November 2009: Wind Waker, A Hatred Undeserved

Published: November 27, 2009 By UltimaLink007 | Comments (0)
With the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in 2003 (2002 for the Japanese), overwhelming amounts of controversy flooded into the Zelda series, and a divergence amongst fans of the saga came to be. This came to be as there were many things done differently in The Wind Waker than in previous Legend of Zelda games. The ideas of extensive sea travel, a Zelda game without the land of Hyrule being the extent of the world, and the most controversial of all: having a Zelda game with cel-shaded graphics set in motion possibly the single largest divisions of Zelda fans to date.  This month, I'd like to take a closer look at the situation of Wind Waker.

In all previous Zelda games, the games were easily capable of being defined as land-based, from the beginning in The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), spanning to the Nintendo 64 generation with Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask as well. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker shatters this mould as it flips the entire set around, creating a sea-based game while eliminating the Water Temple altogether (Instead, there is the sea travel along with Something just as indigenous to the series is what is referred to generally as “the Water Temple,” or as you’re more likely to hear: “That god**** piece of f***ing s*** Temple that’s so f***ing hard I just f***ing hate it!” Temple (The large amounts of sea travel along with the bombing of a cavern on Outset Island presumably replace the Water Temple concept in a manner of speaking). While the latter is not slammed much by critics, the former is, as it was not only something different, but something that took a good portion of time to travel with, even with the Wind’s Requiem and the Ballad of Gales to teleport to various islands and travel more quickly using the wind to power your sails. It also seemed endless and painfully boring to many, turning appeal for it away. On the other hand, is this good enough reason for The Wind Waker to receive such animosity and hatred from loyal fans and others? It added a new dimension to play, the excitement of travelling an expansive world with naught but your awesome talking boat and the weapons at your disposal. It set the path for great battles at sea with fearsome enemies, among which were utterly giant squids, among other things. It also gave a sense of accomplishment and adventure, travelling a large sea and taking on enemies, and completing other tasks while aiding others or advancing in the quest.

The biggest criticism of all for this game though, was easily the fact that it has cel-shaded graphics, giving the game the look of a cartoon of some form rather than a “normal” appearance or one that repeats the look of previous Zelda games. Loyalists and angry critics lashed out for this reason the greatest, claiming that it was not a Zelda game, that it was a farce and slanderous to the series. Some even went as far to say that Miyamoto had sold out and that the Legend of Zelda was dead. Many things were said in this case, and a great schism of sorts arose in the fan base for the series after Wind Waker’s release. Looking on the other half of the opinion on the graphics, does the Wind Waker deserve the hatred this caused it? Was this truly a game-breaking decision that really deserves to hold as much weight even to this day in how people judge the game? Taking a step backwards and looking at games six years ago helps form my opinion on this matter, but on the other side of the argument, there were many reasons Nintendo went this graphical route. The GameCube is not powerful graphic-wise and suffered in this category to the point where Nintendo wanted it to look acceptable in the eyes of people, so they went with something the GameCube could not only handle, but make look good, and that was cartoony, cel-shaded graphics. This argument is promptly ripped apart though by those who were taught the true extent of the GameCube’s graphical capability in Metroid Prime, which probably had the best graphics of not just any GameCube game, but possibly of any game in its generation. Another argument for cel-shaded graphics is that Miyamoto wanted to show a difference in the Zelda games. The series, as is known, is not held on a single timeline. There are different Links, different Zeldas, and once in a while, a villain OTHER than Ganondorf / Ganon. This could’ve been a perfect way to separate the image of the Wind Waker series from those of the previous ones of the older systems. Or it could’ve just been used to give a specific sense or feeling desired for the game. Whatever Nintendo’s reasoning was for making the graphics as they did, it is what it is, and the debate between the factions remains.

Another criticism, albeit less-heard over the swarm of anger surrounding the graphics and water, is the level of difficulty. Admittedly, the Wind Waker is not as difficult as previous Legend of Zelda games in many regards, especially with the lack of what is consistently considered the hardest dungeon of Zelda games in the “Water Dungeon / Temple.” There was also a decrease in the amount of dungeons during the game, which also made it feel and appear to be easier than other Zelda games, but that does not account for all of the changes, as well as the addition of the Triforce Shard hunt to the standard game to increase its length and add some extra difficulty. Even those who take the side of lighter criticism and enjoy this game really can’t succeed in arguing this, as it’s mostly factual based on an overwhelming consensus rather than opinions as the arguments on the graphics and gameplay itself. I have no reason to ask if it deserves what a majority of people claimed of it for this reason, because difficulty is quite subjective, and it didn’t receive much hate for this compared to other factors, it was just a slight-turn off or turn-on depending on whether you wanted this level of difficulty with this type of game, and how difficult it felt to each individual.

As a quick recap, The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker was the first Legend of Zelda game to employ an ocean-based game over land-based, cel-shaded graphics and was considered easy for a Zelda game. These caused an uproar amongst many fans, and showed differing opinions forming into major groups with split opinions of the games. My question to everyone is: Because of these aspects of the game, does the Wind Waker deserve the overall adverse criticism and anger that it did receive? When I personally weigh in on the matter, I state a large: No. I as a player of Zelda games enjoyed the change of the games, getting a feeling of freedom and happiness with the sea-travel (which I personally enjoyed, especially with employing the wind to my advantage to make it even nicer). I never saw the big deal surrounding the cartoonish graphics, because it’s how it was intended, and I believe it to look quite nice, giving the game a brighter feel in the day, yet still holding a small sense of hopelessness in the darkness surrounded by storm and foes. The design of the (referred to as) “toon characters” was actually really well done, especially with Toon Link and Toon Zelda. I also enjoyed the sea connecting the plot to previous Zelda (notably Ocarina of Time with the mention of the Hero of Time in the prologue), as well as setting the mood for the sequel in Phantom Hourglass, without there being a direct connection between the Link of the past and the Link of Wind Waker other than both held the Triforce of Courage and Master Sword at one point. Was the game too short? For me, it was just a bit. Was it too easy? Some parts were laughably easy for me, while others turned out to be on the level of hair-ripping hard or just plain irritating.

So was The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker the best Zelda game ever? No, it really wasn’t, but I do hold Wind Waker dear as one of my personal favorites of the Legend of Zelda series. Does it deserve the level and amount of criticism and unjust loathing it received from people after its release, and  receives today even from people who are just getting into the Zelda series today and play it? No. Wind Waker was unique, and brought change in a way to the saga. It set forth its own path to follow, while Twilight Princess and possible future titles will follow the path of Ocarina of Time. Perhaps not only was Wind Waker unique and a major change, but a necessary step for the Zelda series to step out of the shadow of its former self.


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