I think it’s important for you guys to know that I hated The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker when I played it years ago. It’s not because of the graphics or anything stupid like that, but rather the focus on sailing. I binge played a lot of the game, and all I can recall about it was being en-route to go do something. The game felt like it was always in transition, as I was on my way to do something interesting much, much more than I was actually doing something interesting. Adding that issue onto the absolutely piddling amount of dungeons resulted in a game that I couldn’t stand, but choked down anyway. It’s a game I’ve always wanted to like, though, as the beautiful graphics and absolute charm that permeates the whole game demands that I enjoy it. Finally, almost a decade later, I got a version of the game that cut away at almost everything the game did to waste my time, allowing me to love this game as much as everyone else. Well, almost.
When you get to Windfall Island, wait until dark and go to the auction house. Make sure you have three to four hundred rupees, and do everything in your power to buy the Swift Sail. I don’t care what else you want to do with the game – make that your top priority. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is still pretty much the same game as its predecessor, but improvements have been added to it to make a lot of its annoying issues less troubling, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the sailing. If you just boot the game up, you’ll be scratching your head and wondering what everyone’s talking about, because basic sailing is still slow. If you get that item, you’ll see the kind of work Nintendo put into the game to fix those issues as the Swift Sail doubles the sailing speed and forces the wind to always be at your back, cutting down on a lot of wasted player time.
If you’ve never played it, that might not mean much to you. Not only was sailing slow, but every time you had to change direction, you needed to go into your menu, check your map to make sure you were headed the right way, equip the Wind Waker baton, play the right song, hear that song play out, choose a wind direction, and then you were on your way. The Swift Sail cuts all of that out, only requiring that players point the boat in the right direction and hit A. I can’t even describe how nice it is not to have to fiddle with all of that extra busywork to get to where I want to go, especially when so much of the game is spent traveling the sea. If I had a complaint, it was that the Swift Sail had to be bought rather than just being the default sailing scheme. Sailing was the most common complaint about the old game, so making its fix into an item that could easily be missed was a bad idea. It fixes a lot when you have it, but you should have it from the beginning.
Also, with the Wii U’s controller, you get a sea map that’s open all the time while you’re sailing. There are many points in your quest where you’ll have to head to very specific points in the sea and start digging around for stuff, so having to open and close the map a dozen times while you line yourself up just right is an incredible pain. With the map always open on the Wii U’s pad, you can just shimmy your boat around until you can see you’re in the right position. Not only that, but if you need an item while you’re sailing around, you can just flick to your item screen by hitting the R button, never stopping the action in the main game just to mess about in your inventory. That screen on the control pad does so much for keeping the game moving at a brisk pace, and I’m beyond pleased with it.
Even nicer is the fact that many items are automatically mapped to buttons all the time. The Wind Waker baton is tied to the left D-Pad, meaning you always have it out and don’t have to dig around for it in your inventory when you need to play a song. It’s also not eating up an important inventory spot, either. Also, when you’re in your boat, the grappling hook gets mapped to the D-Pad as well, again cutting down the time you spend in the menus. A huge chunk of my playthrough of the original Wind Waker also involved a lot of inventory shuffling, so streamlining it keeps me playing the game and having fun.
There have been some quests that were simplified as well, such as the Deluxe Picto Box. It’s been shortened by a task, saving a lot of travel and busywork. The Nintendo Gallery, once a completionist’s nightmare, is much easier too with the advent of Bottle system. These bottles are different from the usual Legend of Zelda bottles in that you can send messages and pictures out through the Miiverse, and they will randomly appear in other people’s games. In the old Nintendo Gallery, you had to take pictures of everyone single character and enemy (well, one of each unique enemy) you passed through the game, and there were a few that you only got one shot to get. If you forgot and saved, you were screwed. Now, you have a random chance of finding pictures you need for the quest in bottles in the ocean, ones that have been sent out by good-hearted players. I got some end-game boss pictures right at the beginning thanks to some of these nice gamers, and it made a quest I used to hate a lot more fun.
Not everything about the Wii U version’s control scheme is great, though. Items that need to be used in first person such as the boomerang and grappling hook are beyond frustrating to control. For starters, the right control stick is above the buttons, making it uncomfortable to use them. I’m used to reaching up from the control stick to access buttons, so aiming and then firing is just really awkward for no good reason. You didn’t need to have a different controller scheme than everyone else, Nintendo! If you don’t want to use the stick, you can always gesture with the Wii U game pad, as you can use it to aim just by moving the controller around. The issue is that both of these schemes work at the same time, so if you have jittery hands while aiming with the stick, the reticule will keep moving around. If you do pure physical aiming with the controller, my thumb is typically resting on the stick and throws my aim off even more as my general movements move the thumbstick a little when I swing the controller around.
These gripes aren’t too bad because you can target enemies, and it’s not all that often that you have to grapple under duress. Bosses are another story, as you typically have to use weapons like those, or the bow & arrow and hookshot, in order to fight them. The bosses in Wind Waker HD aren’t very hard, but I found myself getting smacked around a lot since it took so much longer to aim with the clunky control scheme. Even Gohma, the first boss, almost pounded me to death while I tried to aim for the stupid tail hanging from the ceiling. It was far too complicated just to aim and fire with both of these control schemes at the same time, and there really was no need of it. Motion controls do not really work with precision, guys. Haven’t we learned that yet?
I wanted to lose my temper at it, but it’s so hard to stay mad at this game given how good it looks all these years later. Having a vision for the graphical design of your game that is more than just trying to achieve photorealism always creates these games that are timelessly good looking. The stylized artwork of Wind Waker was never going to reach a point where it looked out of date because the striking color and art were not built around an engine that was going to look worse with age. This is why Final Fantasy VII, a game that used to blow my mind with its realism, looks terrible while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night still impresses me. Wind Waker HD manages to take the one aspect of the game that would have looked bad, the standard definition format, and turns it into glorious, vibrant, gorgeous HD.
Just seeing this game all over again in HD would have been worth the price to many all on its own, and even I couldn’t argue against that. The lush color in this game is still a treat for the eyes, as everything is just looks so brilliant and cheery that its hard not to smile while looking at it. The designs on all of the characters and monsters look really good as well, and are somehow capable of conveying darkness and menace even while looking cartoonish and bright. Clever use of dark colors, even if they’re used in vibrant ways, gives enemies like the Helmaroc King and Ganon’s various forms this sense of power and dread in this otherwise happy world. Just by their coloring alone, you can sense that they’re evil and dangerous.
Beyond that, the sheer joy and emotion shown by a smile or a hop from the brighter, friendly characters and creatures tells me so much about their characters than hours of cutscenes could. Watching Link’s face be so animated to show happiness, sadness, and anger always makes what he’s feeling clear, and something about watching him jump up and down when he beats a boss makes me want to do it with him. Seeing these colorful characters laugh and converse with each other was engrossing, making me really feel like I was along with Link on a great adventure.
The sounds they all make have me grinning, too. Many characters just have a short sound that they make, either a laugh or a cry they shout at times, and they’re all adorable. They just drag you into the charm of this game, and I’ll happily take them over a thousand dark, grizzled protagonists. I just really like hearing them, and find they drive home the feeling that you are just a young child out on an adventure.
That really is the main appeal to this game, and was something I missed during my binge play sessions of the original. This is, above all things, a game about a young boy going out to discover himself and prove himself to the world. Wind Waker HD is not about doing that in any overwrought sense where were constantly reminded about the boy’s trials and his mental state through dialogue and reflections from the character. Instead, we’re the ones who are asked to reflect for him, to feel fear and joy as he does. Link only shows what he’s feeling but never says it, and I always feel like I’m joining in with his emotions alongside him without the game directly telling me that’s how I should feel. When I watched his grandmother moving further into the distance when I sailed away at the beginning of the game, I could feel what Link was feeling. I’m a long ways from having left home for the first time, but seeing that sequence made me feel a lot of things I haven’t felt in a very long time.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a good game when it came out, but its issues with sailing and busywork made it impossible for me to love. I couldn’t see past those issues to the solid game behind them, but Wind Waker HD has cleared that up for me and let me enjoy this game. It let me savor the beautiful artwork and animated characters, to really feel what Link was feeling without him saying a word. It let me feel this connection with the most cartoonish, unrealistic Link in a way that the other Legend of Zelda games have never been able to pull off. I really felt connected with this adventure, could really internalize the feeling of childish wonder at all of the beautiful things in this world.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you do a remake.