The Mystery of the Adorable Shrinking Hero

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.

wind_waker

  8 comments for “The Mystery of the Adorable Shrinking Hero

  1. Dylan Tibert
    January 31, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    My heart skipped a beat when you compared the scoring to that of Totoro; I can totally resonate with that connection. Good old Miyamoto actually listed Miyazaki’s ability to appeal to both children and adults with his films, such as My Neighbor Totoro, as a major inspiration for Wind Waker’s overall stylistic change. The interview’s here if you’re interested.

    Personally I have immense difficulty curbing my enthusiasm when it comes to the Wind Waker, so it’s taking much of my wherewithal to not just gush out in agreement about how glorious the title is.

    I am curious about what elements from Wind Waker’s gameplay make it seem casual to you, though. I know the term casual means different things to different people, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts nonetheless.

  2. Joshua Abbott
    February 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    The major difference between the motivations for introducing new/innovative elements into already successful franchises between Zelda and Batman is that a successful formula had already been established with the artistic style and game structure of the Zelda series. Conversely, the Batman franchise was rebooting itself from the cartoony Schumacher films which had received the ire of viewers and critics alike.

    • The best things in life are FREEZE!

    With Wind Waker, the initial response from fans of the series was that it was “gay” and wasn’t a real Zelda game. It is only after years of reflection that the gaming public at large can recognize its genius. The Dark Knight however was immediately met with praise universally, grossing over 1 billion dollars in revenue.

    Both however have been incredibly influential in their respective fields. The Dark Knight for its blending of dark elements into the summer blockbuster genre has been cited numerous times as a humongous influence on Director Sam Mendes in his recent blockbuster “Skyfall.” Wind Waker, although not the original pioneer into cel shading as earlier projects such as “Jet Set Radio” had employed the technique, will, as it should, receive the credit for popularizing the technique and influencing a number of popular games. These games include Killer 7, Street Fighter IV, and Borderlands.

    • Mamoru Fuun
      February 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      I have to agree with Josh here, it’s not so much that Zelda has to continue being innovative in order to stay playable and enjoyable to the fans rather the formula for success had already relatively been found. I think this is also greatly present in Nintendo’s Pokemon franchise, 5 generations of Pokemon in (coming to 6) and many of the old aspects are still present: catch ’em, battle ’em, evolve ’em etc. While they do present new features, such as double/triple battles and newer Pokemon, with every new version and game system they still revolve around the same old mechanics as before; simply put if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. While many old red and blue fans may insist Pokemon has slowly gone down hill since the classic Gameboy days, many diehard fans are enjoying the changes but are mainly coming back to continue with the original Pokemon experience.

  3. Thomas Hughes
    February 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    You definitely have a point about Wind Waker changing up the series to keep it fresh, and I would also agree that it is aimed towards a larger, more causal audience. You also make a very interesting analogy to The Dark Knight trilogy, because that trilogy made me interested in Batman. However, I think Wind Waker is definitely a game for the die-hard fans as well, mainly because of how many links it has to the previous games that casual gamers wouldn’t pick up on. The story appeals to both fans and first-time players.

    I do think, however, that Nintendo could do a lot more to make the franchise fresher than changing the art style, making new items, and introducing some other new element (changing into a wolf, time travel, moon falling). I realize that this is a winning formula for a Zelda game, but I know how creative and deep the Zelda team can be, such as the mature and often dark themes seen in Majora’s Mask, and I’d like to see them challenge themselves a little more to make a truly emotional connection with the players.

  4. efisher
    February 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I have to admit that when I was first exposed to Wind Waker, I was thrown by the drastic change in art style, it was soon clear that the soul of the Zelda games was still there. Even the familiar air of the soundtrack was reminiscent of previous installments. The combat felt more fluid (even giving the ability to parry) and characters were even given more personality. In terms of a general marketing strategy, I thought it was brilliant; they were able to maintain their current fan base, while making it more accessible to a new generation of gamers.

    However, I felt that there was little deviation from the general Zelda formula, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I felt they did little in terms of innovation, a trend that seems to be plaguing the series recently. With the most recent release of Skyward Sword, it feels as though the art styles and the control gimmicks take away from really developing the core of the series. To add to this, it seems that the upcoming release of The Wind Waker HD does little to impress, both in terms of graphics and creativity on Nintendo’s part. The most impressive thing they seemed to have released recently in that regard was this which turned out to be a project they weren’t going to follow up on, and was merely used to demonstrate the Wii U’s capabilities.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Zelda series and will continue to buy the games as long as they continue to release them, but it seems like every one step forward is followed by a few steps back.

  5. Jonathan H.
    February 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite franchises when it comes to gaming. This has to be one of the games which has gone through the most design changes in my opinion that any other game. It went from serious realistic view like in the LOZ: Twilight Princes to half cell-shaded, half realistic in its’ newest game LOZ: Skyward Sword. People where outraged with the how Link looked in the LOZ: Windwaker because they changed him back into a kid and made the game look kiddish with the cell-shaded graphics that they gave the game. All these games may look different but they all are enjoyable and have the LOZ dungeon crawling aspect to it. I can’t wait to see the HD remake that is about to come out for the Wii U of LOZ: Windwaker and also see how the new LOZ game is going to look graphically.

  6. Savannah
    February 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Weren’t there side quests in Majora’s Mask too? I have yet to play Windwaker (I know, I’m very ashamed of that fact) so I don’t know exactly what you mean by “sidequests” or if they’re different from the tasks you have to perform to get each mask. Because I haven’t played Windwaker, I can’t say if I agree about how correct you are in calling it a breakthrough in the series, but I can tell you that I was one of those people who got all huffy when Nintendo changed Link’s design. However, I realize that refusing to play Windwaker was a mistake now that I often hear praise for the game with some calling it the best in the series. I must say that I am an unfortunate example of someone who has lost their chance to play such a gem when it was easier to get a hold of (back when I had a GameCube). I have been curious about it for quite some time, despite my preference to the less cartoonized version. I hope I can play it soon so that I can understand what all the hubub’s about.

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