Princess Zelda is in serious need of some pipes. And I’m not talking about the kind that Mario uses for transportation, either. I’m talking vocal chords, a larynx, and a resonator. Y’know, the whole shebang. Nintendo has always been a company somewhat resistant to change and in no series is this more self-evident than in the Legend of Zelda. And while constantly refining the Zelda series’ signature action-adventure gameplay is certainly admirable, its compulsive rejection towards voice acting is not. At this point in the industry’s history, a franchise as revered and beloved as Zelda deserves to have some voices representing the faces of Hyrule.
Even though Nintendo has generally preferred to keep their characters silent, it hasn’t always stood by this stance. In fact, a quick examination of Nintendo’s history will show Nintendo has long been an innovator when it comes to implementing voices into its games. The very first example of this, that I can remember, would be the opening from Super Metroid. It was brief and wasn’t spoken by an actual character, but it was innovative nonetheless. Actually, the fact that the voice was a robotic, disembodied narrator enhanced the cold and isolated atmosphere of the game. Or how about the radio chatter from Star Fox 64? I can’t begin to tell you the amount of blowage my mind suffered when I first heard Fox yelling out about All Range Mode, or the utter annoyance I felt every time Falco shot some wise-ass remark. And you can bet your life that giving Mario an actual voice in Mario 64, especially one that contradicted what many fans were used to hearing from the character, was a bold move. Heck, even recent games such as Kid Icarus: Uprising (which was, albeit, not directly developed by Nintendo) features extensive voice work to enhance the story. My point is, Nintendo was once the brave leader when it came to bringing games to life through vocal work. It keeps teasing us with its other games, so why doesn’t it just go the whole nine yards with Zelda, a series that arguably has the most to gain from such a feature?
By leaving out VA in Zelda, gamers are missing out on a major chunk of atmosphere that could make the realm of Hyrule all the more rich. While Skyward Sword did make excellent use of characters murmuring and grunting to convey heartfelt moments in the story, actual voice work would have made the game a lot more engrossing. The entire time I was playing the game, I kept imagining how much the cutscenes would have benefited from actually hearing Zelda sing her lullaby with proper lyrics, or hearing Groose boast about his awesomeness with a boisterous voice that could form complete sentences. In a way, Nintendo’s rejection of voice work is symptomatic of its general design philosophy. This philosophy tries to cater to as wide an audience as possible at the cost of crafting a truly singular experience. While I certainly love games like Animal Crossing, Wii Sports, and Pikmin, The Legend of Zelda is not any of those games. Zelda, as a series, has been becoming more and more focused on its story. As such, Nintendo is going to have to bite the bullet and give good ol’ Ganon a voice sooner rather than later in order to properly personify him. That being said, I am not opposed to certain limitations.
Believe it or not, I am not a total blasphemer. I am not opposed to keeping the series’ main man Link mute (especially after what happened here,) but Nintendo has been timid regarding even that compromise. Many people, including Nintendo themselves, believe that voice acting would destroy the illusion of having Link as a silent protagonist, thus destroying the player’s ability to self-insert themselves into the story. However, other games have proven how a mute protagonist can still be effective, even if every other character in the game is chatting it up are around them. Look no further than Persona 3 and 4, where the main character never spoke a line of dialogue within the actual story, but was still able to provide players with an avatar for the player to project onto. The fact that the main character is mute is never distracting in those games because the characters around the MC conversed with him as if he were still a regular participant in the plot. Link’s role has always felt a bit reactionary, only moving through the plot at the request of other characters. Perhaps if Link was interacting with characters who can actually speak, it will give the writers an excuse to make him feel like Link himself is actually moving the story along and not just bending to the will of those around him. Go ahead and sacrifice the feature of letting players name Link them selves, if you must. If it makes the story more compelling, I think it’s a fair trade off.
The Zelda franchise cannot continue much longer without a feature that the rest of the industry treats as a standard tool for storytelling. With each one of the series’ iterations that ignores this, the series will feel more and more dated, and thus less and less relevant to the industry. While hardcore fans (myself included) will still stick with the series through thick and thin, Nintendo’s ultimate goal should be to bring new fans to the series by providing a more engrossing story. The first step in doing that is to amp up the presentation. And the next big step in doing THAT is to add voices. So come on, Nintendo. Let’s hear what Zelda really has to say. I’m sure we’re all eager to hear.