In an interview with Eurogamer back around E3 2013, Eiji Aonuma, long-time Director and Producer of the Zelda franchise, addressed concerns that fans have had about the infamous structure of The Wind Waker’s main quest since its release in 2002: “If it felt like there were maybe too few dungeons, then I feel that what was wrong with the GameCube version was the pacing.”
The focus of The Wind Waker HD’s many amendments, then, was to make the time you spend outside of and between dungeons feel more or less equal to the time you actually spend in them. A long list of new conveniences makes this vision a reality: a swift sail that always puts a favorable wind at your back, sped-up animations for the crane & Wind Waker, and some leniency with how far you can be from a glowing circle to successfully retrieve a sunken treasure chest.
Even the “triumph-forks” quest—a multi-faceted fetch quest that encourages you to explore every corner of The Wind Waker’s boundless sea—seems to have benefited from the game’s quickened pace. Even so, despite its beautiful new HD makeover, if you’ve played the Gamecube version of the game, then The Wind Waker HD will feel very, very familiar (perhaps even watered down). It’s supposed to.
Ultimately, it isn’t about recreating what you experience in the game, but recreating how you experience it. Nintendo has always tried to create new experiences through innovative hardware, and The Wind Waker HD and the Wii U GamePad are a good example of this.
The Wii U GamePad puts you at the helm of your adventure—literally and figuratively. One of the reasons the original Wind Waker felt so sluggish is because you had to navigate several menu screens to view your map and various treasure charts. The GamePad does away with this, allowing you to directly interact with all of your navigation materials on the touch screen.
In short, the GamePad helps you feel like a veritable cartographer. Pouring over maps deciding which regions you’ll explore next, comparing the squares you’ve filled out to the treasure charts you’ve amassed throughout your adventure, and re-examining the hearsay given to you by well-travelled fish on the great sea all come together to create an unbridled sense of adventure.
That is not to say that the 2002 version didn’t evoke that same kind of adventurous spirit—all the charm characteristic of the Zelda franchise is alive and well. After all, it’s simply reorganized it into a more fitting and user-friendly interface. For people who are experiencing the game for the first time, this new sense of generational awareness will help to make it will feel like it was built from the ground up for the Wii U.
For a time, I thought that The Wind Waker would be the least likely contender for an HD remake, but I have come to realize why it may have been the most fitting. Sure, the state of the market, Nintendo’s desire to continue its legacy, and the Wii U’s sluggish sales are all obvious justifications for a re-release, but more than any other Zelda game, The Wind Waker seems best suited to the Wii U’s features, and the Wii U brings out the best parts of The Wind Waker.
Food For Thought:
Alright, I’m abandoning the bullet-and-number system here to talk about something often overlooked in conversations about The Wind Waker, and that’s how brilliantly the map was designed. Despite being a relatively open-world game, there is still an obvious and very natural sense of direction about it.
For example, right after you get the ability to warp across the map, you need to visit the forsaken fortress, positioned in the farthest northwestern corner of the map. The two squares you’d naturally warp to are the two closest to it. The square you naturally warp to first is the Mother and Child Isle. Doing this will land Link and the King of Red Lions in a fountain belonging to the queen of the great fairies, who will tell you to come and see here once you have someone important to protect – a detail crucial to finishing a quest later in the game.
The second closest square features a curious totem-pole tower belonging to the mysterious… uh, fairy, Tingle, whose small plot of land in this square is appropriately named Tingle Island. If you’ve released him from his cell in Windfall Island’s prison, he’ll offer translation services for charts that you can’t read. He plays a crucial role in the latter half of the game, and it sets you up for success long before you need to know that.
The game is also generous with rupees. Nine times out of ten, when you pull up a chest from a glowing circle you catch dancing across the surface of the sea, you’ll find a purple rupee. These stack up quickly, and your wallet will be full before you know it. Pots found in the latter half of the game will easily yield 50-100 rupees. The game was designed knowing what it’s asked the player to do.
This doesn’t help the latter half of the game from feeling rushed, or the Capcom-inspired Ganon’s Tower from feeling lazy, but I feel it’s at least important to mention that the Triforce quest was subtly built into the entirety of the game.