The Legend of Zelda is a series that has gone through some changes over the years, yet manages to stay pretty true to the feel that made the series beloved. Thanks to the cyclical nature of the series, and how most of the games put us into new incarnations of these characters and their world across their timelines (the timeline map for this series can get very complex) each game gives you a new experience, yet one that’s largely the same. You’ll play as Link, you go on a quest, you encounter Zelda, and you fight Ganondorf. Yes, there are some that don’t do this, but for the main games that’s pretty much what you get every time round.
Taking the same basic structure and overlaying it into new environments has done the series well, and it means that the creators don’t have to come up with new themes every time, and can instead focus on the world, giving players new environments and game play features in order to keep things new and interesting. After the massive success of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (largely considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time) there was a lot of pressure on Nintendo to deliver more. As such, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was quickly produced using many of the same assets as the previous game and acted as a direct sequel in the same kind of style. A few handheld released were made after this, but fans were still eagerly awaiting a home console game.
READ MORE: 5-25-77 – Film Review
In 2000, at the Space World exposition, Nintendo released a short video showcasing the abilities of the upcoming Nintendo Gamecube. This video featured clips of Pokemon, Metroid, and Luigi’s Mansion, but also Link fighting Ganondorf. This clip was similar in tone and style to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, though using much higher quality graphics. This demonstration led fans to believe that this would be the style of game the latest entry in the series would use. However, according to interviews made later on, the creative team felt like it had exhausted this idea, and needed something new to get excited over rather than becoming derivative. One of the designers on the team drew a picture of Link looking very cartoonish, and it quickly grabbed their attention.
The decision was made to create the next game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in a 3D cel shaded style, giving the game the look of a playable cartoon. Some of the producers on the game were unsure about this approach, but the excitement of the creative team eventually won them over and allowed them to create the game they wanted.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is set after the events of Ocarina of Time following one of the three timelines that split off from the events of that game (complex stuff, we know). The game puts you in the role of Link once again, a young boy who has grown up on a small island where the boys of their village wear the same kind of clothing as the hero of legend. This is one of many islands that exist in a vast ocean, where ships are needed to traverse the environment. When Link’s sister is kidnapped by a giant bird, he ends up going on an adventure to get her back, an adventure that leads him to meet the pirate captain Tetra (a disguised Zelda), and eventually puts him on a path to fight against the evil Ganon.
Whilst much of the game play for The Wind Waker follows a similar system to previous entries, with Link exploring environments, delving into dungeons, collecting rupees, and fighting enemies with a sword and shield, the setting takes a huge departure from what fans knew, and introduced some new game play features. Instead of a kingdom, the game is set in a large ocean filled with islands. In order to fully explore and gather items Link needs to travel from island to island using his boat, the King of Red Lions. The boat needs wind in order to travel, and via the use of a magical item, Link is able to direct the flow of wind to travel wherever he wants. Players are also able to use the boat to search for sunken treasure, using Link’s grappling hook to pull things up from the deep.
When the first look at the game was released, just a year after the previous tech demo, fans weren’t sure what to make of things, having been expecting a game in the other style. The response to the design was pretty divided, with some enjoying the departure from what had come before; but others were left feeling somewhat cheated. Whilst excitement for the game would continue to build towards release, some animosity towards the game continued.
Upon release the game received almost universal critical acclaim from media outlets and reviewers. It was the fourth game to receive a perfect score from Japanese magazine Famitsu, and would go on to receive more perfect scores from outlets such as Planet GameCube, Nintendo Power, and Game Informer. The new visual style was praised by reviewers, who likened it to being able to play a cartoon, and said that it made the game feel unique amongst other Zelda games.
Unfortunately, general audiences were still somewhat divided. The game failed to sell to expectations, especially outside of Japan. The game did well in Japan, where animation inspired games were frequently produced, but seemed to struggle in America and Europe. Some would complain that the game looked too childish, and it further added to the narrative that Nintendo was ‘producing games for children’.
However, over the years, initial criticisms of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker would begin to be retracted. With subsequent games taking on a more realistic style, especially The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess which was almost the polar opposite of The Wind Waker, fans would begin to praise The Wind Waker for sticking out. Those that didn’t like it as much to begin with would start to thaw towards the game, and began to praise it once they gave it more of a chance. The Wind Waker has now gone on to appear on a number of top games lists, as well as regularly appearing in top ten lists for best GameCube games. The increase in popularity resulted in an HD remaster being released for the Nintendo Wii ten years later.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker remains a stand out entry in the series even to this day. Thanks to both the visually distinct style, and the unique features provided by the setting, the game has continued to stick out in people’s minds and has gathered interest. Copies of the original game regularly sell for more now than they did upon their first release, and the HD version also remains sought after. With how popular the game is, it’s a genuine surprise that a digital version hasn’t been released on the Nintendo Switch, where it would be sure to make a killing. So, if you’ve got an old copy somewhere in your home gathering dust, why not fire up that old GameCube, and give this now beloved classic another try?
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released in the UK on 2nd May 2003.