I’m sure you all remember your first thoughts upon seeing this:
It was a common reaction. Nintendo had us salivating at the previous E3 by showing off a realistic Link vs Gannon sword fight, only to replace ‘mature Link’ with a winking ‘toon. At the time it seemed like the world’s cruelest bait and switch.
Not only did Nintendo buck many gamers’ expectations by delivering a solid title, they completely threw us for a loop, delivering the most epic and enjoyable Zelda title to date; an honor it still valiantly holds.
Wind Waker is the finest Legend of Zelda because it nails the three most important aspects of the series. The Triforce, if you will: an epic quest, meaty exploration, and charm.
The main quest borrows heavier from myth than ever before, blending the traditional quest to save the princess with tones of Homer’s Odyssey. The result is perhaps the most sophisticated telling of the hero’s journey yet experienced in a Legend of Zelda title.
The hero must contend with an unfamiliar flooded Hyrule, where the tops of mountains, now islands, are the only remaining masses of dry land. What worked for Homer works today: sea monster infested waters, raging whirlpools, a range of islands filled with fearsome creatures and beckoning mystery. The hero travels to the heights of the heavens, scaling a massive, phallus shaped tower, to the depths of the underworld (in this case, a frozen Hyrule at the bottom of the sea) before ultimately claiming his adulthood and the Master Sword. Wind Waker is the very definition of epic myth, something all Zelda’s strive for but none have matched with Wind Waker’s ferocity.
While savoring the main quest, players are free to explore Hyrule to their heart’s content. The world map is divided into 49 equal tiles, each tile containing an expanse of sea and an island waiting to be explored. Some islands contain villages, some dungeons, others power-ups and items, mini games and mystery. The area in play here is far larger than any other entry in the series. There are more collectables, more power-ups and upgrades than ever before, and far more in it to do than even its descendent, Twilight Princess.
Finally, while we were almost all initially wary of the new animated look, the characters and world, and the classic humor of Zelda all benefitted from it. Facial expressions brought the characters to life like never before. While, in the present day, Ocarina of Time, and even Twilight Princess, look aged and continue to do so more every year, the animated style of Wind Waker strove for perfection in art design, not polygon count. The result is a game that has and will continue to age better than any entry in the series.
If we agree that The Legend of Zelda is a series long appreciated for the epic scale of its quests, the plethora of exploration and side quests, and its unique charming character, we cannot help but recognize Wind Waker as the series’ finest achievement in this regard.