The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has a reputation among both Zelda fans and the gaming industry. Despite the controversy surrounding its release, after ten years, The Wind Waker is still referenced as proof that doing the unexpected can lead to spectacular results.

The Wind Waker has been one of my favorite games since its release, so when Nintendo announced that they would release an enhanced version titled The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, I was eager to get my hands on a copy.

I had modest expectations for the game. I expected to play the game I know and love, but with updated visuals and a couple other simple changes, but what I experienced was so much more.

 A Tale of Envy, Revenge, and Hope

TWWHD-ganondorfIn the simplest terms, The Wind Waker is the story of a young boy, Link, who sets sail across the Great Sea to rescue his younger sister after she is kidnapped from their home island. Along the way, he discovers a greater destiny.

However, the story of The Wind Waker is much more than a rescue mission. The story of The Legend of Zelda is often disregarded as a supplementary part of the experience, and until the release of The Wind Waker it was fair to treat the story in that way. The Wind Waker made the story a more important part of the experience by directly tying the story to that of Ocarina of Time.

Anyone who has played Ocarina of Time will immediately understand the references in the introductory cutscene (which, by the way, can now be skipped); however, players who have not played Ocarina of Time will still have a satisfactory experience. Because previous events are mentioned and previous characters appear, The Wind Waker has some of the best character development in the entire Legend of Zelda series, even ten years later!

Fantastic Swordplay and Lackluster Items

The Wind Waker has some of the best swordplay in the Zelda series. It’s easy to string together a variety of different combos, and you can parry enemy attacks with a properly-timed button press. Fighting in The Wind Waker is fun; I often go out of my way to “toy” with enemies using various weapons, or I’ll go out of my way to fight an enemy I could have avoided. The combat feels different from other Zelda games, where it could sometimes be considered nothing more than a nuisance stopping you from reaching the next puzzle or treasure.

During the adventure, you will pick up a variety of weapons, but The Wind Waker does disappoint in that the variety of weapons is fairly typical. The game contains a couple items unique to The Wind Waker, but even in 2003, most of the items had appeared in other Zelda games. You’ll pick up the series staples, like the bow and arrow, boomerang, Mirror Shield, and Hookshot, and those items will more-often-than-not solve whatever problem you encounter.

The lack of item variety ties directly into what is The Wind Waker‘s most critical design flaw: the dungeon design.

Poor Dungeon Design

The Wind Waker has five main dungeons and two side dungeons (one of which you visit twice). Of those dungeons, one of them is a stealth dungeon (which you later revisit with the stealth removed), two are escort missions, a third contains some escort portions, one is a maze (go the wrong way and start over), and the remaining two dungeons are memorable and decent, but not spectacular.

“I think it’s fair to say that The Wind Waker has the worst dungeon design of all the 3D Legend of Zelda games.”

The dungeons that require escorting a second player are both interesting and frustrating. It’s a nice twist to have a second playable character for a short portion of the game, but actually controlling the second character is more frustrating than fun. The secondary characters have very limited skill sets and cannot do any of the most basic actions (climbing, jumping, pushing); furthermore, none have any combat abilities.

If that was the only downside, then the escort dungeons wouldn’t be such a poor part of the experience, but the requirements for controlling the companions is what makes the dungeons tedious. In order to control a companion, you must have Link conduct a song with the Wind Waker baton. When you’re done controlling the companion, you can quickly switch back to Link, but if you want to control the companion again then you must play the song again. The dungeons require that you play the same song over and over and over again.

TWWHD-medli-makarThe changes made to the Wind Waker baton in The Wind Waker HD make this significantly less frustrating, but it is still a low point while playing the game.

Fortunately, the dungeons bosses are much better than the actual dungeons. Each boss fight is unique and fun, although none of them are particularly difficult. Still, the bosses are memorable and help the dungeons end on a high note.

My brief descriptions of each dungeon may make them sound worse than they truly are, but it’s true that every dungeon has something that will frustrate certain players–and some dungeons have something that will frustrate every player.

The dungeon design in previous and later Zelda games is significantly better than the design found in The Wind Waker. I think it’s fair to say that The Wind Waker has the worst dungeon design of all the 3D Zelda games.

On the other hand, The Wind Waker has the best overworld design.


A Huge Open World to Explore

Unlike most Zelda games, The Wind Waker takes place on a vast ocean called the Great Sea. If you’ve played Skyward Sword, you could compare it to the sky; just imagine the sky filled with tons of islands to visit and other various places to explore. When it comes to sidequests and exploration, no Zelda game is better than The Wind Waker.

The Great Sea contains 49 major islands to visit. Many of them are visited throughout the adventure because the main story does not consist only of the dungeons. The remaining islands are optional areas that you can visit to complete sidequests and find treasure.twwhd-map

The vast ocean separating the islands is populated by enemies, minor locations, and underwater treasures. You can spend hours visiting floating sea platforms, rafts, and submarines. You can fight off pirate ships and giant squids, and you can collect treasure charts and search for hidden treasures.

Early in the game you are restricted to visiting specific areas. This is probably done to prevent you from getting lost or finding certain treasures extremely early in the game. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait long before the entire Great Sea is open to you.

The one downside to exploring the Great Sea is the speed of the boat. The boat feels slow (because it is slow), and it can sometimes make exploring feel more like a chore than something fun (fortunately, this problem is not as severe in The Wind Waker HD, but it still exists; I have more details regarding this later in the review).

The vast amount of side quests and areas to explore more than makes up for the disappointing dungeons. Despite its flaws, The Wind Waker is a fun game to play. It’s an enjoyable experience, and an experience that I’ve returned to multiple times over the past ten years.

Small Changes in The Wind Waker HD

Now that the introductions to the game are out of the way, we can take a look at the more interesting bits: the improvements made in The Wind Waker HD. Nintendo did a good job advertising some of the biggest changes to the game, most notably the Swift Sail, but there are dozens of small changes that improve the experience and remove what were previously frustrating portions of the game. I wrote about some of the changes last week, but those were just my favorite changes. Nintendo clearly paid attention to details as there are subtle changes in the way things work, and almost every change is for the better.


“While gliding with the Deku Leaf, an icon indicates where you will land.”

Some of the most noteworthy small changes are:

  • You can now move, aim, and use the boomerang, bow, grappling hook and Hookshot entirely in first-person.
  • While gliding with the Deku Leaf, an icon indicates where you will land.
  • The boat cannon now has a trajectory to help you aim.
  • The Deluxe Picto Box can now be obtained much earlier in the game and holds 12 photos instead of 3. The changes make it much easier to complete the Nintendo Gallery on your first play-through. Furthermore, the Picto Box now labels a picture “good” when it can be used at the Nintendo Gallery.
  • Five new Treasure Charts have been added.
  • The Wind Waker baton works differently, and is now less frustrating to use when used repeatedly.

All of the small changes make a noticeable difference in the pacing of the game. The changes have all been made to remove frustration and make the game more enjoyable.

My only complaint, among the small changes, is the first-person use of the bow. You now aim with the right control stick and walk with the left control stick (standard dual analog first person controls). The problem is that you must press and hold a button to prepare to fire an arrow, and it is not reasonable to expect a player to press the X or Y button to fire an arrow while aiming with the right control stick. Fortunately, you can also use the R button, and it works well. My solution to the problem is to always have the bow and arrow equipped to the R button.

The boomerang, grappling hook, and Hookshot do not require that the button be held down while aiming, so the buttons are not a problem.

The Wii U GamePad makes switching items more convenient, but the real benefit is the always-visible map. On the overworld, the Great Sea is always visible, and you can cycle through Treasure Charts. Inside dungeons, the dungeon map is always visible. The GamePad maps and inventory are extremely useful, and you will immediately miss them when playing off-TV with the GamePad or with the Wii U Pro Controller.

Big Changes in The Wind Waker HD

Let’s start with the most obvious change: the graphics have been improved. If you think The Wind Waker‘s graphics are timeless, you’re wrong. It’s easy to dismiss screenshots of The Wind Waker HD and say “it doesn’t look much better,” but when you put the two games side-by-side, the difference is night and day. The Wind Waker looked fantastic in 2003, and compared to most games it has held up extremely well, but The Wind Waker HD makes the original game look horrible in comparison.

Graphics Comparison: GameCube (left), WiiU (right)

Graphics Comparison: GameCube (left), WiiU (right)

Second is the added “Hero Mode”. “Hero Mode” can be activated and deactivated at any time on the file select screen. While activated, no Recovery Hearts will appear and enemies will inflict twice as much damage. It’s definitely a more challenging way to play the game, but it’s not extremely difficult. Most enemies do not hit for much damage to begin with, and you can still find fairies and use potions to recover health. The early portions of the game, when you have the fewest hearts, are the most difficult parts of “Hero Mode”. Once you have collected bottles to keep potions and fairies and a few extra Heart Containers, most players won’t have much trouble staying alive.

The Triforce Quest

The Wind Waker got away with mediocre (and sometimes bad) dungeon design because of something worse: the Triforce Quest. The original release requires that you sail around the Great Sea to locate eight treasure charts, pay enormous amounts of Rupees to have those charts deciphered, and then sail around the Great Sea again to find pieces of the Triforce buried beneath the sea.

The Wind Waker HD has made the process significantly easier.

“This one change has made the Triforce Quest 100% more fun.”

Five of the eight Triforce Shards are now found in the places where you previously found the Treasure Charts. This means your reward for exploring the mini-dungeons is a piece of the Triforce; not a chart that you pay 398 Rupees to decipher and then sail around the ocean for 20 minutes to find the piece of the Triforce.

This one change has made the Triforce Quest 100% more fun.

There are still three Treasure Charts that must be deciphered, and there is a good reason for them remaining in the game: you can collect all three very early in the game, before the Triforce Quest officially begins.

With the tedious portions of the quest removed, the Triforce Quest no longer feels out of place. It’s easy to find some of the pieces while exploring the Great Sea for other treasures, and all of the mini-dungeons involved have other rewards as well.



The Swift Sail

Finally, let’s talk about what is probably the most highly-anticipated change: the Swift Sail.

Once you have the Swift Sail, any complaints about the speed of the boat should be gone. The Swift Sail makes the boat move almost twice as fast and it removes the need to change the wind’s direction (the direction of the wind, while sailing, automatically changes to whatever direction you are traveling).

“It is unlikely that new players will find the Swift Sail by accident…”

However, the Swift Sail has one serious problem: it’s not given to you, you aren’t really told that it exists in the game (there is one tip from Fishmen that mentions it, but it’s easy to miss), and it’s not easy to find on your own. Once you know where the Swift Sail is located, it is fairly easy to obtain, but it amazes me that the Swift Sail is not easier to find. It is unlikely that new players will find the Swift Sail by accident, and even if they do it is all but guaranteed that they will find it later than they could have (meaning they spend longer than necessary sailing slowly).

Nintendo has put a lot of effort emphasizing that the Swift Sail makes the game more enjoyable, and it certainly does, but it is incredibly unfortunate that so many players are going to miss out on this and have the same negative experience that players had in 2003 due to the slow speed of the boat.

{{bubble}{How to Obtain the Swift Sail}{}{}{


The entrance to the Auction House on Windfall Island.

Nintendo dropped the ball on the Swift Sail, so I’m going to make sure everyone reading this review can avoid a negative experience and obtain the Swift Sail as quickly as possible! I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in this review, but this one spoiler is absolutely necessary. Obtaining the Swift Sail early on makes The Wind Waker HD a much more enjoyable experience.

There are only three requirements to obtain the Swift Sail: a lot of Rupees, Din’s Pearl (obtained after completing Dragon Roost Cavern; you cannot get the Swift Sail before completing the dungeon), and some patience.

After you complete Dragon Roost Cavern, the King of Red Lions will force you to change wind to blow south and lead you on to the next dungeon. However, once you set sail, you can change the direction of the wind again. Change the wind to blow west and return to Windfall Island.

The Swift Sail is one of the items that is available at the auction house on Windfall Island. The auction house is only open at night and is next door to the potion shop; it has a red door. If it is not night when you arrive, you can sail around until it is night, or you can learn and use the Song of Passing to immediately change the time from day to night.

The auction house also offers other items for sale: a Joy Pendant, two Treasure Charts, and a Piece of Heart. I have purchased the Swift Sail twice, and both times I had to purchase the Joy Pendant before anything else would appear. I also purchased Treasure Charts before the Swift Sail was available (but I believe the item available is random). Only one item will be auctioned each time you enter the building, so leave the building and re-enter if you need to start another auction.

Bidding on the Swift Sail starts at 100 Rupees. The first time, I paid 290 Rupees for the Swift Sail; the second time I paid 190 Rupees for the Swift Sail. The price will vary, but be prepared to spend a significant amount of money to obtain it. It’s worth every Rupee!}}

The Legend is Back

It’s still hard to believe that it’s been ten years since The Wind Waker was released on the GameCube. The Wind Waker has some serious flaws, and most of them have been addressed in The Wind Waker HD. The interface is streamlined, the Swift Sail has improved the adventuring experience, and the assortment of small changes make the game feel new.

I’ve been playing The The Wind Waker HD for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still playing it nearly every day. Hero Mode proved to be a new challenge, and I’m enjoying rediscovering the Great Sea. It may seem like a given coming from an editor at Zelda Universe, but I can’t recommend The Wind Waker HD any more highly. This is a fantastic game–The Wind Waker HD is clearly the definitive version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.


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