Published on October 25th, 2013 | by Jeff Derrickson1
Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Review
Summary: This HD remake is a superior version of a modern classic.
It’s funny to think that a decade ago, fans were wary about Zelda’s GameCube debut due to Wind Waker’s (at the time) unique, cel-shaded art style. Now, its art style is one of its most treasured assets. The game? A beloved, modern classic. Wind Waker is widely regarded as one of the best 3D Zeldas. I’m happy to report that it has improved with age, and Wind Waker HD tweaks the game to offer a superior version of what was already great. If you went in knowing nothing, you might declare it the best game of the year.
If you know it well, changes include: completely revamped HD graphics, optional gyroscopic aiming, touchscreen functionality on the gamepad, a swift sail, something called Tingle bottles, and Hero Mode. The end-game Triforce shard quest has also been streamlined. Smaller tweaks include the ability to move around while aiming in first-person. Nearly every change enhances the game in some way or addresses common complaints without tarnishing this masterpiece one bit. If you have the means, this is the version to play.
A majority of players who found a flaw in Wind Waker pointed to the sailing. Much of the overworld is a vast ocean, and after awhile, they got bored sailing. You had to change the direction of the wind to get speed, and even then, it took too long to get anywhere. Not to mention, you had to watch a cutscene every time Link changed the direction of the wind. Nintendo added an item called a swift sail to an auction house sidequest tucked away near the beginning of the game. Once obtained, the swift sail allows you to traverse the sea at twice the normal speed without ever having to alter wind patterns. If the wind is at your back, then you’ll sail even more quickly.
I never had a problem with sailing in the game, but if you did, Wind Waker HD fixes that. With the swift sail, you can cover a lot of water in no time. I should note that it is completely optional and very possible to miss, especially if you stick to the main quests. In fact, I’ve played the original Wind Waker several times, and as far as I recall, I don’t think I’ve ever participated in the auction. Near the end of Wind Waker HD, I had to look up how to get the swift sail, and I was a bit sad I hadn’t had it all along, despite the fact that I didn’t feel like I needed it beforehand. The swift sail encourages exploration by making it easier.
Many players also hated the extensive Triforce shard quest near the end. In the original, you had to sail the sea to find eight Triforce charts, then get them deciphered to find the location of eight Triforce shards, and then go find those shards in order to reach the final dungeon. While it is still a lengthy end-game fetch quest, it is much shorter now. Some of the shards are easier to obtain, and only three of the shards require you to get a chart to find them first. The remaining five’s locations are marked on your map from the beginning of the quest. I never had a problem with the Triforce shard quest, but critics of it should be pleased with how Nintendo streamlined it.
My only complaints levied at the original Wind Waker were that it was too short and easy. Nintendo has addressed the difficulty, which surprised me, because I hadn’t seen many other players complain about it. In Hero Mode, enemies deal twice the damage as normal, and you can only regain health by using fairies and potions. Hearts are nowhere to be found. It turns what was one of the easiest Zelda games into one of the most challenging entries of the series. It’s available as an option right from the start of the game, and even better, you can select to turn it on or off every time you load your file.
As for the game’s length, it remains unchanged. In fact, due to the streamlined Triforce quest, it could be argued that Wind Waker HD is shorter than the original. It’s a bit of a shame, because Nintendo admitted long ago that two dungeons were cut from the original Wind Waker to get it out on time. Nintendo obviously put a lot of care into this HD remake instead of just porting it to make a quick buck, so it would have been nice if they went that extra mile to make revisiting Wind Waker truly special for long-time fans. My best guess is that elements of those cut temples were already used in later Zelda games.
Tingle bottles, touchscreen controls, and of course, off-screen play on the gamepad are all nice touches. Perhaps inspired by similar social elements in games like Dark Souls, Tingle bottles allow you to communicate with other players connected to Miiverse by placing messages and/or pictures in bottles in the ocean. The gamepad’s touchscreen allows you to manage items and view maps and songs without breaking up the flow of the game or cluttering up your TV screen.
The stunningly revamped visuals and all these little touches add up to make Wind Waker HD worth the price of admission. While it would be nice to play through the two cut dungeons, I’m not so sure Wind Waker’s length is as much an issue I used to. Yes, there is padding that disguises the lack of dungeons, but it’s nowhere near as excessive or offensive as in Skyward Sword. The quests you do to enter the Earth and Wind Temples force you to explore the world a bit, which made me realize something: for once, I was enjoying a Zelda game’s overworld as much, if not more so, than the dungeons.
That is perhaps Wind Waker’s greatest standout feat in a series that defines greatness. Its world is so beautiful and atmospheric that you can get lost for hours just exploring, sailing toward that next island you spot on the horizon. I didn’t want to rush through it. I never longed for the next temple. Maybe that’s why the Triforce fetch quest never bothered me. The rich overworld combined with flashy combat that is the most satisfying in the series (there is nothing like parrying a knight and slashing off his armor from behind) ensures that Wind Waker stands the test of time. I’ve revisited it more than any other game in the series except A Link to the Past, which I played probably hundreds of times as kid.
It’s rare to go back to an old game and become fully engrossed to the point where it takes precedent over new games, but Wind Waker HD did that for me. Now that I’ve played through its adventure for review, I want to go back and fully chart out its map, complete every sidequest, and upgrade Link. Now that I think about it, getting yours hooks that deep into a player’s heart is a rare feat for any game, let alone a decade-old classic.