Why The Wind Waker is the best Legend of Zelda title

January 2nd, 2024   •   By Faith Johnson

Asking anyone to pick a best or favourite Zelda game is a tough task. You could argue that it's the one video game series continuously delivering high-quality titles without wavering. Well, those awful Philips CD-i games aside of course. When a new Zelda game is announced the games industry goes into a frenzy and it's always a best seller for Nintendo.

So, I tasked myself with trying to work out which is the best Zelda game and after much thought I concluded that The Wind Waker for the GameCube is the best one. I could've argued for Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Breathe of the Wild or just about any other Zelda game, but I just feel there is something magical about The Wind Waker.

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Before even commenting on the amazing combat, excellent dungeon design or sailing around an ocean on a talking dragon ship, we must mention the graphics. The Wind Waker uses cel-shading which was quite a new concept back in the early 2000s. We had seen the technique used to good effect on Jet Set Radio for the Dreamcast and several games afterwards.

The cel-shading concept was taken to a new level for The Wind Waker. The whole game has a real comic book feel that helps embolden the story, especially during the cutscenes where Link comes to life like never before. It also looks fantastic when you enter a dark dungeon and the flicker of the lanterns or fire makes everything pop out of the screen. The graphics in The Wind Waker have an iconic look and still feel fresh today.

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The other aspect that helps The Wind Waker stand apart from other Zelda titles is its intuitive controls and the way you can interact with so much more of the environment than in previous games. Many of the puzzles and battles have numerous ways that they can be beaten and because there are so many tools and weapons at your disposal you get to create your style of play.

There is also a great variety in the dungeons and each one felt so special to play through. This combined with the thoughtful combat stopped gameplay from getting repetitive. The excellent gameplay was rounded out by the travel mechanic that enabled Link to sail around the vast ocean to discover secrets or find new islands to explore. The clever use of the compass, wind, and chatting with the dragon effortlessly tied the entire game together.

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The story in The Wind Waker is also deeper than many other games in the series. There is more to it than the usual 'destroy the bad guy' plot. The nuance around the Master Sword losing its powers and the complete change in direction the story takes in numerous places creates intrigue that hasn't been bettered since. There is also a stronger connection between Link and his troubles that are cleverly brought to the surface in several places.

It's all these factors that build together to make The Wind Waker a Zelda experience like no other. It took the series in a new direction and ventured further into the gameplay while keeping the essence that made Zelda so brilliant in the first place. The distinctive look and combat, deeper stories set in a living world, and the way you can choose how to tackle each dungeon make this my choice for the best Zelda game.

Faith Johnson

Faith Johnson

Game journalist and historian. I write about games in books, magazines and online. Sega, especially Sonic, is my favourite.