A Look At 'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds' With Series Producer Eiji Aonuma

October 17, 2013

Eiji Aonuma has been the man behind the Zelda franchise since the N64 release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. His next release, A Link Between Worlds will serve as a follow up to one of the most beloved games in the franchise, A Link to the Past. It’s been almost 22 years since ALttP appeared on the Super Nintendo, but Mr. Aonuma and his team plan to retain the same overall look and feel of the classic 16-bit title, while bringing the gameplay into the modern generation. Outside of the fresh graphics, the changes that Nintendo is implementing this time around could turn the standard conventions of the Zelda franchise on its head. We recently sat down and spoke with Mr. Aonuma to get some insight into what players could expect when A Link Between Worlds is released this November.

Spike: The most striking thing that was initially announced about A Link Between Worlds, was Link's ability to transform into the sketch version of himself and attach to the walls in the game. Where did that concept come from?

Eiji Aonuma: First of all, we were trying to think of a new way that Link could interact with the world, and one of the things that I remembered was in The Ocarina of Time the Phantom Ganon boss. There's a part there where he turned into a painting, and obviously there that's Ganon doing that, but we thought it might be interesting to give Link that ability; to have him be able to turn into a painting and go in the walls, then move through the walls, and then use that ability to get around obstacles, and go to places that he hadn't been able to go to before. So basically, that was where the idea started.

Spike: That transformation is part of his ability to go between the worlds correct?

Aonuma: Yes

Spike: Are there also stealth elements that are built into his ability to transform?

Mr. Aonuma: Yes, of course, there are definitely elements like that. There are scenes where you'll have to use the wall merge ability to get by enemies, but also while you're fighting with enemies, you can also merge into the wall and their attack will just bounce off the wall, and you won't take damage. There are quite a few ways to play with it.

Spike: One of the other recent announcements pertained to the player’s ability to rent objects in the game, and use them as they want, progressing through the game how they choose. That's one option, but is there a right way to play through the game?

Mr. Aonuma: (Laughs) I mean, I think in a sense there are. Most of the items are available right at the start of the game, to be able to rent, or buy them as well. There are certain things in dungeons that you could say would be better to pick up sooner rather than later, because it will make you stronger, and less likely to be defeated by enemies. In that sense, there are things that would be better to get in a certain order, and to get sooner rather than later, but other than that, no.

Spike: Are those items that are available to be rented or purchased still available in the dungeons, so that you can acquire them for free, or are they only available in the shop?

Mr. Aonuma: They aren't in the dungeons, just all in the shop.

Spike: So, you can't make it through the game without renting or purchasing something from the shop?

Mr. Aonuma: Yeah, it wouldn't work. It would be very hard. (Laughs) If someone was able to do that it would be kind of weird.

A Link Between Worlds' new shopkeeper, Ravio

Spike: One of the other things that was introduced around the shop was Ravio, the shopkeeper. Is he just the shopkeeper, or does he play a bigger role in the game?

Mr. Aonuma: (Laughs) I hope you'll enjoy finding out for yourself in the game.

Spike: Ok. From what has been shown of the game so far, there seems to be a little bit of a different stylistic choice for the dungeons, in that you can go from one level to another. The one that comes to mind is where Link uses the hammer to hit the platform, where he is propelled up to the next level, but where you can still see down into those lower floors. Has that caused any rethinking of how the dungeons are laid out or designed?

Mr. Aonuma: I think the dungeon we had at E3 was the kind that keeps going up and up and up, but there's also other dungeons where you start at one floor and keep going progressively down. There are others where you go down and do one thing, and go back up to activate something else, and keep moving around. There's always this great sense of depth and height for the different levels of the dungeon, and that's something that as you play the dungeons you'll have to keep in mind. All of the dungeons are really made with that in mind.

This isn't a full dungeon, but there is one place where you have to drop down a really huge distance and it's super scary.

Spike: To go back to Ravio for a second, Mr. Iwata pointed out in the recent Nintendo Direct that there were direct comparisons to Nabbit after you posted that screenshot to Miiverse. Did that surprise you, or were you expecting that feedback from the community?

Mr. Aonuma: Actually, I wasn't really aware of that Mario character, Nabbit, which is maybe kind of funny for me to say, but you know, I'm very busy. Obviously, we weren't thinking of Nabbit when we made that character, but when we put the picture up on Miiverse people started making that comparison, and they had that reaction, and I realized that people are always kind of looking for those sorts of connections. I thought it was really interesting, so I brought it up with Mr. Iwata., and I said, 'Maybe other people haven't thought of this, but it's kind of interesting, so maybe you could put it in the Direct.' I think the really interesting thing about Miiverse is that I'll take something and throw it out there, and you don’t know what the reactions are going to be, and they always turn into something you're not expecting. I think that's really, really fun, and really, really great.

Spike: Has that happened any other time with something that you posted on Miiverse?

Mr. Aonuma: I think one thing that surprises me is how many encouraging messages I get when I just post something simple. Like, just at E3, I posted that I was really feeling the jet lag, and people were like, 'oh, no that's too bad,' and gave me lots of pat on the back type messages. It made me realize that Zelda fans are just really, really nice. I didn’t realize they were such great people. When I'm at my job, and working on producing The Legend of Zelda titles, and Mr. Miyamoto is getting mad at me and stuff, then I get these encouraging messages it's almost enough to make you cry, so it's just really great.

Spike: Was there any consideration to bring A Link Between Worlds out on the Wii U?

Mr. Aonuma: It definitely started out with being able to include the 3D effects as being really key to our whole idea of the game, so we really never thought about it being a Wii U title.

I think that kind of top view game, rather than having it on a big TV, it just feels better to have it in your hands, looking down on it.

Spike: The original was playable on the big TV though.

Mr. Aonuma: Yeah, so this is evolved, and developed from that point.

Spike: Where does the game fall in the Zelda timeline? And I have Hyrule Historia for reference if you need it.

Mr. Aonuma: Right about here.(Pointing to the Decline of Hyrule and the Last Hero branch, right between the Golden Era and Era of Decline, after Links Awakening and before The Legend of Zelda).

Spike: It's very clear that this is a sequel to A Link To The Past, what were your impressions of that game when you played it?

Mr. Aonuma: Playing this game was actually the start of not only my involvement with the Zelda series, but also just the first game that made me want to make games. Before I had just been working as a designer at Nintendo, but when I played this, this was what made me think, 'Oh, I might want to make games.'

Something I actually thought was special about this game was that you could use your sword to cut grass, and cut shrubs up. Because it's not really part of the game, necessarily, but it's something that you can do in the game - it's something that's possible. It's a way that you can affect the game world, because if you cut the grass, it stays cut, at least for a little while. That's the first thing that made me realize that games can do that. You can have that sort of thing in a game, and that's kind of when I felt like I really wanted to make a game. The game I made after that was called Marvelous, which actually never came out in North America, but Mr. Miyamoto actually saw that game and he was like, 'If you really want to make a Zelda game that bad, why don’t you just actually make a Zelda game.' And that's what led me to work on Ocarina of Time.

Eiji Aonuma's first game, Marvelous: Another Treasure

Spike: Would ever want to revisit Marvelous: Another Treasure and possibly bring it outside of Japan?

Mr. Aonuma: It would be cool to have it on the Virtual Console, but we'd also have to localize the game, so it might be kind of difficult. And we'd have to do it with superimposed subtitles, because we can't actually remake the game at this point, and actually get the data.

Spike: I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Mr. Aonuma: If you wish hard enough, maybe.

Spike: Nintendo is a company that is notorious for retaining its employees for a long time, Mr. Miyamoto and yourself for example. Was there any original staff that worked on A Link to the Past that worked on A Link Between Worlds?

Mr. Aonuma: Yes, there is one person. He's actually been with Zelda even longer than I have, and knows absolutely everything about Zelda. But, yeah there was one person there.

Spike: You've now had the chance to extend into both 2D and 3D Zelda games, which do you prefer to make?

Mr. Aonuma: I think there's a lot of differences between the two. This one, where we are making a 2D, top down kind of game, now that we are making it in a modern era, we have to give it that same kind of fresh, fast-paced feeling. We have to keep the frame rate very high, so it has to be at 60 frames per second. So, A Link Between Worlds is 60 frames, which means there's a lot more memory, a lot more data, all the animations - there's just a lot more packed in. When you're making it, that obviously makes it a lot more difficult.

3D games have their own challenges too. We're usually able to keep those at about 30 frames, because it's just not as necessary, but you have to have it on this big screen, and you're showing this dynamic and wide open world. I think there are very different challenges for both, and I want to keep making both.

Did we talk about 60 frames before?

Spike: No, I don’t think so.

Mr. Aonuma: 60 frames per second rate is really important for the 3D effects on the 3DS, and, to be honest, a lot of games so far on the 3DS have not be at 60 frames, with a lot of them at about 30. If you don’t have that 60 frames, the 3D effect becomes a lot less stable. I think with a lot of 3DS games we've had so far, a lot of people have tried the 3D, and it hasn't felt quite as good to them. I think with this game especially, I'd like to see if people revisit that, because I think they'll see it the way it's meant to be. For example, the remake of Ocarina of Time had really good 3D, but that was only at 30 frames per second, so here what we're doing, is beyond that now.

Spike: So, did you learn a lot from making Ocarina of Time that you brought over to this game?

Mr. Aonuma: Yeah, I think there was a lot of looking at the previous game and thinking we could have done this better, and that leads naturally to the next game, very similarly to the original Wind Waker, and now to Wind Waker HD. It’s the same kind of thing with that step up.

Spike: In Hyrule Historia, there are design docs from the original A Link to the Past. Did you or your team go back and look any of the other original design docs while working on A Link Between Worlds, to see how A Link to the Past created its world and characters?

Mr. Aonuma: Yeah, we obviously spent a lot of time looking back at the artwork from the original game, and trying out a lot of things based on this artwork. But, if you look at the original game, the actual in game graphics don't look anything like this, obviously, because they are pixelated images. So this time, we actually have dynamic cutscenes within the game, so we have to have that balance between the artwork and what's in the game, and actually have them close together. Before it didn't matter, but now we actually have to have them look the same.

Spike: Why was the choice made to have a follow up to A Link to the Past instead of the original Legend of Zelda or Zelda II?

Mr. Aonuma: I think the main thing is that if you look at the original A Link to the Past graphics, the idea was to build the game using those original graphics, since the original has a lot of detail in them. It's kind of a fully realized world, so it made it a good candidate for upgrading. If you take a look at the original Legend of Zelda, if we tried to remaster those graphics, they don’t have a lot of color, and there isn't a lot of detail in it, so it wouldn’t really have looked very good on the 3DS. I think what they were able to do in A Link Between Worlds, where they were able to create that A Link to the Past world with the same feeling, but it also still really looks good today.

Another reason is that since the 3DS came out, Mr. Miyamoto has always been on me about making A Link To The Past for the 3DS. Just kind of constantly in my ear about that. When I would do it was up to me, but it's kind of been something that has been on my plate.

Spike: How long have you been aware that you had to work on this project then? How long has Mr. Miyamoto been on you about it?

Mr. Aonuma: Ever since the 3DS existed. He's always saying, "Why haven't you made it yet? Why haven't you made it yet?"

Spike: Will we see a return of my favorite incarnation of Link, the little pink bunny version?

Mr. Aonuma: (Laughs) So in the original A Link To The Past, that Dark World is where Gannon is sealed away, and that's where Link becomes the pink bunny. Here, the other world we have is actually a completely different other world, so unfortunately, pink bunny Link will not be making an appearance.

But, this time, a purple bunny comes to Link's world.


Late last week, Mr. Aonuma took the stage at New York Comic Con to divulge a few more details about A Link Between Worlds to a packed house of rabid Zelda fans. In addition to revealing a new trailer and showcasing some gameplay, one of the biggest pieces of information that he revealed include the name of the “other world” in A Link Between Worlds. This time around, Link's adventure will take him to the dark world of Lorule, which will providing a balance to the brighter Hyrule. In addition to providing some key insights on Lorule, Mr. Aonuma also introduced the crowd to its ruler, Hilda, who is the ying to Princess Zelda’s yang. In A Link Between Worlds both women are in need of help, and our hero Link is the one to step up to the challenge.

3DS owners can find out the full story of A Link Between Worlds when it is released on November 22nd.