In terms of gameplay, The Wind Waker evolves nearly every aspect of the mechanics seen in the previous games. However, the game is not perfect. There are certainly a few areas which are actually a step down. Before the game’s release, I complained that getting rid of the guardian fairy took away some of the mystique of the games. That is only one issue; there is actually a larger issue at stake.
The Missing Mystique
Before I describe what the real problem is, let me say that I still do think that the missing fairy is a detriment to the mystique of the game, because the guaridan fairy was a living, personal creature. There are two aspects two this. First, there is the subjective aspect of how much you or I liked the fairies in the N64 games. As for me, I never had an especial fondness for fairies in myth (as in, “Fairies are so cool!”), but the way the fairies looked in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask changed all that. I loved the way they looked: little balls of light with insect wings, floating, darting, or diving about. They were a favorite of mine in my doodles, and when playing the game, I liked to see Navi or Tatl fly around my (Link’s) head and dart under my cap.
Second, the fairy has been replaced by a non-gameworld element. Previously I had stated that the guardian fairy had been replaced by a talking rock (i.e. the modified gossip stone). Since most of you have played the game, you now know that the stone only takes on the function of the fairy to give hints, and does not fly around. The most critical function of the fairy (to aid in Z-targeting to identify objects that can be interacted with) has not been replaced by the gossip stone. Instead, the arrow, a part of the User Interface (UI), has been enlarged to compensate for the missing fairy. The consequence is that you are forced to look at an element of the UI quite often. This pulls you out of the gameworld slightly, whereas a fairy actually pulls you into it much deeper. Some might complain that I’m nitpicking, and I would agree that it is only a minor problem.
The Real Problem
But as I said, the fact that the missing fairy takes away a bit from the mystique of the series is not the real problem. The real problem has to do with the game mechanics themselves. It all hinges on how you played Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. How much attention did you pay to Navi or Tatl? I almost always watched them out of the corner of my eye (and ear). The second they changed color and whizzed off to some other location, I took a mental note of it. Without them, I would have never discovered that certain signs could be read. I would have also not noticed where more hidden characters or enemies were. Technically, the arrow does the same thing. But the critical issue is that the arrow does not move or make sounds. “Poof!” The arrow appears over an enemey! “Poof!” The arrow appears over wall text! The guardian fairy was not particularly useful to know precisely where the enemy or text or character was when it was perfectly visible. The critical moment was when the entity was offscreen or hidden, and in that case it was most important to see the fairy move in that direction. A fairy darting about gives me valuable information, especially when fighting enemies that tend to appear and disappear. Since the arrow simply pops up here and there, it provides me with little information. Granted, if there are multiple baddies on screen, it does tell me which one I’m Z-targeting, and it does alert me every now and then to readable texts and to characters. But it is a step down from the N64 games by providing me with significantly less information than the guardian fairy did.
If you’re like me and used Navi and Tatl as a prime source of information, there should be a couple of consequences for you as you play The Wind Waker. First, as has already been mentioned, you won’t notice signs and other objects you would otherwise notice. It could be argued that Link’s eyes overcome this shortfall. However, it is only a partial solution, partly because the standard camera view is behind Link’s head. Second, combat is not as smooth. When I was watching someone else play Majora’s Mask, I kept saying, “Watch the fairy!” That’s because the enemy was giving them a thrashing, and the solution was to watch the fairy dart around to where the enemey was. So, combat in the new game is actually less refined in some regards. It isn’t entirely a bad thing, because the combat in The Wind Waker is disappointingly easier than in the N64 games, partly because the enemies don’t take away much life with each hit. Then again, I don’t want the combat to be slightly harder because of sometimes frustrating gameplay mechanics, but because of difficulties imposed by the gameworld itself. And so the missing fairy has caused several problems for players like myself.
For most, Navi and Tatl added to the mystique of the series. Yet not only is their absence in The Wind Waker missed as characters, but also as gameplay elements. It is a small shortfall, but somewhat glaring for gamers such as I.