THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
Reinventing one of the most successful videogame series of all time is no easy task, but Eiji
Aonuma is seeking to do just that with The Legend Of Zelda’s Wii U debut. He speaks of a return to the exploration of the 1986 original, too, letting players wander the world – its dungeons and temples – in any order they choose.
You’ve been rethinking Nintendo’s approach to Zelda games for some time now. You’ve spoken about what you want to change, but what are the foundational principles of
Zelda that are immutable?
That’s a difficult question. Recently, I’ve been posting some articles on the Japanese Nintendo homepage to explain Zelda games to users who don’t know much about this series, and there I’ve talked about the ideas of growth and empathy.
In Zelda games, players share the experiences of the main character as they grow from being somewhat insignificant into someone who can do all sorts of things. Although empathy is a fairly intangible thing, it’s something that disappears as soon as you feel that it’s being forcibly elicited. I work hard to try to make things that don’t end up being thought of in that way.
What have you learned from the reaction to the E3 trailer – specifically the way that many people took your enigmatic interview responses as tacit confirmation that it wasn’t Link on that horse, but a girl?
I should watch what I say [laughs]. I purposely tried not to talk too
“THE INNOVATION OF A VAST OPEN WORLD COULD IN ONE SENSE BE SEEN AS A RETURN TO THE ROOTS OF THE SERIES”
much about the new game at this year’s E3. That’s because I was not in a position to give clear information about what kind of game it is, and also because, by doing so, I wanted to gauge people’s reactions as they tried to get an idea about this new game.
Rather unexpectedly, after I mentioned that no one had explicitly said that it was Link [in the trailer], this speculation spread online and seems to have led to the idea that the main character will be a girl. However, this reaction from the fans is something I would like to take into consideration as we proceed with development – although that doesn’t mean that we are going to change the main character to a girl.
What are the biggest challenges of adapting a largely linear design to suit a world we can freely explore?
In the original Legend Of Zelda, there was no clear way to lead the main character to his goal. It was something that we entrusted to the players to find by themselves. As the game later expanded into a franchise, the structure of the game worlds became more and more complex – especially with the introduction of 3D – making it necessary for us to point the player in the right direction. Consequently, progression in the games became more linear.
To recreate a similar experience to the original, we have to give the game world a simple structure that
players can understand intuitively. In doing so, it’s very important that we make every aspect of the world feel real and physically connected, so that it doesn’t look fake.
We can achieve this thanks to the hardware features of Wii U, but to truly get a deep understanding of the game world, we also need a real map that depicts this world as it is. The GamePad is very effective for displaying this, and thus also [for] providing players with a constant hint on where to head to. I think we can safely say that the innovations in this new game are only possible thanks to the Wii U hardware.
Nintendo has a track record of defining new types of games, but others pioneered the open-world template. What do you plan to do, and need to do, to ensure this adventure is held in the same regard as, say, Ocarina Of Time?
Since we’re talking about the concept of ‘open worlds’ now, I’d like to state upfront that in this new Zelda game we don’t plan to have an open world in the same way other companies have been doing in recent years.
The innovation of a vast open world could in one sense be seen as a return to the roots of the series. But in returning to these roots, we are also bringing with us all the things we have learned and ways the series has developed over all this time, which will help to create new and exciting gameplay possibilities.
This new approach suggests the game will do away with geargating, where the hookshot found in one dungeon opens the path to the next and so on. How will you approach that? How happy were you with A Link Between Worlds’ item rental as a solution?
I think the item rental system had the effect of changing how the game progresses and users’ way of thinking about this. However, I heard that quite a few players felt let down by the fact that it lacked the classic
Zelda game element of exploring dungeons to acquire items that would gradually let them do more.
I mentioned earlier that the important elements in Zelda games are growth and empathy, and I think that acquiring new items in order to reach new areas was an element [of gameplay] related to the idea of growth. I realised that in order to satisfy all players, we must not only to come up with new ideas, but also include something that allows players to experience the same enjoyable elements from older titles in the series in a new way. We’ll be keeping this balance in mind for our new game, too.
Aonuma’s interview responses after E3 prompted rumours that this isn’t Link, but a girl. While the lead is still male, the reaction was eye-opening
The game’s current look is very different from the tech demo shown at E3 2011, which was more akin to Twilight Princess than SkywardSword
ZELDA FRANCHISE SUPERVISOR, NINTENDO
With MarioKart8 and SuperMario3D World failing to drive sales dramatically, Wii U needs Link now more than ever. While this new adventure looks astounding, Aonuma’s design changes will be key
Link fires arrows on horseback in the trailer, suggesting a return to the mounted combat of GameCube/Wii release Twilight Princess
The series has drifted away from the spirit of exploration of the NES original (top). A LinkBetweenWorlds (above) lets players rent items and tackle dungeons in any order they choose