Thursday, 16 May 2024

Aonuma And Fujibayashi Discuss the Success of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Their Creative Process

When The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was released in May, it took the gaming world by storm. The game quickly became a cultural phenomenon, breaking records as the fastest-selling Legend of Zelda title and becoming a strong contender for the Game of the Year award in 2023. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi to discuss the game’s reception and gain insights into their approach to game development.

The Continuing Success

Reflecting on Tears of the Kingdom’s reception, Aonuma expressed his delight in seeing the continued excitement and engagement from fans long after the game’s release. He mentioned how previous titles in the series would often generate buzz at launch, but the community’s enthusiasm would fade quickly. However, with Breath of the Wild and now Tears of the Kingdom, the passionate fanbase has continued to share their opinions and creations online. Aonuma also mentioned the unique phenomenon of players intentionally delaying finishing the game because they didn’t want it to end, which was a new experience for him.

Fujibayashi added that Tears of the Kingdom had successfully appealed to a wider audience, including older players and younger children. The team aimed to create a game that could be enjoyed by everyone, and the positive response confirmed their success in achieving that goal.

The Role of Ultrahand

Ultrahand, a key element in Tears of the Kingdom, has added depth and enjoyment to the gameplay experience. It has particularly resonated with casual fans who are not necessarily familiar with the series’ traditional mechanics. When asked if Ultrahand would make a return in future titles, Fujibayashi explained that their focus is always on creating something new with each Zelda game. While Ultrahand has been integral to Tears of the Kingdom, they believe in the importance of innovation and building on their previous ideas rather than relying on past successes.

Aonuma emphasized that Tears of the Kingdom was the result of a meticulous selection process, with the team choosing to include only what was necessary for the game’s concept. This deliberate approach led to a complete and self-contained experience, resulting in the decision not to release any DLC content. As a result, he stated that Ultrahand would not be included in future titles.

The Future of the Series

Speculating about a potential direct sequel to Tears of the Kingdom, Aonuma humorously admitted that it might be getting a bit wild to have a sequel to a sequel. He emphasized that Tears of the Kingdom was the culmination of their vision for that particular version of The Legend of Zelda. While future Zelda games will continue to build on the established world, he indicated that they would not directly revisit the same concepts.

Innovative Gameplay Design

When discussing the innovative aspects of Tears of the Kingdom, the conversation turned to the final battle sequence, where Ganondorf’s health bar dramatically extended off the screen. Fujibayashi explained that this creative idea was born out of Nintendo’s DNA, always seeking unique ways to visually convey information to players. They wanted to emphasize the immense power of Ganondorf and subvert player expectations, leading them to push the boundaries by extending the health bar beyond the screen. Aonuma highlighted Nintendo’s commitment to trying new and different ideas to create visually striking and memorable moments in their games.

The Timeline Discussion

The topic of the Zelda series timeline’s placement came up, with fans often theorizing and debating its intricacies. While the development team acknowledges the importance of the timeline, they also recognize the need to strike a balance. They aim to avoid overly restricting their creative process by obsessing over fitting every detail into a specific spot. Aonuma stressed the desire to allow players to interpret the world of Zelda in their own way and create a sense of personal connection. He also mentioned that the improved technology now allows for a more immersive and detailed world, but they don’t want to focus solely on refining every detail. Instead, they want players to have the freedom to explore and interpret the game’s universe.

A Mythic Approach

Responding to theories about scenes in Tears of the Kingdom being retellings of events from Ocarina of Time, Fujibayashi explained that the idea of reincarnation within the Zelda series allows for similar scenes to appear in different games. These scenes serve as glimpses into the series’ soul and contribute to the mythic nature of The Legend of Zelda. While they don’t intentionally plan for specific theories, they appreciate the fan engagement and the theories that emerge as players delve into the series’ lore.

The Enigmatic Hyrule

When questioned about the timeline placement of the flashback scenes in Tears of the Kingdom, Fujibayashi suggested that the answer could be both pre-Skyward Sword and post-other games in the timeline. He likened the interpretation to real-life history, where different perspectives and artifacts can lead to multiple correct answers. Aonuma playfully noted that The Legend of Zelda is all about puzzle-solving and left it to the fans to unravel the mysteries.

The Legacy of Ocarina of Time

Looking back at Ocarina of Time, Aonuma acknowledged its significance as the game that established The Legend of Zelda as a 3D franchise. He mentioned that it laid the foundation for subsequent titles and that the development team has continued building on that legacy, leading to Tears of the Kingdom. Aonuma believes that this ongoing momentum will shape future Zelda games.

The Collaboration and Mentorship

Aonuma and Fujibayashi have worked closely together across multiple games in the Zelda franchise. Aonuma shared that their relationship hasn’t changed significantly over the years, but Fujibayashi’s fresh perspective and ability to bring new ideas to the table have made their collaboration fruitful. Aonuma expressed complete confidence in Fujibayashi’s ability to lead and acknowledged that he now plays a more supportive role, providing feedback and guidance.

The Role of Veterans and Newcomers

Reflecting on the team composition at Nintendo, Aonuma highlighted the importance of having a balance between veterans and newcomers. He emphasized the vitality and creativity that arise from such collaboration. While veterans like Aonuma, Miyamoto, and Tezuka oversee iconic franchises, new developers bring fresh ideas and perspectives, leading to the creation of new IPs and contributing to future projects. Aonuma believes that this combination of experience and innovation is a key factor in Nintendo’s success.

A Dynamic Era at Nintendo

Discussing Nintendo’s recent endeavors, Fujibayashi considered himself fortunate to have joined the company during a transformative era. He noted that while he had always admired Nintendo’s innovative projects from the outside, being part of the team allowed him to witness the creative process firsthand. Fujibayashi expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with both experienced veterans and up-and-coming talent in an environment that encourages creative exploration.

Aonuma remarked on the inherent excitement of not knowing everything happening within the company and being pleasantly surprised by new announcements. He emphasized that Nintendo’s culture values secrecy and revealed that even long-time employees like himself can still feel a sense of wonder when discovering new projects from their colleagues.

The Future of Zelda and Nintendo

In closing, Aonuma and Fujibayashi expressed their gratitude for the continued support and excitement surrounding The Legend of Zelda series. While they couldn’t provide any hints about future projects, they shared their commitment to creating unique and memorable gaming experiences that resonate with players.

For more insights from Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi on Tears of the Kingdom and the Legend of Zelda franchise as a whole, you can find our previous interviews here and here.