The newest Zelda has an aesthetic link to the past.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the next installment in Nintendo’s over 30-year-old fantasy series. It comes out March 3 for the Switch (as the console’s flagship launch game) and the Wii U. It’s an open world focusing on exploration and player creativity. Breath of the Wild also features a striking art style filled with vibrant colors, looking more like an animated movie than the attempts to capture realism that we see from other studios.
For Zelda fans, Breath of the Wild reminds you of The Wind Waker. That’s the 2003 entry in the series that came out for the GameCube. It stood out for its cartoon-like graphics, which look like this:
Breath of the Wild art director Satoru Takizawa alked about how Wind Waker influenced the new game at a panel today at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. Breath of the Wild is Zelda’s first game in the HD era. When testing what the series would like in HD, Nintendo imported characters and scenes from older Zelda games into the Wii U hardware. This included Wind Waker and its successors, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. When it did this, it noticed that the cartoon-like graphics of Wind Waker popped in HD. They held up better than the more realistic styles of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword.
This lead to the creation of Wind Waker HD for the Wii U. When working on this enhanced version of the GameCube game, Nintendo was also in the early stages of project that would become Breath of the Wild. The team realized that Wind Waker’s art could serve as the inspiration for the new game.
But Nintendo did not want to just copy Wind Waker. It still felt that its art had some flaws. It was too cartoony to convey necessary information. Some characters and objects would be so stylized that some players couldn’t recognize them. It also gave the game a “childish” look that could throw some older players off.
So Nintendo compromised and came up with Breath of the Wild’s art style, one that features bright colors but also more realistic proportions and detailing. But it did not strive for total realism, which let the developers do fun things like have food dance in a pot while it cooks without it looking completely ridiculous or out-of-place.
So, long after its 2003 release and even with its HD remaster a few years old, Wind Waker still has a big impact on the franchise.