to “regretting the past” and the terrible fate of his “kingdom of old.” Yet, by the end, Daphnes declares that he has “faced those regrets.”
Initially Daphnes had pined for what was lost, but as he travels the seas with Link he observes the new world that the people have established. He sees the new lives they have founded on the Great Sea and the islands that were once the mountaintops of Hyrule.
Daphnes sees that the past is gone and that a new future has arrived. He learns to move on. The King comes to realize that he has “lived bound to Hyrule,” to the lost paradise of the past, and to that end he is “the same as Ganondorf.”
However, there is a key difference between Ganondorf and King Daphnes. Where one continues to live bound to the lost past, the other learns to embrace the future.
Standing before the Triforce of the Gods, Ganondorf makes his wish:
“Gods! Hear that which I desire! Expose this land to the rays of the sun once more! Let them burn forth! Give Hyrule to me.” — Ganondorf
Ganondorf clings to the past. He clings to obtaining the kingdom that he could never conquer and to overcoming his regrets of failure. On the other hand, Daphnes lets go of what is lost and embraces the future that is to come, even beyond his own life.
When given his opportunity to wish upon the Triforce, Daphnes reveals that on the inside he is the opposite to Ganondorf:
“Gods of the Triforce! Hear that which I desire! Hope! I desire hope for these children! Give them a future! Wash away this ancient land of Hyrule!!! And let our destinies finally be fulfilled… Ganondorf! May you drown with Hyrule!!!” — King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule
Daphnes looks to the future whereas Ganondorf gets drowned by his regrets of the past. In the moment of truth, the sorrowful King asks for a better world for Link, Tetra and the inhabitants of the Great Sea. He apologizes for not being able to provide his ancestors with a kingdom of prosperity, so instead gives them hope for a future.
The optimism of King Daphnes can be hard for Link and Tetra to find though. Even with the past washed away, with Hyrule drowned forever, there remains the predicament of the present to overcome.
To achieve their future dream of finding a new land to be Hyrule and uniting the people so they are not divided by the waves, the children must find the strength to push onwards, through the overwhelming circumstances of the present. They must overcome the whole ocean that lies between them and their goal.
Before he is defeated, Ganondorf peers into the dreams of the captured Tetra to witness her fears. He sees her nightmares of the daunting oceans of the present.
“I can see this girl’s dreams… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans as far as the eye can see. They are vast seas… None can swim across them… They yield no fish to catch… . . .” — Ganondorf
Ganondorf plays the role of the naysayer who casts doubt upon what hope there is for the future. He stands as a roadblock until the very end.
“So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool… What can they possibly hope to achieve?” — Ganondorf
Overcoming opposition and the seemingly overwhelming circumstances of the present can be difficult. But with the past behind them, where it belongs, Daphnes tells the children and players to walk a path of hope, through all of the tribulation, and to the future beyond.
Whereas Ganondorf’s words were of damning pessimism, Daphnes are of eternal optimism.
“I want you to live for the future. There may be nothing left for you…But despite that, you must look forward and walk a path of hope, trusting that it will sustain you when darkness comes.” — King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule
When one places their hope in what the future will bring, there is the risk of becoming complacent in the present. Alone, the belief that time will sort everything out will never be productive.
The Wind Waker makes the clear point that the desired future is something that must be earned. It is something that must be obtained through both effort and through being given time to flourish. This path to the future is something that begins here and now.
In the game’s conclusion Tetra and Link are not merely optimistic that they will find “the land that will be the next Hyrule,” they are also proactive. With the crew of pirates they set off in the epilogue to find the new Hyrule. They don’t complacently sit at home and await the future; they actively work to achieve the lives they wish for.
Before going to rest, Daphnes cautions the children that the future they seek is not one of repeating the past. He refuses to come with Link and Tetra to the new land because it “will not be Hyrule. It will be YOUR land!” The children learn to define their own unique and individual futures. A new future beyond the restraints of the past.
A key part of the children’s determination to achieve their dreams comes from their knowledge that time is finite. During their quest, The King of Red Lions reminds Link of this harsh truth when he says, “I knew we had precious little time, but I never suspected how little.”
Walking a path of hope is about seizing the future of your dreams before all potential futures have faded into pasts full of regret.
The Wind Waker uses the seed as the symbol for the potential future that can sprout from the present. Daphnes final assertion is that he has “scattered the seeds of the future.” Sowing the seeds is just the beginning, as they must be nurtured before they can reach their full beauty.
Ganondorf mocks the citizens of the Great Sea by calling them hopeless “fallen leaves” that merely drift through life. It is an extension of the seed metaphor. Ganondorf wishes to reduce everyone to the withered seed, or to the fallen leaf if they have begun sprouting. The Wind Waker is the story of the withered seed sprouting against all opposition and doubt.
Throughout the game the Korok’s, a race of tree-like forest-spirits, take direct action to see their desired future realized. By planting seeds they aim to grow forests and expand the landmasses on the Great Sea. Like Link and Tetra they desire to unite the people of the sea. Their conviction drives them forward despite the opposition to their dream and the temptation to become complacent.
“Every year after the Koroks perform this ceremony, they fly off to the distant islands on the sea and plant my seeds in the hopes that new forests will grow.
Forests hold great power, they can change one tiny island into a much larger land. Soon, a day will come when all the islands are one, connected by earth and grove. And the people who live on that great island will be able to join hands and, together, create a better world.
Such is my dream.
… But the one you are chasing is trying to prevent that dream from ever coming to pass.” — The Great Deku Tree
Following their ceremony the Koroks promptly learn that seeds which are not nurtured quickly shrivel and wither. Without water the seedlings cannot flourish, just as without effort the future of your dreams cannot be achieved.
One final piece of advice stemming from The Wind Waker is that the ideal future should not be taken by force. Lust and jealousy are temptations to give up on growing the seeds and to steal the fully grown tree.
Jealousy drove Ganondorf to attack and devastate the land of Hyrule repetitively. He saw others living as he desired and tried to rob them of it for himself and his people. His violent ways and his inability to let go of the lost Kingdom of Hyrule were his downfall.
“My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.” — Ganondorf
Instead of clinging to the seedlings of the future, Ganondorf clung to the lost past until the very end. Whereas Daphnes sowed the seeds of the future, Ganondorf became nothing but cold hard stone.
Having gone to their rest, Daphnes is remembered for sowing the seeds for the future. Ganondorf remains as nothing but a memorial of the mistakes of the past, washed away by the new future.
The message of The Wind Waker is one of reasoned and cautious advice. Despite what has been lost to the past and despite the stretching oceans between you and your goals, there is a future to hope for. Not only that, but a future to be seized and achieved. A future to be earned over time through growth, not force and thievery.
The Wind Waker is not merely a game of hope, but it is also a call to action. It is a cry to seize the day. It is a reminder not to become complacent, but to start working towards your desired future here and now.
Set sail to find the land that will be your new Hyrule now, because to reach it tomorrow, you must earn it today.