That Shigeru Miyamoto is a genius is common knowledge. It was no surprise that GameSpy billed him as the most influential person in gaming. Yet what many people don’t realize is that of all the Zelda games, The Wind Waker has turned out to be the most accurate reflection of Miyamoto’s mind.
A Bold Assertion
I’m making a bold assertion. I’m telling you that The Wind Waker is probably a more accurate reflection of Miyamoto as an artist and as a man than any Zelda game before it. When I talked about what I like or don’t like about the new game, I was speaking in subjective terms. I don’t need to justify subjective statements like, “Controlling gulls is incredible gameplay.” But this time my assertion at least purports to be objective. And yet, how can I be objective when I’m dealing with another man’s psychology? I can’t crawl inside Miyamoto’s brain and see exactly how it works. In that case, why would you believe me when I make a statement about his mind? What gives me the right, per se, to make an assertion about someone else from some other culture?
Clearly, my assertion is guesswork. But it is an educated guess. And so you ask, “Why do you say it’s an educated guess, Trahald?” First, there is some good data that we have in the form of things that Miyamoto has said through a translator. I will get to that in a moment. Second, I can identify with him in certain ways. Now, I am in no way claiming to have any of his greatness or genius in creativity. That would be terribly inaccurate and arrogant of me to make such a claim. However, I can identify with him in certain respects. Miyamoto tends to gather his ideas for games from ordinary places and activities. For instance, as is well known, gardening was the inspiration for Pikmin. And yet his games take that ordinary activity and place and transform it into something magical that inspires wonder. From various interviews with Miyamoto over the years, I have formed this picture of him as an imaginative man who does not view the world around him in the same way that most do. It is in that respect that I can identify with him.
When I look at the plants beneath my feet, I don’t simply see them as little flowers and blades of grass placidly waving in the breeze. I see them as whole jungles, worlds full of little creatures that scamper about. And even the flowers can sometimes seem veritably alive as the animals are. When I see a thicket or a forest, I see it as a shadowy world waiting to be explored. I love to wander the woods and rivers to discover what creatures might live around each bend. When I was a child, I preferred playing with a napkin over playing with cars and trucks? Why? Because I could manipulate that napkin and shape it into whatever I wanted it to be, and that granted me greater freedom to take creativity to places it couldn’t go if I played with a static, manufactured toy. While I cannot even touch Miyamoto’s greatness, I can still identify with him as a person in some regards. Of course, my glimpses into his personality have come not only through interviews, but also the games themselves. The art can tell us much about the artist. But my point is that since I can understand on a personal level some of what Miyamoto says, I have at least some basis for making an educated guess as to how well The Wind Waker reflects the man.
The Mind of Miyamoto
We do have more concrete data as to why The Wind Waker may be the best mirror of Miyamoto’s mind. Miyamoto said that the inspiration for Zelda came as he walked into a cavern as a child. Only courage could allow a child to venture alone into a cavern potentially filled with monsters. When most people see a cave, they see a geological formation. When Miyamoto sees a cave, he sees The Legend of Zelda. Of course, Zelda became much more than simply a courageous young boy venturing into a dark cave. But the overarching theme has remained: a young boy propelled on by courage and the thrill of exploration and discovery. There is an immense contrast between the boy and the cave. The boy is innocent and almost ignorant of what danger lurks in the shadows. The cave is dark and frightening. Now think back to the Spaceworld images of a realistic Link. That Link was an adult. His ears were pierced. He had lost that innocence and childlike wonder in his face. He was dark and gritty. Miyamoto saw that, and realized that the series had gone too far. Of course, he also argued that this Link made the Zelda games too much like that of its imitators. A cel-shaded game would be something new. Uniqueness is important to the heart of many artists. But critically, notice that he said that the series was going in the wrong direction. Indeed, the realistic style was a continuation of Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time. In Ocarina of Time, adult Link did look much the same, even though he was much simpler graphically. And Majora’s Mask was certainly a darker game. The Spaceworld style only seemed to draw out the dark, gritty side of the game, especially with regard to the “innocent hero.” This is something Miyamoto did not like. Think of his strong beliefs in morals in games. Think of how he emphasizes that “fun” is something that should be appropriate for the entire family; he certainly has no fondness for games like Grand Theft Auto III.
So, Miyamoto wanted to stop the trend and bring it back to its roots. He wanted to bring it back to the idea of the boy in the cave. The result? The Wind Waker. Miyamoto said that people would understand why the graphics are the way they are if they played the game. Having played it, I would agree with him. The hero is now innocent and childlike. Anything about Link or any of the marvelous places he visits glistens with a happiness and wonder not entirely unlike that of the Mario games (although more grounded in “reality,” as it were). Yet when the forces of darkness (the cavern, if you will) come on to the scene, the game shifts dramatically in mood and form. In this way, the game reflects Miyamoto’s vision perhaps more accurately than its predecessors.
The Mind of Aonuma
But The Wind Waker does not only reflect the mind of Miyamoto. I have titled this article “Mirror of the Minds” for a reason. The game also reflects its director, Eiji Aonuma, who was also the director of Majora’s Mask. One of the best aspects of Majora’s Mask was the believable, complex system of relationships that existed among the characters as the three days progressed. Character interaction was taken to an entirely new level. Perhaps this was actually the brainchild of Miyamoto or of some other underling, so it is merely an educated guess to say that this was something that Aonuma brought into the game. It does not seem like something that Miyamoto would think of to emphasize. In The Wind Waker, the relationships are sadly not as complex as they were in Majora’s Mask, but this is no doubt due to the lack of the three day cycle (although the lunar cycle somewhat makes up for it). Nonetheless, the depth of character interaction that was a hallmark of Majora’s Mask takes a very prominent role in The Wind Waker.
The Wind Waker is the product of many, many people. We cannot ascribe its every attribute to its creator alone. But on the whole, the new game, primarily through the cel-shading technology, seems to be a very accurate reflection of Miyamoto’s vision of games and of the world around him. It could also be guessed that the game is also a mirror of the mind of the director, Aonuma. You may not enjoy this mirror of Miyamoto’s and Aonuma’s minds, but that doesn’t change the fact that the new game seems to be a truer reflection of its artists than all the rest.
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