Anyone that has ever played "The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker" will tell you that it's unlike any game in the franchise. On the surface, the game's graphical style stands out above all else as the a defining feature, but you have to dig a bit deeper, and look at its origins within the walls of Nintendo, to see what really separates it from the rest of Link's adventures. We recently spoke with the game's Director, Eiji Aonuma, and he explain that there was a fundamental difference between the development of "Wind Waker" (and its upcoming re-release "Wind Waker HD") and any of the other "Zelda"s, both the ones that came before it, as well as since.
Buried in the back of "Hyrule Historia" Eiji Aonuma closes out the overall history of "Zelda" with a letter to the reader about the book, and his involvement with the series. In it, he notes that "the question the developers of the 'Legend of Zelda' series asked themselves before starting on a game was, 'What kind of game play should we focus on?' rather than "What kind of story should we write?'" This helps to explain why each Zelda game feels different to the player, since that's what comes first, and why the stories are wildly divergent, as those come later.
What would happen if that formula was reversed, and the story was the main focus of a "Zelda" game? Mr. Aonuma commented that he "feels like that would be a game that's really hard to develop," citing that, "if you have a story first, you're kind of tied to that story, and locked into it, and you have to alter gameplay to make sure that the story progresses in a certain way." Perhaps the biggest reason that he and his team have shied away from this approach is because, "that doesn't really mean that the gameplay itself will be fun." He finished up by noting, "I know that there are many games that were created to fit an existing story, and I don’t know that there are that many that have been very successful at it."
When you look at the modern "Zelda" games in this light, it's clear that each iteration has its own unique element; Wii Motion+ in "Skyward Sword," stylus control in "Phantom Hourglass," or even 3D in "Ocarina of Time." However, this is where "Wind Waker" sets itself apart from its franchise, since, as Mr. Aonuma told us, the gameplay and the story grew together at the same time.
"'Wind Waker' is unlike anything that has ever happened on any other 'Zelda' game; the gameplay and the environment, the graphic style of the environment and the story kind of came together at the same time, or as development progressed. We knew that we wanted to have the seas as our setting, and we could really bring that sea to life via the toon shading. And, because exploration is such a huge part of the experience, for example, we decided that Hyrule has to exist somewhere in this expansive sea. Got it - it'll be under the sea, it'll be sunken Hyrule, and part way through your character will have to go diving into the sea, and discover it there. This is how the story will progress. So, it was a very organic process almost, with the gameplay, and the environment, and the story all being created as we went, as part of the process."
This organic growth seems to come through in "Wind Waker," as the gameplay, puzzles, and story, all seem to gel slightly differently than in other 'Zelda' titles. You can see for yourself, or relive the wonderful experience, later this month when "Wind Waker HD" lands on the Wii U.
One last note: Mr. Aonuma has proposed some lofty goals for himself as a game creator, stating the following in regards to how he wants to create a story when it comes to games,
"What I really, really want to create, what my ultimate hope or goal is, to create a game without a story - not to say that the story is nonexistent, but it's a story that isn't already created. It's a story that the player, in interacting with the space or environment, creates. So, a story that is defined by the player, not one that is already prepared, and a game that just kind of follows that path, if that makes sense."
Now, that sounds like a really interesting game, particularly if it ended up starring Link.