The Legend of Zelda fans may recall that way back at the 2004 Game Developers Conference, Nintendo accidentally revealed it was planning a sequel to 2003’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The Wind Waker 2 was not to be, however, as Nintendo went in a different direction, releasing the darker Twilight Princess in 2006 with a far more realistic visual design than Wind Waker’s cel-shaded cartoon look.
Now, more than 12 years later, the company has finally let slip why work on The Wind Waker 2 was never completed. Nintendo Everything got its hands on a Japanese copy of a new Zelda artbook due for North American release in February 2017. In the book, Nintendo artist Satoru Takizawa discusses the history around the lost Zelda game.
Takizawa was asked why Nintendo decided to do a 180 on Wind Waker’s style in creating Twilight Princess, and he explained that not only had Nintendo at one point planned a Wind Waker sequel, but that it had actually began development on one. The fans, however, wanted something else.
“To tell you the truth, we had begun the initial steps towards creating Wind Waker 2 around that time,” he said. “However, demand for a more Ocarina-like game was growing by the day. We did our very best with Wind Waker, and put everything we had into it.”
Wind Waker’s history is a complicated one. Nintendo had to deal with fierce and unexpected fan backlash when it unveiled the game’s cartoon-like aesthetics in 2001 at Spaceworld, a former annual Nintendo convention. It would not be hyperbolic to say that series fans freaked out and screamed bloody murder on internet forums.
The reason for their outrage? For starters, Wind Waker would become the follow-up to what is perhaps the series’ darkest game, 2000’s Majora’s Mask. Fans were expecting a modernized take on the Link and Hyrule they had come to know and love through Majora’s Mask and predecessor Ocarina of Time.
Nintendo had no one to blame but itself for this expectation, as it had released what was at the time considered to be an extremely impressive and realistic-looking video of Link and archnemesis Ganondorf dueling at Spaceworld 2000. Although Wind Waker would go on to receive critical acclaim, sell over three million copies, and get a well-received HD remaster on Wii U in 2013, fan acceptance of what has become known as “Toon Link” has forever been split.
With many fans wanting their realistic Zelda back and high-fantasy media exploding in popularity at the time thanks to The Lord of the Rings films, Nintendo delivered the more realistic Twilight Princess instead of a second Wind Waker game.
Oh, and also Nintendo wanted to put Link on a horse.
“Wind Waker 2 would have taken place in a more land-based setting, rather than on the sea, so that we could have Link gallop across the land on a horse,” recounted Takizawa. “But Link’s proportions in Wind Waker weren’t very well suited for riding on horseback, he was too short, and an adult version of Toon Link did not seem appropriate either. So, while we were stuck on those problems, we became aware of the greater demand for a more realistic, taller Link. High-budget live-action fantasy movies were also huge at the time, so with all things considered, we decided to have at it.”
From a sales standpoint, at least, the decision was vindicated. Twilight Princess and its own Wii U HD remaster went on to sell almost nine million copies, making it the best-selling game in series history, according to Nintendo.
With Skyward Sword and the forthcoming Breath of the Wild, the series has since moved on to an art style that could best be described as a blend of Toon Link and the more realistic Zelda games. Breath of the Wild is due for release in 2017 on the Nintendo Switch and Wii U.