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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s Ascend ability started as a cheat code

‘To be blunt and honest, cheating can be fun’

Link using the Ascend ability in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, flying upward with a glowing green helix swirling around him Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Eiji Aonuma likes to cheat. “I’m somebody who, if I can find a way, likes to do that kind of gameplay,” the longtime Zelda developer told Polygon in an interview on Thursday, ahead of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s May 12 release. It’s an ethos from which Link’s new Ascend ability was formed — as a debug feature that Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi used to easily exit the depths of Tears of the Kingdom’s caves.

“When I was exploring the caves, I would get to the destination where I was trying to get to, and once I checked it out, I would just use the debug code to get to the top,” Fujibayashi told Polygon. “And I thought, Well, maybe this is something that can be usable in the game.”

Aonuma agreed with Fujibayashi that it was a “pain” to go all the way back through Tears of the Kingdom’s labyrinthine caves. “When I heard that, I thought, Oh, I guess he would feel the same way that I would be feeling,” Fujibayashi said. “That’s how we got to implementing Ascend. To be blunt and honest, cheating can be fun. So that’s why we decided to drop it in there.”

Of course, swimming through ceilings couldn’t just be tossed in as a debug code; it needed to be transformed into a proper in-game feature. Implementing “cheat-code-style abilities” like Ascend in Tears of the Kingdom did create issues for Nintendo, Aonuma said. “If you give someone the ability to just pass through a ceiling anywhere, there are all sorts of possibilities to account for. We need to make sure there aren’t locations where you’ll pass through the roof and find nothing there because of some data-loading issue or something like that.”

It may be fine for a developer working on Tears of the Kingdom to Ascend into a wrong or broken location, but a player can’t Ascend into an empty world.

“While giving people cheats like this is fun, it takes a lot of time to implement,” Aonuma said. “This is one issue that enjoying this type of gameplay myself may have put into the development process.”

Ascend is just one of Tears of the Kingdom’s four new abilities; the others are Recall, Ultrahand, and Fuse. All four of them actually feel like cheat codes, things that make the player feel like they’re breaking the game. Ascend, for its part, lets players get to places that might otherwise be way out of reach. There are limitations, though — like Aonuma said, don’t expect to get through just any ceiling.

The next level of puzzles.

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