The King of Red Lions tells Link that, if he wants to venture out with him into the Great Sea, first he’s going to need a sail. This makes me wonder how he managed to rescue Link from the ocean in the first place, but let’s not worry about that. He’s brought the boy to Windfall Island, which is dominated by a town that serves as the central hub of activity in the game.
Acquiring a sail is easy. All Link needs to do is go through the town gate and walk up the main road, where he’ll be hailed by a diminutive man in a huge blue coat with a fur-lined hood. This is Zunari, who tells Link that he “hails from a cold land” and has come south to Windfall Island to try his luck as a merchant. This is interesting, as it implies a larger world beyond the area of the Great Sea. In any case, since Zunari has decided to settle down on this island, and he sells Link his sail for sixty rupees. Sweet!
At this point, Link could go back to the King of Red Lions and get started on his adventure, but why do that when there are so many sidequests to enjoy?
I want to take a moment to explain how wonderful this freedom is. At this point, the player is barely two hours into the game, but she has already explored one island, made her way through a fairly challenging dungeon, gotten to the main city, been given her quest objectives, and now has the option to undertake a number of sidequests.
Compare this to Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, whose opening sequences take hours to complete. In Wind Waker, Link gets his sword within the first fifteen minutes of the game, and then he’s off. The player will eventually be introduced to any number of interesting game mechanics (sailing the boat, for instance), but she gets the basics right away without needing to worry about learning how to fish or fly a hawk or wrestle a goat or glide with a parachute or ride around on a giant bird in order to proceed. Now that I’ve played the more recent games in the series, this streamlined simplicity feels so refreshing to me.
The first sidequest involves a group of kids who have formed a cute little gang that they call “the Killer Bees.” The four of them hang around in the dirt yard at the tallest point on the island. If Link tries to talk to them, they are rude and obnoxious, telling him that he looks like a hick. One of the buildings facing the yard is a classroom run by a magenta-haired woman named Marie, who asks Link to do something about these hooligans. After Link agrees to help her, the Killer Bees approach him and say that they know the teacher asked him to talk to them. Their leader says that they’ll listen to him if he can win a game of hide and seek.
This is a cool little minigame that encourages Link to explore more of the island. It’s fairly easy to find and catch the kids, who promise to stop being such nerds and reveal the location of their secret treasure. This treasure turns out to be a butterfly pendant, which Marie has expressed a strong interest in. When Link gives it to her, she says that the Killer Bees knew it was her birthday and must have put Link up to this because they were too embarrassed to give it to her themselves. D’awww.
Besides being an allusion to the Bombers Gang from Majora’s Mask, but I think part of what’s going on with the Killer Bees is that the game is making subtly suggesting that Windfall Island is a vibrant community with lots of children running around. When Link first emerges from the hidden cove where the King of Red Lions has docked, the first people he sees are two young girls playing in a patch of flowers. When compared to Castle Town from Twilight Princess, or even to Skyloft in Skyward Sword, Windfall Island occupies a relatively small (and mostly vertical) area, but the construction of a short minigame and story arc around Marie and the Killer Bees suggests that it’s the sort of place that has enough children to support a school.
There are also enough kids to keep Salvatore’s Sinking Ships carnival-style minigame afloat (LOOK I MADE A PUN), which is a blessing. It would be tedious to describe its mechanics here – it’s basically Battleships with giant squids – but what really makes it work is Salvatore, who pretends to be utterly bored but actually gets really into roleplaying. The sounds he makes are beyond adorable. When the player misses, he goes SPLOOOSH. When the player makes a hit, he goes KA-FOOOOM. If the player wins the game, he breaks out in precious “hooray, hooray” cheers.
If there’s any precedent for Captain Linebeck (from The Phantom Hourglass) in Wind Waker, it’s probably Salvatore, who is the sort of shitty uncle that kids always end up loving.
The other major sidequest available to the player at this point involves the acquisition of the camera and the introduction of Tingle. It turns out that I have a lot to say about this, so I think it should get its own separate post. To be continued!
( Header image from GlitterBerri’s scans of Hyrule Historia )