Kotaku recently got the chance to sit down with Eiji Aonuma, the man behind Majora’s Mask and executive producer of the Zelda series. Aonuma has been working on Zelda since Ocarina of Time, and shared some of his unique insight on how Zelda games are made as well as the more adult tone they were striving for with Majora’s Mask.
When asked about the process of how dungeons are created for Zelda games, Aonuma told Kotaku that they first ask themselves what kind of gameplay they want to incorporate into the dungeon. For instance, do they want the dungeon to be action oriented, or focus more on puzzles? After they come to a decision based on that, they decide what item they want to build the dungeon around and how it will interact with Link’s surroundings. They then move into an implementation stage.
“For example, are we trying to build a dungeon around puzzle type gameplay, or is action more of a focus?”
Aonuma made sure to note that while this is how they typically begin creating a dungeon, the team is constantly challenging the conventions of Zelda and how they create each game. Therefore, while they still look for themes as a baseline for each dungeon, they are constantly looking for new and unique ways to shake things up in regards to how they approach dungeon design.
Aonuma also reminisced about his time working on Majora’s Mask and the dungeon design in that game. The one dungeon in the entire game that stands out to him is Woodfall, which he himself designed. Development on the dungeon began just after Ocarina of Time was finished, and Aonuma and his team knew that they wanted to make a dungeon that was different from the ones in its predecessor. He stepped in during the development process and wanted to give it “more flavor”, and was responsible for about half of the dungeon. Mr. Aonuma was also responsible for the initial layout of all of Ocarina of Time’s dungeons. Now that they have larger teams though, that work can be spread out so it’s not pushed all on one person, which can be a bit overwhelming.
The next topic that was talked about was the more adult tone of Majora’s Mask compared to other Zelda titles. Termina is a world filled with melancholy, and Aonuma had some choice words about the mood of one of the darkest entries in the franchise.
“When we talk about the feeling of sadness in a game like Majora’s Mask,” Aonuma said, “for us ultimately it’s something that we think about in terms of how it motivates the player. In this particular case, that really strong feeling of sadness makes you want to save this world.
“And you had a similar situation in Ocarina of Time, where Ganon was threatening to destroy this world, a hero rises to oppose him. But it didn’t have that same sort of tone. It was more a hero story there. In this particular case, we’re looking at a slightly different way to tell that, which is that the sadness of this world can also raise a hero.”
Majora’s Mask is a game filled with tragedy and sorrow, and as opposed to the typical “hero’s journey” that was found in Ocarina of Time, emotions are what drive the player to want to save Termina in Majora’s Mask. The game was geared towards a more adult audience. This helped result in one of the most famous sidequests in all of Zelda, the Anju and Kafei wedding sidequest.
The inspiration for the sidequest was the actual wedding of one of Majora’s Mask’s staff members. The thought process behind the famous quest was that there was a wedding set to take place in three days, but there was also a cataclysmic event that was going to take place simultaneously. Aonuma believed that it would be very interesting to portray because a wedding had never been depicted in a manner such as this before.
The Anju/Kafei sidequest is not only one of the most touching events in the game, but it is also one of the most intricate sidequests in all of Zelda. Aonuma mentioned that they were trying to “age things up” from Ocarina of Time in order to appeal to more mature gamers. Because of this, the quest itself is “aged up” and quite a bit more complex and difficult than previous sidequests in Zelda. While the quest is definitely more difficult than the item-trading quest in Ocarina of Time, Aonuma felt the Anju/Kafei sidequest was still a bit difficult to understand in the final version of the game. He is happy to have the new Bomber’s Notebook in Majora’s Mask 3D, which makes the sequence of events much easier to keep track of for the quest.
Majora’s Mask is definitely not my favorite Zelda game, but if anything I have to admire the dungeons, which are some of the best in the franchise (even 15 years later), the risks the game took with the three-day time cycle, the sheer emotion portrayed by the characters, and the heightened level of difficulty that appealed to a more adult audience. Mr. Aonuma created a masterpiece that has allowed Zelda to evolve and paved the way for future titles in the series to take risks, like The Wind Waker.
You can read the interview in its entirety over at Kotaku.