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Nintendo Dream: Eiji Aonuma Interview 1
03-11-2007
By: TSA
Thank you to Patricia for her assistance in translating this:

Profile
Eiji Aonuma
Born in 1963, in the prefecture of Nagano. He earned his masters degree on design from the Fine Arts University of Tokyo. Ever since Ocarina of Time, he’s been involved in the development of every game from the Zelda franchise. He was at first the producer of Twilight Princess, but halfway through the project he became the director and guided the team more closely. His blood type is A.

–Congratulations on the release.

Aonuma: Thank you.

–Today we can ask you some things you couldn’t talk about when you were interviewed by Mr. Iwata (a reference to Aonuma’s interview from the “Iwata Asks” series, available on http://wii.nintendo.com/iwata_asks_vol5_p5.jsp).

Aonuma: Ha, ha, ha (laughs). That just reminded me, when I went to the Wii experiencing event on November, I saw a huge billboard of Twilight Princess there. That’s when I first noticed that “Wii” is in the title.

–Twilight... Of course!

Aonuma: The “L” is in-between, but I thought it was fate that we decided to develop a Zelda game for Wii (laughs). And then I remembered my talk at GDC (a conference for game developers held every year in the USA) three years ago, entitled, “Revolution of Franchises.” After my lecture, the Revolution (Wii’s code-name) was unveiled. So, it really was meant to be. Well, that’s just my strained interpretation, though (laughs).

–(laughs) Still, it turned out to be a large-scale game. What’s the average time for clearing it?

Aonuma: This is all data from the staff of the Super Mario Club who debugged the game, but I’m told it would take someone used to videogames around 107 hours if he plays normally and clears most mini-games.

–That’s amazing!! No wonder it was under development for three years...

Aonuma: (smiles bitterly) While it’s true that it was under development for quite a long time, we didn’t really intend it to be so big from the beginning. When we chose going down the realistic path, there came up many details from Link and his surroundings that we simply could spare no efforts on... If all the events happening in the vast land of Hyrule took place in a very compact world, the motivation to save the world would be weaker. To convey that feeling of “I’m saving the world on my own!” we needed a huge extension of land, so we decided to have a lot of people living in various places, and that’s how the world got larger fast. But the truth is I never thought we’d end up with a game this big (laughs). At first, I told the staff the ideas I had in my head and they created the maps, but when they were done, they had exceeded the image in my mind by 20%.

–And it became known as the 120% Zelda game that exceeds Ocarina of Time, right?

Aonuma: Well, I don’t think so (laughs).

–But that extra 20% piled up fast...

Aonuma: Yes. When a single part gets bigger, it adds up to the size of whole thing. With a realistic Link, the horse too became realistic in order to keep the style. Just like that we built a world sparing no efforts whatsoever, and that also increased the scale of the game.

–But it didn’t just get bigger, it’s also packed full of contents.

Aonuma: True. It’d be stupid if it was large enough but didn’t have any contents, don’t you think? (laughs) I feel extremely grateful to the staff, who worked with all their strength for enlarging the world and filling it with things that feel real.

–How long would it take to go around this world on Epona?

Aonuma: I haven’t checked that out (laughs).

–And on foot...?

Aonuma: On foot, it takes a long time. Early in the game, when you can’t ride Epona, you have to cross Hyrule Field on foot, and it takes some time. As you progress in the game, the areas get larger. Riding Epona across the world through all its connected areas is very nice.

–Yeah, riding Epona is nice.

Aonuma: You can actually feel the wind, right?

–You definitely can feel it. And you can attack the enemy while riding.

Aonuma: Yes. Wielding your sword while riding the horse is one of the selling points of this game; you can’t get such a pleasant feeling like that when you enter a dungeon. Going around the world riding Epona and fighting enemies after clearing an important event can be pretty liberating, I think.

–This new game’s not just wide, but also high and deep, so high that jumping down from some high places could destroy your hips (laughs).

Aonuma: Actually, I’m afraid of heights, so I don’t really like high places (laughs). However, we have the claw shot, an item to hang on to things from far apart, so it’d be weird if you couldn’t reach those high places. And the world got higher and higher because of wanting to get to those places.

–Getting to a high place and pressing the C button to enter the first person perspective and take an extensive view of the world is another thing that feels nice.

Aonuma: While the designers were creating this world, they arranged for each location to have a superb view. So, I’d like every player to go out and find their own superb-view points. Plus, the landscape changes drastically according to the time of the day.

A 16-YEAR OLD LINK FULL OF EXPRESSIONS

–The expressions of Link and the other characters are very rich.

Aonuma: As a matter of fact, we gave it a lot of thought because we didn’t know where to stop. Once you start with the facial expressions, there are no limits. I think it’s important that Link changes his expressions in order to show some sympathy during scenes where the player can feel human emotions. It’s obvious in the cinema displays, but it’s also there in scenes where we wanted to make a point, like when Link has bad luck in fishing.

–His face also changes when he opens a treasure chest, depending on the item inside (laughs). By the way, in this game Link’s 16 years old, right?

Aonuma: Being 16 years old is right before turning into an adult. The TV ad of the disc system game Adventure of Link said, “16 years [I have no idea of the context, so that’s just my guess],” so now Link’s 16 years old (laughs).

Both: (laugh)

Aonuma: At that age you’ve matured a little, and if your parents tell you not to do something, you go and do right the opposite. That’s why Link turns his sword when fighting an enemy.

–He provokes his enemies.

Aonuma: That move reflects Link’s mischievous side, and he shows some style when he overuses his physical strength.

–I think I’ve seen that in an old American movie...

Aonuma: Exactly! To me, it’s like George Chakiris from West Side Story (a musical film from 1961; George Chakiris had the role of the leader of the villains). The origin of those elements is old, but I asked the staff to include them.

–I see (laughs). And then we have that cool sword-sheathing move.

Aonuma: Have you learnt that trick?

–You have to push A right after beating an enemy, before you give a single step!

Aonuma: That’s it! It’s not very easy to notice how to do it. There are many scenes where it’d be nice to sheath your sword in that cool way, so I hope all the players can master that move.

THE REASON BEHIND THE CHANGE OF LINK’S VOICE ACTOR

–The sword fights are fun this time too.

Aonuma: It was in Ocarina of Time that we first included precise sword-wielding enemies. This time, the designers included many techniques for having cool sword fights. Among those techniques, Mr. Miyamoto (Shigeru Miyamoto, the game’s producer) is especially fond of the finishing blow... (laughs)

–The scene when you learn the finishing blow is very exciting, depending on your point of view.

Aonuma: Yes, quite. We weren’t sure of having that move in the game, but Link fights for justice, so we thought that he needed great techniques to kill his opponents. That’s why we decided to include them in this Zelda game.

–That “finishing blow” is a “hidden skill,” and there are many stones located in various places that lead you to learn some sword techniques.

Aonuma: They’re called “wind stones,” because the wind blows through them, producing that sound.

–I put a bomb in there, but it didn’t blow up.

Both: (laugh)

Aonuma: You don’t have to do the same things you did in Ocarina of Time! That could be troublesome (laughs).

–But the stone had a hole on it, so I tried doing something with that (laughs). Anyways, the hidden-skills system is nice.

Aonuma: That comes from the A button reaction attacks from The Wind Waker (attacks you can perform when the A button shines on the screen). Many people worked on this game, and I entrusted them with the events and the dialogues, but I wanted to include something of my very own, so I wrote the script for the skeleton warrior that teaches you the hidden skills. He’s my child inside this game (laughs).

–Really? (laughs)

Aonuma: In The Wind Waker it was the King of Red Lions.

–Yeah (laughs). By the way, you changed Link’s voice actor too, didn’t you?

Aonuma: Yes. At first, we had doubts of whether Link’s former voice actor was suitable for this game. Then we got a message from NOA (Nintendo of America) saying they felt Link’s former voice was out of place. This Link is more sensitive, so we decided to have a voice that conveyed an image a bit different from the one in Ocarina of Time. We received many voice samples, even from women, we tested some of them inside the actual game and the one that suited the best was the voice of Mr. Akira Sasanuma (a voice actor from Arts Vision; he’s famous for his role of Dearka Elsman in Gundam SEED). His voice has a mischievous tone in it too; we wanted Link to sound a little like a bad guy.

THE WORLD A HUNDRED YEARS AFTER THE PEACE RETURNED TO HYRULE

–When does Twilight Princess take place?

Aonuma: In the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years later.

–And the Wind Waker?

Aonuma: The Wind Waker is parallel. In Ocarina of Time, Link flew seven years in time, he beat Ganon and went back to being a kid, remember? Twilight Princess takes place in the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years after the peace returned to kid Link’s time. In the last scene of Ocarina of Time, kids Link and Zelda have a little talk, and as a consequence of that talk, their relationship with Ganon takes a whole new direction. In the middle of this game [Twilight Princess], there's a scene showing Ganon's execution. It was decided that Ganon be executed because he'd do something outrageous if they left him be. That scene takes place several years after Ocarina of Time. Ganon was sent to another world and now he wants to obtain the power...

–And now we wait for the game to enjoy the rest of the story, huh? (laughs)

Aonuma: Well, that’s how things are. (laughs)

–There’s a reference to King Zora (the king of the Zora race in Ocarina of Time; his official name is Do Bon, the third), and there are some pictures of the man from the fishing pond (the owner of a fishing business near Lake Hylia in Ocarina of Time). You can get the feeling here and there that the events from Ocarina of Time happened some time ago.

Aonuma: Those things have a connection to Ocarina of Time, and we were not very sure of whether to include them or not, but the staff was having a good time, so those details just kept increasing.

–Kakariko Village and Lake Hylia haven’t changed their names, did you have in mind for their design that a hundred years had passed?

Aonuma: We clearly didn’t design Kakariko Village to reflect that a hundred years had passed. We had this town and when we decided the events that would take place there, we also decided it to be Kakariko Village, just the way it was. In this game, there are two places named, “Forest Firo-ne [Faron Woods]” and “Orudin [Eldin]”; they received their names after the three goddesses from Ocarina of Time. During Ocarina of Time, there were no such places, but after a long time, the names grew on the people living there and so those names were passed on.

THE CAT ON THE WEATHERCOCK

–OK, now I’d like to ask you some questions while we go through the game up to about half of it. First, Toaru Village [Ordon Village].

Aonuma: You’re not pronouncing it correctly, it’s ToaRU (with accent on the RU) (laughs).

–I’m sorry (laughs). So, ToaRU Village, right? I think there are many people who had problems with the cat.

Aonuma: That’s a point that Mr. Miyamoto and I were concerned with, but in the end we thought that it wouldn’t work if the player was given the answer right from the beginning.

–But there are some hints.

Aonuma: There are, but if someone doesn’t notice them...

–Well, that person is bound to have a tough time with this game! (laughs)

Both: (laugh)

Aonuma: If you can’t solve the cat puzzle, you can’t advance in the game. Many items are introduced in this village, and the curiosity of trying out many things with them will be useful later on in the game. That’s how a Zelda game is, its foundation is trying out many things to solve the puzzles. In order for the player to understand that foundation, we just can’t have a character from the village telling him exactly what he must do to solve the cat puzzle. But to tell you the truth, in the beginning it was just like that (laughs).

–You can carry the dog inside the water mill, and you would think the same can be done with the cat. I thought that was mean.

Aonuma: I see. But we then thought that while dogs are pretty obedient, cats are not.

–Well, that’s true (laughs). So, since you can’t carry the cat, you need the falcon to catch it.

Aonuma: That’s close to the demo version we had at E3. There was a cat on the weathercock that couldn’t get down, so the falcon had to fly there to get it down. But then Mr. Miyamoto said we couldn’t have something that unrealistic and got mad (laughs). He said there’s no way a cat could get all the way up to a weathercock by himself. From Mr. Miyamoto’s basic way of thinking, you can’t show something unreal to the player and expect him to come across with an idea to solve the puzzle. So, in order for this game to work, Mr. Miyamoto and I came up with a new keyword: the Zelda etiquette. We would show each other casual objects from our daily lives, experiment with them and if the results were just like we had thought, we’d get happy. Without visualizing that common idea, we somehow managed to do things properly, but they wouldn’t be suitable for the Zelda etiquette. So we definitely couldn't have something as unrealistic as a cat on a weathercock.

–And that’s how you ended up with the cat on the riverside, looking like it wants a fish.

Aonuma: When the planner thinks of an element, he must first think of the structure. He had to imagine a situation in which a falcon could save a cat. He had some abnormal conditions for saving the cat with the falcon, and so he suddenly placed the cat on the weathercock.

–I see.

Aonuma: (embarrased) Uh, I just said the planner thought about it, but it was actually me who put the cat on the weathercock (smiles bitterly).

Both: (laugh).

THE SUMO ACTION BORN FROM THROWING GOATS

–There’s also a ranch in Toaru Village, and the goats there get mad if you tease them (laughs).

Aonuma: (laughs) The whole thing of herding goats came from thinking of what could be Link’s everyday activities. He was raised up in the country, there’s a ranch, he can ride a horse, and he could also raise goats. So we decided Link should be a shepherd, and herding goats was a straightforward event for having fun. However, Mr. Miyamoto wasn’t satisfied with just that; he wanted to have another way of interacting with the goats, so we created the event of throwing the rushing goat.

–Is that goat-throwing move related to the interaction with the Gorons and the sumo?

Aonuma: Of course they are. When we included the goat-throwing move, Mr. Miyamoto indicated us to use it in at least three different situations, and also in boss fights.

–That’s showed in the extra movie after the opening, when you see Link throwing away the Goron mid-boss.

Aonuma: Yes. In short, if you apply an element to many situations, that element comes to life. That’s why Mr. Miyamoto told us not to stop with the goat-throwing move at all.

–And so you have to use that move in the very end too.

Aonuma: Yeah, I can’t say anything so that I don’t spoil it, though (laughs). This game’s all about throwing goats, from the beginning to the very end.

–Since that’s so important, didn’t you think of including it in the game’s title?

Aonuma: What kind of game title would that be? (laughs)

–Something along the lines of, “The Goat-Throwing Hero”... No, I guess it would not work at all (laughs).

Aonuma: It’s half-joke all this of goat-throwing all the way to the end, but the non-joke part is that we thought thoroughly of how many new elements we should include for the first time in the series. Moreover, we considered how those actions would affect Link’s character, and they became an important factor for sketching the young man that is Link. Once we included the goat-throwing move, all the developers started getting so familiar with it in such a way that it was just natural when we thought of it when Link was standing before a dungeon entrance, and then we had him open the entrance door with his hands, using his strength. Until now, in all the games in the series you just pushed the A button and the doors opened automatically.

–I see!

Aonuma: The game’s aimed at an older audience, so this mischievous, physical image of Link suggest that he trusts his physical strength because he grew up in the country.

–He was raised in a wild way, huh?

Aonuma: Yes. If it hadn’t been like that, he couldn’t have grown up to become a young man throwing goats and living in the middle of the nature. Originally, Link’s been portrayed as a neutral image, but in this game I think we firmly reflect a manly, strong image. And I think all the female fans out there will be especially fascinated with a certain scene... Right? (laughs)

–What do you mean? (laughs) Oh, the sumo scene, right?

Aonuma: Exactly (laughs). Even when we were working on that half-naked Link, the women from the staff were saying things like, “That’s wrong,” or “The light exposure’s not right.” They had some pretty strict criticism.

Both: (burst into laughter)

LINK’S SUDDEN TRANSFORMATION INTO A WOLF

–Right after you leave Toaru Village you’re transformed into a wolf, just when I thought I’d get to play as a cool Link, wasn’t it too early in the game?

Aonuma: Actually, at first we had planned it to be even earlier. You were going to be suddenly transformed into a wolf from the start, before you got to taste the cool Link, but Mr. Miyamoto refused to that idea.

–And so you came up with the three-day tutorial in Toaru Village.

Aonuma: In The Wind Waker we had something similar, when you have to go save your sister to Forsaken Fortress without even understanding the situation. I like that in a story, when you are thrown into a situation you don’t understand at all and you have no idea of what to do, but somehow you manage to advance and realize it was your fate. It’s not that I hate stories that develop little by little and have unexpected twists in the middle, like Ocarina of Time, but this time I wondered what would happen if you suddenly woke up one day transformed into a wolf.

Both: (laugh)

Aonuma: By the way, the wolf transformation idea started some three years ago in the GDC, when we were thinking of what we should do with the next Zelda game. I woke up in my hotel in San Francisco completely disoriented, like if I had lost my memory. Some seconds later I remembered I was in the US to give a speech at the GDC; maybe it was because of the stress (laughs). I then thought how surprising it’d be if in the next Zelda game Link started off being imprisoned, or turned into a wolf.

–I see.

Aonuma: Back then we considered making it the sequel of Ocarina of Time, some years later… But then we thought of the first-time players, who wouldn’t understand a thing if you started as a wolf, so we changed it and had human Link from the start.

–When you’re a wolf you can feel a stress different from that felt in the dungeons, with the darker surroundings, and Midna riding on your back.

Aonuma: In the previous games, the dungeons and the field were completely separated, but we came up with the concept of gathering the tears of light in order to have some dungeon-like fun in the field.

–The world’s darker and a bit unpleasant, but that acts as a motivation to return the light to that place, doesn’t it?

Aonuma: Yes, that’s why we needed to make the twilight realm uncomfortable. It had to be unpleasant enough to make you feel uncomfortable after spending some time there, but not too unpleasant to discourage you from continue playing. We drew that thin line and had an appropriate BGM: discordant and with an unpleasant echo, but with a melodious flow. I asked the sound staff for a melody a little unpleasant, not too much, that could make you feel the atmosphere, and they were confused, they didn’t know what kind of melody to compose (laughs). But in the end, we got a beautiful musical piece. Wasn’t it nice to get out of the Twilight Realm?

–Yes, it was. It was like if you had arrived at an unknown place late at night, but then recognized the place in the morning when you woke up.

THE OBA-CHAN YOU MEET INSIDE THE DUNGEONS

–Let’s go to the first dungeon, the Forest Temple. The Oba-chan [That’s how Oocoo’s known in the Japanese version; literally, “lady”] you meet there took me by surprise (laughs).

Aonuma: (laughs) We wanted an item to warp the player out of the dungeons easily, but before we could notice it had turned into Oba-chan (laughs).

–As her name says, she looks like she has a double punch impact (laughs).

Aonuma: At first we thought of introducing something like a magic sphere inside a pot for the player to use, but we considered it was dull, and so we created this item that links to a dungeon of the second half of the game. I won’t mention any details as to not spoil the story, but you’ll solve the mystery later.

–But why did you call it “Oba-chan”?

Aonuma: I have absolutely no idea. The person in charge of the script referred to her as Oba-chan when he wrote her lines, so we started calling her like that. And her son gives you a wrong feeling when he appears (laughs).

Both: (laugh)

–Anyways, the scale of the dungeons is huge from the very beginning.

Aonuma: Originally, we created the Forest Temple for last year’s E3 [E3 2005] to give people an idea of what the dungeons were going to be like in this Zelda game. All the staff worked hard on it. And it was that big for a reason, you had to rescue all the monkeys trapped in each room of the dungeon in order to advance. At E3 we only showed the first half of it, but you also save more monkeys in the second half and they’re all connected to a big incident in the end.

–I see. I saw four monkeys when I played it at E3, but I never thought there were going to be that many monkeys.

Aonuma: Regarding the scale, there’s another important factor, the wind. We were able to create small valleys inside the dungeons where the wind blew through, which contributed to the large-scale feeling.

–The dungeons of this game will go down in dungeon history for their large scale and many themes.

Aonuma: These dungeons may be the best ever in the history of adventure games. They sure are huge, but normally dungeons are closed spaces. In Ocarina of Time I designed some dungeons, and most of them were closed areas, but this time there are more open-air dungeons.

–One part of the Goron Mines is like that, you can see the sky and it feels nice.

Aonuma: But it’s organized as a dungeon, it has doors and is divided into separate areas. The truth is that it’s easy to create closed dungeons, like the ones in Ocarina of Time. In open-air dungeons, their relationship with the exterior needs to be more conscious, and it’s very difficult to achieve that. Although it was hard, the dungeon team wanted to create things never seen before, and I think that lead to the large scale of this game.
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