The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Original North American box art[lower-alpha 1]
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Eiji Aonuma
  • Mitsuhiro Takano
  • Hajime Takahashi
Series The Legend of Zelda
Platform(s) GameCube
Release date(s)
  • JP: December 13, 2002
  • NA: March 24, 2003
  • EU: May 2, 2003
  • AUS: May 7, 2003
Genre(s) Action-adventure
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Japanese: ゼルダの伝説 風のタクト Hepburn: Zeruda no Densetsu: Kaze no Takuto) is an action-adventure game developed and published by Nintendo for the GameCube home video game console. The tenth installment in the The Legend of Zelda series, it was released in Japan in December 2002, in North America in March 2003, and in Europe in May 2003.

The game is set on a group of islands in a vast sea—a first for the series. The player controls series protagonist Link as he attempts to save his sister from the sorcerer Ganon and becomes embroiled in a struggle for the Triforce, a sacred relic that grants its holder's wishes. Aided by allies including pirate captain Tetra and a talking boat named the King of Red Lions, Link sails the ocean, explores islands, and traverses dungeons to acquire the power necessary to defeat Ganon. Wind, which facilitates sailing, plays a prominent role, and can be controlled with a magic conductor's baton called the Wind Waker.

The Wind Waker was directed by Eiji Aonuma and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. It retains the basic 3D gameplay of its predecessors, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, but with a distinctive cartoon-like art style created through cel shading. Though the art style proved divisive among players, resulting in comparatively weak sales outside Japan, the game received critical acclaim. The Wind Waker originated the "Toon Link" variant of the main character, and received two direct sequels for the Nintendo DS, Phantom Hourglass (2007) and Spirit Tracks (2009). A high-definition remaster, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, was released for the Wii U in 2013.


The Wind Waker's cel-shaded art style makes use of real-time lighting and effects like depth-of-field blur, making the game look stylistically similar to a cartoon and setting it apart from other games in the series

Like Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, Wind Waker is an open world action-adventure game with role-playing elements. The control scheme is comparable to its predecessors: the player moves the protagonist Link in three dimensions from a third-person perspective.[1] Link fights with a sword and shield, and can use a variety of other items and weapons. He interacts with non-player characters and objects via the action button.[2] Like the previous games, Wind Waker features a targeting system allowing Link to "lock on" and constantly face an enemy or target.[3] A new feature is the ability to move the camera system around Link.[4]

The game world comprises 49 gridded sections of the "Great Sea", each containing an island or island chain. Some must be explored to continue the story, while others are optional.[5] Like all Zelda games, Wind Waker features several dungeons—large, enclosed areas where Link fights enemies, finds items, and solves puzzles to continue. Each dungeon quest concludes with a battle against a boss, a singularly powerful enemy.[6] In addition to the main story, the game includes many sidequests, minor objectives the player can optionally complete to attain rewards. For example, Link can use the "Picto Box" – an in-game camera – to take pictures to fulfill quests.[7]

Throughout the game, Link acquires items and weapons providing new abilities.[8] Items are often needed to reach certain areas, defeat bosses and other enemies, and advance the story. For example, the grappling hook is necessary to pass obstacles and defeat the boss in the Dragon Roost Cavern dungeon; it can then be used to enter previously inaccessible areas. The "Tingle Tuner" is a special item allowing a second player to control the character Tingle if the system is connected to a Game Boy Advance by a link cable.[9]

Wind and sailing

A significant portion of the game is spent sailing between islands on Link's boat, the King of Red Lions. The boat's sail is driven by wind that blows across the game world in one of eight directions; a tailwind behind the boat will give it top speed, while sailing against the wind is difficult. The Great Sea features different enemies and obstacles than appear on land. Some items serve new purposes on the King of Red Lions; for instance, the grappling hook serves as a crane for recovering sunken treasure.[10] Link explores the sea with the help of a sea chart, which can be updated with information on each square and island. Through the game, Link acquires additional charts pointing the way to treasure chests and significant locations. On land, dungeons feature similar maps.[11]

Early in the game, Link receives the titular Wind Waker, a baton that allows him to control the wind and gain other powers when he "conducts" specific melodies. The player controls the Wind Waker by moving the joypads to change pitch and time signature. The first melody, the "Wind's Requiem", enables Link to change the wind's direction, allowing him to sail toward any location. Link can learn five other tunes for the Wind Waker, which provide abilities such as warping to other regions through cyclones and turning night to day.[12]


Background and setting

According to The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, Nintendo's official Legend of Zelda chronology, The Wind Waker takes place in the "New World" timeline, one of several parallel timelines in which Zelda games are set following the events of Ocarina of Time. The game follows the "Adult Link" sequence from Ocarina, after Link, the "Hero of Time", defeats Ganon and time-travels back to his childhood. A crisis emerged when Ganon returned, but Link did not. Centuries later, the people live on islands in the Great Sea. They preserve Link's story as a legend, but his kingdom's fate is unknown. The main character, a young boy also named Link, lives on Outset Island, where boys dress in green like the Hero of Time when they come of age.[13]


Link and Tetra aboard the pirate ship

While Link is celebrating his coming of age, a gigantic bird drops a girl, pirate captain Tetra, into Outset Island's forest. Link rescues Tetra from monsters, but the bird carries off Link's sister Aryll. Tetra agrees to help Link find his sister, and they sail to the Forsaken Fortress, where the bird, the Helmaroc King, has been taking girls with long ears. Link finds Aryll and other kidnapped girls, but the Helmaroc King captures him and takes him to a man in black, who orders Link thrown into the sea.

Link is rescued at Windfall Island by a talking boat, the King of Red Lions, who explains that the bird's master is a returned Ganon. To defeat him, Link must find the Hero of Time's power, which requires the three Pearls of the Goddesses. Link finds Din's Pearl on Dragon Roost Island, home of the avian Rito and the dragon Valoo; Farore's Pearl in Forest Haven, home of the Great Deku Tree and the plant-like Koroks; and Nayru's Pearl with the water spirit Jabun on Outset Island. The King of Red Lions then takes Link to the Tower of the Gods, where he faces trials before descending beneath the ocean to a castle suspended in time. Here Link finds the Hero of Time's weapon, the Master Sword.

Link returns to the Forsaken Fortress. Tetra's crew arrive and rescue the girls, but Ganon easily overpowers Link and Tetra: the Master Sword has lost its power. Ganon recognizes Tetra's Triforce necklace, and realizes she is the incarnation of Princess Zelda he is seeking. Link's Rito allies and Valoo save Link and Tetra from Ganon. The King of Red Lions brings the two back to the underwater realm, explaining it is the legendary kingdom of Hyrule, which the goddesses submerged long ago to contain Ganon while the people fled to the mountaintops. The King is Daphenes Nohanson Hyrule, the last King of Hyrule, and Tetra is his heir, Zelda, keeper of the Triforce of Wisdom.

Tetra remains in the castle while Link and the King journey to the two sages who provided the Master Sword's power. They discover Ganon's forces murdered them both, so Link must awaken new sages: the Rito Medli and the Korok Makar. The sages restore the Master Sword, but the King learns that Ganon has abandoned the Forsaken Fortress, and fears an attack. They then track down the eight shards of the missing Triforce of Courage, once kept by the Hero of Time, and the gods recognize Link as the Hero of the Winds.

Link and the King return to Hyrule to discover that Ganon has captured Tetra. Link follows them to Ganon's tower, defeating Ganon's minions before Ganon overcomes him. Ganon joins Link's and Tetra's Triforce pieces with his own Triforce of Power, forming the complete Triforce, which will grant his wish to rule the world. Before he can act, the King of Hyrule appears and makes his own wish that the Goddesses wash Ganon and Hyrule away, and grant Link and Tetra hope for their own future. Link and Tetra battle Ganon with the Master Sword and arrows as water pours around them; with the final blow, the Master Sword turns Ganon to stone. Link and Tetra rise to the surface as the King and Hyrule are submerged. They are reunited with their friends; a post-credits scene shows the heroes sailing off to find a new land.


Game design

A screenshot from the 2000 Nintendo Space World demo video

Nintendo's Zelda team initiated plans for a new game early in the development of the GameCube system, before Majora's Mask was completed for the Nintendo 64 in 2000. Eiji Aonuma, director of Majora's Mask, returned to helm the project, while Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka served as producers.[14][15] Early concepts generally followed Ocarina of Time's designs, with graphics enhanced for the new system's capabilities.[15][16] The team created a brief, hastily-made clip of Link fighting Ganondorf for a demonstration at the 2000 Space World exposition, where Nintendo announced the GameCube. The clip resonated with fans and commentors who hoped it provided a preview of the next Zelda title.[17][18]

However, the Zelda team found the demo version too derivative of previous incarnations to allow for a groundbreaking new game.[15] In particular, director Aonuma hated the design, later commenting that he felt "this isn't Zelda at all. It wasn't the Zelda I wanted to make."[16] The team explored other directions, until designer Yoshiki Haruhana created a cartoonish drawing of a young Link that caught their eye. Design manager Satoru Takizawa drew up an enemy Moblin in a similar style, and the team seized on the concept, deciding that a stylized cartoon aesthetic could open up new possibilities for gameplay and combat. To achieve this effect, they employed cel shading on 3D models, giving the look of an interactive cartoon.[15][16][19][20] To build the game, the developers used Alias/Wavefront's Maya 3D tool and a purpose-built game engine.[21]

The Wind Waker was an early project developed for the GameCube

With this decision, development proceeded swiftly. The team quickly decided the setting would be islands in an ocean, determining it would provide interesting visuals and mechanics in the cel-shaded style. This in turn inspired the central sailing feature.[14][15] Some features drew skepticism; for instance producers Miyamoto and Tezuka requested an explanation for the characters' exaggeratedly large eyes. The team jokingly suggested having Link shoot beams from his eyes before deciding to have him focus his gaze on significant objects nearby, giving hints to observant players about what to do next.[15][22]

Nintendo presented a demo clip of the new game at the 2001 Space World, August 23–26. Response to the cel-shaded design was deeply mixed: while some attendees enjoyed the new look, there was backlash from disappointed fans who had hoped for a more realistic Zelda along the lines of the 2000 demo. Critics derisively dubbed the game "Celda".[16][17][23] Miyamoto was surprised at the response, and decided to limit revealing further information about the game until the team finished a playable demonstration, hoping to shift focus from the graphics to the gameplay.[24][25]

Miyamoto introduced a playable demo at the next year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) on May 22–24, 2002. It debuted alongside another upcoming GameCube Zelda, eventually titled Four Swords Adventures. Miyamoto's presentation experienced serious glitches while he attempted to demonstrate Link's new ability to use enemies' dropped weapons. Despite this setback, reception was more positive than the Space World demo.[24] The game picked up the 2002 Game Critics Awards for Best Console Game at E3. An editor at IGN said the cartoon look "works very nicely" and that "it feels very much like Zelda".[26] The whimsical style was compared to A Link to the Past and promotional artwork from previous Zelda games. E3 also introduced new features, such as the ability to connect to the Game Boy Advance and receive help from Tingle.[27] However, divided response over the cel-shaded design followed the game through its release.[15][28]

Development continued through fall, with targeted release dates of December 2002 in Japan and spring 2003 in North America.[29] During the final stages, two planned dungeons that fell behind schedule were cut and replaced with a quest to recover Triforce pieces around the Great Sea. Elements of these dungeons were recycled for later Zelda games.[16] On October 15, 2002, Nintendo revealed the game's official Japanese subtitle, Kaze no Takuto (Wind Baton), to emphasize the role of wind in the game.[29] The company announced the official English version, The Wind Waker, on December 2, 2002.[30]


The music in The Wind Waker was composed by Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, Toru Minegishi, and Koji Kondo.[31] The sound team was significantly larger than for other contemporary projects to accommodate Nintendo's desire for a high caliber of work in the rushed development schedule.[14] Koji Kondo, the primary composer for the The Legend of Zelda series, contributed to the score but did not serve as sound director.[32][33] However, the score incorporated some of his pieces from older Zelda games in modified form to emphasize the time passed between the stories.[14]

The soundtrack is primarily environmental; it modulates between various tracks depending on location, time and other conditions.[34] Much of the music is inspired by traditional Irish music, and is overall lighter and more upbeat than previous scores in the series.[35][36] The advancement of MIDI technology allowed the soundtrack to closer approximate the sounds of real instruments than formerly possible. The score features strings, winds, brass, and percussion, and for the first time in the Zelda series, wordless vocals. The vocals are especially prominent in the tunes Link conducts with the Wind Waker, singing in D major.[37] Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly played the mandolin featured in the track titled "The Legendary Hero", which can be found in the introductory cutscene of the game.[38] Scitron Digital Content released a two-disc, 133-track soundtrack album, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Original Sound Tracks, on March 19, 2003.[39]

Release and promotion

Wind Waker was released on December 13, 2002 in Japan,[29] on March 24, 2003 in North America,[40] and on May 2, 2003 in Europe.[41] To promote the release, Nintendo offered a bonus disc as a pre-order incentive which included a GameCube port of Ocarina of Time as well as its previously unreleased expansion, Ura Zelda. Ura Zelda, largely an adaptation of Ocarina of Time with some changes, including new dungeon challenges, had been developed for the Nintendo 64's 64DD peripheral, but was shelved when that system failed. Ura Zelda was named Ocarina of Time Master Quest in North America and Europe.[42][43][44][45] Ocarina of Time/Master Quest discs became popular items in their own right in North America, with some customers making and then cancelling preorders to get them. To avoid this issue in Europe, Nintendo released the item only in two-disc packages with Wind Waker.[45]

In May 2003, Nintendo bundled Wind Waker with limited edition GameCubes in North America and Europe.[46] On November 17 that year, Nintendo launched another promotion via a compilation disc, The Legend of Zelda Collector's Edition. The disc includes ports of the original Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask, as well as a Wind Waker demo and two featurettes. Collector's Edition was included in another GameCube bundle, and was made available to existing GameCube owners who registered their system or subscribed to Nintendo Power.[47]


Critical reception

Aggregate score
Metacritic96/100 (80 reviews)[48]
Review scores
Famitsu40 of 40[50][51]
Game Informer10 of 10[52]
GameSpot9.3 of 10[53]
IGN9.6 of 10[54]
Nintendo Power[55]
GameSpotGame of the Year, 2003[56]

Wind Waker received critical acclaim upon release.[57] Review aggregator website Metacritic calculated a score of 96/100 based on 80 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[48]

Wind Waker was the fourth game ever to receive a perfect score from Famitsu magazine, with the reviewers praising the rich design and gameplay.[51] Several reviewers favorably noted the gameplay similarities to Ocarina of Time despite the cel-shaded graphics. GamePro called the game "a combination of vivid artistry and timeless gameplay";[58] IGN advised gamers to "forget that Wind Waker looks totally different from Ocarina of Time" since "these two games are very much alike".[54] The 2004 Game Developers Choice Awards and the Seventh Annual Interactive Achievement Awards gave The Wind Waker awards for Excellence in Visual Arts[59] and Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction,[60] respectively. In 2007, it was named fourth best GameCube game of all time in IGN's feature reflecting on the GameCube's lifespan.[61] Nintendo Power named The Wind Waker the 2nd best GameCube game of all time, losing only to Resident Evil 4.[62]

The game's most common criticism is the heavy emphasis on sailing. GameSpot noted that the game "starts out in a very brisk manner", but that in the last third of the game, the "focus on sailing (...) is pretty tedious".[53] IGN complained that viewing the animation of using the Wind Waker "hundreds of times" became "a tedious nuisance", and that the lack of an option to skip the animation "is more bothersome still".[54] GameSpot thought that some players would be "a little put off" by the "easy puzzles and boss battles"; IGN called the boss battles "slightly simplistic" and noted that enemies "inflict little damage onto Link". GamePro, on the other hand, felt that the dungeons tended to be "huger and more challenging with new twists", with treasure hunts that would "tax even the most accomplished Zelda gamer".[58]

Despite a few complaints, Wind Waker was still met with universal acclaim, with Nintendo Power calling the game the fourth best game to ever appear on a Nintendo console,[63] while Official Nintendo Magazine placed it 12th.[64] Nintendo Power listed its ending as one of the greatest in Nintendo history, due to the final battle's climax.[65] Further praise came from Game Informer, who awarded the game a perfect 10/10 while saying that it "blows every Zelda game out of the water and stands as the video game event of a lifetime."[66] UGO listed The Wind Waker on their list of the "Top 50 Games That Belong On the 3DS", stating "Sailing through the oceans of a submerged Hyrule in 3D shatters the word epic into pieces."[67]

Audience response and sales

In contrast to the critical acclaim, players' response to the game remained deeply mixed over the cel-shaded design.[68] Reception was comparatively warm in Japan, where borrowing an anime aesthetic is common in media, but was much more divided in North America.[69] Some players appreciated the design and Miyamoto's vision for the game, but others criticized the choice. These fans felt that the new design was too much of a change from the more realistic designs of previous games, and found the new look childish.[28]

Sales wise, Nintendo stated that the game did not live up to expectations. Although Wind Waker boosted hardware sales of the GameCube during its first week in Japan,[70] and amounted to the most successful pre-order campaign in Nintendo history at the time,[71] Eiji Aonuma, the game's director, noted that by the time the game "had reached the million mark in sales, [it] had become sluggish in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan.[72] The game ultimately "did not fare as well in Japan."[73]

According to the last reported numbers provided by Nintendo, Wind Waker sold 3.07 million copies worldwide, far below the 7.6 million set by Ocarina of Time.[74] Aonuma would later comment in 2007 that he was "convinced the reason the Wind Waker did not perform well was because of its toon-shaded graphics style. It was something that you either loved or hated, and there was nothing that we could have done about it."[73] As a result of Wind Waker's poor sales, Aonuma decided that "the only thing we could do was to give the healthy North American market the Zelda that they wanted," which led to the creation of the more realistic The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.[72]


Sequels and other media

Nintendo initially planned a direct sequel for the GameCube, developed by Aonuma's Zelda team under the working title Wind Waker 2. However, Wind Waker's underwhelming reception in North America, combined with a downturn in the Japanese video game market, convinced Aonuma that the only avenue to success would be a more realistic Zelda game that would appeal to the stronger North American market. He persuaded Miyamoto, who authorized development of a realistically-styled game using Wind Waker's engine, ultimately named The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The game proved a major success for the GameCube and the newly-released Wii.[75][76]

Wind Waker originated the variant of the Link character named "Toon Link", who subsequently appeared in several later Nintendo games.[23] Wind Waker received two direct sequels for the Nintendo DS handheld system. Wanting to continue Wind Waker's story and art style, Aonuma produced The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass in 2007, which follows Link and Tetra as they explore new reaches of the Great Sea.[77][78] The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (2009) is set later, with a new Link and Zelda traversing a New Hyrule with a magic train.[79][80] Toon Link also returned in indirectly related Legend of Zelda titles such as Four Swords Adventures (2004), The Minish Cap (2005), and Tri Force Heroes (2015).[23][81] He also features as a playable character in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. crossover fighting game series and, along with other Wind Waker characters, in the 2016 Legend of Zelda pastiche Hyrule Warriors Legends.[82][83]

Wii U version

In a Nintendo Direct presentation released on January 23, 2013, a high definition re-release of The Wind Waker was announced for the Wii U, slated for release in October 2013. New features include Off-TV Play and Miiverse integration. The remastering came about as the development team experimented with art styles for the next main Zelda title, also in development for Wii U. HD remasterings of the later Zelda games in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, were also tested during the planning stages, but the development team considered The Wind Waker's visuals to be the most improved.[84] The Nintendo Direct also stated that they would be "tuning" the gameplay, which—during E3 2013—was revealed to mean that a faster sailing mode had been added to lessen travel time across the ocean in the later half of the game. IGN noted improved dynamic lighting and shading in the game's graphics engine.[85] In the Wii U version, the "Tingle Tuner" item (which used the Game Boy Advance as a peripheral to the GameCube) has been replaced with the "Tingle Bottle" (since the Game Boy Advance is incompatible with Wii U), which is used to send messages to the game's Miiverse community if players are in need of help.

Along with graphical updates, the HD version for Wii U offers various new features from the original GameCube version. The Wii U GamePad's touchscreen serves as an inventory, allowing players to freely assign items to certain buttons. The touchscreen can be used to control certain items, such as Link's Wind Baton, whilst some weapons, like the bow, can be aimed using the GamePad's gyroscope features. The game also supports Off-TV Play on the GamePad. With the new technology allowing for faster loading of the ocean, players can now unlock faster speeds for their ship. There are also tweaks to certain aspects of the original game that were considered tedious, such as cuts to the Wind Baton sequences.[86]


  1. The packaging artwork used for the original release of the game in North America. Later releases and releases in other regions feature different background patterns and gradients.
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