It was way back in December when we were celebrating Wind Waker‘s 10th anniversary in Japan, though it wasn’t until this day a decade ago that this wonderful game hit Europe. It’s almost difficult to imagine such a long delay for localisation these days, with so many simultaneous worldwide releases and games arriving in all territories at least in the same week. And believe me, those extra months were all the more agonising to the 11-year-old me who couldn’t wait to get his hands on The Wind Waker.
Leading up to the release, those months were spent gazing at the colourful screenshots and re-reading the previews in the UK’s Official Nintendo Magazine. Having received my GameCube the prior Christmas, I became obsessed with reading about the new games–and for whatever reason, Wind Waker in particular caught my eye. I wasn’t a fan of Zelda in particular at this point–I’d had my run-ins with Link’s Awakening and Ocarina, but hadn’t yet become all that invested in the series as a whole. That, of course, was all about to change, and little did I know that The Wind Waker would practically save my life.
The beautiful graphics, the immense variety in environments, the concept of adventure and sailing across an entire sea captured my interest immediately. I’d never really played anything like it before as I had grown up in an era brimming with 3D platformers, so the rules of controls extended to “run” and “jump” in my mind. Aside from my initial reaction of “where’s the jump button?”, I quickly became excited to actually explore a world, rather than simply progress in one.
I’ll never forget that day I brought home my new baby. I’d picked up The Wind Waker, the Ocarina of Time/Master Quest bonus disc and a free memory card from Toys “R” Us, and was finally holding that golden case in my hands. Its safe to say that, despite my ridiculous expectations, The Wind Waker did not disappoint in the slightest when I finally slammed it into my ‘Cube.
Never before had I become so immersed in a video game story, become so attached to virtual characters and grow so fond of the beautiful world I was traversing. I left no stone unturned, navigating my way to every island and fulfilling every side-quest I could find. I’d continue playing even when there was nothing left to do, launching my save file again for another play-through and just sailing happily across the sea.
It was a great time in my life, only making me love video games even more. As a year passed, though, things began to change.
Before I knew it I ventured into high school, and ultimately into the lowest point of my life. Things began simply enough, albeit it being a nervous experience meeting new people and settling into a new environment. When the day was over, I’d still have my video games. I could still stay happy. I still had my friends–though I soon began to wish I hadn’t.
My old friends abandoned me, suddenly far more interested in showing off to the new students and directing all negative attention towards me. Not only did they no longer acknowledge our years of friendship, but actively turned the whole group and more against me. Of course, no one took kindly to the only quiet, nervous, gaming nerd.
I was in disbelief at how this could be happening. It happened so fast. I was suddenly going into school every day in fear, wondering who would spout the next torrent of abuse, break and steal my possessions, and spread the next fabricated rumour about me. I couldn’t even go anywhere to be alone. For what felt like the first time in my life, I was heading into severe depression. Just when it felt like it couldn’t get any worse, I later lost a dear family member, and the years at that school only became harder.
Soon, the GameCube became all I had. Every evening I’d turn it on and play until it was time to sleep. As time went on, though, not even my favourite hobby in the world could alleviate the dread of facing another school day. I was losing my last shred of joy as the depression began to devour my entire life. Soon there’d be no reason to go on, and I had to get it back. I had to do something. I had to find that friend who was always there: Link.
I dusted off my copy of Wind Waker, with nothing else to turn to. I inserted the disc into the system once again, desperately wanting that feeling of happiness back and hoping that this could achieve it. Greeted by the charming title screen and pleasant music again, already my bleak state of mind began to subside. And just as I did before, I would turn the game on every day.
Artwork by anokazue
When everything became too much, I would hop on the King of Red Lions, set sail, and adventure. Like my life at that stage, I didn’t know where I was headed or what would await, but I didn’t need to. It was the journey I became so enthralled in, the Great Sea theme uplifting my spirits and destroying all depression almost instantly. I would sail endlessly, never becoming tired of the welcoming bright blues of the ocean, the seagulls drifting above and the dark silhouette in the distance of the next island I was racing toward. It suddenly occurred to me that I was doing something I hadn’t done in a long time–smiling.
To this day the music makes my spine tingle, every character makes me smile and every sequence in the game is etched into my memory. Suddenly, after losing special people in my life, I could identify with Link’s struggle with his sister becoming kidnapped and the goodbyes he is forced to overcome before leaving his home island residents. I was inspired and motivated by him conquering prodigious dungeons, and defeating the fearsome beasts within. He was mostly alone, like me–but that didn’t stop him saving the world.
It was a relaxing experience as well as a gateway for therapeutic escapism. I would go back to Dragon Roost Island just to hear the music, to Windfall Island to carry and throw the piglets around, and to the Private Oasis to challenge my puzzle skills. And it didn’t stop there. I’d smile waking up planning and imagining what I’ll do next in my adventure, smile when I knew I could go home having something to look forward to, smile just thinking about the game all day.
It seems extremely appropriate that The Wind Waker‘s case is gold, standing out proudly as the jewel in GameCube collection. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played through the game, but I’d happily pick it up and enjoy it all over again right now. From very early on in my life until now, holding a controller has become an instant comfort. For a medium constantly (and wrongly) accused by naïve news outlets as something that turns us into nerdy, lonesome, depraved killing machines, it sure has done a lot of good for me.
This game is even responsible for helping me meet and bond with my two best friends, who have stuck with me ever since those glorious GameCube days. In maths class I would excitedly talk about the game every school day with my friend George, discussing every new advancement as we played and feeling amazing getting to talk about Nintendo with someone. I would play the game endlessly with my buddy Joel round his house or mine, laughing as we chased the piglets and interacted with the eccentric townfolk of Windfall Island.
There’s a huge demographic here at Zelda Universe, including a large number of young readers. Hopefully, this story can reach out to just one person currently going through a similarly distressing situation. For you who perhaps feels alone and like it will never end: never give up. While my experience was an unfortunate one, I’m now relieved that the circumstances allowed me to remove particular individuals from my life, learn not to care, and become a stronger, more confident person. I have new and far better friends, a job I love (right here!) and a more positive outlook and appreciation for life. What seemed impossible before became reality. Whatever happens, please remember that it can and will always get better.
Never stop loving your hobbies and lifestyle for anyone. I can’t imagine where I’d be now without the games that mattered so much to me. You always have a place to escape, be it in Hyrule or in this here community, and no one can take that away.
It’s clear to see the passion that thrives within the Zelda community, and it’s even clearer to see why. They’re more than just video games. Through perfect story-telling, engaging gameplay, unforgettable characters and worlds that are so easy to escape to, we connect with them on a personal level.
I was always a lazy individual, but during the months prior Wind Waker motivated me to work for extra pocket money, and I felt like I’d do anything to play it. I’m eager to relive that anticipation for Wind Waker HD this year, and even more excited to play through yet again. Ten years ago today I made one of the best decisions in my life, and the impact of this game on me will continue to last even longer.