Monday, January 13, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U) Review


How do I begin to talk about The Wind Waker? The original for GameCube isn't the first Zelda game I ever played, but it is the one that I credit for making me fall in love with the series. The game's loving attention to detail, touching narrative, and beautiful world drew me in and stole my heart like no other game had before. The Wind Waker is not only one of my most beloved Zelda games, but one of my most beloved games period. Needless to say, I was a bit...touchy...about the concept of a remake for the Wii U. After seeing the initial screenshots released for the project, I was cautiously excited. At first, the game didn't look like The Wind Waker. It looked less like a classic 2D-animated Disney film and more like a modern 3D-animated one. Then when I saw the first trailer for the game, my eyes were assaulted by a bloom-drenched, brightly-lit, twisted version of my beloved masterpiece. As I saw more of the game, the bloom began to annoy me less (I also heard they toned it down a bit), and my eyes began to grow accustomed to the new world that this Wind Waker was presenting, even began to like it and anticipate it. After finally getting my hands on the final product, sitting down, and immersing myself in it for over a hundred hours of adventuring, exploring, and picture-taking (oh so much picture-taking), I'm happy to say that the game is worthy. Is it the definitive version of The Wind Waker? Does it improve on the original in every way, omitting the need to ever look upon the GameCube classic again? Well...no. But it's a bit more complicated than that.

I fondly remember the day I got the original Wind Waker. I had had it pre-ordered and I started the game the night of its release day. I made it beyond the shores of Outset Island, through the initial Forsaken Fortress infiltration, and finally to Windfall Island that night. It was there that I stopped playing and the next day I had to suffer an agonizing day of school before I could go home and explore that beautiful-looking village. That afternoon, I spent hours just immersing myself in Windfall Island, talking to all the people, taking on side-quests, and appreciating every little detail. By the time I was ready to set sail, I had forgotten that I had only just begun, that there was a whole entire ocean to explore. This level of giddy excitement, the knowledge that there's a huge adventure ahead of me, is one of the reasons why I love Zelda so much. With The Wind Waker HD, I re-lived this wonderful introduction to the game. It's been about two years since I last played through the original, so long enough that the experience felt fresh again. I again spent hours combing Windfall Island, talking to the townspeople, becoming the pictographer, Lenzo's apprentice, playing hide and seek with the Killer Bees, the local gang of boys, and playing a game of "Zelda Battleship" with the wacky and ever-lovable mini-game operator, Salvatore. And after all this, I had that same level of exuberance when it was time to set sail on the vast Great Sea. With all this, I mean to say that this is still The Wind Waker. The enjoyment I got from the first game is present and accounted for, and this magical experience is still just as magical in this new version, from the player's first steps on Outset Island all the way to the emotional finale. It's all there: the interesting character-driven side-quests; the secret-filled world; the atmospheric, engaging dungeons; the well-written story; the rich lore...this is The Wind Waker, and it's still fantastic.

Relax, this is still The Wind Waker

There's a lot I can say about The Wind Waker and everything that makes the game such a brilliant experience. The story is one of the best in the series, with the most relatable Link of them all; a young boy who isn't on some fixed, destined path, but simply wants to save his sister. Through this quest, the young hero learns of his world's troubled past and confronts an ancient evil that threatens the existence of all he holds dear, including his kind, old Grandma and aforementioned little sister, Aryll. This Link doesn't have anything handed to him. He hasn't been born into some sacred right and he has no relation to past heroes; he starts off as a goofy kid and grows throughout his adventure. He learns and he matures and in the end both the player and Link earn their status as a hero. The Legend of Zelda has never been about "badass" Link being all "epic" and going on lots of dark, brooding adventures, like some people like to think it is. It's a fairy tale. It's a magical story about a kid on a magical quest, with often some poetic and mature themes intertwined throughout. This is, at least, what the series is for me. The story in The Wind Waker is full of several of my favorite moments in the entire series; it's a heartfelt, bittersweet tale and is backed by perhaps the best main cast in the series, including by far the most compelling representation of the series' iconic recurring antagonist, Ganon. The final scenes of this game, without spoiling them, give definition and depth to what before had seemed largely like a very cut and dry tale of good vs. evil, and they prove that there's at least one writer at Nintendo (or who used to be at Nintendo) who gives a damn.

In addition to the moving story, The Wind Waker presents a vast world full of possibilities. When you're not exploring atmospheric dungeons and caves, undertaking interesting side-quests oftentimes involving colorful characters each with their own story to tell, and finding sunken treasure, you'll be participating in some of the best combat in the series. The Wind Waker's item-based, fluid combat made me realize just how lacking the combat of the recent Skyward Sword is (as fun as it can be at times). Where Skyward Sword's combat relied almost entirely on moving the sword in one of eight directions (nine counting the forward stab), The Wind Waker combines reliable and fluid sword combos and a simple, yet satisfying parry system with an array of wonderful items that are a blast to experiment with. Many enemies are weak to a particular item, but there's also a large degree of experimentation involved and always multiple ways to take out each foe. You could steal that Moblin's necklace with your grappling hook, then knock him out with a boomerang and perform a jumping strike on him or you could freeze him with an ice arrow and shatter him with a whack of your cartoonishly massive hammer. The Wind Waker gets great mileage out of all of its items, and even ones that aren't used often for solving puzzles and navigating the world, I found myself still using a lot because they are a blast to experiment with in combat.

Whacking this bird with that massive mallet is so satisfying

The combat is further augmented by a varied, vibrant cast of beasts that are full of personality and visual flair. From the strutting, grunting Moblins and ridiculous, squirming ChuChus, to the annoying swarms of Miniblins and screaming "Toucan Sam" Wizzrobes, to my favorite: the fiercely creepy ReDeads with their glowing red eyes, piercing screeches, and alarmingly large mouths, this is my favorite bestiary in the entire Zelda series. Every creature and critter is coupled with fantastic sound and visual design, from the bosses to the Bokoblins. Speaking of sound design for a moment, gosh dang is it great in The Wind Waker; the way each strike of the sword creates a new tone in the battle music, all the personable and hilarious character noises (like the unforgettable "Sploosh!"), the otherworldly gibberish speak of certain important characters, and Ganondorf's chilling laughter all leave a large impression. And the music is easily among the series' very best, tied with only Majora's Mask as my favorite Zelda soundtrack. The varied instrumentation and plethora of genres (one moment calming Celtic, the next haunting didgeridoos) capture every moment perfectly. I dare you not to get at least a little teary-eyed whenever Grandma's theme plays. Some of the music has been "updated" for The Wind Waker HD, so that it sounds more like real instruments. I'm not sure if all of the music got an update, because most of it sounds the same, but some tracks are clearly altered, such as Windfall Island's theme. I like the new versions (Outset Island sounds particularly great), but for some I might still prefer the original versions, like Windfall Island and Molgera's theme. Regardless, the new versions are still more than adequate and everything still sounds amazing.

Beyond the creatures and the beautiful music, the world of The Wind Waker is one of its strongest assets. Full of secret caves, grottoes, and little mini-dungeons, it is a joy to explore and make discoveries in. The game's larger dungeons fit into the world and the adventure in an organic way that not all Zelda games achieve. The first time you enter the Forsaken Fortress, you lose your sword and Link is powerless and weak. But later on when you return, you've gone through many trials and have grown and can then wreak havoc on enemies you once had to hide from. Dragon Roost Cavern, the game's first "proper" dungeon, is a natural part of the world and you can even see portions of it on the Dragon Roost mountain-side from outside the dungeon. The Forbidden Woods are another highlight, featuring an astonishingly haunting and magical atmosphere that feels right at home in the Zelda series. The Earth Temple, which appears later in the game, is a brilliantly-designed labyrinth with its creepy atmosphere and clever use of mirrors and light. This temple, as well as the dungeon that follows it, also has Link teaming up with another character and requires the cooperation of the two in order to progress. Single-player co-op like this can sometimes be more annoying and cumbersome than anything, but I really like it in TWW, where not only does it lead to unique problem-solving instances, but also lends itself well to the story. It really feels like you're on an adventure together with these other characters and there's a great sense of camaraderie.

The Earth Temple is easily one of my favorite dungeons in the series

I could go on and on about what The Wind Waker does right. I'll probably write a review of the original game one day and go into more detail, but for the purposes of this review, I'd like to talk about what is new in the HD remake, and what sets it apart from the original, which so far contains everything I've mentioned.

The most obviously noticeable difference with the new version are the visuals, but I'll get to those a bit later, as they are the most controversial of the remake's changes in my eyes. But as much as the visuals do present a big change in the game's aesthetics, there are actually many other changes that are far more substantial than the visuals and that really transform The Wind Waker HD into every bit a remake as Ocarina of Time 3D was, and maybe even more so in terms of making this a truly enhanced experience. The subtle yet brilliant integration of the Wii U GamePad and the smart tweaks to the game's interface, controls and almost everything else make The Wind Waker HD a seamless, smooth and immensely enjoyable experience. The Zelda series has always relied heavily on item management, forcing players to peruse pages and pages of items, tunics, and trinkets, not to mention toggle through maps and constantly switch out equipment. The Wind Waker HD streamlines all of these processes to an extent that will make going back the original's single-screen experience difficult. Having all of Link's items constantly at the player's fingertips on the GamePad screen, and being able to drag and drop items into equipment slots with the touch of finger is an intuitive, excellent system. Not only this, but with the touch of a button or a finger, the massive overworld map can be brought up, assuring that at all times, the player also has a mini GPS on the second screen. This "GPS" comes in especially handy when searching for the game's numerous sunken treasure chests, or if you just want to confirm where you are and where you are headed on the map. Combine all this with the option to unclutter the HUD on the main screen by removing intrusive icons and what you have is a Zelda experience that keeps all the map toggling and inventory management in one's hands and the beautiful experience on the big TV in front of their eyes.

Having all of those items on the second screen is one of the best uses of the Wii U GamePad yet

In addition to the great integration of the Wii U hardware, Nintendo has made several other smart changes. Instead of taking up an item slot, the sail now has its own designated button, and so does the titular conductor's baton, the Wind Waker. When out at sea, your boat's cannon and grappling hook also now have their own buttons, freeing up even more space. An aiming reticule has been added to the cannon, making sea combat much more precise and enjoyable (not to mention the fact that Link does not get annoyingly knocked out of his boat every time he gets hit when at sea any more), and gyroscope controls have been added so that a player can tilt the GamePad when in first-person mode to look around and aim projectile weapons. These motion controls, which were also featured in Ocarina of Time 3D, might take a little getting used to at first, but they're unobtrusive and make precision aiming much easier. The ability to walk around in first-person a la Skyward Sword has also been added. All these and other subtle changes, like making Wind Waker conducting a much quicker experience by cutting out Link's follow-up animations every time after the first time a save is loaded, eliminate a lot of the little hang-ups that the original game, admittedly, was prey to. These hang-ups have never impeded my overall enjoyment of the original in any major way since the core experience is just so engaging to me, but after all of these enhancements, going back to play the original is honestly going to seem like a clunky and unwieldy experience at first, and will certainly take getting used to.

Then there's the new "Swift Sail", an optional faster sail that can be turned on and off at will after acquiring it. In addition to being much faster than the regular sail, the Swift Sail is also always full of wind, which means that it basically eliminates the need for the Wind Waker when out at sea, as quickly pulling out the Swift Sail and turning will automatically change the wind's direction. At first, I was against this kind of immersion-breaking tool just for the sake of getting around a bit quicker, but after finishing the game, I can honestly say it's a god-send. I have always enjoyed the sailing experience in The Wind Waker and have always loved exploring its immense aquatic world, but I'll admit that those times when I just have to make a slight u-turn and have to take out the Wind Waker to conduct every time do get quite tedious. The Swift Sail streamlines sailing to an extent that doesn't break the game or eliminate that aspect of the game, but simply cuts out the frustrating parts about it and makes moving around the Great Sea much more fluid and enjoyable. During my playthrough, I would still use the regular sail when leisurely exploring, but when just getting from place to place, or when I had to suddenly change direction or change direction multiple times in quick succession, the Swift Sail was a very welcome option. It also feels really nice speeding about with the faster sail, and there's a fantastic sense of momentum and energy that something like the bird riding in Skyward Sword truly lacked. I wish there was an in-game reason why the Swift Sail was always magically full of wind, and the way in which it is acquired is a bit questionable; I like that it's an upgrade and that it isn't available from the start, but it can only be found after first winning several items at the auction house on Windfall Island and it's entirely possibly that some less-thorough players might miss it entirely. While the speedier sail is hinted at if players take the time to explore and talk to different characters, I think it may have been better suited as a mandatory upgrade that is acquired around halfway through the quest, as it makes navigating the world so much more seamless. I say it should be acquired about halfway, because that's around the time that I chose to get it (I knew where it was, but wanted to hold off), and it felt like a natural and exciting upgrade at that time. If players acquire it too early, they might not appreciate it much and also might feel the desire to speed about everywhere, diminishing that grand feeling of adventure and appreciation of the vast world in the game that comes from the longer, more drawn-out sea-faring voyages. All in all though, the Swift Sail is yet another smart addition.

The Swift Sail can be acquired very early, but I'd recommend waiting a bit so it feels more like an incremental upgrade

Even though they are in the vast minority, a couple things that were changed are not for the better unfortunately. Mainly, the way the wind direction is chosen after conducting with the Wind Waker is far inferior in the HD version to the original's method. Instead of a giant compass appearing in the middle of the screen and the wind direction being nothing more than a quick flick of the analog stick in whatever cardinal direction a player wants the wind to blow in, now the compass is smaller and in the bottom right-hand side, and the direction can no longer be directly chosen, but instead the player must press left or right and cycle through all the directions before reaching the one they want. It's noteworthy that the touch screen can be used in a way similar to the original, but why is using the control stick, which I find to be the more natural option in this case, such a slow and stilted experience? Another change I'm not fond of is how the boat slows down to a crawl whenever you are near an island, no matter which way the wind is blowing. This is fine most of the time, as you usually want to slow down when near an island anyway, but it can be incredibly jarring when you get too close to an island when sailing, just wanting to pass on by, and suddenly slow to crawl, or when navigating areas like the reefs. This addition feels like an idea carried over from modern 3D Zelda games (Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword), which forcefully slow Link's movement when he's in a building. I hate this kind of artificial, forced change in the way a character (or boat) handles. I like the controls and physics of a game to always be constant and reliable, not at the whim of the invisible developer's hand that can slow me down when they choose to see fit. Unless there's a particular narrative reason why my character suddenly moves in a different way, or unless it enhances the experience or immersion in some way (and these changes in Zelda fulfill neither requirement), it only serves to frustrate me. This is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, but it's indicative of some of the modern design philosophies in the Zelda series that I really want to see go away, because they add nothing to the games, feel clunky, and only serve to annoy. Link has his full array of moves and his top speed while indoors in The Wind Waker: he can roll, climb, run, crawl, all of it, and it feels just fine, so why do Twilight Princess Link and Skyward Sword Link have to feel like they are moving through syrup and lose their ability to perform basic actions while indoors? If the answer is because Link would not "realistically" run about, climb all over someone's kitchen table, and throw their pots around while indoors, than I think someone is failing to recognize one of the central charms of the Zelda series. Nitpicks, but these are all details that are important to me in Zelda, and in any game really.

Despite a few discrepancies though, by and large the improvements made possible through the Wii U GamePad and all the smart design decisions greatly improve the overall play experience of The Wind Waker and leave the player free to enjoy all that this marvelous adventure has to offer. Oh, and for those who whine about the Triforce quest (which I've always thought was a positive aspect of the experience, and by the way can be started very early in the game and can be mostly completed before the Wind Temple by just naturally exploring), they've tweaked that too so that now five Triforce pieces are directly found in treasure chests at the end of mini-dungeons and the remaining three still require a chart to be deciphered. Eiji Aonuma, overseer of all things Zelda at Nintendo and the director for the original Wind Waker, mentioned before the HD remake's release that he thought the problem with the original's Triforce quest was that the player did not feel like the reward they got for the effort they put in was adequate and now I know what he meant. The places where you get the Triforce pieces directly are the more involved portions of the quest: the monster-filled mini-dungeons, the Ghost Ship, etc. while the three Triforce charts are much easier to reach, found in places like a small enemy ship that needs to be sunk with a few cannon shots. Every time I play The Wind Waker, I always forget about the whole chart process and in my memory, I feel like the pieces were found directly where you got the charts, so I think this is a smart change and a natural evolution that keeps the quest intact yet cuts out some of the tedium of having to go from chart to Tingle (who deciphers them) to piece for every single fragment.

Five Triforce shards are now found directly

One of the new features of the game that surprised me the most was the Miiverse functionality. The addition of Miiverse integration through the use of the Tingle Bottle (an item that replaces the Tingle Tuner from the original and allows players to send messages out to sea that can be discovered by other players in their own games) coupled with the vastly improved storage capacity of the Picto Box/camera (12 pictures now instead of 3) not only make side-quests like the gigantic figurine quest much more streamlined and manageable, but literally transformed The Wind Waker into an entirely new experience for me. You see, as soon as I realized that my pictographs could be sent out to sea and stored in what basically amounts to an online photo-journal on Miiverse, The Wind Waker HD transformed from just another Zelda adventure into a beautiful and wonderful vacation. Whenever I travel, I always take a billion pictures, and I've always loved the art of photography. My journey through The Wind Waker HD was no different. A very large portion of my time, actually more like the majority of my time, with the game was spent questing for the perfect pictograph or screenshot (by pressing the home button at any time in the game, a screenshot can be taken of the current scene in the game, a feature which follows the same principals of photography and allowed me to further my picture-taking obsession). I spent so much time waiting for the full moon to be at just the right angle so that it was lined up behind Valoo the dragon sitting atop his mountain perch for a gorgeous silhouette shot, or waiting for the sun to set on Ice Ring Isle for a beautiful twilit snowfall shot, or taking all the brilliantly atmospheric shots I got in the Earth Temple...I even incorporated this feature into the story by writing notes to Link's Grandma along with pictures, almost like postcards, letting her know how I was doing on my adventure. This application opened up a beautiful bottle of creativity for me and created a deep meta-game where The Wind Waker wasn't just a great Zelda game, but a great photography game as well. The world of the Great Sea is full so many little details and beautiful sights that it all seemed like such a natural and obvious thing to do. While many of the Tingle Bottles I found from other players were admittedly full of asinine comments, spam, or streams of the same exact selfie of Link posing with the game's first boss (yeah, "ha ha ha", you're so clever...you and everyone else who took that picture), there were some diamonds in the rough and I was able to find at least one other who had the same inclination towards photography as me (except that he was solely taking black and white pictures, which reminds me that I would have appreciated the ability to freely switch between black and white and color photography, instead of the color Picto Box simply overwriting the black and white one if it is optionally acquired). The only downsides to Miiverse are the character limitation on posts which frequently annoyed me (I understand why there is one, but can't it be a little more than just 100-200 measly characters?) and the lack of an ability to properly organize and view my hundreds of photos or save them on my own computer (cause' I'm really proud of some of them, damnit!). Also, the Tingle Bottle feature can also really benefit or harm immersion depending on how it is used. It can benefit it if your Link just happens to really like to take pictures of this beautiful world and thus can form more of a connection between the player and the world, or as I already mentioned, you can send notes to your Grandma or something like that. But more likely it has the potential to take you out of the experience when these shiny bottles are literally everywhere when out at sea, sometimes even showing up in places where they really don't belong (in the Forsaken Fortress, for example), which is not only distracting but also immersion-shattering when you pick one up and it's a selfie of a smiling Link with Ganondorf behind him about to slice him in two. I'd definitely recommend turning the whole Tingle Bottle/Miiverse feature off entirely if you are playing The Wind Waker for the first time, as you will encounter spoilers because everyone seems to forget to check that "spoiler" option. Anyway, my personal photography quest is a side of the game that can be completely ignored (and the next time I play the game, probably will be, so I can just enjoy the adventure itself without constantly pausing the experience for that perfect picture!), but it's there, and even if it's accidental, is something quite amazing. I took about 500 pictographs and screenshots that I posted to Miiverse throughout my adventure.

The best part about all of these additions and changes is that they are all optional. Don't like using the GamePad and want the more traditional Wind Waker experience? The game supports the traditional Wii U Pro controller. Don't like Gyroscopic aiming? You can turn it off. Don't want other people's obnoxious selfies polluting the Great Sea? You can turn all Miiverse features off. There's also a more difficult Hero Mode (which works just like it did in Skyward Sword; enemies do double damage and there are no recovery hearts) available right from the start that can also be toggled on and off at any point during your adventure. I have been saying for a while now that Nintendo games, especially Zelda games, would benefit greatly from more options and The Wind Waker HD delivers in this department. All of these optional changes and upgrades might just make The Wind Waker HD the most intuitive and smartly-designed Zelda yet, at least from an interface and gameplay standpoint, and I'm overall very pleased with the end product. So...what about those visuals?

This is where my adventure truly began...

The visual changes made in The Wind Waker HD are still a touchy subject for me. The original is one of those games that benefited from a highly stylized and fully realized artistic vision, and unlike many games from the time that aimed to emulate real life, it has aged incredibly gracefully. Despite the obvious low resolution when playing the original on a GameCube or Wii, the game still looks great. It's colorful and vibrant and every bit the living cartoon that the developers aimed for. So, since the original still looks so great, and since we know it also looks great upscaled to 1080p thanks to the Dolphin emulator, than this begs the question: why did Nintendo alter so much of the original's art-style? There is no denying that TWWHD is a totally different beast from the original visually. With sharper lighting, lots of bloom, a more realistic-looking skyline and other changes, TWWHD is more of a "realistic cartoon" than a, well, "cartoony cartoon" like the original. If you take a look at any screenshot from the original, it looks like it could be a still from a 2D animation; in essence, the original felt like one was playing a cartoon (as opposed to watching one). With TWWHD, the new lighting system gives everything sharper outlines and a clear definition, meaning that with TWWHD, things are indeed sometimes more akin to a Pixar film or 3D animated movie rather than, say, a classic 2D Disney film like Aladdin, which the original more closely resembled. I think Matthewmatosis said it well (when does he not?) when he said that, "If The Wind Waker is a cartoon, than the The Wind Waker HD is a plastic toy of that cartoon". While in sunny, daytime environments, TWWHD looks comparable to the original's cel-shading aesthetic, but in darker areas, things take on a much different tone and Link sometimes looks like a clay or 3D-animated model. This "clay effect" is especially noticeable if you walk up to a torch in a dark area; the definition of Link's shape changes dramatically. Because of all this, The Wind Waker HD is constantly at odds with itself artistically. It's as if the game has two distinct art-styles and while I don't dislike either one, it's when they both mix, sometimes with literally the front half of Link looking cel-shading and his back looking like it's made out of soft, smooth clay, that this becomes quite jarring. At times, the "clay" look can look quite nice, like in the Mother Isle interior where Link meets the fairy queen, but at others it just pops up and clashes with the toon look. The original game is much more cohesive visually, and the new one is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster in terms of art direction, with various qualities clashing together.

All this said though, The Wind Waker HD is certainly a very beautiful game. All the screenshots and pictographs I captured over the course of my playthrough were the result of me stopping in my tracks and simply taking in and observing my environment. I was constantly being taken away by how beautiful the game is at every turn, from that rosy twilit snowfall on Ice Ring Isle I mentioned earlier, to a breathtaking starry sky at the peak of Dragon Roost, to the sunny shores of the bustling Windfall Island. So I would not say TWWHD is a bad-looking game. It's a fantastic-looking game; it's just ungraceful artistically. Likewise, I still think the original, if you compare 1080p HD Dolphin footage of it with the new version (which is only fair), still looks brilliant and still has a unqiue art-style that holds up perfectly. There are some areas of the original that look night and day from the new version, like when entering the particle-filled, enchanted underground grotto on Pawprint Isle (a scene that perfectly embodies Zelda for me), which looks like a scene directly pulled from an animated fantasy film in the original, and one that just doesn't have the same kind of impact in the HD remake. The neon colors, sharp shadows and bright sunlight of The Wind Waker HD, however, create a nice, warm, sunny atmosphere during the day, while the brilliantly lit starlight sky and moon create a cool, peaceful one at night, and all help to draw the player further into this wondrous world.

A Tales of Two Art-styles: On the left we have a 2D cartoon in real time; on the right, that cartoon has entered the real world...

In the end, I'm fond of both visual efforts. I'd say the original is more artistically cohesive, but the new one is still a bright, colorful, wonderful-looking game. The unfortunate part is I'm afraid that many will not be willing to still appreciate the original, or even consider it any more with all the gameplay enhancements made to the HD version, and will simply let the new version overwrite the original and be the definitve version. But when the art and visuals of The Wind Waker on GameCube are still so strong and something totally unqiue from The Wind Waker HD, the original still has plenty of artistic merit and should still be recognized for it. Therefore, I agree with Matthewmatosis in the video I linked above that there is no definitive version, unless you separate the art from the gameplay experience. Purely gameplay and interface-wise, TWWHD is the definitive experience, but when taking the visuals into account, the situation gets trickier. Also, there is at least one baffling change to the HD version's content that I haven't mentioned yet that really bugs me. The Ghost Ship, an area visited as part of the Triforce quest, is a shadow of its former self in TWWHD. It's visual design and overall atmosphere have been drastically changed in the remake, and not for the better. The original Ghost Ship seemed otherworldly and was torn apart at the sides and top, with a creepy, ghostly realm visible outside. There was also a very disturbing face hanging on the wall that would appear menacing and monstrous when far away from it, but change to a normal, solemn face when close. In TWWHD, the ship is now just a regular enclosed hull identical to the submarines found throughout the game, but with a bright blue misty floor with ghost faces on it. The changing face I mentioned before no longer changes but just stays the regular solemn face the whole time. All this makes the Ghost Ship feel like just another submarine area with a bit more visual flair (which was already a complaint some might lobby against the original, but that complaint is twice as validated now). I unquestionably prefer the original Ghost Ship and don't understand the reason why they made these changes. This is the only major alteration to the game's actual content that I can think of that truly turned me off though. There are some other changes, but nothing that felt too distracting.

The only other complaint I have with The Wind Waker HD has to do with the polish of the game. I'm not sure about other players, but I encountered quite a few technical issues in the game, or at least a lot more than the average Nintendo-developed video game, which are usually buttery-smooth experiences (I know the Zelda series has some funky glitches, but I don't go purposefully looking for them myself and thus never find them). None of these issues were game-breaking by any means, and none of them spoiled the experience as a whole, but there were some graphical oddities and other things that broke my immersion a few times. Also, the new lighting system just looks a bit...shaky in some areas, as in it flickers and just looks messy, but this isn't too drastic an issue. The game mostly looks terrific resolution-wise on a big screen, but the shadows in the game are also unfortunately quite jagged and thus it's not perfect. Perhaps the biggest complaint I have with the presentation is that throughout the game, I would sometimes experience some truly appalling slowdown and frame-rate drops, especially when arriving at new areas and islands on the map which featured a lot of activity. Windfall Island in particular, a busy and densely-populated locale, slowed my game to a crawl at times. At first I thought this might be because of the Swift Sail, and that areas were being forced to load too quickly when I used it, but alas these issues still occurred when I tried approaching Windfall with the regular sail. I didn't remember the original having these kinds of frame-rate drops, so I tried it out to check. While there might have been some slowdown during my test, it wasn't much, and at the very least it was much less noticeable. I know The Wind Waker is a big game, but there's no reason why the 2013 HD edition should have more slowdown issues and frame-rate drops than the 2003 GameCube version. The Wind Waker HD had a very short development cycle (about six months is what I heard) and perhaps the team just wasn't able to work out all the kinks in time. As a result, the game appears a bit less polished than Nintendo's usual fair, but none of this harms the game too detrimentally and issues are mostly minor luckily. Just something worth noting.

Link prepares to face his greatest foe yet: technical issues
 
Despite all my fears and initial hesitations about the work, I ended up greatly enjoying the new version of The Wind Waker and falling in love with this masterpiece all over again. I think overall the Zelda team did a great job re-mastering The Wind Waker and made some very smart design changes. While the changes in visual design are still debatable, the game is still incredibly beautiful and as Aonuma himself said, it's like the game and its world have been given new life. Not necessarily better life, but new life. The combination of the Picto Box, Tingle Bottle, and Miiverse turned the game into something else entirely for me and all the smart GamePad functionality make this game superior to the original interface-wise. In fact, The Wind Waker HD is the best use of the Wii U's unique controller that I've seen yet; subtle, helpful, not gimmicky or intrusive but only enhancing, this functionality is what the Wii U GamePad should be used for and proves that it was a good idea after all...it's just ironic that a remake of a ten-year-old GameCube game is the title to prove it. Basically, the GamePad brings the dual-screen experience of the DS to a home console, and many of the ideas that work well on that handheld can also work well on the Wii U. I'm excited that Aonuma has said that The Wind Waker HD, with its huge open world, great control systems, and everything else it does right is the testing ground for the new original Wii U Zelda game, as in my eyes this can only mean great things. I always say that there's no easily definitive "best" Zelda game, and while I adamantly hold to that idea, The Wind Waker is without a doubt among the best, and in many ways could be considered the strongest game in the series. It's a magical, delightful, emotional journey that you'll never forget. It intelligently ties into previous games in the series (Ocarina of Time in particular), reaches deep into the series' lore and meaningfully expands it, and in many ways is the bittersweet story of old ways having to die in order to make way for a new generation, in order to give the world a future, in order to give it hope. Possible spoiler warning if you've never played the game...but back in 2003, the ending of the game was to me a way of the developers saying that things would never be the same for Zelda. Back then, the future of the series was open to any possibility and anything could happen. The Wind Waker was literally a game changer for the series; it altered everything that players thought they knew about the world of Zelda. It sacrificed the old ways in order to give an aging series new life. I couldn't wait to see where the series went next. Unfortunately, due to Nintendo caving in to fan demand (which I wish it would never, ever do), that bright, uncharted future was abandoned somewhat by subsequent titles, but now...now there's another chance. With The Wind Waker HD's release, the future is now once again full of possibilities, and once again I find myself excited about where the series will go next. The future is unpredictable and full of wonder and discovery and I can't wait to see what kind of adventures Link and Zelda will have next...




...Actually, I've already been experiencing the first of those new adventures...an adventure inspired by the past, but full of hope for the future...