On November 19, Nintendo released their brand new system, the Wii, and, conceptually, the best launch title since Super Mario 64 a decade ago: Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. Only one problem: I'm a poor college student that doesn't have $300 to spend on a new system and a video game. And even if I did have that kind of scratch, I wouldn't have been able to pony it up because of the relative rarity of the Wii.
So it was time to improvise. I made a promise to myself that after I finished my NaNoWriMo and my eighteen pages worth of papers for classes, I would complete the only Zelda console game I had never beaten: The Wind Waker.
I bought the game when it first came out. It was the sole reason I bought a GameCube, and I figured it would be worth every dollar spent. I got a good amount of play in the game, finishing all of the temples and most of the side-quests. However, even with the help of a strategy guide, I became frustrated and quit.
Why would I quit a new game in one of my favorite video game series, especially when I was only one castle away from finishing it off? Because of the sailing. Wind Waker is unique in the Zelda world in that the vast majority of gameplay time is spent traveling from place to place. You team up with a talking boat called The King of Red Lions (WTF?) and sail to something like fifty islands. Not all of the islands have particular relevance, but one feels compelled to map them and search for secrets on each one.
So, years ago, I quit playing when I was told that I had to search for seven Triforce maps. And then seven fragments of said jewel. That's a lot of sailing when it takes three to five minutes of travel time per sector. Still, I was jealous of those Wiiners, and I had to have my taste of the glory.
I came back to the game with three years of life experience (and gaming experience) under my belt. Also, I came back to the game with significantly more free time, as I've become something of a hermit in my college career. I started a new game as "Link" (how inventive), and began the journey anew.
This was a unique Zelda experience for me. Never once have I beaten one of the games by my lonesome (without the help of strategy guides or online cheats), and I planned to attempt this feat with my Wind Waker experience. It turns out that I failed, as I needed assistance with finding one of the Triforce Maps. Still, it was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. It turns out that I had been using strategy guides as a crutch, and that the game is an infinitely more rewarding experience when you fly solo. As a result, the game and travel time seemed infinitely less tedious this time around. Instead of sailing from island to island with a direct aim--"the book says I have to do this next"--I felt free to explore as I was on my way. Maybe it was because I'd played much of the game before, but I never felt stressed out about the puzzles. Only challenged. And I loved it. The sailing is still a bit of a pain, but it's eased midway through the game by the acquisition of a Warp Melody.
I remember when Wind Waker was announced, the fan base collectively rolled its eyes. The two previous 3D versions of Zelda (Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask) had graphics that dabbled in realism. The GameCube tentpole went in entirely the opposite direction, animating Link in cell-shading not dissimilar to a cartoon. The fans figured that they would be getting a more child-friendly game. I don't think this was the case. The graphics are a beautiful departure from the N64-styled graphics of Wind Waker's predecessors. Once you become enveloped in the story, it becomes just as good as the classic titles from the past. In fact, if it weren't for the tedium of sailing around the map, I would consider this game as good as (if not better than) the Nintendo 64 games.
One other problem that I have with the game is the length of it. I spent massive amounts of time just sailing around the world, attempting to discover the secrets of the land or just to get from place to place. Still, I get the feeling that it would take me longer to beat Ocarina of Time, a game in which exploration is not as encouraged. If you were to ignore all of the whimsy and all of the side-quests, one could probably beat the story portion of this game in fifteen to twenty hours. That may seem like a long time, but it's really not when you spread it over a number of days. Between classes, readings, and work, I was still able to complete a detailed exploration of the game within one week. It's good to see that the new Wii version of the game seems to make up for this: reports show that twenty hours of gameplay is a drop in the bucket. You probably won't be able to make it to the third temple in that amount of time.
All in all, you can't go wrong with Wind Waker at its current price of $20. It's not worth the price of a GameCube--especially now that the backwards-compatible Wii is released. Instead, track down a Wii and pick up this game as an afterthought. It's absolutely worth playing.