Interview:Iwata Asks: Skyward Sword (Volume Eight: Those Who Played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Hundreds of Hours)

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Iwata Asks: Skyward Sword (Volume Eight: Those Who Played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for Hundreds of Hours)


November 25, 2011




Aonuma and Iwata reflect on the 25th Anniversary Symphony Concerts and on comments from testers and translators, with Fujibayashi chiming in toward the end.



Music Awakening Memory

Iwata: Aonuma-san, today I would like to begin by asking about your experience on the concert tour covering Japan, America and Europe. I just happened to be on business trips so I couldn't attend any of the concerts, but everyone who went talks about it with joy.
Aonuma: Yes! (laughs) I'm so thankful that everyone who came said it was excellent.
Iwata: I've heard that many people had tears in their eyes as they listened.
Aonuma: That's right. I did, as well. By listening to a live orchestra, various feelings awakened within me. Tears formed, and throughout the concert, I felt elated and chills ran up and down my spine.
Iwata: Not just for a moment, but during the whole concert.
Aonuma: Yes. In Japan, many people listened with tears in their eyes. Even the presenter was surprised.
Iwata: I suppose everyone remembered their experiences playing the games. Music has the power to awaken memories.
Aonuma: During the overseas concerts, images from the games were projected on a screen. In my case, I remembered making the games.
Iwata: Oh, right. (laughs) Your memories include making the games.
Aonuma: Yes. Hard times and all sorts of times! (laughs) My memories of those times came back to me vividly.
Iwata: I hear that the concert in Los Angeles, everyone cheered as they listened. (laughs)
Aonuma: America was quite an experience!
Iwata: When I first heard about it, a rock concert is one thing, but I thought people cheering during a concert of classical-style music was an exaggeration…
Aonuma: They really did cheer! (laughs) Not the whole time, of course, but when the music and images changed, they were like, "Yaaaaay!"
Iwata: Wow. (laughs)
Aonuma: Unable to contain themselves, they must have given voice to their feelings, like it simply wasn't an occasion for sitting and quietly listening.
Iwata: Perhaps that's a difference between Western culture, which is less hesitant to express emotion, and Japanese culture, which encourages a certain restraint.
Aonuma: There was a clear difference.
Iwata: Did England make a different impression than America?
Aonuma: I had heard speculation that the audiences wouldn't be quite as effusive, but that wasn't true. (laughs) They were comparatively quiet at the beginning and during the middle of songs, but when each song ended, the clapping and cheers were immense.
Iwata: Like, "Yaaaaay!" again?
Aonuma: Yes. (laughs) That was about the same. In London, Ms. Zelda Williams came on stage as a guest and everyone went wild.
Iwata: (Koji) Kondo-san played a piano solo for the encore.
Aonuma: That's right. He was so cool that I was like (writhing), "I want to play piano, too!" (laughs)
Iwata: (laughs) I heard that he played something from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Which song was it?
Aonuma: He played "Grandma's Theme." It's not a famous song, but everyone knew it. And what was really amazing was he hadn't even practiced!
Iwata: Huh? He jumped straight into the performance without a rehearsal?
Aonuma: Yes. Kondo-san said he chose it because there was no way he could mess it up. (laughs) Apparently, he was more jittery over the speech afterward.
Iwata: That's a lot like him. (laughs)
Aonuma: The moment he finished his emotional performance, everyone rose to their feet for a standing ovation. It was like, "The maestro is here!"
Iwata: That's incredible!
Aonuma: While the people in each of the three places may express their emotions in varying ways, I think the feeling in their hearts is the same.
Iwata: As you accompanied the concert, you met with the overseas media. How was the response?
Aonuma: Quite strong.
Iwata: I heard that many oversea critics who are known for their harsh reviews gave it high remarks.
Aonuma: Right. On top of that, almost everyone said that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the greatest game in the history of the series.
Iwata: Until now, the same thing was said of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Aonuma: Of course, the games since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time received favorable reviews, but they say it far surpasses them. And they ask how we were able to do it. They're all eager to know the reason. But it's really difficult to give a simple answer.
Iwata: Nonetheless, later on I would like to ask why you were able to do it. For now, though, did anything else on this tour across the world make an impression on you?
Aonuma: The European media was a little different. They invited enthusiastic fans to accompany the interviews.
Iwata: Did they ask questions themselves?
Aonuma: Yes. One fan was the winner of the Legend of Zelda fan movie contest, so he really loves the series.
Iwata: What was his movie like?
Aonuma: It was a 2D stop-motion animation of Zelda made from paper. That alone was amazing, but it also included elements from the whole series. Supposedly, it took a week to make, but it was so amazing that you'd think it was impossible in that amount of time.
Iwata: We really appreciate such dedication. What did those enthusiastic fans want to ask and talk to you about?
Aonuma: First, they would say which titles in the series they like, and then, without fail, say that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was even better.
Iwata: But they haven't played it yet, have they?
Aonuma: No. (laughs) Nonetheless, they were adamant, saying, "I can tell just by the videos!" (laughs) They'd say, "Because it looks like we can do such-and-such and such-and-such!" And they're right.
Iwata: They haven't actually played it, but they have interpreted, in their own way, information gleaned from the videos we've released.
Aonuma: So it seems. In conclusion, they were like, "Anyway, we can't wait to play it!"
Iwata: That must be something other than pure expectation. Usually, that would be unthinkable when only a small portion of the game's content has been released to the public. (laughs)
Aonuma: I think it has thoroughly gotten across to them this time. Talking to the media and fans, I could sense from their excitement that they have grasped this game's density of content.

Battles Are Puzzles Too

Iwata: Now, I'd like to do something a little different for "Iwata Asks." We had a massive amount of debuggers play Skyward Sword for hundreds of hours.
Aonuma: Play time of 600 to 700 hours was common, while some played as much as 1,000.
Iwata: Usually after playing something that much, you wouldn't ever want to see it again! But they all said they want to buy it and play it again when it comes out.
Aonuma: They really did. And they weren't just being polite.
Iwata: When I heard that, I became incredibly interested in exactly what it was they felt while debugging. What I would really like to do is invite them all and talk to them, but that's not feasible.
Aonuma: I'd think not. (laughs)
Iwata: So I proposed having them write down their opinions and reactions in order to participate in this session of "Iwata Asks" virtually.
Aonuma: Like the session of "Iwata Asks" to Mario Club Co., Ltd.
Iwata: Yes. We received comments from Mario Club Co., Ltd. in Japan and various people involved in debugging and translation and so on from America, Europe and South Korea. I'd like to introduce some of those comments and talk about them.

●This game was more interesting and fresher the more times I played it—in my second and third rounds. I'm fascinated by how hard it is to come up with an explanation for that.

Aonuma: This person from South Korea played 880 hours.
Iwata: That many?! And he's the first one on our list! (laughs)
Aonuma: Yes. (laughs) I can understand that the game gets more interesting the more you play it, but this also says it stays fresh.
Iwata: Usually, when you repeatedly play parts you already know, they get old.
Aonuma: Someone from Europe provides a concrete reason for that.

●There are different ways of solving puzzles, but I'm always surprised when I find a new way to defeat an enemy. When I change the way I do something, or do things in a different order, or move a different way by chance, I make new discoveries.

Aonuma: This person finds a new way of beating enemies every time.
Iwata: Could that be because the Wii Remote Plus controller increases the game's expressivity and variation?
Aonuma: I think so. There's an infinite number of combinations, so when you play it multiple times, your skill improves and you naturally do something different even in the same place. And when you try something new, you make a new discovery.
Iwata: So that's why they still want to play even after hundreds of hours.
Aonuma: They can sense that there are things they haven't done yet.
Iwata: I think that is without precedent for single-player games.
Aonuma: During debugging, I played the same places multiple times myself and didn't mind.
Iwata: Why do you think that was?
Aonuma: Well, in my case, one factor was that the game was still under development, so it improved rapidly, but I wanted to try out strategies I had heard about or seen others do. Sometimes I was doing something lame when a much smarter solution was available! (laughs)
Iwata: I see. (laughs) The folks in Mario Club Co., Ltd. are experienced and can easily find the optimal way to master the game. It's quite something that they're saying, "There's more depth there."

●Something I have always enjoyed in the Legend of Zelda series so far is solving puzzles. In addition to that, this game has the considerable appeal of enjoying fights. Looking for weak points and exploring reactions to attacks in each situation is fun.

It's exhilarating to use your head in battle to skillfully defeat an opponent. The battles are a lot of fun.

Iwata: This is a refreshing comment to me. I appreciate the way it expresses the appeal of the game so straightforwardly.
Aonuma: That's right. I told the overseas media that even the battles involve puzzle-solving. Those words came out very naturally.
Iwata: In addition to the puzzles prepared by the developers, this game also has limitless puzzle-solving in the battles.
Aonuma: Unlike battles carried out by pushing buttons, you can try all sorts of moves and discover how your opponents' reactions change accordingly. Those in the media also said that is fun.
Iwata: That is common to everyone.
Aonuma: Yes. The Legend of Zelda was originally a single-player game, but I've always thought that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may be more fun played together with others.
Iwata: Why do you think that?
Aonuma: I wonder how others play, but I also want to show how I play. I think that feeling will naturally arise in those who play the game from now on. Friends and siblings and other family members having a good time playing together isn't something that was possible in previous games in the series, but I'm sure it must be fun.
Iwata: And aside from really sharp fighting methods, you may make some new discoveries by wildly swinging the sword around.

●In the first few moments, when Link has the sword in his hands, I was surprised by the sense of immersion as I was playing the game.

At the same time, for a little while afterward, I had to fight against my tendency to wildly swing around the Wii Remote Plus. In order to defeat an enemy, you have to observe their weak point and move with precision in accordance with it.

But once you conquer that bad habit and master control of the game and swordplay, the real thrill of all kinds of fights, whether against weak opponents or big bosses, becomes clear.

●My attitude towards Link has changed compared to previous games in the series. Before, I was controlling Link, but this time I become Link myself. That is totally different.

Aonuma: That first comment is from the leader in charge of the French translation.
Iwata: We can imagine him getting used to the Wii Remote Plus as he describes his experience.
Aonuma: People in Europe wrote about what they experienced as if it were a story. Reading their comments, how they felt comes across. It was like they couldn't go without expressing their exact feelings as they were absorbed in the world of the game.
Iwata: The second comment is by someone who played the game 20 times!
Aonuma: He mentions becoming Link. That's deep.
Iwata: In The Legend of Zelda, you can see Link on the screen, so it's in third-person perspective, but this person felt a unison with Link.
Aonuma: Until now, there has been a fixed idea that unless a game is first-person perspective, there are limits to how much you can get into it. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may be able to overturn that.


●The design of this game is simple. I can't say it enough. This Legend of Zelda game is simple. Simple in every way.

Aonuma: This is another deep comment. (laughs)
Iwata: As this person says, the basic structure is simple. The role of each element is clearly defined. And the thoroughness of each one is…dense. (laughs)
Aonuma: Yes. (laughs) Precisely because of the simple structure, we could put in so much.
Iwata: It's simple and deep.
Aonuma: That's right. I think that simplicity makes you feel you can play it over and over. Leaving the hub of the adventures, Skyloft, to go down to the surface feels so easy it's like taking a little jaunt out into your neighborhood. (laughs)
Iwata: That idea is like the course selection screen in Super Mario. You can just hop on down and have an adventure.
Aonuma: The fact that we changed the save system for this time around must have something to do with it too. Until now in The Legend of Zelda, you could always save anywhere, but when you started again, you were back at Link's house or at the entrance to a dungeon, rather than where you saved. The point was that starting in a place you had already been through would help you grow accustomed to the world and feel as if you were proceeding smoothly.
Iwata: That was the "Zelda method" up until now.
Aonuma: But now, if you lost to a dungeon boss, for example, and had to start all over at the beginning, you'd mostly just find that stressful. If you thought of a way to beat that boss, you wouldn't be able to try it out right away.
Iwata: I see. So you devised a way to shorten that time cycle so you could try out what you had thought of right away.
Aonuma: That's right. This time, we set save points at specific locations. It's structured so you can try out all sorts of things from that point. That also led to simplicity.
Iwata: This time, the trial-and-error mechanism, including the way to save, is done really well. In a simple step, you can try out your ideas right away, so you don't feel stress in various scenes of the game. In the same period of time, you can do one thing after the next. That's why you can have such dense play experience in the same playing minute.

●The first version of this game that I played was the Japanese version, but I didn't understand the Japanese at all. But when I played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I wasn't aware of that and played without any trouble. People use languages like English and Japanese to communicate, but in the world of The Legend of Zelda, that wasn't necessary.}}

Aonuma: That comment is from someone in France. He said that even though he didn't understand the words, he could tell what he should do next just from the character's demeanor and other events taking place in the screen.
Iwata: Aonuma-san, this is incredible. This is the comment that I would never hit upon for myself without being told from a third party's perspective. I mean, we've always thought that The Legend of Zelda was a game that you couldn't do without a certain amount of verbal explanation.
Aonuma: Yes. As developers, we want to explain little by little what lies ahead and have the players move ahead as they figure it out. We thought it was impossible to convey that without words, but this time, it appears it got across without that.
Iwata: It seems so.
Aonuma: But I suppose it got across and you can then enjoy its unfolding depths precisely because it's so fundamentally simple. This reminded me of how important simplicity is in The Legend of Zelda.
Iwata: It's a tricky area for developers. There's fear over whether that simplicity will satisfy the players, isn't there?
Aonuma: Indeed, a lot is demanded of the Legend of Zelda series. I always worried that the players won't be satisfied if it isn't complicated.
Iwata: Especially as the series builds up, it tends to get overwrought.
Aonuma: The developers think that a more sophisticated game will provide surprises and awaken the player's inquisitiveness. But that isn't necessarily true. At first glance, it appears contradictory, but I really learned that this time—like in The North Wind and the Sun. (laughs)
Iwata: Yes. (laughs) That's a good example.

●People today enjoy short-term success and rewards. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword provides that.

Aonuma: This is from someone at NOA. I think what we mentioned earlier about making it easier to start over is a big part of that. I think that matches the needs of people today.
Iwata: And, you constantly experience moments of how fun it is to swing the sword, so you never get bored.
Aonuma: It's true that you hardly ever feel like you're being forced to do something. Especially overseas, they tend to demand a lot of freedom and don't care much for RPGs with a single path forward. In the case of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there may only be one path system-wise, but you never get the impression that there is no freedom.
Iwata: Because each battle is full of freedom?
Aonuma: Yes, I think so. Tons of stuff shows up that you want to try. I think that's important.

●When you play it, it looks similar, but it is clearly different, especially with regard to battles with Wii Remote Plus and the revolutionary item selection system.

●It's all the same, and yet entirely different, from the previous Zelda games.

●I've never been very good at video games, so I've never cleared one before. But this game tells you where to go next, with the Sheikah Stone videos to offer assistance, so I think more people will be able to play to the end.

●It's a dream come true! Link can run! Enemies guard! (Unthinkable in The Legend of Zelda so far.) And traveling through the sky! There's a high degree of freedom and it satisfies the desire everyone has to fly.

●The enemies have personality. They don't just get beat. They live and walk around and you can sense their desire to impede Link's way.

●The player always feels as if he has true friends who will back him up. This game moved me more than any other I have played.

●Something different about the game is that some adults are hopeless.

Iwata: I introduced them together, but these are all comments responding to the question of what is the same and what is different compared to previous Legend of Zelda games.
Aonuma: That last person continued with something funny, so I'll introduce that, too.

●Among the NPCs [non-player characters], there's Pipit's Mother who spends all the money her son saves doing night patrol, Owlan who tells his student who is running around to save Zelda that he is looking for a new species of plant as a hobby, and Jakamar who shows no sign of looking for his daughter who has disappeared.

Iwata: Right, they're are pretty hopeless. They have a lot of character! (laughs) But I can sense the love behind this comment.
Aonuma: In general, a lot of comments said the characters are incredibly charming.
Iwata: I think the characters in the series have been plenty charming so far, so why do you think people say that is especially true this time?
Aonuma: As mentioned in the previous comment, I think the biggest reason is that aside from the regular characters that appear, you sense that the enemies have personality as well. A big part of that is the effect of their battle reactions, and how Fi provides these brief explanations, like how the Bokoblins are obsessed with underpants. (laughs) They are actually the elements needed for the gameplay, but everyone gets a sense like "I bet this guy is like this."
Iwata: I see. Something else that surprised me is how everyone has their own feelings and how the points and details they mention are so different.
Aonuma: Yes, that's right. Everyone's comments are so different.
Iwata: Everyone thinks fighting is fun, but when it comes to which characters they like or what things are good, they cheerfully mention all sorts of things. That is a really good thing. I'm happy about it.

Revolution and Intuition

●I remember playing The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening on my Game Boy as a child, but I hadn't played any games in the series since. When I heard that I would work on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I wasn't sure what to think. But playing this game was so awesome that I instantly became a fan.

Iwata: This comment is from the translator who was in charge of German.
Aonuma: A lot of people say that they were playing the series for practically the first time. I'm so happy that people like that can play for hundreds of hours and say, "I want to play more!"

●One appeal of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a return to the origins of the series. It departs from the mold set by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for a welcome change and is worthy of the crown of The Legend of Zelda.

Aonuma: The extreme simplicity is linked to a return to the origins of the series, giving birth to a newness that is similar but different.
Iwata: As we return to the issue that arose earlier about why you could pull off such a revolution, I would like the game's director, Fujibayashi-san, who has been present as an observer, to participate.
Fujibayashi: All right, thank you.
Iwata: So, Aonuma-san, what is behind the revolution this game represents?
Aonuma: That's not easily summarized, but everything that has accumulated until now and the influence of Fujibayashi-san's personality as director are both important.
Iwata: Where did the game begin accumulating things from?
Aonuma: To be specific, I think The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time became the standard for me for home console Legend of Zelda games. The series built up from there and nothing ever got made from scratch. I think subconsciously there was a strongly conservative voice saying, "This has to be this way," and "If you change it too much, people won't like it."
Iwata: A series with a tradition behind it can't avoid that kind of complication.
Aonuma: I've always felt that, and after we made Twilight Princess, I assumed an objective position as producer of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS system and made all sorts of unreasonable requests with regard to that to Fujibayashi-san, who was the subdirector. (laughs)
Iwata: So…Fujibayashi-san?
Fujibayashi: Yes, I did get a lot of unreasonable requests. (laughs) And that led to Skyward Sword.
Iwata: I think your circumstances this time were like those of Miyamoto-san during Super Mario 64. At the time, Miyamoto-san chose, from among all the various ways of making Super Mario games, what to leave in, what to throw out and what new to add. Everyone still talks about the shock of that, and the game has demonstrated certain methods for all the 3D games that followed. The Legend of Zelda franchise also has done the same thing with Ocarina of Time.
Fujibayashi Yes, that's right.:
Iwata: You've been making 2D Legend of Zelda games for a long time. On the basis of that experience, you attempted your first 3D Legend of Zelda this time for a home console. With the know-how that has built up over the years and expert staff members—and Aonuma-san and Miyamoto-san as well—it was the best environment for developing a 3D game, and I think you must have experienced the same thing that Miyamoto-san did back then.
Fujibayashi: Yes. I really was blessed.
Aonuma: I'm quite jealous. I can't experience that anymore.
Iwata: Your struggle night and day continues but now faced with an even higher hurdle. (laughs)
Aonuma: I really don't know what to do! (laughs) For the next one, if we will build on the methods we established this time, we might end up getting into a rut.
Fujibayashi: That's difficult. I'm thinking about the next game, too, and I feel like the hurdle is really high.
Aonuma: But there is a lot left that we didn't do this time.
Iwata: You have limited time and people, so there's bound to be something left over. But five years is a long time. (laughs) Can't you do it in three years next time?
Aonuma: Sorry! You're right! (laughs wryly)
Fujibayashi: Sorry, I'll think of something that can happen in three years!
Iwata: You must be surprised to hear all these great comments today, are you blushing?
Fujibayashi: Well, I'm speechless! (laughs) Listening today, I felt as if I may have achieved a little of what I tried to learn from Miyamoto-san. It's a little hard to say, but…
Iwata: What is it? Go ahead.
Fujibayashi: When I've made games, I've always thought, "Why is it that Miyamoto-san's games sell for 10 or 20 years?" What I thought was that Miyamoto-san's games are about intuition rather than culture. To make an extreme example, the exciting points would be the same for cavemen as it is for us who're in the present. You don't need linguistic or cultural knowledge.
Aonuma: That's right.
Fujibayashi: Earlier, we heard from someone overseas who said that the game could be enjoyed even without understanding Japanese, and I thought, "Oh, have we been able to make it so that people can play with intuition?" It was entirely uncalculated to me, but I feel like Miyamoto-san's genes, cultivated throughout the 25 years of the history of The Legend of Zelda unexpectedly generated a landmark with this title that took back from the origins of the series.
Iwata: When Miyamoto-san made Ocarina of Time, it involved packing contents into a much smaller box than we have today, and he must have wondered how to do it, so tons of knowledge and innovation were necessary. This time, you were able to pour lots of energy into how you could be considerate toward the player.
Fujibayashi: That's right.
Iwata: Meanwhile, the two of you established an incredibly simple structure and packed in depth, volume and variation. Doing it that way opened a new frontier.
Fujibayashi: Yes.
Aonuma: I think so, too.
Iwata: Aonuma-san, what did you think today?
Aonuma: I keenly felt how lucky I am. I'm lucky to have kept working on The Legend of Zelda all these years, and I think I was able to hit upon an answer together with Fujibayashi-san and Miyamoto-san for a challenge we had been thinking about for a long time. And this isn't the end. Rather, I feel like we can keep moving forward. It isn't good to rely on luck or chance, but that's how I feel.
Fujibayashi: Aonuma-san, that's important. Nothing happens by chance.
Iwata: No matter how much you plan, there is no guarantee. You plunge ahead toward what you can't see, and results are born of a mix of what turns out as planned and what doesn't and the unexpected.
Aonuma: Making games all this time, I've experienced that to a certain degree, but I can say that the synergy this time was greater than I had ever experienced before.
Iwata: Frankly, I think what you mean to say is "We made something awesome!" (laughs) Aonuma-san, you are a lucky person.
Aonuma: Without a doubt. This is its 25th anniversary, so The Legend of Zelda must be lucky, too! (laughs)
Iwata: Thanks to the powers above.
Aonuma: Yes. "Skyward" is a good word to describe Nintendo!
Iwata: Aonuma-san, Fujibayashi-san, and everyone who provided us with comments this time, thank you. "Iwata Asks" about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is complete for now. Thank you very much.