YouTuber ZackScottGames had the chance to interview Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in New York recently. They spent time talking about Link: his character and role in Breath of the Wild, as well as his history. They also covered the importance of exploration in the game, and Aonuma talks about his personal progression from wanting to guide players through Zelda games to realizing that it’s okay for them to get lost, especially if the game can make simple things like running around or climbing really fun.
I’ve transcribed the main parts of the interview below, and you can watch the video in its entirety here:
ZackScott: We’ve played as Link throughout several different Zelda games and I’m curious: when focusing on his story and his motivations, what makes Link as a character stand out in this game?
Aonuma: So the Link from Breath of the Wild doesn’t have much of a character, and that was done intentionally. We wanted the players to be able to relate to Link and to play as themselves. You can probably see that there’s not much expression on Link’s face. I want you to play through the game and you’ll understand why I intended to do this.
Miyamoto: You know, Link has a lot of options and actions he can take. As you think for yourself what kind of choices you want to make, you become more and more in tune with Link.
Aonuma: Since Link can keep on climbing as high as he wants, he kind of seems a little bit like Spider Man. It’s pretty cool. [laughs]
Miyamoto: He doesn’t have a hookshot though.
Zack: So this is more of a game where the player is Link … the player explores the world of Link.
Aonuma: For the series, we always try to make Link so that players will be able to play as the main character. But for this game, we made it even more so.
ZackScott: I’m wondering … a few years from now, twenty years from now, fifty years from now, where do you see all of this going?
Miyamoto: Twenty to thirty years from now I’m not going to be around, so it’ll have to be him answering the question. [Gestures to Aonuma-san, who laughs]
Aonuma: I really don’t know what the future holds, so that’s a really tough question. There’s not really one thing that I can respond with, but one thing that comes to mind is every time I complete a Zelda title I think about how the game was or the feedback from the fans. That’s how we’ve been making Zelda, and I think we won’t change that in the future.
Miyamoto: So the Zelda team obviously knows what they are doing. They know Zelda. Something important they keep in mind is the idea of solving a problem yourself. Thinking about it yourself and solving it yourself is something essential. And so taking that into account, no matter what kind of technology is available at the time, what items Link can use to solve those puzzles are very important. Then there’s the idea of exploration, and how we create the landscape and environment Link explores is also very important. Regardless of what the technology may provide, whether it’s VR or any kind of attraction, it’s important. Another important aspect is that the Hero grows. The types of animals he meets, the kind of personality he develops, or the types of people he meets all are important. So as long as these three things are kept in balance, I think that’s what Zelda is, and that’s what the Zelda team is always thinking about as we move forward.
ZackScott: That’s where you guys excel, that no matter what the platform is, you guys create such an enchanting game.
Aonuma: So I really want to utilize that platform and then create something the users will only be able to experience with Zelda.
ZackScott: Speaking of growth and technology, is there any desire to revisit older stories, and maybe reboot them and bring them to life with a new technology? I know that you guys have done that incrementally, you know, from maybe one system to the next you’ll have an HD update, but I mean going way back and re-imagining maybe the first few Zelda games in a whole new immersive environment. IS there any desire to do that or is it all just kind of looking more toward the future?
Aonuma: So that’s actually a really good question. When I started making Breath of the Wild, I started thinking about which Zelda title I was able to play with the most freedom. And then I came to the conclusion it was the first Zelda game. When I first played it, I couldn’t defeat Octorok so I got frustrated — they seemed huge and they were so fast. But then I realized it was the most liberating experience that I’ve had. So with Breath of the Wild, Guardian is actually kind of like Octorok. It’s kind of like an octopus. And so to me, Breath of the Wild is kind of like the first title, but it has a different kind of freedom with so much more presence. This is how I started developing Breath of the Wild. To me that’s how it feels.
Miyamoto: With Ocarina of Time, when we released it for the 3DS, we wanted to make it so that you can experience the 3D a lot more. And also to be able to play it outside which you can obviously do with the Switch this time around with Breath of the Wild. Also looking back at A Link to the Past, we wanted to be able to create more depth. For example, with a 3DS you could tell when an arrow is above your head and not going to hit you. So we wanted to create a game like that, and that’s why with the backdrop of Link to the Past, we created [A Link Between Worlds] for the 3DS.
ZackScott: One thing about game design, when you talked about your frustration with the first game, and when you talked about exploration, is Breath of the Wild a game where players are allowed to get lost, where players are allowed to experience that frustration in a very liberating way like you said?
Aonuma: So I talked about wanting to make a game that’s free and fun to play. One basic concept that I had in mind is that it’s okay and fun to get lost. Back in the days I used to think it was a horrible thing for players to get lost in a 3D world. You’re basically thrown in this new world and don’t know where to go. I thought making the users put in so much time getting lost was not a good thing. And so I tried to avoid that as much as possible by placing hints and guiding players through the path so they wouldn’t get lost. But when I thought about it, I realized I was pushing my idea of how the game should be to the players. And it’s not fun once you sense that. So I completely got rid of that concept with Breath of the Wild. With Breath of the Wild, I wanted to basically have the players experience this “getting lost” while getting to the next destination, because this journey leads to something they’ve created with a path they’ve chosen. I myself learned that getting lost wasn’t so bad after all, so I was able to reflect this idea to this game.
Miyamoto: In the first two years of development we tried to create a game where just running around is fun, just climbing is fun, just riding a horse without any scene or loading changes is fun, and we spent obviously a lot of time doing that.
Aonuma: In this game you can climb high, and this aspect is actually really important Because when the players are up high, they can see down below. And then they can see another destination that they may want to go to. So it’s not necessarily that they’re getting lost, but that they’ll be able to find a new goal to set. So I think climbing high is a very important aspect in this game.
Miyamoto: In Skyward Sword we had the system of selecting your own destination in the game. But in this title, because the whole land is connected, we have a system of placing markers. You can really decide where you want to go.
ZackScott: The final question that we have today, I feel like I have to ask this because there’s so much buzz and rumors on the internet and this video is going to go up to my YouTube viewers and people are going to be commenting on it, and there are a lot of fan theories, and some of them are pure speculation, some of them have a lot of evidence behind them, but I’m curious if you Mr. Miyamoto, or you Mr. Aonuma have any thoughts on these fan theories, particularly ones that say that Link perhaps is actually dead throughout the entirity of the game, or perhaps that Link is simply sleeping and the whole game is just a dream. Are there any thoughts — can you confirm, deny, or leave ambiguous?
Aonuma: That’s such an interesting way of thinking… Fans may actually be a little mad or irritated, but whenever we create a Zelda title, we kind of ask if we should just go with “Link” or do we have any other names we can use? Since we don’t have anything else, let’s just go with “Link”. I mentioned this earlier, but since the player is the main character, the name “Link” doesn’t hold that much value. It’s kind of like since we already have that name, let’s just go with “Link”. So considering that, it’s really interesting that the fans are thinking that way.
Miyamoto: You know, one of the most challenging questions I get is even though Link is the protagonist, why is it called The Legend of Zelda?
Aonuma: I want to hear that too actually.
Miyamoto: So we do have [Adventure of Link]… Just to go over some history, when we first created the protagonist Link, we really wanted to create a character that is literally the link between a person to person, or a person to some kind of technology or technique, or a person to the Triforce. And that’s why we created this character called “Link”. Going back to your original question, there’s an anime/manga series in Japan that’s been going on for many years. It’s called Sazae-san, and when a series has gone on for so long, certain urban legends develop. In that series too, people think the main character is maybe dead already. So to think that The Legend of Zelda has come to a point where it is getting urban legends, that makes me happy actually.