Previously: Zelda 1, The Adventure of Link, Link to the Past
This post will cover The Wind Waker, and The Minish Cap.
9. The Wind Waker (2003)
I love this game so much.
Other Zelda games have good music. Wind Waker harmonizes with its soundtrack in a way that's on an entirely different level. The title music sets the tone for the entire game - it's playful and cheerful, without being too sweet or too cheesy or too childish. The game smoothly transitions into a more somber theme to accompany the game's backstory. That theme matches Ganondorf's rise, defeat, and return so well that I can still see the panels in my head when I listen to it.
(It kind of works the other way, too.) The Great Ocean theme sets a perfect tone for adventure. It fills me with joy, and makes me want to explore the far corners of the world. It brings back memories of sailing all up and down the ocean, exploring every island and every corner of the map. I'm sure I've heard its loop hundreds of times at this point. It's backed dozens of hours of my Wind Waker play, and I would gladly listen to it dozens of hours more.
Every major island has its own theme and its own feel. Outset has a simple, warm theme that fits well with the island that is Link's home. Windfall has an upbeat, fast-paced theme suitable for a bustling island full of NPCs, shops, and things to do. Forest Haven sounds magical and mysterious. I can only describe Dragon Roost's theme as wistful, or maybe mournful. It brings back memories of every bit of the island for me, from the first bars. Somehow, it manages to be reworked into an even sadder theme when Medli awakens as a sage.
This scene breaks my heart, and the scoring is what does it.
Link is more expressive in this game than in any other Zelda game. Just look at that frown.
He frowns when sidling or lifting rocks. He smiles or laughs during happy scenes. When the Helmaroc King takes away his sister, he unsheathes his sword and runs off a cliff, thinking of nothing but saving her. Other Zeldas give personality to NPCs and to the world, but Wind Waker alone manages to give a strong personality to Link.
The combat in Wind Waker is wonderful. It's very satisfying, especially once you get your four-hit combo down. With that, you'll be putting down enemies before they can even swing. You can hit enemies until you disarm them, and then use their own weapons against them. If that gets boring, you can pick up a weapon and throw it at an enemy across the room. This game introduces a parry mechanic that lets you turn an enemy attack into a free strong counterattack (and disarm!). I've spent whole fights just waiting to be attacked so I can parry. On top of all that, enemies can hit each other in this game, which is also a unique mechanic, to my knowledge.
All of these new fighting techniques are fun against an enemy or two, but they really come into their own when you have to fight large groups at once. And the game really enjoys putting you up against large groups of enemies. Three Darknuts together are a bit tough, but if you can get a parry in and take the armor off one, the other two will finish the work for you. Fights with lots of enemies with different attack patterns (Darknuts, a Moblin or two, maybe a Bokoblin for fun) become very chaotic, because focusing on one enemy can get you attacked by the others. You have to be clever about how you approach these fights. You can always back off, take a breath, and then re-engage, and your fights will usually work out better if you try that. Disarming one enemy will give you a free projectile weapon that does a lot of damage, and that can be a big help. You can maneuver enemies so they'll hit each other, and that saves you a lot of work. Parries can be interrupted, but if you time them right you'll do your damage and then get some space to plan your next move. Wind Waker gives you a lot of new tools in fights, and then makes sure you know how to use them.
Wind Waker has multiple sets of dungeons. When I say that, I mean there is a set of dungeons leading to one goal, and another set of dungeons leading to another goal. The first two dungeons lead to Din's Pearl and Farore's Pearl, respectively. The last two dungeons restore the Master Sword to its former glory. There's even a third phase of dungeon, the Tower of the Gods, which is opened by the three pearls and provides you the Master Sword as a prize (after a brief transition). A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Times share this dungeon pattern - there are early dungeons where you're trying for one kind of prize and later dungeons with a different kind of prize. The other Zelda games I've replayed up to this point do not, which is one of the interesting series-wide observations I've had on this replay.
Having two (or more) sets of dungeons interests me because it leaves a space for an Act II, and a corresponding Act II Reveal. The Reveal generally tells you something about the world, and changes Link's motivations. In Link to the Past, you learn of Aghanim and the full size of the Dark World. After the reveal, instead of collecting Pendants, you must now rescue Maidens from Dark World dungeons. In Ocarina of Time, Link learns he was sealed in the Chamber of Sages for seven years, and that Ganondorf has controlled and corrupted the world outside for that time. He must awaken five sages and restore five temples in order to defeat Ganondorf.
Wind Waker has its transition and reveal when you place the Pearls where they belong. The statues, when presented with the pearls, come to life, revealing golden forms of the goddesses and creating a giant Triforce symbol on the sea. The Tower of the Gods, your next dungeon, rises from the water. You complete that dungeon and ring a bell, which reveals a portal to Hyrule down below. There's even more to the transition after this. You descend to Hyrule. You take the Master Sword, unfreezing the enemies who have been stuck in time. You attack the Forsaken Fortress, freeing your sister and the other girls held there. You finally confront Ganondorf, giving a face to the evil whispered about over the course of the game. The Master Sword fails against Ganondorf; its power to strike down evil has gone. You are rescued and taken to Hyrule, where you learn the true identities of both Tetra and the King of Red Lions. Your new goal is to restore the true power of the Master Sword.
Wind Waker is a really fun Zelda game. It has great artwork, great music, some neat new tricks, and more emotion and personality than most other Zelda games can muster. It was a treat to replay it.
10. The Minish Cap (2005)
I never played The Minish Cap before (and this is the last time I'll be saying this about a game in this replay quest, not counting Breath of the Wild). Unlike the Oracles and Link's Awakening, I also wasn't very familiar with the game or the plot, so I was happy to find out what was going on with this game.
I don't really like the look of The Minish Cap. It's possible the game suffers because I have the Oracle games and The Wind Waker to compare it to. Those games all have very distinctive styles. The Minish Cap really doesn't. To me, it seems like the Oracle games, but somehow blander and more blurry. It looks somewhat like The Wind Waker, but loses a lot of that game's beautiful presentation in the process of scaling down to GBA graphics. The one redeeming bit of the game's style is the backgrounds you see when running around in Minish-Link-only areas. These areas have really pretty graphics.
These areas are mostly taken up by leaves partially covering the screen, or giant acorns or twigs you have to navigate around. I find all of these objects really pretty. They're incredibly detailed versions of objects that would usually get just a few pixels in a corner of the screen. They're my favorite thing in the game, and I really enjoy wandering around as Minish Link just because I can get a look at these lovingly-rendered scenes. I wish the rest of the game looked as nice.
This game has some really clever boss battles. The Giant Chu you fight at the first dungeon is a simple idea, but is really cool when you actually do the fight. A common Zelda enemy is suddenly a tricky threat when it's several times your size. Having to knock the enemy over to bring it to your level is clever and fun. The way the enemy bounds into the boss arena, almost as if by accident, is the perfect intro.
The fight in the Wind Shrine with the Gohdan-like boss is really clever too. You have to damage the boss as Big Link, and then enter the boss and continue damaging it there. It's a neat idea and a fun fight, though there are a few annoyances about that boss fight in reality that make it a bit rougher than it should be.
Minish Cap has some fun dungeons.
The Temple of Droplets first surprised me, negatively, by being an ice dungeon. I got over it. Its bigger surprise was putting the Water Element in a room right at the beginning. Most Zelda dungeons hide the boss room a few floors up or down, far away from the starting room. Putting it at the beginning of the dungeon shifts the goal from "find dungeon prize" to "create route to dungeon prize", and that's a lot of fun.
The way to get to the dungeon prize was also a surprise - I figured I would have used the dungeon item or some fire or something to get to the Water Element, not some open windows and bright sunlight.
I also really enjoyed the Palace of Winds. The whole dungeon being above the clouds (with the associated dangers) is a nice change from the usual setting of Zelda dungeons (in a pit somewhere, or surrounded by unscalable walls). Nothing is quite as fun as knocking Darknuts off a cloud and watching them fall to their deaths.
The dungeon item (Roc's Cape) really opens up the dungeon (and the overworld). It made moving around the dungeon fun. This dungeon involves platforming, puzzle solving, puzzle solving as multiple links, Minish-linking, pushing blocks into the abyss, and fighting enemies, and I enjoyed every bit of it. The boss fight was a pain, but definitely clever and fun.
I spent a lot of time listening to other things while I played this game, so my play of it isn't as connected to the soundtrack as some other games were. The few songs I did hear really stuck with me, though. I like the Palace of Winds theme. It's catchy, very bombastic and airy. It fits the dungeon well; I think of wide open spaces when I hear it. I put up the volume to hear it at least once, and was compelled to at least half listen to it while I worked through the dungeon.
The theme for the Temple of Droplets is definitely in my list of favorite Zelda tracks. It's a very somber piece, which matches well with a dark and cold dungeon that you slowly let light into. Something about it still manages to be catchy and motivating, even if it's a darker-sounding piece. I was ready to hear it loop a dozen times after hearing it once.
Kinstone fusion is a neat idea. The way it changes the world around you was a strong motivator to fuse whenever I could. As the NPCs say, something good happens whenever you fuse kinstones. My only complaint is that the mechanism is a bit overplayed in the game - 100 total (?) fusions was a bit much for this completionist.
I liked Minish Cap. It's a game with some rough bits, but I had fun playing it.
Thanks for reading. Twilight Princess HD will be my next replay