Eiji Aonuma is a video game designer, director, and producer. He is the current producer of The Legend of Zelda series and a Deputy General Manager at Nintendo.
Eiji Aonuma graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1988 upon completing a masters course in composition design, working on Japanese Karakuri puppets.
Aonuma's grandfather and uncle were carpenters, and he has stated that watching them work as a young boy inspired him to do the same. Whenever there was drafting or craft homework from school, Aonuma would take the opportunity to use a hammer and nail to make creations of his own. Since his parents weren't in the habit of buying him toys as a child, Aounuma would create those himself as well.
Aonuma's talent for wood cutting guided him through university, and would eventually lead to him being hired by Nintendo. During an exhibition where he was showing off his mechanical puppets, Aonuma encountered members of the videogame industry and took an interest in the kind of work they did. He learnt that Yōichi Kotabe, an accomplished animator that had worked on Heidi: Girls of the Alps, had also graduated from the same university, and had gone on to work with Nintendo, where he had created packaging for Super Mario Bros.. Upon learning this, Aonuma procured Kotabe's business card from his university and the two established contact. Kotabe subsequently recommended Aonuma to Shigeru Miyamoto, who interviewed him and was impressed by his work, leading to his hiring.
After he began working at Nintendo, Aonuma was assigned to the department that made games and served as a graphic designer on NES Open Tournament Golf. Since he had never been interested in videogames prior to joining the company, he turned to his girlfriend at the time and asked her to provide him with an introduction to games. Through her, he was exposed to the first Dragon Quest and the PC version of The Portopia Serial Murder Case, both developed by Enix (now Square Enix).
Over time, Aonuma began to appreciate the fun of playing videogames and found himself particularly fond of A Link to the Past. After working on a number of projects in collaboration with external developers (including an unreleased game with Satoru Iwata of HAL Laboratory), he eventually developed a game of his own: Marvelous: Another Treasure Island. The game was released in 1996 and drew inspiration from the A Link to the Past. Upon playing it, Miyamoto invited Aonuma to work with him and the Zelda team on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Aonuma would go on to serve as a dungeon designer and game system director on Ocarina of Time, and then as director on Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker. Exhausted by the development and subsequent promotional tour of The Wind Waker, Aonuma would request that he be allowed to step down as the series' director, but would instead be promoted to producer by Shigeru Miyamoto, who would ask that he take on a more supervisory role and focus on improving the series from a distance.
Aonuma is best-known for helping establish the conventions of the modern Legend of Zelda games, starting with Ocarina of Time, on which he served as a dungeon designer. He subsequently helped the series break away from the same conventions with A Link Between Worlds and Breath of the Wild in his role as series producer.
On a number of occasions, Aonuma has recognized the need for the Zelda series to adapt to changing markets and audiences, both from a visual and gameplay standpoint. Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass serve as two notables examples of this, with the former addressing the need for a more realistic and mature Zelda game for the series' western audience and the latter being designed to combat declining video game sales in Japan.
Both games achieved their respective goals. Twilight Princess eventually sold over 8.85 million units worldwide on the Wii and Gamecube consoles, reigniting interest in The Legend of Zelda series in western markets and allowing it to continue after waning enthusiasm for prior games had placed its future in doubt. Phantom Hourglass sold over 900,000 units in Japan, making it the highest-selling Zelda game in that market in several years, and also helped successfully introduce the series to new audiences.
With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Aonuma helped steer the Zelda series toward exponential growth, with the game having sold over 25 million units as of 2022. Aonuma has stated that Breath of the Wild was the Zelda team's third attempt at creating an open-world game, with both The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess being more rudimentary attempts that needed to be held back in scope due to a lack of manpower and experience.
In November 2016, Aonuma was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Joystick Awards.
The Legend of Zelda Games
|Ocarina of Time||Game system director|
|Majora's Mask||Game system director|
|A Link to the Past & Four Swords||Producer|
|The Wind Waker||Director|
|Four Swords Adventures||Producer|
|The Minish Cap||Supervising director|
|Link's Crossbow Training||Producer|
|Ocarina of Time 3D||Producer|
|Four Swords Anniversary Edition||Producer|
|The Wind Waker HD||Producer|
|A Link Between Worlds||Producer|
|Hyrule Warriors||Zelda franchise supervisor|
|Majora's Mask 3D||Producer|
|Tri Force Heroes||Producer|
|Twilight Princess HD||Producer|
|Breath of the Wild||Producer|
|Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity||Zelda franchise supervisor|
- A Link to the Past was the game that latched Aonuma onto The Legend of Zelda series, as he was never able to complete the original The Legend of Zelda due to its difficulty.
- Aonuma has stated that what motivates him to continue working in The Legend of Zelda series is to surpass Ocarina of Time.
- Aonuma is part of an orchestra made of Nintendo employees called "The Wind Wakers", where he plays percussion, bongos, and congas.
- Aonuma has stated that he enjoys playing Monster Hunter, and that he also enjoyed playing The Last Guardian, which was gifted to him by the game's director and a personal friend, Fumito Ueda.
Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi accepting the "Game of the Year" award for Breath of the Wild at The Game Awards 2017
- Nicky Woolf, Eiji Aonuma and the spirit of adventure, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/nov/25/eiji-aonuma-legend-zelda-interview (Interview), published Nov, 2009, retrieved November 17, 2019.
- "My grandfather was a carpenter and so was my uncle. There was a carpenter’s shop nearby my home, so I grew up watching them making things. So when there was drafting or craft homework, I used to pick up a piece of work and put nails on it to make something. Also, I guess it has something to do with the fact that my parents didn’t buy any toys for me." —Eiji Aonuma (Talk: Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed)
- "One of the alumni who went to Tokyo University of the Arts was Yoichi Kotabe, who did the key animation for “Heidi, Girl of the Alps.” He was working at Nintendo doing key animation for “Mario”. I might add, Mr. Kotabe did key animation for “Pokémon” as well. When I was looking for a job, I met some people at the game company from the exhibition held at a gallery. So I became interested in the game companies afterwards. When I went to the job center at the university, they gave me the business card of Mr. Kotabe." —Eiji Aonuma (Talk: Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed)
- "So, one of the interviewers who interviewed me on the recommendation of Mr. Kotabe was Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto. At the time of the interview, I showed him the artwork that I did during university, and Mr. Miyamoto liked them. That’s how I joined Nintendo in 1988." —Eiji Aonuma (Talk: Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed)
- "Actually, I never played a game when I was young. When I landed a job in Nintendo, I asked my girlfriend at that time, “What is a TV game?” And she lent me DQ1. Of course, I knew Nintendo was making games, but I’d never played it. It’s a digression, but the next game that I borrowed from her was the “The Portopia Serial Murder Case”. It was even a PC version (laughs)." —Eiji Aonuma (Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed)
- "Unfortunately, though, the game we made together never made it out into the world. I spent a lot of time developing games with external companies. But I really wanted to develop inside Nintendo." —Eiji Aonuma (The Game that Changed Destinies)
- "At that time, I heard that Mr. Miyamoto had played the Super NES game that I had made, called “Marvelous: Mohitotsu no Takarajima” and said that I should come and join his team if I wanted to make a game like that. At that time, only the people who could produce good results were called and the position was usually a director. So I had a strong sense of responsibility for the work that was assigned to me." —Eiji Aonuma (Latest Zelda’s making process & “Ocarina of Time” proposal disclosed)
- "In fact, when I finished Wind Waker, I asked Mr. Miyamoto, 'Please give me some other assignment.' He said, 'Let me think about it.' [Finally] he told me, 'OK, you'll be the producer on the next Zelda.' I said, 'What? I wanted [something else].' But he told me, 'Rather than working on details, you can coordinate and supervise and concentrate on making it a better game.' [So] I was interested in taking the assignment." —Eiji Aonuma (Interview:Electronic Gaming Monthly June 2005)
- "Nintendo's E3 2019 press website reveals new positions for Eiji Aonuma, Hisashi Nogami, Aya Kyogoku and Yoshihito Ikebata. Aonuma will keep his role as the producer of The Legend of Zelda series but is now also a Deputy General Manager." —Liam Doolan (Eiji Aonuma And Multiple Others Have Been Promoted At Nintendo)
- "We made this game with the idea of rethinking the conventions of Zelda games, and we truly did take on all kinds of challenges. The ones who undertook that were younger developers, and during development, I often exclaimed, 'We can do that?!'" —A Challenge from the Developers (Eiji Aonuma)
- "In reality we didn’t start from the concepts of 'open-air' or 'returning to the essence' we just wanted to make a game in a big, continuous world focused on exploration and discovery. Early on while considering these concepts 'open-air' and 'returning to the essence' were the words that seemed to fit the ideas best, and they became the vocabulary with which Mr. Aonuma and the staff discussed them. You progress through the world, see interesting terrain and other elements, create hypotheses and expectations about the things you see, and experiment. You try something and you get the reaction you were envisioning. After repeating this for a time the player grows, that’s the cycle. That sort of experience is the real pleasure, the essence, of Zelda and from the beginning we really just wanted to create a game where that could be savored again and again, that was our guiding principle." —Hidemaro Fujibayashi (Interview: Breath of the Wild Director Talks Speed Runs, Critic Response and Future of Zelda)
- "In these last three months, as the team has experienced firsthand the freedom of exploration that hasn't existed in any Zelda game to date, we have discovered several new possibilities for this game. As we have worked to turn these possibilities into reality, new ideas have continued to spring forth, it now feels like we have the potential to create something that exceeds even my own expectations. As I have watched our development progress, I have come to think that rather than work with meeting a specific schedule as our main objective, and releasing a game that reflects only what we can create within that scheduled time, I feel strongly that our focus should be to bring all these ideas to life in a way that will make The Legend of Zelda on Wii U the best game it can possibly be." —Eiji Aonuma (Wii U - The Legend of Zelda Development Update – 3/27/2015)
- "As some of you know, at E3 2004 we unveiled the game that would become Zelda: Twilight Princess—the realistic Zelda game. We announced that it was being developed by the team that had been developing Wind Waker 2. Actually, there’s a reason that decision was made at the time that it was. At one point, I had heard that even Wind Waker, which had reached the million mark in sales, was quickly losing steam, and that things were sluggish even in North America, where the market was much healthier than in Japan. I asked [Nintendo of America] why this was. What I was told was that the toon-shading technique was in fact giving the impression that this Zelda was for a younger audience, and that for this reason, it alienated the upper-teen audience that had represented the typical Zelda player. Having heard that, I began to worry about whether Wind Waker 2, which used a similar presentation, was something that would actually sell. In addition, because we knew how difficult it would be to create an innovative way of playing using the existing GameCube hardware, we knew what a challenge it would be to develop something that would sell in the Japanese market, where gamer drift was happening. That’s when I decided that if we didn’t have an effective and immediate solution, the only thing that we could do was to give the healthier North American market the Zelda that they wanted." —Eiji Aonuma (Reflections of Zelda)
- "Working on Majora’s Mask for the Nintendo 64 and then The Wind Waker for the GameCube in succession, I began to worry that, due perhaps to the growing number of buttons necessary to control the game, or the 3D environment, new players might find these games intimidating and avoid them. I felt that there were sure to be many players who thought ‘Zelda looks fun, but there’s no way I can play it’, and give up before even giving it a try. For that reason, ever since then I have been thinking of ways to square this circle: how to make the controls easier without losing any of the unique fun-factor of a Zelda title." —Eiji Aonuma (Reflections of Zelda)
- "At first we worked on creating a game that followed the connectivity style of Four Swords Adventures with the two screens, but then Mr. Aonuma suggested we didn’t continue with that. He said we should think of a completely new Zelda gameplay that would become a DS standard. We didn’t mind the simplicity, so we ended up with the idea of a stylus-controlled game." —Daiki Iwamoto (The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass interview with Eiji Aonuma)
- "When it was announced with a surprise trailer at the 2004 E3, it received a standing ovation from the media audience. This was a very exciting moment for us, but we were still in the very early stages of converting the game into something more realistic. We knew that we had to create a Zelda game that would live up to the expectations of fans in North America, and that if we didn’t, it could mean the end of the franchise." —Eiji Aonuma (Reflections of Zelda)
- "And actually, if you look at the registration on Club Nintendo, although The Legend of Zelda series has traditionally had more of a male audience, on the Nintendo DS, it seems as though lots of women are also enjoying it." —Satoru Iwata (New Puzzles and Drama)
- "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 25.80 million pcs." — Nintendo, Top Selling Title Sales Units, Nintendo Investor Relations Information, retrieved May 6, 2021.
- "I actually already had the concept of an open-air world in mind back when we were making The Wind Waker. There, the idea manifested as a vast ocean through which players traveled from island to island by boat. You could pick a destination far away and work to get there, so in that sense you could call it an "open air" environment. But in the end, we weren't able to include many islands due to hardware limitations. I knew I wanted to try to make a massive world in which players could go anywhere someday. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough people back then, and that type of project takes time, so we weren't able to get the ball rolling. This time, though, we were sure we could do it because we were blessed with a great team, and there were a lot of people putting thought into making it happen." —Eiji Aonuma (The Making of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Video – Open-Air Concept)
- "I'm working on a new Legend of Zelda game now. One thing I've realized as I've been working on it is that a lot of the things I want to do with this new 'Zelda' game are things I thought of while making Twilight Princess. I can't talk specifics, but to me, Twilight Princess was a starting point, making it possible to do what I'm doing now." —Eiji Aonuma (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Retrospective – Episode 4: Reborn on Wii U)
- "I would say that because there was such a huge number of people working on this project, there were also a lot of differences in each individual's perception of Zelda. On top of that, everyone was very stubborn about their opinions, too! (laughs) So of course there weren't many cases in which everyone agreed on how to proceed. It was much more common to have people voicing their disagreement and offering constructive criticism. As a result, the developers probably debated this Zelda with more fervor than any other Zelda game to date, and I think that passion is evident in the game. I'm sure that the director, Aonuma-san, had to expend a good deal of effort to bring everything together. But in the end I believe he succeeded in doing just that, and the result is the biggest Zelda to date." —Mitsuhiro Takano (Like Trying to Mold Clay)
- "I am glad, honoured and really humbled to be awarded the Golden Joysticks 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. I say I'm humbled because when I heard about this award, I had to ask myself... "am I qualified to be accepting this myself as an individual, when the award belongs more to The Legend of Zelda Series?" With this understanding I accept the award with pleasure on behalf of more that 1,000 creators, artists, engineers and composers who have worked on the series for more than 30 years." —Eiji Aonuma (Eiji Aonuma Wins Golden Joystick Lifetime Achievement Award as Pokémon GO Picks Up Two Gongs)
- "The Zelda director and producer recently admitted in an interview with Game Informer that, despite multiple attempts, Link's first adventure was too much for him to handle. "I've never actually finished it," Aonuma said. "I almost feel like there's still no game more difficult than it. Every time I try to play it I end up getting 'Game Over' a few too many times and giving up partway through." [...] Luckily for Zelda fans, A Link to the Past for SNES came along and changed his mind. "That sense of exploration of the world itself was really where I latched on to the series," he said." — Audrey Drake, Aonuma Never Beat the Original Legend of Zelda, IGN, published September 8, 2011, retrieved February 1, 2017.
- "I'm happy that a title I worked on some time ago remains highly praised to this day, but that also shows how none of the subsequent games in the series have surpassed it. As someone who is still working on the series, I have mixed feelings about that. Because I haven't yet surpassed it, I can't quit. Surprisingly, that simply motivation may be the reason I continue to work on the Zelda series." —Eiji Aonuma (Test of Time)
- "Personally I like music a lot. Yesterday I was wearing a T-shirt that said 'The Wind Wakers' on it. This is the name of an orchestra that's made up of Nintendo employees that I am a member of. I play percussion, bongos, congas and things like that." —Eiji Aonuma (The Legend of Zelda producer talks about the game, the franchise, the past and the future.)
- "Monster Hunter 4. I was playing it in the lobby this morning. I play with three of my directors every day at lunch." —Eiji Aonuma ('Zelda' Producer Talks Fans, Legacy and New Games)
- "I was too busy in 2016, so I couldn’t play a lot of games [laughs], but I did play The Last Guardian. [Fumito ] Ueda and I go back, so when he completed that game he sent a copy to me. It was actually a really busy time so I shouldn’t have been playing the game, but I just couldn’t resist, and it was really good." —Eiji Aonuma (Eiji Aonuma’s Favorite Non-Nintendo Game Of 2016)