The Legend of Zelda is by far one of the most iconic gaming series of all time, and with over 40 different games in the franchise, there’s an experience for every kind of player. Being the first Zelda game to be released on the Nintendo GameCube, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was a cutesy yet divisive quest that made some major leaps forward. As Wind Waker celebrates the 25 anniversary of its United States release this March, let’s dive into what made this seafaring adventure so special.
Wind Waker Turns 25 and It's Still One of the Best Zelda Games
When Wind Waker was first announced, it seemed like the gaming community couldn’t get over its cel-shaded graphical style. With the power of the GameCube, fans were likely hoping for a dark and gritty successor to Ocarina of Time, but were left with something more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon. However, Wind Waker remains intriguing today due in large part to its cel-shaded style, which gives the game an unforgettable and jovial tone.
Beyond the graphics, Wind Waker was a stunning achievement because it wasn’t afraid to change things up. While Zelda games mostly stuck to the same formula for several decades (with the exception of the jump to 3D graphics in the 90s), Wind Waker forged its own path. Although the game still follows the major brushstrokes you’d expect from a Zelda title, Wind Waker isn’t afraid to be different, and it excels because of it. Considering that Wind Waker is the tenth (roughly) game in the franchise, the change of pace significantly helped the series from growing stagnant.
Link's Outstanding Ocean Adventure
To start, Wind Waker presents a tale unlike any Zelda game before it. Instead of traveling across the kingdom of Hyrule to save Princess Zelda, Link must brave the waves of the Great Sea to save his beloved sister. In fact, Princess Zelda is barely in Wind Waker, replaced by pirate leader Tetra, an alternate version of Zelda who joins Link on his journey.
Above all else, the act of sailing around the wide open Great Sea marks Wind Waker‘s biggest departure from the franchise formula. There are almost 50 different areas to discover, littered with populated islands, characters to meet, and side quests to uncover. While exploring the endless blue in your talking sailboat can feel isolating at times, these quiet moments afford a true sense of adventure.
That said, Wind Waker still features the series’ staple dungeons, offering quite a few wondrous temples to tackle. Mixing inventive puzzles with engaging action and even a bit of stealth, Wind Waker‘s dungeons still stand out to this day. Dragon Roost Cavern is a fun and varied romp, the Wind Temple features some clever item usage, and the Earth Temple is an effective demonstration of atmospheric dread. Sure, not every dungeon is a certified classic, but they help keep the experience fresh throughout each playthrough.
The Wind Waker Legacy
While Wind Waker is a lovely game by its own merits, the way it influenced the franchise moving forward speaks volumes about the quality of its design. With its emphasis on open-world exploration, Wind Waker helped lay the foundation for games like Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild to succeed. Plus, it gave us the heroic protagonist, Toon Link, who’s one of the best characters in Super Smash Bros (in my humble opinion).
Better yet, Wind Waker received the “HD remaster” treatment on the Wii U in 2013, which cleaned up the visuals and addressed several long standing fan requests. In addition to featuring better controls, Wind Waker HD offered faster sailing, the challenging Hero Mode difficulty, and even some late-game balancing to eliminate excess backtracking.
Simply put, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was a breath of fresh air when it was released and is still one of the most personable and charming entries in the series. With any luck, the HD remaster will eventually be released on the Nintendo Switch, exposing a new generation to Link’s aquatic escapades. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, we can rest assured knowing that Wind Waker has had a huge impact on the series, and 25 years after its release in the United States, it still stands proud as one of the best Zelda games of all time.