Link. We all know him as the silent, mysterious hero in the green tunic who is there to push back the forces of darkness, time and time again. He’s back again for more adventures in the upcoming game, The Wind Waker for GameCube, but he may no longer be known as “the silent, mysterious hero.”
The Power of Cel-shading
As you are no doubt aware, the cel-shading technology used on The Wind Waker allows the designers to create very dynamic facial animations. StarFox Adventures showed that this is also possible with realism. Indeed, a remarkable aspect of that game was the depth of personality Rare was able to infuse into the game’s characters, not only through the use of quality voice acting but also through exquisite facial animations. I suspect that if the GameCube Zelda’s graphics had continued to adhere to realism, we would have seen a similar degree of facial animations in the final product as in StarFox. However, cel-shading enables the use of even more exaggerated expressions, conveying the moods of the characters with a far greater ease. In effect, the facial expressions conveyed through cel-shading are like a big, bold signs saying, “This is what the character is feeling.” Cel-shading certainly provides less room for subtlety!
If you have watched any movie clips of The Wind Waker, or have even looked at screenshots, you will see very clearly that facial animations are used in copious amounts, which means that by the end of the game (at least), we will probably have a very good sense of Link’s personality. Therein lies the problem. The “personalization” of Link is what some people think may be one of the biggest potential pitfalls of The Wind Waker.
The Original Personalization of Link
In the 2-D games, Link was merely a sprite. A sprite that was silent and had relatively few animations. Of course, the quality of the story in terms of how well-developed the characters were didn’t matter as much in the 1980’s when the NES Zeldas were released. In 1998, however, the legend became 3-D. Now the graphics achieved a kind of realism. The designers began to use techniques used in films to portray the story. Games began to achieve a new level of entertainment, and they became more than simply “fun.” It is true that 2-D games could engross you in a whole new world (A Link to the Past certainly did, to the extent that many like that Zelda game the best!), but 3-D games could now affect you on a truly emotional level. The first time a video game caused tears to well up in my eyes and chills to run up my spine was when I saved the scientist in Ikana Canyon in Majora’s Mask. The use of the Song of Healing, the dialog, the camera angles, and the animations all worked in concert to produce a strong emotional response. And who could forget the mixed emotions felt when Link left Saria in the Kokiri Forest? Who could forget the strong sympathy felt when the Gorons’ quaked in their fear of being devoured by Volvagia? The series has always had a great deal of humor as well, and the 3-D technology provided new ways of adding humor. “Anybody want a Goron hug?” That scene would not have been nearly as funny without the 3-D animations.
So you ask, “Trahald, what was the point of that last paragraph?” My main point is that with the transition to 3-D, Link was actually given much more personality than most people realized. Even though he remains silent, his animations and vocalizations provide him with enough personality to make you care about him. So in one sense, the personalization of Link already happened.
However, I think there is still a potential problem with what Link on the GameCube. You see, the player is supposed to feel like Link. When I play the game, I am supposed to think that I really am Link. I have noticed that when I play the Zelda games, I constantly identify myself with the character I’m controlling. The fact that characters and even signposts refer to me by the name I chose before I began shows just how much the designers intended that relationship to form. The emotional reactions on the part of Link are not overplayed, so that when we do see reactions on his part, they almost always reflect exactly what we feel, reinforcing the idea that Link and the player are one and the same. Anything that Link says is controlled by the player, and what he says is generally generic (“yes” or “no”). A possible problem with The Wind Waker, then, is that the player will be observing Link’s reactions and emotions, rather than reacting with Link. This extends beyond the cut scenes, because the designers have told us that Link’s eyes will look around at various things around him, especially at things of special importance that are beyond the range of the camera. This is supposed to prevent the perceived hassle of constantly going into first-person mode to look for special clues. But this implies that Link can see things which the player cannot, and that Link has a mind quite independent of the player, which further distances the relationship between Link and the gamer.
So the personalization of Link has many potential problems. On the other hand, we have to remember that the designers did choose not to include voice acting specifically so that the player’s mental “image” of Link’s voice isn’t ruined. Link will remain silent as always, and that at least is true to the series. The “personalization of Link” is not as bad as most people think, because Link actually did have a personality before. That personality was simply less exaggerated, and generally did not operate outside of the emotional world of the player. But Link did clearly operate outside of the player in some cases, so the next game is more of a “next step” rather than a polar opposite. The Wind Waker will probably make a kind of gap between Link and the player, but on the positive side, it might endear us to the kid all the more. Besides, we can always consider that this Link, who is different from the N64 Link (according to the director of The Wind Waker, at least), to simply have a less “mysterious” personality than his predecessor. To paint Link’s characteristics in bolder strokes may even add to the charm of the game as a whole.
In the end, The Wind Waker seems to take what was started by Ocarina of Time and simply take it to a new level. My feeling is that the personalization of Link is actually a good thing, but all things considered, we will probably have to wait for the game to be released in English-speaking countries to see just how well the personalization of Link works.
What do you think about the personalization of Link? Do you think it’s a good or a bad thing? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.