You may as well call it Zelda month here at Project COE considering all the posts that have been popping up related to the Triforce and the hero in green. From features on Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, to theories about a new A Link to the Past, to a discussion of Steven and Jarrod’s top Zelda games in our latest podcast, we’ve had quite a time talking about one of gaming’s most revered franchises over the past few weeks. Today, we’re at it again with a look at another game in the series. I want to kick off this article with the very same commercial that made me fall in love with the game ten years ago. So here it is… the 2002 theatrical-style trailer for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker:
The legend is back.
Let’s not mince words: this trailer grabs you by the balls and breathes epic right down your throat. I remember being mildly excited for The Wind Waker, then watching this trailer and going absolutely mad. Starting with a dreamlike sequence of Link coasting across the ocean aboard the King of Red Lions, taking off with the explosions of molten lava in Link’s face-off with Gohma, and punctuated by the stunning whirlwind-of-colours-and-sparks spin attack that stands as one of The Wind Waker’s most iconic techniques — it’s simply off the walls. Not to mention it’s all wrapped up and delivered by a husky narrator who’d you expect to be unveiling the latest Hollywood blockbuster. He does a fantastic job delivering the lines that were penned to ignite the Zelda fanboy in all of us.
I’ll tell you right now that The Wind Waker may be my favourite Zelda game of all time. Whatever Ocarina of Time introduced in 1998, The Wind Waker perfected in 2002. Whatever expectations we had for a photorealistic Gamecube Zelda game, The Wind Waker reversed with its cartoony, enchanting visuals. And whatever boyish fantasies I had as a kid about pirates and sailing the seas, The Wind Waker realized with a triumphant intensity that pulled me out of the real world and never let go.
This is the game that had me getting up at 5:30AM every morning in the weeks after its release so that I could get a couple hours in before school. It’s also one of the few Zelda games I’ve beat more times than I can remember, as I usually only play through a game once or twice and leave it at that. I even brought my English copy to Japan with me, and bought the game again in Japanese to have a go at it through a different linguistic lens. No Zelda title has ever captured the sense of exploration and freedom on the level that The Wind Waker did, and it shone with brilliance in terms of story, level design, and atmosphere. The graphics in all the other 3D Zelda games look dated now, but The Wind Waker’s powerful artistic vision is just as compelling today as it was almost ten years ago. And while many people criticize the frequent sailing expeditions that become quite numerous towards the game’s conclusion, they were a dream come true for me.
I was always angry with the decision to take the series back towards “realism” so quickly with Twilight Princess. Nintendo was really onto something with the visual storytelling achieved in The Wind Waker, and while the artistic framework lived on in The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, it would have been amazing to see another console quest in the same vein.
Welcome to one of the most immersive game worlds ever created.
You see, everything that happens in The Wind Waker with regard to physics, animations, and effects makes perfect sense within its toon world. There are never awkward moments like, for example, in Skyrim, where the way characters interact with objects and the environment clashes with the realistic graphics, pulling you out of the experience. In Nintendo’s cel-shaded vision of Hyrule, you don’t find yourself questioning the authenticity of the game universe because the visual structure is so surreal that everything within seems perfectly realized. The way the waves and the wind move make sense. The colourful flourishes of smoke cast by an exploding enemy don’t seem unusual. The facial animations are more believable and expressive than what we see in today’s most graphically advanced games. Although many people were dismayed at Nintendo’s decision to step away from the style of the Zelda tech demo we’d seen at Spaceworld 2000, what they achieved with The Wind Waker was nothing short of breathtaking.
What do you think of The Wind Waker’s artistic vision in comparison with the rest of the Zelda series, and what visual direction should the series take in the future? For me, it’s not just the graphics that make this one special, but the way the entire world came together as a cohesive, intriguing, and mesmerizing place to adventure in. From its quiet beginnings on Outset Island to the final battle atop Hyrule Castle, The Wind Waker enthralled me like few games have. Nintendo, give me a proper successor to this game and I will forever hold my peace.