Actions speak louder than words: why Link doesn’t speak
by on October 15, 2016

[Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on voice acting. This is a response to this article, which took the opposite viewpoint.]

Link is the silent type. He may grunt and say “HIYA!” once in awhile, but throughout the entire length of The Legend of Zelda franchise he is quiet, observing and listening to his surroundings.

When you grab that controller and start the game, the first opportunity you are given is to change Link’s name. Therein lies the answer as to why Link doesn’t speak – he can’t speak for you. Only you know what name you’ll choose, or how you will respond to one of the eclectic character’s dialogue in any of the villages. Take an exchange between you and Tingle on Windfall Island – the conversation would play out in a completely different way if we heard Link’s replies since they would mute out our own thoughts and replace our personal take on the character at hand with a preconceived reaction to Tingle. (In fairness, Link does react to Tingle with exaggerated body language, but more on that later.)

Excuse Me PrincessIn a way, Link’s lack of an audible voice lets you, the player, use your imagination in the same fashion as a book since most of the dialogue is written. For instance, do you remember how you envisioned Harry Potter the first time you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or has the Daniel Radcliffe movie version clouded your original picture of the Potter boy? Once a choice is made for how Link speaks, the mysticism will vanish, and sides will be formed for and against how he sounds. I mean, does anyone enjoy the short-lived 1989 The Legend of Zelda television series’ take on Link’s voice? I know I don’t, and that could easily have established Link’s voice for the last twenty years, and that would have been a mistake. Immersion is one of the best qualities of The Legend of Zelda series, and the lack of a voice lets other game elements take center stage, like the soundtrack or the ambient sound effects.

Visually, white space is important. It lets the text and images breathe (notice the layout of this article for an example). That feeling of space between objects is necessary if you want to appreciate them to the fullest, and sound is no exception. With the understanding that Link doesn’t speak, there is no awkward silence, and, in fact, Link’s silence is what lets the musical scores sing out while adventuring across the land. Less is more, and the creators of The Legend of Zelda actively choose not to have a talking Link with every new iteration in the series.

Eiji-AonumaSpeaking of the newest installment, Breath of the Wild, in a GamesMaster Magazine interview with Aonuma, he voiced some opinions on a talking Link: “I do feel that it could be good to have a game where he speaks, [but] part of me also feels that that air of proud independence he has, because he doesn’t speak, is a precious part of the individuality of his character.”

That “air of proud independence” is what I personally feel when I play a Zelda title. The adventure is in Link’s actions, not his words.

Before diving into body language and its role in Link’s self-expression, I do want to address that yes, dear reader, you are wise to point out Link has talked before in The Adventure of Link and The Wind Waker, but when have we ever heard him say an entire sentence? In this opinion piece emphasis is placed on the lack of verbal communication from Link, since we could also say he talks all the time when referring to the dialogue selection parts of the game (when you choose what you respond with, and hope you don’t say “no” to Kaepora Gaebora for the hundredth time). Let’s look at Link’s nonverbal cues.

Did you get all of that from Kaepora Gaebora?

There are many examples that can be pulled out but I will stick to two near and dear to me: Kamaro’s mask from Majora’s Mask showing off Link’s dancing skills and Wind Waker introducing the exaggerated expressions to our protagonist. Certainly, if you can think of any favorite examples of Link’s body language showing off his personality, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Majora's Mask DancingThe official Zeldapedia definition of the Kamaro’s Mask says it “allows the wearer to perform a mysterious dance with the B button.” This mask is obtained by speaking with the spirit of Kamaro on a specific night and, in a manner of speaking, this brings Kamaro back to life. Through the dialogue exchanged with Kamaro we find out he was a dance teacher whose last wish was to pass his talent on to Link through his mask, and Link could pass it on to two women in Clock Town to obtain a Piece of Heart. You complete the sidequest not through any amount of dialog but through actively taking part in helping others complete their life goals, and helping others is what Link does best. This is one of many masks in Majora’s Mask that allow you to have strong variations in body language compared to the normal jumping, rolling, and slashing actions Link uses when wandering around and fighting.

Another variation in body language came through an art direction shift with the cel-shaded Wind Waker. The cartoonish aesthetic allowed for a wide range of emotions to be displayed through Link’s oversized eyes and mouse-like mouth. His expressions are so beloved that in the HD version they made the Pictograph capable of taking selfies – brilliant.

Wind Waker Link Selfies

Mirroring Link’s facial expressions is his literal body language letting us know when he is moving cautiously (sidling across a narrow path) versus his large jumping movement when equipping the iron boots or taking a leap of faith. His wide range of movement allows you to have a wider range of control over Link and what he does in the world.

Tingle Wind Waker-AP-10-02-16Whenever Link hands over a Triforce Chart (and some rupees) to Tingle he performs his classic Kooloo-limpah dance to which Link swirls around and holds up his newly decoded item with a large smile. This exchange is tedious at times, but the enthusiasm never dimishes as the two are constantly ecstatic to let us know, without words, that we are doing a great job at continuing our quest. And Tingle knows how to add flair to any occasion.

Body language was barley achievable with the original 2D Link sprites, but with the past and future 3D models and technology always improving Link can be understood through his actions without the need for a voice acting persona.

When a character is speechless, it lets you embody them without a language barrier. You feel more connected because projecting yourself onto a blank canvas is an easier task than “clicking” with the predefined character’s mannerisms. Link is referred to by Shigeru Miyamoto as a literal link (oh the irony in how I made the phrase “a literal link” a literal link) between you and the Zelda universe. This article is one more piece of evidence for how truthful that is. Now go save Zelda.

Alyssa Parmenter
I'm short and sweet, like this bio. @AlyssaParmenter (almost) everywhere.