Zelda fans have been patiently awaiting the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for four long years. Whether you intend to play it on Wii U or Nintendo’s new console, the Switch, the game is in-store right now. We spoke with the director of Breath of the Wild, Hidemaro Fujibayashi.
What makes the Zelda series timeless?
In 2016, we celebrated the 30th anniversary since the launch of the first ever Zelda title in Japan. This is something we were able to achieve all because of our Zelda fans, who continued to play and support Zelda games all this time. Thank you very much.
One of the main ideas that has been our focus throughout the series is the ‘growth of the main character’. The game takes place in a fantasy world, but by incorporating various events that could happen in real life, the players experience a realistic simulation. This is something that could only be experienced with this series, and that’s why our fans love it.
The Zelda series has occasionally focused on providing the game experience that is unique to the features of the hardware for each title as well. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been designed to fully utilise the features of Wii U and Nintendo Switch for a seamless gameplay that allows the players to explore wherever they want to go.
Especially, Nintendo Switch comes with the wonderful feature of portability, so I hope our customers will enjoy being able to take the device off the dock and play it anywhere, anytime.
While Zelda fans were probably onboard at the January 2013 reveal announcement, what is the key to appealing to an audience less familiar with the franchise?
We believe it is important to use every opportunity possible to convey to the audience what is great about this game.
One of the characteristics of this title is that it’s up to the player how the game progresses. This is not just about the story or fighting the enemies. Players have the freedom to engage in various activities such as hunting, cooking, and searching for things in vast areas. This is something that has been emphasised in our past PR activities.
We placed a Super Bowl TV commercial in the US, which is notorious for its extremely high viewer rating, in order to appeal to those who are not familiar with the Zelda series.
Given Breath of the Wild’s four-year development cycle from announcement to release, how discernibly different is the finished game compared to the blueprint at conception? What are the major changes?
There haven’t been any big changes in the concept or the main gameplay since the initial stage. A few minor details in the game control were revised at one stage, when we decided to launch the title for Nintendo Switch and Wii U at the same time. The changes were required simply to make sure that the gaming experience would be consistent across the two types of hardware. The content and plans did not change at all.
Breath of the Wild has been referred to by Shigeru Miyamoto as an ‘open-air’ game as opposed to ‘open-world’ – what are the significant differences between these terms?
“Open-world” is a general phrase that describes the kind of game, but the phrase “open-air” specifically describes this game.
Open-air is a phrase that we initially started using to describe the style of the graphics. The producer, Eiji Aonuma, said it referred to the ‘background music that blends in with the sounds of nature’ and ‘the style of adventure that this title offers, such as climbing to a high place and diving through the sky with a parasail’. Eventually the team started using the phrase to describe the actual game.
At what stage during development did the Switch become part of the conversation, and when did the integration actually commence?
It was around last spring, once the production of the Wii U version was pretty much complete.
Did you ever consider cancelling the Wii U version?
This title was initially being developed for Wii U. It was decided later on that this will launch around the same time as Nintendo Switch. We decided to develop the game for both Nintendo Switch and Wii U because it allows more players to experience the game at the same time. So stopping the development of the Wii U version was never considered.
Aside from graphical upgrades, what does a more high-powered console bring to the Zelda experience?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be played for a very long time. You could spend a lot of time searching a particular section of a massive area. I believe it is great that you could take the game with you anywhere. There are various games, including little five-minute ones as well as dungeon captures that you would want to sit back and work on for some time. There are different ways to enjoy the game at all times, in any way you like.
Who is your favourite character addition to Breath of the Wild?
I can’t tell you in too much detail because I don’t want to give away anything… but my favourite is a warrior that has a lot to do with the story of the Gerudo People. He is a dignified and sophisticated character. You will know which one I’m talking about once you come across the character in the game.
Eating in games isn’t uncommon – what led to its implementation in Breath of the Wild? Is there a cultural difference in the value of eating between Japan and the west?
The word ‘Wild’ is in the subtitle and ‘survival’ is one of the main concepts of this game. We thought this would be an unprecedented Zelda title if players could have a lot of
freedom, and even find their own way of recovering the hearts on this vast land. One of the developmental directions was breaking conventions.
I don’t think there are any cultural differences in the way ‘eating’ is perceived by Japanese and western cultures. When you’re hungry, you want to have a delicious meal, and that should be the same for everyone.
We consulted the American team and the European team to help us understand the kind of food that is appreciated in other countries. They checked the images of the food as we developed. Please look forward to seeing which kinds of meals appear in the game.
What’s the secret to a good Zelda puzzle?
I think interesting puzzles can be designed based on experiments that you would have done in science class as a child. I don’t know if you learn the same things in other countries, but we grew up doing experiments with magnets, fire, ice, etc. It’s best to base the puzzles on something that anyone could understand.
Much has been made of the enormous size of Breath of the Wild. Can you talk about some of the challenges involved in creating a Zelda game of such unprecedented scale? How do you keep players focused in an open-world game of this magnitude?
We really had to think about how to ensure a balance in the degree of details in the game experience. You may think we would have to include a whole lot of things and various eye-catching landscape features to keep things interesting in such vast space. However, we maintained a good balance in the level of details.
The entire production team played the actual game many times to ensure a smooth, balanced gameplay. We were all very careful in understanding what exactly we were creating, and what had to be done next in order to make the game even better.
There are areas where we want you to view from afar, areas where we want you to search, areas that appear dodgy… we designed the landscaping, tricks and placement of enemies in each of these areas so that players could instinctively work out what to do. We look forward to having you play the game and sense the messages hidden in our design.