The Wind Waker's Story Puts a Twist on the Zelda Template
In The Wind Waker, the land of Hyrule has been subsumed for generations beneath the Great Sea and forgotten. The game begins as Link, the young hero, determines to rescue his sister and other children, who have been kidnapped by monsters. Helped by Tetra, a girl pirate captain, and the King of Red Lions, a talking boat, Link sets sail to the island of the Forsaken Fortress, where the children are being held captive.
Soon Link discovers that Hyrule had been flooded in order to trap the evil Ganon, defeated at the end of the Nintendo 64's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ganon is preparing to return, and he is the one behind the monster attacks. But Link is the reincarnation of the "Hero of Time," the only one who can defeat Ganon, and Link must journey throughout the Great Sea to develop his powers for their final confrontation.
Since what was the "overworld" in previous Zelda games is now a series of islands, Link must travel among them by boat in his quest. Link finds the "Wind Waker," a kind of magical baton, allowing the player to "conduct" (by manipulating the controller) different melodies that command the winds and allow Link to sail. This continues the strong musical element of Zelda gameplay that was introduced in Ocarina of Time and continued in the series through to Twilight Princess on the Wii console.
The maritime environment allowed another gameplay innovation – familiar Zelda items serve double duty at sea. The Grappling Hook, for instance, turns into a crane to recover sunken treasure (complete with treasure charts), while bombs are used as cannon balls in battles with pirate ships. The contrast between sea-going exploration and land-based swordfighting allowed for some of the most varied play yet seen in the Zelda series.
Nintendo designers decided to use cel-shaded graphics in The Wind Waker, another first for a Zelda game. The result mimicked the appearance of hand-painted, traditional animation, making The Wind Waker resemble an interactive children's cartoon. While the look resulted in less detailed graphics, it also allowed for smoother character animation than possible with the 3D graphics of the time.
This bold design choice was controversial at first. Some fans and reviewers, upon seeing the game, assumed that The Wind Waker was geared toward young children, something which Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto later asserted had not been the intent.
But others were impressed that Nintendo had resisted the trend of striving toward photo-realistic graphics. Will Wright, famed designer of such games as The Sims and Spore, was so impressed with the visual design of The Wind Waker that he singled it out in the video games section of the exhibition Krazy! The Delirious World Of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, a version of which is currently showing in New York.
It is fitting that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker should, many years after its initial release, become a museum piece. Its innovative premise and uncompromising design make it a milestone of video game art – but it is still a lot of fun to play too.