In 2017, the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild turned the long-running Zelda franchise on its head in many ways. With serene moments of exploration outnumbering the thunderous battle scenes set to triumphant musical scores, Breath of the Wild gave players a new, perhaps more reflective perspective on the franchise. The Hyrule Warriors spin-off franchise exists in a completely different space; adrenaline-pumping music beats you over the head as you mow through hundreds of enemies within minutes in continual, fast-paced battles.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Breath of the Wild begins as Link wakes up after a century-long slumber. We know that he, Zelda, and the Champions lost Hyrule in a major battle many years ago, but until today, that battle has remained largely mysterious. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity explores the climactic clash between the forces of good and evil 100 years prior to the moment Link awakens in Breath of the Wild.
Now that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is out, we asked Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity director Ryouta Matsushita, and producer Yosuke Hayashi about the spin-off’s relationship with Breath of the Wild.
What was the decision process like when you determined you wanted to make a second Hyrule Warriors game that also serves as a prequel to Breath of the Wild?
Aonuma: We weren’t able to depict the Great Calamity in BotW, but [Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro] Fujibayashi-san wanted to find a way to bring those events to life. Development on this project started when he got together with Hayashi-san from Koei Tecmo Games, who was interested in bringing the experience gained from working on Hyrule Warriors into a subsequent project, and we recognized the value of creating this new game.
Since this story plays directly into the stories on the mainline Zelda games, what kind of communication exists between the development team of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and the development team behind the mainline Zelda franchise?
Aonuma: The actual planning came from the Zelda team, and they were able to collaborate closely with the Warriors team on details ranging from design to story to graphics knowhow during development. And of course, the Warriors team brought all their creativity and knowhow to bear when integrating Warriors gameplay into the world of BotW.
Matsushita: To ensure that the game inherited the look and tone of BotW, we asked the Zelda team to review every detail of what we made. They consistently suggested ways to make the game exponentially more fun, while simultaneously showing great respect for the ideas the Warriors team had for this game as an action game.
What lessons were learned from the original Hyrule Warriors game that have been applied to Age of Calamity?
Aonuma: A lot of the direction for how we integrate the Zelda setting and its rewarding gameplay into the Warriors systems came from our prior experience with Hyrule Warriors, but we encountered new challenges this time when deciding how to integrate the open-world systems of BotW into the stage-based design of Warriors. Basically, instead of changing the stage-by-stage structure of the game, we designed each stage to be more three-dimensional (with height or interconnected terrain) to create the feel of a more expansive world than before.
Hayashi: The previous game was a challenge in terms of incorporating the concepts of one game into a different game, and we went through a lot of trial and error on the ground. As a development team, we had a number of things that we weren’t able to achieve or would’ve done differently in hindsight. We didn’t need to repeat that trial and error for Age of Calamity, and I think that allowed us to allocate those resources towards increasing the quality of the game.
Matsushita: Once we knew the game would be set during the Great Calamity, we had a clear goal for all the key elements to incorporate into gameplay. We could bring in the evolved forms of systems from previous games, such as using items to defeat enemies or the Weak Point Gauge.
What characters did the team enjoy implementing into this game the most?
Aonuma: When I saw characters like the Champions and Zelda, who only appeared in the cutscenes in BotW, fighting alongside of Link, I simply felt, “It’s so nice to have allies,” and I was also surprised to see how Impa and Purah looked 100 years ago. Anyways, what I didn’t even imagine when we were working on BotW is now developed as a fun game. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but there is some story twists and playable characters that will excite players, so please look forward to it.
Hayashi: As Mr. Aonuma said, the roster of playable characters would be a spoiler, so we’d like players to discover that for themselves. But as far as the story is concerned, for me it was Impa. She’s a character I really like because she brings a sense of realism to the span of a hundred years.
With the music of Breath of the Wild being much more subtle than other Zelda titles, how did the Age of Calamity team go about reimagining the music to be high-energy, adrenaline-fueled songs that are appropriate for such massive battles?
Aonuma: In the previous Hyrule Warriors, their daring introduction of “rock” style elements in the world of Zelda as well as their arrangements of the original score did surprise even Nintendo’s composers. So we expected them to have similar creativity in this title as well. The musical arrangements for this game don’t have quite as obvious of a stylistic bend as the previous Hyrule Warriors, so it sounds similar to the original BotW at first. However, if you listen carefully, the composers have exquisitely arranged each piece to match the concept of the scene, and I think one of the appealing things about the music in this game is enjoying the differences from the original.
Hayashi: The audio concept for Age of Calamity is completely different from the previous Hyrule Warriors. It’s based on the idea that this is a Breath of the Wild Warriors, rather than Hyrule Warriors 2, and it really emphasizes the feel of the battlefield. We took on the challenge of creating various arrangements while maintaining a sense of Breath of the Wild, so please enjoy the music along with the gameplay.
How much more in-depth of an understanding will Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity provide to help players understand the events that led to the story of Breath of the Wild?
Aonuma: If you play BotW after playing Age of Calamity, I think the emotions you feel towards Link right from the very first scene will be different than before. I recommend that players who already cleared BotW and players who haven’t experienced it yet try playing through BotW again after Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is available now on Switch. To learn more about the game, check out our review. For more on the announced sequel to Breath of the Wild, check out our E3 2019 discussion with Aonuma on that subject.