As the Wii U moves into a hugely significant period of releases over the remainder of 2014, it'll be Hyrule Warriors that will, appropriately considering its genre, lead the charge of major retail releases. Already released in Japan and arriving soon in North America and Europe, it's a unique crossover of The Legend of Zelda and the Dynasty Warriors franchises that'll bring high-octane action to Hyrule. In some respects it's shaping up to be a fan's dream, with a large cast of playable characters — good and evil — and the licence to string together stylish combos to crush hundreds of enemies.
With release imminent we caught up for a chat with Eiji Aonuma of Nintendo, the long-time Zelda producer and supervisor on Hyrule Warriors, and Yosuke Hayashi of Koei Tecmo, development producer on the title whose CV includes Metroid: Other M, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, and Dead or Alive: Dimensions to learn more and to clarify how many tea tables were upended by Shigeru Miyamoto during development.
How did the partnership for this game between Koei Tecmo and Nintendo first come about?
Yosuke Hayashi: We’ve worked together with Nintendo before. For this project, Koei Tecmo asked Nintendo if we could put our efforts together on a game that Nintendo wouldn’t necessarily have been able to do on the Wii U alone.
Eiji Aonuma: When Mr. Hayashi approached me for this collaboration, he said, “let’s rethink our preconceived ideas of what we can do with a Zelda game.”
Mr. Aonuma, in the past you’ve mentioned that you happened to be playing a Musou game when Koei Tecmo approached you. Did that affect how you approached the game you were playing at the time, thinking of how it could fit the Zelda series?
Aonuma: At the time I was playing a Musou collaboration game called One Piece: Pirate Warrior. In this game, you are fighting a battle where there are many bases on the battlefield, and you have to figure out what order you take the bases in — and also the timing in which certain things occur. This is not something that had been in previous Zelda games, and so it was a very exciting idea for me to connect with.
We wanted a collaboration that would allow us to do the things that Koei Tecmo does really well. We felt that this collaboration fit that mould.
Mr Hayashi, you had mentioned that Koei Tecmo had been thinking about pitching a game that perhaps Nintendo couldn’t necessarily develop themselves. This ultimately resulted in Hyrule Warriors, but were there other Nintendo franchises that you had considered as well?
Hayashi: We wanted a collaboration that would allow us to do the things that Koei Tecmo does really well. We felt that this collaboration fit that mould [from the beginning], so we didn’t really consider other franchises at the time.
Did it seem that this crossover of Zelda and Musou gameplay always seemed like a natural fit, or was it challenging in the early stages to combine the two franchises into a cohesive experience?
Aonuma: At first, when Hayashi-san approached me, he wanted to make this title closer to a Zelda game than a Dynasty Warriors game — that extended to having boss battles in the dungeons and [having] certain characters in the game. However, Mr. Miyamoto came along and up-ended the tea table, saying, “No, that should not be the case. What we’re doing here is grafting Zelda onto the Dynasty Warriors experience.” It was a reversal of the original proposal from Hayashi-san, which was adding elements of Dynasty Warriors onto the Zelda franchise. It ended up being the other way around based on Miyamoto’s direction.
As a crossover title, Hyrule Warriors has plenty of source material to draw from, but also two separate franchise identities with which to stay faithful. How did you approach combining these two franchises while still staying true to their individual identities?
Hayashi: This relates a bit to when Mr. Miyamoto stepped in to overturn the tea table. It was really trying to strike that balance of making a game that Zelda fans will enjoy that is different from a typical Zelda game, that has enough elements that people will enjoy but also not losing Zelda fans. We ourselves are Zelda fans as well, so we had to ask ourselves the question of what is it that makes a Zelda game, and how many of those elements do we need to include. Up until the very end, we kept adding different elements to the game until we struck a balance that we were happy with.
We ourselves are Zelda fans as well, so we had to ask ourselves the question of what is it that makes a Zelda game
Which elements did you know first that you needed to preserve? What do you feel is required for a Zelda game?
Hayashi: I can’t identify just one element that would make a Zelda game a Zelda game. The Zelda world is usually a big adventure, and it’s about many experiences.
One of the things that I think is required by a Zelda game is, for example, the loading scenes, which we kept — like the first scene where you come upon a treasure box and you have Link, or whoever, lifting the item up from the treasure box. But we realized we needed more than just that, so we ended up adding more and more aspects that were Zelda-esque — for example, the sound effects and animations that people are familiar with from the franchise.
The game’s combat looks like a natural fit for Dynasty Warriors. Were there any particular challenges to produce movesets for Zelda characters?
Hayashi: We wanted to preserve the combat mechanics from the Dynasty Warriors series, and that’s what we did as far as ease of mechanics — we wanted to preserve that aspect of the series. Some of the movesets we wanted to reference the Zelda franchise — a lot of people are familiar with those movesets. We think it’s a game where people are really going to enjoy seeing and recognizing the actions when they happen.
Aonuma: Looking at comments on Miiverse from Japan, a lot of people really like the aspect that is familiar in Zelda games where you lock on to and target the opponent.
There are lots of playable characters — far more than a usual Zelda game, which is typically just Link. How did you decide which characters to make playable? What types of traits did you look for?
Hayashi: The first and most important thing is that we decided to choose characters that we thought Nintendo fans would want to play — that was the No. 1 criteria. And then, after that, we added some unique features to those characters. But really, it was characters we thought that fans would like to play as.
The first and most important thing is that we decided to choose characters that we thought Nintendo fans would want to play — that was the No. 1 criteria
Aonuma: Some of the characters, we had a really hard time imagining them fighting on the battlefield at all. For example, Agitha from Twilight Princess, how we [were] going to make her a playable character. And I think that with this collaboration, we did a good job making these characters — who wouldn’t normally fight — fun as playable characters.
Let’s talk a little about Adventure Mode. How did the concept for that come together?
Hayashi: There’s a Legend Mode in the game that allows you to play through all the chapters sequentially. We also wanted to include something for people after they’ve completed that, which harkens back to the NES days where you would just play screen by screen, and in each screen you [would have a] mission. Long-time fans are familiar with that type of gameplay — for example, you have a bomb and need to figure out which wall to blow up in order to proceed. Old fans who are familiar with the NES games will be able to use their knowledge of those games. I also think that this is a fun aspect for new fans as well, so you won’t necessarily need that whole knowledge.
As our time draws to an end, do you have any closing thoughts?
Hayashi: I played Zelda games before becoming a developer and I liked them a lot — I played all of them. Now, as a developer working on a Zelda game, I really felt a lot of pressure to achieve the high bar that the Zelda series has set. That was something that I’ve been very aware of as I’m developing. I’m pleased that Zelda fans in Japan like what they’re seeing with Hyrule Warriors since it’s been out. I think the idea that this is an action-paced Zelda game has come through to the market as well, and I hope that it is as well received in Europe and North America. I’m looking forward to it doing really well in those markets.
Aonuma: Looking at the comments on Miiverse regarding Hyrule Warriors, it’s been great to see a lot of positive feedback. But one of the things that leaves me with rather complicated feelings is that people are saying, “Oh wow, I really love the cutscenes in this game! This is better than the stuff Nintendo does!” Of course, that leaves me a little conflicted, and gives me a mission now to make sure that the new Zelda game that I’m working on can hold its own in that aspect against Hyrule Warriors!
A hearty thank-you to Mr. Aonuma and Mr. Hayashi for their time, the translators, and Nintendo of America for organising the interview.