The Wind Waker was a fabulous game. It carried the already well established Zelda series over to Nintendo’s new console of the time, the Gamecube. It was a classic Zelda experience, but at the same time, it wasn’t too much of a carbon copy of any of the other games in the series. Sure, there were some similar things, but for the most of it, the game was new and creative. No, the cel-shaded toon-graphics weren’t the only new thing, although, that is what sticks in people’s minds.
It would not be too far from accurate to say that there is about a 50-50 split between those who were pleased with the toon graphics, and those who weren’t. Regardless of your view, Nintendo did take a gamble in going down the path of cel-shading, and it goes without saying, that the gamble was worth it. But as I sit here, almost seven years later, I wonder, what happened? Nintendo brought something new to console Zelda, yet we haven’t seen it since.
The graphical style that we saw in The Wind Waker is basically what has lead to what we’ve seen with the two DS titles, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. They’ve taken the style of The Wind Waker, and used it in an altered and simplified way. Maybe we’ll keep seeing toon Link on the DS, but that seems only like wasted potential. In future titles on the DS, hopefully Nintendo will move on and explore new graphical possibilities. What I’d love to see is a fully fledged-console Zelda using the style of The Wind Waker.
There is no hope now for the upcoming Zelda Wii to embark up that alley, as it is taking the more realistic graphical approach, although we aren’t certain of how it will look. Is that really good? Is a realistic approach really that realistic? Because The Wind Waker didn’t go for being as real as possible, it was in many regards better. Once players were initially over the new style, it wasn’t about how realistic the cutscene affects were, because they were simple animation. Because of that simplicity it became about the actual story itself. It became about human emotion and little details like footprints in the sand. Twilight Princess did nicely portray emotions through facial animation, but that style couldn’t make it the main focus. Only simple animation can highlight these simple things when using limited time. Sure, all styles could have the same detail, given time, but there is much more allocation for it in a cel-shaded environment.
Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess: they went for a more real life looking approach, and that limited the games. When you go for realistic, you have to keep going to make it work. Cel-shading is simpler, crisper even. It eliminates many worries, and gives a sense of freedom as the animation isn’t solely about being real. We’ve heard it said that less can be more, like fewer dungeons, but made longer, could be more of an experience. In this case, simpler animation can give more. When the developers focus on facial emotions, as opposed to a fabulous explosion that looks almost movie-quality, us players are getting something more. Simple explosions, simple graphics, in The Wind Waker allowed for an expansion in other areas.
Imagine now, the same style, simple and yet very intricate, on the Wii. It can still bring all of the aspects fans want, whether that is motion controls, voice acting, even multiple player, but it can bring so much more. Maybe Nintendo has completely moved on from the cel-shading idea, maybe they haven’t. It may not be the actual graphics themselves that make cel-shading so appealing, but what it escalated to in The Wind Waker, that’s what makes me yearn to see them again. What it allowed them to do in terms of gameplay, was simply stunning. I’m not going to claim that The Wind Waker is the best Zelda ever, but many aspects of it are better than elsewhere in the Zelda series. Much of that is owed to its graphical style.