This is the second 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). [Here's Part 1.] 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.
I’m not very confident, but I think I should try to fly…
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:
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.
However, Valoo has recently become violent, unpredictable, and unapproachable. This danger threatens to create a more confined world for future generations of Rito:
They will remain wingless, and in time, our very way of life will be threatened.
The chieftain continues his story, introducing his son, Komali:
Yet…he is weak, in some ways…and in light of the current situation, he may just give up on ever getting them…
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.
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:
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…
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?
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!
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!!!!
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 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!
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.
Like Komali when he gives away his pearl, when Mila’s father gives away his possessions he finds something intangible in return.
The CovetousSometimes there are odd circumstances that make people do what they do! How could you be so close-minded?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!!
Money, money, money… Grah ha ha ha ha ha HAR!
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.
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!
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 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.