The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is my second favorite game of all time. It’s blessed with everything that makes a Zelda game great — tight design, addictive side quests, stupendous art style — but it is also anamalous. The Zelda team has yet to make a new game in the series quite as ambitious as The Wind Waker. It doesn’t take much to see how much of a gamble the game truly was: there is barely any land to speak of, the story takes place over a century after Ocarina of Time, and of course, the art style is unlike anything the series had seen before. And yet, the core element that has always defined The Wind Waker, for me, is atmosphere. Whether it’s listening to the waves wash ashore or watching the streams of wind pass by Link’s face, the game feels alive.
It speaks volumes that Nintendo can create a world so visually abnormal and yet, make it feel more real than any other version of Hyrule to date. And now, The Wind Waker HD sets sail on a quest to perfect what was almost perfect — and to show just how timeless Link’s nautical adventure is. On the surface, it may seem like a mere graphical upgrade — and for a game as beautiful as The Wind Waker, that is not a bad thing — but director Eiji Aonuma and his team have also added in subtle changes that go a long way in improving the experience.
Sure, the game looks absolutely gorgeous, aside from Link’s character model under intense lighting, but it’s fortunate that Nintendo didn’t stop there. There are mechanical improvements as well. Any slight hiccups the GameCube version may have experienced are now virtually eliminated. The result is a game that can finally progress at the rate it originally wanted to.
Beautiful lighting makes Wind Waker look like a current gen title.
First and foremost is sailing. Fans may already know of the inclusion of the Swift Sail, an item that enables Link’s boat to travel twice as fast without ever having to change the wind again. Though the sailing was never a detrimental experience to The Wind Waker, there were those who found it tedious, boring, and damaging to the pacing of the game. The Swift Sail alleviates all pain. It can be purchased very early in the game and, after receiving it, it’s likely the player will never want to remove it. Because the world can load so much quicker, the intense detail of an island can be seen from further away. It’s a very small, but noticeable, addition and helps make the world feel more cohesive and less like a random selection of landmarks.
Perhaps the most welcome change of all, however, is the streamlining of the Triforce quest. Five of Link’s golden pieces can now be obtained directly instead of having to retrieve a Triforce Chart first. The improvement is definitely felt. I clocked in about four hours of game time trying to collect each piece in the original version of the game. This time around, I finished the quest within an hour-and-a-half and had plenty more rupees to spare. (This also meant I didn’t have to visit Tingle as much, which may be a positive for some fans.)
These are the two major changes made to the game, and the ones that many will notice. However, a veteran player will spot a number of other improvements that help streamline the experience. Not everything is fine-tuned, though. The game still requires more playng of the musical instrument than any other Zelda game and the first two dungeons are forgettable experiences, but a number of mechanical refinements sweeten the pot.
Remember how Link had to stop in order to change his direction while swinging? Now you can aim as you swing. Remember how difficult it could be to aim bombs at enemy pirate ships? An aiming reticle is now present. All songs played on the Wind Waker — after the first initial go — are no longer played twice to confirm the name. Now, the player simply plays the song physically and the command is instantly issued.
Enemies will also no longer knock Link down if he his hit atop the King of Red Lions and your ship will now slow down when approaching an island. Finally — and this may, in fact, be the best of all — a beeping signal no longer lingers with the player when Link is low on health.
These may seem like small, trivial additions, but they are actually improvements to some of the only dirt spots on what was otherwise a perfect game. The Wind Waker was quite divisive when it first released. The art style was shunned by some, but when the game finally hit store shelves, it was the level of tedium that turned off many players. The Wind Waker HD remedies nearly every problem, ensuring that the game can be played at with little to no interruption at all. It is seamless.
There are other additions worth noting. The gamepad leaves a practically barren HUD on the screen, allowing players to take in the scenery entirely. Item selection is done solely on the gamepad meaning that pausing is a thing of the past. It’s quicker and it is better. Finally, the gyroscope function is a welcome addition; players can aim with the gamepad screen itself to shoot arrows and latch onto grappling spots. This method is more precise than a control stick could hope to be. It may not seem like a huge improvement, but once players are about to be attacked by an enemy and need to quickly grapple to the next spot, they’ll see how this, and all of these small improvements, go a long way in contributing to the experience.
Everything else is as we left it in 2003. The gorgeous visuals keep The Wind Waker timeless, the story is a deeper, more personalized venture compared to previous installments and Toon Link remains to be one of the most expressive characters to grace a video game. When it first released, Wind Waker was ahead of its time. Now, its ambitions can be satisfied. The Wind Waker HD is a marginal improvement to a classic; a prettier, more streamlined game of excellent quality.