Aonuma on Zelda: Breath of the Wild – full Le Monde interview translation
Many French interviews with Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma were published last week about Breath of the Wild. We already translated the Gamekult discussion in full, but there was just one other interview that we wanted to cover more deeply.
You can read the entire interview below.
“Breath of the Wild” is the biggest project from Nintendo. Can you detail its budget, workforce, and development time?
Eiji Aonuma: I obviously cannot talk about how much it cost, but about the workforce, we were comprised of three hundred. Development went on for about four years.
You insisted in many interviews on how much you listened to fans. Have you made a specific organization for this?
No, we just ask the localization teams to get us the opinions they can find. The voices that I listen to the most, personally, are from Japan because I can get them without any filters. But we are trying to understand what’s going on everywhere, according to territories, because not everyone will ask for the same thing. For example, American players don’t like when they have to increase their abilities to progress in a game, like Monster Hunter.
Nintendo has been repeating for several months that this new Zelda entry marks a major turning point in the series. In what sense?
Before, the obvious choice in terms of game design was to have areas linked together by small paths, which you would only pass through. Many people reproached us for lacking freedom. Even here, a lot of designers thought fun lay in following an existing path. But this time, the player is dropped into the world of Breath of the Wild and they can go anywhere, whenever they want, kind of like the first Zelda. I think Breath of the Wild will be a key moment in the history of the series.
The first “Zelda” was designed like a role-playing game without experience points and gaining levels. Were you tempted to go back to it similar to many modern open world games such as “Far Cry” or “Final Fantasy XV”?
Absolutely not. The system we’ve put in place is to gain power by finding new weapons. Every monster drops one, and its power depends on the force of the creature itself.
To obtain high level equipment, you need to sometimes pull off some tricks and use stratagems. And as you’ve noticed, weapons break, which obligates you to repeat that cycle. It is one of the principles of Breath of the Wild, allowing us to manage progression without going through sempiternal figures that punctuate traditional role-playing.
Serge Hascoët, Ubisoft’s creative director, told to us that “Breath of the Wild” reminds him of “Far Cry” and “Assassin’s Creed”, but with a slower character. For him, it gives the impression of a bigger world, and contributes to more immersion. Do you agree with that analysis?
I hope he wasn’t talking about the animation’s fluidity! [He cracks up laughing.] It is nice of him, but we didn’t think of it that way. Link’s speed is adapted to the pace of the game. There are many things hidden in the world, you can of course run, but you would miss everything we have hidden.
Are there elements of the open world role-playing game Skyrim which you acknowledge having drawn inspiration from?
What I really liked about Skyrim, is that when you walk around and then you enter a new city, there’s a real shock. “Ah, there’s a city here! Oh, it is so different from the others!” That was the first time that I felt like this in a video game, so I wanted to incorporate this in Zelda, though in a different way.
That’s why you can climb everywhere, and once at the top, you can tell yourself “Oh, there’s maybe something over there… What if I went up that river?”. So you take your paraglider and you explore the world after spotting it. This pleasure of discovery, I wanted to take from Skyrim, because I’ve never felt it elsewhere.
Before, for every dungeon, you start from a specific theme and a specific item, like fire and bombs, water and bow, etc. Now that you have several dozens of dungeons, how do you maintain variety?
There are more than an hundred actually! We don’t talk about “dungeons” anymore but “shrines”. If they were all long and complex, players would probably never finish the game, so we wanted to make them rewards rather than trials. Fun resides for many in finding them, because several are very well hidden. They are very different from those of the previous Zeldas, even if some are bigger and contain a boss at the end in a more traditional way.
However, we don’t make those like before. If a temple was in a forest, we made it the forest dungeon. Now, they are designed to make Link progress and are all built from a similar base, but using the game’s physics engine to offer stimulating puzzles.
“Zelda’s” architecture is always very polished, between the Romanesque style of the Temple of Time and the Gothic architecture of the Ganon’s castle. Are you inspired by certain real places?
We aren’t inspired by real places, we mostly assemble from several pieces of architecture of the world, to tell what we want to tell. For example, if we want to make a temple that feels really like a “temple”, then we take from different temples. If it is more like a castle, then we take from different castles that picks up our interest to tell what we want. The notable exception was Ocarina of Time: it was the first time we built Hyrule in 3D, and we tried as much as possible to take the same base to maintain some continuity.
You tend to reuse certain monuments from one episode to another, such as the Temple of Time in both The Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild, or even the whole world of Hyrule in A Link Between Worlds. Is there a wish to spark nostalgia within players?
It’s more of a consequence than an objective. When you decide to make a game in the world of Hyrule, it seems normal to use what already exists, so that it seems consistent to us. This time, though the world is gigantic, there’s also a wish to take a bit of every previous Hyrule the players have explored.
When you directed your first Zelda, The Wind Waker, in 2002, the fans criticized both the visual style – considered too childish – and the maritime aspect that made the world a little empty. With Breath of the Wild, do you have the sensation of giving them something closer to what they wanted, fifteen years later?
At the time of The Wind Waker, I wanted to make more islands, but we were limited by the power of the console. And then, if there were too many islands, the boat would bump into them all the time and there wouldn’t be any feeling of adventure. In the end, the game became what it is, but it is true that I would have liked more exploration, and that we had to wait until the Wii U [and Switch] to make that possible. It was not, however, where we started from for Breath of the Wild, even if it does meet these expectations.
As for the visual style, it was not a wish to pay tribute to Wind Waker, but a choice of game design. Since you have a very huge world in Breath of the Wild, simplified drawings make the objectives much easier to read and see. Besides, you might suspect that all our artists have been raised by Japanese animation, and this style of graphics is our strength as well as one of the particularities of Japanese video games.
Fifteen years ago, you wrote the lines of the King of Red Lions, The Wind Waker’s boat, like messages to your son who had just been born. Do you keep disseminating personal messages in Breath of the Wild?
No, I stopped! My son told me he had enough of it, that he had grown up. However, I insisted that I should write the dialogue for the old man that you encounter at the beginning of the adventure, because it is the first person you talk to in the game, and I wanted to be the first to speak to the player. Even if this time, it is not meant for my son.