Eiji Aonuma has presided over the The Legend of Zelda series for the past 15 years and has overseen some of the franchise's most iconic entries. We got the chance to sit down and speak with him during this year's E3 event, where he was promoting the two forthcoming instalments: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Nintendo Life: It was known at the time that some dungeons were removed from the original version of Wind Waker because the game wouldn't have been completed in time. Will any of those removed dungeons be reinstated?
Aonuma: I've received many questions about additional content beyond what was in the GameCube version of the game, but our desire is to stay true of the story that was in the original. If we add dungeons then that will affect other parts of the GameCube version, which we really want to stay true to.
If it felt like there were maybe too few dungeons then I feel that what was wrong with the GameCube version was the pacing. It was thrown off because it took longer to get to certain dungeons. There was a waiting period, and then when you arrived there the experience maybe didn't feel as big as you'd waited so long to get there. We're tuning the game to alleviate all that. The pacing should feel appropriate to the overall experience this time.
And, quite honestly, those dungeons we removed we used in other games so we can't use them in this version!
NL: Can you tell me which dungeons they were?
Aonuma: I can't! [laughs]
NL: Moving on to A Link Between Worlds - there haven't been very many direct Zelda sequels. What made you want to revisit A Link to the Past?
Aonuma: The thought was that we wanted to make a top-view Zelda with the concept that every once in a while Link would enter the wall, and only at that time would it become a 3D experience.
We figured that if we used this Link to the Past world, this architecture and structure in place, we could create it even more quickly. There's also a lot more to explore in that environment, so we felt that world would be a great starting point. So if we say it’s a sequel to Link to the Past it’s easier for players to understand where we're coming from and our starting point for this story. It also felt like that story was really well suited for a sequel.
NL: During that Nintendo Direct you hinted that we may no longer play Zelda alone on Wii U. Do you think local or online multiplayer would be better for the series?
Aonuma: In saying it’s not a single-player or lone experience, I didn't necessarily mean multiplayer. There has actually been multiplayer in Zelda games, in Four Swords for example. But for example in Wind Waker, with the Tingle Bottle - it's not a traditional multiplayer experience but you certainly have the feeling that other people are exploring the same world and sharing information.
So that's one way that I meant that it's not a single-player experience. We'll continue to explore different ways of opening up this world beyond a single-player experience, but that's not necessarily to say that there will be typical multiplayer.
Aonuma: I can't answer that. [Laughs]
NL: Would you ever consider DLC or add-on content for the Zelda series, or do you prefer games to be delivered whole?
Aonuma: We're certainly looking at different ways to add on content that would enhance the experience for the user - maybe more places to explore or just to enrich the experience beyond what is on the disc. But we also have to take into consideration that if we charge for this content then it needs to be worth it for the user.
So it's certainly a balancing an act, but I can't say that it is something we're not considering.
NL: The Zelda series tells the story of a male hero rescuing a female princess. Would you ever consider giving Zelda her own game?
Aonuma: This is the second time I've received this question during this E3! I guess if people have strong feelings about it then it's something to consider. I'll keep that in mind! [laughs]
NL: Handheld Zelda games are traditionally top-down, with the exception of the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time. Is that a stylistic choice or about the limitations of the handheld platform?
Aonuma: The answer is actually very simple. In home console games you are usually looking up, and looking at things from this perspective. From handhelds you usually look top down, so that's the way that worlds are represented. But, now you mention it, maybe I'm looking at things too simply!
NL: Has the Virtual Console and its ability to introduce older titles to younger players influenced your decision to make a Link to the Past sequel?
Aonuma: Thankfully, Link to the Past is doing very well on Virtual Console, but that did not influence my decision to make a sequel. The reasons why we did this are the ones we explained earlier.
NL: Fans have often said that they'd like to see a 3D remake of Majora's Mask, just as there was one of Ocarina of Time. There were rumours that it was a possibility - is that still the case, or are you focusing on new games from now on?
Aonuma: You've heard rumours? [laughs] Hmm, I wonder! [laughs again]
NL: I would be very excited myself, it's one of my favourites of the series.
Aonuma: Majora's Mask is a very special game - it's the real hardcore who like that one. If we were to make a remake of that one then we wouldn't want to let them down. We'd have to put our heart and soul into it. So, you say you’ve heard rumours, but I have to say it would be quite a commitment to do that.
NL: The Zelda series has mostly maintained cartoon-like visuals, and even slightly more realistic games still have a fantastical look. Will the next Wii U Zelda game maintain this, or go for a more realistic look?
Aonuma: The thing about Zelda is we want everything to be unique, whether it’s the graphical presentation or the gameplay. It has to be something you can't see anywhere else. We wouldn't want it to be ultra-realistic because you can see that elsewhere. But I can't say that it's going to be cartoony-realistic like you mentioned, the fantastic presentation that we've already done in the past. It will be something new.
NL: The storytelling tone changes from one Zelda game to another - some are quite playful, others are more emotive. What is the storytelling approach on the new 3DS and Wii U games?
Aonuma: This also is the unique thing we're always looking for. What we want to do is - you know you're going along and you think you know what's happening, then we turn everything on its head and everything goes nuts.
In Twilight Princess you have the dark world, in Majora's Mask you have that strange world - we're not hitting in any particular direction. It's whatever direction suits that particular story and what we're trying to achieve.
NL: Have you ever considered a sharply different theme for a Zelda world, such as setting it in a completely different era?
Aonuma: I don't know if we are joking when we do this or not, but there are times when I'll discuss with Mr. Miyamoto about putting Link and Zelda in the modern day world. What types of gameplay would there be? What changes would there be in the presentation of the story? But I honestly can't imagine them there.
It's not that we place them in any specific time period or in any specific culture. If you look at what happens in Zelda games there’s a mix of Japanese and what might be considered Western things. It also allows us a lot of flexibility if you don't define a specific time period or location for the story to take place in. I don't see us making any drastic changes, unless it really suits the story.
This interview was conducted on behalf of Nintendo Life by Eurogamer's Oli Welsh. Be sure to check out Eurogamer's interview with Aonuma, where you'll find lots of additional content.