How Zelda: Twilight Princess Saved the Franchise - Game Design Gazette

Wednesday 21 June 2017

How Zelda: Twilight Princess Saved the Franchise

Not so long before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo were contemplating the idea of discontinuing the Zelda franchise.
It seems hard to believe now, but the brand had been through a rough patch, and after the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, a combination of different market conditions around the world were putting pressure on the Zelda team to achieve some sort of breakthrough in sales—failing which the franchise was under threat of cancellation.

At the Game Developers Conference in 2007, series producer Eiji Aonuma revealed how this situation lead to the creation of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and how it saved the series:

“As some of you know, at E3 2004 we unveiled the game that would become Zelda: Twilight Princess—the realistic Zelda game. We announced that it was being developed by the team that had been developing Wind Waker 2. Actually, there’s a reason that decision was made at the time that it was.

“At one point, I had heard that even Wind Waker—which had reached the million mark in sales—was quickly losing steam, and that things were sluggish even in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan. I asked [Nintendo of America] why this was. What I was told was that the toon-shading technique was in fact giving the impression that this Zelda was for a younger audience, and that for this reason, it alienated the upper-teen audience that had represented the typical Zelda player.

“Having heard that, I began to worry about whether Wind Waker 2, which used a similar presentation, was something that would actually sell. In addition, because we knew how difficult it would be to create an innovative way of playing using the existing Gamecube hardware, we knew what a challenge it would be to develop something that would sell in the Japanese market, where gamer drift was happening.

“That’s when I decided that if we didn’t have an effective and immediate solution, the only thing that we could do was to give the healthier North American market the Zelda that they wanted. So, at the end of 2003, I went to Miyamoto and said, ‘I want to make a realistic Zelda’. Miyamoto was sceptical at first—I was so focused on changing the look of the game as being the solution we were looking for, without coming up with a breakthrough in gameplay.

“And he advised me that, ‘if you really want to make a realistic Zelda, then you should start by doing what you couldn’t in Ocarina of Time’. Make it so Link can attack enemies while riding on his horse using the Wind Waker engine, and make your decision based on how that feels.’ “This is something that went against everything the staff had been working on, and I expected it to come as a shock to the team—but surprisingly, my entire staff was enthusiastic about this change, and the project on which progress had slowed was given a much-needed jumpstart.

“Four months later, development had progressed to a point where Link could swing his sword and battle against enemies while riding on his horse in a realistic looking world. When it was announced with a surprise trailer at the 2004 E3, it received a standing ovation from the media audience. This was a very exciting moment for us, but we were still in the very early stages of converting the game into something more realistic. We knew that we had to create a Zelda game that would live up to the expectations of fans in North America, and that if we didn’t, it could mean the end of the franchise.”

As of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has sold over 8.85 million units globally. Worldwide, it is the best-selling Zelda game by far and eventually led to creation of Breath of the Wild, which sought to expand upon Twilight Princess's free-roaming, exploratory design.

Sales data courtesy Nintendo.