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Pieces of Eight
By: Zachary Lewis
A wise man once said, "In a world covered by endless water, boat sales are at a premium." He probably worked at a shipyard in his younger days, but it's doubtful that he ever realized the truth of his words. From the price of a sail to the cost of having men-fish update your sea chart, a world speckled far and wide with tiny islands is what awaits you in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. And, although it sticks tried and true to the backbone inherent to any game in the saga, it has enough of its own wacky hijinks in store that getting bored is the least of your problems.
Every Zelda game starts with a legend. This time it is the legend set forth in the aftermath of the quest of the Hero of Time. Although the series isn't well known for the deep and engaging plot, Wind Waker ties several of the other games together in a way that no other title in the series ever has. Returning are the sinister Ganondorf and the tomboyish Zelda with the addition of Link's younger sister Arryl and a talking boat. Travelling from island to island it quickly becomes your task to find your kidnapped sister and discover the history of your battered world.
And although the world isn't war-torn, fighting makes up a key element to your journey. From your first sword lesson under the town swordmaster to the incredibly stupid Moblinoid forces at Ganon's Forsaken Fortress, precise action is your calling. Taking time to master the many varieties of slash available to you as well as the use of your shield to defend you from harm can make the game substantially less difficult. Using the L button to lock on to enemies allows you to circle them from a distance or become privy to the timing elements of your counter-attacks. However, unlike many of the games in the series - where brute force and pressing onward can get you a long way - stealth and hiding can prove essential to your quest in Wind Waker.
It is, after all, through said stealth and quick thinking that you will solve a large number of the puzzles in the game; and puzzles are the life-blood of the series. Puzzles, beyond helping you find items, granting access to new rooms, and keeping you on your toes, can also be found as a key element to fighting the larger boss type enemies. As if the puzzles weren't far reaching enough already, they also serve to make you journey the face of the planet searching for new islands, and thus progressing the story. It is a very good thing that the interface menu can allow you to customize which of the X, Y, and Z buttons activate which item, because you will be switching items almost constantly to solve puzzles.
It should come as no surprise that the script of the game would be as well done. Nintendo has long had a policy of excellent translations, and Wind Waker is a cut above even their standards. Although it is true that the game isn't exactly swamped with dialogue, what text there is is quite witty and often downright hysterical. The number of puns in the game brings it close to copyright infringement as far as Piers Anthony goes, but in the end, it only proves that the attention to detail in the game is absolutely extraordinary. And on that note, we come with dubious air to the cel shaded graphics of the game.
Right now put aside any argument you can think of as to why cel shading sucks. Texturing and bump-mapping do not make a game any more than a fantastic translation or an epic musical score do on their own. A game is truly a sum of all its parts and Wind Waker would not be as enjoyable or as amazing a game as it is if it weren't cel shaded. Defending the use of the style aside, the cel shading itself is fantastically done. No game existing now has cel shading of an even comparable level and the fact that it is indeed done in that style makes it difficult to compare to other games like Xenosaga or .hack//Infection. One area where the game becomes all too much like every other is in the audio experience, however.
Although the sound effects are absolutely fantastic - from the crashing of the waves to Link's high-pitched shriek when he falls into lava - the music itself is not all that was imagined. The original theme song returns along with many other familiar tunes, some even coming so far as to be reborn from the original game. And another interesting note is that the music even changes based on Link's actions, e.g. it quickens and changes into the battle theme of a dungeon when he engages foes, etc. However, the music doesn't seem especially spectacular when you're forced to repeat a puzzle time and again in one of the dungeons. This isn't to say that the music isn't good for the most part, but it can become grating if you hear a particular track long enough. But, not every problem has a solution, as the game's length shows.
Like so many other games in the series, Wind Waker is fairly short, taking only a good solid day or two of gameplay to complete on a first time basis. But, this may be because the typical game of this variety needs to be at least somewhat brief in order to keep a player's attention. The plus side to this is that the game comes replete with a second quest ready to go out of the box after you finish your first trek through Hyrule.
In the end, Wind Waker might not win any awards for originality but it will endear itself to the hearts and minds of the gamers who undertake responsibility for Hyrule on their shoulders for their first time. Raise anchor; set sail; and may you be one of the fortunate few who press onward with the wind at your back as your search for the Triforce continues on the GameCube...
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