I love The Wind Waker. Of my personal favorite Zelda games, it is tied at the top with Majora’s Mask. I love everything about The Wind Waker — the colorful graphical style, the ocean environment, the storyline, and even the much often mocked sailboat simulation. It might have something to do with the fact that I happen to live in and have roots in tropical environments … but there’s one more reason I absolutely love The Wind Waker: It is one of the darkest games in the franchise.
“What?!” I hear you cry out, “That’s not true! Twilight Princess is obviously the darkest installment!”. To which I will fork one of my dainty eyebrows and point at Majora’s Mask, but then go on to explain why I believe The Wind Waker is perhaps at an equal level of darkness to Twilight Princess.
Since The Wind Waker has this colorful, toony style to it, we tend to look at the game through rose-colored glasses. The style has the effect of making things look not quite as bad as they appear — softening the blow, so to speak, when the truth is that you shouldn’t judge a game’s “darkness” by the matter of its graphical style. It helps, certainly, but it shouldn’t be the defining quality.
Since The Wind Waker has this colorful, toony style to it, [it] has the effect of making things look not quite as bad as they appear
The darkness of the game kicks in right at the very start in its opening sequence. We’re presented with the fate of Hyrule in Ocarina of Time’s adult timeline ending. Everyone is happy, the kingdom is peaceful; everything’s pretty darn great. But then Ganon rears his head again, the kingdom is thrown into chaos and ruins and the people are begging the goddesses for help because the Hero has not returned. The goddesses respond by flooding Hyrule, trapping Ganondorf beneath the waves and sending the people running to the mountaintops.
Dark point 1: The flood
This exodus to the mountains is not a trip that everyone in Hyrule survived. There is no possible way that every single person who fled made it. While it’s true that we actually see very few townships throughout the series as a whole, there are likely more towns and villages we haven’t seen. Wind Waker‘s very opening even states that Hyrule had many mountains, while the only main mountain we were aware of in Ocarina was Death Mountain. If there were enough people to travel to the peaks of these mountains, there were certainly more than just two towns within Hyrule. Many of the islands of The Wind Waker may not be populated, but the ones that are are very spread out, implying people fleeing from all directions. A kingdom, after all, is hard pressed to be called that with just a town in its castle vicinity and a town not even a mile away.
We also have to take into account the people that were fleeing to the mountain tops to save themselves from the flood. We have sickly people, elderly people, children, pregnant women – all these groups are groups that would have trouble hiking all the way up to a mountain peak. All in all, people died. Innocent people that had nothing to do with Ganondorf. There was a reason the goddesses flooded Hyrule and apparently waited so long to do it, and it was because it was an absolute last resort.
We also have to take into account the various other races of Hyrule aside from Hylians. There are very few Gorons present throughout the Great Sea, appearing only as traveling merchants. Honestly, I find it quite amazing any survived at all. Given what Spirit Tracks has shown us, apparently enough of them survived to form a whole colony on New Hyrule. But I’m also making the grand assumption here that these Gorons are descended from the Gorons we knew from Ocarina of Time. And they most likely aren’t, as the whole plot of Spirit Tracks is based on the fact that New Hyrule existed for a long time before it was even thought to be called New Hyrule. The Gorons that populate the land have likely always been there and have their own roots there, meaning Old Hyrule’s Gorons are probably long dead, save for the few survivors that make their living traveling abroad and selling their wares.
Zoras are confirmed to have met a sad fate in that their entire species is extinct. Sort of. Kind of. Huh … it’s hard to say exactly. In some sort of very confusing twist, the Zoras turned into the Rito. Some people cry foul about that because how can water dwelling critters not survive in the ocean? I simply point out that the Zoras of Ocarina of Time were freshwater dwelling and couldn’t handle the salinity of the ocean. However, it still makes little to zero sense from a scientific point of view how aquatic creatures became avian. My guess is that since they couldn’t survive the sudden change in water salinity, the Zoras turned to Valoo, who completely changed their shape to adapt to their new environment. After all, the Rito can’t even fly until they receive a scale from Valoo – all the more proof that the Rito are not a naturally occurring species, but a mutation brought about by an outside magical influence. In other words, had Valoo not somehow come into the lives of the Zoras, we wouldn’t even have the Rito.
Dark point 2: The Sages
Laruto was the Earth Sage, one of the aforementioned extinct Zora. Fado was a Kokiri, the evolutionary predecessor to the Koroks. These two sages are dead. Very dead. Cadaveriffic even. And the implication I personally get when I read their text in-game is that they’ve been dead since before or around Hyrule’s Great Flood. Ganondorf’s reaction to the weakened Master Sword seems like such old news to him … because it is. He killed them, after all. This isn’t the first time Ganondorf has killed a sage – we see it in a flashback in Twilight Princess. The thing I need to point out, though, is that in Twilight Princess, Ganondorf killed the particular sage that he did as a means of survival rather than out of pure, malicious intent. It’s an arguable point, I admit, but I believe it because Ganondorf just happened to wake up after being dead. The sages weren’t the only ones surprised there. When you wake up in an unfamiliar place, you default to fight or flight – and guess what Ganondorf defaulted to? Anyways, I digressed a bit. Laruto and Fado are dead not because Ganondorf was desperate, but because Ganondorf managed to get the drop on them and kill them personally. This was not the manslaughter of Twilight Princess, this was premeditated murder done to weaken the Master Sword and further his own agenda.
Dark point 3: Ganondorf
Of all the incarnations of Ganondorf we have seen in the Legend of Zelda series, The Wind Waker’s Ganondorf is king, in my humble opinion. He was incredibly well-written. In Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, we only really get to see him as the evil bad guy that kidnapped Zelda and wants to take over Hyrule because reasons. We only see him as this arguably insane guy that serves nothing more than to be the power fighting against Link and the forces of good. In The Wind Waker, Ganondorf actually has reasons that he states himself. He became a character – a fleshed out person with hopes and dreams, which is more than I can say for Twilight Princess’s Ganondorf who just suddenly appeared last-minute.
Ganondorf did all the horrible things that he did for the good of his own tribe.
Ganondorf coveted Hyrule because it was all the Gerudo Desert was not. It was full of life, while the desert was full of death. The people of Hyrule were happy and fertile, while his people were suffering in a barren land. It showed us that in Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf did all the horrible things that he did for the good of his own tribe. Perhaps the even grimmer fact about this all is that somewhere along the way, the Triforce of Power corrupted him so that it eventually became not for the good of his people but for his own personal interest. Am I saying that Ocarina of Time Ganondorf was a good person? Not at all, there were better ways to ensure the security of his people than a hostile takeover of the neighboring kingdom, but this is proof that the road to hell is paved in good intentions. In The Wind Waker, he seems have realized that. Hyrule Historia even admits that he looks older in The Wind Waker because he has aged since Ocarina of Time. By that logic he has had the time to reflect on all the actions that led him up to that point, and is all the more broken because of it. He wants Hyrule back because it’s all he had left – that and a huge dollop of anger issues and grudges.
Dark point 4: Link
Zelda games have developed to a point where Link is now his own character in addition to our “link” to the game. In The Wind Waker, this Link starts off like his many other previous incarnations. Many of his experiences throughout the game are also very similar to his previous incarnations — sleepyhead that grows into a hero, is tested by the Master Sword, and gains the Triforce of Courage. In many respects, he’s the same as any other Link … except at the end of the game. The end of the game has Link killing Ganondorf.
Let’s talk a bit about that. The Wind Waker’s Link is a child. He is most likely around 12 years old. I came to this guess by an interview (sourced at the end of this article) in which Ocarina of Time Link is stated to be 9 as a child, 16 as an adult, and the original Link from the first Legend of Zelda is stated to be about 12. At 9 years old, Ocarina of Time Link was too young to wield the Master Sword. But at 12 years old, the original Legend of Zelda Link could wield the game’s ultimate sword, the Magical Sword. In other words, 12 seems to be the minimum age for being able to wield magical, evil slaying swords without any seven year time skips. It’s very far-fetched to say that the Hero of Winds is any older than that.
So at 12 years old, The Wind Waker’s Link kills Ganondorf. Can we just take in what a David and Goliath story that is for a second? Okay, second over because that’s not the point. The point is the method of how Ganondorf was dispatched: a sword in the head. Ganondorf has his head impaled by this 12 year old boy. Twilight Princess Link certainly didn’t end Ganondorf like that, and after a sword through the head there is no coming back. The closest death we have to “sword in the head” is perhaps Ocarina of Time’s Link, in which he hacks and slashes at Ganondorf’s face; however, there was never the finality of having the sword impaled and not removed from the head. The newest pedestal for the Master Sword in The Wind Waker is Ganondorf’s very body turned to stone. Again, the finality and brutality of this death is covered up by the graphical style of The Wind Waker. Our reactions to this scene would have been very different if we saw the semi-realistic Link of Twilight Princess thrust a sword into Ganondorf’s skull. In fact, if The Wind Waker was done in Twilight Princess’s style, the likelihood of having Ganondorf end the way he did would be significantly lower.
Our reactions to this scene would have been very different if we saw the semi-realistic Link of Twilight Princess thrust a sword into Ganondorf’s skull.
And that wraps up what are my top four reasons why the The Wind Waker is one of the darkest installments of Zelda. I’m sure I can think of more; maybe I’ll come back and write an additional add-on in the future, who knows? But in the meantime, let’s not spend time judging the content of a game by its graphics but in the writing and implications behind it. You might spy differences as jarring as the Grimm Tales versus their Disney versions.