The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was the first Legend of Zelda game that I ever played, and I remember it fondly for the many memories it gave me as a child. Even upon replaying it so many years later, the magic of seeing Link claim the Master Sword underneath the Great Sea or hearing that delightful theme as the camera pans over Outset Island hasn’t faded and, and it continues to be my favourite Zelda game ever made. Of course, there are many who share this opinion, and Wind Waker is generally regarded as one of the best games in the franchise. It was the fourth best selling GameCube game of all time and it was one of the only games to earn a perfect 40/40 from Famitsu magazine with the other entires in the series to achieve this feat being Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time. It even got itself a remake for the WiiU, titled The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. Needless to say, its legacy is secured as one of the best Zelda games of all time.
However, there were many who hated the game when it was first announced. Zelda fans all over the world criticised the decision to make the game in a cel shaded format after being shown a completely different demo video at the SpaceWorld Expo in 2001. People were not expecting much out of the new Zelda, claiming that it was ‘appealing to children’ and that it was going to be a rather simplistic experience. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that all the nay-sayers had to swallow their words as the game went on to become a massive success. However, even though the game is regarded as a modern classic, there is still one aspect of it that receives a lot of flak from the Zelda community.
Yup, you guessed it – the sailing.
Since the overworld is an ocean, sailing from one island to the other is obviously a big part of the exploration aspect of the game. However, majority of players criticised the sailing aspect, saying that it was too slow (evoking the comparison to Epona from Ocarina of Time) and saying there wasn’t enough to do from island to the other. Two portions of the game received particularly scathing criticism: one portion in the middle of the first half of the game involves you sailing across half the map in order to progress through the story, and the other occurs near the end of the game when the player has to gather seven pieces of the Triforce which are hidden throughout the entirety of the ocean. Personally, I had no problem with it, and in this week’s Zelda Month piece, I thought I’d take a stab at defending something that seems so universally panned. To preface this, I am not going to argue that the sailing system implemented was a flawless, action packed romp that gave us as many twists and turns as an M.Night Shyamalan movie. I am simply out to make a point that the sailing is nowhere near as bad as people claim it to be. Feel free to completely disagree with me, as this is my personal opinion. With that said, let’s delve into it.
The most common criticism of sailing that is thrown up first is the fact that there is nothing to do on the journey from one island to the other. This would imply that The Great Sea doesn’t have that many islands. This argument always extremely amusing to me because a lot of people (myself included, in the first couple of playthroughs, at least) don’t bother to go exploring too add new islands to the Sea Chart that you obtain after you start to sail around the ocean. Anyway, the overworld has a grand total of 49 islands to explore. Incidentally, the map of the Great Sea is a 7 x 7 grid, which means that every single individual grid has an island in it, which further means that when you travel from one island to the next, there is always something new for you to take a look at. Granted, not all of the islands are mini dungeons for you to trudge through, but to say there isn’t anything to do in between sailing between islands to progress through the story is just assuming that each of them is akin to the island on the surface of Bikini Bottom – nothing but ground and trees.
Even if you remove the fact that there is an island in every grid, there are several small occurrences that take place randomly while sailing across the sea. Barrels will float up to the surface with Rupees of various denominations floating above them, inviting you to try to grab as many as you can. A series of explosive barrels sometimes appear in your path, forcing you to dodge them as best you can. Sometimes Gyorgs’ appear in the water and you have to fend them off with your boomerang or bow and arrow. You may even sail right into the middle of a flock of seagulls, which will summon a Bic Octorock, which is a mini boss of sorts. Otherwise, even regular Octorocks could appear and deter your path with bombs. Therefore, as is abundantly clear from the wide variety of encounters you can have whilst at sea, sailing between islands is anything but ‘boring’.
The other criticism is that it takes too much time to sail from one location to another. Now, this is a little tricky because on a pure technical basis, it’s not wrong. Sailing from one place to the other DOES actually take a while. However, experiencing the the ocean and the sights that you come across in each island is all part of the experience of the game. The atmosphere of sailing across the Great Sea is one of the most memorable experiences in Zelda for me, and I can always imagine the sun rising over the horizon as that iconic theme starts to play. The wind blows fiercely in whatever direction you command it, with seagulls often flocking to your side to fly alongside you, gliding on the wind. The sky even changes throughout you’re journeys; sometimes, its clear with no grey clouds as far as the eye can see, but it could just as easily become dark and ominous as a storm brews, showering Link with rain as the path ahead becomes marred by the unknown. Day and night rotate as well, and sailing under the night sky is as peaceful and relaxing as wandering around Windfall Island or even Outset, the island of Link’s origin. All in all, the time that it takes is rather long, but is an experience where you essentially fast travel from one location to the other really what you want from a game whose atmosphere and intensity that is simply begging to be noticed?
The criticism for the sailing aspect of the game appears to have been fixed in the release of 2013’s The Wind Waker HD for the Wii U, where Nintendo added a ‘Swift Sail’ as an additional item the player could win in an auction and thus cut the time that would be taken to get from one place to the other in half. However, my argument in this post is trying to establish that even without this feature, that the sailing in the game is not something you should outrightly dismiss. It is an integral feature that gives The Wind Waker a lot of its charm and depth, and to call it a waste of time takes away from a lot of the grandeur and spectacle that such a masterfully crafted game presents. In conclusion, next time you hear someone dismiss the sailing aspect of this game as a waste of time, think about what you might be missing as you hurtle across the ocean.
You may just find something worth remembering there.