Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2003 - The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker


The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)

Nintendo took a gamble with this one. With a long and glorious tradition of making fantastic games in the Legend of Zelda series (two of which are featured on this list), playing it safe would have been agreeable to a majority of their audience. But as they've shown time and time again, Nintendo prefers to ignore what their fans claim they want and instead give them something that they claim they don't want but, in reality, actually do want. Seeing as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has gone down in history as one of the greats, I guess they knew what they were doing. With a cartoonified Link, a world covered with an endless ocean, and a Celtic-inspired soundtrack, there was bound to be some doubters. Some people never got over this drastic change and there's been some debate on the matter of sea travel and its inevitable trail of crushing boredom that it supposedly leaves in its wake. But an even larger legion of fans embraced this new side of Hyrule with open arms, especially its striking visual design. The cel-shaded graphics made vast strides in popularizing the art style and the new look gave the series a needed breath of fresh air. (Get the pun? Heh heh heh...) Heck, the game was so beautiful it even made 2003's Panzer Dragoon Orta look lame (and yes, you can quote me on that). Wind Waker didn't merely look good for the time or set quickly-defeated standard; it holds up on modern-day TVs baffling well. Of course, cel-shading wasn't what made this game the best title of 2003, despite that being a prominent feature. Wind Waker earns the prize with high adventure, exciting exploration, and a frightening level of polish.

Once you enter the land of blue skies, bird-men, and tiny feet, you will never want to leave.

Sailing across the picturesque ocean in a talking boat (yes, your seaworthy dinghy replaces the standard fairy as the local chatterbox in this game) was certainly a departure from what's been seen in Zelda games, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even though I wouldn't ordinarily trade a perfectly good horse for a boat (talking or otherwise), the act of discovering the islands dotted all over the ocean was enticing and invigorating. Hundreds of secret treasures, sub-games, and delightful prizes were hidden on these oases of solid ground, tempting adventurous souls to poke around and see the sights. The islands ranged from tiny, volcanic structures with a mystery to solve to large-scale towns containing all manner of characters, quests, and fun to experience. The interesting, light-hearted plot would point you in the right direction in order to rescue Link's kidnapped sister, but some of Wind Waker's best moments shined through in the sense of discovery that no scripted storyline can replicate. A flowing combat system made encountering and besting the animated foes a breeze (another pun! Ha ha ha!) as they reacted with an amusing amount of detail to Link's swings and jabs, whether it be a lowly bokoboblin or a mighty boss. And, naturally, the famed dungeons of Zelda tradition reappeared in the game, sporting creative designs in both gameplay and art. All of this culminated to craft yet another masterpiece while simultaneously taking the series in a bold, new direction. At this point in time nearly half of the franchise is made up of games with Wind Waker's aesthetic, proving to all its lasting merit. The origin of the excellent art style is still the best of the bunch, though; it's a joy to play through and thoroughly difficult to put down. Even when competing against amazing RPGs and action adventures such as Knights of the Old Republic and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Wind Waker blows away the competition. (I'm on a roll!)