Reflection #3: The Legend is Reborn and a World is Brought to Life Like Never Before

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.

 

Say hello to a truly magical cast of characters

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.

 

Every game has a story. Only one is a legend.

4 thoughts on “Reflection #3: The Legend is Reborn and a World is Brought to Life Like Never Before”

  1. As with most Zelda fans, I was initially very disappointed by The Wind Waker’s big reveal in 2001/2001, because it came shortly after the excellent and gritty Zelda Tech Demo in Spaceworld 2000. In the same time though, it’s not to the degree that I would boycott TWW. I told myself to stick with the series through thick and thin because I’ve never been disappointed by an installment…and I’m glad I did. In the long run, The Wind Waker’s cel-shaded aspect really helped the timeless aspect of the title. I played it recently on my HDTV and it still looks breathtaking. On the other hand, Twilight Princess, while sporting a nice manga/realistic look at launch, sadly became a victim to looking outdated today. So yeah, I really agree with you on The Wind Waker’s visuals.

    It’s really hard for me to gear towards an absolute favorite installment out of the series, but I can tell you this: from a storyline and narrative point of view, The Wind Waker excels and beats all the other installments, including Skyward Sword. Everything about its pacing and references to Ocarina of Time was absolutely brilliant. A lot of scenes still send chills down my spine, especially the exposition with Ganondorf just before the final battle. The Wind Waker is the only game in the series which relied heavily on the lore of its predecessor but still managed to be original with its storyline. It struck that right balance between giving fans what they want and providing original plot points to newcomers who have not played Ocarina of Time. Why can’t all Zelda games be like that? Why can’t they providing a running storyline like Mass Effect, using the strengths of the previous title while still telling an original plot? By being vague in terms of how the series connects together, they’re actually wasting a lot of potential for some excellent and complex storytelling. Imagine if all the theories behind the timeline came to life in an actual Zelda game. That would be absolutely awesome. The Wind Waker is the closest and only game which truly acknowledges its predecessor in terms of plot. That’s why I love it so much.

    In terms of gameplay, everyone complained about the sailing and repetitive nature of the Triforce shards gathering towards the end of the game, but I found it to be one of the game’s strongest aspects…because the option was open to gather Triforce shards way before you actually need to do it, so I cut down on backtracking and repetition. Additionally, I played through the whole game with GBA connectivity on…and that gimmick worked so well. It had me compelled to sail around and find secrets shown to me through the GBA screen. It almost felt like you were a pirate on an adventure. The only thing that brings The Wind Waker down from a gameplay standpoint is its easy difficulty and relatively short length as the number of dungeons were low compared to other installments.

  2. Ah yes, the Wind Waker. Boy did that unveiling cause fans much grief. To put things into perspective, this is what the original unveiling trailer looked like.

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/krQ40gvxCV4

    And this was the Spaceworld 2000 unveiling…

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/wBtAvX4Pkyk

    Needless to say, that’s a fairly dramatic difference. At this particular point in time I still had my Nintendo pyjamas on, as Steven would say, but was already moving away from Nintendo thanks to the N64 era. The fanboy inside wanted Nintendo to success so badly, but thanks to the GameCube’s design I knew it would never stand a chance of being taken overly serious here. I mean a purple lunchbox, really? Ironically the GC would go on to become one of my favourite Nintendo consoles ever, but when I first saw that Celda unveiling I flipped out. It was as if Nintendo was purposely trying to keep me away. Thank goodness the RE remake was unveiled and Metroid Prime, etc. If it weren’t for all the other games I think I would have just completely given up on Nintendo right then and there.

    Fast forward to the Japanese launch, where I imported the game and played through it until the very end. It completely changed my opinion. This game was downright gorgeous and remains the nicest looking GameCube game ever released, at least in full 3D. It has aged perfectly as mid last year I replayed it and had a complete blast. I even did a log for it, which was a lot of fun. It’s funny how first impressions can really taint your thoughts towards something. Once I had played through WW I realized why Nintendo made the changes they did. It isn’t my favourite Zelda ever, but damn it is a good one.

    I think the only reason why NIntendo changed artistic styles so quickly was simply because of all the initial backlash that unveiling had. Remember that the second WW was finished they started work on TP, so odds are they didn’t even have a chance to see the public’s perception of the final game before working on the next one. I did enjoy that Nintendo moved to a hybrid visual style for Skyward Sword though as that looks fantastic. It’s true Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks made use of the same visual style, but those were portable games, and 2D to boot.

    Moving forward I’m curious what Nintendo will do. Going from the trailer they released at E3 last year, I doubt we’ll actually have that as the next Zelda. It seems every time they showcase a new Zelda for their next console it doesn’t pan out, so I’m not counting on that technical demo ever making it onto store shelves as an actual game. That said, what should Nintendo do with the series moving forward? Skyward Sword has an amazing visual style that I think should be continued, but then again Wind Waker could look downright amazing in HD, as it has aged so gracefully already.

    Whatever happens, I’ve learned never to judge a game by its official unveiling. Now I just wait until the games are released and try them out, then I can go crazy on them if they deserve it ;)

  3. I absolutely love Wind Waker’s visual style. Your right when you say it’s still holds up today, its simply breathtaking. That was my favourite part of it. However, you’re wrong when you mentioned there were no graphical limitation because of the new visuals that took you out of the experience. I remember Myamoto mentioning that this was one of the reasons when they changed direction to the toon visuals. Yet, when you play the first stealth mission, those big Moblin dudes will go right through walls when they turn around, and so will there weapons, which seemed even more obvious then ever now.

    Anyway, that’s just a small complaint. The biggest reason why I can’t convince myself to replay WW is because of those tedious water exploration side-quests near the end. Besides that, the game is fantastic with probably the best storyline (its this or Skyward Sword) in a 3D Zelda game. The music is fantastic, the dungeons awesome and again, the visual style rocks. It’s on the extremely easy side however…. but man did I enjoy that game. Really want to replay it…. but not a big fan of the water exploration. They are doing this now with every Zelda game since, even portables. Instead of doing one big overworld with lots of exploration and having everything connected, they go with smaller islands or areas connected by some kind of gimmick (water, train tracks, sky islands.. ect). I kind of miss the old design of ALTTP and the original, even OOT where there was no gimmicly way to travel from area to area.

  4. That’s the only real complaint with the modern Zelda games Steven, the lack of a real overworld. Not sure why the games have moved in this new direction. Perhaps it’s to save development costs, or perhaps just to increase the amount of games they release, but yeah I much prefer have a massive world to explore over the current setup. This is why if they do make another 2D Zelda, I really hope they bring back the traditional ALttP style of overworld/dungeon.

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