- "Koizumi-san the romantic … had quite a large influence over the general direction of The Legend of Zelda series." - Satoru Iwata
Yoshiaki Koizumi (born April 29th, 1968 in Japan) originally had no interest in video games. He graduated in 1991 from Osaka University of Arts, where he studied film, drama, animation, and storyboarding in the hopes of becoming a film director. His dream was to create characters and tell their stories with dramatic tension as they act toward accomplishment in their own world. Although the Famicom came out when he was in sixth grade, his first experience with video games wasn't until he borrowed one from a friend in college to play Super Mario Bros. Being inexperienced and not good at action games, Mario was very difficult and he died frequently. "And it was at that point that it occurred to me, what do first-time players think of games like this? You jump right in and you just die over and over again. I found it a little easier to play Zelda, because Link has three hearts. It's not like you touch something once and then you're dead."
Nintendo was close to his university, and gave him an opportunity to work for them after he graduated. At this time, he embraced video games as an interesting way to create unique dramas that couldn't be expressed as films.
A Link to the Past
Koizumi's first assignment at Nintendo was to put together the artwork and layout of the manual for A Link to the Past. The drawing and writing involved in this project made it just the right fit for him. As he worked, the lack of any solid Zelda mythos became evident. Game elements had no meaning, and there was no peripheral story to create the feeling of a believable Zelda universe. Needing a backstory to put in the manual, Koizumi was responsible for creating many of the now traditional and well-known Zelda legends, including that of the Golden Goddesses and that of the Triforce. The Triforce had existed since the first game, but its origins were not explained until A Link to the Past, and repeated in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.
- "Though Tanabe is usually credited as being most directly responsible for Zelda's storyline during these early years, it was actually Koizumi, with his background in film and storyboarding and a desire to bring powerful drama to video games, who did much of the heavy lifting."
- -Mike Damiani
One of these stories that Koizumi developed, likely in conjunction with Tanabe who was in charge of the game script, was the Imprisoning War. This particular story becomes arguably the most pivotal series of events in the entire Zelda chronology as well as the basis of an entire game in whose development he would play a major role just five years later. Unfortunately, the story was not written with future games in mind. A Link to the Past being only the third Zelda game, Miyamoto and the rest of the developers had not yet learned of the series' future success and the importance of leaving stories ambiguous enough that they can be expanded upon in future games. Because of this, the Imprisoning War story faces a lot of inconsistencies and possible retcons as more stories are built around it. The positive outcome then is of course that theorists have the opportunity to come up with clever ways of making sense out of it.
The next game that Koizumi worked on did not have this problem. For Link's Awakening, fellow writer Tanabe was given by the game's director, Takashi Tezuka, a list of things not to include in the game: there would be no Hyrule, no Triforce, and no Zelda. This gave him and Koizumi a lot more freedom to implement their superb story ideas without the burden of keeping the canon in mind. Tanabe explains, "I recall having a lot of trouble with storyline consistency in ALttP, and this meant I could leave out the stuff that got bottlenecked. … I then wrote a script that fit my vision of an egg hatching on a mountaintop ending the world with Koizumi's 'Your dream? Or someone else's dream?' Koizumi worked on the main thread of the story and I did the odd characters."
Following with most of the early Zelda titles, which were developed gameplay first, story second, they didn't need a writer until later in development. When the time came to work on the story, they called Koizumi in from another division. Like his last Zelda game, he came in to work on the manual, and again, it didn't have much of a story in place, so he had to make it up himself. Link's Awakening had a unique development process, which was more like an after-school club than the disciplined teams with well-defined roles that create software today. People did whatever work needed to be done, and Koizumi ended up making the story for the entire game. Miyamoto didn't give the team much attention as producer, so Koizumi had almost free reign as long as he didn't push the story too much and make Miyamoto angry.
- "So when it came to Link's Awakening, I wanted to make something that, while it would be small enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep and distinctive characteristics."
- -Takashi Tezuka
The conditions were just right to allow Koizumi to use his imagination and present to us a unique and captivating story. It was the first of its kind in Zelda, as Aonuma comments: "It wasn't until The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening that the series started having a proper plot." Previous games had some backstory and progressive objectives, but Koizumi considers themes like "save the princess" to be goals, not story. For Link's Awakening, he was able to add characters to interact with and continue the story throughout the game. Even the Nightmares whose behaviors he designed were directly related to the story and had dialog to show it.
Ocarina of Time
The Wind Waker
- Iwata Asks: Zelda Handheld History
- Interview: Super Mario Galaxy Director On Sneaking Stories Past Miyamoto, Wired, 4 Dec 2007
- Link's Awakening DX Developer Questionaire, via GlitterBerri, scans by Lavacopter
- Iwata Asks: Spirit Tracks
- 1101: OoT Animations*
- OoT - Half Done By Mario*
- GDC '99*
- Spaceworld '01*
- 3-day system*
- z-target, epona*
- Iwata Asks: Zelda Handheld History
- Link's Awakening Staff interview
- Link's Awakening DX Staff Questionaire
- Interview: Super Mario Galaxy Director On Sneaking Stories Past Miyamoto, Wired, 4 Dec 2007.
- Interview: Nintendo's Unsung Star, Edge, 6 Feb 2008.
- Iwata Asks: Ocarina of Time 3D
- Zelda: Majora's Mask came to me in a dream - Koizumi
- *Some interviews used in the construction of this article are no longer available on ZD. They will be added here as they are uploaded. External links will also be changed to the corresponding ZD document.