More so than other Zelda games, this particular entry feels personal to me. I have no nostalgia of growing up with the game, as I only played it less than a year ago, as a grown adult. Yet, the game clicked with me in ways some other Zelda games haven’t. While the gameplay didn’t break too much from the norm, the story and presentation really clicked with me. Sure, Link leaves home and travels the world in just about every Zelda game, but the way it is presented in Wind Waker connected with me. I saw parallels between my own life and Link’s. I don’t have a talking boat, but I have a car with a CD player and a radio in it that gets me places, which is kind of the same thing.
One of the first things I noticed about this game compared to others in the series is the importance of family. In most other Zelda games, Link is an only child with few or no family members to speak of. His uncle was in A Link to the Past, but did not have that large of a role. In many iterations, the inciting action occurs and Link must immediately leave to save Hyrule. The first two entries in the series dropped the player off in the middle of the action with no little back story to speak of. There’s nothing wrong with that in a game, but it didn’t provide the same emotional connection. While Link is certainly not alone in Ocarina of Time, his identity stems from the fact that he is an outsider in the Kokiri tribe. In Wind Waker, however, Link has immediate family in a little sister and grandmother.
Same as Link in Wind Waker, I have a little sister with blonde hair, who I care about deeply. Link and Aryll’s short interactions at the beginning of the game made me smile, as I could relate. While my little sister has thankfully never been captured by a giant bird, I would do anything to keep her safe and happy. After Aryll is taken away and Link decides he must leave and rescue her, he spends a short time preparing for his journey to come. Watching as Link’s grandmother worries and asks Link what has happened to Aryll, the scene definitely connected with me, reminding me of my own grandparents. I am fortunate enough to still have my grandparents on both sides of my family in good health. I love them dearly and would do anything for them. And so, it just hurt to see Link’s grandmother depressed and staying by herself inside, even when you returned to Outset Island. Consequently, it feels great to bring Link’s grandmother out of her depression and make her happy again.
Perhaps the reason the story in Wind Waker in particular connected with me were the parallels I saw with my own life of the past few years. Leaving home for college in another town where I knew next to no one was a stressful experience and I wasn’t sure how I would adjust. Choosing a major, deciding a career, and finding a way to pay for it all was a daunting task. Like Link, I left home a bit nervous about the future. There were many unknowns I had to contend with and a number of intangible bosses to face. Like Link, I was about to depart into a world outside my realm of experience and comfort zone.
"You're Link, right? Oh, me? I'm an attendant to the great sky spirit, Valoo. My name is Medli. Well, to tell the truth... I'm not an attendant quite yet. I'm actually still studying to be one."
One of the many comforting things I learned early on was that I was not alone in wondering about my place in the world and my future. Especially in college, people are in a state of transition. Medli was one of my favorite characters in the game and I think her character perfectly captured this attitude. She has great potential, is bright, and wants to help, but she is inexperienced and still trying to figure out her place in the world.
"Just now, a sage spoke to me. She spoke so gently... There's something...something that I must do. Link... Thanks to you, I've been awakened to the knowledge that I'm a sage of the Earth Temple. There's actually something that I can do to help this world. It's incredible..."
This is one of my favorite lines in the game, especially the final two sentences. It’s as if Medli has experienced an epiphany and her place in the world has become clear. She is a humble and selfless character, but one who is somewhat insecure about her abilities. When her future became clear, there is a beautiful moment of understanding and relief. In college, it felt like there were people who had known exactly what they wanted to do with their lives since childhood. For others, including myself, it took a bit more searching. Also in real life, it feels good knowing that there is something we can do to help this world. It’s not always about changing the entire world, but helping someone’s world, if only for a moment, become a little bit brighter.
“Oh, and one more thing: once we leave, you won’t be coming back here for a while, so you’d better go say good-bye to your family while you have the chance.”
Capturing the initial part of the game on Outset Island again is impossible. At no point can you go back to wearing Link’s blue shirt, receive the telescope from your sister, and capture the same beginning experience. Wild events have taken place and Link must react. He has to save his sister and bring his grandmother peace of mind. As Link leaves Outset Island, he looks back longingly toward his home and the only place he has ever known. In my own life, I know that my past is just that: the past. I can change my present and build toward my future, but the past is outside my control.
The past few years have definitely been a period of transition in my life. I left home to go to a university out of town, I’ve become more self-sufficient, and I’ve met a great cast of characters along the way. Like Link, I have grown up. Unlike Link, it thankfully did not happen all in one day. My family has never been kidnapped, though there have been tragedies and trials along the way. Like Link, it is hard to leave the past behind, as the future can look downright scary. With an up and down job market and an all-around undecided future, life after college looks decidedly intimidating.
Yet, like Link, I am not alone. I can still go back home and see my family. They might not make healing soup that restores hearts, but the food is heavenly compared to cafeteria food and ramen. More important than the great food is seeing the people I love again. Like Link, it is a pleasant surprise to see letters from my own grandmother, to hear from her again and to obtain the occasional rupee for my quest.
"How have you been, Big Brother? I'm here on the pirate ship writing you this letter. Isn't that neat?"
And, like with Aryll, it is nice to see and hear from loved ones on their own quests and adventures. My older sister graduated from college a few years ago and is married and had her first child just over a month ago. My little sister is about to graduate from high school. Life is transitioning and changing very fast for myself and my loved ones. But, in all that change, family is there.
"Your grandmother has been having a terrible time of it ever since you left. She rarely leaves the house, and as far as I can tell, she just spends her days sleeping. She hardly eats..."
Depression sucks. I’ve dealt with it over the years and it sucks to see loved ones you care about suffering from it. Like Link’s grandmother, I’ve seen family members suffering from depression, stuck in lethargy that it seems like they will never emerge from. While Link can cure his grandmother’s depression with a fairy, real life isn’t as simple. Even when showing love and support, I often feel weak and powerless to help. Even so, it felt rewarding and good to bring Link’s grandmother out of her depression and to make her happy again.
So, after this college adventure lies another, greater adventure, one that is just beginning.
Which might include The Phantom Hourglass. I haven’t played that one yet.