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Hidemaro Fujibayashi: The Oracle of Portable and Modern Zelda

by Neal Ronaghan - June 5, 2013, 2:16 pm PDT
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The Oracle games kicked off the Zelda career for a Capcom employee who moved on to Nintendo and heading up Skyward Sword's development.

I tried to think of something profound to say about the Oracle games on Game Boy Color. Maybe something about how they pack epic quests into small packages, and make smart use of limited Game Boy resources to make a substantial experience that improves upon the excellence of Link's Awakening. Instead, all I can think about is how damn good those games are.

Looking up the game's director, it all seemed to make sense. Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, the first games in the Nintendo/Capcom Zelda relationship that lasted until 2004's The Minish Cap, were directed by Hidemaro Fujibayashi. If that name is familiar, it is because Fujibayashi directed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. He also directed The Minish Cap and the Four Swords portion of the Game Boy Advance remake of Link to the Past, in addition to serving as subdirector/script writer of Phantom Hourglass (the director of Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks was Daiki Iwamoto, who I would bet money on being heavily involved in Link to the Past 2).

But before Fujibayashi went from a member of Capcom's Flagship studio to a member of Nintendo's Zelda team, he started out as a designer of haunted theme park attractions in Japan. His first game design work was in the mid-1990s, where he worked on two Japanese-only titles, one being an interactive movie, and the other being a mahjong game. His directorial debut was in 1999's Magical Tetris Challenge, a Mickey Mouse-starring Tetris game that came out on Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color. From there, he moved on to pitching ideas for portable Zelda games to Shigeru Miyamoto, until he was given the direction to develop the pair of Oracle games, crafting a mechanic where linking the games for consecutive playthroughs would be rewarding.

And, as I'm nearing the end of my first playthrough of Oracle of Seasons, eying the time-traveling ways of Ages next, I see the draw of consecutive playthroughs. To boot, a 2003 interview with Fujibayashi highlighted something that is his focus in game development and to me, shows the strength of the Oracle games. His goal is to make the game's rule set and language crystal clear to the player. Only after you achieve that, he says, can you have some fun with the design. He succeeded with that across all of his Zelda works, whether it's the humble Game Boy Color origins of the Oracle games or the Wii epic that is Skyward Sword.

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