The question “which was the better Zelda?” isn’t valid here. Mostly because opinions are subjective, and that’s the end of that. Whether a game has flawed or brilliant gameplay it’s entirely up to the player. Some games CAN be objectively bad, but most of these are considered so because of glitches, bugs or the like making the games virtually unplayable. Like Rocky for the PS2 or Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.
So, neither WW or TP are bad games simply because of the style the designers chose. It is simply a matter of opinion. This can lead to several other problems, though. You see, to this day, WW is not as cherished as OoT, though that would be quite impossible to achieve. No, WW isn’t even as loved as MM. This was because, up until that point, the games were never “cute”. They never went with a cartoony, bright style. Even A Link to the Past chose a more neutral style. It still had bright colors, but it leaned towards a more straight way of telling the story.
In WW, Link made funny faces, everything was bright and colorful, and the cel-shade graphics turned it into, well, a cartoon. This never hindered the gameplay, though. As I mentioned in the last article, it had fast combat, almost endless exploration and so much to offer in what seemed like a very different approach of a Zelda game.
There were A LOT of Zelda elements all over the place, though: the Master Sword, the Triforce, Ganon, Zelda, and even Link were all present and stayed very true to their roots. It all developed very differently, though. I can safely say that it was the very first Zelda game that introduced the cinematic aspects into the games. Several cutscenes could be arranged in order to created a very cool short film. The dialogue were great and the goofy and seriousness were handled quite well.
Now, this can all be applied to Twilight Princess. The overall feel of The Legend of Zelda is very much present in TP, though in a very different and nostalgic way. While WW turned everything into a much more colorful world, TP went for a “mature” and “realistic” feel. I hate using those terms, because they have become buzzwords, in positive and negative ways. I can’t really call it something else, though.
While OoT really felt like a medieval adventure, TP went even further than that. It has castles, it had towns, it has a very vast field in which riding horse wasn’t much of chore anymore and in turn it was more of an adventure. And I believe that is the main difference between these two games.
In WW you feel like an explorer. You’re still in a heroic quest as you try to save the world from an evil guy and so on, but as you sail to the several islands and embark on this quest, part of you wants to know what is in those islands. You feel great discovering some new secret or finding a treasure. Most of this exploration, by the end of the game, was even necessary.
On the other hand, TP felt like going on an adventure, even more so than OoT. You knew exactly what to do and the exploration was still present, but it took a seat in order to favor the feel of beating the bad guy. The combat obviously was developed to that extent for this reason. Nobody would want to experience that gorgeous combat if you didn’t get to beat a lot of bad guys in the way.
I love both, to be honest. If there ever was a Zelda game which combined the amount of exploration present in WW with the combat and battles TP had, I think I would love that very much. Not as much as MM, of course, but it would definitely be number two in my list.
Why was the art style and direction such an important factor in all this, though? Well, WW came out at the wrong time. We all remember that Gamecube showcase, with that Zelda preview that caught everybody’s eyes. After all that time, Zelda would jump over to the next generation. Sure, the graphics were iffy, but it was still amazing to look at. A game that people would never forget. The only problem: it looked like a beta version of TP. It had a realistic Link fighting Ganondorf in what looked like a very awesome combat system.
Was it a bad call? Not at all. It was premature, at most. Nintendo wanted to proof what the Gamecube was capable of, and I’m glad it turned even better than what they promised. Zelda fans were eagerly waiting for THAT Zelda, though. It was basically OoT with better graphics, yeah, but the promise was there. Then WW came out. Was that a bad call? Hell no, WW is an amazing game in its own merit, but it wasn’t the Zelda fans were expecting. It was far from that.
I don’t wanna blame it all on nostalgia, because it’s not about that. People will always complain that “this isn’t my (insert nostalgia thing here)”, but this wasn’t the case here. It just was a premature call that ended disappointing fans for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t Toon Link’s fault (and what a horrible name for the character; why not just call him WW Link?).
This is all my reasoning, though. Some people get really angry at the art style, others to the endless sailing and “clunky” exploration the game supposedly had. People don’t like change, and while my recollection of the events is still a very good point, most people just weren’t happy with the thing they got.
TP came out, and it blew people away. It was like an improved version of the tech demo people saw years ago. It had everything they could ask for in a Zelda game. It was critically acclaimed, even heralded as being better than OoT, for more than a couple of reasons. I can’t blame them. It is a good game, but I can’t help but think that it was so praised solely because it differed so much from WW. Which brings me back to my original point: the Zelda spectrum.
What is the best style for a Zelda game? Dark and gritty? Colorful, bright and kinda tongue in cheek? A mix between those two? Somewhere between the two, or maybe just edging from one or the other? Who knows, really. Skyward Sword recently combined what seems TP’s gameplay with WW’s colorful palette. Some folks were skeptical, and for a new Zelda game, I can’t really say I felt a big wave of celebration over it. Conversations about Skyward Sword are pretty much dead now, except for a couple of fan theories I’ll talk about next time.
WW’s demise as a “bad” Zelda game was, in my opinion, nothing more than a premature decision and badly timed release. Fans wanted something else, and Nintendo listened, but had their minds somewhere else. There is so much to love about the game that I find it ridiculous to toss it aside simply because it doesn’t look like “the old Link” or “those Zelda games I grew up with”.
Let’s just hope it evolves into something else, and hopefully, people will remember it was a classic when the time comes. Hey, some people are already calling it their childhood game. Is that good, is that bad? You decide.
In terms of style, Zelda is divided in this little spectrum I made up. On one side we have Wind Waker, and on the other Twilight Princess. When each game was released, their respective styles let to polarized opinions which ripples are still very present in the franchise. Some fans loved the colorful cel-shaded style, others love the realistic, dark approach. Me? I’m still trying to decide.
You see, when I got Wind Waker years ago, I was stunned. After being bombarded for more than a decade with the statement that Ocarina of Time was the best game ever made. Some of us were very aware that gamers held OoT on a pedestal, and to this day, it is critically acclaimed by almost all kinds of gamers. What pains me the most is that, I couldn’t enjoy it for a very long time.
I didn’t like how cliche the story was, and later on, I wouldn’t like how straightforward it developed. You got a princess, she’s kidnapped and you gotta rescue her. There’s a lot in between these plot points, but overall, it’s your basic hero legend with a little tweaks here and there. Like I said, it took me a while to get over myself and played it like it wasn’t a typical story, or for that matter, I played it like I never knew was OoT was.
Needless to say, I enjoyed it quite a lot. It has glaring flaws: very cryptic puzzles and quests, sluggish controls and graphics that, in my opinion, haven’t aged that well. But overall, I can safely say that it’s definitely one of the best N64 games and it’s up there in the Top 5 Zelda games. Back then, I never understood the love for Zelda. I didn’t want to be near any Zelda games, simply because they were called “the best games” ever, and to me, they were just there.
Then I saw this commercial.
What was this? What did it mean? All of a sudden, Zelda looked… Interesting. It looked like it deserved a second chance.
I have very faint memories of playing the first Zelda game. I couldn’t even get to the first dungeon. I remember beating Gohma and I never understood what I had to do next. This commercial made me feel like playing a Zelda game, which was a very difficult task back then. I wasn’t interested in beating games. I guess you could say I was looking forward to an experience I’d never forget.
I found Majora’s Mask one Christmas morning under my tree. I remember running to my N64, spending at least 10 minutes trying to get the Jumper Pack out of the damn thing, and then sticking that golden cartridge with the a 3D label the 3DS would envy. I still have that cartridge. And to this day, it is one of the most precious belongings.
Majora’s Mask was on another level. It was completely different from OoT: it felt different, it played different. It had beautiful graphics. It was truly a swan song for the N64. I can understand why people have conflicting opinions over this. It wasn’t like a Zelda games. It was dark, it was depressing.
I read a couple of days ago that it was more about interacting with people rather than beating the temples. I can agree, up to a certain point. It was definitely weird to have a game where you had to help people as a sequel to a game where you had to save a princess and then beat the bad guy. I think the temples serve a purpose: MM simply has an overarching plot and several underlying plots all over the place. It makes for a great adventure, and it certainly felt more real and tangible than OoT.
Going back to the spectrum I found to be very present on the Zelda franchise, OoT definitely goes to the left (Wind Waker) and MM mirrors it by going to the other side (Twilight Princess). These differences turned MM into the black sheep of the Zelda series, only for it to step aside was Wind Waker was released back then. Now that, was something else.
Truth to be told, MM is still my favorite Legend of Zelda game and one that I’d gladly beat any day. I know everything by heart and it’s one of the few games that could turn me into one of those pesky gamers I mention a lot.
I’m currently playing through Wind Waker, and after finishing that, I’ll beat Twilight Princess. I’m trying not to dwell too much into what I remember about these two. I’ll play through them as if it was my first time playing them. Back then, though, I noticed several things about them. Wind Waker rewarded the exploration, and Twilight Princess rewarded you for following the plot.
Wind Waker brought several gameplay elements that would’ve improved both OoT and MM quite a lot: it had fluid and quick controls which in turn improved both the combat and the exploration. In MM, having the Bunny Hood or turning into a Goron was the difference between a fast search for secrets or a hassle. OoT had a very slow Link, which record beating players had to fix by turning him around and skipping all over Hyrule Field. Never before I felt Link to move as fluidly as he did in Wind Waker.
Twilight Princess went even further. Now you could move around while swinging your sword, and you could even do it on Epona. It was obvious that combat was an important part of the overall gameplay, if not the most important one. WW dungeons were very tangible places filled with details and colorful palettes. TP, on the other hand, had massive fortresses and places that were realistically designed to feel just like that, a dungeon.
They were very different games, and had very different aspects in both gameplay and themes. Zelda fans seem to skip all that, though, and focus on the very thing that turned WW in the new black sheep of the family: the art style.