The story of The Legend of Zelda franchise is a tale seen repeatedly in observing the successful structuring of any franchise across various media. Wherever any popular franchise goes, it is certain that there will always be a collection of common themes (friendship, victory against all odds, the hero’s journey, etc.) put into the story before the protagonist finally returns home safe and sound to his/her pet dog/cat/pet cuckoo. Now before everyone gets up in arms to stand up for Legend of Zelda and their favorite version of Link’s tale, let’s clarify and say that I am not saying all of the Legend of Zelda games have always been the exact same, as Shigeru Miyamoto has always been brilliant at bringing new tools to Link’s satchel, or new ways for Link to banish Ganondorf from Hyrule. At it’s core however, the story of Link is one that constantly requires innovation just like any other series.
In many ways the story of “the series” is and will always be generic, so a creator of a series has to constantly redesign in order to perpetuate audience interest. Without this innovation, the audience would shrivel up and disappear. For example, the Batman franchise succeeded in introducing new ideas by bringing in the direction of Christopher Nolan and his expertise in other genres of film making outside of the superhero realm. While this did produce new material to make an already established fan base maintain interest, it also brought several new audiences of film goer to the theatre for a superhero film that wouldn’t have normally been there.
In the case of the Legend of Zelda series, the art of innovating a quintessentially simple hero story could have been a challenge. Fortunately for The Legend of Zelda (and just about every videogame franchise ever) the ease of innovation is many times facilitated by the creation of a new videogame console with x/y/z new functions or performance upgrades. This can allow the innovative focus to stay entirely with the hardware capabilities and playing off of those. After the original Legend of Zelda game on the NES came out, the production team avoided much plot innovation by changing the game play from area by area based play to a side scroller. With each of the LOZ games that have followed there have been innovations made based on new console capabilities, and plot developments created to play off of these like many other multiplatform series.
However, on the verge of the release of the HD version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker I think it should be recognized for just how successful it is at breaking out of what could be described as the typical series development cycle to become a beautiful fusion of Japanese Kawaii<a (and I am linking to that because of the assumptions made when some says kawaii) and American Kitsch.
Wind Waker is not genius because of the fact that it introduces you to a world totally separate from the Hyrule found in the older Legend games (though that is clever), or in that it introduces side quests for the first time in the series' history (though that does make it even more immersive). It is genius because of the graphic design style Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto pursued in it's creation. Just as Christopher Nolan mashed together the audience appeal of several genre's in his Dark Knight trilogy, Miyamoto created a design crossover that appeals to a wide variety of player and consumer by designing the game with elements of both Japanese Kawaii and American Kitsch together into one amalgamated cake of nostalgia with an icing of adorableness. As appealing as Majora's Mask was to an already established LOZ fan base, Wind Waker had the innocence and attitude of a game more focused on the casual gamer, subtly disguising the same puzzles and twists of prior LOZ games. Along with the obvious design traits of making every human character tiny with huge lovable eyes, cute swaths of hair and many other simplistic, cartoonish characteristics, the music for the game combines elements of classic Disney-esque ballads with staccato "My Neighbor Totoro" styled orchestration. One could say that Wind Waker rejected the possibility of growing up with LOZ's original fanbase, but once played through it is easy to realize how satisfying it is to an old school player, while simultaneously having the allure to reel in a newer generation and a broader range of gamer in general.