Saturday, 3 March 2012

Nintendo Discusses Story and Complexity in Zelda

Whether it's collecting every last bit of flora and fauna, crafting new weaponry or talking to each and every person in an environment, modern RPGs are becoming increasingly complex. For the most part this practice is being embraced by developers, and the complexity of these games is rising just as fast as their graphical embellishments. Even the role of storytelling in modern games has reached new heights, with dense, grand adventures that rival movies.

Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series seems to have resisted or avoided such a detail-obsessed sensibility, opting instead for broad gameplay concepts and a more layered, active and engaging approach to combat. However the arrival of Skyward Sword started to add more attention to minutiae. Suddenly bugs, minerals and other assorted collectables could be used to upgrade potions, shields and other equipment. Though the series has long featured weaponry and armor that evolves, it seemed as though its developers have been keeping an eye on what other franchises are doing - all the while trying to contain how much complexity seeps into the series.

Similarly, Skyward Sword's story seemed to elevate the franchise's standards to new heights. By tracing back to the origins of the series, Zelda fans were treated to bold, sweeping, cinematic storytelling, seemingly indicating a new focus for Nintendo's development teams. We recently had a chance to ask Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma, via e-mail, about the roles of complexity, training and story in Skyward Sword.

"I'm not really opposed to adding more complexity to Zelda," Aonuma told us. "However, I don't think Zelda needs complicated elements that have to be mastered before a player can enjoy the core of the game's appeal. I think Zelda should be a game that is simple but that also has enough depth and variety to enable players to continue to make new discoveries."

Skyward Sword took the series to new heights.
The producer went on to describe his thoughts towards introductory areas in more modern Zelda titles, and whether current iterations really needed to teach combat, movement and control. 

"The tutorial process in [Skyward Sword] wasn't designed with the specific goal of educating new players. The process was designed to let the player become familiar with the world of Skyloft and to communicate with its residents," Aonuma told us. "After the tutorial process, Zelda disappears and Link has to descend by himself to the unexplored surface world. The intent of the tutorial is to give players a strong connection to Skyloft, which is Link's home, and to Zelda." 

With every element of Zelda seemingly more bound to the game's overall story - including the introduction - we asked Aonuma if there was an intentional focus on the game's narrative this time around. Somewhat to our surprise, Aonuma said that wasn't the case. "We're always trying to incorporate story elements into Zelda games in a balanced manner," Aonuma told us. "If you're saying that the story stood out more than anything else, then I feel like we need to work harder to achieve the right balance in the next Zelda game." (For the record, Aonuma-san, the story didn't stand out more than anything else!) 

Stay tuned for more from our conversation with Eiji Aonuma, including his thoughts on the nature of freedom in Zelda gameplay, why the Zelda timeline was released and a small comment on Zelda for the Nintendo 3DS. 


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