Out of the many major franchises Nintendo owns, The Legend of Zelda series has been the most versatile. While Super Mario is always cartoony family fun and Metroid is always dark sci-fi, The Legend of Zelda has really bounced around a lot with themes. Some of the titles are rapt with dark and brooding settings while others are bright and a bit childlike. It all makes sense when you realize that who is Link and who is Zelda changes with almost every game. Every Link we see, with the exception of the occasional sequel, is a different man on a different journey. Sometimes Zelda isn’t even around. One particular title that is the pinnacle of cartoony fun for the series is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the Nintendo GameCube. Wind Waker first made waves (pun intended) in 2003 and was defined by its cel-shaded art style, a first for the series. On September 20th, Nintendo is releasing an HD remake of this popular title for the Wii U with physical copies coming within the next two weeks. In honor of this hotly anticipated release, I decided to take a look back at this insanely fun title that, despite having its fair share of vitriol in the past, is now considered one of the finest Legend of Zelda releases.
The gameplay of Wind Waker and its forthcoming HD release is classic Zelda fair. You play as Link, a young boy decked out in green garb, as he fights evil using a sword, shield, and a plethora of other weapons. He explores a vast world filled with treasure and colorful characters. Along his journey, Link beats a series of dungeons in order to get one step closer to his destiny as the next great hero. What sets Wind Waker apart from the rest of the franchise is its heavy emphasis on sailing. The story of Wind Waker takes place several centuries after Ocarina of Time in the timeline where Ganon returns following his defeat at the hands of Link (The Hero of Time) and he floods the land of Hyrule. It is on the surface of the Great Sea where Wind Waker is based and where this Link, The Hero of Wind, has his journey with his ship named the King of Red Lions. In order to control the power of wind, Link uses the mystical baton known as the Wind Waker to travel the vast oceans both above and beneath the surface. Link partners up with a pirate band lead by a young girl named Tetra, who is later revealed to be a descendent of Princess Zelda herself.
One of the biggest complaints Wind Waker received following its release was how tedious the act of sailing actually became. In what started as a refreshing twist to the series, the constant travel back and forth in this vast world got old mighty quick. Wind Waker HD is trying to lessen the pain of sailing by letting players obtain a better sail that can make King of Red Lions move at a much quicker pace. Treasure hunting was fun as well but ended up becoming as tedious as sailing, especially in the later portion of the game where Link needs to find several shards to assemble the Triforce of Courage. This involved finding secret charts, getting them appraised, and then tracking down the pieces. It took FOREVER, and thankfully Nintendo is trying to streamline that process with this HD remake. With two of the biggest complaints seemingly wiped away with this release, players can now focus on everything that was just amazing with both the original and this upcoming re-release.
The original Wind Waker looked absolutely beautiful and had outstanding fighting mechanics that complimented its appearance. A lot of people mocked Wind Waker by calling it “Celda” but have since warmed up to its cartoony style. The entire world was an explosion of colors and vibrancy making Wind Waker a true work of art. In fact, it was inducted into the Art of Video Games Exhibit in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, so calling it art is completely accurate. Fighting hordes of enemies was extremely fluid as well. The normal hack and slash combat was expertly refined and the introduction of “parry” attacks made the battles that much more exciting. There truly was nothing more satisfying than rolling behind a heavily armored enemy and slicing their armor to pieces.
The story is also a point of praise for Wind Waker. It starts off in classic Zelda fashion with Link as an unassuming boy who becomes a revered hero. His initial goal of rescuing his kidnapped sister grows into stopping the resurrected Ganon, the figure of ultimate evil. This also allows the story and setting to develop some immense depth beyond anything previously expected. The connection between Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time as a setting is evident from the very beginning. It’s only until Link embarks on his journey do all the connections become even more obvious. Both Link and Tetra are revealed to be descendants of The Hero of Time Link and Princess Zelda herself. The legendary Master Sword is the very same. Even supporting characters are revealed to be distantly connected to those you met on Ocarina of Time. As if that’s not enough, main locations in the Great Sea directly overlap regions in Ocarina of Time providing an extremely detailed geographic connection as well.
The original Wind Waker is one of my favorite Zelda games of all time and I still have it in my possession to this day. I fell in love with its art style and found the game to be an immense amount of fun. Sure, it was decidedly easier than other Zelda titles, but my sheer enjoyment of the game made me not care about that at all. I wasn’t immune to the problems though. The thought of finding those Triforce shards still haunts me. Thankfully it looks like this HD remake has the answer to all of those problems. It even has a Hero Mode to provide an extra bit of challenge for those who found the original too easy. I can honestly say that if I had a Wii U, I would seriously consider buying my own copy. The only thing that would stop me is the fact that I still own the original.
To this day, Wind Waker is still one of the best Zelda releases in history. It was a groundbreaking change to the franchise and it paid off in spades. The game is both fun and beautiful, a true Zelda experience that any fan needs to enjoy. Early reviews essentially agree that this HD remake is everything that made the original fun and then some. The new coat of paint on it definitely helps too. It’s looking like this is a must have title for those owning a Wii U. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is coming out digitally on September 20th and will get a physical release in North America on October 4th.