Ever since The Wind Waker was first shown as a cartoon, numerous pros and cons have been thrown back and forth for the new look. While this list is by no means comprehensive, it includes ones that I have seen on the net, in addition to a few of my own. Before we go on to the list, I should remind you of several things:
- The issue is not simply whether it is cel-shaded or not. It is also the fact that the game uses the chibi style of anime, which is an artistic style that many do not like. Much of the chibi look to the game actually has to do with the modeling of the polygons.
- Whether or not you can look past the graphics (assuming you do not like them) and enjoy the gameplay is another subject, something I have discussed an earlier article.
- It really does look a lot better in motion. If you have not seen it in motion, you really ought to.
- The pros and cons you will read about shortly are all not as important for you personally as your simple gut reaction to the look itself. I am simply dealing here with larger issues surrounding the cartoon graphics that may or may not have been tossed around in the Internet.
Now for the pros and cons:
Gawking at the Graphics — Remember Star Fox Adventures? That game had gorgeous, realistic graphics. But when I played it, I noticed that I was paying quite a bit of attention to the graphics. “Hey look! Snow clumps slide into the water when you struggle up onto a snow bank from a stream! Wow, Rare thought of everything, didn’t they?” Therein lies the problem. Previously I have talked about being sucked into the game world. Rather than pulling you into Dinosaur Planet, the graphical effects reminded you that this was a game on a next-generation console, using all kinds of incredible graphics for some things. Perhaps someday if games ever become completely perfect and realistic, we won’t pay attention to graphics anymore. But in the meantime, as graphics become better, it sometimes becomes more of a focus in and of itself. That’s bad as far as gameplay is concerned. But a cel-shaded game “lowers the playing field,” so to speak. That is to say, cartoons use a simple visual vocabulary (iconography) we have embedded in our minds from the culture. “The little line over the eye is an eyebrow.” “The little mark above the mouth is a nose.” “The line in the water is a wave.” Cartoons can be visually stunning (such as Disney’s Treasure Planet), but they lower the level of required complexity to convey to us what it is we’re looking at. Consequently, everything in The Wind Waker can be equally polished, and we won’t be suddenly pulled out of the game to gawk at a technological marvel (or stare at a bad wall texture!). Not even attempting photo-realism is probably good if you know you cannot truly achieve photo-realism. This is a pro, not a con, in my book.
Natural movement and animation — Believe it or not, cel-shading can more easily convey a wide range of accurate animations, particularly the natural movements of people. The human eye is able to detect with incredible precision what is human and what is not, something that makes it difficult for films to present CG characters as being real. Thus, having a cel-shaded Hyrule and Hero can actually draw us in even more and feel all the more connected to Link and the world he loves. This is a pro, set forth by Eiji Aonuma himself (see here).
More Mythic Iconography — Another pro is that the game can give the game a much more mythic feel. I encourage you to study the meanings of the mythic art of such diverse cultures as the Mesoamericans, Norse, and Greeks. Typically art depicting myths is very stylized, using specific visual motifs to identify scenes and characters. Bringing the game into a cartoon realm actually gives it a chance to be more serious, in a sense. If you have the bonus disc, watch the trailer for The Wind Waker again. Pay attention to the tall, ominous figure who seems to be made of swirling shadows. He seems to be the veritable incarnation or personification of a nightmare, whoever he may be. That is the very image which inspired me to include “more mythic iconography” as a pro in the list.
Look to the past — Many folks have noted that the cartoon-style is more in keeping with A Link to the Past, thus returning the series to the “feeling” of that masterpiece. Fair enough. It is a pro unless you would rather think of that game’s cartoon style as mere convenience based on the technology of the SNES (and reader Soadlink pointed out that people expect more with the technology-assuming, of course, that the public is unaware of the fact that “high technology” is actually what makes cel-shading possible).
Goodbye, Memory — Then again, it is a break from the tradition of the N64. To change the style completely is to sever Link from the most recent tradition (the most important tradition to most). If you had good memories of playing as Link on the Nintendo 64, your brain compartmentalized that good experience in your brain with the stimuli you received as you played it, including the graphics. To change the look threatens to disassociate The Wind Waker from the greatness of the previous games and from the old Link. “Who cares about this Link? I never knew this one!” So this is a con of the new graphics.
A Japanese Zelda — As I have mentioned earlier, the style screams “anime”-specifically “chibi”-and indeed Miyamoto admitted that they were influenced by anime. Why did they bother to create a new image rather than using the cartoon style used in, say, the official art for Majora’s Mask? Some of the screenshots have reassured me, such as the screenshot of the giant moth, a picture of one of the pirates, and the telescope image of the distant city. Those are true to the past artistic style. But the anime parts are conspicuous in many parts, not boding well because it is a sharp break from the generally European overtones of the main cultures in the previous games.
It’s Anime — In addition, many people outside of Japan do not like many of the Japanese artistic styles, particularly those used to depict human faces and heads. In other words, the subjectivity as to whether the art is good looking or not goes beyond personal tastes and on to larger-scale cultural trends. Granted, anime is certainly growing in popularity outside of Japan, but nonetheless the artistic style still turns many non-Japanese off. (For a good laugh, watch this Flash animation for a more typical American perspective on anime.) As for myself, I truly love some Japanese art, but I honestly do not like others. I am quick to admit that I am not well versed in Japanese art in the least, so I couldn’t tell you the variety of kinds that exist today, but I can tell you that whenever I see art in the style you might find in, say, the official art of the Oracle duo, I cringe. Of course, if you enjoy anime, than this is a pro. But if you do not, it’s a con. For instance, reader Monocromon pointed out that she doesn’t like how Zelda “has a watermelon shaped head.” Perhaps if the polygons had been shaped differently, the game might be better off in the global market.
“An Interactive Cartoon” — Miyamoto proclaimed that he wants the game to feel like an “interactive cartoon.” He wants you to feel like you are controlling a cartoon. When you hear that, you might have a gut reaction that is either negative or positive, mostly because cartoons have certain connotations. If the first thing that pops into your head when you think of a cartoon is Bugs Bunny, I daresay that’s not something you want associated with Zelda. But if you have a Disney feature animated film in mind, then that probably wouldn’t be such a bad thing. For myself, I would label this as a con, because I don’t want to feel like I’m “playing a cartoon.” In fact, I don’t want to feel like I’m playing a game. I want to feel like I’m adventuring across Hyrule. “Hey cool, I get to control a cartoon!” isn’t what I have in mind when I think of Zelda. All in all, it could be either a pro or con, depending on the precise feeling Miyamoto conveys when you’re playing it. The game could have more charm, which could be a good thing.
Pure silliness — To elaborate on the previous point, one connotation of cartoons is that they are silly. As reader Vyctori said, “I feel that by using cel-shaded graphics, Mr. Miyamoto is turning Link into yet another Mario clone. I also believe that Link’s design and the cheery, bright world that Hyrule has become is not in keeping with Link’s personality and the tone of the previous games–especially the more somber Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Both games allowed for a wonderful degree of expression, humor, sadness, and moments of tenderness and reflection, without using over-exaggerated gestures or, more importantly, cartoon graphics.” Or, as reader DarkAngel5878 put it, “Would it be so much to ask to bring back the old graphics? Link’s new look robbed the style that he was famous for. He always had that cool, fierce, brave look, even as child link.” As I’ve said before, Majora’s Mask was my favorite of the games, partially because of how it was darker than its predecessor. So a potential con of the game is that it can bring too much silliness into the game.
The Personalization of Link — I already discussed this in my second article for the site, “Link gets a Personality.” Some of you had interesting comments in response to that article. For instance, reader LFitzVB said that he didn’t mind the new graphics because when he sees the back of Link’s head, he actually pictures his face on the front of Link’s head.
Less Constrained Physics — Cartoons provide more of a suspension of disbelief. This could affect gameplay in a very positive way by stretching the laws of physics.
Enemies you couldn’t have before — Many enemies from the old games, like the Bits and Bots, would probably look ridiculous in 3-D, realistic graphics. But in a cartoon, such creatures are more believable. This is a pro in my book. (But to you, it could be a con because the enemies might look silly to you.)
I end with a quote by Eiji Aonuma about the possibilities surrounding the next Zelda game. He said, “I really can’t picture adult-Link in a toon-shaded game. It doesn’t really match for me. That’s why we say we’ll think about what the next Zelda game will be. We may have to re-evaluate which style we use.” Food for thought, no?