Reinventing a Classic: The Wind Waker to Breath of the Wild

The Legends Behind the Legend of Zelda Series: Part 3! This episode covers the development of every mainline Zelda game from The Wind Waker to Breath of the Wild in order of release. It also gives details on game-play and shares music from all 12 of these great Zelda games. 

Why Toon Link? What’s up with those weird multiplayer Zelda games? Was there really a Zelda game with a train? 

This episode covers all these questions and a whole lot more. 

Timestamps:

  • 02:37 – Nintendo Space World 2000 –
  • 5:24 – Outsourcing to Flagship
  • 9:35 – Oracle of Ages/Seasons
  • 11:30 – Link to the Past / Four Swords
  • 13:41 – Wind Waker
  • 22:05 – Four Swords Adventures
  • 23:40 – Minish Cap
  • 25:53 – Wind Waker 2?
  • 28:26 – Twilight Princess
  • 38:07 – Phantom Hourglass
  • 39:35 – Spirit Tracks
  • 41:33 – Skyward Sword
  • 50:31 – Link Between Worlds
  • 54:28 – Triforce Heroes
  • 55:20 – Breath of the Wild

Episode Transcription

Hello and Welcome to Level Zero! This is the show that tells stories about your favorite video games, the people who made them, and the companies behind it all. I’m your host, Greg Griffith and on this Part 3 of the Legends behind the Legend of Zelda series: from Wind Waker to Breath of the Wild and everything in between, let’s go!

Have you ever done, or made something great and then wondered, “what do I do next?” Maybe you worried that you would never be able to achieve that level of success again in your lifetime. What do you do next? The same thing again or do you strive to make something brand new and different and hope lightning strikes twice? This would be the question that Miyamoto, Aonuma, and the whole team behind Zelda games would ask themselves for two decades.

I do want to mention, this episode is Part 3 of a special mini-series on the Legend of Zelda, the Legends who created them, and the games themselves. If you didn’t know, the original Zelda game released 35 years ago and I’m doing this series as part of the celebration of that anniversary.

If you haven’t listened to the first two parts, and you want to get the full story of Zelda and its creators, I recommend going back and checking those episode out. The first episode titled, “Zelda: The Adventure of Miyamoto,” covers the history of how Zelda came to be, establishes “the dream team” that created these games, and covers the first 5 games in the series up through Ocarina of Time. The second episode called, “Majora’s Mask: Aonuma’s Terrible Fate” introduces Eiji Aonuma, and give a deep dive into the strangest game in the Zelda franchise. So pause this episode now and go check out those two episodes first before listening to this one. I will be mentioning these folks a lot, and referencing those two episodes, so if you want to know who these folks are, and get the full story, please check those two episodes first.

When we left off, the year was 2000 and …

“in the year 2000”

….yes. and Eiji Aonuma, along with his Co-director Koizumi and the whole team had just wrapped up production on Majora’s Mask. And despite the incredibly short development cycle, it was a major success for Nintendo. Even though it only sold about half as well as well Zelda’s last outing, Ocarina of Time, it still sold almost 3 and a half million copies world wide. yah, half as many sales was still a number that high.

So it was the year 2000 and

“in the year 2000”

…yes

And Zelda fans were excited about what was to come next! Especially because this was the year that Nintendo would announce their new console to come after the N64. Can you imagine better graphics than this?

The event was Nintendo Space World 2000, the annual high energy trade show hosted by Nintendo where they would make their big announcements. And this show in August, Space World 2000, Nintendo had the biggest show yet with some major Announcements.

The announcement of the Game Boy Advance, the first real leap in next generation handheld consoles. It would leap from 8 bit handheld device to a 32 bit device! That’s the same amount of bits as the PlayStation one! And of course the announcement of the console to come next after the N64, the GameCube.

And to show off the hardware capabilities and graphical performance of the GameCube, Nintendo had a real ace up their sleeve. A highlight reel featuring footage from many of biggest Nintendo franchises, including, Pokémon, Metriod, Luigi, perfect dark, and Zelda, and these franchises had never looked better before. Were these all upcoming GameCube games? Everyone assumed so! And that Zelda piece featured an epic sword fight between Adult Link (similar to the way Link looked in Ocarina of time) and Gannondorf fighting in a cathedral. Considering the blocky polygonal look of Zelda’s previous two outings, this was a very impressive and very exciting showing.

Unfortunately, no additional information about this future iteration of Zelda was shared at the show, so fan were left with nothing but speculation on what this next Zelda game for the GameCube could be. The excitement was real!

Fans would have to wait a while though. Developing a new Zelda game for the new hardware was going to take some time. I am sure there were also a lot of lessons learned about what an extremely tight deadline and short development cycle could do to the well-being of the development team.

This time, they still wouldn’t have all that long. Although Nintendo knew it wouldn’t be possible for this next Zelda game to be a GameCube Launch Title, it was important to get a Zelda game out for the hardware as quickly as possible. So the team would have just 2 and half years to develop this next 3D Zelda title.

Two and a half years wasn’t a lot of time to develop a game, but it was a long time to make fans wait. Not only that, but from a business perspective, that is a lot of unrealized revenue.

You see, Ocarina of Time released in 1998 and sold nearly 7.5 million copies. Also in 1998 Nintendo re-released Link’s Awaking for the Gameboy Color, which added color to the game and a new dungeon and called it Link’s Awaking DX, and that remake sold over 2 million copies alone. Yah, that’s right. 2 million copies for a remake of a handheld Zelda game. Clearly 1998 was a very successful year for Nintendo thanks to Zelda. and by this point, one thing was clear to Nintendo.

*money*

Zelda was Nintendo’s golden goose. It could make Nintendo a lot of money, and not just with Console based games. The success of Link’s Awakening (twice) had shown a big potential for handheld releases as well.

The thing was, the team was busy. VERY BUSY making the next big Zelda game for the GameCube. With each Zelda game getting bigger and more ambitious, plus dealing with this jump to new hardware, they were too busy to be bogged down with development on handheld games. 

They could try splitting the Zelda development teams with one team focused on handheld titles and the other team on the console title, but the last time they split up the teams, the wound up with one massive canceled project and another team completely maxed out.

But there really weren’t many options. If they didn’t make more handheld Zelda games, that’s a lot of missed opportunity, as the Gameboy was one of the most successful products Nintendo had ever made in their 100 year long history up to that point.

So for the first time, Nintendo decided to outsource the development of their beloved series. Yup. This was the first time. Definitely the first time Nintendo ever entrusted another company to make a Zelda game….

Nintendo would entrust development of handheld games to a company called Flagship, which would later become part of Capcom.

Flagship was a small company founded by Yoshiki Okamoto that developed a few small titles for Sega, Capcom and Nintendo and had had some minor success. Okamoto wanted to further that success and grow his company, and to do that, he had a great idea. He would create a Gameboy version of the original Legend of Zelda game. This should prove to be a simple task and allow Flagship to get their foot in the door with one of the biggest names in the business, Shigeru Miyamoto.

So in 1999, when Okamoto approached Miyamoto and Nintendo and proposed his idea, Miyamoto had a counter proposal! “How about you develop six handheld Zelda games! Two based on previous releases and four brand new titles!”   This had to come as a shock, but also an incredibly exciting opportunity for Okamoto. So the two agreed! Under one big condition though. Flagship could develop these Zelda titles, as long as Nintendo was allowed to oversee and guide the development of these Zelda titles and the whole process.

Ok so maybe I misled you before. Nintendo may or may not have allowed another company to make Zelda games without any oversight or involvement at all and it went….not so great. Let’s not get into that now.

So with all the funding from Nintendo they needed, Flagship was off to the races! Okamoto was very ambitious and wanted to release these six titles in quick succession, launching a game every 4 to 5 months! Porting the original Legend of Zelda game to the Gameboy could teach the game how to make Zelda games the proper way without having to build very much new stuff. Plus this being 14 years after the original launch, a brand new player base could experience the original game for the first time, and Flagship could expand the next games from there!

But uhhh…turns out game development is hard. Really hard.

Porting the original game proved to be a big challenge. The Gameboy screen had a different aspect ratio than a TV, which essentially means that they couldn’t fit the same things on a Gameboy screen as they could on a TV with the original release. So this forced the team rework the game to fit everything into the Gameboy screen.

Oracle of Seasons/Ages

After a few months of very little progress, Okamoto had no choice, but to go ask Miyamoto for some help.

Miyamoto was not about to let this fail, so he had to come up with a new idea for Flagship. He told Okamoto, “OK don’t worry about the port of the original game. And don’t worry about six games. Why don’t you make three games? A trilogy of brand new games for the Gameboy color. The trifroce! Let’s use that.  Each game could be associated with each piece of the triforce, “courage, power and wisdom!” Ya, Let’s do that! Also, We had a lot of success with Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy and Gameboy color, so here, just use that as a basis”

So Flagship did just that! And Okamoto, not to completely rely on Miyamoto’s ideas, had a good idea of his own! Let’s make these three games all interact with each other in some way. Players could start with any of the games and have things from one game affect the other two in some way.

Development on the games were going well, but it was becoming a lot to manage. So when Miyamoto checked in on Flagship, he said, “ok, don’t worry about the Triforce of games. How about you guys just make two games? And I’ll also task my main man, Tekashi Tezuka, with a supervisory role to help you support the project.”

So they went from making 6 games, to focusing on two. They would make two unique Zelda games for the Gameboy color. Two games that would be very similar, yet unique in their own way. And they would interact with each other with the use of a password system.

Although these games looked very similar to Link’s Awaking, with very similar mechanics, they had completely unique worlds and stories. This duo of games would be called The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and the Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons.

In Oracle of Ages, you get an item that allows Link to travel back and forward through time, changing the world around you to navigate new paths and in Oracle of Seasons, you get an item that allows you to change the seasons. Giving the world a different look with each season and created time sensitive puzzles due to the environments each season provided. These games also tried some new things too. For the first time in the series, you could ride different animal companions. You could ride a flying blue bear, a giant lizard like Dodongo, and even….ride in the pouch of a Kangaroo.

No. I’m serious, these Zelda games allowed you to ride in the pouch of a boxing kangaroo and control it.

Again, development took longer than expected but with the guidance of Miyamoto and supervision of Tezuka, Flagship was able to release these two games simultaneously in 2001. And these two games were incredibly successful! It was well reviewed and well received by critics and fans and they sold almost 4 million copies of each game! Clearly outsourcing these handheld titles to Capcom and Flagship proved to be a great idea for Nintendo.

And when Capcom, or one of it’s affiliates does well, you know what they say?

“Good job Capcom!”

Link to the Past / Four Swords

So these two games did really well, but the timing wasn’t great, because just one just one month after these two games released, the Game Boy Advance came on the market. And Nintendo’s main team was still hard at work developing the next major console release of Zelda for the GameCube.

So following up on the success of Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, Flagship went on to create of port, or a copy, of the hit Super Nintendo title, Link to the Past for the Game Boy Advance! For the first time, fans could take a classic console Zelda game on the go! And with better hardware capability than the Super Nintendo, and the same aspect ratio, porting the game from the Super Nintendo to the GBA proved fairly straight forward. They were able to bring the whole game to the new portable system with the same graphical fidelity and were able to add some improved lighting since the GBA didn’t have a back-light. Plus, they had room on the cartridge to spare.

Since porting the game proved to be straight forward and they had the extra room, the team decided to include something new to this release. Along with the port of Link to the Past, Flagship created the first ever Zelda multiplayer experience that was included in the same cartridge called Four Swords. With Four Swords, players could link (pun intended) their GBA’s together and play with up to four people and work together to solve a series of randomized, puzzle laden dungeons, while collecting rupees. It would be both collaborative and competitive, with the player collecting the most rupees, being rewarded with special prizes.  Four Swords had a new art style too, taking advantage of the GBA’s 32 bit hardware and adding vibrant colors to the game.

It was a new idea and new approach to Zelda and ultimately, this release proved to be very successful! Link to the Past/Four Swords for the GBA released in December of 2002 and It was very well received by critics and most folk praised the new optional multiplayer component of the game.

“Good job Capcom!”

The Wind Waker:

Now, what the heck had Nintendo’s main Zelda development team been working on since the release of Majora’s Mask back in the year 2000. Fans were left excitedly wondering since that Space World 2000 GameCube highlight real! They were expected a gritty, dark, version of Zelda with similar art style to Ocarina of Time. So that’s what’s coming next, right?!

No. No not at all. In fact, what the team ended up making was almost the exact opposite of what was shown in that video. Instead of a gritty realistic look, the next Zelda Game, called the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, would feature a Cell Shaded, cartoonish art style, a younger version of Link who was much more animated, and a vibrant colorful world.

Instead of a gritty realistic look, the team went with a cartoon, kid friendly look and feel?

What happened?

Well it turns out, that Space World 2000 video wasn’t a highlight reel at all. It was simply a tech demo showing exactly what the GameCube was capable of.
So that gritty, realistic looking fight between Link and Gannondorf was put together to get people hyped about the GameCube and that was all it was. And although this version of Zelda certainly resonated with fans, the Zelda development team didn’t really like it. Especially Eiji Aonuma, who after proving himself with the creation of Majora’s Mask, was named the Director for The Wind Waker.  Regarding the tech demo, Aonuma told IGN. “I saw that movie and I thought, ‘No, this isn’t Zelda. This isn’t Zelda at all.” I felt like this wasn’t what I imagined Zelda to be. It wasn’t the Zelda I wanted to make. That video clip didn’t actually contain any big surprises. There wasn’t any kind of revelation going on. It was more like a continuation of the previous version.” To me at the time, I say, it looked like a scene from Ocarina of Time, but better looking. “Yeah. That’s right. I wasn’t interested in it at all.[1]

Part of me thinks that a lot of that reaction to that video was driven by the incredibly long hours and the last three to four years making Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. They were tired of the same thing and longed for something new and fresh.

So Aonuma and the whole team looked for a new direction. They wanted to take full advantage of the new hardware and showcase elements that they could never make before on a cartridge based game.  They wanted a new look and feel.

They tried a couple of different approaches but one day, one of the artists working on the game drew Link in a cartoonish style. Then another artist drew a Moblin, one of the enemies in a similar style and that was it!

The game would be made with a cell-shaded look and feel and the game would be made intentionally to appeal to a wide audience. The look certainly had its critics though (my pas 12 year old self among them), but for this game, the development team was making a game that didn’t only appeal to the small group of teenagers who had grown up with the franchise, but a game that could appeal to anyone, including a brand new generation of gamers. This look could stand out as something truly unique when stacked up to other games and allow for vivid, colorful visuals. This cartoonish version of Link would become known as “Toon Link.”

Nintendo had the Dream Team in full force to make this game. Miyamoto and Tezuka were the lead producers, and Koji Kondo once again in charge of the music. And as I just mentioned, Eiji Aonuma was directing the game. And no one wanted to get back to the sense of Adventure that Zelda had always been more than Aonuma.

As always, the team focused first on gameplay, specifically with creating fluid movements and combat. In additional to movement and gameplay, Miyamoto had always wanted to incorporate something into his games, but had always been limited by hardware. WIND! The hardware finally allowed for real-time wind and in game physics that could react to that. Also, what better way to showcase graphics, than with the use of water. And what better way to incorporate wind and water than with…sailing!

Instead of exploring Hyrule the traditional way, either by walking, horseback, or …. a whole lot of rolling, players had a sailboat and would explore a flooded Hyrule by means of a boat. Throughout the ocean, players would explore different small items with secrets and dungeons hidden throughout. A brand new way to explore and experience adventure!

And if this music doesn’t invoke a sense of adventure, I don’t know what will. Koji Kondo was a part of the biggest team yet, put on in charge of music and sound. Kondo was the primary composer of the music, and the rest of the team lent its support. With the new hardware, and advancements in MIDI technology, the team was able to incorporate new instruments. Strings, winds, brass, percussion, and even vocals. Music was also directly incorporated into the gameplay itself, but less so with this game compared to the last entries. This time around, Link did not directly play an instrument like the ocarina, but instead conducted with the use of the Wind Waker, a magical conductor’s baton that could control the wind.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker released in March of 2003 in North America and between the fluid gameplay, the completely unique cell shaded art style, the amazing music and real sense of Adventure, and the pirate theme, the Dream Team at Nintendo was able to create another classic. It was very well received by critics reaching universal acclaim and hitting near perfect scores on almost every video game reviewing outlet. This team was on a role in creating great games every single time!

This game also had the most successful Pre-order campaign in Nintendo’s History. It pre-sold over half a million copies and it was largely due to the special bonus disc people who pre-ordered the game could receive. If you pre-ordered the game, you could receive a bonus disc that included a playable copy of Ocarina of Time on the GameCube as well as something called, Ocarina of Time: Master Quest. Remember on the previous episode when we talked about Ura Zelda? The new re-worked version of Ocarina of Time that contained more difficult, redesigned dungeons that was being made for the N64DD that ultimately canceled to move resourced to make Majora’s Mask?  Well this was it! Here in full form. Only as a pre-order bonus with the Wind Waker.

At least, this is what Nintendo chose to told there world. There is still a LOT of speculation on whether this was really the true Ura Zelda project that Miaymoto’s other team was working on before it was canceled. But that is a story for another time.

Despite it’s critical acclaim and the successful pre-order bonus campaign, the Wind Waker did not sell nearly as well as Ocarina of time or other previous Zelda titles. It sold about 4.6 million copies. It didn’t have as much to do with the game itself though, as much as the fact that the GameCube was simply not selling as well as other Nintendo consoles. Also, many attributed the lower sales in North America to the rampant success of both the Playstation 2, the Xbox and the proliferation of more mature looking games.

Still Aonuma, Miyamoto, and the whole rest of the team was proud of what they created. And they weren’t done with this version of Link either. Fans of “Toon Link” would see him again.

Four Swords Adventures

Expanding on the success of the previous multiplayer version of Zelda: Four Swords that came bundled with Link to the Past for Gameboy Advanced, Nintendo decided to expand on this idea and make a full-fledged version of this for the GameCuber called Four Swords Adventures. This time, Nintendo wouldn’t outsource it to Flagship and Capcom, they would create it directly. But, Nintendo would not have the dream team working on this title. Miyamoto and Aonuma would both only work as producers, adding input now and then as they could, while a new team worked on this new game.

This title would not only allow up to four player to play a Zelda game on a console for the first time, but it would incorporate brand new technology. For the first time, you could hook up a GameCube directly to Gameboy Advance and would allow players to utilize two separate screens at the same time. The thing was, the only way to play a game with three other people was to have four Game Boy Advanced and four unique cable adaptors. If you managed to get all of this, up to four players could play an episodic cooperative multiplayer story called “Hyrulean Adventure” which utilized conventional top down Zelda Gameplay, as well as a competitive mode called “Shadow Battle.”

Four Swords Adventure released in 2002 and it was fairly well revived by critics and reviewed well at the time, but ultimately proved to be the lowest selling version of Zelda yet. This was mostly attributed to the high barrier to entry with players being required to both own Game Boy Advances as well as special link cables. And required players to, ya know, have friends in order to play together. Still Nintendo tried something new and now they had a new team that could create offshoot games.

Minish Cap

While Nintendo was creating that game, they were creating a different game as well. You see, Nintendo was working on several Zelda games in tandem. During this time, Flagship was hard at work on another handheld Zelda title for the Game Boy Advance. Immediately after finishing Link to the Past/Four Swords, Flagship started work on another Zelda game for the Game Boy Advanced. This time a brand new, full fledge Zelda game.  

And the team approached this game by taking early image sketches from Wind Waker and tried to convert them to top down, 2D graphic perspective on the GBA. While doing this, they had to play with scale with the size of Link compared to the world around him. And this gave the team the idea to shrink Link down to a much smaller size with the use of a special item. Going back and forth between different worlds was very much a Zelda staple, and this would be a new take on that staple. Also, Eiji Aonuma had previously used this idea in his debut game, Marvelous.

This new handled Zelda game would be called, Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap.  In this top down, vibrant and colorful Zelda title, Link would traverse the world with the help of an anthropomorphic companion hat names Elso that would give him the ability to shrink to a near microscopic size.  Ya, let’s use the handheld games to try out new ideas out on, huh? Gameplay though would be familiar, with the game functioning similarly to most other top-down, 2D Zelda titles.

This game was guided by Aonuma and also supervised by Tekashi Tezuka. Aonuma was reportedly very impressed by what the team at Flagship put together for this game. Especially with central city hub of Hyrule Town, which had a “living, breathing feel” with characters going about their every day lives. Aonuma even said that it surpassed what he made in Majora’s Mask with Clock Town!

Minish Cap released in November of 2004 and Once again, It was well reviewed and received by critics. So…
“Good job, Capcom!”

Unfortunately, it sold very poorly in comparison to most other Zelda titles. Maybe due to frequency of releases of so many Zelda games coming out across so many devices at that point, or maybe that it looked and felt different than other Zelda games. At any rate, Aonuma was very happy with Minish Cap and I am sure the team at Nintendo was glad to release another Zelda title with minimal resources needed from Nintendo.

Twilight Princess

And that was really a good thing too, because at the exact same time those two games were being developed, Aonuma, Miyamoto and the team at Nintendo were also working hard on the next 3D Zelda game. After the success of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, it was a no brainer to put Aonuma in as the director of this next major Zelda game.

At the Game Developers Conference in March of 2004, Aonuma was super happy to announce the next Zelda game for the Nintendo GameCube. Following on the heals creating a successful direct sequel to Ocarina of Time with Majora’s Mask, Aonuma announced the next console Zelda game would be a direct sequel to Wind Waker called Wind Waker 2!

Wind Waker 2 would use the exact same art direction and character design as Wind Waker and expand on that world. Being able to repeat that game engine and art assets would allow for a short development cycle, just like Majora’s Mask, except this time, hopefully without all the stress and nightmares.

To change things up, Wind Waker 2 would focus on a new form of travel and traversal. Rather than sailing across the open sea for travel, Link would once again travel with the use of his trusty steed and gallop across the land on horseback. There was just one problem though, Toon Link was not suited at all to riding on horseback. His proportions were all wrong with small legs were too short. And “Toon Link” on horseback looked downright silly. Despite the art team’s best efforts to make it look right, it just wasn’t working.

But luckily for Aonuma, inspiration struck! And once again, in the form of a dream!  Link would travel as Wolf Link! Aonuma stated in an interview in 2007, “…the wolf transformation idea started some three years ago at GDC, when we were thinking of what we should do with the next Zelda game. I woke up in my hotel in San Francisco completely disoriented, like if I had lost my memory. Some seconds later I remembered I was in the US to give a speech at the GDC; maybe it was because of the stress (laughs). I then thought how surprising it’d be if in the next Zelda game Link started off being imprisoned, or turned into a wolf.[2]

So once again, Aonuma’s stress induced dreams had a major influence on a Zelda game. He wanted to have the game start off with Link as a wolf, where the player had to figure out what to do, but it was Miyamoto who refused this idea and pushed back to have you start off as Link and then transform into the wolf.

But at any rate, this was a perfect solution to the problem of having “Toon Link” look silly riding a horse. Instead of traveling Hyrule on horseback, you could move quickly as “Wolf Link.”

So Wind Waker 2 featured Wolf Link and ….. oh wait….. Wind Waker 2 was not a thing? ….what happened? Well, the fans!

Wind Waker was well reviewed, but many fans refused this incarnation of Link! Turns out, many fans, especially the really loud ones, were still clamoring for a realistic looking Zelda game they were teased with years earlier. One that followed in the footsteps of Ocarina of Time and looked more like many other games and even movies around that time.

And with the somewhat poor sales, Nintendo didn’t have a lot of choice. So in mid 2004, Nintendo made the decision to cancel The Wind Waker 2 and instead make a new Zelda game similar to the look and feel of Ocarina of Time.

And Eiji Aonuma was devastated. So much so he considered quitting the Zelda franchise all together. But with a lot of reassurance from Miyamoto, he decided to stay on. They would still use that the wolf idea.  Not only would Aonuma decided to stick with the series, but he decided to lean in to the fans desires, giving the North American market exactly what they were looking for. He would push the team to have give an art direction similar to Ocarina of Time, but with a better graphical fidelity and a dark tone.

Miyamoto didn’t just want to change the game’s presentation though, he suggested that Aonuma and the team should include new game play innovations, even include things that they never got to include in Ocarina of Time. Here we go again with pushing URA Zelda content into future Zelda games. But one thing that was omitted from Ocarina of Time was combat on horseback. Other than, you know, shooting a bow and arrow. Fully fledged horseback combat. Horseback riding would be a major component of this mew Zelda game and even the lead character designer of the game would ride a real horse for the first time, just so he could understand the feeling and translate that onto the game.

In just a few short months, Aonuma’s team was able to present realistic horseback riding and create an art style that would be heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies, which were extremely popular in the early 2000’s. It was very fitting because if you remember from first Zelda episode of this podcast, the original Legend of Zelda was heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings books. Here we are again.

In a very short time, the team was able to put a trailer together to tease the next big 3D game, and at E3 2004 they showed a trailer that ….. here just let me play the clip from E3 2004 and listen to this crowd reaction.

I know you can’t see it, so I will provide some commentary. A sunset with enemies coming towards you. I don’t know what this is yet. And then, you see Link riding on horseback looking just like Ocarina of Time and listen to that crowd! Shows him fighting on horseback. Fighting enemies. And the title card just shows, “The Legend of Zelda. Coming Soon.” And Miyamoto appears on stage. Miyamoto the addresses the crowd and man, you could just tell from that reaction that this was exactly the right decision and direction for the series. Fans were ecstatic. And the team was off to the races.

The game would be called “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.” And much like the staple in previous Zelda titles, this game would also feature a “light world” and “dark world” and this game would have an even darker tone than any previous Zelda game. The game would start with children being kidnapped in Link’s village, and the Kingdom of Hyrule being enveloped in “twilight”, transforming all of its inhabitants into spirits. Link would have to save Hyrule by entering the twilight covered areas and recover spirits of light, aided by a strange character named Minda who would guide the way.  This would also be another “hero’s tail” type story involving Link using light to overcome dark and even save princess Zelda from the clutches of Gannondorf. The story wasn’t a complete revelation, but that’s what fans wanted, so that’s what they got.

This game would heavily incorporate the use of “Wolf Link” to provide a lot of gameplay variety. Anytime Link was in the Twilight region, he would be forced to be “Wolf Link,” at least for the majority of the game. The Twilight realm was specifically designed to make players feel uncomfortable and out of place, as Link would feel in the game. But Aonuma gave special care to ensure it didn’t make players feel so uncomfortable that they wouldn’t progress.

Development seemed to be going very well, and Aonuma had to supervise both Four Swords Adventures and Minish Cap during this time. Not only that, but there was another new handheld game that was also being developed for a new piece of Nintendo handheld hardware, so needless to say, Aonuma was really busy. He had a whole lot on his plate,  so he left the team do their thing on Twilight Princess while he went to go work on those other projects for a while.

And when he came back, he found the team struggling. Big time! Most of the struggle came with the combat. The team was having a very hard time making the combat feel satisfying. During this time Miyamoto was hard at work, helping to work on new hardware. In this case it was the Wii. If you’re familiar with the Wii, you know that the Wii involved a pointing device and an infrared sensor and motion controls. So Miyamoto suggested to Aonuma that he should incorporate this into the game. Maybe Link could point arrows using his bow using the Wiimote?

So even though Twilight Princess was scheduled to release in 2005, the decision was made to delay Twilight Princess by one year to polish up the combat and figure out a way to incorporate the Wii’s motion controller.

And the team at Nintendo had always intended to release a Zelda game for the Wii at some point, but Aonuma assumed he would need to complete this GameCube game first and then work on a new game, but they saw an opportunity here. They would create two versions of the same game, one standard version for the GameCube, and a version for that Wii that would incorporate the motion and pointing controls. This would allow Nintendo to release a Zelda game as a system launch title for the VERY first time! So Aonuma split the team and they began working in parallel.

Fortunately, the Wii was designed to also play GameCube games, so this made the process fairly simple. And the motion controls injected new life in the combat that even benefited the GameCube version. They even figured out a way to swing the Wii remote and have Link swing his sword in similar fashion as a reaction to this.

It is relatively well known at this point, but Aonuma, who is right handed, thought it was weird to swing the wii controller with the right handed, and have Link, who had been left handed up to this point, swing the sword with his left hand on the screen. To solve this, they wanted to redo Link’s character model to make him right handed, but honestly they just didn’t have time before the game released. So, they came up with a very clever idea, the team decided to mirror the entire game. Everything in the game would now be exactly reversed, and this would fix the issue to accommodate a mostly right handed population. The GameCube version of the game would stick with the original orientation and a standard “left handed” link.

What about Music? Koji Kondo? …well obviously.

Yes Koji Kondo was put on as Sound Supervisor over the team, but he was not going to be the lead composer this time around. There would be another lead composer, but Koji Kondo would supervise. And the music in the game would be uniquely crafted to create that uneasy sense of discomfort while in the “twilight world,” while still evoking the real sense of adventure that Zelda’s soundtracks have always been known for.

Koji Kondo himself did create and compose a fully orchestrated song for Twilight Princess E3’s trailer in 2005. Kondo had never really worked with orchestration and arrangement for live orchestra before, and this proved to be powerful and emotionally moving experience. Kondo loved the experience and he pushed to have the entire soundtrack orchestrated, but ultimately, just as with Wink Waker, MIDI electronic tracks were used instead. It was an unfortunate decision, but it most likely came from the GameCube discs storage limitations

Finally in November of 2006, Twilight princess released both for the GameCube as well as launch title for the Nintendo Wii. And…. yah of course, it was incredibly well reviewed and received by critics. This is Zelda after all. BUT FINALLY, Nintendo got the sales to match the quality of this game. Releasing two version of the game for two different systems proved to be a terrific idea. In the first week, three out of every four people who purchased a Wii also purchased a copy of Twilight Princess. It eventually went on to sell almost 9 million copies across both versions, surpassing Ocarina of Time and is to this day the second highest selling Zelda game.

It’s no surprise that around this time, Eiji Aonuma was named Producer for the series and would be named supervisor over the entire Zelda Franchise. Meaning that he would have direct influence over every Zelda game coming next, including outsourced Zelda related work. He had already been doing that, it just became official after Twilight Princess.

Phew! This is a lot of Zelda games to go through. Let’s take a break.

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Phantom Hourglass

Remember how Aonuma wanted to make Wind Waker 2, but didn’t get to? Well he was not going to let that go. In 2004, during the development of both Minish Cap and Twilight princess, development began on a new handheld Zelda title, this time for another brand new handheld console, the Nintendo DS! The very same team that worked on Four Swords Adventures began work on this title.

This game would be titled The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and it would be a direct sequel to the Wind Waker. This game would incorporate a lot of the ideas Aonuma had originally envisioned for The Wind Waker 2. But being on a handheld device, and one with two screens for that matter, it would be a top down, 2D game, but still in a very similar art style to Wind Waker.

This game would introduce brand new controls with the use of touch controls and a stylus. Bringing brand new controls to the series. Other new features allowed players to draw on their map to mark locations and make notes. This game also had sailing, very similar to Wind Waker, but the gameplay for this was different, involving a player charting the path on a map and the boat traveling automatically, while the player defended the boat from attacks.

This game was created to be a bit more simple than other Zelda games and aimed to be appealing to a wide audience that could include casual gamers. Aonuma was very attached to this iteration of Link and very proud of his work on this project.

Phantom Hourglass released in October of 2007 and …. yes, it was well received and reviewed by critics. It also sold really well. It managed to almost double the sales of Minish Cap.

Spirit Tracks

Now it’s finally time to talk about everyone’s favorite Zelda game. The team was on a roll and didn’t want to go off the rails.

So soon after Phantom Hour Glass released, this team started work on the next handheld Zelda game for the Nintendo DS. The idea was to take Phantom Hourglass and create a game using the same art direction and graphical presentation. And with those resources, the team should be able to create a new game for the DS in just one year.

Well, again, game development is hard. It ended up taking 2 years.

This game would be titled The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. And the idea was that this game would take place 100 years after the Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass in a brand new Hyrule. And this time, instead of traveling by horseback or by boat like in Wind Waker, you would travel by a new form of technology in the Zelda Universe, a Train!

Yah I’m not sure why they chose a Train because it seems pretty out of place, and apparently there were arguments about the inclusion of a train, but at any rate, the team stuck with it and Aonuma trusted the team to make an enjoyable game.

When you weren’t on a train, the game was similar to Phantom Hourglass and had a new feature! The Spirit of Zelda would act as your companion instead of Navi or Tat’l or Minda, and the spirit of Zelda could possess enemies to help Link solve puzzles. This game had more use of Zelda than any Zelda game that came before it or after it for the time being. Like Phantom Hourglass, the idea seemed to be to encourage experimentation in what a Zelda game could be, while still striving for a wide appeal, including casual gamers.

Spirit Tracks released in December of 2009, and although this game is mostly looked down on by fans, it actually was well reviewed and received by critics. It is a Zelda game after all. Still, most fans seem to refer to Spirit Tracks as maybe the worst Zelda game in the franchise. Even though it’s not the worse reviews.

Despite this, Spirit Tracks managed to sell pretty well, not doing as well as Phantom Hourglass, but still selling quite a bit more than Minish Cap.

Skyward Sword

OK! with those handhelds out of the way, what exactly had Aonuma’s main team been working on for the next major 3D Zelda game?

Well immediately after completing Twilight Princess, that same team began work on the next major 3D console release. This time it would be developed exclusively for the Wii.

And this project started by focusing on what they felt hadn’t been fully realized in Twilight Princess. Specifically two things, a vast connected world and one to one motion control combat with Link’s sword. That had gotten somewhat there on both, but Aonuma knew they could do better. And also in the back of Aonuma’s mind was that he wanted to create a game as memorable as Ocarina of Time. Even though Twilight Princess sold better, most considered Ocarina of Time the gold standard of Zelda games and Aonuma was driven to hit that high once again and create a masterpiece.

To hit that mark, Aonuma knew this game needed to be perfect. There was a lot of pressure to make something big and he pushed for large scale ideas.

They knew the core gameplay would focus around the sword, with the use of motion controls. So they team decided to make the game an origin story for the most well known sword in the Zelda series, the Master Sword. And while they were at it, they could explain the origin of Hyrule as well! An origin story, this would be the beginning, where it all started!

With the focus on the sword, the name of the game would be called, the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. And Skyward Sword was set to be completed in just three years. It would also have the biggest budget any Zelda game had ever received.  

After a little time in development, Aonuma appointed Hidemaro Fujibayashi as the director of the game. Which besides being a very fun name to say, was someone with a lot of Zelda experience. He actually had previous worked at Flagship and Capcom prior to coming over to Nintendo. And he served as a director, planner, and writer for Oracle of Ages and Seasons, Four Swords, and Minish Cap and then he went on to be an assistant director of Phantom Hourglass. Clearly the man was very well versed in Zelda games, specifically with the handheld titles and Aonuma knew he was the right man for this project. So Fujibayashi took on this role as his first time directing a 3D Zelda title for a home console.

While it was exciting to be working on an origin story for the Zelda series, and one that could be epic in scale, the weight of this ended up causing a lot of problems in actually writing the game. While creating a proper origin story for the franchise, they also had to make something new and unique while also remaining faithful and consistent to all the other Zelda games that came before it and It was a lot. With a background in writing for games, Fujibayashi took it upon himself to help write the story for this game. There were a lot of contradictions and difficulties bringing a lot of the story together and it was making him sick! At one point he ended up locking himself in a hotel room and writing out the full synopsis for the game in a single day. And this synopsis he created would be the backbone of the enite game.

So the story writing was an issue, but there were a lot of other difficulties as well. It just wouldn’t be a 3D Zelda game without development issues after all. But a lot of difficulties came from the gameplay.

Aonuma was determined to make something unique and he did not want to rely on the same gameplay conventions as Twilight Princess. He had to build something that felt new. But not so new that it felt wrong. And they had to build something that was both familiar, but new and fresh, and ALSO something that a new player could pick up, learn and enjoy if this was their first Zelda game.

To get something like this, the team strove to create gameplay from the ground up and there was a lot of experimentation. A whole lot.  In fact, they even set aside the motion controls and built new gameplay mechanics using the traditional Wii-mote and nun chuck controller.

But then Nintendo announced new technology. The Wii Motionplus. The Wii Motionplus was an adaptor that plugged into the Wii-mote and allowed for more accurate motion controls.

And Fujibayashi pushed to incorporate this new technology into Skyward Sword. And Aonuma was thrilled with this idea. Now they could fully realize what they were trying to do with the Wii version of Twilight Princess. The problem was, they were mid development and it proved tough to add it right in. After a lot of trial and error, Aonuma considered dropping the motion controls entirely from Skyward Sword.

Fortunately, Nintendo released the game Wii Sports Resort. A game that was designed to take advantage and show off the Wii MotionPlus attachment. And in Wii Sports Resort, there was a sword fighting game.

So Aonuma’s team met with the team that designed Wii Sports Resort and they were actually able to borrow their technology and incorporate it directly into the Swordplay of Skyward Sword. And with that saving grace, the gameplay for Skyward Sword finally clicked into place, but it certainly required an extension to the game’s deadline. So Miyamoto allowed two full more years of development. He was happy to do this as it was needed due to the experimentation on the front end.

For the art direction, Aonuma wanted to depart from the art style of Twilight Princess. While the Wii was a fairly capable console, it was nowhere near as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PS3 and it couldn’t compete in terms of realistic looking graphics. The art style in Wind Waker was able to hold up and stand out against the competition thanks to the cell shaded, unique look, but fans made it clear they preferred this incarnation of link.

The team finally landed on an art style that was a balance compromise of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. With the use of warm colors and a “bush stroke” aesthetic that looked almost like a painting.

When it came to the world, Aonuma felt that in Twilight Princess the overworld was too large with too few puzzles and treasures dispersed. A similar problem as in The Wind Waker. So for Skyward Sword, Aonuma decided this time to create three separate, compact overworlds that were much more dense with interesting content. This way, players could appreciate everything in them upon repeated visits.  Each of the three areas would have drastically different environments too.

Soo the world was coming together and the story was starting to come together as well. Skyward Sword would feature floating sky islands, an unknown surface world below, a fully realized world and very animated characters.  There would be a new means of travel across the vast world too! Not rolling, or horseback or sail boats or….trains …. but giant flying birds called Loftwings. And for the first time in the series, a stamina wheel was introduced. Giving players the ability to sprint and climb for specific periods of time.

And man, we gotta talk about this music. There was a full team of composers and sound designers. Koji Kondo was once again put in a supervisory role, but only wrote one of the songs by himself.  Because this Zelda game was finally being created on a standard CD, memory space wasn’t a concern. And for the first time in the series, a live orchestra was used to record all of the music, as Kondo was hoping for with Twilight Princess. Aonuma didn’t expect or push for a live orchestra for the music, assuming the digitized music likeTwilight Princess would serve just fine. It was actually Miyamoto who pushed for the live orchestra.

It certainly paid off. The orchestra enabled the team to create atmospheric and cinematic moments and really drive home emotion. The orchestra did require the sound team to double in size and it ended up becoming the largest team of sound designers to ever work on a single Nintendo project.

Not only did this music sound better than ever, there were a lot of creative elements too. Both Zelda and Link had specific musical motifs. Also, one of the main songs in the game “Ballad of the Goddess” is an exact reverse of the often occurring tune “Zelda’s Lullaby” from previous Zelda games.

Listen. And here it is in reverse. Clearly brilliant composition.

Finally, in November of 2011, Skyward Swords released after 5 long years in development. And …you guessed it, it was incredibly well received and reviewed. Game publications gave it very high scores across the board. It sold decently well, but not quite as well as they were hoping. Hitting only about half the sales numbers as Twilight Princess. It could be due to the requirement of hardware like the Wii Motion Plus attachment, or just due to the fact that it was late in the life of the Wii.

And although critics and fans were initially really hot on Skyward Sword, in hindsight, it’s thought of less highly. Skyward Sword proved to be a very linear experience compared to most Zelda games, the disconnected overworlds created a disjointed experience, and a whole lot of criticism stems from the long opening tutorial section of the game that holds the players hand for far too long.

Still, it’s hard to deny the success of the team in bringing a lot of new great ideas to the franchise and creating another great Zelda game.

Link Between Worlds

So at this point, the trend seemed to be for every one major 3D Zelda release, we would get two handheld Zelda releases. And that just had a lot to do with the time that it took to make a 3D Zelda game and also to the fact that there were two teams working on Zelda games.

But because the development of Skyward Sword proved to be such a big undertaking, most of the resources for Zelda were allocated to it. As a result, not a lot of work was done on handheld titles between the release of Spirit Tracks in 2009 and Skyward Sword’s release in 2011. There were one or two individuals who came up with a few ideas during this time, like having Link go onto a wall for a new 2D experience, but it didn’t really go anywhere.

And it was a bummer that no progress was made on a handheld Zelda title, because a new handheld device, the 3DS had released in 2010, but the Zelda teams was too busy to make a new game for the new device. So to rectify this, Nintendo began to release older Zelda games to the new platform. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were remade for the platform with upgraded visuals and better quality of life updates. These were fantastic additions to the console, but still Aonuma wanted to make a new Zelda game for this platform.

When production wrapped up on Skyward Sword, Aonuma was finally able to put a team on in charge of a new Zelda game for the 3DS. They ended up being able to utilize the idea they came up with, where Link would travel into a wall. Kind of like Link was a painting on the wall and he could travel across it. And they wanted to make that a focal point of the game, but Miyamoto didn’t like that idea. So he suggested going back to a classic, Link to the Past, for inspiration on the new Zelda game. Aonuma ran with this idea and had the team incorporate the original map from Link to the Past, for this new game with a new art style. It would be a 2.5D perspective, where you could shift perspective when Link enters the walls and this worked well! So Aonuma decided to create another direct sequel to a game in handheld form, and this game would be called The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds. They were originally just going to call it Link to the Past 2, but decided this title might work better with the North American market because it was basically one big Dad Joke. “Link Between Worlds.” Get it? He’s the “link.” Anyway, in Japan, they decided to go with the direct sequel title. 

Link Between Worlds would be a love letter to Link to the Past. If you remember from the previous episode, Link to the Past was that game that made Aonuma fall in love with the Zelda series. It instilled in him a huge love for video games, so returning to his roots was a very fun experience for Aonuma. The game would take place after the events of Link to the Past and share the same exact overworld. This time, instead of going between the Light and Dark World, players would travel between “Hyrule” and “Lorule.” Yah it was just the same thing.

This game wasn’t a complete copy of Link to the Past though. The dungeons were new and the the “wall entering” mechanic added a unique twist on the gameplay. Also, Aonuma wanted to do something about the criticism he received with Skyward Sword.

Skyward Sword and many other Zelda games were very linear experiences, forcing players to go from one dungeon to the next. So for this game, Aonuma had the team open the game up more to allow players to have much more freedom. For the first time in a while, Link Between Worlds gave players the ability to complete dungeons in any order they wanted with the use of a new mechanic that allowed players to purchase or even “rent” the necessary items they needed to complete dungeons.

For the music, Koji Kondo would not be involved, BUT the music he created for Link to the Past many years earlier would serve as direct inspiration for this soundtrack. Fully rearranged tracks of those songs would be featured in this game and many elements of Link to the Past’s soundtrack would be included in this game.  Brand new music was also composed.

Link Between Worlds released on April of 2013 for the 3DS and yes! You Guessed it! It was well reviewed and received by critics. Players appreciated how the game subverts the traditional Zelda mechanics in favor of freedom and player choice. And it sold really well and holds one of the highest rated games on the 3DS platform.

Triforce Heroes

Around this time, almost noone was wondering, “Hey! Are we ever going to get another multiplayer Zelda game like Four Swords with multiplayer?” And Aonuma was eager to give an answer. “YES! Here you go!”

The team that developed Spirit Tracks was back and ready to take advantage of the 3DS’ wireless multiplayer capabilities with a new multiplayer based Zelda game. So they made a game that allowed for up to three players to play together to solve puzzles and conquer dungeons, but the game could also be played single player at Aonuma’s insistence.

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes released in October of 2015 and … no this was didn’t review super well. it received a luke-warm reception and reviewed on average at about a 7/10, which is one of the lowest scores of any Zelda game. Despite noone asking for it, some people still bought it, though. It actually sold over a million units.

Breath of the Wild

Anyway, what was the main Zelda team up to for the next 3D Zelda game after they wrapped up production on Skyward Sword. Well they were up to something big. VERY BIG!

There were a lot of lessons learned through the creation of Skyward Sword and Aonuma still yearned to hit the highs of Ocarina of Time again and create another masterpiece.

Development for this game started in 2011 after the release of Skyward Sword and it started with a lot of the criticism and feedback the team received from that game.

Aonuma’s good at listening to feedback. He would learn from his mistakes and make it better, as he had always done throughout his career.

Aonuma once again named Skyward Sword’s director, Fujibayashi, as the director of this game and the two worked hand in hand to remedy those mistakes.

Aonuma stated in an interview with Kotaku: “Our mission in developing this new Zelda game … is quite plainly to re-think the conventions of Zelda. I’m referring to the expectation that the player is supposed to complete dungeons in a certain order…We want to set aside these conventions, get back to basics and create a newborn Zelda so that the players can best enjoy the real essence of the franchise.[3]

And that was the mission. To once again do everything in their power to defy convention and expectation and create something brand new. By this point there had been more than 15 Zelda games made. For the most part, Miyamoto and Aonuma had always tried to do something a little different and new with each game. And by this point, the little things you could change had been exhausted. So that left the team with little choice but to strip down the Zelda formula and build it back up from the ground up.

The team was dead set on defying expectations and creating something new and special. The game would be titled “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” and it would be made exclusively for Nintendo’s latest console, the Wii U! The game was set to release in 2015 and the team would have 4 years and a good sized budget to complete the game. But building a game from the ground up is hard and the team needed a lot more time. Also, when the Wii U released in 2012, it did not perform nearly as well as Nintendo had anticipated.

So with the success of releasing Twilight Princess on two consoles at once for both the GameCube and the Wii, they decided to do the same thing here for Breath of the Wild. They would release a version for the Wii U and a version for Nintendo’s latest hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch. They would give the team an extra two years to perfect and polish the game and allow the Switch to have a hit Zelda launch game to help sell consoles.

Breath of the Wild would be made to address those critics feedback about Skyward Sword. It would allow players to jump right into the game with very little explanation and hand-holding. Rather than having a linear story, they would make a game that was wide open and allowed players to complete it in any order. It worked extremely well with Link Between Worlds and they would do the same here, but allow even more freedom, letting players go wherever they wanted, completing tasks in any order. In fact, in this game, you could go straight to the final boss and defeat him if you wanted. No barriers at all.  You got exactly what you needed at the very front part of the game.

And the world of this game would be expansive and interconnected. Instead of forcing players to wonder what’s in the “in between” sections of the game, like many wondered with Skyward Sword, players would be allow to explore all of what they could see.

Skyward Sword featured a stamina meter that allowed sprinting and climbing, and the team wanted to do more with that in this game. Instead of climbing only on specific surfaces, this time around, Link could climb any surface. And instead of being limited what they could do once they got to the top, players could jump off high places using a paraglider, similar to the Deku leaf from Wind Waker. This would open up the game world like never before with complete freedom.

Aonuma and Fujibayashi studied other large open world games when they were creating Breath of the Wild. Games like Skyrim. Not to directly copy by any means, but to study these games in terms of scope and scale and understand what it would take to apply those same ideas and create a game of that scale. When asked if they were striving to make the same kind of game like Skyrim, Aonuma and Fujibayashi actually have said they don’t play many games at all. Most likely because they are both too busy making Zelda games.

Aonuma and the team tried to come up with ways to encourage a player to continuously explore.  In an interview with Ben Reeves from Game Informer, Aonuma stated ” …we wanted to really expand on the world of Skyward Sword and we kind of tried to think about what kind of cycle can we create in the game that really encourages continuous exploration, so what we came up was things like needing to cook and gather ingredients to eat, needing to procure weapons from enemies because they break, things that like there’s a cycle of expending something and then procuring something, that’s like a main important part of this game and it was kind of drawn more from that than any singular inspiration.[4]

Combat and gameplay would be different and unique. Rather than a standard sword and shield, with different items, like all other Zelda game, Breath of the Wild would allow for a huge variety in combat. Different weapons, each with different fighting styles.  These weapons would all have limited durability, meaning that every weapon can break, causing players to have to switch their fighting style and collect and procure different weapons throughout their journey. In fact, it would have a whole new inventory system very similar to a lot of other large open world modern RPG games. You could utilize different weapons and bows of varying power, and different shields and armor of varying defense levels. A huge departure for the series that has quickly brought Zelda into the modern age of gaming.

And they weren’t actually trying to actively “modernize” Zelda by any means. Aonuma was simply trying to break out of their own conventions that had been cemented with the series over the course of 30 years and create something brand new here.

Instead of standard dungeons with puzzles scattered throughout the overworld, this time around the game would feature 120 different “shrines” that would serves as micro dungeons and reward players with the ability to upgrade either their health or stamina wheel.  There would be standard dungeons as well, but they would be more infrequent and would reward players with a new ability to traverse the world rather than new items.

The art style would again go for a unique, cartoonish, cell shaded look. One that artists have admitted to taking inspiration from Studio Ghibili films and that style of animation like that. Again, not to directly copy, but certainly inspired by.

The world was massive and there were a number of different ways you could explore it. You could glide, sprint, swim, or travel by horseback by taming wild horses you find. You could even mount and ride various beasts including deer and bears. No kangaroos though. That’s a bummer.

For the very first time in the series, Breath of the Wild would feature voice acting. Link would still remain a silent protagonists, but the team decided to include fully voiced cut scenes that they recorded across 8 different languages. It was well done too and helped to tell an impactful story in a new and emotional way.

I’m not sure why the voice for Zelda sounds almost exactly like the same voice in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, but for the most part, the voice acting would prove to be very effective.

And, for the in this game. For the first time in a 3D Zelda game, Koji Kondo was not involved. I’m not sure why, maybe he was just too busy, but different talents would be behind this game. For large and dynamic world, the music chosen for the game would again be preformed by a live orchestra. Rather than sweeping melodic songs, Breath of the Wild would feature subtle, atmospheric, and emotional music. The emotion is the key to the music, with singular instruments like a piano being highlighted at different points in the game. The music reacts to what the player was doing and experiencing. While exploring, it sounded like this and while in combat, you would hear much more tense and engaging music. As a whole the music in this game went for subtlety and emotion to create storytelling and a sense of wide open sense adventure.

Breath of the Wild released in November of 2017 and it received an overwhelmingly positive reception. Tired of hearing that yet? This game was more though. Many call it the greatest video game of all time and it currently holds the largest number of perfect review scores from gaming review outlets of any game from any year. Kyle Hilliard, who used to work at Game Informer and now he works at MinnMax, said well in his review of the game, “It represents a profound new direction for one of gaming’s best franchises and a new high point for open-world interactive experiences.[5]

Critics and fans adore this game and praised its approach to the freedom of traversing the world at any pace. Current sales for Breath of the Wild have nearly tripled the sales for Ocarina of Time at over 22 Million copies sold as of the end of 2020.

It is safe to say that Aonuma was finally able to reach the highs of Ocarina of Time and create a masterpiece of a game that will be remembered fondly for many years to come.

And for Aonuma, after a lot of busy years, and a whole pile of stress, and very real problems with crunch, it is a relief to hear that the development of Breath of the Wild was an enjoyable experience.

Aonuma stated in an interview with Game Informer, “To touch on Breath of the Wild, it was really fun to develop – maybe the most fun I’ve ever had making a game. …The people who made this game didn’t have troubled faces. They were smiling the whole time they worked on it. At the start of development, with all of the new things we were doing, I definitely was worried – I had a worried face. As I saw the staff put it together, that concern started to go away. We were doing challenging new things, but we always did them with a smile. I don’t think I’ve experienced that before. The development experience was so great, and the game that came out of it was great. That’s something I’m really proud of.[6]

Over the course of 35 years, the Legend of Zelda has been a staple in video games. Cementing itself as one of the most important, consistent, influential, and inspirational video game franchises of all time. Yes, it was a successful series than made one company a lot of money, but the Legend of Zelda series is something more than that. Something special. Something truly important to most fans of video games.

From the very beginning, a legendary team was formed. With Shigeru Miyamoto wanting to create a video game that invoked the same sense of adventure he felt as a kid exploring the countryside. With Tekashi Tezuka advocating for an epic story and with inspiring hero, and Koji Kondo creating memorable and engaging melodies, together this team created a legendary game in 1986. This one game would invent a whole new genre of video games called action-adventure.

One game was not enough though. The team would go on to perfect the formula and create exactly the game they wanted to. They didn’t leave it at that though, they managed to keep creating great games and keep the series in step with advancements in technology, even pushing the envelope for what video games could be.

The series would remain fresh and be injected with new ideas through new extremely passionate talents like Eiji Aonuma. A man who quickly proved himself by creating one of the most unique and memorable games in the series despite an extremely small development window.

With their combined talent, this team would go on to reimagine what games in the series could look and feel like.

They would listen to what fans wanted and create games that met expectations while delivering something new and engaging. 

They would expand the team to create more new games for the series on as many consoles as they could, on both home console and handheld ones, making sure everyone could experience the series in some form. 

The team would never settle for more of the same though. They would take every opportunity they could to experiment with new controls and styles of gameplay, taking what worked and leaving behind what didn’t.

The team would strive to create a masterpiece at every opportunity. Aiming as high as they could with fun new ideas and big stories to create something truly memorable. If that didn’t work they would learn from their mistakes and push to create something better next time.

It would be important to the team to break away from convention and allow for new ways for players to experience these games.

Even if it had to be built from the ground up, the team would find a way to defy expectations, break conventions, and create something truly remarkable. Ultimately, they would find a way to create games that would continue to inspire and influence the medium of video games, even 35 years later.

So that is all for this episode. If you didn’t already have a huge appreciation for the Legend of Zelda series, I hop you do now. It’s an amazing series led by amazing talent that continues to influence video games in a big way.

This has been a whole heck of a lot of Zelda over these past three podcast episodes., I covered 18 games to be exact!

One more fun fact.

How many different consoles do you think these 18 games have released on over the 32 some odd years? Not including remakes…

The answer?

Fourteen consoles! Yah those 18 games came out across 14 separate consoles. The sad thing is that these games have never been properly consolidated on one Nintendo device. Unless you don’t mind getting illegal copies on a PC. The only way to play all 18 of these mainline Zelda games is if you own a minimum of 4 separate Nintendo consoles. It’s a little bit silly, but hopefully one day, on the Nintendo Switch, we will get many more playable Zelda titles.

There are more than just 18 games though, there are many more spin offs and remakes I didn’t mention.

So 3 episodes all about Zelda, but am I done with it yet? Heck no!

but am I done with it yet? Heck no!

I’ve got one more Zelda episode up my sleeve, but for this next one, I want to try something new and I NEED YOUR INPUT! Was there anything I missed or got wrong? Anything you were hoping to hear more about? Were you hoping for a deep dive into Link’s Crossbow Training. Did you know to know about those weird Phillips CDI Zelda games? I can talk about that and more on the next episode, but ONLY if you write in! This next episode will be a “mailbag” episode of sorts and I want to hear from you!

What does the Zelda series mean to you? What’s your favorite game in the series and why? How old were you when you first played a Zelda game? Did you want to hear about those things I mentioned a second ago? Then write into the show and I’ll read your comment or answer your question on this next episode. a couple ways to do that, the very best way is to email me at Questions@levelzeropodcast.com, I know email seems silly in this day in age, but its the best way for me to organize things and i’ll for sure read and or respond if you send it that way.

You can also respond to the posts I’ll be creating on Twitter and Facebook. You can also DM me on twitter or Facebook. Don’t be shy, my DM’s are open, baby.

Check out the show notes below for links to all the things. I’m putting them there.

This is time sensitive though! Mostly this show is not tied to time or news announcements or anything like that bur for this, but for this, there’s a deadline. PLEASE SEND ME YOUR QUESTION BY May 10th, 2021.  Send me your questions by May 10th.

If you’re listening to this after May 10th, I’m sorry, but still, send me your questions. Why not? I definitely want to hear it.   

I’m very excited to read your comments and answer your questions. I think this will be a fun way to tie this mini-series off.

Thank you so much for listening….

Show Notes and Links!

Ask a question or leave a comment and have it featured on the next episode! 

Email: Questions@LevelZeroPodcast.com 

Facebook: @LevelZeroPod 

Twitter: @LevelZeroPod 

*NEW* Website: LevelZeroPodcast.com 

The Legend of Zelda: Links to the Included Content 

Space World 2000 Show – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FEeECj8DqA&t=324s

Space World 2000 GameCube Highlight Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Swpn8qYhFs&t=7s  

E3 2004 – Twilight Princess Reveal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BP1I9yz1bU 

The Legend of Zelda: Links to the Extra Content 

Eiji Aonuma Profile – Did You Know Gaming – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPGnmkL4Nbw 

From Pixel to Polygons – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwKJqPWLrUg

This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app

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