The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s most beloved series. As a series whose virtually every installment is widely considered a polished, entertaining, and memorable experience, the debate about which Legend of Zelda title is the best is a difficult one. Usually, most of these debates boil down to the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, confining the discussion solely to the Nintendo 64 console.
This article seeks to be a little different by looking only at the two main Legend of Zelda games released for the Nintendo GameCube. When one looks at the bigger picture of consoles, the GameCube seems to come up a little short in comparison to its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, and successor, the Wii, and to a less explicit degree to consoles that predate the Nintendo 64. As the GameCube lacked the technological and gameplay breakthroughs of the Nintendo 64, as well as the immersion and mass appeal of the Wii, an amusing question forms. What is the best Legend of Zelda title on what is arguably Nintendo’s weakest console? To reach a conclusion, this article will focus only on the cel-shaded Wind Waker and aptly named swan song for the cubical console, Twilight Princess, in order to determine which game is the better experience. As a side note, be aware that minor spoilers follow.
The narratives of Twilight Princess and Wind Waker are similar in premise. Link begins both adventures as a youth of a small village, and soon finds himself chasing after those who kidnapped children of his village with sword in hand. However, it doesn’t take Link long to get involved in an epic struggle against evil, in which he navigates dangerous dungeons, collects sacred artifacts, and fights through Ganondorf’s minions before finally confronting Ganondorf himself in combat. The difference between the narratives of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess lies in their respective tones.
Wind Waker is a simple, lighthearted adventure by and large, and its story never reaches any real level of seriousness. The narrative isn’t overly silly; it is just presented in a simple way. Even the most somber cutscenes can only be described as solemn or as gloomy; there is rarely a sense of intensity or anxiety in Wind Waker’s story.
In contrast, Twilight Princess is quite dark and more energetic throughout. A particularly good example of Twilight Princess’s dark atmosphere is a cinematic in which Link is shown the corrupting nature of power. The cutscene begins with Link and his sister standing together smiling some distance from the Triforce. Link’s sister’s eyes turn solid milk white, implying desire for power, and starts to lunge at Link with a dagger but stops short with a gasp of surprise. Though not actually shown on screen, it is heavily implied that Link kills his sister with his sword and with the same solid milk white eyes, dashes towards the Triforce only to stop when he notices three dark figures blocking his way. The three dark figures, all of which clearly resemble Link, destroy him with a magic spell, only for Link to take the place of one of the dark figures, indicating that Link destroys himself when tempted by power. With cutscenes such as this one, Twilight Princess has a much more engrossing narrative. It would be appropriate to follow his example with a comparison with a Wind Waker cutscene but the Wind Waker really doesn’t have anything quite like the example detailed above.
While Wind Waker’s story betrays its lightheartedness, the game’s cheerful spirit shines through most clearly in its graphics. Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics give the game a very cartoon-like appearance, and the art style is one of the game’s highlights. Colors are bold and character models are charmingly simple. Despite this simplicity, the various denizens of Wind Waker, both friends and foes, have distinct appearances, barring some members of the Rito race and a few others. Since Wind Waker takes place in a region known as the Great Sea, one would expect that the environments would be limited mostly to ocean and a series of similarly sandy islands, but this is not that case. Even when one disregards the varied dungeons, the major islands of the Great Sea each have a sense of identity. Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics also have a timeless quality since the style doesn’t strive for realism, and the game looks as good today as it did when it released.
Twilight Princess has a much more realistic visual style accompanied with a muted color scheme. While Twilight Princess has a detailed and expertly crafted world, the graphics definitely look dated. The character models of friendly human non-player characters tend to look similar to others, mostly due to the lack of color variety in the game, whereas each human non-player character in Wind Waker is distinct enough to identify at a distance.
The gameplay of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess is virtually identical, right down to the control scheme. Link’s movements are fluid and his actions are spot on, both of which are helpful in the puzzle and combat sections that comprise the bulk of both games’ activity. The difference here is in the difficulty. Twilight Princess is a much more difficult game than Wind Waker. Combat in Twilight Princess is more challenging due to more aggressive enemies who seem to do more damage per hit in general when compared to Link’s enemies in Wind Waker. Puzzles seem to generally be more complex in Twilight Princess than in Wind Waker as well. To Wind Waker’s credit, it feels like the items in the game tend to remain useful after the dungeons they are found in, while the items in Twilight Princess seem to lose some value after Link conquers the dungeons they are found in. In Wind Waker, Link makes use of a conductor’s baton called the Wind Waker. This item is used to conduct six different songs, which do everything from changing the direction the wind blows to allowing Link to take control of certain characters. In Twilight Princess, Link has the ability to turn into a wolf at certain points in the game. As a wolf, Link has the ability to sniff out the scents of important quest-related characters. Link also has a form of transportation in both games, the sentient boat King of Red Lions in Wind Waker and Epona the horse in Twilight Princess. Sailing mechanics in Wind Waker feels tighter than horseback riding in Twilight Princess.
As Legend of Zelda titles, both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess have exceptional soundtracks. Much like the narratives of the two games, the soundtracks are similar in a fundamental way, but with a key difference in attitude. Both soundtracks have the same fantasy character, being at times epic in scope, delicate in its details, or mysterious, but always beautiful. Wind Waker’s soundtrack is faithful to the Zelda traditions but intermingles a number of pieces with exotic and adventurous qualities. The cheery attitude found in the graphics finds its way into the music too, as a handful of tracks sound like they wouldn’t be out of place in an Animal Crossing game. Twilight Princess’s soundtrack too echoes the tone set by the narrative and graphics style, with for the most part somber tracks where the feeling of mystery doesn’t come from a sense of discovery so much as a sense of unease. Even the classic, bouncy “inside a house” theme that is in both games seems to have a slightly darker feel in Twilight Princess.
Both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are long adventures with expansive worlds to discover. However, Wind Waker’s oceanic setting is more exciting to explore. This is due to openness of the Great Sea, when the player equips Link’s telescope and looks out at distant islands, there is a very real feeling of curiosity that isn’t as strong in Twilight Princess, which feels like a smaller world due to the game’s more cramped Hyrule setting. Wind Waker also has the option of a second quest, which is unlocked after beating the game. The second quest adds a number of fun additions to the game, such as the ability to understand Hylian text. While Twilight Princess is a great game, the lack of a second quest with even minor changes makes a second playthough a little less interesting.
Needless to say, both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are phenomenal games. Yet, Twilight Princess manages execute certain aspects better than Wind Waker. Twilight Princess has a much more interesting narrative, complete with a moody, dark atmosphere and well done, emotional cutscenes. While Wind Waker doesn’t quite measure up to Twilight Princess in terms of story, Wind Waker certainly has a more engaging art style, that also holds up better than the more realistic graphics of Twilight Princess. Both titles are very similar in respect to gameplay, yet Twilight Princess has more difficult puzzle and combat sequences, which leads to a more rewarding gameplay experience. As Zelda titles, it goes without saying that Wind Waker and Twilight Princess have beautiful scores, but Twilight Princess’s melancholy soundtrack is certainly more evocative. Twilight Princess is a long adventure in a fair sized world, but the game lacks the lasing appeal of Wind Waker, with its large ocean that almost begs to be explored as well as the option of a second quest. All things considered though, Twilight Princess is arguably the stronger of the two.
Article by Jack Jacobs
Jack Jacobs is a college student from Richmond, VA who styles himself a freelance writer partially because the term “free-lance” originally described a medieval mercenary soldier. While Jack has owned a number of different video game platforms, he is most fond of Nintendo’s little box with the carry handle, the GameCube. If on the off chance you’d like to recruit Jack and his free lance (lance meaning word processor, not battle implement) E-mail him at Jack6894@aol.com. All Articles by Jack.