30 Years in 30 Days – 2003
by on February 8, 2016

2003 was a hugely important year for the Zelda series. It was the release year (outside of Japan) of one of the most popular Zelda games ever, The Wind Waker, as well as the release of the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition and a two game bonus disc for pre-orders of The Wind Waker which included Ocarina of Time Master Quest, a more challenging version of the Nintendo 64 favorite.

Some dates to remember

The first of these releases (at least in the US) came on February 17th, when a pre-order bonus for The Wind Waker was released. This came in the form of a two-game bonus disc that contained both the original version of Ocarina of Time, and Ocarina of Time Master Quest. Master Quest contains much of the same content as the original version of the game, but with dungeons that were redesigned to be more challenging. Due to this disc only ever being sold with the pre-order of The Wind Waker it is quite rare to come across or find nowadays.

Wind Waker, admittedly, looks much better in motion than it did at Spaceworld 2000.

Wind Waker, admittedly, looks much better in motion than it did at Spaceworld 2000.

The next important date, and arguably the most important was March 24th, when The Wind Waker itself was finally released in North America (Europe and Australia would have to wait until May). One of the very many reasons this game is notable is due to the fact it is the first Zelda game to employ cel-shading, giving the game a cartoon-like appearance. Upon announcement, this was met with major criticism, and still is controversial today to a point. Though, it should also be noted that this criticism has slowly turned into praise over time and the cel-shading has come to be accepted by many as an interesting effect that truly makes The Wind Waker unique amongst the Zelda series. The game’s landscape also remains a point of controversy amongst the fan community with some pouring praise upon the long draw distances while others criticize the tedium in traversing it. The Great Sea is the massive overworld in which the game takes place. While the sailing can be tedious and quite a challenge on its own, it also opens up a huge amount of content and places to explore. With fifty islands in the Great Sea, there is still much to do even after Ganondorf has been defeated.

Back at this point in time, the overall Zelda timeline hadn’t yet been revealed. There were still many debates raging as to the nature of the official timeline. But it was Wind Waker that finally cemented the split in the timeline (or at least the first split in the timeline). The Wind Waker thus became the second sequel to Ocarina of Time, taking place hundreds of years after Ocarina of Time‘s end. Naturally the split transpired due to Princess Zelda’s actions at the end of Ocarina of Time, where Majora’s Mask follows the ending where Link is sent back through time while The Wind Waker continues onward without a hero in the realm of Hyrule. And this can be clearly seen with the game’s plot as Link and Tetra live in a world where Ganondorf had all but conquered Hyrule after breaking out of the Sacred Realm only to be subsequently and permanently drowned by the Great Sea of Hyrule.

Zelda Collector's EditionThe third and final important release of 2003 involving Zelda games was on November 17th, when the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition was released. Its initial release was in North America, where Nintendo Power magazine gave it away to its subscribers who had five or more registered games. For a limited time, it was also able to be obtained with the purchase of a Nintendo GameCube. The Collector’s Edition contained four games: The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link, Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask, along with a demo of The Wind Waker and a Zelda retrospective video.

The Legend of Celda

But returning to The Wind Waker, we really do have to investigate that decision to use cel-shading a bit more. What were they thinking? What have they done to Zelda? Bug eyes. Childish nonsense. What happened to the game they showed us at Spaceworld? How dare they ruin my favorite video game series.

I could go on for hours.

It’s hard to believe that many fans used to refer to The Wind Waker in that way. When Nintendo first showed off the newly designed cel-shaded style that The Wind Waker would use, many fans were confused and disappointed. Ocarina of Time had been a masterpiece and suddenly Nintendo had changed the winning formula into something cartoony and tailored only for children. Nintendo was going to prove once and for all that they truly were a game company only for people under 10 years of age.

At least, that’s what we all thought would happen.

Nintendo showed us that the style of graphics doesn’t affect the quality of the gameplay.

Instead, Nintendo ended up showing us that the style of the graphics does not affect the quality of the gameplay. Ever since The Wind Waker was released, we’ve seen more game developers be daring enough to try something new with graphics. Making the most lifelike graphics is not always the best solution, and many of the most highly acclaimed games of the last generation stand out due to unique graphics as much as The Wind Waker. Would anyone remember Okami if they had changed the graphic style to something more realistic?

The next time you see a new video game announced that highlights a unique or interesting graphic style, thank Nintendo and The Wind Waker for inspiring that creativity.

The end of Ganondorf

The Wind Waker has a very interesting spot in the Legend of Zelda timeline. It takes place after Ocarina of Time split the timeline and continues the story of Ganondorf that began in Ocarina of Time. If The Wind Waker is remembered for just one thing it should be the development of Ganondorf as a character.

While we had always known it was Ganondorf’s desire to obtain the Triforce and rule Hyrule, his speech in The Wind Waker was the first time we learned why. Ever since The Legend of Zelda, Ganon had simply been a monster out to rule the world. The Wind Waker made him truly human.


“The winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.”

At the end of the game you realize that, though still evil, Ganondorf had coveted Hyrule so much that he waited hundreds of years until he could finally bring together all three pieces of the Triforce and make his wish a reality.

When I first experienced the ending of The Wind Waker I cheered when the King of Hyrule touched the Triforce before Ganondorf, but I could also feel the devastation in Ganondorf. Could any of us possibly imagine what it would be like to want something and be willing to wait hundreds of years, have it within our fingertips, and then lose it?

The battle that followed ended in the death of Ganondorf. It was a fitting end for a chapter of the Legend of Zelda. Without the split in the timeline, we likely would have never seen the softer, human side of Ganondorf.

Every game has a story. Only one is a legend

All in all, 2003 was a very big year for the Zelda series. While The Wind Waker originally received some criticism, it went on to become the fourth best-selling GameCube game of all time.

For all those who are curious, here is the original E3 2002 trailer for The Wind Waker:

Jonah Stanton and Joshua Lindquist
Jonah is a former staff member who collaborated with Guides Director Joshua on this article.