A five-part article for The Missing Link series
by Hylian Dan

In this brand new, five-part article series for The Missing Link, renowned Zelda theorist Hylian Dan discusses The Wind Waker’s deepest themes and philosophical connections. Read the entire article below.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. PART ONE: Leaving Paradise
  3. PART TWO: Growing Wings
  4. PART THREE: Chasing Dreams
  5. PART FOUR: Planting Seeds
    1. Introduction
    2. The Cracks of Time
    3. How Not to Regret
    4. Spreading Joy
    5. The Passing of Generations
  6. PART FIVE: Becoming the Champion of Life

Introduction

I don’t think I have the power to aid you much, Link…
But I can at least plant a tree here in this soft soil…
—Makar

As Ganondorf and the King of Hyrule confront each other in the submerged land of Hyrule, one is consumed by the past while the other embraces the future. The game uses symbolic language and imagery to identify the true natures of these two men. One is a stone, and the other is a tree.

Memory of the past weighs on Ganondorf’s mind, cursing him with hopelessness, regret, and homesickness. Upon dying, his body turns to stone, symbolizing the dead weight in his soul and the fruitlessness of his existence. Ganondorf is a forsaken fortress.

Ganondorf becomes a stone statue.

The King of Hyrule spends his last moments with Link and Tetra, sharing with them what he has learned from life. The king passes his memory on to the children and asks them to learn from it. Like the Great Deku Tree, who casts his seeds to the wind in the hope that new forests will grow, the king sends Link and Tetra back to their world knowing that they will build a better future for it.

Ganondorf and his memory sink to the bottom of the ocean, but the wisdom of the king rises to the surface and is given new life.

To the world around us we may exist as either a Forsaken Fortress or a Great Deku Tree. We can mourn our own losses and shut out everything else, or we can draw strength from within and then spread that strength to those around us. We can share our power, wisdom, and courage, so that in the end we will be able to say what the King of Hyrule utters at his death: “I have scattered the seeds of the future…”

The Cracks of Time

I must apologize. I was in error.
I saw your clothing, and suddenly I felt a longing for an age gone by…
—The Great Deku Tree

The Wind Waker begins as Link celebrates his birthday – he has become the same age as the young hero spoken of in legend. As Link dons the ceremonial clothes, the adults on the island share the same amazement: how has Link grown so old so quickly? “Time just flies right by,” they say.

Link is a child, and the vibrant cel-shaded graphics of The Wind Waker reflect the way he sees the world: it is young and vibrant, and none of its glory has yet faded. But other characters perceive the world differently. They have seen it change, and they remember how it used to be:

You see this place? There used to be a spring here, surrounded by a beautiful pond… It was peaceful and lovely…
—Medli

Around the Forest Haven there were once many lush islands that were home to throngs of forest fairies…
When did this place become so barren and sad?
—The King of Red Lions

Before the Fairy Fountain was plugged by that rock, you could always find fairies there. In fact, long ago, I used to put them in empty bottles and play with them.
I don’t see many fairies these days, though.
It’s sad, how life’s little pleasures have a way of slipping through the cracks of time, isn’t it? Ah, well.
—Sturgeon

To the young, all of life may be like a treasure chest waiting to be opened, a familiar sight in the Zelda games. But those who have grown old may not share this perception. They have already discovered life’s great treasures, and now their land is riddled with emptied chests and memories of past wonder. The world that remains may appear rather bleak, compared to what used to be.

Thus the Great Sea is beautiful and alluring through Link’s eyes, but to someone as old as Ganondorf it is empty and desolate:

Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans…
Oceans as far as the eye can see.
They are vast seas… None can swim across them… They yield no fish to catch…
—Ganondorf

The Hero of Time's statue might summon nostalgia.

The Wind Waker provokes these feelings of nostalgia in older players, those who fondly recall their days spent with Ocarina of Time (released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64). Halfway through the game players enter the world of Hyrule, which is frozen in the past. Inside the castle there is a great stone statue of the player’s former avatar, Link the Hero of Time. Stained glass windows depict each of Ocarina of Time‘s Six Sages. Newcomers to The Legend of Zelda probably do not think much of these images, but experienced players may take a break from adventuring to stare longingly at the monuments.

At the beginning of life, the world may appear similar to the colorful setting of The Wind Waker. But as one grows older and more experienced, the world changes. Simple pleasures are swallowed by time, places of beauty cease to be, and loved ones disappear. Home is lost, and nostalgia can become a dead weight within one’s soul.

How Not to Regret

Before Link leaves Outset Island, Tetra delivers this word of caution:

Oh, and one more thing: once we leave, you won’t be coming back here for a while, so you’d better go say good-bye to your family while you have the chance. I don’t want you getting all weepy-eyed and homesick on me!
—Tetra

Link is preparing to let go of a beautiful home and his loving community. Tetra recognizes the danger of this act: if Link does not find the strength to go on without his island, he will fail his quest. Feelings of regret and homesickness could doom his mission.

As Link prepares to leave, the elderly Sturgeon decides to pass some of his wisdom down to the youngster. Sturgeon shows Link a series of notes hanging on his wall, serving as a sort of instruction manual for The Wind Waker. The notes juxtapose explanations of basic game mechanics with summaries of the life lessons to be learned throughout the game:

Sturgeon’s One-Point Lessons
Lesson Seven: Knowing One’s Own Abilities

To improve one’s life, it is wise to watch (A) and (R) calmly whenever one comes across a person or an object. By doing so, (A) and (R) will pass along wisdom regarding how one can best interact with that person or object. To know one’s own abilities is to know one’s limits.

The presentation of this tutorial not only sets up the symbolic nature of the gameplay, it also foreshadows the speech the King of Hyrule gives at his death:

Sturgeon’s One-Point Lessons
Lesson Five: How Not to Regret the Things One Fails to Do in Life. A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON!

There are many things one longs to do in the limited time one has in this world.
The easiest way not to regret things one wanted, but failed, to do is to save.
While one may feel invincible and wish to continue one’s quest, one never knows when disaster or calamity may strike.
If one’s life energy is extinguished before one has had a chance to save, then one’s life will have been lived in vain.
It is a shame to regret the deeds one has failed to accomplish in life. Press START/PAUSE and choose Save on either the Items screen or the Quest Status screen.

When the king speaks with Link and Tetra, he begins by saying, “My children… Listen to me. I have lived regretting the past. And I have faced those regrets.” He then shares The Wind Waker‘s very important lesson with the children.

Like Sturgeon, the king realizes that he must pass his wisdom down before it disappears. “If only I could do things over again…” he says. By teaching Link and Tetra what he has learned in life, it is as if he has been granted a second chance.

The king explains his regrets to Link and Tetra.

Before he dies, the King of Hyrule finds the save mechanic Sturgeon refers to in his lesson. He saves the sum of his progress through life by passing it on to another. Because of this, he is able to face death without fear or regret.

Before Link leaves Outset Island, Tetra reminds Link to use that same mechanic. Link runs to the people he loves and tells them good-bye, so that as he goes forward in life he will not suffer regret.

If one plays a game for too long without saving, that player may lose courage when confronted with danger, knowing what stands to be lost. But if the player saves, there is no need to worry.

As Sturgeon’s lesson implies, life comes with its own save mechanic, though it is not as apparent as the save mechanic of The Wind Waker. Saving in a video game means that an accomplishment will be retained, no matter what happens to the player. To save one’s progress in life means the same. The king makes sure his wisdom will outlive his death, and Link makes sure his love for his family will outlast his departure.

Spreading Joy

Upon dying, Ganondorf turns to stone. His life bears no fruit and his death is in vain. The opposite of the stone is the tree, whose value lies in the seeds that it scatters.

Every year after the Koroks perform this ceremony, they fly off to the distant islands on the sea and plant my seeds in the hopes that new forests will grow. Forests hold great power—they can change one tiny island into a much larger land.
Soon, a day will come when all the islands are one, connected by earth and grove. And the people who live on that great island will be able to join hands and, together, create a better world. Such is my dream.
—The Great Deku Tree

The act of planting a seed is equivalent to the act of saving. It creates the hope that the tree’s influence will survive, regardless of what befalls the tree itself. The king hopes his words will take root in Link and Tetra and guide their growth. As Link waves good-bye to his grandma, he hopes the memory of his affection will take root and comfort her.

Link's Grandma falls into depression.

Sadly, this does not turn out to be the case. When Link returns to Outset, he finds his grandmother crippled by illness and depression:

Ohhh… Uhnnn… Link… Aryll…
Don’t go… Don’t leave… Uhhnnn…
Don’t leave your poor old grandma…
…all alone… Uhnnn… Uhhhnnn…
—Link’s Grandma

A seed needs proper soil and nourishment to grow, and Link’s grandma is too devastated to provide this. She needs to see her children again. When Link does appear at last, his grandma feels rather foolish:

You and your sister, Aryll, are trying so hard to be strong, and I’ve just been sitting here, moaning and worrying…
I’m your grandmother… I’m the one who should be taking care of you…
I’m so sorry, Link. I haven’t even considered what you must be going through. I’m a terrible grandma…
Grandma’s going to try to be strong, so you try to be strong, too!
—Link’s Grandma

In her despair, Link’s grandma behaves as a stone, failing to nourish the comforting memory Link left her with. When Link returns, she changes her ways and behaves as a tree again. She begins mailing letters and preparing soup whenever Link comes to visit. She gives her grandson all the support she can so that he will remain strong while he is away.

The merchant Zunari

The difference between a stone and a tree is the difference between selfishness and selflessness, which is demonstrated as the merchant Zunari explains his business aspirations to Link:

I would make plenty of money! Not just plenty of money…it would be like taking candy from many rich babies…
No, no, not even that!
By running a prosperous business, I can play my part to help this town develop and become a happy place… Yes, yes, that is the proper perspective!
—Zunari

Miss Marie the teacher

As Zunari develops his business and gets to know the people of Windfall, he finds ways to leave his mark on the town. With the help of Miss Marie the schoolteacher he creates the Joyous Volunteer Association, which strives to make Windfall Island a more beautiful place.

If you must know, the society came into being when the shop master Zunari arrived here. He heard about my efforts to spread joy, and it moved him deeply. He asked himself, “Is there nothing a poor, worthless merchant such as myself might do to make this a better place?” And then, suddenly, his eyes were opened!
That’s when I gave him a little advice: “Do something that only YOU can do!”
…Yes, that’s what I told him, dear!
It was after that that he began to show an interest in volunteer activities…
—Miss Marie

Players can work with Zunari to get a variety of decorative items and foreign trinkets shipped to Windfall. By planting these flags, flowers, totem poles and statues across the island, players can bring the place some new vivacity and lift people’s spirits.

A message posted in Miss Marie's classroom

Those who have played The Wind Waker will likely recall the message that appears whenever Link finds a Joy Pendant: “These pendants are said to flock to those who spread joy, like butterflies to nectar-filled blossoms.” The symbolism of these pendants is quite clear: joy comes to those who spread it.

It is vain to keep one’s joy all to oneself. Like the seeds the Great Deku Tree casts to the wind, joy that is shared allows for the creation of a better world.

The Passing of Generations

This is the only world that your ancestors were able to leave you.
Please…forgive us.
—The King of Hyrule

The king bids Link farewell, handing the world to a new generation.

The world of today will fade away as the future overtakes it. All of its present inhabitants will eventually disappear. But if they remember to save, their influence may survive and continue to grow.

How are things in the world, Link?
As you can see, I am slowly growing older and feebler. It seems only my wisdom is full of vigor lately. But that is just the way of life, child, and not cause for sadness.
—The Great Deku Tree

The sages Laruto and Fado died while praying in the temples for the Master Sword. Because they left no one behind to take their places, the Master Sword lost its potency. Filled with regret, the sages ask Link to find their descendants and teach them the songs of prayer. When Link plays these songs for Medli and Makar, the ghosts of Laruto and Fado appear and share their knowledge with the children.

Laruto teaches Medli a forgotten song.

Hmm… What a mysterious song… It sounds so…familiar.
It’s almost as if something I’ve forgotten is trying to be remembered…
—Medli

I know myself now!
It is my fate to return the power to repel evil to your Master Sword.
…And to ease the regrets of my ancestors.
—Makar

The sages pass their memory down to the children, and through this memory the children recognize what they must do to help the world.

Orca teaches Link the art of swordplay.

When Link shows a Knight’s Crest to his neighbor Orca, the old swordsman explains that a person who gathers ten of them may learn a powerful sword technique.

Both my brother and I dreamt of learning this technique in our youth. We worked so hard to collect the crests…
But it took many long years and adventures beyond count before we even approached finding ten of them, and we both grew old…
—Orca

Link, however, collects the ten crests and learns the secret technique. As Orca witnesses this, he realizes that his dream has been fulfilled and weeps with joy. He failed to reach his goal in his own life, but the child he teaches accomplishes it in very little time.

Player’s can fail The Wind Waker‘s optional figurine quest by missing key moments of opportunity, when they must pictograph characters or enemies that appear only once. Like Orca, they might reach the end of the game with missing figurines and a broken dream. But The Wind Waker gives players the option of creating an enhanced save file after they finish the main quest, so they can begin the game again. In this new file, the figurine gallery from the previous play-through remains intact, and players are able to seize the opportunities they once missed.

Lenzo the pictographer mentors Link.

The renowned pictographer Lenzo has learned much about pictography and life, and he uses his experience to help others lead better lives. He watches as Anton and Linda miss opportunity, as Garrickson wastes his days, and he tries to intervene. He mentors Link as well, passing on his knowledge of pictography to a youngster just beginning to explore this field.

Kreeb, another resident of Windfall, describes the lighthouse that used to send a beacon in the night. His words are like those of other characters in the game who long for the past, but there is a different nuance here:

This tower was originally used as a lighthouse for Windfall Island, you know.
Yeah, it used to send a bright shaft of light onto the night sea—sort of a safety beacon.
…But that was quite some time ago.
Even now, what’s left of that lighthouse’s illumination device still spins around up top, all night, every night.
…But its fire remains extinguished.
Isn’t that a sad story? And it doesn’t have to be. I bet that thing would light up again if someone could just get a spark of fire inside it.
—Kreeb

Link restores the lighthouse's extinguished fire.

His words have a particular subtext set against the backdrop of The Wind Waker‘s story. As Kreeb speaks of the extinguished fire and the dormant illumination device, the imagery recalls the fate of the legendary hero of long ago. The Hero of Time was once a beacon of light in the midst of Ganondorf’s darkness, but this light has gone out. The Master Sword, the illumination device, remains, its power lost but its potential alive. The lighthouse waits for a new hero to restore the flame.

Yes, surely you are the Hero of Time, reborn…
—Ganondorf

The crest of Hyrule takes the form of a phoenix. As one of the game’s prominent symbols, it represents the theme of rebirth. When a phoenix dies, a new one rises from its ashes. This is the nature of life. Hyrule was lost, but Link’s generation will find new land. The young revitalize the aging world.

The crest of Hyrule is a phoenix.

Nothing can stop the flow of time or the passing of generations…but the fate carried within my bloodline endures the ravages of all the years. It survives.
—Laruto

As we grow old, life’s little pleasures become extinguished. Sources of strength, comfort, and beauty fall into the cracks of time. But this is not cause for sadness. External beauty transforms into internal beauty as it becomes memory. Whether this memory is a seed or a stone depends on the nature of the one who carries it.

We choose whether to live as a Forsaken Fortress or a Great Deku Tree. As a tree we leave behind seeds filled with potential. If they are nurtured and given soft soil, they grow into new trees and bring comfort, strength, and joy to others. As time passes a forest will grow, and a better world will be left for the generations that are to come.

About the Author

Dan Merrill, aka Hylian Dan, attends Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, where he is majoring in electronic game design. His portfolio can be found at www.danvmerrill.com.

E-mail: hyliandan [at] zeldauniverse.net

Previous part – Chasing Dreams

Next part – Becoming the Champion of Life

  • ChainofTermina

    I really wish I could read all of these. They look really interesting, but they're just to long. I don't have the time read them in one setting(I'm a very, very slow reader). I wish I could though. WW was my first Zelda game and will always be special to me. these articles just seem to long, but nevertheless I greatly appreciate the effort put into finding the deeper and truer meaning in this game. It's good to know people don't think of it as some goofy cartoon anymore. I'm very glad these articles exist.

    • Dendio

      When its worth reading length is a good thing.

      Just read a bit and come back when your able

      The stuff is so good i dont want it to end

      • garrador

        completely agree

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  • Rohan

    Another great part to a well written series of articles. I really found the part of Sturgeon's lessons relating to the philosophy of the game as a whole very interesting. Keep up the awesome work Hylian Dan!

  • joseph

    I think you don't need all those quotes. I spend my time reading what you have to say, not In-game quotes I've read already in the game. Some quotes are fine but you can expand upon your own observations I think a bit more.

    • Hylian Dan

      Noted. I do get carried away at times, though I try hard to keep the writing balanced. Thanks for the feedback.

      • Baga Jr.

        Not everyone knows a lot about Wind Waker. Even people that do know a lot might not remember exact quotes. Besides, it's just a really nice to know exactly what you're talking about. As long as you don't think that quotes are enough and use them as an excuse not to explain something, then you're good.

        Anyway, great job. There are too many coincidences for this not to be the message they were going for.

  • ben

    Great work as usual. Some of your stuff is a little far-fetched but most of it works.

    Oh, and don't listen to the people above. Quotes are very important! And the length is good as well.

  • Dave

    I'm loving this series. The articles are deep and thought provoking. It is amazing that there is so many layers in this game, so much depth to explore beyond just that gameplay (which is thoroughly enjoyable in itself). I'm an old-schoool gamer who has great fondness for OOT myself, so yes, the references to it in WW were occasion to pause and reminisce. By the way, try to ignore the ADD brigade who can't seem to sit still for more than 5 minutes to read anything longer than a sound-bite – I find it refreshing to see articles that are long enough to get some real depth and substance to them (but then I am one of those strange people in this day and age who still reads books… ^_^).

  • faripper

    Thank you so much for writing this. I've always thought of Wind Waker as being one of the most philosophical Zelda games. I really thought that part of its beauty was that its philosophy was hidden underneath the cartoonish graphics and cheerful demeanor. And I thought you were head-on with the whole "learn to let go of the past and move towards the future". To me, that was always the biggest theme of Wind Waker, which I thought was most prevalent when the King himself admitted he needed to let go. I've sort of humored that Nintendo was putting that in there as a sign to the fandom to slowly let go of OoT and pave the way for newer, hopefully better games.

    Anyway, non-tl;dr, thank you so, so much for writing these articles. I think that more people should realize that Wind Waker isn't just that "sailing game that looks like a cartoon". I believe that this game is one of the deepest games I've ever played, and that its true beauty lies in how subtle it is.
    I will continue reading all the articles on this. Great work, man.

  • Taha Soysal

    These articles are very nice! I cannot believe that such philisophical subtext could be wrung out of that game, but you pulled it off greatly. Do you think you could do this for other Zelda games too?

    By the way, I always thought that Hyrule's Crest was an owl…..

  • Thareous33

    Hylian Dan, thanks so much for doing this! I bet its a tad strenuous to put each of these out each week, though you probably did some pre-planning for this. I love your ideas and hope they inspire everyone who reads this.

    I should definitely agree with Faripper on this: The Wind Waker is not some sailing game meant to look like a cartoon. Though Twilight Princess is my favorite game thus far, personally, WW does come very close to overtaking its place due to these new view. Of course, both games have their own respective philosophies. They, to me, are what bring the playability to them.

    • Hylian Dan

      I wrote parts one and two a long, long time ago, then part three gave me problems and my schedule derailed my work on this for months. I wrapped up parts four and five a few weeks before posting part one, though I've continued rewriting them while the earlier parts went out and I got some new feedback. I staggered the releases to keep the length manageable for readers. This series is quite a behemoth but I didn't want to gloss over points I cared about and I feel that it's worth the length.

      I do hope they get people to consider the game from new perspectives and think about these themes more, but it's also extremely valuable to get criticism. Helps me improve and moderate myself more effectively.

      • Thareous33

        Well, I am ecstatic that you decided to put these out. They taught and countless others a great deal of things. Keep up the awesome work!

  • Dendio

    Great job, im sharing this with friends and family.

    Cant wait till you get started on Twilight princess

  • Me!

    u people actually like this crap? the wind waker had no intention to be this way, and hes just making it up! Its stupid! I mean, seriously, not tryin to be a hater, even though it seems that way and it kinda is acting that way, but WTF?

    • Thareous33

      The way you use your language belies your true character.

      Wind Waker wasn't meant to come out like this; I'll meet with you there. But how it is read is on an entirely different basis. The game was supposed to contain some allegorical substance if its characters were to begin anew. And it is good that someone was there to point it out, otherwise it would just remain some "childish cartoon" to most everyone else. I'm not saying those majority lack discernment either; it just might be the main opinion.

    • faripper

      So are you saying that the entire game is full of nonsense or that this theory is nonsense?

      Either way, you're being insulting and rude to the people who actually do like this "crap". A simple "I disagree because…" would suffice.

  • Xenithar

    I never could decide what kind of bird the Hylian crest was, but I like how you talked about it being a phoenix. It kinds of fits into the entire series with reincarnations of the characters, new hope, etc.

  • I'm so happy to read these articles, but I'll admit that I'm a bit upset that the fifth, and final one is approaching. But all good things must come to an end, I suppose! Anyway, I'm glad that there are fans as dedicated as yourself, Hylian Dan, to take the time from what I would assume is an already hectic schedule and lifestyle as a college student to write such a descriptive series of articles full of facts and direct quotes. It's strange to admit this, but I would guess that it's understandable when read by fellow Zelda and video game lovers, so I'll say it anyway: I've always loved a great fantasy story, where one can escape reality for a moment, and playing video games has been a huge part of my life since I was five years old, so I always tried to tie my love for literature as a whole with video games and I seemed to dig a little deeper than my friends when it came to finding hidden meanings and other gems within games. I am relieved to know that I am not the only one that tries to combine many different interests in life to make it a bit more enjoyable, for oneself and for others as well! I am a junior in high school with hopes to go into video game design *fingers crossed for some sort of opportunity available to illustrate and design the characters* and I hope that we're both successful with our intended goals.

  • Tsubasa_Z

    I love reading all the philosophy of the Zelda games. WW was my first and is still one of my fav games. And I would really love to beleave that all the meanign we fans find in the game were put there intentionally. I hope the next zelda is even better with more life lessons and hidden meaning in the game. It's one of the things that make LoZ great.

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  • cody

    In my opinion, immortal child and the message in majoras were great articles because you kept them short (in comparison to these). While I love the wind waker, making a five part series in one game seems a bit overcrowded with the same info. But none the less, great ideas man. Immortal child blew my Shit.