The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a noticeable departure from other 3D Zelda games, and given its incredible reception, the gamble seems to have paid off. Aside from being one of the most critically-acclaimed Zelda games ever made, it also helped the Nintendo Switch fly off store shelves.
What pushed Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma to swerve so sharply into unexplored territory, though? According to an interview published in the June issue of Nikkei Trendy (summarized by Japanese Nintendo), Breath of the Wild is engineered for Zelda fans who were ready to graduate from the hand-holding present in other 3D Zelda games (i.e. all of us).
"When I first created a Zelda that's played with 3D in Ocarina of Time, what we put our attention on is: To cope with how we were still not familiar with 3D yet, we show[ed] 'routes' so that you could progress forward without getting lost in even broad worlds," Aonuma told Nikkei Trendy. "However, as we stacked on the series, 'not getting lost' [produced] feelings of blockages like 'cannot do anything but that' or 'cannot run away,' so more and more people felt dissatisfied with that."
In other words, Aonuma built Ocarina of Time with clear paths and goals to help the fanbase make the switch to 3D. His methods were extremely effective, but fans understandably became irritated at similar methods of hand-holding in subsequent games.
Aonuma therefore ripped off the shackles for Breath of the Wild so that Zelda fans could progress however they like and therefore build up their own experiences and stories within the game. "You can freely explore a vast world [that's] connected seamlessly, and you can progress to find out your own 'answer,'" Aonuma said.
Aonuma also said he hopes the follow-up for Breath of the Wild will exceed people's expectations. We're probably a long way off from seeing a sequel for Breath of the Wild, though: We've still got some DLC to work through.
When the Zelda series hit a noticeable slump with Skyward Sword, there were some rumblings from fans and the games press about how maybe Aonuma was no longer capable of bringing his A-game to Nintendo's most cherished series. The criticism wasn't unwarranted, and Breath of the Wild (not to mention A Link Between Worlds before it) clearly demonstrates he took that criticism to heart.
Despite Aonuma's missteps, I believe he doesn't receive enough adulation for his work with Zelda. Though he tends to fall into a rut, he also innovates in significant ways when he sets his mind to it. He wanted Ocarina of Time to bring us comfortably into a three-dimensional Zelda world, and he succeeded. He wanted A Link Between Worlds to give us a taste of a non-linear Zelda experience, and he succeeded. He wanted Breath of the Wild to be a game where fans can weave their own personal experience through exploration and adventuring, and he most definitely succeeded.
I'm interested to see what Aonuma has up his sleeve for the next Zelda game. But first! I gotta pick up my Tingle suit.