Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma has worked on the series for more than two decades, ever since Ocarina of Time. As that game's lead dungeon designer, he helped elevate Zelda's affection for puzzles into a pillar of the series. Why? Well, because he likes puzzles. Now that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi is lining up neatly as Aonuma's presumptive successor (all that commercial success and critical praise for his game, including our very own Game of the Year 2017 award, certainly help), I asked him what he thinks his lasting mark on the series will be. Among many other questions.
"I think I'd have to say I maybe haven't quite found it yet," Fujibayashi admitted. "When you look at all of the Zelda games, you have first off the Zelda games that Mr. [Shigeru] Miyamoto was mostly in charge of. And then you have the Mr. Aonuma Zelda games. And I think in making Breath of the Wild, there's obviously a lot of Zelda elements that existed in both of those two strains of Zelda games. I've definitely done a lot work to maintain what was fun about those and keep those in Breath of the Wild too. And certainly a lot of my own ideas, in terms of trying to keep those elements in the game, have gone into Breath of the Wild. But in terms of my own trademark... I think I'd have to say I haven't found it yet."
That kind of in-the-moment introspection is challenging, so I couldn't blame him for not having an answer. But Aonuma, who was also present for the interview, did.
"We were talking about this recently," Aonuma began. "So in Breath of the Wild there's an island where you get stripped of all of your items and you start out naked. And we were kind of thinking, 'Wait, there was something similar to that in Skyward Sword and Oracle of Ages.' So we were thinking maybe that's his kind of trademark."
We all laughed, but it's totally true. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and its sister game Oracle of Seasons, which both came out in 2001, were the first Zelda titles that Fujibayashi directed. Partway through Oracle of Ages, Link is shipwrecked and his items are scattered all across Crescent Island. Skyward Sword was the first home-console Zelda Fujibayashi directed, and during that game Bokoblins steal all of Link's gear and lock him up after he's knocked out by a volcanic eruption. Then Breath of the Wild's Eventide Island unexpectedly removes all of Link's items (even his clothes) as a test of his raw strength and survival skills.
Those moments were some of my favorite parts of Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild (I only ever played Oracle of Seasons, but I probably would've liked Crescent Island too). Taking the player back to nothing helps them appreciate the game's systems in a new way, and enjoy all the power they have once they get their stuff back. If 'starting over naked' really does become Fujibayashi's enduring Zelda legacy, I think it'll be a good one.