Today marks the 10th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s release on Nintendo GameCube in the U.S., so to celebrate I’m posting the next chapter in my latest Zelda-related article series a bit early. Also, be sure to check out our The Wind Waker 100% Livestream! Happy birthday, The Wind Waker!
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of those rare games that manages to carve out its own distinct path, and yet does so brilliantly. While many were initially put off by its art style, over time it’s come to grow on people, and unlike many of the “grittier” games of its day it’s actually aged as gracefully as fine wine.
I’ve frequently advocated that the upcoming Zelda Wii U should work to strengthen the series’ image as a high fantasy adventure by focusing on the core elements that make Zelda tick, but there’s still more than plenty that The Wind Waker did well enough to be worthy of emulating.
#5: Capturing the Feel of the Treasure Hunt
The Wind Waker had a lot of stuff to collect, and much of it you had to haul up from the bottom of the sea. While I certainly wouldn’t advocate for such a large focus on often tedious ocean-salvaging, I did think the game’s loot-hunting had one fantastic strength: it made excellent use of treasure maps to guide players to secrets. Combine The Wind Waker‘s treasure maps with, say, the Shovel from the classic games, and I think there’d be a lot of fantastic potential.
I don’t think it’d be a good idea to use treasure maps to quite the same extent, or in any kind of required fetch quest like the Triforce Hunt, but as a means of finding buried Rupee stashes, some kind of analog to Link’s Awakening‘s Secret Seashells or Phantom Hourglass‘s Spirit Gems, or even secret mini-dungeons? That’d be neat.
The GamePad screen would be a big help in coordinating the treasure hunt, too. Instead of having to pause the game to pop open the chart, you can just line your player icon up with the “X” on the map and dig away! Plus, it’d be a good opportunity to include an old map-related character, Ting- You know what – let’s not go down that road!
#4: Setting Sail Across the Sea
No, I’m not saying I’d like to revisit the Great Sea. We’ll already get to do that on Wii U with The Wind Waker Wii U, so I think it’d be a tad redundant anyway. I do think, however, that it might be pretty nice to visit the Hyrule coastline – which we’ve seen in a few games, including the original Legend of Zelda, Zelda II, and Four Swords Adventures – only this time, we’d be able to sail to outlying and uncharted islands, and perhaps even travel to entirely new continents!
Obviously the scale would have to be significantly reduced compared to The Wind Waker, but I think this would be a great way to incorporate a wider trip across the Hyrule universe – a real and meaningful expansion of what we know about the game’s world – while making use of familiar elements to get us there.
Instead of being forced to sail everywhere like in The Wind Waker, however, gaining access to a ship opens up entire segments of the world, more like the way Surfing works in Pokémon. A number of other JRPGs take a similar approach – you’ll start off the game in one continent and later travel to every corner of the globe in your fancy airship – so we know it’s something that can be done. Let’s get on it, Zelda team!
#3: Whimsical Visuals That Endure the Ravages of Time
While the visuals in games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess may have aged… pretty poorly, in hindsight… The Wind Waker looks wonderful even today. A lot of that has to do with the way the developers approached the game’s graphics – less focus on gritty details and more focus on making the visuals match the artwork.
It’s an approach that I think future Zelda games should keep in mind. The more game graphics try to replicate reality, the more prone they are to becoming outdated once future advancements in technology come along. Games that focus on strong artwork expressed directly in the game visuals, however, will always endure.
I don’t think Nintendo should focus too much on being overly unique with its art style – the series needs to nail its appeal to the wider gaming audience, as Twilight Princess did back in the day. I do think, however, that it’s critical that Nintendo focus on building up a strong portfolio of standout artwork and represent it as faithfully and as fully as possible in the in-game visuals. It’s superior artwork, after all, not superior realism that has driven some of the most memorable games to greatness.
#2: A Fluid Combat Engine
A lot of people may look to Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword as the height of Zelda‘s combat mechanics. Personally, I loved the more skill-based motion control sword combat in Skyward Sword… but something about the combat system in The Wind Waker just felt like a great expansion of everything that its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, already did brilliantly. Sure, parrying was a bit broken – but it was damn fancy, and the absolutely fluid sword combos were really satisfying to perform.
Perhaps the most noticeable improvement was the better targeting camera. It not only gives you a better angle on your battles, but it’s more responsive when you want to swap between enemies, less obtrusive in terms of the on-screen targeting indicator, and most importantly it sounds a lot less annoying.
I also really enjoyed the enemy weapon drops. They were a tad unwieldy, but it was a great idea and something I’d love to see fleshed out in a future Zelda. Perhaps we could try out one-handed enemy weapons and shields that we can mix and match with our other equipment?
There were tons of other improvements as well. The way enemies guard your attacks was a cut above their behaviors in Ocarina of Time. “Shield bashing” your enemies to get them to drop their stuff was a nice touch. There were loads of funny and unexpected enemy reactions – try stabbing a Moblin in the backside, for instance, and try to tell me that Zelda doesn’t have some of the most freaking charming little touches ever conceived. And, of course, the Hurricane Spin was awesome and I’m a bit down that it’s unlikely we’ll ever see it again.
I’d love for the next Zelda to improve upon the core combat engine just at least to the extent that The Wind Waker did, offering new moves with just as much flourish, new combat features that add just as much variability, and new enemy AI behaviors with just as much character.
#1: A Story That Hasn’t Been Told
Ever since the original Zelda, we’ve seen a gradually expanding Hyrule mythos. First we heard about the origins of Princess Zelda in Zelda II, then we delved into the Hyrule creation story, the Triforce myth, and the rise of Ganondorf in A Link to the Past, then we saw the story of the Seven Sages in greater detail in Ocarina of Time, and most recently we experience the forging of the Master Sword and the historical sky settlements of the Hylian ancestors in Skyward Sword.
These expansions have usually been logical. Usually, we’ll find out the real story behind some element of the series’ lore that was introduced in a previous game… but that’s not always the case. The Wind Waker in particular was a gigantic curveball – instead of exploring an existing element of the Hyrule universe, The Wind Waker did something drastic: Ganon broke loose from his seal, and with no hero to oppose him, the gods were forced to flood the kingdom, covering it beneath a seemingly endless ocean.
I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.
Rather than going the predictable route and taking on yet another unexplained element of the existing Hyrule timeline, I think Zelda Wii U should do something incredible – something unexpected. We’re getting tired of the same-old Master Sword story, the same-old demon king threatening the land. We’re hungry for something we haven’t even dreamed of yet, something that meets our wildest expectations for the future horizon of the series – and then surpasses those ambitions tenfold.
Check out Zelda for Wii U and 3DS Zelda Dungeon:
More Zelda Articles at GenGAME:
- Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow From Majora’s Mask
- Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow From Ocarina of Time
- Five Things Zelda Wii U Should Borrow from Skyward Sword
- Zelda Wii U: Non-Linearity is More Than Just Dungeon Order, Has to be the Heart and Soul of the Game
- Zelda Wii U: Cooperative Multiplayer is the Next-Gen Revolution We’ve All Been Waiting For
- Zelda Wii U: Tap Into Everything That Made A Link to the Past Great