I have more nostalgia for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker than most people. I was following news for the game almost every day on the run-up to release, visiting an internet cafe (remember those?) at least weekly to find out the latest information, see the latest 30-second gameplay clips that took five minutes each to load at 240p, and swoon over the gorgeous, 480p screenshots. I remember getting a DVD from a gaming magazine and forcing my family to give me access to the only DVD player in the house just so I could imagine what it would be like to explore Outset Island. I can still feel the thump in my heart that I felt when I discovered that the game would also include Ocarina of Time and Master Quest for anyone who pre-ordered. And believe me, I loved it. I completed my first playthrough in about a week, and then I played it again. And again. And again.
For a decade – a genuine decade – I would not hear a single bad word said about The Wind Waker. I refused to hear even a single complaint about the game that I adored so very, very much, and judging by the online conversation that surrounds it, many people are still in the same boat, if you’ll pardon the pun. But then I had my friend play through the game. He was looking at it with fresh eyes and enjoying the adventure, but I realised something was wrong: I kept apologising for it.
It began at the Forsaken Fortress, the tedious forced-stealth section that hampers the progress of anyone that doesn’t already know the layout of the dungeon like the back of their hand. “I know this dungeon isn’t very good,” I bemoaned, “but the game really picks up the pace once this is out of the way.” I had to admit that something was wrong for me to keep making excuses. While my nostalgia for The Wind Waker is still incredibly powerful, it is not the incredible, unshakeable peak of the Zelda franchise that I seemed to think it was as a child. It has flaws – flaws so undeniable that even Nintendo and Aonuma knew they had to make significant changes and adjustments when porting the game over to the Wii U.
My point here is that I know exactly how it feels to be blinded by love for something. I’ve had to reckon with that part of myself already. Now it’s time for all of you to stop being blinded by hatred of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
I get it, okay? Fi is annoying, the Wii Remote Plus controls are finicky to say the least. Just getting through the first Skyloft section of Skyward Sword takes more time than I would care to recall, and fighting The Imprisoned – the pure malevolent rage which later takes form as Ganon – happens three times, each of which is pretty darn jank. This game has flaws just as The Wind Waker did, but the highs soar so much higher than The Wind Waker’s lows, which lay at the bed of the Great Sea.
As a Zelda fan, no one can deny the quality of the story. Impa’s patient meditation in the Temple of Time, Zelda’s (as in, the actual princess Zelda) personality, which we see for basically the first time ever, Ghirahim’s flamboyant confidence, Groose’s character development (a Zelda game! With character development!), all of it made Skyward Sword feel unique within the series, and the way you engaged with the world made it stand alone within gaming as a whole. Nothing like this existed at the time, and even with motion controls becoming established on Nintendo Switch and on VR platforms, nothing else like it really exists yet.
But all of this ignores what I think is the core of a Zelda game, and that’s the dungeons. Those that dislike Breath of the Wild often bemoan the lack of traditional dungeons, which is a fair enough complaint, but then Skyward Sword boasts some of the best dungeons in the entire series, which is conveniently forgotten about when the discourse inevitably rolls around.
The Lanayru Mining Facility has a central mechanic revolving around Timeshift Stones, which sees you activating and deactivating a bunch of stones in order to make old technology work like new, open up closed-off pathways, and see the dilapidated facility brim with life again. The same mechanic is put to the test in the Lanayru Desert’s Sandship dungeon, which literally takes a barren desert and fills it with water, allowing Link to sail on its surface.
The legendary Ancient Cistern sees you moving a water level in a similar vein to Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple, but this adjusts the height of a central Buddha-like platform, transforming the areas you can work with. Combined with Skyward Sword’s more free-form underwater swimming and traversal, it makes for a fascinating place to explore, much unlike the infamous Water Temple. And finally, the Sky Keep, the final dungeon of the game, has rooms which you literally piece together with a sliding block puzzle, transforming the entire dungeon layout, meaning your progression around the environment is limited only by your block sliding skills.
The Wind Waker, conversely, could only dream of living up to these highs. Link’s sailing adventure was infamously cut short, with dungeon ideas being scrapped and brought back in later Zelda games. I’ve already mentioned the crushing tedium of the Forsaken Fortress, but the Forbidden Woods is a boring dungeon, carrying Makar around the Wind Temple is not as sweet as escorting Princess Ruto through Lord Jabu-Jabu’s Belly, playing the Command Melody over and over in the Tower of the Gods is always frustrating, and don’t even get me started on the repetition of the labyrinthine Ganon’s Tower. Honestly, that last dungeon is a complete nightmare. And, oh, would you look at that, I’ve listed all but two of The Wind Waker’s dungeons. Guess what? It doesn’t get much better than this.
The Wind Waker treats dungeons like a roadblock to progress, something you have to do, something that simply expands the amount of time you must spend playing the game. A good Zelda dungeon gives you brand new challenges, new ways of thinking about the space you are inhabiting, and in The Wind Waker I just feel bored and frustrated, sat apologising to my friends, promising that the moments they will spend sailing the Great Sea will make up for it once it ends.
In Skyward Sword, that’s not a problem. The controls are the roadblock, the hurdle, and with the upcoming port’s analogue stick slicing, they won’t be a problem. All that will be left is some of the most ambitious and ingenious Zelda dungeon design the series has ever had, and it doesn’t need the Great Sea to carry it. Long story short? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will go down as a better game than The Wind Waker, at least to the people willing to put enough thought into it. And I didn’t even need to mention Wind Waker’s end-game Triforce shard hunt once.
Next: 10 Things We Want From The Legend Of Zelda’s 35th Anniversary
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TheGamer Guides Editor.
Am I supposed to write this in the third-person? Do you know how awkward it is talking about yourself like you’re someone else? No one would ever believe someone else has this many nice things to say about me.
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