Just ahead of our time at the Japan Expo, the Parisian event dedicated to popular Japanese culture, Gamereactor sat down with Nintendo's Eiji Aonuma in a luxury hotel in the French capital. There was only a handful of local media present, and Gamereactor was lucky enough to be among those in attendance. This was a good opportunity to talk with the Zelda producer and discuss the most recent entry in the ongoing series, Breath of the Wild, one of if not the best title of the first half of 2017. The warm and charismatic Mr Aonuma agreed to answer all of our questions, and always with a smiling face.
What is your assessment of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, given the four months that have passed since its release?
Excellent obviously. But I realise that during these four months I have not stopped working on the DLC, so we kept our nose to the grindstone and we never felt like our work was done and that it was time for us to review it. One thing is for sure: for the last four months, we have focused on the player's feelings, analysing their feedback and possibly changing via the DLC what they did not like. That said, we are still very cautious with fan-service, because too much fan-service can make the game tasteless. What I enjoyed during these four months was seeing the players and the sometimes unique and unexpected ways in which they play our game. Because the truth is we designed a game by saying that they were going to play as we wanted, or at least we knew how they were going to play. But when you see on YouTube how some people use the content we've created, we're extremely surprised. We really did not expect that type of use.
Will completing the game in Master mode (part of the recent DLC), modify some elements of the game, or even result in a different ending?
No, it won't change anything about the end or that kind of stuff. The new difficulty mode will simply make the game harder. On the other hand on the next DLC we will tell stories about the champions in the game, to discover some of their backgrounds. What made me happy is the reaction of people. Many players have become fans of some of the champions, and it's really nice. And then we will add the Amiibo as we go along.
This game was developed for the Wii U, and you recently said you regret not being able to use the Switch specific features. What features were you thinking about in particular?
To give a concrete example, there are what are called 'HD vibrations' which are specific to the Switch and which allow you to almost experiment what the character feels when it touches something, for example when you take an object in hand you can feel it thanks to the vibrations. It is a rather interesting approach, it adds more realism too, simply it would have been necessary to develop scenes around that. The real problem that made it impossible to use this technology is not so much a matter of time problem but rather that we were going to have too many differences with the Wii U version and they both had to be identical games. But now that we can free ourselves from this connection, this constraint, since the Switch is developing well, we will be able to use this in the next Zelda.
Regarding the next Zelda, is there a schedule settled on yet? Could you give us any exclusive insights into that?
No, you will not get a scoop! Sorry, my dear friend [laughs]. We have no plans for a future Zelda, we are still far from all this unfortunately for you. Today, I'm at a stage where I'm trying to gather a number of ideas for a sequel, but I cannot do it alone. It's a lot of work that will have to be done over a long period of time, and we're still far from having planned anything. Leave us a little time...
Could you introduce some gameplay changes to adapt to the portable side of the console?
It's hard to bring the specifics of old portable consoles. For example, for 3D, everything that was typical of the mobile games with a 3D effect will not be possible to duplicate. Each [piece of] hardware is different. That being said, few changes are possible. For instance, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, which were originally games for home consoles, went smoothly onto the dual-screen DS, and it allowed us to show a map on the lower screen, which made the game more accessible and comfortable. So these kinds of changes could find their way to the Switch if you find the way to do it.
What do you have to say to players who perhaps didn't enjoy the final fight as much as they might have done?
You know, it's very difficult to harmonise the fight against a last boss because we have this desire that whatever the level of the players, they could reach the end of the adventure. And if you put a level of difficulty that is too high on this last boss, there are some who will never be able to finish it and it will lead to frustration too. So the balance is really very hard to find. We indeed prefer to lower the level of difficulty so that everyone can enjoy the end. And going back to Expert mode, it will be much more difficult, it will be a lot more challenging for those who want it. And then, keep in mind that Zelda is not just an adventure that will end with the fight against Ganon. For us, this final fight is just a way of finishing the game. The real end of the game is when you really get to the end of the adventure, having completed all the quests and discovered the secrets of the game. But we noted the complaints on that point too.
But many players feared the Lynels more than Ganon himself...
It is true that some Lynels are particularly challenging...
I noticed that Link was left-handed this time. Normally Link is left-handed, except on Wii for obvious gameplay reasons. Is there an explanation for that?
It is a matter of chance that Link is left-handed in the first episodes, for a reason that we could not really explain today. When we developed the game on Wii, we actually had to change and adapt to the majority of players - and that's my case too, I'm right-handed - so we had to make sure that Link was right-handed on that version. But it was to adapt to the gameplay, so in the end I think we can say that Link is ambidextrous [laughs]. When the developers at Koei Tecmo, who are in charge of Hyrule Warriors, asked me a few months ago whether he was left-handed or right-handed, I replied that it was absolutely not important to me. Nor for Shigeru Miyamoto for that matter [laughs].
Which Link do you relate to the most?
It's very difficult to answer this question, but it's entertaining. You know, I'm a dad, I had a child when I was developing Windwaker, and I have a special attachment to the Link of this game. It's a bit like seeing my own child to be honest. Since then, it's true that Link became part of myself. And when we were developing Twilight Princess, I remember a day when I was walking my son in his stroller and I started crying just because I heard the music. I saw Link as my own child and I did not know what his future was going to be. But I really have a hard time choosing one in particular.
Could there be a Zelda Maker, like Mario Maker, even if the universe is much bigger and would obviously be more difficult to produce?
Would you like it?
Not really, because I wouldn't leave the house for a long time.
Well, I'll keep it in mind that there are people who could appreciate that then! But this is not something we considered. But be reassured, you will have the exclusivity if we ever decided to go through with it [laughs]...
Can you imagine Link's adventures in VR? You/Nintendo don't seem too excited by the idea...
Let me tell you something. When we did Twilight Princess, we did first-person trials. And I absolutely did not like it, it did not look like Zelda as I conceived it, nor as you must conceive it yourself as a fan of the saga. And from that point on, we thought we had to be able to see Link, whether it was during the fighting or the exploration. For us, this is the very essence of Zelda. For the moment I have a hard time imagining a Zelda in VR so as you can probably imagine, this is not a priority nor a short-term project. But I'm not closing the door on that for the future.
What do you think about esports?
I think esports follows a fairly natural evolution of the practices in video games. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I fear that some do everything to ride this esport wave at the expense of the basic desire that was to make a good video game. I am afraid that everyone will want to take advantage of this growth to design games designed specifically for esports, which could harm their creations. But I find it amusing, and even very interesting in a certain way to see that video games are now becoming a sport. I hope it will grow further.