Leaving Nintendo’s Space World presentation in 2001, few would have imagined that of all the games shown, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker would become a watershed moment for the company. Panned by some fans and critics alike for its cel-shaded look, the game has since arguably become a symbol of how to create a timeless game, proof that a stylised approach can still look better than the relentless push towards realism. The release of The Wind Waker in 2003 (late 2002 in Japan) remains one of the most controversial — but ultimately beloved — releases from Nintendo and in 2013, a decade after its release, its vibrant world is returning to our screens.
Announced last week by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata during Wii U Direct, The Wind Waker HD will be setting a course for the new system later this year, allowing gamers to experience the delights of one of Nintendo’s finest creations all over again. Teased with just a few screenshots, it certainly looks like a worthy upgrade to a timeless classic, and with enhancements promised it could become the definitive version.
However, the fact remains that the Wii plays GameCube games, and assuming the HD version retails at full price, the original possibly remains a more economical purchase for many new players. And with the original still looking stunning today, what justification do existing owners have to go out and buy the same game again? While on the surface it may seem like only the graphics have changed, there is also potential for so much more.
The most obvious upgrade, and the only one we’ve seen so far, are the graphics, which have been improved to take full advantage of Wii U’s enhanced processing power. Utilising a mix of Twilight Princess’ attention to detail and mixing it with Skyward Sword’s artistic flair, Nintendo has created a modified art style, which when applied to Wind Waker’s cel-shaded world creates a vibrant, exciting result.
Ironically, this slight change in design philosophy has resulted in many calling for a return to the strict cel-shaded approach of the original, a stark contrast to 2001’s reaction to the same design. While it’s hard to judge at this early stage, the character models shown do appear to feature a more nuanced lighting effect, which takes away the sharp, cartoonish edges seen in the original. The real test, however, will be when we see footage (particularly when out at sea), but Nintendo needs to be careful how realistic it makes the world look. After all, the heart of the original game was its stunning beauty through simplicity, and it would be a shame to lose that in the push to HD graphics.
An area that is perhaps less controversial is the audio track for The Wind Waker, which features some of series composer Koji Kondo’s most magnificent compositions. Songs such as the soaring Ocean Theme or the castanet-led Dragon Roost Island theme are certainly memorable, and as the ongoing Zelda Symphony Orchestra has shown, these songs can sound incredible when performed instrumentally. With Skyward Sword introducing orchestral recordings to the franchise, this would be the perfect opportunity to re-master some classic Zelda songs.
But how about something new? With the Zelda franchise making its debut in HD, and the next Zelda game planned to be a reinvention of the franchise, The Wind Waker HD could be the perfect opportunity to test player reaction to voice acting. This generation of consoles has made voice acting the norm, and while many of us believe the Zelda franchise should stay text-driven, there are calls for voice acting to at least be considered. Perhaps Wind Waker HD could be Nintendo’s trial-run, introducing voices to a game that fans are already familiar with, while retaining an option to turn it off?
If the graphics are being upgraded, then there’s a good chance that the team behind the upgrade will also be refining the gameplay, and honing it to perfection. And if that is the case, then there are a few areas that could use some improvement.
Coming off the back of Skyward Sword and to a certain degree Twilight Princess, Wind Waker feels somewhat archaic in the way you cannot run, or perform any actions whilst moving. Simply adding in a run option and the ability to attack without breaking stride would go a long way to streamlining the overall experience, as would bringing over real-time item usage. Being able to use potions mid-battle without a short cut-scene would streamline the action greatly, and is something that is ideal for implementation on the GamePad.
One of the big changes that Wii U can bring to The Wind Waker is in its implementation of the GamePad, and with even a cursory glance at the original game, it’s instantly clear how the game will benefit from it.
The first and most obvious use of the GamePad is as a map screen when sailing. In the original game, the map could only be viewed by pausing the game, making sailing calculations far more lethargic than they needed to be. Simply being able to view the map in real-time could make sailing far more enjoyable and allow easier identification of treasure locations.
On land the GamePad has a myriad of uses, and each would provide an invaluable addition to the gameplay. Taking a leaf from Ocarina of Time 3D’s book, the simplest use is to put the main menu on the screen, allowing for quick equipping of items to the three item slots. But why not go one step further, and have items such as the sail, which is useless on land, or the telescope, which is mainly just a novelty, as quickly equip-able, constantly available for use and instantly accessible at a tap of the screen.
Another prime example of this would be the Wind Waker itself, the mystical baton that allows Link to control the wind. In the original game, using the baton would pause the game, entering into a short cut-scene to perform the song. In short amounts this was fine, but trying to make multiple course corrections this way was irritating. Instead, the GamePad could have a quick-use button for the Wind Waker, which can then be played in real-time without stopping the game. Not only is this more convenient, but it is a huge time-saver for the player.
Nintendo could also use this opportunity to trial new ideas with the GamePad, and for this they need look no further than their last remake. Ocarina of Time 3D featured numerous gyroscopic ideas, and a similar implementation could be used here for the bow and arrow and grappling hook, while both the telescope and PictoBox could add another layer of immersion by being displayed on the screen. The PictoBox also has potential with MiiVerse implementation, letting you share images with the world. And let’s face it, when the game looks this good, you’ll want to share as much as you can!
Finally, there is the Tingle Tuner. The Wind Waker was released on GameCube around the time Nintendo was promoting its forerunner to Wii U, the GBA Link Cable. A criminally underused mode, plugging your Game Boy Advance into your GameCube and selecting the Tingle Tuner would allow a second player to hop into the game and join you as Tingle, opening up pathways using bombs and generally aiding you in your quest. The Tingle Tuner also had a side-quest featuring Tingle’s brother, Knuckle, so it would be a surprise not to see it in the game in some form.
Please be aware that this section contains minor plot spoilers, so read at your own risk
Improvements making use of new hardware are to be expected, this is after all being released on a new console. Yet to really sell it to the existing owner, The Wind Waker HD needs to have something new. In the same way Ocarina of Time 3D reintroduced the Master Quest, The Wind Waker has plenty left to discover.
Revealed in an interview with series producer Eiji Aonuma, a decision was taken during development to cut a few dungeons from the game, leaving obvious gaps in their wake. For example, during the first quest to retrieve the Goddess Pearls, you arrive at a ruined Greatfish Isle and discover that the Water Spirit Jabun has fled following Ganondorf’s attack. After eventually tracking Jabun down, he simply gives you Nayru’s Pearl – considering the lengths you had to go to for the previous two, this seems a little too easy.
So perhaps now is the time to reinstate this legendary lost dungeon, and give Jabun the story he deserves alongside Valoo and the Great Deku Tree. Reinstating this dungeon, perhaps as part of an open Greatfish Isle, would be a valuable addition to the game, and would lend credence to Jabun simply giving you the pearl after finding him.
The other area where dungeon space has been clearly cut are the Fire and Ice Temples, which only appear as short item acquisition quests in the original game. Expansion of these would greatly improve the overall gameplay, although perhaps removing the original dungeons entirely would tarnish the faithfulness to the original.
In the same way Ocarina of Time 3D reintroduced the Master Quest, The Wind Waker has plenty left to discover.
A continued controversy with The Wind Waker, and another area that has since been apologised for by Aonuma, is the late-game Triforce fetch quests, which sees Link searching across the Great Sea for the eight fragments of the Triforce of Courage. Aside from the length of the quest, the anticlimactic nature of it as the final battle approaches has been a point of debate for years, and now Nintendo can rectify this. Much like the Fire and Ice Temples, simply removing it does a disservice to the original game, but perhaps a more streamlined approach is in order. Mini-dungeons upon finding the pieces could perhaps enhance the quest, but whatever the case, it’s an area that could do with a tune-up.
While these are the well documented elements that the producers have admitted to wanting to change since launch, there are a few other areas that could really sell The Wind Waker HD to the returning player. With the recent canon revelations put forward by Skyward Sword, and the timeline placing set by Hyrule Historia, there is a chance to add extra continuity into The Wind Waker, and maybe clear up why Beedle only appears in a few games (it’s important to know!).
A Master Quest is another option to add in, remixing the dungeons slightly and making the ocean more dangerous. And then there’s the exploration of Hyrule Castle. The game goes to great lengths to assert that this is the world of Ocarina of Time underwater, so why not let us explore a bit more? Zelda fans would love to revisit Castle Town Market or enter Hyrule Field in the world of The Wind Waker, and even if there is nothing there it is something that would be memorable to all Zelda fans.
Realistically, the possibilities are endless. All we know is that The Wind Waker HD is coming out this year on Wii U, and that no matter what, it will build on one of Nintendo’s greatest achievements. While the graphical upgrade may become a fresh controversy, the charming world of The Wind Waker will be introduced to a new generation, and if it is received anywhere near as warmly as the original game was, it is sure to be one of the biggest games of the year.