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Z-Targeting In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Was Inspired By Ninjas


One of the biggest contributions made by The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to the world of video games is the Z-targeting — or lock on, if you prefer — system it introduced. Since its advent, the concept has been used in one form or another in a number of games, ranging from Metroid Prime to Kingdom Hearts.


Curious as to what inspired Z-targeting in the first place?  Ninjas, that’s what. In a new Iwata Asks interview with the development staff of the original Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64, general director, Toru Osawa, reveals that the team attended a period drama set in Japan, hoping it would provide them with inspiration for Ocarina’s combat.


“As we went along looking at everything, it was so hot that we ducked into a playhouse to cool off. They were doing a ninja show,” Osawa related. “A number of ninja were surrounding the main samurai and one lashed out with a kusarigama (sickle-and-chain). The lead samurai caught it with his left arm, the chain stretched tight, and the ninja moved in a circle around him.”


This led to the concept of creating an “invisible” chain between Link and his opponent while in Z-targeting mode that would allow him to circle around enemies in a similar fashion. The ninjas were only part of the inspiration, however.


Super Mario Galaxy director, Yoshiaki Koizumi, worked on Ocarina of Time as well. In attendance at a similar show, Koizumi noticed how the fight was choreographed so that only one opponent would attack the hero at a time, allowing him to seem like he was able to take on several opponents at once. In Koizumi’s mind, this inspired the idea of highlighting one opponent at a time, effectively putting the others “on hold”.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.