Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Developers Discuss Adapting Breath of the Wild for the Warriors Series
Posted on November 20 2020 by Mark Pereira
When Breath of the Wild released in 2017, not only did it successfully launch the brand new Nintendo Switch, it also ushered in a new era for Zelda games in which gameplay and story conventions of old were thrown out the window and rebuilt from the ground up. One of the biggest changes the game brought to the series was the way in which it told the main story. When you first start the game, Link wakes up from a 100-year coma and has no memories of what happened before he woke up. Throughout the course of the game, you are able to piece together the story through various memories as you try to save Hyrule once again. Up until today, we could only see the events from 100 years ago through piecemeal memory clips, but that all changed with the release of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
Co-developed by Koei Tecmo Games and Nintendo, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is not just another entry in the popular Dynasty Warriors franchise. Similar to the 2014 release Hyrule Warriors, Age of Calamity takes the 1-vs-1,000-style gameplay of the Warriors games and applies a fresh coat of Zelda paint — but it doesn’t stop there. Koei Tecmo worked very closely with Nintendo on Age of Calamity to create a prequel to Breath of the Wild that finally allows players to see the events that lead to Link being placed in a coma and Zelda being locked in a century-long battle with Calamity Ganon.
The folks over at 4Gamer were able to chat with the developers of this unprecedented mashup, including Producer Yōsuke Hayashi, Director Ryōta Matsushita, and Zelda series Producer Eiji Aonuma, where they talked about the process of adapting the world of Breath of the Wild to the specific gameplay stylings of Warriors games. They first discussed how the idea originated:
“How did the plans for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity come about?”
Hayashi: The initial opportunity came from the people at Zelda team proposing, “Why don’t we try the Warriors treatment on the events set 100 years before Breath of the Wild?” Actually, we had taken the liberty of internally debating, “What kind of title could ever work for a follow-up to Hyrule Warriors?” but nothing ever emerged as the obvious answer and we never found that homerun idea. Thus, when the Zelda team offered their proposal we thought, “That’s it!” and completely focused our interest in the follow-up to Hyrule Warriors from that instant.
“When was the idea conceived for a spin-off title centered on the events of 100 years prior?”
Aonuma: The project itself was first suggested by Director Fujibayashi (Hidemaro Fujibayashi) after finishing production of Breath of the Wild, but seeing as it didn’t take much time for plans to come together, I suspect he had some vague plans in mind for this project even while he was still working on Breath of the Wild.
“Mr. Matsushita, what were your thoughts when you heard about this project?”
Matsushita: As both a developer and a fan of the first game, my initial thought was, “Awesome!” but then when I considered that we were actually going to draw from the events of 100 years before Breath of the Wild, my impression was, “Oh no,” honestly. Because, as a result of sending Link, who is a part of the player in Breath of the Wild, back to the events 100 years prior, I thought that must mean bringing to life his ultimate form.
Nintendo’s direct involvement in the process was unique, as this truly allowed the game to feel as if it was a living, breathing part of the world and story established in Breath of the Wild, as opposed to being a side-game merely inspired by the series (similar to Cadence of Hyrule):
“Mr. Aonuma, how were you involved in this project?”
Aonuma: I served as the bridge to proposition Mr. Hayashi with the concept project from Nintendo’s Zelda team, and provided feedback at numerous milestones during development.
“The graphics, layouts, and even reaction sounds are all faithfully used from Breath of the Wild, but was this close to Breath of the Wild design decided upon from the start?”
Hayashi: Yes, that was our approach from the start. We thought it necessary for there to be a strong connection with Breath of the Wild in order for those who completed that game to really experience “The Great Calamity of 100 years ago,” so we used as many elements from Breath of the Wild as we could.
“What were the stages of development like for determining the game design?”
Hayashi: We started from getting input from the Zelda team and Director Fujibayashi as to what the appropriate gameplay would be like for a Breath of the Wild-themed Warriors game. The gameplay of Warriors games are much more centered on “combat” than Breath of the Wild, so we settled on using the “Sheikah Slate” and “elements of nature like fire and lightning” for combat abilities in order achieve a “Breath of the Wild-like Warriors” and proceeded from there.
Matsushita: Being set during the Great Calamity 100 years ago, you take control of a Link as an active-duty soldier, so it made sense to display that “inevitable Warriors” play as a hack-in-slash battlefield… but fusing that with the expertly-designed and organized world of Breath of the Wild was a tricky balance. It took a great deal of time to accomplish the Warriors style action while maintaining that “Breath of the Wild feel” and “Zelda feel.”
It seems Nintendo and Koei Tecmo really wanted to create an experience that felt like it was a natural extension of the story hinted at in the first game. And in order to achieve that, they had to work very closely together during development:
“Aonuma-san, what sort of suggestions or advice did you receive from the [Koei Tecmo] development team?”
Aonuma:We had been able to work with [them] on the previous Hyrule Warriors game, so I knew the love their staff has for the Zelda series. Moreover, I felt that I could trust their creativity, so I was able to leave them to tag-team with the Zelda team on the finer points and look forward to seeing what they would bring to me. That is something I don’t get to experience when we’re making a Zelda game on our own.
Matsushita: Mr. Aonuma and everyone at the Zelda team were constantly offering to us “please do more.” On the one hand I was really grateful for that, and also felt that I wanted to put our nose to the grindstone and accomplish so much that the words, “do more,” won’t even come up! That was the feeling I had in development.
This close relationship between both parties helped ensure that all of the fantastic gameplay elements in the game would still ring true to the story established in Breath of the Wild. In fact, it seems one of the coolest parts that has been hinted at in recent trailers was a suggestion from the Koei Tecmo team themselves:
“Were there instances of [Koei Tecmo] hoping or requesting for something you really wanted to do?”
Matsushita: One thing was controlling the Divine Beasts. The way you operate and control your character is the main appeal of action games, and the Divine Beasts are crucial to the battle of the Calamity so that is an element we put in to feel tangibly.
I want to add that I don’t think there were any suggestions from our side that were shot down by the Zelda team. Quite the contrary, they would say things like, “it would be interesting if you push this aspect more,” and supported us in ways so that were able to raise our ceiling.
Developing a game that would be so closely tied to one of the most revered games of this recent generation was a delicate balancing act for both teams. They had already established a working rapport having developed the first Hyrule Warriors game, but this one was different:
“What were some areas where you had to be especially careful during production?”
Matsushita: We really took care to make it so that it feels clearly like playing and fighting in the world of Breath of the Wild on the one hand, while also providing new experiences for all players. We endeavored to balance feelings of both familiarity and surprise in the form of “the unknown battle” from 100 years ago.
“How was it different from production on previous Warriors games?”
Hayashi: In addition to the previous Hyrule Warriors game, I also was placed over the development of Fire Emblem Warriors, and we always have to keep in mind how we can create a Warriors game that will please the fans of those IP. Even though these games fall in the Warriors series, those IP have different fans, so we endeavor to understand their feelings throughout development.
The previous Hyrule Warriors was a “festival title.” You might also call it “Carefree Up-Tempo,” with concepts that would not be done in the main series sprinkled in, such as Ganondorf having his own story or introducing the character Linkle.
So the main difference with this game is that it is meant to be paired with Breath of the Wild, so we were strongly conscious of not losing fan support by doing too many things that would not fly in the core series.
As always, Nintendo has the final say in regards to any of their original IP. The final test for the development of this game was getting Aonuma’s stamp of approval:
“We would like to hear about Mr. Aonuma’s impressions when being showed the game for the first time and at the varying steps to completion.”
Aonuma: The first time they showed it to me running on Switch, they had given too much respect to the work of Breath of the Wild, but my honest impression was, “This is no different from any other Warriors game.” But Mr. Hayashi had already identified that as a concern more than I had, and from that point was devising various ways to make “a Warriors experience unique to this title,” so that by the second time they showed it to me there were elements all over that made me feel like, “I see! Here’s what became of that,” which I expressed subconsciously with audible grunts.
After that I felt that the unique gameplay aspects were being polished more and more, growing deeper in terms of replayability and other elements, but I was not able to completely experience all of those elements of gameplay during the time of development, so I’ve been looking forward to the official release to start over once more and play from the beginning myself.
Matsushita: The playable demo we showed him the second time was one for which we aimed to give players fresh experiences more than just “a Breath of the Wild experience,” and we endeavored to provide a feeling of the “before and after of Carefree Up-Tempo.”
I put that message most strongly of all into Link’s Remote Bombs, precisely at the time when we did throwing four bombs at full power. The answer was, “The approach of what’s unique to this game should incorporate the flavor particular to the Warriors series.” I think this version of work is a significant turning point for the development team in evolving what a “regular Warriors game” means.
By the looks of all of the trailers released so far and the Chapter One demo that was released a few weeks ago, it really does seem that both teams were able to work together to create a unique game that helps flesh out the world of one of the greatest video games of all time. If this game delivers on everything it is promising, along with the upcoming sequel due over the next year or so, it looks like we will be spending a lot more time in the Breath of the Wild Hyrule for years to come — and that is a great thing.
What did you think about the discussion of adapting the world of Breath of the Wild to the gameplay elements of Dynasty Warriors? Would you like to see more games like this in the future? Let us know in the comments below!
Translation by Dark Isatari