And a topic nearly as hotly debated as the Zelda timeline–amongst the fans, that is. Though seemingly not within Nintendo itself, as in a recent inverview by Nintendo Power, producer Eiji Aonuma said that there will certainly not be voice acting in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, because Link not speaking is “part of the series’ history. It would break the image of Link to have him speak.” He went on to explain that none of the other characters should speak if Link is silent because it would be an “off mixture.” This seems to hint at the fact that there probably will never be voice acting within a Zelda game. At least not with Aonuma at the helm.
“But why?” lament many a Zelda fan. With nearly every other major videogame franchise giving in to voice acting, what’s holding Nintendo back? Well, we can only speculate, but what follows is a list of some chief concerns which surely cross the minds of Mr. Aonuma and Mr. Miyamoto.
The Strong Silent Type
Since his inception Link was intended to be an avatar for the player. His very name clearly indicates this, but even more so does the fact that you can change his name to your own. With characters within the game referring to you by your own name, Nintendo hopes that you feel as if it is you galloping across the rolling plains of Hyrule and righting wrongs, not some in-story character.
It can however be argued that as of late this precept has been tarnished a bit by the elaborate cutscenes over which the player seldom has any control, thereby causing a bit of a disconnect when Link chooses an action or reaction that the player has no control over, and would not necessarily have so done had they been in control of the character.
Regardless, Nintendo has made clear its intent: you are Link. For this reason, we will certainly never hear Link speak more than a few grunts and war cries and gasps.
Perhaps I’m just playing the wrong games, but I have never played a single game which contained voice acting that was what I’d consider “good.” Nearly all, in fact, I would deem “horrible” but I have played a few games where the voice acting was “okay.” There’s usually at least one or two awful voice actors that destroy the whole experience.
Maybe that’s just my acting background leading to an expecting of higher standards, but it seems that the voice acting invariably ruins the gaming experience for me. Even high profile games with supposedly great casts (Tales of Symphonia) caused quite a few giggles at the sheer awfulness of the voice “talent.” And these giggles ruin what could have otherwise been a moving experience. Dawn of Mana, while not widely respected for its gameplay, is renowned for its story, music, and voice acting. And while the voice acting was mostly okay, there were several voices that utterly wrecked the game.
Even casts of A and B-list celebrities are not without fault. Take the Legend of Spyro trilogy. The titular character voiced by Elijah Wood is pitch perfect. Yet every time he speaks, one can only imagine a curly haired little shorty, not the intended purple dragon. Whether this is only because the story in the Legend of Spyro games feels like it’s trying to ape The Lord of the Rings, or simply because the wonderful Elijah Wood makes no attempt at creating a completely different voice from his own, the comparisons cannot be avoided. And don’t even get me started on how awful David Spade (and then Wayne Bradey) was in portraying the trusty sidekick Sparx the Dragonfly. Add to that account the bland supporting cast (including an actor who tries his best to copy Sir Ian MacKellan’s Gandolf to compound the Elijah Wood situation) and you have a series that would frankly had been better off not wasting all that money on A-list talent.
Which brings us to. . .
Money Makes the World Go ‘Round
Hiring voice talent isn’t that expensive in the long run and I highly doubt the money has much to do with it. However, it is surely a factor. When you take into consideration that Nintendo would want top notch talent for their beloved baby that is the Zelda series, with higher list talent comes higher salaries to be paid to them.
And while Charles Martinet (voice of Mario) isn’t exactly an A-list celebrity, neither does Mario do a great deal of talking. The Mario games are far more cartoon-ish and not to be taken as seriously as the Zelda series. Imagine Princess Zelda with a speaking voice like that of Peach. Laughable. Charles Martinet has even put forward that he would love to voice the character of Link someday, but for him that will remain only a pipe dream.
Operation of Time
Besides the large budget of hiring expensive voice actors, we must also take into consideration that unlike the Mario games, a Zelda game with voice acting would have to be localized for every language it which it would appear. Mario retains its English voice acting for Japan and the rest of the world because of how very little dialogue there is. Zelda, on the other hand, would certainly need at least a Japanese cast as well as a North American cast, not to mention a separate cast for Spanish and French and German and so on. Attempting to ensure that all of these separate casts’ voice acting is top notch Nintendo-quality when the Zelda team themselves really only speak Japanese would be difficult if not impossible.
Unless the voice acting occurred only within cutscenes and the cutscenes were finalized at the beginning of development rather than at the end, this would in turn cause the already-long development time to expand to an even longer delay. But we know that at least this time around, work on Skyward Sword‘s cutscenes have only recently begun. In a German interview Mr. Miyamoto said that this time around they focused entirely on the gameplay first and saved work for the cutscenes until after they’d had that finalized.
Do you really want to wait any longer for your next Zelda game just for the added “benefit” of voice acting?
All of the Above
Whether it is one or more (or all) of the listed reasons above, Nintendo has surely thought long and hard about voice acting in Zelda, and they seem pretty resolute on their decision: we will not be hearing the dulcet tones of our Princess Zelda any time soon. And probably not ever.
To some of us, this is a godsend, because we’ve experienced far too many otherwise enjoyable games ruined by terrible voice acting. To others of us, this is frustrating beyond belief because we want Zelda to be taken as seriously as all those other franchises out there with voice acting. And to still others, who cares? Let’s get back to debating the timeline!