Today I was a seagull.
The fish told me what I needed to know. Another island, another chart – what, am I new? Kargorocs circle the many peaks. On the flat behind me I find a gate barring a treasure chest.
I turn to face the warrior birds. They sit still as stone and watch me – or perhaps they’re watching the sun glint off the end of my arrow.
The nearest one explodes in feathers and purple smoke. Something glitters in the now empty nest.
I have pears for just such occasions.
My bow makes quick work of all but one Kargoroc, who circles the highest peak. I see the switches set like eggs in the other nests. There’s going to be one on top. There always is.
The Kargoroc flaps through lazy ellipses. Even with the telescope I can’t find a pattern. I aim; I fire. My arrows fall short every time.
Whatever. I can outrun it.
I put a pear on my head and in comes a gull…
…the wind gusts and off I go sailing on the air and a pair of borrowed wings.
A few game flaps – I head to the first peak. My wing barely brushes the switch. Snap. I head to the next one; already I can hear the nasal moan of a hunting Kargoroc. I look around. Snap!
I turn towards the next exposed switch.
Suddenly it’s on me. Not the master of the island, but one behind the tallest peak – one I missed outright.
Just like last time.
The second bird hits me before the other breaks its glide.
I am thrust back into my body, out of pears.
Zelda is well suited to open-end play; if something gets too tough, you can just walk away. In OoT, I went fishing when I failed the Water Temple. I tooled about collecting chickens, traded masks, rode about on Epona and looked ponderously at the sunset. Difficulty breeds perseverance, but perseverance sometimes needs busywork in which to grow.
OoT‘s Water Temple will always hold a special place in my heart – right next to the spot reserved for little boys who blow up frogs. I hated it. Even now, years from the game, I still remember aching with futility. I was close to giving up. In fact, when I decided to take my fishing break, I think I had given up. But Hyrule was full of ordinary people and extraordinary problems. I didn’t want to leave it yet. Not yet. So I went off and pursued a few tangents. And when I finally came back to the Water Temple, I beat it.
In every Zelda I find myself stuck at least once. Usually it’s something I’ve overlooked, or I’ve gone off half-cocked in the wrong direction, not being able to remember what I was told last time I turned the world on. A hiccup in the illusion of adventure – I am just a man holding a paddle and scratching his head. The side-quests keep me interested.
When I finished OoT, I never looked back – I kept the file, because whenever I felt like a fifteen minute fix it was fun to fight the Thief King and marvel over the finale (Best. Credits. Ever). But I never started again. With the help of my mom reading the official guidebook to me like a real-life Navi, which was just charming, I scoured the landscape for every anecdote. When I finished, I felt finished.
I’ve since given up on guidebooks. Besides, the internet has it for free.
I’ve played tWW twice now to completion, and each game was completely different.
Now I have an embarrassment of pears, a full quiver and one sneaky bird blown to bits before I land again (I should have known better). The other birds fall as easily as before. There is only the island master.
Seagulls frolic over the open water to my left. Aside from the profuse defecating, they act just like seagulls.
I remember the sneak attack from the bird I couldn’t see. But it saw me.
I have an idea that I’ve never had before.
Pear – wind – wee I’m a bird. I flap, flap, flap, making a beeline for the peak. It’s a long way. The sea beneath me becomes a foggy blue wash. I am soon past the untapped switches. I circle the only spire still reaching into the sky.
I see him, and he sees me.
He lets out his dreadful moan. He swoops, wings nearly six times as wide as mine.
My stunned self on the ground is a green dot on a green square. I turn from the island master and dive. All I hear is wind and my angry pursuer. I flap, flap, flap. The ground begins to bloom into detail.
Just as the Kargoroc lunges for the kill, I switch bodies, target, and let an arrow fly. The beast blows up close enough that a golden feather falls on my head.
Take that, Darwin!
The Wind Waker is like cheese – gets better with time. The first time I played through I was thorough. There’s nothing in tWW like the Water Temple to kick my ass, but the world was such a joy to explore – it was its own incentive, vibrating with life and colour. And of course, there’s the Big Damn Sea. I loved sailing. The distance made it all seem true, more-so than photo-realistic graphics ever could.
I finished tWW in a week of late nights after its release, alone in the livingroom with the curtains drawn. I provided Navi-support to my friends when they borrowed the game a month later. It’s been collecting dust beside Super Mario Sunshine ever since.
Until, that is, a few weeks ago when I got bored and decided to visit some old friends.
As the story unfolded on the second play-through, enough time had passed that I didn’t know what to expect at every turn. I remembered the major points, of course, because good Zelda leaves an indelible impression. Tragically, I forgot some other things best remembered – like the fight with the Kargorocs. On the first run, I was slave to the Quest; tWW had a palpable sense of urgency which swept me up and along (until the lengthy Triforce fetch-it), and even though I took the time to follow some tangents, I was all about the end result.
This time, I had thoughts I never had – like using the realistic behaviour of the creatures to provide their undoing. Great replay value is not just about how stunning the initial quest is. It’s about being able to make completely different choices the next time around that, while the main goal remains the same, paint a different picture of the world you’re saving.
Tangental experiences aren’t limited to side-quests. Zelda has long been a source of open-play greatness. Side-quests are involving, beneficial to your purse or arsenal, and each contain another brick in the wall of the current myth. They are designed to tow the story line. But in order to create a convincing world, developers gave us physics and intelligent enemies. And, as a result, a whole host of incidental joys.
Today, I was a seagull.
I swoop and dive at the exposed switches. Click!Click!Click! The tell-tale ding of success rings out when I brush past the one in the highest nest. Gate open – the quest continues.
At the top of my descent, I look around at the big blue empty above the sea. Islands dot the distance like punctuation in poetry. I don’t remember it being this beautiful.
I realize how much I like flying. It’s a lot more simple that I expected.
My hypnotized Hylian self is waiting below. All I hear is the wind and my occasional squawk of triumph.
As I lazily descend, the details shine up vivid. There’s my boat – there’s my body – and over to the right, there’s a group of playful seagulls doing areal acrobatics.
I look at the button which reads Return…
…and bank sharply to the right.
For the next few minutes I am just another seagull chasing my brother birds. No care for the urgency of the quest; I join the flock. They call to me – I answer. I flap. I am momentarily, blissfully and completely free.
If you liked this article, we will be releasing such articles consistently over the next few months, so if you would like to be kept up-to-date, we will be updating our Facebook and Twitter pages to let our followers know of each new Zelda article. You can also just subscribe directly to our RSS Feed.