Things have changed since The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker came out in 2003.
The Zelda series has since ventured into unfamiliar territory: the Twilight Realm, New Hyrule, and even the clouds. Each installment has brought new gameplay mechanics, from wolf transformation to trains to giant birds. Most importantly, every new world explored has given us memorable characters and stories of a magnitude that only the Zelda series could match.
Yet throughout years of twilight princesses and Goddess Sword spirits, the Zelda series has not reached the levels of adventure and sentiment that it once met with The Wind Waker.
This summer, I took it upon myself to write a 4-part article series on the philosophy of The Wind Waker as supported by the game’s graphical style and themes. It was my first venture into video game writing, fueled by the desire to express my views of the game that single-handedly saved my life. My views on The Wind Waker were deemed unconventional by most. “Why is it not a happy game?” asked friends of mine during Skype-call-hosted tirades on people who didn’t understand the themes of the game. “The Wind Waker is a happy game stylistically, but it’s not about happiness. It’s about optimism!” I would answer enthusiastically. “The king’s speech at the end solidifies this theory. It’s all about hope, not happiness. Those who see it simply as a ‘happy game’ have not yet understood the themes of it.” As I would then go on to write, “[The Wind Waker] cannot be about happiness: it is too realistic, too human to entertain the notion that happiness will always be in the air.”
I stood by this theory long before these words were ever published, and subsequently even after The Wind Waker HD was announced. The announcement of The Wind Waker HD had no effect on how I viewed the original Wind Waker: I had every intention of playing the graphically updated version, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, nor did I predict that my view of The Wind Waker’s philosophy would change at all.
When I sat down with my limited edition Zelda Wii U bundled with a digital copy of The Wind Waker HD, pre-ordered by my amazing brother as a birthday present to me, I would not have guessed that the Miiverse was the first thing to mesmerize me about the console. I spent a good couple of hours within the Miiverse, taking in the beautiful black-and-white fanart and screenshots uploaded by fellow gamers.
I made my first post on the Wind Waker HD Miiverse community. “Ready to play the game that changed my life in HD,” it read.
A few minutes later, this image graced my TV screen.
The HD graphics did not disappoint in the slightest. From the outset, I was floored. The bloom, the blur, and the smoothness of the overworld took my breath away. As I rolled around Outset Island and talked to my old friends with their shiny new HD outfits, I shed a single tear.
I didn’t play much that first night, though. Something felt off. I pondered why I shed one tear instead of thousands. Isn’t this what I’ve been waiting for forever? I asked myself. It certainly didn’t feel right; after writing so much about The Wind Waker and pouring so much energy into analyzing the game, I thought that such a spiffy new look would make me weep.
I kept playing throughout the next few days, trying to figure out what was keeping me from feeling any intense emotion while playing. I went through the motions: The Pirate Ship, The Forsaken Fortress, then on to Windfall Island. As I wandered Windfall Island, it hit me that I was playing The Wind Waker HD rather casually. The realization took me back for a moment. A casual adventure was not the kind of game The Wind Waker was to me. It was a rare treat, an emotional roller coaster I seldom rode. It was the game that was so meaningful to me that, from the moment I beat it on June 10, 2011 until May 12, 2013, I didn’t touch it.
So how could I be playing it so carelessly now?
More accurately, the very air was high-definition. I could almost feel the wind blowing on my face and the mist of the sea as I rode along to the re-orchestrated horns of The Great Sea’s theme. The soundtrack received an HD lift, too; it sounded more layered and majestic than I remembered.
Every wave I sailed across looked textured and pure. Peering out onto the horizon, I saw the silhouettes of the islands in the distance more vividly than I ever could on the GameCube. My telescope was constantly set to one of my main item buttons just so I could get a closer look at the skies. Whenever I stopped in deep waters to pick up the treasure hidden beneath those beautiful glowing rings, I admired the light that emitted from the treasure chests.
Months ago, I had written that The Great Sea in The Wind Waker was a wasteland. I wrote that one should not be deceived by the overworld’s bright colors, as The Great Sea holds nothing. It is barren, and can hold no life nor happiness.
But who was I to deny any player happiness while playing The Wind Waker HD? Was I going to deny that I was not sailing those high seas and becoming swallowed up in its bright colors and vivid imagery?
The high-definition overhaul changed my entire outlook on The Wind Waker. I could not perceive The Great Sea as a true wasteland any longer. The Great Sea had been filled with life and vibrant color that its original state didn’t seem to contain. The land was full of optimism still, but there was no denying that it was the virtual embodiment of an emotion that I once thought the Great Sea lacked: happiness.
I have not played The Wind Waker HD as much in recent days, but given my history with The Wind Waker, I believe playing it at all to be a personal achievement.
An even greater achievement, however, is how Nintendo managed to breathe new life into a game already chock-full of emotion and energy. I did not believe that a graphical overhaul could change the tone of any video game drastically, but I was proven wrong with a high-definition remake of my favorite game of all time. The Wind Waker’s graphical style played a huge role throughout my original The Wind Waker article series in proving The Great Sea to be a wasteland; the HD remake prompted me to write this addendum of sorts to those four pieces.
Many critics and Zelda fans alike praised the glossy high definition look, but questioned why Nintendo would try to upscale a game that had already aged well. I believe that The Wind Waker HD was more than just an upscale. The Wind Waker HD recognized the magic that The Wind Waker contained and strengthened it by adding a touch of bloom and blur.
The Wind Waker may still honor hope for the future and optimism as its primary themes; but The Wind Waker HD took a graphical style deeply rooted in the philosophy of its own game and improved on it infinitely, with The Wind Waker HD becoming possibly one of the best remakes of all time in the process.
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