The Man In Charge Of Zelda Says He Wants To Keep Changing It

The Man In Charge Of Zelda Says He Wants To Keep Changing It
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Any little change in a Legend of Zelda game — tweaks to established mechanics, a shift in art style or sly nods to a previous iteration — excites and infuriates the players who love Nintendo’s iconic RPG series. Eiji Aonuma knows this and the designer who’s charting the future for the franchise came to New York ready to tease the Zelda faithful.

When he spoke to a packed hall of attendees at New York Comic-Con this past Friday, Aonuma showed off a chunk of gameplay from A Link Between Worlds, the upcoming 3DS successor to A Link to the Past. Part of the presentation introduced Zelda doppelganger Hilda and her kingdom of Lorule. There’ve been alternate worlds and alternate versions of Link in previous games, of course. Hilda’s existence is significant because she’s an alternative version of Zelda but don’t assume she’s going to be evil.

“Obviously they’re both princesses and they both have kingdoms that they love and want to support,” Aonuma said. “But Lorule is a place where something cataclysmic has happened in the past. So, with Hilda, her feelings of wanting to save her country are perhaps a bit stronger than Zelda because Zelda is living in peaceful Hyrule. It’s not as strong for her. I think that difference in motivation for each of them is where the differences come in.” During the panel, Aonuma mentioned that Lorule has more monsters in it than Hyrule. That’s a result of the cataclysm that happened in the past but Aonuma said it’s also in part because of things that are happening there now.

Aonuma: “…the main place where I’m hoping to change a lot of things and show a lot of new ideas is in this next console Zelda. In the process of coming up with them, some of those ideas wound up in A Link Between Worlds.”

More than any other Nintendo franchise, Zelda has a sense of mythology. It creates its own continuity, both inside and outside of the games. But Aonuma said that he doesn’t really feel the need to make things ‘fit’ inside this mythology, in terms of game design ideas. “I think things that don’t change with the times are going to get lost,” Aonuma answered. “They’re going to be forgotten. As times change, people want different things. That’s obviously true with any kind of media, not just video games.”

“You see a bit of that in Wind Waker HD and A Link Between Worlds. But the main place where I’m hoping to change a lot of things and show a lot of new ideas is in this next console Zelda. In the process of coming up with them, some of those ideas wound up in A Link Between Worlds. But my focus in changing things is going to be in this new console Zelda.”

Could he talk about any of those changes at all? Would they be as radical as, say, the new shop in A Link Between Worlds? “It’s way too early be talking about any of that,” Aonuma laughed. “I could say something will be in the game only to have it be cut later.”

“I think when you have something strong there at the base, something that [exemplifies] that ‘what’s it like’ feeling, then you can keep changing on top of it. I think that’s the best thing. I want to make sure that Zelda keeps being that type of thing.”

Take the wall merge ability that Link has in A Link Between Worlds. “The basic idea of being able to move through walls was just something we hadn’t ever done in a Zelda game, so we wanted to try that.”

The concept of a Zelda mythology came up during the panel’s Q&A session. One fan inquired about a return to Wind Waker-style cel shading. When Aonuma threw it back to the crowd, they roared with a resounding yes. “I’ll think about it,” he chuckled.

Aonuma: “We kind of went back with A Link Between Worlds — the game we just made — and simplified it a bit. [We went for] a bit of a throwback [feeling] there. I’m hoping that is kind of a launching point and we’ll be able to get more people into Link.”

Another fan asked if Aonuma would chart a return to the Majora’s Mask universe. He made a theatrical show of thinking for a few long seconds before saying “If you play A Link Between Worlds, you may get an answer.” When I asked Aonuma to elaborate on his vague response, this exchange happened:

Kotaku: There was that one question from somebody in the audience about Majora’s Mask and he wanted to know if that’s ever going to be revisited. I just want to confirm what you said as an answer was that they should play A Link Between Worlds…

Aonuma: It’s not something you’ll notice right away when you play it. But it’s something you might be playing along and you’ll be like, “Huh?” It’s that kind of thing.

Kotaku: OK… [laughs]

Aonuma: I don’t really want to say anymore because I think it will ruin it.

Kotaku: Is it a clue or just an homage? Does it lead somewhere? Or is it a nice nod?

Aonuma: I think if I say that it just won’t be interesting.

When you go to gatherings like NYCC, there are Links and Zeldas everywhere. Dark Links. Steampunk Zeldas. Zombie Tingles. (Ok, I made up that last one.) But they’re greatly outnumbered by folks dressing up as Nintendo’s adventuring plumber. I asked Aonuma why Link wasn’t quite as iconic or well-known as Mario. Now, to be fair, Mario’s up there with Mickey Mouse and Superman in terms of ubiquity and recognition. Still, Aonuma was game enough to offer some thoughts in response. “Mario games — which are, in their core, based on running around and jumping — are much, much simpler than [Zelda games],” he replied.

Zelda games are generally more complicated and they’re a bit harder to get into. But at the same time, we kind of went back with A Link Between Worlds — the game we just made — and simplified it a bit. [We went for] a bit of a throwback [feeling] there. I’m hoping that is kind of a launching point and we’ll be able to get more people into Link.”


  • The Zelda REALLY needs a big change or something. I grew tired of it some time after Wind Waker. It’s just SO formulaic now. I wish they’d release a Zelda game with a huge twist, like Link dies in the opening minutes and you play as Zelda trying to rescue him from the spirit world. Or perhaps the game starts and Zelda betrays Link and becomes the villain and Link and Gannon must form an uneasy alliance to save the world from being destroyed by Zelda. Then you have an incredibly controversial co-op installment where you and a mate control Link and Gannon and each has different abilities and strengths and you have to solver dungeons together.

    Something, anything. Just make it fresh.

    I’ve been getting the hookshot and the boomerang and solving the water temple since I was 10 years old and now I’m 33 and the series has gotten stale for me. It needs a serious overhaul, I want something that shocks me again, like the first time I saw the visuals for Wind Waker.

    Nintendo needs to stop pandering to fans and start upsetting them.

    • Agreed, a shakeup would be good. It’s not that the old formula is bad, it’s just stale. Twilight Princess never really grabbed me, and although I gushed over Skyward Sword at the time, looking back it really wasn’t that great.

    • First of all that’s a serious exaggeration, Zelda’s been around for 27 years and the hookshot and water temple tradition wasn’t started until Link To The Past which wouldn’t have been out when you were 10.
      Secondly what you’re asking for are PLOT changes, which could happen but in no way affect the gameplay or game structure. It’s a superficial change to a game series that tweaks it’s core gameplay mechanics with every game while keeping enough similar to make it accessible. If you want to argue that every Zelda game is the same, please, present more proof than just a bold claim, because I’m certain I can give more examples of change.
      Besides all this, where do you draw the line between sequel and spinoff? Would a game starring Zelda even be a Zelda game?

      • AS funny as that would sound to someone who doesn’t play Zelda, I guess not. If I wasn’t playing as link I guess it wouldn’t really feel like Zelda 🙂 Still I agree with the comments above that some more changes to the core gameplay could be a good thing for fans, Zelda and Nintendo… if they do it right. Considering Nintendo’s track record though, when they shake it up it usually turns out good.

      • Sorry, mate, I wasn’t trying to be prickly, just giving my opinion. If you find the Zelda series to be fresh enough, that’s genuinely awesome.

        And I’m not just suggesting crazy plot changes, I’d just like to see more than gimmicks layered on top of the same formula. I’d like to see a co-op. I’d like to see a game where not a single Zelda item from a previous game was used, gimmie a whole new arsenal. What about some cool RPG elements that allow you to shape Link into a specific kind of warrior? What about some in depth crafting? What about a genuine narrative that spans several games? What about giving Link a character arc? Or a voice? Or a personality? There feels like there could be so many new places the series could go. I want to be excited about Zelda again.

        • “I’d like to see a co-op.”
          There IS a co-op Zelda game. In fact there are two.
          “I’d like to see a game where not a single Zelda item from a previous game was used, gimmie a whole new arsenal.”
          Considering the sheer variety of items Zelda has previously covered, that’s a huge ask. And if you remove series staples like the bow, bombs, the boomerang, the hookshot, is it still a Zelda game without those iconic items?
          “What about some cool RPG elements that allow you to shape Link into a specific kind of warrior?”
          Again, is that what Zelda is about? Would an RPG game style really suit the Zelda franchise? Was upgrading your items in Skyward Sword, or the increased power of your sword as you get new ones or as your old one powers up, or the different tunics you could wear to give different attributes, not enough?
          “What about some in depth crafting?”
          Like the potions and item upgrades in Skyward Sword, where collected items can be used to improve items? Or do you mean like Minecraft, which would be tacked on and I can’t see a useful or fun reason for it in a Zelda game.
          “What about a genuine narrative that spans several games?”
          The entire series follows a singular mythology and universe, and we’ve seen several direct sequels (Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker to Phantom Hourglass to Spirit Tracks, now A Link to the Past to A Link Between Worlds). Besides which, by nature, videogames generally don’t have plots that carry hugely over from game to game, and when they do they’re rarely very good, because by the end of the game, you’ve saved the world and beat the bad guys already to give the game a satisfying ending.
          “What about giving Link a character arc? Or a voice? Or a personality?”
          Link HAS character arcs and a personality. Look at Wind Waker for instance, Link’s incredibly emotive through the entire game, growing from a child who’s never left his island into a fierce and brave warrior who fearlessly takes on the most evil man in the world because no one else can, rescuing his sister and Zelda in the process. Some games get it better than others but to argue that Link is a bland character is just being ignorant. As for a voice, I don’t see how voice acting would help the Zelda series at all, or what it would add to it, other than voices for the sake of voices.

          • All I’m saying is you never know if you never try. You’re right, adding anything to the series could potentially make it into something else other than Zelda, but it could really make it into something better. Wind Waker is a prime example of taking a really sharp turn and it being really good.

            I could be wrong, I’m no game designer. I’m just speaking from my own experience. I’m REALLY tired of the series and nothing I’ve seen makes me feel like it’s new enough to come back to. Obviously there’s a lot of people, like yourself, who are satisfied with the series, so yeah, it is what it is. Nintendo can’t please everyone I suppose.

            I will disagree about Link having a character arc. He’s kind of a blank slate. A silent protagonist. He definitely emotes, he does sad, happy, scared, brave etc. But he’s little more than a puppet through which you experience the game. This is a perfectly legitimate way to have a protagonist in a game, and it has worked for the series in the past. But what if they actually gave him a personality and gave him character and took him through an arc? As it is, he has emotions, but he doesn’t really have a personality. You couldn’t really write more than a sentence about who Link is as a person. Try it. Try describing Link without talking about his abilities or his clothing or his role. Who is he?

    • I would argue that Nintendo are always refreshing the Zelda series.

      The core mechanic of “Collect X items from X Dungeons” is always there, but they are always shaking things up with new plot mechanics, settings, items and control schemes.

      There’s been weak points. Spirit Tracks was Phantom Hourglass with a new map. The Gameboy games were a bit samey, and the world of Twilight Princess was remarkably similar to Ocarina of Time but for a series that has been around for over 25 years I think Nintendo have done a pretty good job of keeping it fresh.

      It’s hardly Call of Sequel 19 Map Pack.

      • Twilight Princes was similar to OoT because people demanded it after the Wind Waker. Catoony Link was “Dumb” and they wanted it grittier and realer. Then TP came out but by then people had warmed to The Wind Waker and wanted that again.

        But yeah, Nintendo does a great job of changing Zelda enough to be interesting without going too far and becoming something different entirely.

        • So what you’re saying is that when they made a dramatic change, people were at first against it, but after they went back to the original formula people realised that the dramatic change was really something special? That’s what I’m talking about! =D Zelda needs to keep throwing some big curve-balls. When Nintendo said, ‘screw it, Link is gonna be a cartoon and Hyrule at the bottom of the ocean and you sail a boat everywhere’ they made one of the most beloved titles in the series.

          Yet, if you suggest Zelda needs a change, people shoot you down.

          • People reacted badly to the way they changed how the game looked. It’s a superficial change that didn’t affect the core gameplay. Wind Waker was just as formulaic as any other Zelda game, and the gameplay was praise from the beginning. Epona became a boat, the great ocean became the new overworld. You could reskin Twilight Princess to look and play like Wind Waker.

          • Very true, when you put it like that. I guess it’s just the risky nature in general that made it special for me.

      • How is it an RPG? It’s an Action/Adventure game. Sure, it displays a few RPG-like elements, but that doesn’t make it an RPG.

        There’s no experience and leveling system for a start (aside from Zelda 2 on the NES). There’s no stats for your character or for enemies that determine how much damage each attack does, evade/block/critical hit chance, etc. There’s also not really much of a magic system (aside from a few very basic spells and “magical” weapons). Weapons in general are usually restricted to just one of each type, with a couple of exceptions such as the master sword.

        The Zelda games actually have more in common with Metroid than they do with RPG’s.

  • skyward sword was great until a third into the game when you realise there are only 3 areas and you will keep going back to them and they get less interesting each time. and those bloody final 3 fetch quests, they were painful.

    plus continuously fighting some boring slow moving dog by stabbing its feet, come on.

    the final boss was good at least. the only thing SS had going for it was the sword and the flying but even that didn’t reach the heights it should have.

    I completely agree about needing a big shake up.
    killing link isnt the type it needs (though that may make for a very cool story). its not story that needs a shake up its gameplay and progression.

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