Windwaker was the first Zelda game I properly ‘got’. I didn’t grow up with an N64 and only dabbled with Ocarina of Time and watched my friend get infuriated with a particular section of Majora’s Mask.
For me, I just love it’s sea faring nature. Moby-Dick is one of my favourite books and for a part of my life when I was delving into academia, I read a lot of maritime fiction - Melville, Conrad, Hemmingway, James Fenimore Cooper. Talking about the boat being this supra-national state, of people ostrasised from the mainland who can only exist out at sea. So it was perhaps obvious that Windwaker would pique my interest. I think at the time of my studying at university, Assassin’s Creed III had come out with the naval sections, which I enjoyed for the most part because it was literally bringing all these stories of tall ships to life, but it still couldn’t hold a candle to the sea faring nature of Windwaker. Though Black Flag did something to alleviate that with it’s open world nature, it’s main problem was that it kept on remembering it was a fucking Assassin’s Creed game. Why go back to land for boring eavesdrop and follow missions, when you can set sail across a beautifully created ocean with your boat and crew singing sea shanties?
I think the joy of Windwaker, is just in the navigation of the ocean. It’s something that Nintendo came across as a theme, and picked apart in their own ingenius way to make something that just clicks so much more effectively than a mini-map dotted with pointless collectibles. For the most part, the ocean is just this flat space for you to navigate, occasionally it changes colour which changes the mood and throws enemies at you when it gets stormy. I think it’s a stroke of genius the way in which you have to plot your course, by taking out the map, figuring out where you want to go and what wind direction you’ll need to get there the fastest. But as you are sailing you perhaps see a group of islands on the horizon slightly East of where you want to go. But you can still get by with the wind blowing in a certain direction to arc yourself over there and grab whatever loot is there.
When the sea music kicks in, those triumphant zelda trumpets over the bassier tones that depict the fluid motion of the ocean below you, the weather settles and you set sail in the right direction with the wind in your sails, the seagulls fly in a delta with your sails as you glide over that gorgeous hue of blue. That has got to be my happy place. Pure magic.
Breath of the Wild was a masterpiece, probably the greatest open world game there has ever been so far, but there was a lot of Windwaker in it’s DNA. Windwaker’s open world was just a lot more simplistic.