The Legend of Zelda has a difficult fanbase to please, and Wind Waker is proof. Despite being an excellent adventure, many fans find something about it to chastise, most often its cel shaded graphics. I think that if a lot of these people could get over their selfishness and just play the game, appreciating it for what it is they would find a fantastic, if a bit lighthearted, Zelda experience.
Wind Waker begins with Link asleep in the sun. Awakened by his sister Aryl, he is informed that it is his birthday. As is customary for boys of his age on their local island, Link is soon garbed in green, replicating the hero of legend. Strangely, Link sees a bird from his sister's telescope - a very large bird who drops a frantically squirming girl into the woods to the top of a mountain. After a quick sword lesson from island resident Orca, Link goes off to help her and ultimately the bird kidnaps Aryl. Link resolves to set out with the band of pirates the girl he rescued belongs to in an attempt to rescue his sister.
The story is a tad different than the Zelda norm, where Link is entrusted with some task involving hims getting out and ultimately getting involved with the Hyrule royal family. It is quite emotional, however, seeing Link's grandmother, old and wobbling as she watches from the porch as her grandson sets off to the sea. In fact, "emotional" is probably the best word to sum up this game with. From the tale of Link scouring the seas in search of Aryl, to the expressive cast, this game is brimming with emotion.
One of the things that most helps this conveying of emotion is the facial animations. This game was advertises in some mediums as looking just like a Saturday morning cartoon. The characters all animate smoothly, and their faces can really tell how they feel. It's a step up from the N64 Zelda games where characters were generally stuck with 1 to 2 expressions a piece. The game is vibrant and lively, but when it needs to be the atmosphere can become quite dark and threatening. The graphics has aged wonderfully, although you may notice some jagged edges playing on modern televisions. These graphics have been a source of controversy among the fans, but ultimately they suit the game better than a more realistic style would.
The gameplay is as Zelda as it gets. You spend most of your time outside of dungeons trying to gather particular items or complete quests that will allow you access to the next dungeon. Once inside, you will find a key item that will them be utilized in the current and future dungeons along with your other equipment to complete puzzles. Items may be mapped to the face buttons (and Z) for quick access. I found combat to be a bit improved from previous titles. Not only does Link now have a counterattacks, and a few new maneuvers, but he can also disarm enemies and wield their own weapons against them. This is a feature of combat that seems to have been forgotten in newer releases, but it was really intriguing and gave you some new strategies to play with, so I really hope they bring it back one day.
Another source of controversy was the game's island dotted seascape. The land of Hyrule has been flooded and all that remains are islands, meaning Link must traverse the world via a boat. This is not just any old boat, but a magical talking boat that takes the place of Navi and Tatl. IT sounds ridiculous, but it all makes sense in the context of the game once all is explained. I don't really understand the complaints about seafaring, though. The Great Sea as it is called is bigger than Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, and also has much more in it to discover. Controlling the vessel is simple, and actually pretty relaxing. Besides, what's wrong with changing it up as long as the core mechanic is still the same?
The music is the game has a unique feel to it while still remaining relevant to the Zelda name. You'll hear native-American style wind instruments accompanied by violins and other such string instruments giving the soundtrack a relaxing and vibrant air about it. There are a few songs though that are Zelda classics, and they all song just as wonderful as you'd expect them to. It's not my favorite sound track, but it's still fitting and masterfully crafted.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is arguably one of the best games on the Gamecube and while it may split the fan base, I have to say it holds itself to a high standard and achieves most of its goals. I really wish some people would get over themselves and just accept that the game is not dark and gritty, and beyond that, it doesn't need to be either. The people opposed to this game's style, or even to the changes such as the flooded Hyrule are mostly hypocrites who will tell you all day about how Majora's Mask is their favorite. Isn't that the game that people like because it's different? Because it breaks Zelda tradition? It really bothers me, then, that Wind Waker would be picked on for those same things. Wind Waker has always been a joy to play, and to behold. It isn't any more perfect than any other Zelda game, but it is their equal, and I cannot wait to experience it once again on the Wii U.