Wednesday, January 19

Zelda: Wind Waker



Before I begin I need to state for the record that I had never played a Zelda game before this one. Perhaps it was the joy of playing a game title where it had enough inspiration and refinement from its previous games that made me appreciate it so much. Perhaps it was the art style that I've always been looking for in a game, but never realised it until now. Whatever magical element it was that made Zelda: Wind Waker so special it has become one of the greatest gaming experiences ever. With that out of the way, let's begin...

This post-mortem is divided into two simple categories: "What I Liked", and "What I Didn't Like".

I'll get the negatives out of the way first. I was surprised to see there were so many of them for a game I so thoroughly enjoyed. These are roughly organised from the lesser comments to the doozies.


I would have liked the chance to learn Hyrulian as reward for playing an obscure side quest, rather than understanding it only during the second time you play the game. (This is a COMPLETE Ico rip-off, btw. In fact, I dare say they ripped off Ico too much. Kudos to Ico for being so brilliant. It remains as one of my fave games of all time). Basically I didn't think playing through the game a second time was reward enough for having played it through the first time. Instead, I would have liked it if I was to go back to playing the game in the reality of having finished it (think Jak2) so that I had the opportunity to complete all the side quests that I may have missed or not known about before defeating Ganondorf. (Let's face it, if you wanted to start the game again, wouldn't you have simply selected Start New Game?) When you complete all the side missions and collected all the maps and basically finished the game to 100% (without the percentage score anywhere - which I actually liked not seeing) THEN I think it would have been cool to play the game again, but as Tetra, sailing on her pirate ship with her crew, completing all the missions that she helped with first time around, and finally to help Link fight Ganondorf. It wouldn't have been as long to play, but it would have been a very cool bonus.

I found that there was nothing really good to save money for. The most I spent my money on was getting Tingle to laboriously decipher all my maps. (He should have said: I see you have X maps in your possession, I'll decipher them all for you at X rupees or I'll do just one for Y rupees. Would have been nice). After Tingles expensive map exercise and purchasing all the interesting items to put around Windfall Island, there really was nothing to do with my money. This is where I would have liked the Personal Oasis to come into its own. It would have been excellent if you get the deeds to this rarely visited island (as the lady says) and it's completely decrepid! :) You spend all your money (at the end of the game) fixing the place up and putting extra rooms on (such as an art gallery for all the sliding puzzle images you complete, or a personal picto gallery for your favourite 4 pictos you've taken, or a spotlight room for a single favourite figurine to stand which you'd pay an arm and a leg for from the gallery owner). The task of making your personal oasis look lovely and special would have not only given you more sense of ownership about it, but it would also make collecting rupees and searching for sunken treasure a lot more exciting- I became disappointed with a haul if it only contained rupees.

The Nintendo Gallery had some annoying featues. The first of which is that you have to travel back and forth to the gallery (with a picto box that can only take 3 shots) to collect all 134 figurines! Assuming you took a successful shot each time, you would have to return to this place at least 45 times, and then individually have to: show your photo, perform Song of Passing twice, view figurine to be able to show the next picto - 134 times! That's way too tedious. And what's the reward if you collect them all? A figurine of yourself on the ship, but don't get too excited, because if you didn't take a colour picto of Aryll with her original dress on in the first play through, then you're unable to collect all of the figurines and you have to reload the first game and lose any figurines you collected during the second playthrough. Ngh. I would have liked it more if the Gallery Owner asked you to take specific photos of particular and difficult targets (let's say 3 per gallery), and on collecting one of these hard to get pictos (let's say a Forsaken Forrest bat), you would gain a third of the figurines from the Forsaken Forest gallery. Once you'd collected all the Forsaken Forest figurines (ie. taken three pictos of specific FF inhabitants) then the FF would gain its best feature, which is, when you activate the figurine to take a closer look at it, you can also activate a small animation of it as well. That would have been awesome. :) (and a lot more fun to accomplish this way). I'd also like to have seen the figurines in toon rendered mode instead of the lit gaussian mode that they have now, or at least a toggle option to look at it like this. :/

You have to hit Orca 500 times without him hitting you 3 time to get a Heart Piece. 500? Why not just 300? That's still enough! 500 is just tedious. And to think you have to hit him 1000 times to gain the title Sword Master. Yike! And the reward after this enormous effort? 200 rupees. Whoopedy-doo-da-day. : (I found this out on the net by the way. I didn't waste my time hitting him 1000 times).

I didn't see how such an improtant item such as the Wind Waker was simply given to Link by the Red Lion boat, like- "Oh, by the way, here, have this!" It kind of just came out of nowhere. Same goes for the Red Lion Boat too. Look Kid, here's something truly amazing, for no apparent reason!

I found it annoying that some text you could speed through and some you couldn't, even if you'd already heard it. Very tiring, especially when I'd be trying to climb back into my boat and accidently start a dialogue with the lion head bow. I'd already heard his speech, but I was still "not allowed" to skip through it. Urgh.

With the exception of the TriForce Chart, the special charts, like the Secret Cave chart, the Hearts Chart, etc, were just that- charts. They weren't a checklist. I would have liked to have had the map automatically tick off the Secret Cave, Great Faries, Big Octos, Sea Towers, Heart Containers, etc, once I'd achieved what I needed to at those locations. That seemed like a genuine oversight to me.

The game should have had a faster option to get to the more commonly used Wind Waker tunes, especially Wind's Requiem and Ballad of Gales. Perhaps something like this: Now that you've performed Wind's Requiem over 50 times, you've now "mastered this tune" and can perform it any time you select the Wind Waker simply by pressing the Y button. That would have been very handy.

I wanted to look through the telescope while I was sailing. That would have been damn cool - real sea-faring advernturer-type stuff, but instead you stopped instantly. :(

The HUD was too obtrusive, especially with the magic bar lining up on the horizon line when you were sailing. The magic bar actually blocked what you could see in the distance and there was plenty of space where the hearts (both rows) and the magic bar could have been moved up enough to give you a complete look at the horizon line. Grrr.

I got very frustrated by the points where logic and commonsense are replaced by "Try to guess what the game designer wants you to do here". Examples are... Finding the fourth kid in the Killer Bee gang on top of the tree. Okay, I found him. I get out my Skull Hammer and slam the tree base- BOOM! Kid doesn't fall down. Hmm... I fly to the top of the tree and stand right next to him. Nothing. I slash him. Slash the trunk. Shoot arrows at him. Throw puffs of wind from the Deku Leaf at him. Nothing! Hours pass. I combat roll into the tree. Kid falls down. = DAMMIT!!

I parry at Ganondorf and slash his head during the final battle, sword hits head. It does as much damage to him as hitting him anywhere else. Fine. I keep fighting. Then the Princess says: "I'll fire arrow at you. Use your shield. Do you get it?" Okay, I get it. I refract the arrrows off my shield. Ganondorf hurts. Okay. Good. I keep doing this. I keep doing this. Is anything happening? Princess says: "I'll fire arrow at you. Use your shield. Do you get it?" Okay, I still get it. I keep doing it. WTF? About 12 mins go by. How tough is this guy? Every other boss was 3 hits, you're out. I pause the game and am forced to read the play guide. I return to the game, parry once, it's all over. I'm thinking: Whaaaat? Why didn't that dumb ass princess mention anything more useful instead of something that was completley misleading? How about: "I fire arrow at your shield. Use it to weaken his defenses!" This would have made me understand that I was only weakening his defenses and that there is still more to do.

In the Phantom Rooms where you had to follow the direction of where the sword falls, there is a circular pattern on the ground in the middle of the room. This pattern has swirls on it and all the swirls go in a left-right pattern, except for one. This, I thought, was the clue I needed to find my way through these rooms. Wrong. The reason why there is one swirl different to all the others is completley beyond me and needlessly frustrating and distracting for such an obscure puzzle to figure out. Why on Earth would you put in a red herring like this? (the first and only one in the entire game) In addition, I don't think they flagged the actual clue as well as they could have. Perhaps if the hilt of the sword was shaped like an arrow maybe then that would have been enough to subtlety give the observant player more of a chance.

The button associations (particularly during selecting items) were annoying. After hours and hours of play it still wasn't smooth and intuitive to use and didn't seem polished enough, especially when I had to press too many buttons to perform a simple function. For instance:
To select an item in my delivery bag I'd need to press Start, move my cursor to the Delivery Bag, press a X,YorZ to open it (NOT A- that just brings up an annoying instructions page over everything) then move my cursor to the item, then press the X,YorZ button again, then press B to exit the menu, then press X,YorZ to use it in the game.
Jesus. That's 5 presses (using 3 different buttons) and two separate uses of the analog. Here's what I would have liked to have seen instead. Using the same scenario...
I press Start to get into my menu, I move my cursor to one of the bags (that are next to each other along the top) which automatically opens up a window along the very top of the screen to which I keep moving my cursor to the item I want, then hit X,YorZ to set it to one of my readily selectable items and hit the same button again (ie. select it twice) to automatically exit the menu and use the item.
Even with this simpler system it still assumes that I want to keep using an item all the time because it assigns it to X,YorZ during the game, even if I only have a singular and specific use for it (which happened all the time). This is why I would have liked it if, when you pressed A on an item, it would bring up the instructions of the item with an option at the bottom saying: Use Item? A = yes. B = cancel. If you pressed A again (at the instructions) you could exit the menu and use it immediately in game. This way you could select anything you wanted from the menu and use it simply (and once) without tampering with the items that you'd want to keep at X,YorZ- the items you use more often. :/ This got to me after a while. What also got to me was that the B button wasn't always the cancel button. It was mostly the cancel button, but using an arrow (or any first-person mode) A was the cancel button. Huh? I found this inconsistent and therefore needlessly confusing. I also thought the map screen should have been accessible through the inventory menu and vice versa.

In fact, the whole item selection process, particularly when going between sailing and running around suffered the same bane as Ratchet & Clank where selecting a specific weapon from a huge list really interrupted the flow of the game. I would have liked the inclusion of customised "Sets" for different scenarios, four in all. This way I could simply select the "set" I want and all the items in my X,YandZ slots would be replaced with the items I've pre-chosen. For example:
Sea Exploration Set (Y=Wind Waker, X= Sail, Z=Grappling Hook)
Sea Combat Set (Y=Boomerang, X=Sail, Z=Cannon)
Land Exploration Set (Y=Grappling Hook, X=Deku Leaf, Z=Hookshot)
Land Combat Set (Y=Arrows, X=Skull Hammer, Z=Bombs)
This would have been a great reward for a side-quest or something special to buy. Sets would have made things a lot easier, and just think how perfectly I could have refined my sets after a long period of time. :)

I really didn't like how you needed to buy the link cable and GBA to complete the game to 100%. Sure, I'd be okay if the Tingle Tuner could let you find things that by playing it normally you couldn't, but I bought the official game guide and I still couldn't. That's not very fair. I would have preferred that if you had either the TT or the playguide you were right, and that the joy of co-op play would have been reward enough for buying the link cable.

I didn't get to hug my sister at the end of the game. I finally got to see her again after such an ordeal and we never touch, or even speak to each other. Instead she sees me board my lion ship and sail off again, waving goodbye to me. That sucked. I need more emotional closure from my computer games.

I had such a strong affinity with the sister character than I did with Zelda herself. In fact, I remember feeling very motivated to rescue my sister from the Forsaken Fortress, but having no urge to rescue princess Zelda. This is mostly due to the fact that from the very start my sister meant something to my character and the relationship was nurtured enough for me to want to save her. But Zelda (or Tetra at first) isn't likable and never gets to be likable at all, let alone that Link doesn't have any "lump in the pants" type feelings for her, which I thought was very needed. In actual fact, Tetra/Zelda does nothing to make me want to rescue her at all, especially when I went back to Windfall Island and found out she'd taken so much money as a reward from people that she left a family destitute to the point where their daughter had to steal from the merchant's workplace at night. Dear God! Screw Zelda, that bitch can save her own greedy ass!

I always think that story and characterisation in a game matters a lot, particularly in adventures like this, because when my focus was shifted to rescuing Zelda, the game became very "check-listy" for me. Even though I was doing exactly the same stuff to rescue my sister the game seemed more rewarding then, and I felt like I was working towards helping someone, rather than scratching off tasks from a to-do list. That's probably why the ending was a little flat for me. This and the fact that I wanted the ending to be a bit more titanic (which is how I felt they built it up to be). I wanted to see Valoo and the giant bird from the Forsaken Fortress fight each other, the wind gods get involved somewhere there as well, the good king defeated at the hands of Ganondorf and then Link comes in with Zelda to settle the matter once and for all. Something like that. A little more of a titanic battle for the world.

And finally to the good stuff.... (which I already knew there were lots of :) This in no particular order.


I was touched by the personal adventure of it: how everyone called me Mat, how I started the adventure on my birthday and how my family was caring, and therefore important to me. I liked the way my sister looked up to me and gave me her most prized possession, her telescope, for a day, because it was my birthday. I felt touched to receive it, rather than thinking that the game needs me to have this now. I felt like taking very good care of it and I'd feel bad if I damaged it in any way. I also got a nice buzz seeing our family photos in Grandma's house. :)

I enjoyed learning how to play while I was playing. That was real cool. So was the fact that I'd gain a new weapon, therefore something new to learn continuously through the game. Nice. That made playing the game always interesting.

Spreading "joy" by putting interesting items around Windfall Island gave me a lovely feeling, but the best part was that I could put whatever I wanted whereever I thought looked best. (Doing this after I built up the merchant's wares helped too). I put 4 strange skull statues in the pirate shooting sideshow room and all the blue flowers in the rich mans room upstairs, except I made sure to put a nice colourful exotic flower on the table as a centre piece. Brilliant! (The interior decorator really came out in me then).

During the first session that I played Zelda I came across a small island on the way to another. The rush of being free on the high seas to stop by and explore a small mysterious little island was sensational, but when I played around by cutting all the grass on the island, just for fun, to then discover a small passage way leading inside the dome.... well, I was completely awed. It was like no-one in the world had discovered this except for me. (I was completely hooked at this stage :)

But even before that were the simple pleasures this game gave me, like... sailing a boat. Searching for hidden treasure. Even talking to other characters and seeing what their interests were was a pleasure in this game (thanks also to the excellent character design and art style). Looking through a telescope. Playing hide and seek with the Killer Bees. (That was so nice. And then having them look up to me as the coolest kid. :) I enjoyed taking photos and seeing them afterwards, even if no-one else were able to comment on them. The fact that they actually could was a bonus. :) I also liked matchmaking the guy and girl on Windfall Island. He he. To see them standing next to each other on Windfall Island was lovely. (Would have been nice to see them strolling hand in hand too :)

The art style was simply a stroke of genius. It held so much simple charm that it became one of the real joys I got from playing the game. I loved the explosions most of all. This was the signature piece of Zelda's art style. (Kudos must go to Disney's Mulan here). Not only this, but the animations were all so fluid and interesting. The characters and creatures were so stylish and well-crafted. Beautiful stuff. Once it's all been said and done, and the game long since completed, I'll be loading up the game simply to marvel at these things again.

I loved the controls, the camera, the speed of the character, all this felt really smooth and wonderful to play with. I particularly liked the strafe/targeting mode and how it went into widescreen (plus the slight pause of the action everytime an enemy bit the dust :). Not only did the widescreen mode help to focus things, but it made it clear what you were doing and what was happening. In fact, fighting in Zelda was a heap of fun and never got boring, and some rooms were absolutely frenetic! My favourite enemy were the knights. I absolutely loved, with a sick passion, how I could slowly undress them from their armour with the Parry move. Before I learnt how to do this, they were my least favourite enemy, but once I figured out how to fight them... joy. Pure joy.

Another stroke of genius, of which there were many in this game, was the emphasis and use of wind. It established a great template to build gameplay on. I remember tacking in a head wind to get somewhere was very new to me in a game. Having the direction of the wind be an important element was such a nice touch I felt. Even right down to wind related items like the two modes of the Deku Leaf was very special, and getting a nice long glide from this felt wonderful. (Yet another simple pleasure).

I thought the "auto-jumping" was enormously brave of the game designers as a feature and at first I didn't know what to think, but after a short while I realised how clever this was to do. This removed the entire gauging distances conundrum that has plagued 3D platformers not to mention freeing up a button that would have otherwise been taken up by Jump. By removing jump as one of your options it also simplified the gameplay as well. This simplification actually made playing it a lot better I feel. Admittedly, I would have liked to have a little bit of air steering, but just the fact that the creators were brave enough to do this in the first place was enough for me. :D

One of the most breathtaking parts of Zelda were the Bosses. Jesus H Christ. They lulled you into this gameplay where you'd fight a little goblin, or you'd fight a rat, or a little bird, then they'd lock the door and shove an enormous hideous fiend infront of you. I remember completely freaking out, like I was suddenly playing an entirely different game all of a sudden. That was so damn cool! And the creatures themselves looked amazing. My favourite boss, not only to fight against but also the coolest designed creature, was the giant sand worm. So many games have the bosses appearing in different locations in really contrived ways, but not only did the sand element make sense, but I enjoyed how the shifing sands would bring you closer to danger (and give you a time limit to shoot the hookshot in as well). It's so much nicer when gamey stuff makes sense like this. One of the best, if not the best, boss fight I've experienced in a game ever. Awesome.

It's been done before of course, but the way links eyes moved to important areas of the room was excellent. This saved me from getting needlessy frustrated at a few puzzles, by giving such a small nudge in the right direction. Nice.

I thought all the creatures had very creative abilities, particularly the spikey eyeballs that jumped on you to slow you down. That's all they did, but that was really cool. :) But the screaming Undead creatures were genuinely scary. They really creeped me out. Especially how I couldn't move my character, because even my character was scared! The knights and their undressable armour. The one-eyed hopping statues that would come to life long after you'd thought they were inanimate objects. Clipping the moth creatures wings so they became those curly pincer creatues. Playing energy ball ping pong with the Phantom Ganon. Having to whack the bouncing skull off the mace-swinging skeletons. The hand in the hole creature who caught your bombs and threw them back at you. Fantastic and imaginative stuff. I also liked seeing the sad faces on the bottled fairies. He he.

But most of all, I loved the fact that the game inspired me so much that I felt the need to write all this down. Now that's very special indeed. :)

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