It turns out that the latest version of Hyrule is grounded in the modern day. According to Hidemaro Fujibayashi, director of the just-released Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while the game’s map may take players to an exciting fantasy realm filled with monsters and magic, it was actually based in part on his hometown of Kyoto, Japan.
“When I first started looking at this game, I had Link in an empty game field and I would just walk around and try to map out and get a feel for the distance and where landmarks should be,” he says. “What helped me with this was my hometown, Kyoto. I took a map of Kyoto and overlaid it on the game world, and I tried to imagine going to places that I know in Kyoto. I’d think ‘It takes this much time to get from point A to point B, so how does that translate to the game?’ And that’s how we started mapping out the world in Breath of the Wild.”
Breath of the Wild’s rendition of Hyrule is huge, but it’s also filled with lots of places to find and explore — from enemy camps and friendly villages to puzzle-filled shrines and other secrets scattered about. According to art director Satoru Takizawa, this structure actually made Hyrule and Kyoto a great match. “One thing that made it really easy is that there are so many tourist spots in Kyoto,” he explains. “You have all of these famous temples and shrines and whatnot. If I’m going from famous spot A to famous spot B and it takes me this long, it made it really easy to envision how that would translate to the game map.”
It was particularly useful during development, according to Fujibayashi, as the city — which also happens to be where Nintendo is headquartered — proved a simple shorthand when explaining things to the rest of the team. “When we were talking to the staff and saying, for example, the distance from this point to the next tower is just like the distance from these points in Kyoto, it made the conversation go a lot smoother and faster,” he says. “Whether it’s walking to a certain place or riding my motorcycle or driving a car, I’ve done those things in real life in Kyoto, so I know about how much time it will take.”
Stay tuned for more from our interview with Fujibayashi, Takizawa, and Breath of the Wild technical director Takuhiro Dohta later this week.