Eiji Aonuma has been the director of the Zelda series for over a decade now, and has guided the franchise through its entire modern life cycle. He started on the always-loved The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and has remained as the definitive individual for Zelda ever since. But is it time for that to change? Is it time for Aonuma to relinquish the throne he received from Miyamoto and pass the legacy on? Aonuma has hinted he’s getting tired of working on nothing but the series in the past, and recent remarks about Retro Studios handling Zelda (along with leaving Skyward Sword more in the hands of people under him) seem to indicate this thought is certainly at least present in his mind. On top of this, some of Aonuma’s views on the direction of the series are increasingly coming into conflict with the direction most people would like the series to evolve into.
But if Aonuma were to pass on the torch, who would it be to? How about the man who began as a top-notch writer and film student, who saw the potential of video games to evolve into a real narrative art form? The same man who, when given the plot-less mess of A Link to the Past, fashioned a story to tie it together? The same man who personally directed Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2, but is always fighting Nintendo to even be allowed to include real stories that we now see in modern games? Enter the visionary known as Yoshiaki Koizumi - the visionary who’s been sidelined by Nintendo and who has mastery over both game design and writing/directing, and has been cornered into working on the Mario series.
Most people sadly don’t even know of Yoshiaki Koizumi - he doesn’t spend as much time in the limelight as some of the other directors at Nintendo, despite being highly influential in recent years (although it’s a bit old, this IGN feature should give a good idea on his background). He’s a brilliant game designer and director, being the primary brainchild behind both Super Mario Galaxy titles (including their incredibly creative content and gameplay). Although mostly known for creating two of the best gameplay experiences in the last decade, he found his origin in the world of cinema, and thus strongly believes in the artistry of video games’ stories. He was the primary script writer of Majora’s Mask (in other words, all of the major side quests were of his creation), and created the story of Link’s Awakening - and is usually left to his own designs and imagination when fashioning these plots, given that he doesn’t exceed his boundary and make them too good.
“For a long time, it really felt like telling a story in a Mario game was something that wasn’t allowed”. Koizumi stayed behind after everyone in the studio left to secretly place Rosalina’s story into Super Mario Galaxy due to the fear of being discovered and shot down (the original game was simply about Peach being kidnapped). Even after this, Miyamoto was adamant that there would be no story elements in Galaxy 2 and would not renege. The man is a master story-teller being held-back on a leash.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking Koizumi is nothing but a good writer. This is the man who wrought both Super Mario Galaxy games, insisted on Ocarina of Time remaining third-person to have a grander scale (in direct opposition to Miyamoto’s idea of a first-person game), came up with the idea of enemies attacking or not based on whether they were Z-targeted, and was almost able to have the final showdown with Ganon in Ocarina of Time be based around climbing up his back and attacking the head, but couldn’t due to console limits.
Contrast this with Eiji Aonuma’s beliefs that if the story of a game grabs your attention, it’s doing something horribly wrong and should be removed. Contrast this with Aonuma’s direction of making games centered around Ocarina of Time over and over. Contrast this with Aonuma’s general apathy towards the future of the series. Really, he can’t be blamed. Aonuma has been locked into this position and hasn’t been allowed to leave - he’s become the permanent face of Zelda, whether he likes it or not. Similarly, Koizumi has been chained down to Mario, basically under threat to not get at all creative with the story lest it should accidentally become too good. Imagine if Majora’s Mask or Link’s Awakening were to reach their true potential in terms of both plot and game design - that is the future Koizumi would bring the Zelda series, and that is the future we need.
Eiji Aonuma has had a great run with this series, but it’s time for him to retire, and it’s time for Miyamoto to let Yoshiaki Koizumi really take charge of a game. His view of video games is more modern and far more interesting than either Miyamoto or Aonuma - and he backs it up with universally brilliant results in both design and plot. It’s time to unchain Aonuma from Zelda and unchain Koizumi from Mario. It’s time for Zelda to evolve, and for Koizumi to be at the head of the charge.