During E3 2014, I was lucky enough to sit down with the key figures behind Hyrule Warriors for Wii U. I spoke with Tecmo Koei producer Hisashi Koinuma and development producer Yosuke Hayashi, as well as The Legend of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma from Nintendo.
We discussed how Dynasty Warriors and Zelda came together, what it's going to feel like as a fan from either series and how much freedom Tecmo Koei had with the popular Nintendo franchise.
MMGN: How did this partnership between The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors begin?
Mr. Hayashi: Tecmo Koei has developed several collaboration titles in which they bring in other IP within the realm of Dynasty Warriors. This time we wanted to create a Zelda version of Dynasty Warriors, so we approached Mr. Miyamoto with the idea.
Mr. Aonuma: As fortune would have it, at the time Tecmo Koei approached us with this idea, I just happened to be playing one of the collaborative titles in the Dynasty Warriors series. I was actually thinking to myself ‘it would be really fun if the Zelda universe were to play out in this space’. Then I was told this proposal had been made and we, Nintendo, got on board.
Can you tell me about the relationship between Link and Zelda in Hyrule Warriors?
Mr. Hayashi: In Hyrule Warriors Princess Zelda is actually Queen Zelda. She has an army, as a Queen would, and Link is a trainee, but as the story unfolds the relationship between the two greatly changes.
Just because [Zelda's] one way in one game, it doesn’t mean she’ll be the same way in the next game. We definitely change how Zelda is used and position her where it’s best for the experience - Eiji Aonuma
We’re seeing Zelda take a stronger heroine role as Queen and as a playable character in Hyrule Warriors. Will that lead to her having a more prominent role in future Zelda and related games?
Mr. Aonuma: With regard to Princess Zelda and her position in each story, we always position her where it’s best suited for that story or theme. We always try to achieve her best position within the story with each game or iteration. Just because she’s one way in one game, it doesn’t mean she’ll be the same way in the next game. We definitely change how Zelda is used and position her where it’s best for the experience. That’s as Queen and one of the playable characters in Hyrule Warriors.
With so many different playable characters, do players pick who they're playing as or do they automatically change as the story unfolds?
Mr. Koinuma: As you progress through the story, the characters unlock. So you’re able to play with different characters as the story progresses and most of the stages have fixed characters, so you play with certain characters depending on the stages – but then there are some stages in which you can choose which character to play as.
As a Tecmo Koei developed game, how did the members of the development team become assigned to the project, and what’s Nintendo’s role been overseeing the development? Did anyone from Nintendo join the development team?
Mr. Aonuma: In terms of the players involved from Nintendo, it’s mostly just me. Nintendo’s role is actually more of an advisory role, so the development is completely up to Tecmo Koei.
Were there any major issues in combining two such iconic franchises from different publishers? I imagine there had to be some rules in terms of what can and cannot be done when it comes to both series.
Mr. Hayashi: Our main goal in Hyrule Warriors is to create an action game in which players play as a variety of characters from the Zelda world with gameplay that feels really good. The act of taking down enemies with one fell swoop needs to feel natural like it does in the Zelda series.
I gave them a lot of freedom and told them that they didn’t have to be so careful with taking Zelda elements and putting them into Hyrule Warriors ...
I gave them so much freedom that I told them they could almost break the Zelda elements - Eiji Aonuma
As we take these elements from the Zelda universe and implement them in the traditionally Dynasty Warriors environment, we use care with everything that we do. We try to incorporate as many aspects of Zelda that fans will appreciate into this different universe, but with every step along the way we were very careful to make sure it fit the Dynasty Warriors environment.
Mr. Aonuma: When I was speaking with the development team at Tecmo Koei, I actually told them to do things differently. I gave them a lot of freedom and told them that they didn’t have to be so careful with taking Zelda elements and putting them into Hyrule Warriors.
As I was working with them, I found the development team has lots of fans of the Zelda franchise, so they were the ones who put it upon themselves to take such a high level of care with the Zelda elements, not me or Nintendo. I gave them so much freedom that I told them they could almost break the Zelda elements a little if they had to, but they didn’t. They were very, very cautious and very careful.
Did that freedom lead to any unexpected surprises you never expected to see with Zelda characters?
Mr. Aonuma: Oh yeah! [laughs]
There were times when I saw things that exceeded even my imagination. In the same way the progress on development showed me a lot of surprises, and left me in awe, I think Zelda fans will experience the same feelings of surprise when they get to play Hyrule Warriors.
The two-player mode looks really intriguing. Aside from having a separate screen, what benefits are there to gameplay having the second player using the GamePad?
Mr. Hayashi: Co-op play is something we’ve done plenty of times before in Dynasty Warriors games, and it’s usually something that happens with a splitscreen, where two people are sharing one TV screen. With the Wii U, we decided to take full advantage of the screen that’s on the GamePad that allows both players to play fullscreen from their own perspectives, which is something we haven’t been able to do before.
For example, if someone is playing alone, by themselves, and their younger brother should happen to walk up and say he wants to give it a shot, you can play co-op mode with each of you having your own screens as the game is intended to be played. Zelda is traditionally an experience that one has alone, so this is one of the few times players can experience that world and these characters with someone else while having a bit of banter between each other working together to clear a stage.
So does that mean it’s one game played single-player or co-op, or are we talking about a completely separate co-op mode?
Mr. Hayashi: Rather than a separate two-player mode, Hyrule Warriors has missions that can be challenged either alone or with two players – you always have that option.
I played it yesterday and loved the hectic combat – taking down 1000 enemies with Link in 10 minutes was awesome – but are there more puzzle elements that Zelda fans will be familiar with?
We don’t have the traditional puzzle-solving of Zelda, but there are puzzle-solving elements built upon the essence of Zelda puzzles - Yosuke Hayashi
Mr Hayashi: Hyrule Warriors takes place in this expansive battlefield where the player has a lot of freedom in determining what path they take to claim as many spaces in the battlefield as possible. So they need to develop their own strategy.
We haven’t incorporated the more traditional puzzle-solving elements that fans are used to seeing in the Zelda universe. You know, the puzzles that tend to take more time and more thought to complete didn’t really fit Dynasty Warriors. So we don’t have the traditional puzzle-solving of Zelda, but there are puzzle-solving elements built upon the essence of Zelda puzzles, but it takes place in the expansive battlefield. So you do still have to strategise, there’s the same strategy elements of the Zelda puzzles, it just takes a different form to fit the different gameplay.
I take it the Zelda essence to strategy is built upon the familiar items and boss battles – the E3 demo had me trying to throw bombs in this giant boss’s mouth amidst the chaos of the battlefield. Are boss battles in particular where we can expect to see scaled forms of the Zelda mechanics?
Mr. Hayashi: We’ve incorporated some of the most popular items from the Zelda universe, like bombs. The application of them is a little bit different, but we’ve made sure to include actions, gameplay mechanics, that Zelda fans will want to do. They’ll know to break walls using the bombs or to defeat certain bosses, it will feel familiar, but the way the traditional items are applied will be different because the gameplay is so different.
What can we expect from the thousands of enemies on-screen? Are they mostly from the Dynasty Warriors universe, or are we fighting some of Link’s familiar opponents?
While Hyrule Warriors takes place in a separate universe to the Zelda universe, it’s still the Zelda world – the characters that appear and the enemies that appear will mostly be familiar to fans of Zelda - Yosuke Hayashi
Mr. Hayashi: While Hyrule Warriors takes place in a separate universe to the Zelda universe, it’s still the Zelda world – the characters that appear and the enemies that appear will mostly be familiar to fans of Zelda. We wanted to create something to appeal to Zelda fans, so we included a lot of familiar enemies.
You’ve mentioned appealing to Zelda fans a lot, can Dynasty Warriors fans expect the same level of service, perhaps even those who mightn’t have played as many Zelda games?
Mr. Koinuma: Even though we mentioned so much is from the Zelda world, the base of Hyrule Warriors is still Dynasty Warriors, so fans of the series will also have a fun time playing [even if they’re not as familiar with Zelda]. However, because this is the first time we’ve used the Zelda world, it has that new, fantastic, feel to it. It feels like a more fantasy-based version of Dynasty Warriors that I think will appeal to all audiences. The boss battles certainly feel a lot like Zelda, and many of the bosses come from the Zelda world, so I feel like Dynasty Warriors players new to the Zelda world, and those familiar with it, will all appreciate what we’ve done.
Where does Hyrule Warriors fit within the Zelda timeline? Is it considered a part of that universe or a completely separate spin-off?
Mr. Hayashi: People speak about the Zelda Timeline and this is definitely separate from that [Mr. Aonuma laughs]. Even more than a spin-off, we consider Hyrule Warriors a celebration title to celebrate the Zelda franchise. We as developers are not only developing the game, we’re also fans of the series and think of this as the official Zelda fan game.
Funny you mention that, I was in an Xbox presentation earlier and they mentioned how they were all big fans of A Link to The Past and how it still inspires them today. Why do you think the older Zelda games still have such a following to the extent we still talk about them and now you’re making the self-described official Zelda fan game?
Mr. Aonuma: I’m not sure I can answer that! [Laughs]
Mr. Hayashi: As developers ourselves, and certainly fans of The Legend of Zelda series, I think what has made these games have such longevity is the sense of accomplishment. It’s really, really satisfying as you progress through the story in every Zelda game, even the mini accomplishments that lead up to the bigger events and completing the story are really satisfying. That’s what gives The Legend of Zelda such staying power.
What are we getting from the soundtrack? Will it have a Zelda vibe, or does Hyrule Warriors have its own tunes?
Mr. Hayashi: The soundtrack was actually a process of trial and error. Ultimately what we landed on was taking music from the Zelda universe and arranging it to suit this new environment. As for the people behind the music, we actually had different people working on different stages to give them different sounds.
Mr. Aonuma: The original music from Zelda fits the Dynasty Warriors environment really, really well but because this is a battlefield, we needed to change it a bit so it suited what was happening on the screen.
People speak about the Zelda Timeline and this is definitely separate from that. Even more than a spin-off, we consider Hyrule Warriors a celebration title ... and think of this as the official Zelda fan game! - Yosuke Hayashi
Did you think about, or would you now consider, using the Amiibo figurines in Hyrule Warriors?
Mr. Hayashi: Yesterday [the Nintendo E3 Digital Event] was actually the first time I’d seen the Amiibo figurines. I really want to collect them! [laughs]
We talked about the story and the mechanics, so can you tell me about how the controls will perform to someone familiar with the Zelda series? Will they intrinsically be able to pick up the GamePad and know what to do?
Mr. Hayashi: The basis is still the traditional Dynasty Warriors controls, but we have included essential Legend of Zelda controls like L-Targeting because we know Zelda players are going to want to target single enemies.
The button layout is for the most part the Dynasty Warriors control scheme, but per Mr. Aonuma’s input, we made sure to include the essential Zelda control inputs.
As for the GamePad, because there are so many items, we made it possible using the touchscreen for players to choose those items, but you can also use the Control Pad to change items as well if you don’t want to take your right hand away from the controls or move your hand off of the GamePad.
Thank you all for your time!