The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Review
Before I even say a single thing about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, I feel it’s important to disclose that before I started with this replay, I considered the original to be one of my favorite games of all time. I love most everything about it, from the cartoony and bursting-with-color presentation, to the vast open seas that make the world feel (maybe artificially) large. I love the nautical setting, I love the music, and I even love the excessive sailing. That last part I’m sure I’m in the minority about.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Released for: Wii U
September 20th, 2013 (eShop) October 4th, 2013 (Physical)
Before the HD re-release, I hadn’t beaten the original Wind Waker to completion since the year it came out. I was 14 at the time.
10 years can and will change a person. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say I’m not at all the same as I was then. Tastes develop, as they do, and many things I was all about then I have since forgotten or consciously left behind.
Games, too, have a way of passing through similar complicated transitions. What is once revolutionary and noteworthy has a way of acquiring rust over the years, falling victim of being overshadowed by newer, more mechanically refined games. The graphics, especially, are the first thing to show signs of ageing. Like the people that make them, some games age much worse than others.
That isn’t to discount nostalgia, an emotional force that tends to integrate itself into how a game is remembered and thought about. When we think back to games we used to play all the time, like looking through rose-colored glasses we gloss over the faults and think of only the good. I hadn’t taken a look at the game with fresh, adult eyes and before going in, I was immensely curious to see how the experience would hold up.
I mention all this because out of all of Nintendo’s properties, especially from the mass pool of Zelda games to pick from, I wouldn’t have singled out the Wind Waker to be one that needed updating, graphical or otherwise. Cel shaded graphics especially tend to be relatively rust-proof, and as the Dolphin emulator for Gamecube games shows, a simple upscaling will prove that the Wind Waker can still look fantastic in comparison to games released today.
With the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Nintendo has (officially) welcomed the Gamecube game to high-definition 1080p glory. They’ve completely overhauled the graphics, updating the game to a whole new level of stunning. The game is full of bloom and vibrant colors, an effect that left me a little overwhelmed when I started playing. It practically laughs in the face of any game that has ever called itself “colorful” before it.
I had tried the original, upscaled on my computer, and thought that was the best the Wind Waker was going to look. Nintendo has proven me wrong.
The game feels at home right alongside other built-HD-from-the-ground-up modern games. I thought it was strange, before playing, that Nintendo would demand almost full price for a game that was released 10 years ago. At the risk of spoiling the rest of my review: I certainly feel like I got my money’s worth. Throughout my time spent in the waterlogged version of Hyrule, never through my playthrough was I not in awe of the sights laid out in front of me.
Mention has to be made, of course, about the music. Another weapon used from Wind Waker’s infinite arsenal of atmosphere, the music is almost always perfectly complementing the setting and geography surrounding Link. The Forest Haven music sounds tribal and optimistic, the boss battle music is both intense and catchy, and if you’re really focused, the main sailing theme can almost make you smell salt in the air. The only weak link in the soundtrack is the general enemy battle music, which always seems a little jarring when switched to from any of the other tunes. It’s a shame, since the mid and end boss music is so excellent, the battle music you hear most often is the most underwhelming. The songs conducted by the actual Wind Waker, too, will not leave as memorable of an impression as those played by the Ocarina of Time, but the orchestral themes of the game as a whole fills in that gap.
Of course, it’s not all pretty music and graphics that make this game special. The mechanics of the original still flow today with a well-oiled efficiency.
I elected to play through the game on the new Hero Mode exclusive to the HD version, an option which added a fair bit of challenge to the relatively easy original. In this mode, enemies deal double damage to Link, and it removes all of the life-refilling hearts that normally drop from enemies, pots, grass, etc. The only way to refill life, then, is with fairies and potions. The implications of this are dramatic in the beginning, when Link lacks for heart containers and bottles, but the difficulty evens out near the end when fairies are in constant supply. I died more in the first dungeon than I did at any other point in the game, combined.
The user interface has also been overhauled. Taking cues from the recent Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D re-release, item management has been delegated to the touch screen at your literal fingertips. The need to pause to switch weapons or check out the map has been obliterated (when playing with the GamePad, of course), making interruptions to gameflow minimal. The only time I had to actually pause the game was to stop the action so I could change equipment in the middle of particularly hairy fights. The ability to scour the sea chart while still sailing is a great example of how to keep the flow going.
And speaking of sailing, the big Zelda elephant in the room, I’m happy to say Nintendo has fixed sailing completely. Much has been made of the “Swift Sail”, an item made available early on in the game that lets you move along the water at a quicker speed than the standard one. What early press didn’t cover, though, was the fact that the sail also changes wind direction for you, so wind is always at your back when traversing the vast seas. The implications of this are huge. When I first heard about this I was a little apprehensive, I thought this may tarnish the original’s feeling of working to explore. After some time with the Swift Sail, though, I found I was much more inclined to go out of my way to check out previously unexplored islands in the distance, diverting from my original destination and goals.
This is extremely important, too, since to get the most out of the game, the desire to explore is essential. When you’re dropped into the world you have a mostly empty sea chart and a boat, and outside of the marked destinations, the game leaves you to your own devices to decide when and where to go. When squares of the map are filled in by a kindly, knowledgeable fish, he leaves hints for you about the world and things of interest. Almost all of the sidequests are hinted at by these fish, if you have the drive to find out exactly what he’s talking about.
The hints that are dropped and the information given is delivered in a cryptic, vague way. Every island had it’s own little secret, and the game made me curious enough to need to know what those secrets were. Before I knew that the HD version stored these hints on the sea chart to be recalled later, I had started writing them down because I knew if I didn’t, I would have forgotten and missed out on something interesting.
It’s good that there’s much to explore and do, since the amount of actual dungeons found in the game is disappointingly low. Compared to the usual 8-ish that usually accompanies most Legend of Zelda games, the Wind Waker HD only contains about 5, depending on your definition of dungeon. While a lot of their islands have their own caves and environments that call for spelunking, only the main quest locations have caverns worthy of a major item and a boss at the end. I’ve heard this is the result of some rushed development of the original, and while I’m not going to attempt to justify it, I will say it makes a lot of sense based on how some of the story sequences play out. When collecting 3 elemental orbs in the beginning by beating a couple dungeons, and the 3rd one is just sort of given to you, it seems like something may have gone amiss there.
It’s a shame, because the dungeons that exist are great, a nice and varied set of challenges. The boss fights, specifically, are all delightfully grand and really show off the spectacular flowing combat. Huge and imposing, the bosses represent the apex of the skills Link has been developing throughout the course of a particular dungeon. They’re all graphically impressive, as well, and after the first one, getting to the others was always a landmark I looked forward to.
I always really enjoyed the swordplay in the Wind Waker, and after since playing Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, returning to the Wind Waker HD is a welcome return to form. Combat is fast and fun, constant audio and visual cues are spread liberally throughout action to increase intensity and promote a nice back-and-forth between Link and imposing enemies. Instead of mindless hack and slash, the Wind Waker emphasises patience, counters, and careful positioning. I always looked forward to getting into fights, mostly just to see how good I could do and improving my reaction was something I always felt a drive to do. When faced with a room full of baddies, instead of dread I always felt more of a “bring it on” sense of challenge.
The tail end of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker HD’s main quest is the infamous Triforce piece hunt. I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler at this point to talk about the fact that, near the end of the game, you’re tasked to collect 8 shards of the broken Triforce of Courage leading up to the final confrontation with Ganondorf. In the original, the game required you to find 8 individual treasure maps, which each individually needed to be interpreted by the money-hungry Tingle, once interpreted the player had to then track the 8 pieces down. To say this brought down the pace of the game to a slog would be an understatement. In the HD release, Nintendo has graciously streamlined this portion, requiring only 3 maps to be read, the other 5 pieces were available without that extra step. On top of that, a new map can be obtained that gives the exact square locations where the pieces and maps can be found. This map is the single change I thought may have been a bit much, the simplicity this brought cheapened the experience of discovery. Instead of following the cryptic clues, you can instead just follow a map to an exact location.
Regardless, this keeps the pace of the game up, and the sense of exploring is still constantly apparent, something I was happy to do anyways. I no longer felt like that part of the game was excess padding. This, with the addition of the Swift Sail, trimmed the fat of the original enough to refine the experience to a smooth and consistent pace that never lost it’s steam.
The Wii U release also connects to Nintendo’s Miiverse in a unique way that doesn’t feel out of place in the game. Instead of the GBA-connected Tingle Tuner in the original, Tingle now bestows on you the ability to send messages out to sea with the Tingle Bottle. At any point in the game, messages can be written and sent out for other players to find. Then, bottles show up across the many beaches and waters containing messages from other players, in a very Dark Souls form of communication. Pictographs can be attached, creating the sense that other heroic explorers are all around, experiencing the same wonderful things you are, concurrently. I may have gotten a little carried away with this, taking shameless Link selfies in front of bosses, showing them how little I care about their evil shenanigans.
With the reduction of the Triforce quest length, the main quest line of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker HD becomes a little shorter than what you may expect from a typical Zelda game. However, the Wind Waker is packed full of side quests and mysteries to complete and solve, and if you have the drive you’ll be busy for a while. One side quest in particular involves taking pictures and getting models made out of them, something I hear can take upwards of 100 hours to accomplish if you took the time. So, for the completionist in you, there’s never a want of things to do. It’s missing a few dungeons, but the sailing and the world size makes up for it, I feel.
By updating and bringing the Wind Waker into the modern gaming world, Nintendo has refined and improved an already incredible experience with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. It’s an HD update I didn’t know I desperately wanted. The rose-colored glasses have turned clear, and the pleasant clouds of nostalgia have been blown away. I feel impartial and unbiased when I say I may have solidified my answer to, “What is my favorite game, ever?”