Disclaimer: This article was written by a member of the Zelda Informer staff unless otherwise stated. The thoughts, opinions, and information presented strictly belong to that of the author and do not represent Zelda Informer on the whole.
Table of Contents
- Part One: Leaving Paradise
- Part Two: Growing Wings
- Part Three: Chasing Dreams
- Part Four: Planting Seeds
- Part Five: Becoming the Champion of Life
Foreword by Colin McIsaac
Hylian Dan is perhaps the most famous name in the Zelda fan community. Having written timeless pieces such as Immortal Childhood and, of course, The Message of Majora’s Mask, one could say Hylian Dan almost singlehandedly popularized the art of close-reading Zelda titles.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released over ten years ago, and the success of its Wii U remake serves as a testament to the game’s lasting appeal. But behind the game’s gorgeous aesthetic and brilliant world is an equally powerful message that inspires readers to this day. Whether you’ve read it before, you’re reading it for the first time, or you’re bookmarking it to read next week, The Philosophy of The Wind Waker is a wonderful piece of writing that will most assuredly remind you why The Legend of Zelda is one of the best game franchises of all time.
Without further ado, please enjoy The Philosophy of The Wind Waker...
”If only I could do things over again…”
The King of Hyrule speaks these words at the end of The Wind Waker. As he faces his own ending, the king reflects on how he has lived his life. Looking back, the king perceives only yearning and regret. Looking back, he perceives his own foolishness.
”Time certainly laughs at us all, huh?”
A traveling merchant says this to Link on an island in the Great Sea. The merchant explains that he has a dream of one day opening his own shop. He set out to pursue this dream long ago, but things did not quite work out. The days went by and plans got delayed, and now thirty years have passed fruitlessly.
Time is passing and the merchant lets it slip through his fingers. Life has passed and for too long the King of Hyrule has not lived it. But in all this time, the king has at least learned something: that there is a better way to go through life. As the king prepares to face his death, he speaks to Link and Tetra and tells them, “I have lived regretting the past.”
“But you…I want you to live for the future.”
These words are the thesis of The Wind Waker. The entire game is built around this philosophy: live for the future. The game is laced with metaphors and parables that develop this theme and support it with examples. The metaphors—islands and oceans, birds and cages, winds and sails, trees and seeds—illustrate this philosophy while the parables—the storylines that unfold throughout the game—provide context for these metaphors, showing how they may be applied to the way we live our lives.
Time slips away all too easily. There are many people who grow old too quickly, who look back and sadly speak the words, “If only…” But there are other ways of living, ways that lead to happier destinations. There are lessons to be learned from Link’s adventure on the Great Sea, for The Wind Waker is a guide to living a fulfilling life.
Part One: Leaving Paradise
“‘Tis a peaceful place, this here island…The people here would never even dream of leavin’ their little paradise and settin’ sail on a voyage at sea, know what I mean? Why, this town is full of faces that don’t even show the slightest interest in the sails of a ship. Are we sailors the only ones? Has no one else set out on the Great Sea?” — Kane, the Sailor
One of the most memorable features of The Wind Waker is the design of the game world: small islands and vast oceans. This design does more than simply set up the gameplay and story, however. It conveys a certain way of seeing the world. Sometimes we have solid ground beneath our feet. At other times we are on our own, and nothing but our own resilience is there to keep us afloat.
We live in relation to islands and oceans. This is one of the key philosophical points of The Wind Waker. Islands represent comfort while oceans represent hardship. Many of the people who populate the Great Sea spend all their years within the confines of a single island, clinging to a personal little paradise. To them, the sea is too vast and dangerous and it is better and easier to remain at home.
It is true that those who sail the seas face many dangers. But, there is also a danger that threatens those who never set out on the Great Sea: the prospect of an unlived life.
The Islander and the Sailor
“What? You worried about little old me, fry? Hah! Don’t be! I’m a man-fish! I’ve spent my life being toughened up by seas rougher than any you’ve ever seen!” — The Fishman
The Wind Waker begins by introducing two of its central characters, one who embodies the lifestyle of an islander and another who embodies the lifestyle of a sailor.
Link has spent his entire life thus far on Outset Island, a place of comfort and beauty. His is a life of leisure, with plenty of time for napping. He has a cherished sister, a loving grandmother, and a whole community of friends there to support him.
And then there is Tetra. She seems to be of a similar age to Link but she has already managed to become the leader of a band of pirates. One of her companions explains the circumstances of her life that led to this:
“You’re probably wondering why we treat young Miss Tetra with so much respect when she’s clearly so much younger than us, aren’t you, now? I suppose it was just chance that we lost our last Miss when Miss Tetra was still young. Hooo… Fate is cruel, she is. That’s why Miss Tetra took over so young. She owes it to her predecessor. Everyone’s come to respect her for that. For coping with so much, at such an age. Respect has nothing to do with how many years you’ve been on the earth.” — Nudge, the Pirate
There was no life of leisure for Tetra. The mother who should have been there to love and support Tetra vanished from the world. But Tetra endured.
When Tetra meets Link, one of the first things she observes is how this boy handles loss: when Link’s sister is kidnapped, Link is horrified and he abandons his senses. Chasing after the great bird that has Aryll, Link runs straight off a cliff.
“Uhhn! Stupid kid! Get ahold of yourself! She’s gone. There’s nothing you can do.” — Tetra
Tetra the sailor already understands hardship and loss, but Link the islander is inexperienced and reckless.
As Link recovers some of his wits, he sets a goal for himself: to rescue his sister, no matter what. The local adults warn Link, “Setting out like this means many long hours of toil and hardship lie ahead of you.” But Link goes forth to pursue this goal, even though it means leaving behind his life of leisure.
Still, Tetra challenges Link. As the boy gazes back at his island and the crowd of loved ones cheering for him, Tetra smirks. “I can tell you’re just going to get more sentimental from here on out. There’s still time, you know… Are you sure we shouldn’t just turn around and take you back to your island?”
But Link proceeds, and his life as an islander ends. He lets go of paradise and prepares to face the world beyond. This is one of the necessary stages of life, for paradise does not last forever. Living for the future means being willing to let go.
The Longing of the Heart
Not all of The Wind Waker’s characters are as bold as Link. There are many people who do not take such a step. Instead, they live bound to the life that they have always known.
One such person is Missy, an old lady who is a permanent resident of Windfall Island. She spends her days gazing at Dragon Roost Island on the horizon. She’s heard stories of the majestic Rito Tribe that lives there, and she longs to see the place with her own eyes.
“The sky-dancing Rito tribe… A mystical sky spirit… Dragon Roost Island just sounds like a paradise floating in the ocean of my dreams! But… to someone like me, a person who’s never left this little island, it may as well be a fairy tale out of a child’s book. …Oh, if only I had my own boat!” — Missy
Missy has a dream but she does not pursue it, not believing she is able to. As Missy grows old, she thinks of this dream and speaks those words, “If only…” Time is slipping away, but she is confined to her island.
In this way, The Wind Waker presents the metaphor of islands and oceans in literal terms: some people stay on islands and others set sail. However, this metaphor extends beyond such literal expression.
Lenzo, Windfall Island’s famed pictographer, tells Link a story of two people who also live the lifestyle Missy represents. He is speaking of the young adults Anton and Linda:
“Somewhere in town is a couple, a man and woman whose hearts are secretly filled with thoughts of the other, and yet for reasons unknown, the two have never spoken. Even when they happen, by chance, to pass each other in the road, they each steal a brief, furtive glance of the other, but they suppress the longing in their hearts… I cannot let this tragedy go on any longer!” — Lenzo
They suppress the longing in their hearts; Lenzo dramatically calls this act a tragedy. Time marches forward as Anton and Linda stand in place, bound to their comfort zones.
Fortunately, Lenzo intervenes and pulls some strings, with Link’s help. Anton finally decides to ask Linda out on a date.
“…So what’s her name, anyway? Do you think she’s nice? Does she have a steady fellow? Ohhhhh, I’m so NERVOUS!” — Anton
Such is the feeling of taking a chance. But in spite of the fear, Anton speaks with Linda and things go well for him.
“Hey! It’s you! Listen to this, will you? I…DID…IT! I worked up my courage, and I talked to her, and it was totally the right move! You know why, buddy? She likes me! She actually likes me! Everything’s coming up roses for me… Life IS good, buddy!” — Anton
Lenzo is able to perceive that there is a better life waiting for Anton and Linda, if they can just muster the nerve to pursue it.
Nevertheless, there are others who do not feel any need to step past their limited comfort areas. They are happy with life the way it is, and they do not want it to change.
Minenco was dubbed Miss Windfall forty years ago, and she relishes that status every day. She refuses to believe that her physical beauty will ever fade.
“My skin will always be beautiful! Hoo hoo hoo! Not even the younger girls look prettier than me!”
There is also Manny, a fan boy who is content to wander the Nintendo Gallery in awe. The Nintendo Gallery is a series of rooms that Link and a sculptor named Carlov gradually fill with figurines.
“Listen… Please try not to interrupt me as I gaze upon my figurines…in supreme bliss. All I want out of life is just the chance to hang out and gaze at my figurines… My life is soooo good.” — Manny
The allegorical content here is thinly veiled. Manny is happy to live life in a bubble, a world of hand-made figurines in place of real people. It is a world not unlike the Zelda universe: an artificial escape from reality. Manny wants to stay in this paradise forever.
However, there are consequences to living such a blissful, unchanging lifestyle. The Wind Waker uses several characters to illustrate these consequences.
On Windfall, there are two girls who have earned the nickname “The Little Tipsters” thanks to their habit of spreading rumors about the island. There happen to be two middle-aged women, Pompie and Vera, who are also eagerly exchanging idle gossip. When Link eavesdrops on their conversation, they become upset.
“…She is so saucy, isn’t she!”
“I can’t believe she’s a schoolteacher!”
“Hm? …Now, just WHAT are you doing?”
“Were you listening to us, you scamp?”
“We’re discussing…very, VERY important topics that kids just wouldn’t understand. You’re far too young to be listening to us, young man! So shoo!”
— Pompie and Vera
Pompie and Vera fuss about the fact that Link is a child, but their own lack of maturity is quite apparent. They come across as older counterparts of the Little Tipsters, alike in both appearance and behavior. Pompie and Vera have simply spent a longer amount of time doing what the Little Tipsters are doing.
That is what becomes of people who live unchanging lives. They grow old, but they do not grow.
The Wind Waker takes this important point even further. On the Private Oasis, a nasty butler guards the cabana of Miss Marie the schoolteacher. The butler serves two purposes: he scowls and barks at any stranger who comes close, and he welcomes the owner of the cabana whenever he or she visits. When the master or mistress is present, the butler’s demeanor changes abruptly and he becomes as polite and subservient as is humanly possible. But there is a catch: the butler is not quite human.
“Ah! All of a sudden, I have become painfully aware of my existence as a door. Wah! Waaaaaah!” — The Butler
The butler’s two purposes are that of a door: to chase people away and to welcome them. The butler has spent so much of his life simply playing this role that the game depicts him in the physical form of a door.
This is the danger that paradise poses. One who remains on an island for too long risks becoming as immovable as the island itself. The energy of life drains away with time, leaving only an inanimate object.
Escaping the Cage
As Link storms the Forsaken Fortress early in The Wind Waker, he gets thrown into a prison cell if the guards spot him. Tetra rebukes Link if he spends too much time lounging around in the cage.
“Are you planning on spending the rest of your life in there?! Look around! I’d be surprised if a run-down cell like that didn’t have a hole or two that you could use to worm your way out!” — Tetra
Surely enough there is a crack in the wall hidden behind a vase. Link wriggles through the crevice and escapes to freedom.
Tetra’s question, “Are you planning on spending the rest of your life in there?!” connects Link’s behavior to the behavior of the permanent islanders. Islands are small, confined places—and so is Link’s prison cell.
Islands tempt people with their beauty, with their safe familiarity, with the easy life that they promise.
But beneath the illusion of paradise, there is a cage.
Missy the elderly lady is a prisoner of Windfall Island. She is unable to perceive any crack in the wall leading to freedom. As the years of her life slip away, she gazes past the bars of her cage and says, “If only…”
Paradises are places of beauty, but those who live in paradise must be able to let go of it lest it become a prison cell. It is a shame to spend all one’s time in a small, confined space when there is a great wide world out there, waiting to be experienced.
“Ahh, do you not feel the grand romance of the wide open skies? The roaring invitation of the wind? The soft call of the clouds? You are a boring, boring creature.” — Willi, the Bird-Man
Whenever Link sets out for the Great Sea, the island he had just visited shrinks into a tiny speck behind him. The Legend of Zelda theme song begins playing as the wide ocean stretches out in every direction. The little paradises fade away as new shadows appear on the horizon, gradually taking shape as Link sails towards them.
A life of adventure awaits those with the courage to step beyond their comfort zones.
Part Two: Growing Wings
“Well, Link… I’m not very confident, but I think I should try to fly…” — Medli
At times, life asks that we venture past our comfortable islands. In the ocean, without any external support, we must rely on our own strength to remain afloat.
The Wind Waker prepares a series of metaphors and parables to represent the moments in life when we leave behind our little paradises. The game presents another part of life’s journey in a similar fashion, again using metaphors and allegorical storylines. This collection of symbols and stories all revolve around a common theme: the discovery of inner strength.
To begin with, there is the story of Komali, the young fledgling who grows wings.
When Link comes to Dragon Roost Island he meets the Rito Tribe, a race that lives to fly through the sky. The tribe’s chieftain explains how this is connected to the process of a child becoming an adult:
“As you can see, we of the Rito tribe are profoundly connected to the sky. We make our livings on the airways. We do so by the graces of the sky spirit, Valoo. When a Rito reaches adulthood, he or she journeys to the top of Dragon Roost to receive a scale from the great dragon. It is this scale that enables the Rito to grow his or her wings.” — The Rito Chieftain
However, Valoo has recently become violent, unpredictable, and unapproachable. This danger threatens to create a more confined world for future generations of Rito:
“If this continues, the fledglings who are of age will never be able to receive scales from Valoo on Dragon Roost. They will remain wingless, and in time, our very way of life will be threatened.”
— The Rito Chieftain
The chieftain continues his story, introducing his son, Komali:
“My son, Komali, is of the age to earn his wings… Yet…he is weak, in some ways…and in light of the current situation, he may just give up on ever getting them…” — The Rito Chieftain
Young Komali spends all his time within his bedroom, a bird in a cage. Days pass by and he lies on his mattress frightened and depressed, not wanting to make the journey to Valoo. When his father tries to offer encouragement, Komali becomes aggravated:
“Oh, sure, telling me to be brave is easy enough for him… It’s not like he’s the one who went through that horrible experience… It’s not like HE still has to go get a scale from Valoo.” — Komali
Though Komali’s father is asking the boy to grow, Komali chooses to live like a prisoner, afraid to venture beyond his bedroom cage. Komali’s friend Medli explains why the boy now behaves this way:
“I feel as though I should tell you, despite what he may seem like right now, young master Komali is quite a pleasant child… His father, the chieftain, is quite busy, but Komali’s never once complained, though I’m sure he’s been lonely at times. He’s the chieftain’s son through and through. However, his grandmother passed recently, and Komali seems lost. His confidence is… gone. His grandmother was always with him, you see. A great, great woman…” — Medli
Just as Tetra lost her mother, Komali lost his grandmother, the person he relied upon. This, coupled with the danger that has befallen his home, has put Komali in a particularly rough position. In response, Komali clings to his last remaining source of comfort: Din’s Pearl, the memento his grandmother left behind.
“It’s strange… Holding this calms me down. I forget all the bad things. It’s so pretty, isn’t it? It’s called Din’s Pearl. My grandma gave it to me. Oh, Grandma… If she were here, I know she could calm Valoo down. I just know it…
“What? What is it, huh? Listen, you can stare all you want, but I’m not giving this to you. This is MY treasure. You understand?” — Komali
When Link succeeds in calming Valoo, Komali has a change of heart. Inspired by Link’s courage, Komali offers Link the pearl and some wisdom:
“Giving you the thing I value most will give me the courage I need to stand up to bad things!” — Komali
By giving away the pearl, Komali frees himself from his reliance upon his grandmother. He no longer needs her as an external source of strength, but her love and support are still there to guide Komali. These forces no longer come from the external world; they now exist within Komali, in the form of a memory.
Shortly after Link departs Dragon Roost Island, Komali makes the journey to Valoo and grows his wings, representing this strength he has found.
Komali’s story conveys a crucial point: one must not always rely on the external world for strength. At times, life offers us protection and solid foundations. For a time, Komali’s grandmother was there to nurture her descendant. But, inevitably, she passed away and Komali was left alone.
It is at such a time that Komali must learn to rely upon himself. When the external world does not offer support, one must look inwards for strength.
On Windfall Island, a story unfolds that explores this theme from opposite angles. It is the parable of two families and their reversal of fortune.
Maggie comes from a poor family and Mila comes from a wealthy family. Both are kidnapped and taken to the Forsaken Fortress. When Tetra’s crew rescues the girls, Mila’s father hands over the entire family fortune to pay off the ransom. Maggie, however, brings back a collection of valuable Skull Necklaces and sells the trinkets for money. Mila and her father fall into poverty, while Maggie and her father are launched into wealth.
Before the two girls return, Maggie’s father is in a wretched state. Tragedy has befallen him and he runs to strangers, begging them to listen to his tale of woe. The man is a pitiable character: life has been cruel to him, and he does not have the strength to cope. But when fate deals him a sudden windfall, the greedy nature of his soul becomes apparent:
“Money for this! Money for that! A little money over here! A little money over there! Money, money, money… Grah ha ha ha ha ha HAR! Money makes the world go round! Eeyeh heh heh heh heh heh! I’ll be bathing in money yet again! The money bath! The only bath that gets you filthy… filthy RICH!!!!”
— Maggie’s Father
It is worth pointing out here that the term “windfall” means unexpected good fortune, usually fortune that has not been gained through hard work.
When treasure suddenly falls into the hands of this weak and helpless man, he becomes cold and arrogant. Like Komali, this childish figure is content to sit in his cramped room and gaze endlessly at his precious treasure.
“This is MY treasure. You understand?” — Komali
Komali is initially a weak, pitiable character. But Komali grows. He makes the journey to the top of Dragon Roost Island to see Valoo. Because of this journey, he then grows wings and becomes a bird of the sky.
But Maggie’s father is the fledgling who never grows any wings.
“I was once quite poor myself, you know. Back then, I used to dream of owning a boat… A boat I could use to go off in search of treasure… And now look at my filthy richness! Chase your dreams, little urchin!” — Maggie’s Father
As a poor man, he is helpless and miserable. As a wealthy man, he sits on his tall pile of riches and sneers at those beneath him. This behavior belies his inner emptiness; were his newfound wealth to suddenly vanish, his selfish happiness would disappear along with it.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mila’s father gives away all of his accumulated money for the sake of his daughter. The man loses all of his material possessions, but he finds something better in their place:
“We’ve hit rock bottom! But…my little Mila is alive and home safe where she belongs, so I can’t complain. A daughter is more important than money. Being poor must be pretty rough…You take one look at me, and that’s the first thing you think, isn’t it? I ask you, why is that? Sure, the days can get kind of tough, but good things still happen, don’t they? Money doesn’t make the sun shine, you know. My daughter and I have managed to eke out a decent life, and in the process, I’ve realized a great truth… There is something more important than money in the world… I think at long last I’ve finally come to understand just what true happiness really is. …And I’m thankful for it.” — Mila’s Father
Like Komali when he gives away his pearl, when Mila’s father gives away his possessions he finds something intangible in return.
“Sometimes there are odd circumstances that make people do what they do! How could you be so close-minded?” — Mila
The girl Mila is left in a precarious position: she is a sheltered child who has suddenly lost everything. Life has become terribly difficult, but instead of trying to cope with it Mila tries to revive her lost childhood. To reclaim her wealth and the security it once offered, Mila turns to thievery.
In the middle of the night, Mila runs to an exposed safe and attempts to break the lock. But Link catches her in the act and declares himself to be an ally of justice. Mila then pleas with Link:
“Could you at least listen to the circumstances in my life that led up to this moment? Please, you owe me that much! I…was once the richest little debutante in this town. Did you know that? But one day, a monstrous bird came and took me away to a terrible place called the Forsaken Fortress, where I was locked up and held captive. Oh, it was awful! My father spent every last Rupee in his coffers in an attempt to get me rescued. That’s right! Every last bit of our family fortune, gone… That was when my life of poverty began.
Now, every day, from morning until night, I’m busy working for the open-air shop. So, as you can see, at least I’m trying to settle into my poor lifestyle.” — Mila
A similar scene unfolds during the finale of The Wind Waker. Ganondorf prepares to lay his hand upon the golden Triforce, the wish-granting treasure of the gods. By stealing from others—by kidnapping Aryll, Maggie, and Mila, and by spreading misfortune across the Great Sea—Ganondorf gains access to this carefully guarded relic. Much like Mila, he plans to use his stolen treasure to restore his lost paradise, the fallen kingdom of Hyrule.
And when the Ally of Justice confronts the King of Thieves, Ganondorf also takes a moment to explain the circumstances of his life:
“My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.” — Ganondorf
Mila pauses in the middle of her story and asks Link, “Doesn’t that just tug at your heart strings? What do you say about the tragic events in my pitiable life?”
“That’s terrible,” Link responds.
Mila continues her story:
“And to make matters worse, for some reason I still can’t figure out, that slob Maggie, who was the poorest girl in town, suddenly got filthy rich! Maggie, of all people! It makes me so mad that I want to do something terrible! Grrrr!” — Mila
And Ganondorf continues his story:
“But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.” — Ganondorf
Mila and Ganondorf both confess to feeling envious of those who experience better fortune. It is not an unreasonable feeling. However, this envy drives both of them to attempt terrible deeds. They focus their gazes upon external treasure that does not belong to them. As they try to take this treasure from others and make it their own, they compromise something intangible that lies within.
“Beauty does not come from what you see… it comes from what is inside you.” — Knuckle
The parable of the poor man and the wealthy man refers to the relationship between Ganondorf and the King of Hyrule. Maggie’s father represents Ganondorf, the pitiable being struggling to keep his people alive in a harsh desert. And Mila’s father represents Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, the wealthy king living in a land of prosperity.
The transformation of the two fathers foreshadows the outcome of the conflict between Ganondorf and Daphnes. When glorious treasure falls into the hands of Maggie’s father, he becomes a selfish miser. And as the pitiable Ganondorf prepares to touch the Triforce, his choice of words betrays the sort of inner character he is about to reveal:
“Give Hyrule to me!!!” — Ganondorf
“Money, money, money… Grah ha ha ha ha ha HAR!” — Maggie’s Father
The King of Hyrule then stands in Ganondorf’s way and wishes for the ending of Hyrule. Though he loves his lost kingdom, Daphnes releases it so that the children, Link and Tetra, may build a new future in its stead.
“Hope! I desire hope for these children! Give them a future!” — The King of Hyrule
“A daughter is more important than money.” — Mila’s Father
When they cast away the great treasure, Mila’s father and the King of Hyrule find the courage to face the future. Mila’s father confronts his new life of poverty, and the king accepts his death.
This parable does present a rather troubling pattern: unfortunate characters like Ganondorf and Maggie’s father come across worse than those lucky enough to know more comfortable lives. This pattern extends to Tetra and her crew as well—likable as they may be, they bleed Mila’s father dry for no reason but their own selfishness. Perhaps this is one of the perils of the life of a sailor. People need sources of comfort and strength, and too much time on the empty seas might harden one’s heart.
The unlucky Mila has lost her little paradise and is struggling to get by. She is cast out of one cage of sorts, but her actions might eventually lead her to another: Windfall Island holds its own prison cell, after all.
The girl’s fate is momentarily in Link’s hands. If Link lets her run away after listening to her tale of woe, Mila laughs to herself.
“Good-bye! …Ah hee hee hee hee!” — Mila
As soon as she finds another chance, she runs back to the safe and attempts once more to break into it.
But if Link refuses to let Mila escape, she asks why. Link answers, “Because I’m honest.” Mila then responds:
“It’s true… I know I’m quibbling over nothing… But being so poor weakens a person’s very soul… But…it’s time I quit making silly excuses for myself! Thank you so much… Thanks to you, I didn’t have to sink down to the level of a common thief. I will never do anything like that again!
Ahhhh… What an amazing feeling! I’ve let all of my worries out of my heart. Wow! I actually feel refreshed! Let me at least thank you. Please take this! It’s a tiny bottle made of crystal-clear glass… It’s so beautiful. I wish my soul could be that beautiful…
Oh! What am I saying? When you live in poverty, you can say the cheesiest things without blinking an eye.” — Mila
Mila abandons thoughts of thievery and lets go of her obsession with her past. She goes back to work with her eyes focused on the future, determined to build a new foundation for herself and for her father. In this difficult new life, Mila learns to rely upon her own strength.
As Mila, her father, and Komali discover, when external sources of strength are relinquished, they transform into internal sources of strength.
This internal strength may sustain a person when the surrounding world becomes harsh and dreary.
Part Three: Chasing Dreams
“And let our destinies finally be fulfilled…” — The King of Hyrule
From anywhere in the Great Sea the player can scan the horizon and see many distant islands sitting there. Until the player approaches each island, it is only visible as a shadowy silhouette.
These shadows on the horizon represent future destinations in life, dreams that may be pursued. But the fulfillment of dreams does not come easily; the ocean is always in the way.
In The Wind Waker, islands represent comfort zones while oceans represent trials that test the spirit. Sailing is the process of crossing from one island to another: facing hardship and arriving at new places of comfort and beauty. Given this context, the sailing mechanics of The Wind Waker carry powerful meaning, conveying what it takes to make one’s way through life.
When Link sets out for distant islands, his sail is the item that enables movement. As the King of Red Lions says to Link, “A boat with no sail can sail no seas.” If Link lowers the sail his momentum dies and he is left in the middle of the ocean. Without a sail, the boat’s pace is so slow that it would be madness for a player to attempt to reach a faraway island in this manner.
The sail represents the same force as the wings that allow a Rito to fly: inner strength, which is simply another term for courage.
These metaphors of wings and sails raise an important point: birds rely on the air currents as they fly, and a sail needs wind in order to move a boat. Wind is the force that carries birds through the sky and boats across the sea, and an uncooperative wind may make a journey impossible. “It would be a fatal mistake to set sail under an unstable breeze,” the King of Red Lions tells Link. When we leave our islands and cages, we live at the mercy of the wind.
To reach destinations long dreamt of, one must contend with the ocean and its winds, persevering through long expanses of toil and hardship. To live life to its fullest, one should learn how to sail.
The Winds of Fortune
“Anchors aweigh!!! Hold the tiller steady!!! As for our destination… The wind will guide us!” — Tetra
Wind is The Wind Waker’s central symbol, so what does it represent?
In the sailing metaphor, wind is the force that causes a boat to move: a symbol of momentum. Wind is related in some way to the concept of luck as well. Recall that “windfall” refers to unexpected good fortune. There is also the expression, “May the winds of fortune be at your back,” which is uttered at various times throughout the game.
When Aryll is kidnapped, Link is given a chance to chase after her. A pirate ship is docked at his island, about to set sail. Link demands a place on the boat and he does not back down when the pirates oppose him. If the boat were to leave without Link, he would remain on Outset Island immobile and unable to do anything for Aryll.
When Link is cast into the prison of the Forsaken Fortress there at first seems to be no escape. However, there is a hidden crack in the wall, covered by a vase. If Link is too oblivious to notice this escape route he will overlook the crack and remain in the cage, immobile and unable to save Aryll.
The pirates’ boat and the cracked wall are both examples of opportunity. Opportunities allow people to move forward in life. People cannot control opportunity, but they can recognize it and take advantage of it, just as a sailor takes advantage of the wind.
In one sense wind represents opportunity, fortunate circumstances that carry people towards their dreams. However, when Ganondorf recounts his past he explains that the wind only brought him misfortune:
“When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes.” — Ganondorf
The circumstances of life were cruel to Ganondorf and his people. But the people of Hyrule were luckier—they had been blessed with a bountiful land and a wind that brought “something other than suffering and ruin.”
That is just how life goes: regardless of how they live, some people are faced with particular hardships that others may never see. There are many uncontrollable circumstances in life, and it is these circumstances that the wind represents.
…Why are you wanderin’ around here lookin’ so sad? You think it’s fun to go walkin’ through town lookin’ all pathetic? You think that makes you a big man?” — The Killer Bees
People cannot control the circumstances of their lives or the opportunities that come their way. But they can accept circumstances and take advantage of opportunity when it comes. This relationship between people and the circumstances of their lives—between sailors and the wind—is a central theme of The Wind Waker.
On Windfall Island, Anton decides to take a chance and step outside his comfort zone. He asks Linda out on a date, and she accepts. This good fortune launches Anton forward to a new destination, to his new relationship with Linda. He successfully travels from an old island to a new one.
But there is another boy who also has his heart set on Linda. Kamo has fallen for this girl, his childhood friend, but she remains completely oblivious. Kamo does not muster the courage to speak with Linda, and he watches in pain as his buddy Anton sweeps her away. Each day brings with it unending torment for poor Kamo.
Nobody understands how I feel! Do you hear me? Nobody! Not you! Not anybody!” — Kamo
Without building up his courage and speaking with Linda, Kamo has no chance of moving forward. “A boat with no sail can sail no seas.”
Another resident of Windfall faces a different sort of problem. Lenzo the pictographer describes the plight of the man named Garrickson:
Somewhere in this town, there is one who, despite constant rejection, never learns the cold lesson of unrequited passion and continues to write letters of doomed love. I am certain the object of this sadly one-sided affection is in quite a quandary over the matter. I am of the mind that I must have a word with the unwanted suitor.” — Lenzo
Each day, Garrickson walks to the mailbox to send love letter after love letter, each day hoping to receive a response. But his hopes are vain, for that response never comes. Though Garrickson takes action and tries to bring change to his life, he is as immobile as Link’s boat when it is turned against the wind.
Kamo and Garrickson both wish to arrive at a better destination in life, but Kamo does not use the strength of a sail and Garrickson ignores the direction of the wind.
On Outset Island, Mesa cuts the grass outside his home when it grows too tall. But strange things start happening late at night, interrupting Mesa’s schedule. He begins to stay up all night sitting in bed, causing him to sleep through the following day when he could be getting work done. He does not find the resolve to break this routine, and so opportunity slips away. “A boat with no sail can sail no seas.”
The Rito postman named Ilari attempts to deliver a letter to Maggie. However, the girl’s father turns him away. Ilari refuses to accept this rejection, and his temper flares.
“I went through great trials and tribulations to go all the way to the Forsaken Fortress and return with Moe’s letter…”
“SILENCE! Begone! Begone!”
“Then, please! Be reasonable! Can you at least sign for the letter?!”
“SILENCE! Begone! Begone!”
“Just acknowledge I was here!”
“SILENCE! Begone! Begone!”
“RAAAAAAWRK! Foolish man! Now you’ve made me angry! I cannot even look you in the face any longer, or I fear I might…”
— Ilari and Maggie’s Father
Ilari fights against the uncooperative wind represented by Maggie’s father. This merely causes Ilari to become frustrated; he makes no progress until he backs away and reevaluates his course. He then perceives a different way, and he hands the letter to Link so that the boy can deliver it. He finds the hidden opportunity.
In the meantime, Maggie dreams of Moe, the moblin she met while imprisoned. When she receives his letter saying he wants to eat her, she believes it to be a marriage proposal and insists on traveling to be with him. But her father stands in the way of this dream as well, keeping Maggie safe at home.
Zephos the wind god tells Link, “Depending on how it’s used, wind can be a good thing…or a very bad thing.”
To get anywhere in life we need to use the wind. At times, wind launches us towards our dreams, but at other times it works against us.
Crossing the Ocean
“…It looks like the skies decided you were going to fly in a different direction! They do that sometimes.” — Obli the Bird-Man
Sometimes, dreams are in vain. The circumstances of life turn against our desires and we have no choice but to set a different course.
Although an ill fate befalls Kamo, he is eventually able to make peace with these circumstances and find some inner comfort. As he gazes at the moon, he comments, “Like the human heart, the shape of the moon changes with time. Every night, it becomes just a little bit different.”
In the Nintendo Gallery, players who work hard can find figurines of The Wind Waker’s many characters along with brief descriptions of each. Among these descriptions are stories of how several characters have handled setbacks:
Long ago, Salvatore hoped to be a famous painter, but that dream didn’t last long. He eventually returned to his hometown and came up with his current business plan. It’s been a huge success, allowing him to purchase his own island, where he has opened up the second store in what he hopes will become a huge chain. He’s now busy trying to think up that one idea that will spark his next big endeavor.
In his younger days, Orca had hoped to be a swordsman, but he suffered a serious injury that ended that dream. He soon returned to Outset and became a fisherman. On a ledge on one wall of his house is a memento from his days of training with a blade. Orca is a lifelong bachelor.
Abe is a family man who takes good care of his wife and two kids. In his younger days, his dashing good looks and baritone voice made him quite the ladies’ man.Then one day, he was instantly smitten by a woman named Rose. Even though he was consistently rebuffed, he persisted and finally convinced Rose to marry him.
Salvatore and Orca changed course when they were unable to achieve their dreams, which turned out to be wise. Abe persisted, however, which paid off.
Persistence earns Link his place on the pirates’ ship, and it also wastes all of Garrickson’s time. It won Abe his wife, and it could also win Maggie a place in Moe’s stomach. There is a distinction to be made, then, between times when persistence is appropriate and times when it is not. The ability to make that distinction comes from experience and wisdom.
As we make our way across the ocean, there are three forces that guide us. One is the power of wind, an uncontrollable force that grants us some incredible potential and some impossible limitations. Another force is courage, which acts as a sail to catch the wind, giving us momentum through its persistence. The third force is wisdom, which allows us to perceive the direction of the wind and know when to set out. With wisdom, we may be able to recognize the difference between opportunity and folly.
In this way, the game mechanics of raising a sail and following the wind reflect the balance of the Triforce. Power, courage, and wisdom carry us across the ocean, but only when these forces balance each other.
The Path You Choose
“The path can now be opened. Oh, chosen one… What will now come to pass is tied to your fate—to the path that you have chosen. Go forward with caution.” — Gohdan, The Great Arbiter
What is it that the wind represents? Perhaps Ganondorf offers the best definition when he says, “It can only be called fate.”
Fate governs the circumstances of life over which we have no control. It dictates whether we are born in the barren desert or in the kingdom of prosperity. It moves the world into the future, and the living choose whether to move with it.
Gohdan describes Link’s fate as “the path that you have chosen.” Once Aryll is taken away, Link dreams of rescuing her, and that dream defines the course of his journey through life. When Link saves Aryll, the wind continues pushing the boy forward towards a destiny grander than anything he had foreseen. Because he finds power, wisdom, and courage, his life is filled with momentum.
The title “The Wind Waker” refers to the pursuit of destiny. One must balance the forces represented by the Triforce in order to fulfill one’s destiny. Those without courage do not take action. Those without wisdom act hastily and choose false paths. And those without power have no opportunities to seize.
Those who do not dream have little use for these forces. As time moves forward, they may recognize the stagnation and loss that fate brings while overlooking the opportunities that come along the way.
When Ganondorf looks upon the Great Sea, he sees no future for it. He blames the gods for creating a futile world for the people of the ocean:
“What did the King of Hyrule say? …That the gods sealed Hyrule away? And they left behind people who would one day awaken Hyrule?! How ridiculous… So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool… What can they possibly hope to achieve?
Don’t you see? All of you… Your gods destroyed you!” — Ganondorf
Ganondorf’s dream is to resurrect Hyrule and relive the past, a dream that the uncontrollable direction of time opposes. When the wish-granting Triforce is taken by the king and this dream at last dies, Ganondorf loses his composure—much like Ilari.
The King of Hyrule asks the gods to give the younger generation hope and a future. Ganondorf laughs, saying “This is foolishness…” He then attempts to show Link and Tetra that death is all the future holds:
“Allow me to show you… Your future… Yes… Allow me to show you… Just what hope you have… …See how much your precious Triforce is worth!” — Ganondorf
Forces which the wind represents—time, fate, and uncontrollable circumstances—all bring death to the living, inevitably.
“No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.” — Ganondorf
Though he tries to resist it, the wind reaches even Ganondorf in the end. He surrenders to its power as he dies, saying,
“Ughnn… Heh heh… The wind…. It is blowing…”
To someone like Ganondorf, fate is a curse. It may deny us the blessings others receive and foil our dearest dreams. And sooner or later it brings death, to ourselves and to the people and places we know. But Ganondorf has a limited perspective, and he cannot see the potential for beauty that lies ahead.
For all the hardship that comes our way, there is also growth and opportunity. Fate offers us the chance to move forward. It asks us to leave our islands when the time is right, raise the sails we have prepared, and set out to pursue our true destinies.
Part Four: Planting Seeds
“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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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
His words have a particular subtext set against the backdrop ofThe 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.
“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.
Part Five: Becoming the Champion of Life
If players visit Sturgeon at the beginning of The Wind Waker, the advice he offers sets the stage for the game that is to follow. Age-old wisdom is passed on to the player as Sturgeon explains some basic gameplay instructions.
”Changing Perspective Leads to Success,” reads one note pinned to the old man’s wall, describing the camera controls. “The young often assume that they can see all that is before them, but oftentimes they are missing out on a grander view.”
”Do Not Underestimate the Sea,” warns another note, ostensibly referring to The Wind Waker‘s swim timer. “It’s easy to get swept up by a little success at swimming, but the sea can be fickle! Swimming for too long will drain one’s energy, and eventually one will sink.”
The lessons continue, reminding players that “A Fool and His Rupees Are Soon Parted,” that to improve one’s relations with one’s fellow beings, “one must be outgoing and press (A) to speak to all people one meets,” and that in order to become stronger, “one must first know oneself. The ♥♥♥ in the upper-left shows one’s current life energy. As one experiences trials and hardships in life, one will naturally gain more ♥s.”
Sturgeon concludes with one final instruction:
Lesson Ten: Becoming the Champion of Life!
Learn all there is to learn in lessons one through nine… And no matter what happens… Do not give up, do not complain, and do NOT stay up all night playing!
This tutorial demonstrates how The Wind Waker goes about creating meaning. Symbolic gameplay mechanics are juxtaposed against dialogue and storylines that illustrate their significance. Players progress through certain dungeons by using companions who fly through the air and plant trees as the storyline delves into the themes of growing wings and scattering seeds. Players quickly understand the necessity of using the wind when sailing, and the game provides numerous examples of characters who fail to apply that lesson to their lives.
In many ways, The Wind Waker is a reflection on life, designed to illuminate the ways to fulfillment while cautioning against paths leading to depression and despair. The game builds a figurative context around its gameplay, characters, and setting to prod players to see the world differently. Sturgeon’s final lesson effectively summarizes the game’s intent, for one who remembers and applies the lessons of The Wind Waker is destined to become a champion of life.
The Challenge of the Sky
“If you think you were born to fly, then take the challenge of the sky to win fame and prizes!”
— Bird-Man Contest
Past Dragon Roost Island, Willi and Obli have prepared a flight platform for visitors to test their flying skills. The mini-game that takes place here builds upon The Wind Waker’s many metaphors and themes, testing whether players deserve the title of champion.
“The rules are simple: ‘See how far you can fly before you crash into the roiling seas like so much dead-weight driftwood!’” — Willi
A tall red banner stands in the distance. The player begins the challenge by climbing to the launch platform and jumping into the sky. From there, the player must use the Deku Leaf to fly with the wind towards the goal. A number of updrafts drift across the path, and the player uses these to recover altitude. When the player’s Magic Meter runs dry, the Deku Leaf fails and the player falls into the sea.
The mini-game is all about achieving a goal, which fits in nicely with The Wind Waker’s themes regarding destiny. The overarching storyline emphasizes the fact that this game’s Link, the Hero of Winds, is following in the footsteps of the famed Hero of Time. He is working his way towards an ultimate confrontation with Ganondorf, who is again gathering the pieces of the Triforce. In the mini-game, the distant banner represents the destiny of the hero. It is a parallel to the record set by the Hero of Wind’s predecessor, marking “the site where the Great and Talented Champion, who has flown the farthest to date, crashed into the frothy waves in a massive splash of glory!”
The launch platform where the challenge begins is the figurative equivalent of an island: it is safe, supportive, and restrictive. If the player jumps into the sky without planning, Link plummets into the ocean and the game’s managers ridicule him. Once again, The Wind Waker points out that reckless bravery is hasty and foolish.
When the Deku Leaf is used to catch the wind, it takes the place of wings and sails as the metaphor for inner strength. Here the Magic Meter plays a role as well, governing how much time the player has to fly before being swallowed by the ocean. The ocean below represents death, or the loss of opportunity. People do not have an infinite amount of time available to chase their dreams, and within the mini-game the Magic Meter represents this fact.
Sturgeon warns Link not to underestimate the ocean, that swimming for too long will drain one’s strength. The lesson can apply to the mechanics of this mini-game: as Link flies, he gradually loses altitude. Without any help, Link falters long before reaching the goal. Inner strength has its limits.
Willi tells Link that the secret to the game is using the wind:
“Well, you have some skill—that much is for certain. But let me teach you the secrets to pushing your distance further. First of all, the wind has to be blowing directly toward your goal. That’s the only time you should be flying. Secondly, use the updrafts, and use them well. Keep these two techniques in your head when you fly…” — Willi
The updrafts function as external sources of support, and in this way they are also akin to islands. They renew the strength of one who is weary, restoring the player’s altitude, but they can also become distractions. Players who direct all their efforts towards chasing the updrafts will likely break their focus on the goal ahead and fall short of it. Players must ignore the updrafts that are too far out of the way.
At all times the camera should be focused on the path ahead—otherwise the updrafts will be out of view. Again the point is made: look to the future, not the past. If players decide to turn around and fly back towards the initial platform, they are scolded.
“…You can’t do that! Can’t you see the banner over there by your goal?! Why are you flying in the OPPOSITE direction?!? That makes very little sense!” — Willi
“…Why, you don’t even know which direction you’re supposed to fly, do you?” — Obli
The way to find success is to look ahead and focus on the goal, as the mini-game teaches the player. However, the game’s central mechanic is the strategic use of the updrafts. It is a game of balancing inner strength and external support.
A Matter of Balance
Sam sits on a bench on Windfall Island, taking in the scenery. He believes that those who focus only on working and making a profit are missing something important.
“People from all over the world seem to gather here on Windfall Island, all hoping to become successful merchants. I suppose you could say that this is the island where people and money come together. But you know what…?
Money is important, sure…but don’t you think people need to open their hearts a little more than their wallets?” — Sam
On Dragon Roost Island, many of the Rito postal workers are entirely preoccupied with the demands of their jobs. When approached by Link, one Rito responds, “It’s a shame that I’m too busy to spend more time with you. You seem to be a nice enough fellow. Sorry.”
Collect the figurine of this Rito named Pashli and the caption reads, “For reasons unknown, Pashli’s always busy.”
Perseverance and dedication are important, but The Wind Waker argues that life should consist of more than just work and hardship.
Running a business is eight-tenths effort, but overworking yourself isn’t healthy. That’s what my father taught me.” — A Traveling Merchant
Link’s guide, the King of Red Lions, tells Link again and again that time is short, that he must go directly to the next key destination. However, the Great Sea offers many distractions. On any long journey across the ocean, players can choose to take a break and stop at the islands that cross their paths. Ilari the postal worker is tempted to do the same:
“Perhaps I’ll do a little sight-seeing here in town before I go! …Although I do have other deliveries waiting to be made…” — Ilari
As the flight mini-game demonstrates, a lack of focus can doom a person’s dreams. Recognizing this, the girl Medli keeps herself committed to her practice as she learns to play the harp:
“That’s a Golden Feather, isn’t it? Of course I recognize it! All Rito girls idolize those things! You really have one! That’s amazing… I’d be lying if I told you it held no interest for me, but… For now, I think mastering this instrument is more important than my fascination with such things. Don’t you think?”
Islands and oceans both play their roles in life. Comfort and relaxation are just as important as hard work and perseverance. The key to success is learning how to balance the two.
Darkness and Light
The challenge of the sky is one representation of the pursuit of destiny. When the player arrives at Ganon’s Tower, the final stretch of the road to Ganondorf is also portrayed figuratively, dealing with the same theme as the mini-game.
Within this dungeon, the player must first relive four of the game’s boss battles. During each battle, the music is distorted and the color drains from the setting in the same manner as in Hyrule Castle. These aesthetic touches indicate that time is not flowing as it should as the player faces the monsters of the past. The past is the first obstacle on the road to destiny.
When the player overcomes these monsters, a door opens to the next challenge. The player approaches a dark abyss and leaps into it. The darkness leads to a maze comprised of many identical rooms. In each room, the player chooses one of four doors to open. Some doors lead only to more darkness, bringing the player back to the start of the maze. Others lead to small treasure troves or monster dens, and others lead the player forward towards the Light Arrows. Within each room, Phantom Ganon appears and begins attacking.
This maze is the Room of Illusion, according to the game’s soundtrack. It represents another step on the path to destiny. The way forward is unclear; there are many doors to open, but only one is true.
This is life as it may exist when one lets go of an island, confronting the ocean. In the Great Sea, Link sets sail as he begins new quests. In the flight mini-game, he leaps into the sky. Here, he jumps into impenetrable darkness. All represent the same step.
The design of the Room of Illusion is reminiscent of the Great Sea in a way, the doors taking the place of the shadowy islands on the horizon. In both scenarios the player must identify the way forward from a number of possible alternatives.
”As one is often hasty and acts without thinking when young, it’s easy to get lost on one’s way,” Sturgeon tells Link. “It is at confused times such as this that one must refer to his or her Area Map in the lower-left.”
Lesson Three: The Great Map of Life
The (arrow) in the top-right portion of the Area Map indicates wind direction. Always remember that the wind blows in the direction of the arrow. Always!
While in the Room of Illusion, the player has no map to consult. To find the arrow that will offer some guidance, the player must confront Phantom Ganon in each room. When the great enemy is defeated his sword-hilt falls to the ground, pointing to the true door. Should life take the form of this maze, the way forward may be revealed by overcoming the great obstacle immediately present—Phantom Ganon in whatever form he manifests himself.
The maze ultimately leads players to the Light Arrows, and then the third challenge begins. There is a long but perfectly linear hall leading to Ganondorf’s chamber. The player runs up a great stairwell riddled with monsters, but the Light Arrows reduce each of them to nothingness.
This last challenge represents yet another way of experiencing life. With the Light Arrows equipped, the surrounding world no longer has the form of a maze. It becomes a vivid path, the remaining obstacles easily conquered with the light the player carries.
This is the path of truth, accessible to those who possess power, wisdom, and courage. Within Ganon’s Tower, Link demonstrates his courage by conquering the demons of the past. He demonstrates his wisdom by making his way through the Room of Illusion, and then the moment of opportunity arrives. All comes into alignment and Link is given the power to face his destiny at last.
At the end of the road, there is a great red door that finally brings the player to Ganondorf. This door, reminiscent of the mini-game’s red banner, signifies that Link has arrived at his place of destiny. His confrontation with Ganondorf then begins.
Time is Running Out
When Link returns to Dragon Roost Island after his great adventure there, Medli informs him that Komali is turning into a fine adult. After letting go of his grief and finding confidence, Komali now acts on his own without guidance from his attendant and friend.
“Watching Prince Komali grow up fills me with pride…but it makes me a little sad, as well… I wonder if this is how a mother feels…” — Medli
Soon, destiny summons Medli to a different place and she leaves Komali to make his way on his own. Ignorant of this, Komali picks a flower for Medli, hoping to surprise her. Though he waits patiently, Medli is gone.
“My flower… It wilted… The joy on Medli’s face when she saw this flower… I really wanted to see that…” — Komali
Opportunity passes away, and Komali must accept his loss. Such is life.
We are all given a sliver of time to use as we desire. This single opportunity is all we have, and it too will one day pass.
”Time is running out, dear friends!” Zunari warns the people of Windfall each night at the auction. “Loosen up those purse strings, good people! Cast caution to the wind and bid away!”
The people of Windfall have one minute to engage in “A Thrilling Night of Money and Desire!” at the auction and win fabulous prizes. Some cling to their riches and let the moment pass away, as others toss aside all their earnings in a fury of excitement. But somewhere in the Great Sea, an old fish advises Link that”the key to winning an auction is to be both patient and bold.” Recklessness is foolishness, yet those who do not take risks will see no returns. Success is a matter of balance.
Be both patient and bold, and when opportunity arrives you will be ready to seize it.
“For you lucky ones out there, and yes, yes, also for you not so lucky ones… Let me say thank you for your participation! I must bring tonight’s auction to an end. Dear me, such excitement…” — Zunari
One moment in this world is all we are given, one chance to place our bids. In that moment, some become champions while others wonder where the time has gone.
“If only I could do things over again…”
So the King of Hyrule says. His life slips away as he spends his days gazing at the past. But before the ocean swallows him, he shares his message with the world in the hope that the living will listen. “I want you to live for the future,” he says.
“There may be nothing left for you… But despite that, you must look forward and walk a path of hope, trusting that it will sustain you when darkness comes.”
The Wind Waker carries the wisdom that the king finds at the end of too many years spent in vain. Through a game, this wisdom has been handed down to us and given new life.