Written by G. Russell
One Game A Week is a bunch of words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time the most over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us.
~Spoiler warning for The Wind Waker’s story~
If I was being honest, this week’s post would be about Bloodborne. Because since its release on Friday 27th March I haven’t played anything else. Yes, much like Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 before it, Bloodborne fever has consumed me. But I feel like I’ve been making so many references to my playthrough of The Legend Of Zelda : The Wind Waker on these pages that it’s about time I wrote about it. So, even though I actually finished The Wind Waker last week, let’s talk about it this week. Fuck you, calendar, I won’t do what you tell me. Bloodborne is likely going to be a big part of my life for weeks to come yet, so it’ll make one or two appearances on this site a bit further down the line.
It’s pretty fitting, I suppose, to see Zelda and the Souls games in the same paragraph. As any videogame-bore will tell you – they share a hell of a lot in common. Environmental storytelling, very little hand holding, obscure NPC dialogue and fiendish difficulty are all common threads between both series along with the omnipresent and tiresome complaint that both are too reliant on established series tropes. Any Zelda fan will be able to sympathise with the Souls community as the legion of detractors out there who, with a few minutes of a Bloodborne Let’s Play video under their belts, have crawled back into the comments sections to state how “it’s shit and From Software are lazy because it looks / plays / sounds just like Dark Souls“.
The problem with this statement when talking about Souls or when talking about Zelda is that if you truly, truly understood the games and their intricacies; or their themes, emotional resonances and subtle mechanical adjustments you’d know that it is a statement reeking of bullshit. The Zelda series is a prime target for the accusation that it “needs to change the formula” but if all you see when you play A Link To The Past or Majora’s Mask or Skyward Sword or, in this case, The Wind Waker is a bunch of dungeons, a hookshot and a princess in need of assistance then you, dare I say it, done fucked up. There isn’t even a princess in Majora’s Mask. So there.
This ‘Zelda formula’ (which isn’t always as heavily relied upon as most detractors would have you think) is merely a framework from which Nintendo will hang a myriad of wonderful designs, innovations and ideas. The Wind Waker’s major addition to Zelda tradition is its excellent free-roaming naval exploration (years before Assassin’s Creed :Black Flag did it far worse); presenting you with a blank world map to fill in that is a genuine pleasure to do so. By having each square on the map containing only one major island, it allows the exploration to feel self-guided but focused. Drifting around the seas is a stress-free, laid back affair; each new discovery tinged with wonder and intrigue.
Chief among Nintendo’s Zelda innovations though are the stories that they tell. The Ocarina Of Time is perhaps the one most widely credited as having A Really Good Story but overlook A Link Between Worlds or Link’s Awakening at your peril. And now, finally, I can add The Wind Waker to that list.
Going into The Wind Waker with not a lot of knowledge regarding its narrative led me to be suckerpunced when it revealed its hand. The fact that, going in, I had no idea where the story would take me is more of a testament to the fact that it seems to be hugely overlooked more than it being evidence that people keep spoilers to themselves.
~one final spoiler warning~
And so, despite it seeming for all the world like a ‘clean slate ‘ Zelda game at first, The Wind Waker, through subtle NPC dialogue and visual clues, reveals itself to be a sequel to Ocarina Of Time. No big deal. It tells how Link’s victory against Ganondorf in Ocarina was a temporary one and that, with no Link to save them when Ganondorf returned, the Gods flooded Hyrule, sealing the world and the enemy under the ocean. Those lucky few chosen by the Gods to survive this disaster relocated to the peaks of the Hyrule mountains, and it is those settlements that have become the islands you visit in The Wind Waker. Pretty bleak stuff. This violent, centuries-old history is foggy in the memories of the world’s citizens; half-remembered by them as they try to comprehend the disturbances being caused by Ganondorf’s current attempts to return to power. There are several touching moments as NPC’s try to to grasp why Link and his actions feel familiar and times when someone will try and talk about things like The Triforce only to get halfway through a sentence and forget what they were talking about. And Link, once tasked with saving the world, is shouldered with living up to the events of that past that, as a child, he can’t possibly begin to comprehend.
Still, he eventually contributes to Ganondorf getting stabbed in the forehead, so all is well that ends well.
As this is likely to be the last thing I write about Zelda for a while (I started the year with a hefty Zelda to-do list and this marks the end of it), I suppose I just wanted to say : stop complaining that the Zelda formula needs to be changed. The Zelda ‘formula‘ can stay exactly as it is, thank you very much, because I’ve had a completely different experience with every single Zelda game that I’ve played. And you honestly can’t say that about most franchises.