The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Structural analysis: Act III
The Wind Waker‘s Climax is one of its strongest plot points, as it brings together its entire central cast and puts their goals into direct conflict in a way that emphasizes the story’s theme. Link’s final fight with Ganon is particularly notable for the way it includes Princess Zelda in combat. This inclusion allows Zelda to help drive the narrative forward again, after spending much of the Second Act on the sidelines.
After Link escapes the burning chamber, the seal on the back entrance to the castle disappears, and he gains access to Ganon’s Tower. Each wing of the tower takes him through a miniature reimagining of a previous dungeon, complete with rematches against previous bosses. By defeating them all, Link gains access to Ganon’s chamber, where Zelda sleeps in an ornate bed. Ganon sits beside her, where he claims he can see the endless oceans in her dreams. They’re all that’s left of the kingdom the gods drowned, he says, and none of the people they left behind are capable of creating a better world. The gods didn’t save the world; they destroyed it.
As Link digests this information, Ganon remarks that he’s been waiting for someone like him: a hero. He hopes that Link won’t disappoint—and then he’s overcome by shadows as his body twists and grows into an enormous, violent puppet. Zelda is taken from the area, and Link must fight the puppet to progress. This is a fairly standard boss fight, offering no greater commentary on Ganon or his motivations. The puppets are simply a series trope used to pad out an otherwise short final battle.
Once Link has defeated all of the puppet’s forms, he climbs to the tower’s roof, where Ganon waits for him with an unconscious Zelda at his side. While Link catches his breath, Ganon muses about the miserable desert where he was born, and how he envied the lush fields and calm winds of Hyrule enough to try to seize it for himself. Although this is not the strongest possible motivation, this is an unusual amount of development for Ganon in both The Wind Waker and the series as a whole. At this moment, he is not just a force of evil, but a man who desired a better life and envied those who had what he did not.
In Ganon’s eyes, it’s fate that the three pieces of the Triforce would come together in Hyrule now. To ensure their reunion, he swats Link aside and calls the Triforce together to make his wish. It’s not his wish that gets granted, however, but the King of Hyrule’s. The King has been waiting for this moment, and he comes out of hiding to touch the Triforce first. It’s a twist that not even Ganon himself saw coming.
With his hand on the sacred relic, the King wishes for the gods to drown what’s left of Hyrule and help the children create a new world. The Triforce glows with holy power, answering his wish, and floodwaters fall from the sky to fill the bubble surrounding the castles. It’s a strong character moment for the King, as it demonstrates his level of commitment to his dream. The idea of a new world is so important that he would see his own kingdom destroyed to achieve it.
As the rain comes down, Zelda wakes up and hands Link his sword. They prepare to fight Ganon together while he laughs at his own misfortune. Although he has lost, he can still ensure Link and Zelda don’t win, and so he draws his swords and challenges them to prove what their precious Triforce is worth. This is the game’s final fight: Link and Zelda together, combining forces against Ganon as the rain pours around them on the rooftop.
Working as a team, Link and Zelda subdue Ganon, and Link lands the final blow with the Master Sword. Its holy power turns Ganon to stone, ending the narrative’s climax. The primary threat has been extinguished; all that’s left is the aftermath.
The Wind Waker‘s Wrap-Up ties off all the narrative’s loose ends, incorporating both the central and extended cast. Link, Zelda, and the King are all given strong development moments as their goals come into conflict, and their parting ends on a bittersweet note. This parting also reinforces the theme of generational change, which is again emphasized in the game’s final moments.
Once Ganon has been slain, the King uses what little time he has with Link and Zelda to shares some final advice. He laments his role in the kingdom’s destruction, then asks the children to work towards a brighter future without him. Zelda begs him to come with them to the surface and form a new Hyrule, but he shakes his head and tells her that the world above will not be Hyrule; it will be their world. This is the essence of the game’s theme: the old making way for the new.
At that moment, the water comes crashing down, and bubbles surrounding Link and Zelda. As they float to the surface, leaving the King behind, Link reaches a hand out to grab him. The King waves goodbye, rejecting the help, then disappears beneath the water with his kingdom. It’s a difficult moment for both Link and Zelda, who wanted nothing more than to help the man who once helped them.
When Link surfaces above the sea, Tetra is beside him in her normal form. This is a subtle yet important moment, as it shows that Tetra will be free to live her own life without the burden of her royal legacy. As Tetra and Zelda bob in the water, Prince Komali flies over them, and behind them, Tetra’s pirates wait with Aryll. They all wave hello, paralleling the King’s goodbye beneath the ocean. The old world may be gone, but the new world has much to offer them. Accepting this offer, Link and Tetra smile and wave back, and the credits start to roll.
After the credits finish, there’s one last scene to tie everything up. It shows the pirate’s ship docked at Outset Island, ready to sail for distant shores. Tetra is at the helm. Link is beside her in the now-silent King of Red Lions, absent the spirit that once guided it. On the shore behind them, the people of Outset wait to see them off. Aryll and Grandma are among them, looking sad but proud.
A breeze rolls in and fills the sails. Tetra shouts instructions to her men, then claims they’ll go wherever the wind guides them. With that last nod to the power of the winds, Link and Tetra sail into the distance, ready to find a world they can call their own. The old has given way to the new, and the young are ready to chart their own course.
The Wind Waker‘s narrative is a study in how otherwise strong stories can falter as they stray from established structures and patterns. When The Wind Waker is at it’s best, it artfully weaves together a story of children coming together to better the world that their ancestors left them. At its worst, it stumbles over essential obstacles by either elongating them or cutting them out. It’s telling that the game’s second act is where it struggles the most, as the second act is where the game’s mechanical shortcomings are most apparent.
Although the game’s narrative issues could have been fixed with a few simple changes, the mechanical support required—at least two additional dungeons, one for the first obstacle and one for the third—would have taken much more time to implement. Consequently, the story’s structure was left with the kind of weak spots that would have been simpler fixes in novels or scripts. The fact that the overall story holds up is a testament to the rest of the structure’s strength. Even with a weak middle act, The Wind Waker‘s story works because both its opening and closing are rock-solid.
* Reference Run: SourceSpy91. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – FULL GAME – No Commentary. YouTube, 2018.
** Reference Script: RPG1377. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Game Script. IGN, 2003.