The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t just the biggest Zelda game to date, it’s also among the most challenging — and Nintendo is just fine with that. In fact, according to director Hidemaro Fujibayashi, the relatively high difficulty level is a key part of the experience.
While the game was in development and still in the midst of the testing process, Fujibayashi found that a lot of players were falling off the towers scattered throughout Hyrule, and many of them were dying. A few tweaks were made to the tower design to make things a little bit easier, but the developers also decided to embrace the idea that many players will likely plummet to their death.
“When we saw that, we also didn’t see it as something negative,” Fujibayashi says. “There’s actually kind of a fun to be had from falling and dying. You learn to be careful and to be cautious. And we felt that that gave a lot of players the emotional preparedness to take on the rest of the world. So we ultimately decided that we should let them die.” Satoru Takizawa, Breath of the Wild’s art director, adds: “They fall, they learn.”
Designing Breath of the Wild’s open world proved to be somewhat of a balancing act. On one side, the developers wanted to provide players a lot of freedom, letting them go virtually wherever they want and providing plenty of things for them to uncover along the way. But they also don’t want players to get too frustrated. Getting that balance right involved a lot of testing and analyzing how players interacted with the game.
“There’s a development tool that we use that takes all of the data from these monitor tests, and it centralizes it in one location so that you can see that data in real time,” Fujibayashi explains of the process. “It shows how many hearts people have, or where people have died, or what path they’re taking. And it’s kind of on this one singular timeline so that you can see in real time where people are struggling, where people are really dying a lot, what path they’re taking. So we took all of that into consideration as we tried to balance the game out.” He also notes that he sees the fact that most players will find themselves lost in the vast world at some point as “a very positive thing.”
Fujibayashi was ultimately convinced that they got the balance right last year, when Nintendo showed off a playable version of Breath of the Wild for the first time at E3 in Los Angeles. “When we watched people play at E3 we realized that they were playing in the way that we envisioned,” he says. “And when we saw that and people were reacting positively, that’s when I said ‘Alright, this is the right direction.’”
Stay tuned for more from our interview with Fujibayashi, Takizawa, and Breath of the Wild technical director Takuhiro Dohta later this week.