The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Structural analysis: Act II, Part 1
The First Obstacle
The Wind Waker‘s second act begins with the First Obstacle, which focuses on Link’s quest to find the tools he needs to go toe-to-toe with Ganon. In order to do that, he’ll need help from friends of the King of Red Lions. Meeting them won’t be easy, however, as they’re scattered all across the seas. To help Link on his journey, the King of Red Lions gives him a new item: the Wind Waker, a conductor’s baton that lets Link control the winds. By combining the game’s primary motifs—music and wind—Link has the freedom to travel wherever he likes, giving him access to the people he needs to meet next. It’s worth noting that the Wind Waker itself isn’t gated behind any particular mechanical challenge; it’s simply given to Link as part of the progression of the narrative. Not only does this hearken back to Ocarina of Time, when Link receives an instrument from an early ally, but it also helps the game maintain a tight pace without too many narrative obstacles. While the game may have room for more mechanical challenges at this point, a story can only support so many hurdles before the audience loses interest.
Once Link receives the Wind Waker, the King of Red Lions instructs him to talk to the Great Valoo, a dragon who lives on Dragon Roost Island. Valoo should be able to help them, as he’s in possession of a holy relic called Din’s Pearl. It’s not immediately clear how this pearl will help Link fight Ganon, but the King of Red Lions doesn’t provide more information and Link doesn’t press him. Perhaps this is because of the pearls’ named connection to the goddesses; perhaps the King being a talking boat gives him more credibility. Link being nine also might explain why he doesn’t ask more questions. Whatever the reason, it takes some of the agency from Link’s character, but it’s ultimately forgivable because it keeps the plot moving in the right direction.
When Link and the King of Red Lions arrive on Dragon Roost Island, they find that something has angered Valoo and he isn’t willing to talk to anybody. This is causing problems for the inhabitants of the island, the Rito. They’re a bird-like people who must earn their wings via rite of passage, but that rite can’t be completed if Valoo won’t calm down. The Rito prince, Komali, is one of the Rito whose ceremony is on hold. He also happens to be holding Din’s Pearl. He’s even willing to give it to Link, but only if Link can find a way to get Valoo back to normal.With the help of Valoo’s attendant, an anxious Rito girl named Medli, Link enters Valoo’s roost and purges the monsters harassing Valoo from below. As a reward, Link receives Din’s Pearl from Komali, putting him that much closer to his goal.
Link’s next stop is the Forest Haven, where he must talk to the Great Deku Tree to receive Farore’s Pearl. The Deku Tree is happy to give Link the pearl, but first, the creatures of Forest Haven must complete their annual ritual. These little shrub-like beings, the Koroks, gather every year to have a concert before they spread their seeds throughout the world. This year the concert is delayed because one of the Koroks is missing: Makar, who has fallen into the Forbidden Forest. The Deku Tree asks Link to rescue Makar. If he does, he can have Farore’s Pearl.
Link finds Makar deep inside the Forbidden Woods, in desperate need of help. Makar is grateful for the rescue and ashamed to have caused so much trouble. Together, they return to the forest, where the Koroks have their ceremony and Link receives his pearl. Now, a single pearl remains: Nayru’s Pearl, on Greatfish Island.
At this point in the story, a pattern for the pearls has emerged. First, Link must speak to a powerful entity. Then, he must help someone in need. Last, he must enter a dungeon and fight the enemies within. This is standard fare for the Zelda series, as dungeons are frequently (but not always) employed as the central obstacle. Based on the narrative patterns for both The Wind Waker and the Zelda series, the section that follows bucks the structure to the detriment of both the story and the game as a whole.
The quest for Nayru’s Pearl starts in a similar fashion to the other pearl quests. Link heads to a new island—Greatfish Isle—in order to meet with a powerful entity, Jabun. However, when Link arrives at the island, it has already been destroyed by Ganon. Thankfully, Jabun fled the island before Ganon could find him, but now Link will have to go to Outset Island to find him. He’ll also need bombs to blow apart the doors Jabun has erected to protect himself.
By following Tetra and her pirates, Link is able to acquire the bombs he needs (with a little help from Tetra herself). He heads to Outset Island and blows down the door to Jabun, at which point the King of Red Lions and the guardian fish have a conversation about Link. Jabun, like the other guardians, speaks a language Link doesn’t understand, which is just one of the reasons it’s so jarring when the great fish tosses Nayru’s Pearl into Link’s arms. With almost no fanfare, Link now has all three pearls in his possession, and is ready for the next phase in his adventure. It’s an awkward transition made doubly so by the choice to leave half the dialogue in a language the player can’t understand. A second play-through provides the player with a translation, but the extra lines—largely focused around Link’s credentials as a hero—do little to illuminate why the narrative pattern has been broken.
There are several potential external explanations for why Wind Waker’s narrative hits such a hard bump here, such as difficulties during the game’s development, but explanations do not fix the structural issues. As the story stands, Wind Waker established a pattern and broke it, disrupting both mechanical and narrative pacing. Because the player’s established expectations have not been met, they are left feeling as though Link did not earn his reward.
The second Obstacle
The Wind Waker’s Second Obstacle is much shorter than the first, as it focuses around a single dungeon meant to test Link’s heroism. This obstacle begins after Link receives the last of the goddess pearls, fulfilling the King’s request. On the advice of the King, Link visits three statues in the center of the ocean. By adding a pearl to each statue, he’s able to open the path to a new obstacle: the Tower of the Gods, which rises from the center of the ocean. This massive building exists to test those chosen by the goddesses, so Link must ascend it to gain the power to fight Ganon.
The Tower of the Gods differs from previous dungeons because of the way it integrates both the King of Red Lions and the Wind Waker. In this place, Link must prove that he has not only mastered his combat skills, but also his control over the winds and his ship. Overcoming these trials brings Link to the heart of the tower, where he faces a powerful construct as a final test. By defeating the monster, Link earns passage to a new world below the ocean, where he finds an ancient castle waiting to be explored. Within this castle, Link will surely find the tools he needs to defeat Ganon, which brings him that much closer to his goal. This marks the segue to the next plot point: the Midpoint.
The Wind Waker‘s Midpoint begins when Link and the King of Red Lions land outside the underwater castle. When Link enters the grim building, he finds a hall full of monsters, all frozen in place. On the instruction of the King, Link makes his way to the castle’s basement and finds a sword resting in a pedestal, surrounded by stained glass. It’s the Master Sword, the sacred blade with the power to repel Ganon’s evil. With this sword Master Sword, Link has everything he needs to return to the Forsaken Fortress and rescue his sister.
Link’s second trip to the Forsaken Fortress is much more promising than the first. Rather than arriving via flying barrel, he’s able to sail into the harbor and fight his way through with the Master Sword. When he makes it to the cells, his sister is still there, along with the other victims of Ganon’s plot. It’s too many girls to fit on Link’s little boat, but luckily, Tetra and her pirates have his back. As part of a brief aside, Tetra experiences a moment of confusion when she sees Link’s sword. It’s something she’s seen before, but she never expected Link to possess it. Although she chooses not to ask Link about it, this sets up a reveal that will occur later in the midpoint.
Tetra offers to help all of the girls off the island. In exchange, Link has to face the giant bird guarding the tower: the Helmaroc King. Link accepts the help without hesitation, and his sister escapes with the pirates as he brings down the Helmaroc King. With the bird vanquished and Aryll safe, there’s only one hurdle for Link to overcome: Ganon. He returns to Ganon’s tower for a rematch, safe in the knowledge that his sword will protect him, but he’s barely able to land a scratch when the two face off. Ganon remarks that the blade is dull and powerless, and its only purpose was to seal his power. Now that the seal has been broken, he’s stronger than ever, which he proves by backhanding Link across the room. This is the midpoint’s false defeat: the moment when the reward for overcoming the First Act’s obstacles—the Master Sword—proves insufficient in the fight against the final enemy.
Things are looking decidedly bleak for Link, but he’s not alone on the island. Tetra is still here and is ready to fight for him. Sadly, she doesn’t fare much better. Ganon plucks her off the ground like she’s a doll and holds her aloft, at which point he notices the golden triangle around her neck. It resonates with the Triforce of Power in his hand, proving that she is Princess Zelda, the girl he’s been seeking. Before he can capitalize on this stroke of luck, however, two Rito fly in and steal Link and Tetra away, and the great Valoo lights Ganon’s tower aflame.
Valoo and the Rito bring Link and Tetra back to the Tower of the Gods, where the King guides Link down to the castle beneath the sea. Once Tetra regains consciousness, they return to the Master Sword’s chamber, where they meet an old man in red robes. He says they are in the kingdom spoken of in legends, Hyrule: the ruined world that holds the power of the gods. Furthermore, he is its king, Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. He’s been with Link this whole time, speaking through the enchanted King of Red Lions. It was never his intention to reveal his identity, as he believed that the Master Sword would be strong enough to repel Ganon’s evil, but the situation has changed now that the sword has proven weaker than expected.
To give Link and Tetra context, the king explains how Hyrule fell, giving detail to the story that unfolds in the game’s prologue. Many years ago, Ganon tried to conquer the kingdom, and the hero did not appear. Since the king was not strong enough to stop him alone, he appealed to the goddesses for help. Before Ganon could succeed, the goddesses intervened and flooded Hyrule, but not before sparing the future leaders who would become Link and Tetra’s ancestors. To prove the truth of his tale, he asks Tetra to approach him, then takes out a chipped triangle that matches with her shard. They fuse together, forming the Triforce of Wisdom, and Tetra is transformed into Hyrule’s Princess Zelda.
Tetra, now Zelda, is terribly confused by her sudden transformation, but the king insists that now is not the time to explain. Now that Ganon knows her true identity, he’ll be searching everywhere for her. While he doesn’t know about the hidden chamber beneath Hyrule Castle, it’s only a matter of time before he finds out. Before that happens, Link and the King must return to the surface and restore the power of the Master Sword. This opens the door for the second half of Act Two: Greater Obstacles.