In which our hatchling heroine befriends a turnip, and takes her first steps toward classical music stardom, while her Dad gets two very timely reminders of why a bit of escapism never hurts.
In the first, critically acclaimed series of True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s damaged cop Rust Cohle delivers a damning treatise on what he believes to be the essential folly of human existence, and by extension, parenthood. He suggests that human self-awareness is an unnatural development, an abhorrent mutation incompatible with biological life. Then he makes this claim:
While Cohle’s view is fatalistic to the level of caricature, when faced with some of the more gruesome realities of the world we bring children into, what parent doesn’t wonder whether the time really was right to start a family? What kind of world are we passing on to our progeny, like some horrible deficit of human decency they’ll still be struggling to pay off long after their well-intentioned parents have shuffled off this mortal coil.
For two weeks here in the UK, we’ve been under siege. Bigoted fuck-wits have cut down children at a tween pop concert, and - emboldened by their “successes” in Manchester - rampaged through the streets of the capital to turn blades on men, women, evening revellers, tourists, and even more children. Civilians all. The culprits; half-formed mockeries of men, have hijacked and debased a tradition that has brought order, beauty and meaning to the lives of millions for centuries. Despite what Theresa May says, no committee-developed, four-stage plan full of onus-shifting platitudes and ambiguous action-points is going to solve this problem. Neither, I think, will military intervention. Which leaves us at a somewhat terrifying impasse.
Or it would, were it not for the thousands of little ways the common man is striking back against these fanatic aggressors. Lancashire’s taxi-drivers turned off their meters and ferried survivors and their families 40 or 50 miles back and forth across the Pennines. Eateries in Manchester dished out free food, and even my own self-interested, hedonistic little brother pulled extra voluntary shifts as a PCSO, helping his fellow Mancunians battle through the aftermath of the attack. His girlfriend, a ditzy bio-chemist with a heart of gold, must have done countless hours of overtime ensuring Lancashire’s hospitals had the donor blood they needed to save the wounded, and then went home to offer a spare room to out-of-towners stranded in the city due to the need to stay close to hospitalised loved ones.
In short, people are just fucking awesome. The night after London, Ariana Grande picked up the mic again for the OneLoveManchester concert. That was a show of courage that almost gave me cause to regret not giving Final Fantasy Brave Exvius another chance before deleting it from my phone. Even if her music and aesthetic is basically Gaga-lite, that girl must have some Grande-sized balls to overcome what must be a sick case of survivor’s guilt and step back out on the stage. 50,000 fans - many of them survivors of the initial concert - turned out to prove that life, creativity and our devilish sense of fun can’t be so easily eradicated.
On the morning of Sunday June 4th, as more concrete facts about the attackers who ran riot on London Bridge the previous night began to coagulate, my daughter rose uncharacteristically early. For the past week or so, she’d been ill with chicken-pox, and as a result she’d been sleeping in until ridiculously luxuriant hours. As I sat beside her on the sofa, sipping my morning coffee while she munched her way through handfuls of dry Cheerios (don’t ask...), I decided to turn off the news.
I know, there’s no excuse for sugar-coating the world for our kids. They’ll have to come to understand and acknowledge the very real dangers they’ll face out there once they’re old enough to fly the coop. But Halfpint is 19 months old. She can barely parrot the word “terrorist”, let alone comprehend what it means. I’m fully aware of the difficult questions my wife and I will have to answer as our daughter grows cognizant of the atrocities committed by her fellow human beings. But for now, I choose to present her with a more magical alternative. I turned on the Wii U, and we blasted through the ending of The Wind Waker HD.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, gentle readers. When last I left you, Halfpint and I had only just relieved Komali of his giant throbbing McGuffin-ball, and were headed in a beeline for the Forest Haven, where awaits the Great Deku Tree. As a hardened Zelda fan who put hundreds of hours into Ocarina of Time in his tweenage years, its somewhat disconcerting to behold the twin islands on The Wind Waker’s obligatory forest level. One is the dried out husk of what appears to be a giant tree, the other is the same, but covered in twisted-looking thorns. Essentially, what we’re looking at are the bloated corpses of past Great Deku Trees, with the Forbidden Woods perhaps being the original Deku Tree from Ocarina of Time, and the Haven itself being the mortal remains of the Deku Sprout from the same game’s adult era, perhaps poisoned to death by the salt-water flood called down on Hyrule by the series’ absentee gods Din, Nayru and Farore. The worst part is that the Koroks seem to have set up their little creepy enclave inside the Sprout’s corpse. Being one-and-three-quarters, Halfpint naturally doesn’t pick up on this morbid subtext, she just jumps up from my lap and runs over to the TV screaming “ISLAND!”.
Inside Tree Carcass No. 1, we find a woodland oasis filled with colourful fireflies, which Halfpint once again declares are “bubbles”, and yet another Great Deku Tree (Tree-ception?). Despite his ridiculous baritone voice, this one’s clearly an adolescent, plagued with the mystical tree equivalent of a bad case of acne. Link turns dermatologist and slays the Deku Tree’s colourful pimples, and as payment for his service, he’s rewarded with a leaf. Yeah. Cheers, bro. Imagine if that happened in real life; a plumber comes round to your house to fix the toilet you’ve blocked, and as payment you offer him a lock of hair you’ve chopped off your own head.
“But it’s magic hair!”
“Yeah, okay pal(!) I’m calling the bailiffs.”
Anyway, it turns out that despite professing to be a force for good in the world, the Great Deku Tree won’t hand over Farore’s Pearl until Link helps him throw a party or something. The annual Korok Ceremony. “What are Koroks?” you ask? Walking, talking turnips wearing leaf masks with dead-eyed expressions carved into them. Yeah.
The Korok Ceremony apparently helps replenish the world’s forests. I dunno about you, but I don’t remember my biology teacher mentioning anything about ghoulish living turnips while teaching us about pollination in school, but we’ll play along for now. The Great Deku Tree remains obstructively vague about what the ceremony entails, but considering the fact he is a deciduous plant, and since the end result seems to be “more Great Deku Trees”, I’m guessing its an orgy.
The tree agrees to give us the Pearl if we can track down his favourite, Makar, who the other Koroks say was last seen flying over the Forbidden Woods. We agree, but given how cut up the Deku Tree seems to be about Makar’s disappearance, I’m fairly certain the other Koroks beat the shit-seeds out of him and left him to die in the woods.
Getting to the Forbidden Woods involves launching yourself to the top of the Forest Haven via explosive Baba Bud seed pods, then flying across the open waves to the entrance of the dungeon using your new Deku Leaf. Once again, what most people consider to be the most entertaining part of any Zelda title leaves Halfpint completely uninterested. Our only real development here is learning the word “baddie”, and how to correctly use it when referring to this dungeon’s irritating Peahats enemies. As a result, the next time she takes a real interest in what’s happening on-screen is when we finally reach the very heart of the woods, where we meet Kalle Demos. Within a bed of suspiciously large petals, we spot Makar.
“Who’zat?” Halfpint asks.
“That’s Makar, he’s Link’s friend.” I respond.
Almost as soon as we take a step toward him, Makar gets devoured by the boss.
“Oh no.” Halfpint’s reaction is on-point, but is pretty much as deadpan as when she saw Aryll get swept off by the Helmaroc King back on Outset Island. This fits in well with what I’ve observed about Halfpint’s developing ability to deal with stimuli that require her to demonstrate an emotional response. When she stubs her toe or bumps her head, when she’s overtired or isn’t getting her own way; she cries. This response essentially serves as a request for her carers to deal with a situation she feels is beyond her control - “I’m hurt, I want something, I’m tired,” etc. This is a natural response left over from when she was very young and crying was her only means of communication, and she falls back on it whenever a sensation overwhelms her, or her limited vocabulary isn’t capable of adequately relating her needs. Interestingly, she seems more capable of processing appropriate responses to displays of emotion from others than dealing with her own. When she hears another youngster bawling while out shopping for groceries for instance, she immediately points it out by telling me someone is “crying”, that they’re “sad”, and that they need a “cuddle”. Sometimes, though, her empathic response overwhelm her too. When a cartoon puppy cries in her favourite TV show, she follows suit, wailing uncontrollably until we find a new stimulus that will take her mind off the image that upset her.
Sometimes, though, the crying is just random. When Halfpint’s mum went back to work, separation anxiety caused her to burst into tears whenever she saw a vaguely motherly female on TV. I decided to introduce her to Studio Ghibli via the animated series Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, but Ronja’s mother Lovis bore enough of a resemblance to her own that whenever the scene switched away from her, Halfpint lost it. Similarly, when she happened to crash the ending of Breath of the Wild, she wailed whenever the titular princess wasn’t on-screen, begging me to “find Zelda”.
Thankfully, when Kalle Demos is dispatched and Makar is released - presumably unmolested - her reaction is a bit more joyful:
“FRIEND! YAY” She bounds off my knee and gestures enthusiastically at the screen. I think she might be getting into this.
And so, Link and Makar find their way back to the Forest Haven. It turns out Makar’s violin skills make him the plant equivalent of a breeder stud. The Great Deku Tree queefs into bud, and all the other Koroks set out across the Great Sea to sow his wild oats, or something like that. I lost track of that particular train of thought a couple of sordid metaphors ago.
Our next destination is Greatfish Isle, or as any hardened Zelda fan would have it, the location of what should have been the third pre-Master Sword dungeon. Despite all appearances, I actually adore The Wind Waker. Over the years since its release I’ve played it almost as many times as I did Ocarina of Time, but the game has its very obvious flaws. Shortcuts were clearly made to ensure the game had a reasonably timely release as a killer-app for the GameCube, and this seems to have resulted in the omission of a few planned dungeons. Normally, at this stage in a Zelda title, you’d face another elemental-themed dungeon that would yield the third McGuffin needed to “prove yourself worthy of the Master Sword”. This formula was established in A Link to the Past, and repeated to nostalgic effect in Ocarina of Time. The Wind Waker breaks this formula by having you arrive at Greatfish Isle to discover it had fallen victim to what seems to be a natural disaster. Jabun, the next “force for good” you need to meet has fled the scene, and a vast storm has plunged the entire Great Sea into darkness. The poor weather does not escape Halfpint’s notice:
Being British, my wife and I have taken great pains to ensure we instil a stoic distaste for inclement weather in our infant daughter.
“Bleagh!” She exclaims.
On Greatfish Isle, we’re greeted by another of the man-bird creeps that seem to be stalking our junior hero across the world. He tells us Jabun escaped to a sealed cave on Link’s home island, one which Tetra and her band of Jolly Roger rejects have suddenly taken a great interest in. Detouring to Windfall, pretty much the only other inhabited island on the Great Sea, I unwillingly give my impressionable young daughter a lesson in cat-burgling by sneaking into both the Bomb Shop and Tetra’s ship to make off with the plundered bombs we’ll need to crack open Jabun’s safe haven. Where are Tetra’s pirate crew while I’m helping myself to their explosives, you ask? On dry land, naturally. Are they raping, pillaging, plundering or otherwise pilfering their weasley black guts out? Nope. They’re having a few lattes at the coffee shop. “E for Everyone”, go figure.
Before we leave, I take some time out to spam bidding wars at the late-night auction house. We’re seeking the new Swift Sail, which was added to Wind Waker’s HD remake as a means to facilitate quicker traversal across the Great Sea. In the original GameCube release, longer, slower treks across the water were cleverly used to mask loading times between islands. Two console generations later these aren’t necessary. A much appreciated development, but nevertheless, the process of getting the sail is tedious. It involves skillful bidding that stuns your rivals into silence, so I dispatched Halfpint for bathtime to avoid losing her attention.
When our next session begins, I try out the Swift Sail, which you can switch to with the simple press of a button once you’re on the open seas. Switching sails results in a satisfying chime accompanied by a sudden burst of speed, and the sigil on Link’s sail changes colour. Halfpint is ecstatic:
“BLUE!” She demands, so I dutifully switch back to the original sail.
“RED!” She shouts, with relish. Back to the Swift Sail, then.
Remember what I told you last time about toddlers and repetition? From this point onwards, I make sure to keep her extra-engaged, serving as a diminutive look-out seeking land or treasure at sea, simply to avoid her demands for sail changes.
Sadly, the introduction of the Swift Sail - which automatically gives the King of Red Lions a headwind whichever direction he’s facing in - means I don’t necessarily need to regularly whip out the Wind Waker to change the direction of the wind. As a result, I’m no longer treated to Halfpint taking up her own imaginary baton to mime along with Link’s gestures while imitating the ethereal singers that perform each song. It was heart-meltingly cute, and honestly, the girl had tone. In Oxford, there’s a 12-year-old composer prodigy named Alma Deutscher. Born in 2005, by the time she was two she could already play piano, and at the age of six, she’d composed her first sonata. Deutscher’s got nothing on Halfpint. At 18 months, she’d already conducted her own spectral choir!
Moving swiftly on, we reach Outset Island. The storm ramps up a notch and a whirlpool appears, sucking the King of Red Lions into a swirling maelstrom of death. Or at least, that’s the intended tone for this sequence. In reality, the whirlpool signals the beginning of what passes for a pitched naval battle in The Wind Waker. So who’s your opponent? Some barnacle-clad sea-serpent? A dread leviathan of the depths? Perhaps a deadly kraken?
Nope. It’s a wall.
Once our climactic battle with an inanimate slab of rock is over, we discover Outset Island is in fact hollow, and contains an underground lake, apparently big enough to house a whale. Jabun emerges from the depths (“Big fish!”, notes Halfpint) and speaks in tongues to the King of Red Lions, who responds in English. The pair proceed to have the Hylian equivalent of a private phone conversation in which you can only hear one side of the dialogue, much to everyone’s annoyance. Part of me wishes that the King of Red Lions had been speaking in the old tongue too, so that I could at least head-canon that he’s threatening to shove Jabun’s lantern where the sun don’t shine if he doesn’t hand over Nayru’s Pearl.
Despite his disregard for social niceties, Jabun turns out to be much more reasonable than either Valoo or the Great Deku Tree. He doesn’t require a favour in order to hand over his McGuffin to the guy already expected to do all the world-saving leg-work. He just gives it to you.
All that remains now is to find a use for the magic glowing balls we’e gathered thus far. Luckily, the King of Red Lions directs you to a trio of suspiciously triangle-shaped islands where we can deposit the pearls. On each is a statue of what I can only assume is the chibified versions of the Golden Goddesses. Halfpint informs me that they’re “teddies”. Placing all three pearls causes a giant freaking Triforce to appear on the surface of the Great Sea, and from the centre of the sigil rises a ridiculously tall tower, which the kid wastes no time in describing as “yuge”.
At the base of the tower is a tunnel, down which we sail, and enter the game’s third dungeon, the Tower of the Gods, which storywise serves the purpose of giving Link a chance to prove his worth to the gods. Thematically, this is my favourite dungeon of the whole game, which is almost criminal, since it’s technically the game’s only water-based dungeon. For the unenlightened, Zelda’s water dungeons are pretty much universally reviled as the worse of their respective games. This one even has fluctuating water levels, the bane of anyone who ever tackled Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. Here, though, water only really comes into play for the first half of the dungeon, and the novelty of the rest of the level’s mechanics somewhat makes up for the inconvenience of waiting for a room to flood or drain as required.
Bucking a previously establised trend, Halfpint actually stays fully engaged for this dungeon, but we do end up tackling it over a number of play sessions simply due to time constraints. She learns that the odd boxes Link has been opening contain “treasure”, and begins enthusiastically pointing them out whenever we spot one. She learns the suspenseful combat music means “baddies” are nearby, and she begins to spontaneously imitate the gibbering noise Link makes whenever he makes contact with the electrically charged Chu enemies that litter the entire dungeon. If I hadn’t been trying very hard not to take damage up to that point, I certainly wasn’t afterwards. Listening to a toddler imitate getting electrocuted is so much funnier than it has any right to be.
Its also in this dungeon that we learn the Command Melody, which lets us directly control some of the many living statues found throughout the tower. Using this melody makes Link close his eyes in concentration, as he psychically projects his mind into the statues - or something like that. Anyway, Halfpint decides he’s simply tired whenever he does this, and tells me he’s “sleeping”. One Hero’s Bow and a couple of hours of questing later, we face off against Gohdan, essentially a floating head with two disembodied stone hands that have a habit of bitch-slapping Link around. Arrows to the palms and the face, and a few bombs will consign this stony beastie to Davy Jones’ Locker. We then find ourselves on the roof of the Tower, where Link rings a bell that “opens a path” to the place the King of Red Lions has been cryptically hinting about for the majority of the game so far. Enter the monochrome Hyrule Castle, frozen in time within a realm beneath the waves.
Next time: Link prepares for a rematch with “Bird”, sacrifices his two best friends to upgrade his gear, and turns Gold Diver in a not-so-fondly remembered mandatory treasure-hunt.