Nintendo is poised to release The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, a Switch remake of the 1993 Game Boy game, later this year. While we already gave our hands-on impressions of the game and talked about how the dungeon creator is different from Super Mario Maker, we still have plenty to share. During E3, I spoke with both Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma and Link’s Awakening director Takashi Tezuka about the game and why it’s so special to them.
Aonuma and Tezuka have both demonstrated they know what makes a terrific game. Tezuka has vast directorial credits that include Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening, while Aonuma is a longtime Zelda producer, essentially serving as a supervisor, director, and producer of the franchise starting with Ocarina of Time.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
While Link’s Awakening is beloved among the Zelda faithful, many look at A Link to the Past as the high-water mark for the franchise’s top-down entries. Despite the love showered on A Link to the Past, Tezuka actually prefers Link’s Awakening. “I felt there was actually real meaning in the fact that we were able to make the game on the Game Boy,” he says. “It was really fun to take on the challenge of trying to make a game for the Game Boy since its technical classifications were much lower than that of the Super Nintendo. Taking on that challenge was particularly exciting.”
While Tezuka enjoyed the limitations the Game Boy presented, he doesn’t dislike modern technology and what it enables his teams to accomplish. “Development is difficult in a different way now,” he says. “Now the challenge is creating constraints for yourself.”
Despite his preference toward Link’s Awakening, Tezuka still looks back at directing A Link to the Past with fondness. “It was actually really fun for me,” he says. “I was right there, and to realize I was right there as a game like this was being made and to participate in it directly was really fun.”
Aonuma, who took the reins of the Zelda franchise following Link’s Awakening, loved being able to play it as a fan. “Link’s Awakening is a game where I was not involved in the development, I was just playing it as one player,” he says. “It left a very strong impression. The original Game Boy version was released 26 years ago, so it’s a little bit hard to get your hands on it these days. I’ve always wanted to reimagine this title.”
Just as Tezuka enjoyed the development process of Link’s Awakening over A Link to the Past, Aonuma says Link’s Awakening had a bigger impact on subsequent entries than its SNES counterpart. “When I was playing Link’s Awakening, I was very influenced by what the game offered,” Aonuma says. “It definitely transferred to the other Zelda games I developed. I was recently playing through it and everything felt very nostalgic. I was like, ‘Oh right, this is something I took and maybe incorporated into Ocarina of Time!’ There were a lot of things like that where I was inspired.”
It has been previously reported that when Tezuka included various non-Zelda Nintendo characters in Link’s Awakening, that he didn’t ask permission, assuming that he was OK to use them simply because they were Nintendo characters. However, when we ask him to confirm this story, he tells us a slightly different version. “I was the person who was in the position to say if that was okay, so I didn’t have to ask permission,” he says with a smile.
However, Aonuma took a different stance on the situation when working on the remake of Link’s Awakening. “Yes, I made sure to get permission,” he says with a laugh. “When I made these characters into 3D, I went to Mr. Tezuka and asked for his permission specifically.”
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll encounter all the same non-Zelda characters we ran into in the original Game Boy version. “All the Mario characters are in there, but all the other characters, you’ll just have to play and find out,” Aonuma says.
For more from our session with Tezuka, check out our rapid-fire interview with him. For more from Aonuma, you can read about his philosophy on remaking and remastering Zelda games, or hear him tell us everything he can about the recently announced sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening launches on Switch September 20.