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Chance of Gusting Winds
By: Andrew Long
Pan flutes are a devilish instrument indeed. In combination with soulful violins, they can make any soundtrack seem immediately a hundred times more Celtic, which through the transitive property equals better in most people's minds. Whether this is due to subconscious Riverdance associations or from listening to a little too much of Uematsu's Celtic Moon is difficult to say, but one can only hope that it is neither of these things, because then Chrono Chross seems that much more suspect in retrospect. In any event, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker features a truly phenomenal wealth of pan flute and violin in all the right places, which props up some fairly creaky gameplay and, in combination with the cheerfully colorful and slick graphics, makes it seem almost new again. Regrettably, all the soulful piping in the world can't disguise the fact that this series is one of the oldest still kicking around out there, and it's starting to feel remarkably tired in some respects. Nonetheless, Wind Waker is a pretty enjoyable game, if not amazingly so.
So the Hero of Wind, as this particular Link is arbitrarily dubbed at some point throughout the proceedings, is a young Link, much to the chagrin of the adult-minded crew who found the terribly realistic N64 Link to be so much more engaging in his beautiful, chunkily polygonned goodness. Yes, the graphics of Wind Waker caused a remarkable amount of bellyaching over Nintendo's abandonment of what many perceived as a good change for the series. Still, this will be coupled with the discovery that most of the elements that made Ocarina of Time the bestseller it was have returned, if not in the barely legal hands of the original hero.
Anyhow, Judah Ben Hur Island Link awakens on his eighth birthday one morning to find that he has to replace his hippie threads for a day and don the garb of the "Legendary Hero" who saved the world back when men were men, evil pig wizards were evil pig wizards, and there wasn't so much water all over the place. What with this crazy materialistic age we live in, the clothing unsurprisingly (and rather quickly) comes to define the man (or boy), and so it is that the newly minted (though not yet christened) Hero of Winds is speedily deposited into the proverbial deep end in search of answers, items, and of course, the ubiquitous Master Sword.
As in the series' N64 incarnations, Wind Waker features a targeting system which allows players to lock onto targets and unleash mayhem with Link's sword, shield, and whatever other gadgets happen to be kicking around in his luggage. In an effort to spice things up, Nintendo has introduced a twist into fighting, with some monsters now requiring well-timed parries in order to get a hit in edgewise and all baddies taking extra damage for hits thusly delivered. This helps somewhat to disguise the fact that in essence, this is the same combat setup utilized in many prior Zelda (and indeed, Nintendo) titles. More often than not, however, parrying is not particularly difficult to achieve, and whether through deliberate comic effect or poorly-planned battle scenarios the guards often disarmour each other before Link can even manage to look threatening.
Looking threatening is one of the many facial expressions Link can assume in the game, which features some very nice cel-shaded graphics. Link's face runs the table, from hearty laughter to darkly furtive glances when sidling to apprehensive looks when something not so nice happens. There are a few holes in the graphical presentation, however; for one, there is a glitch (which is not limited to just one particular copy of the game) where dark, flickering bands appear across the screen which, while translucent and mostly limited to the background, nonetheless seriously distract attention away from the overall beauty of the game's art. A couple of Wind Waker's later stages also look slightly rushed, with a number of textures not receiving quite the attention those earlier in the game were paid. These are extremely limited instances, but it was difficult not to be reminded of games such as Myst during these brief areas. Minor issues aside, however, the rest of the game looks brilliant, with cheerful colours and well-executed and consistent design throughout the new and waterlogged Hyrule.
For all the complaining about pan flutes earlier, Koji Kondo and his assorted flunkies really do make the tracks that use this instrument shine. There are obviously a number of tracks that do not employ this sound as well, and on the whole, the soundtrack works well, combining several classic Zelda pieces with some newer numbers to create a comprehensive and pleasant musical score. The remakes of old songs are particularly well done, with pieces such as the Hyrule Castle theme and the original Kakariko town theme returning in tasty new remixes.
The sound effects, meanwhile, are what really sets this category apart from the rest of the game. With hilarious monster sounds and a number of quirky voice samples, the world of Wind Waker is definitely unique from an aural perspective. There's just something great going up a flight of stairs as dozens of little goblins dance towards Link singing "Dana-nana!" in varying keys as they attempt ineffectually to skewer him on their cartoon pitchforks, and more than anything, this adds a level of presentational quality that makes up for some of the title's gameplay shortfalls.
This is probably a good thing, because while it is enjoyable to play through much of Wind Waker, things do get terribly repetitive, especially when deedling the accursed titular conductor's baton becomes necessary. This is one area where Nintendo would have been better served to just execute the songs with the single push of a button; while it's fun to mess around with the limited note selection available, it's rather tedious to have to play three, four, and six note selections repeatedly just to perform simple tasks, to say nothing of how dull it gets sailing to and fro for minutes on end with nothing to distract Link but the occasional barrel jumping game that was mercifully included to break up the monotony of transoceanic travel by dragon dinghy. The treasure chart system also seems rather arbitrary, since it isn't actually necessary to possess a treasure chart to find the buried booty stashed all over the place beneath the waves. These elements add the illusion of extra hours of gameplay, but in reality most gamers should have no difficulty breezing through Wind Waker in ten hours or so, provided they even want to subject themselves to another playthrough, which is by no means necessarily a great idea, second quest notwithstanding.
Still, Wind Waker does have very high presentation values, and as a result the game's interface shines. While the lack of D-pad functionality is occasionally irritating, that's about the only control or menu-based problem that crops up, and as The Legend of Zelda was one of the forerunners of the modern subscreen, the development team can pull off a functional and attractive job in their sleep, which shows. The translation is also top-notch, with no apparent errors and a pretty decent attempt at local dialogues. The actual conversation is nothing great, but for a game from this genre, things aren't too bad, since story isn't really the point here.
Lack of necessity notwithstanding, Nintendo sure makes an admirable effort to string together a few of its earlier Zelda titles with the current one. Unfortunately, most of this takes place in the opening credits, but there is a certain amount of story progression to fuel players along during the quest, and for an action game, the plotline isn't too bad. Still, it's not too great overall, so that isn't saying much in the end.
Where Wind Waker really takes a hit is in its gross similarity to previous Zelda titles. While this has served the series well in past titles, familiarity can breed contempt, and the apparent attempt to fuse the gameplay of Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past doesn't work too well here. On top of that, there's only two new items - the Deku Leaf, which allows Link to fly, and a super secret something that allows Link to see enemies' energy in Diablo-style bars. Flying is enjoyable enough, but it's no real substitute for functional jumping, and as a result can be terribly frustrating sometimes. Add to that the necessity to compose a thunderstorm beforehand in order to blow in the right direction and it gets old fast. This isn't to say that the classic Zelda gameplay is dead and finished - the series has reinvented itself countless times already while still retaining a unique feel at its core - but this particular attempt at it feels rather tired, much the same way Final Fantasy IX was offputting to the more jaded members of the gaming community.
Nevertheless, this is entirely too negative a note to be leaving off on. While Wind Waker isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread, it sure beats guillotining everyone and their uncle, not to mention about 90% of the other games out there today. Its only hindrance is some rusty battle mechanics and a few graphical glitches that keep it from rating a top-notch effort. It is, nevertheless, still a very worthwhile title, and one of the better games to appear in the past year.
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