Whether or not you like what Nintendo is doing with the The Wind Waker‘s graphical style in this remake and whether or not you think this was the right choice of game to release in HD on the Wii U is irrelevant to Nintendo’s goals. This could very well be a sign of the direction they are looking to take Zelda U in. No, I’m not talking about visuals and sailing. The Wind Waker is a masterpiece in its own right and we have this Wii U HD remake version to get that experience. Rather I am attempting to connect the dots between what Eiji said about Zelda U and what this game choice could say about their thought process behind it.
You see, Eiji Aonuma spoke plainly in saying one of the founding principles for Zelda U would be to do away with linearity. In an example he refers to the order in which we do dungeons. So in some respects, we know that the order of the dungeons will likely be dictated by the player either through sheer choice or based on decisions we make in the story. Still, is this principle of breaking the mold going to stop there? With The Wind Waker off in the horizon I feel it’s clear that this approach will have a more literal translation.
The Wind Waker boasts one of the few truly vast and open styled worlds we have seen in the Zelda franchise. While it’s not as open as the original The Legend of Zelda, it’s far more open exploration-wise than we have seen in any other console Zelda title since Ocarina of Time. Once you get past Outset Island and your first visit to Windfall Island the ocean opens up to you. This is far more than Hyrule field connecting different parts of the map together (most of which you can’t even enter because Zelda tends to force you down one path), it’s in every sense of the word “explorable”. You can go anywhere you want.
The sense of discovery is reborn as we have a barren map and an open ocean front ahead of us. You have dozens of islands to discover, some of which teach you songs, others of which contain secrets. Some secrets you may not be able to access yet because you don’t have the proper item, but you can at least note its location for a return trip later in the game. Even a few side quests can be found through this exploration, including the ability to port all over the map which, unlike in Twilight Princess where it is thrust upon you, is a totally optional aspect of the game you have to discover on your own.
This is a perfect precurser to a future Zelda game (in our case, Zelda U) having a much more openly explorable world with tons of discoveries made only because you chose to explore. The Wind Waker can reintroduce this concept all over again. Now, this remake does have the dungeon order aspect of linearity that Eiji specifically mentions, but you only need to look back to Ocarina of Time 3D in 2011 to see another example of breaking the mold. Heck, check out our Ocarina of Time 3D Walkthrough and you can see aspects that are rife with non-linearity.
In particular it’s the ability to do some dungeons out of order. Five of the dungeons in the game can be done in a different order than the game initially pushes you towards which offers a lot of variety in gameplay decisions. We know this is something they plan to return to the series as it hasn’t made an appearance since then. Based on that remake release and the future release of The Wind Waker HD, to me it’s clear Nintendo has been preparing us for this change since at least 2011.
Now, whether or not Eiji Aonuma and company deliver on these aspects is an entirely different debate, but I can see between the lines a bit and understand that the Zelda team has been and is continuing to prepare us for a fundamental shift in how the game handles linearity and non-linearity. Still, what are you more excited for, The Wind Waker HD or Zelda U?