By: Casey Curran
A gamer’s favorite Legend of Zelda title can say a lot about their taste. Some may prefer the old school design choices found in the original or A Link to the Past. Others may want the polish and emphasis on dungeon design Twilight Princess offers. Then, there are those that were wowed by Ocarina of Time’s revolutionary step forward in 3D back in 1998, those that love the dark tone and risks Majora’s Mask offered, and the hipsters who say Okami.
Personally, I have always cherished Wind Waker most, so much so that an HD upgrade was more than enough to justify purchasing a Wii U. What makes it special, however, takes a little more explaining than the series’ other installments.
Wind Waker’s control setup was a huge step forward from Ocarina of Time upon its release. Ten years later, however, controlling Link does not feel as tight or polished as it once did. Any time in which Link is not on solid ground has a distinct lack of precision as I had difficulty jumping and swinging on ropes.
This is especially noticeable as many other parts of the control setup received noticeable improvements. The d-pad is now used to quickly select items, which is useful at sea where you do not have to map the cannon and wand to a precious item slot. Aiming and shooting projectiles now also lets you move and aim at the same time, streamlining many items such as the bow and hookshot. With changes like these as well as a controller with more input methods than the Gamecube, it makes the lack of a jump button seem more jarring. It was fine in 1998, but the series desperately needs to implement one for its next 3D installment.
I have always felt Wind Waker was the best looking game of that console generation. It may not have been the most technically proficient, but the then-controversial art style has allowed it to age wonderfully over the past decade. In high definition it managed to impress me the same way it did when I first played it. Character models look incredibly well polished, and the world design is both colorful and varied. Wind Waker has held up so well, it looks more current gen than any cel-shaded game not named Ni No Kuni.
This eye candy is not just in the art style, either. Characters animate beautifully giving every person you meet their own distinct personality just through the way they move. This goes for Link as well, who coveys emotion and character unmatched by any other silent protagonist.
Music and sound effects play into the game’s look and feel flawlessly. Everyone has a perfect noise, vocal cue, or short musical tone that fits their personality. The musical numbers set up both the mood of the area as well as the situation. Players knowing when danger arrives upon hearing the battle theme every time enemies appear is just an example of the way Wind Waker varies music to let the player know the situation at hand. The title song is also so beautiful it took me a while to press start when first playing the game.
As much as I love Wind Waker, the $50 price tag for a 10-year-old game is a little steep. It is because of this that Wind Waker HD will not appeal to every Zelda fan. There are three groups this game really is for, though these three still constitute a good amount of people.
The first are fans that already love to replay Wind Waker. These fans will absolutely love another opportunity to play Wind Waker, especially with its improved look and the changes it makes. Most in this group may have already bought the game, however, but if you have replayed Wind Waker before and intend to do so again, just know that this port delivers in huge ways.
The second group consists of those who want to replay Wind Waker but have a few design quirks holding them back from doing so. Unless nothing short of new dungeons would get you to replay Wind Waker, I can say that this port does more than enough make another journey across the Great Sea worthwhile.
In addition to the control improvements mentioned above, the new item Swift Sail makes sailing much more enjoyable. It’s much faster than the old sail, is fairly easy to obtain, and (most importantly) does not require the player to stop every time to change wind direction; instead the wind blows behind the player automatically. As someone that already loved the sailing, all of my issues were eliminated because of this; and it should make sailing at least tolerable to those that weren’t fans before.
There is also the matter of the Triforce hunt, which was much more tedious before. This section has been improved, with over half of the pieces just being in a treasure chest rather than a sea chart that will lead you to them. Challenge mode also drastically increases the game’s difficulty to those seeking a bump in that department. Enemies are stronger and, more importantly, hearts can only be restored through fairies and potions, so expect to die a lot more if you opt for this mode. Whether these changes are worth $50 is up to you, but for those that want to replay the game, this is the definitive version.
The third group is those that haven’t played Wind Waker before. If you are in this group, or even if you have never played a Zelda game before, then Wind Waker is an okay place to start — though I would personally recommend Ocarina of Time 3D because it is a direct predecessor to Wind Waker as well as its larger dungeon count, more conventional transportation and much shorter time frame before its first dungeon.
For those familiar with Zelda, I can say that if you are not a fan of the gameplay, Wind Waker will probably not change that. If you enjoy these games, however, then Wind Waker does an excellent job of feeling familiar yet different from other entries. The Great Ocean is not as dense as the other Zelda worlds, but the size and open feeling it provides will make it more attractive to some. The ocean holds countless secrets ranging from buried treasure to small islands, and even a few mini dungeons along the way. The amount of content the Great Ocean holds in many ways makes up for the small number of dungeons; there are only seven, including the final section.
Combat is also fairly different from other Zelda games. Many enemies will be taken out with a few swift blows, but later sections will require waiting for the right moment to counterattack and expose a weak point. There are also a number of sub-weapons available that help give it some extra variety. On the downside, there are a few awful stealth moments. These consist of too much waiting, irritating enemy movement patterns, and in one very early instance a frustrating penalty if you are caught.
These are the basics of Wind Waker, but they only offer an idea. The epic moments the game holds, the whimsical characters, and the way it all blends with the art style and music are something that needs to be experienced, not explained.
Wind Waker is a harder sell than most HD remakes due to its $50 price tag for a 10-year-old game. And yet, it does much more than just put one of that gen’s best looking games in HD. It addresses many of the issues that the original had, with all of these changes for the better. It may not justify its price for everyone, but it definitely raises the bar for HD remakes.