The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a magnificent adventure that actively encourages player-driven exploration and discovery unlike any other Zelda game I’ve played for this Hey, Look, Listen series. By the end of my 30 hours and 37 minutes with this gem from the GameCube era, all I could think about was my desire to run back into the embrace of its tremendous open world.
I will definitely revisit the Great Sea soon, likely in the form of the HD remake. But today, I will share with you the statistics I gathered on how much handholding The Wind Waker employs, so we may objectively judge it alongside the other games in this Hey, Look, Listen series.
For those new to Hey, Look, Listen, this is a series of articles that seeks to objectively analyze handholding in a collection of Zelda games—namely Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. Think of this as a look at backseat driving in video games, focusing on titles in the Zelda franchise.
I have decided the best way to analyze handholding objectively in Zelda games is to conduct an audit of the five games mentioned above, with what I consider to be an average playthrough of each game. During each playthrough, I keep a tally of things like Camera Movements, Gameplay Interruptions, and other things that could be considered handholding, and then compare the statistics from each game against each other.
You can read more about my methodology, how I define each of the measured criteria, the purposes for conducting this audit, and more in the first article of the Hey, Look, Listen series, here. You can also read my completed audits of Skyward Sword here, Majora’s Mask here, Twilight Princess here, and Ocarina of Time here. Today, I will analyze the data on handholding gathered from my recently completed playthrough of The Wind Waker—with infographics, raw numbers, and commentary.
Special note: While this analysis of The Wind Waker will include some comparisons to the handholding statistics in other Zelda games in this audit, this article will not come to any definitive conclusions about handholding in all of these Zelda games. That topic will be covered later on, once the statistics can be properly analyzed in full, and presented professionally, and complete with answers to many of the questions and discussions Zelda fans have had for years about handholding.
Today, our focus is on an analysis of handholding in The Wind Waker, and a deep look at how handholding in this game functions. I hope you find this look at The Wind Waker to be as insightful as the analysis of each game audited before it.
Gameplay Interruptions (GPIs)
A Gameplay Interruption (GPI) is a moment in a Zelda game where my control over Link and events happening on the screen are unexpectedly suspended. This does not include moments when I activated switches, opened doors, or performed other actions where I expected my control to be suspended. However, GPIs do include moments when the King of Red Lions suddenly took control of my sailboat and started to speak as I approached a location, or moments when taking a few steps into a room caused the game’s camera to cut to a perspective high up so I could better see the area I’d just entered.
I encountered 101 GPIs during my playthrough of The Wind Waker, which is 25 fewer GPIs than I encountered during my playthrough of Skyward Sword, but less than half the number of GPIs I encountered in my Twilight Princess playthrough (205). However, when compensating for the fact that Skyward Sword took me nearly nine hours longer to complete than The Wind Waker, The Wind Waker had more GPIs than Skyward Sword on an hourly rate, with an average of 3.3 GPIs per hour, versus 3.21 GPIs per hour for Skyward Sword.
GPIs in The Wind Waker were not distributed evenly among different sections of gameplay. The first two hours and four minutes of gameplay contained 24 GPIs, but the following two hours and 49 minutes of my playthrough contained only 12 GPIs. I also encountered a massive spike of 10 GPIs during the hour-long quest to find Jabun, and another 10 GPIs in 32 minutes as I struggled to complete Mila’s theft side quest.
Beyond that, I have little to say about The Wind Waker’s GPIs. I felt it provided an adequate balance between player control and interruptions to it, and my statistics reflect that. I can’t put my finger on any one major cause for The Wind Waker’s 101 GPIs, since my statistics show only minor spikes during dungeons and few clusters aside from the instances mentioned above. One thing I do know is the King of Red Lions was a small contributor to the GPIs I encountered. Speaking of whom…
Companion GPIs are a subcategory of the broader GPI counter, meant to highlight instances when Link’s Companion is the direct cause of a Gameplay Interruption. In The Wind Waker, Link’s Companion is the crimson sailboat known as the King of Red Lions. While the King of Red Lions interrupted my gameplay unexpectedly a mere 14 times over the course of my playthrough of The Wind Waker, I didn’t want to end my Companion GPI counter with him alone… At least, not at first.
I initially planned on adding what ended up being another 12 tallies to this counter for Extra Companion GPIs, but ultimately decided not to go through with this plan for multiple reasons. If you are interested in why I tossed 12 tallies from this counter out the window, (and subsequently removed 16 similar tallies from my analysis of Twilight Princess and 14 from my analysis of Ocarina of Time, respectively) then I encourage you to read the Other Handholding Factors — Important Things I Couldn’t Count section near the bottom of this article, under the header Extra Companion GPIs.
Because the King of Red Lions was the source of only 14 of the 101 GPIs I encountered during my playthrough of The Wind Waker, and the distribution of those 14 Companion GPIs are so lopsided, hourly rates don’t apply to this counter for this game.
All 14 of the King of Red Lion’s Companion GPIs occurred over a nearly 18-hour stretch between the moment I set sail for Dragon Roost Island, to the moment I arrived at the Wind Temple. And Six of those 14 Companion GPIs happened during the 60 minutes I spent on the quest to find Jabun.
That’s not to say the King of Red Lions holds the player’s hand only 14 times in The Wind Waker. The King of Red Lions was a persistent driver of the game’s narrative, providing Link with directions on where to go next and what he must accomplish, both in Cutscenes and during GPIs that were initiated by other sources. But, directly interrupting my gameplay in The Wind Waker was something the King of Red Lions did less even than Tatl did in Majora’s Mask.
I define a Chime as a moment in a Zelda game where part of my HUD lights up and gives me an audio cue so I can press a certain button; usually, this is done so my Companion can tell me some optional information. In The Wind Waker, Chimes were those moments when I was prompted to tap the A button so Link could pull out his little Pirate’s Charm and remotely listen to someone talking to him.
Over the 30 hours and 37 minutes I played The Wind Waker, from the first intro cinematic to the end of the credits where I almost cried (yes, really), I was prompted to pull out this charm only eight times. And four of those happened during Link’s first visit to the Forsaken Fortress. Two more chimes happened later during my visit inside Dragon Roost Cavern, and the final two happened on the first visit to Hyrule Castle and inside Ganon’s Tower.
Now, this doesn’t mean the A button on my HUD turned into a prickly pear only eight times in The Wind Waker. In fact, this part of my HUD changed with an audio cue dozens of times in combat with larger enemies so I could counter attacks. I didn’t count any of these combat-oriented chimes because these are not examples of The Wind Waker holding the player’s hand as much as they are opportunities for players to choose how they want to fight their enemies. Timed button presses, complete with on-screen prompts, are a part of the combat in Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword as well, and I did not include those on-screen prompts in my Chime counter for those games, so I will abstain from doing so in The Wind Waker as well.
One other Chime I did keep track of, however, was caused directly by Medli and Makar in the Earth and Wind Temples respectively. Basically, a Chime went off whenever I mind-controlled Medli into a beam of light, and every time I mind-controlled Makar near a patch of soil. These Chimes only exist to let players know they’re properly positioned for a context-sensitive action; players can use Medli’s harp to reflect light, or let Makar plant some seeds. And in my playthrough, I encountered 29 of these Chimes: 16 in the Earth Temple, 13 in the Wind Temple, and nowhere else in the entire game. This brings the total number of Chimes during my playthrough of The Wind Waker to 37.
The bottom line on Chimes in The Wind Waker is, outside of the extremely contextual chimes that happen only in the Earth and Wind Temples, this game features very few Chimes. In fact, if measuring things just by Chimes that allow players to access optional information, The Wind Waker holds the record for the fewest Chimes out of the five Zelda games analyzed in this audit.
Perhaps those numbers would be different if I hadn’t included Wolf Jumps in my analysis of Twilight Princess, or not counted so many Garo Robe Encounters during my playthrough of Majora’s Mask, but I am unable to go back and change those counters now.
What constitutes Camera Movement? For the duration of this audit, the key features I’ve looked for when deciding to mark a tally for Camera Movement are:
- Player control is suspended, whether expected or not
- Link is no longer in the frame or is no longer the center of the camera’s attention
- The camera moves in a way it usually wouldn’t when under player control to show the player something, usually a change in their surroundings
- The cinematic angles, unique animations, lengthy exchanges of dialogue, and unique musical scores that denote Cutscenes are not ALL present (these two counters are not supposed to overlap one another)
In The Wind Waker, this encompasses a broad number of things, including the camera cutting away from the player’s control to show a chest materializing, a shot of a door opening once a switch is activated, or showing a different angle of a room once the player enters it. All of those events are common throughout every Zelda game analyzed in this audit, but The Wind Waker also presents two unique triggers for my Camera Movements counter: playing the Wind’s Requiem, and the Grappling Hook.
Basically, every time I played the Wind’s Requiem, I counted the scene that shows the wind changing directions as a Camera Movement. And every time I used the Grappling Hook to latch onto a beam I could use it to swing from, (including Valoo’s tail) I counted the scene that plays after a successful grab as a Camera Movement. Yes, both of these Camera Movements are very dependent on variables such as player skill level and how much a player wishes to explore, but no matter what, someone who plays The Wind Waker’s story from beginning to end will encounter a significant number of these scenes, and that is why I included them in my counter for Camera Movements.
As a result of all that, I counted a total of 539 Camera Movements over the course of my 30-hour and 37-minute playthrough of The Wind Waker. The Wind’s Requiem accounted for 83 of those 539 Camera Movements (15%), and the Grappling Hook accounted for 59 (9%).
The Wind Waker leads the other games in this audit in Camera Movements by a healthy margin, even topping Twilight Princess’s previous record of 505 Camera Movements. And because the Camera Movements counter provided us with such a large number, we can once again analyze hourly rates, unlike with the Companion GPIs and Chimes for this game.
When averaged out, The Wind Waker provided me with 17.6 Camera Movements per hour, placing it once again ahead of the record for Camera Movements previously set by Twilight Princess, (15.2, in this case) but the distribution was not consistent throughout my experience. The Wind Waker continues the trend set by previous games in this audit, where a higher number of Camera Movements were found in its dungeons than in other parts of its game world. In fact, despite spending only 31% of my play time in The Wind Waker’s dungeons, (I’m counting Ganon’s Tower as a dungeon despite it lacking a dungeon map) they still provided me with 44% of all Camera Movements I encountered.
I also had a tremendous spike of 69 Camera Movements during the Earth Temple, and I blame all of that on the way The Wind Waker handles the light reflection mechanic. Whenever Link reflected light onto a specially-marked wall or elephant statue, the camera would cut away from the player to show the object being destroyed. The dungeon is littered with these walls and statues that can be destroyed with reflected light, each one of which triggered a Camera Movement. Similarly, I blame the remarkably high 52 Camera Movements in Dragon Roost Cavern on its persistent use of struts for the Grappling Hook to swing from.
Some other peculiar moments I encountered while collecting Camera Movement data occurred in the Savage Labyrinth and on Bomb Island.
The Savage Labyrinth is a mini-dungeon of sorts where Link must defeat every enemy in a room before proceeding to the next floor down, and must continue facing room after room of enemies before obtaining a required Triforce Chart on roughly the 25th floor down. However, after defeating every room of enemies, the camera would always move to show me the opening to the next one, which added 27 Camera Movements alone. In fact, the Savage Labyrinth averaged an astounding rate of one Camera Movement per minute in this way. These Camera Movements were completely unnecessary and did feel like handholding. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that the designers at Nintendo understood this, for the similarly-structured Cave of Ordeals in Twilight Princess only provided one Camera Movement to the first opening door, but none after that.
As for Bomb Island, this small island features a secret cave, completely optional to explore. But in order to progress in this cave, I had to defeat a pair of enemies so one of them could curl into a ball that I could lift and use to weigh down a switch in order to open a door. However, every time the switch was pressed down or lifted up, a Camera Movement would cut to the door, showing the bars moving up or down, and I had a very difficult time safely transporting a curled enemy to the switch before the other would attack me, or getting to the opened door in time before the enemy uncurled and the door closed on me. This maddeningly frustrating segment of my gameplay probably should have added just five or seven Camera Movements to my counter, but because of how difficult it was for me to complete, and the fact that so many actions would consistently trip the Camera Movement counter, I racked up 20 Camera Movements (and one tally for my Frustration counter) in this one little cave.
I encountered only eight moments in my playthrough of The Wind Waker where characters informed me of painfully obvious information or repeated information other sources had just mentioned using slightly different wording. How can that number be so low? I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that Link’s Companion, the King of Red Lions, doesn’t follow him absolutely everywhere he goes like Companions in other games, so that’s one less character available to say anything.
Regardless of the reason, my playthrough of The Wind Waker contained very few instances of Redundant Information. In fact, it could have just six instances of Redundant Information if we exclude the two times that the password to the Pirate Ship was reiterated to me by members of Tetra’s crew.
Frustration and Joy
I love this game. I love sailing the high seas, pulling up treasure from the ocean floor, the musical compliments to Link’s sword strikes, the colorful environments that relentlessly beckoned me to explore and have my own adventures, and the way the game repeatedly played my heartstrings like a harp. Maybe that’s part of the reason why my playthrough of The Wind Waker racked up an astounding 225 moments of Joy and a paltry 14 moments of Frustration.
To be fair, I knew from the beginning of this audit that my Joy and Frustration counters were never going to provide nearly as insightful findings as my other counters, because they are based on such subjective data. And as a result, I am not giving them nearly as much attention in this audit. Nonetheless, I feel the Joy counter helped me see the good in these games rather than just looking for the bad, as would probably have been the case if I only used a Frustration counter.
And The Wind Waker did prove to be a Frustrating experience from time to time. I had to repeat the first rope-swinging tutorial with Niko more times than I ever expected to, I was hopelessly lost for two hours when trying to find the Ghost Ship for the final Triforce Chart until I used Zelda Informer’s Walkthrough of The Wind Waker to help me, and as much as I enjoyed the fight with Puppet Ganon, I found his final form to be almost unbearably difficult. But overall, it was a very positive experience for me.
So the bottom line on Frustration and Joy in The Wind Waker is it turned out to contain the most Joyful moments out of the games in this audit, and it is tied with Twilight Princess for the fewest Frustrating moments. However, those achievements are unlikely to mean anything when I decide which of these Zelda games holds the player’s hand the most or least.
During my playthrough of The Wind Waker, I counted 50 Cutscenes, which is fewer than any other Zelda game in this audit. However, when accounting for the amount of time each playthrough took, The Wind Waker’s average of 1.63 Cutscenes per hour is edged out by Skyward Sword’s 1.4 Cutscenes per hour.
However, the Cutscenes in The Wind Waker were unevenly distributed throughout the game. In fact, 74% of all Cutscenes in The Wind Waker took place over three relatively distinct sections of the game around the beginning, middle, and end of The Wind Waker’s narrative. I had witnessed 12 Cutscenes by the time Link finally left Windfall Island for the first time, which was barely two hours into my playthrough. Fifteen Cutscenes took place between the start of the quest to find Jabun, and the moment I left Tetra at Hyrule Castle, and another 10 Cutscenes were packed into the final 104 minutes of my playthrough. The remaining 13 Cutscenes in The Wind Waker were sprinkled between these three narrative-heavy segments, and included several lengthy stretches without any Cutscenes at all.
I should also address that I was asked over social media about the reasons why I include a counter for Cutscenes in this audit. I want to clarify that not all Cutscenes are inherently handholding elements of a game, nor do a higher number of Cutscenes in a video game mean that the game is of lower quality or caters to a less sophisticated gaming audience. Cutscenes serve a wide variety of purposes in video games: they can be a reward for completing challenges; sometimes they can convey points of a game’s narrative more coherently than gameplay alone can; they can teach the player about important things they must know or should be aware of while playing the game; and much more.
However, with some exceptions, Cutscenes in general interrupt or limit the player’s control over events on the screen. And this is certainly the case is many Zelda games.
One of the key arguments against handholding in video games is they strip away player agency. A puzzle is no fun to solve if someone tells you exactly how to solve it, for one of the main reasons why solving a puzzle is a fun thing to do is the sense of fulfillment and accomplishment we experience when we solve the puzzle ourselves.
Solving a puzzle is not satisfying on its own, but overcoming the challenge of solving a puzzle is. Handholding removes or mitigates the challenge and, conversely, the satisfaction we experience when the puzzle is solved.
The way that Cutscenes tie in with handholding is that Cutscenes inherently mitigate challenge. They temporarily change video games from a medium where player input is key, into to a medium where player input is minimized or removed. This turns the active gameplay experience into a more passive viewing and listening experience.
To bring this back to my point above, Cutscenes strip away player agency because they reduce the ability the player has to control the events on the screen. So, not only do most Cutscenes provide some of the symptoms of handholding in general, they also frequently explain events in the game to the player.
In the case of Zelda, many Cutscenes contain information pertinent to the gameplay about where the player should go or what they should do. Rarely are players provided with an opportunity to advance a Zelda game’s story by setting their own objectives or finding out on their own where they must go in the game world next. These things are more often than not told to the player directly in Zelda games, usually during Cutscenes, and that can feel like a handholding experience.
I could continue writing a great deal about this topic, but for now, I hope this helps explain to readers why I’ve kept track of Cutscenes over the course of this audit of handholding in Zelda games.
Other Handholding Factors — Important Things I Couldn’t Count
Extra Companion GPIs
Readers familiar with the Hey, Look, Listen series might remember how I agonized over adding an extra category to my Companion GPI counter to keep a tally of additional characters who could be considered Companions, and who hold the player’s hand to some degree or another. And I made this decision primarily to account for The Wind Waker’s Earth Temple and Wind Temple, both of which Link explores while accompanied by Medli and Makar respectively. Furthermore, Tetra acts like a Companion for Link at certain points in The Wind Waker, aiding (and interrupting) him on the first exploration of the Forsaken Fortress as well as the final battle with Ganondorf.
However, when the time came to count up and consider the data for all my counters at the end of my playthrough of The Wind Waker, I realized that I really shouldn’t be counting these Extra Companion GPIs in the first place. The Companion GPI counter is unique among my other counters; it exists not as a counter on its own but as a sub-counter that exists within the GPI counter.
The only reason the Companion GPI counter exists is to count the number of times Link’s Companion is the source of GPIs. The only Companions in this audit are Fi in Skyward Sword, Midna in Twilight Princess, the King of Red Lions in The Wind Waker, Tatl in Majora’s Mask, and Navi in Ocarina of Time.
The topic of what makes Link’s Companions his Companions is not a discussion I want to discourage people from having. Indeed, I would love to explore this topic in much greater detail, but coming up with a concise and universal way to define Link’s Companions is not among the purposes for conducting this audit. So for the sake of keeping this audit as focused as possible, I am not going to count some monkeys in the Forest Temple, Medli, Princess Zelda, or a host of other characters in this audit as Companions.
A part of me feels disappointed to simply remove all 12 of the tallies I tediously tracked for Extra Companion GPIs in The Wind Waker. But I have identified these tallies as little more than a distraction, and they have no place in this particular audit.
The Ballad of Gales
You know the sequence that plays every time you play the Ballad of Gales while sailing with the King of Red Lions? Well, after I decided to keep track of all 83 times I changed the direction of the wind with the Wind’s Requiem during my playthrough of The Wind Waker, I figured I should apply the same thinking to this short scene that plays every time Link wants to initiate The Wind Waker’s take on fast-travel . . . And that’s when I realized I shouldn’t count the times I played the Ballad of Gales as a form of handholding. The Ballad of Gales is not handholding, it’s just The Wind Waker’s version of fast-travel.
Majora’s Mask has fast-travel, and so does Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Fast-travel in these games entails watching a short, unskippable scene of Link getting zipped away to another location, presumably to entertain the player while the game loads up a different part of the game world. I didn’t add tallies to the Camera Movement counters for any of these actions in any of these games, and making an exception for The Wind Waker would contradict my methodology for auditing these other games. And this audit has to be consistent.
Despite the fact that I tediously kept track of all 27 moments I played the Ballad of Gales to fast-travel in The Wind Waker, I have decided over the course of writing this article that they should not be included in my analysis.
Companion GPIs When Leaving the Map
When Link approaches the edge of the map of the Great Sea, the King of Red Lions will interrupt the player’s gameplay, tell them they’re not allowed to leave, and turn them around. I’m not counting any of these scenes in my audit for the same reason I excluded the Door Chimes in Ocarina of Time (where Navi would shout, “Hey!” every time I touched a barred door or a locked door without a key) from my audit of that game.
The only reason anybody would encounter these Companion GPIs is because of an accident or pure player curiosity. It’s not handholding, it’s just the game providing a nice substitution for smashing the King of Red Lions’ face into an invisible wall. For the record, I didn’t encounter a single instance like this during my playthrough, but I remember what they were like.
I have now finished collecting data for Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, and I have analyzed each one of them individually. But, this audit isn’t over just yet! One more article in this series must be written: a comparative analysis of the statistics from all five games.
Despite all the work that has been done on this Hey, Look, Listen series so far, it still has not yet achieved its goals:
- Objectively determine which of these five Zelda games has the most or least handholding
- Objectively determine which Companion in these five games holds the player’s hand the most
- Make an informed prediction about what to expect from Zelda U
Those goals and more will be achieved two weeks from now with the seventh entry in the Hey, Look, Listen series: Analyzing Handholding in 3D Home Console Zelda Games. I’ve already collected all the data I need to compose that article, but I’m going all-out with the visuals this time, so the next entry in this series will be heavy with infographics. In the end, this will provide us with the first statistical analysis of handholding in Zelda games, and hopefully provide a kernel of objective information in an opinion-driven discourse that has gone on for years in the Zelda community and the world of gaming.
Full Spreadsheet of The Wind Waker Playthrough Data
Other Articles in the Hey, Look, Listen Series
- Analyzing Handholding in Zelda — Methodology and Definitions — December 11, 2014
- Analyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword — December 22, 2014
- Analyzing Handholding in Majora’s Mask — January 16, 2014
- Analyzing Handholding in Twilight Princess — January 16, 2015
- Analyzing Handholding in Ocarina of Time — March 5, 2015
- Analyzing Handholding in The Wind Waker — March 5, 2015
- UPDATE Analyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword — March 5, 2015
- Reanalyzing Handholding in Skyward Sword — March 25, 2015