This is the third article of a five-part series devoted to exploring the philosophical meaning and creative integrity of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (released in 2003 for the GameCube). My intent in posting this series here is to help people view this title from a more thoughtful perspective in terms of its underlying significance and how it is achieved. I believe that The Wind Waker is not just a quality game in a popular franchise, but a pioneering work of artistic merit in an industry searching for ways to craft more meaningful experiences for players.
- PART ONE: Leaving Paradise
- PART TWO: Growing Wings
- PART THREE: Chasing Dreams
- The Winds of Fortune
- Vain Endeavors
- Crossing the Ocean
- The Path You Choose
- PART FOUR: Planting Seeds
- PART FIVE: Becoming the Champion of Life
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 aboat. 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!
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.
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!
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.
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! Then, please! Be reasonable! Can you at least sign for the letter?! SILENCE! Just acknowledge I was here! SILENCE! 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
Then, please! Be reasonable! Can you at least sign for the letter?!
Just acknowledge I was here!
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 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 TheWind Waker’s many characters along with brief descriptions of each. Among these descriptions are stories of how several characters have handled setbacks:
Salvatore Orca Abe
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.
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?!
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'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…
Yes… Allow me to show you…
Just what hope you have…
…See how much your precious Triforce is worth!
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.
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.