The Wind Waker has never been at the top of my bias list, and it always seems to come up on the short end when fans examine it in contrast to the other 3D console Zelda titles. After all, it’s difficult for The Wind Waker to stand out when it sits alongside some of gaming’s ground-breaking behemoths: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. However, I strongly believe that Zelda’s GameCube debut is not only an innovator, but also one of best choices Nintendo has made with Zelda. Lots of Zelda faithfuls, including myself, have turned a cold shoulder to The Wind Waker, overlooking and not appreciating its contributions to the development of the franchise.

Oftentimes, people will only remember the blunders and faults of video games. Such shortcomings can overshadow all the good qualities of a game in an individual’s mind, and I feel like this sort of mindset affects how The Wind Waker is perceived. The extensive Triforce Charts and Shards quest likely left a lasting negative impression on the game, as well as the tediousness of changing the directions of the wind and sailing. I do think that sailing and the collection of the shards are concepts that could have excellently executed, but unfortunately they were a little boring.

Neither was unbearable, in fact I thought that sailing on the Great Sea was tremendous fun at times. Why focus so much on the negative when there just so many more things that The Wind Waker does right? You can see The Wind Waker‘s stamp on The Legend of Zelda very clearly. Its unique cel-shading was used in the two DS titles and in Skyward Sword. Simple, cartoon-like visuals fit the atmosphere of Zelda marvelously, which is probably why Nintendo has decided to implement cel-shaded graphics in the franchise’s most recent installments.

The Wind Waker magnificently captured the adventurous feeling of Zelda while also being the largest deviation from the norm at the time. The expansive overworld, sense of mystery and exploration are what The Legend of Zelda for the NES was all about. The Wind Waker contains all these attributes and sharpens them to a finite point. Countless hidden treasures, islands to explore, Charts, Pieces of Heart and Rupees to collect made the Great Sea a genuine pleasure to navigate. These are the quintessential qualities of a Zelda game along with the standard dungeon design.

Some may try to deny it, but the cartoon-style glory of The Wind Waker was an innovator, bringing to the table a new form of transportation that would pave the way for more experimentation in travelling in future Zeldas. It also simplified the menu system to one similar to that of Twilight Princess, letting Link to become rather close friends with Princess Zelda for once. This triumph would not be repeated until the more recent release of Skyward Sword eight years later.

Majora’s Mask began a trend of smarter level design by doing away with cramped corridors and small rooms. The Wind Waker continued the legacy by introducing dungeons with less predictable architecture that feels less linear and more natural. Main rooms have been something of a necessity since Ocarina of Time, and The Wind Waker toyed with the concept even more by placing visible platforms that are unreachable in the beginning, stirring some forethought in the player and making the rooms of the dungeon truly feel connected. A prime example of the aforementioned trait would be the Wind Temple, where an enormous, circular central chamber can access several different rooms at different elevations and directions.

Lovable characters like Beedle populate the lengths of the Great Sea. Cel-shading allows for exaggerated facial expressions, which Nintendo used to full advantage. Bit players come to life, are incredibly vivid and usually have tasks for Link to complete. The Wind Waker broke some ground by introducing two entirely new races: the Koroks and the Rito, descendants of the Kokiri and the Zora. Most importantly, instead of an annoying, generic companion like Navi or Tatl, Link is instead accompanied by Tetra’s voice and the King of Red Lions. Who would’ve thought that Princess Zelda and the King of Hyrule would be giving Link sound advice?

The Koroks in the Forest Haven doing a little dance. How cute!

The Wind Waker is the full package when it comes to creativity. From the Tower of the Gods to the concept of sailing a flooded Hyrule to the sunken, timeless Hyrule Castle at the ocean floor, this game is virtually bursting at the seams with unparalleled imagination. The bosses are big and bad and the dungeons aren’t just dungeons: sometimes they are located where one would least expect. One example would be Dragon Roost Cavern, where Link is slowly but steadily scaling the inside of an active volcano on Dragon Roost Island.

Another great thing about the game is how it alludes to the geography of Ocarina of Time. Unlike most Zelda games, The Wind Waker has an explanation for Hyrule’s current state. Since Hyrule from the N64 classic has been flooded by the Goddesses, certain islands are actually important landmarks from Ocarina of Time. One can easily see how things have changed over the last few hundred years, which indicates that The Wind Waker is one of the few Zeldas that intelligently wiggles itself into the timeline.

The soundtrack that accompanies this epic adventure is no less sensational than that of any other Zelda. In fact, The Wind Waker‘s, score may be the catchiest, most unique and memorable there ever was. Many will agree that music is one of the game’s strong suits, boasting tracks such as “Dragon Roost Island”, “Molgera”, “Tower of the Gods” and “Outset Island”. Every background theme fits the environment perfectly, adding some zest to the atmosphere. One might even say that the music truly sets it apart and augments the experience more so than any other soundtrack has down with a Zelda game. It may be all in MIDI, but the compositions are brilliant.

I could go into great detail and talk about the stellar dungeon design in the Forbidden Woods and Earth Temple, but perhaps that will be saved for another day. The Wind Waker gets a bad rap sometimes, and I hope that gamers will learn to appreciate the game more. Its art style spawned two DS installments and even helped inspire Skyward Sword and sailing broke the mold, making way for new forms of transportation to thrive. Isn’t it safe to say that this game is awesome?

If you don’t think The Wind Waker is awesome (or you do) and have any thoughts you would like to share, feel free to let us know in the comments below!

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