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According to translations of old magazine interviews published by DidYouKnowGaming, Nintendo initially planned to simply improve on the graphics from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and even created a prototype of The Wind Waker in that style.
However, after a member of the development team designed Toon Link, the rest of the team fell in love, and the new art style for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was solidified.
This new information comes courtesy of old issues of Nintendo Dream magazine, a Japanese publication from the mid-2000s that has been translated by DidYouKnowGaming.
According to an interview with Wind Waker director, Eiji Aonuma cited by the video, he didn’t believe Miyamoto would like the redesign, so he waited as long as he could before showing it to his boss, saying that he “literally cringed” when he first saw it.
“If I had gone and talked to him from the very beginning, I think he would’ve said ‘How is that Zelda?’ Aonuma recalls. “Miyamoto had trouble letting go of the realistic link art style until the very end.
“At some point, he had to give a presentation against his will. That’s when he said something to me like ‘You know, it’s not too late to change course and make a realistic Zelda.”
At the time, Zelda’s new anime art direction was controversial among players, with many calling for the style to be reversed.
However, the excitement from the Wind Waker team and their insistence to pursue the style reportedly ensured that the Wind Waker remained in the chibi style.
Another factor was that Miyamoto believed that at that time it would have taken a decade to make a realistic Zelda for GameCube, according to the translated interview.
Following the release of The Wind Waker, Nintendo kept all future adventures of Toon Link to its handheld systems, with the main series on home consoles adopting a more realistic art style for Twilight Princess, which would release on Nintendo Game Cube and the newly released Nintendo Wii.