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.
  • taienquinn

    I agree with everything written here, but I would go further than that. Voice acting limits the interpretation a player can have on the game. It curbs their immersion in it. Storytelling doesn’t need to be verbal; it can be done through pictures and movement and non-verbal sounds… look at dance and painting, look at mime and instrumental music… Zelda falls into this design style. It is one of the series’ defining features and removing that aspect is the worst thing that Nintendo could do.

    Distilling Link or Zelda or Impa or Ganon down to a single actor’s interpretation of how they should sound is disconnecting from the game – instantly (as you point out) it polarises fans between those that like it and those that don’t and while I can appreciate that there are people out there that prefer vocal protagonists in their games, that like to be told what characters are feeling rather than interpret it… ultimately it isn’t needed in order to tell the stories that these games want to tell.

    Zelda sells games in many different countries around the globe – should we really have to listen to an American voiced Link or Zelda if we live in Australia, or Ireland or the UK? Or should we have our imagination curbed by having those voices and those feelings behind each line defined for us. One of the worst elements of Hyrule Warriors for me is the VERY American narrator, whose intonation and delivery is completely at odds with the game’s fantasy setting, particularly as I interpret pseudo-medieval settings and stories through the filter of my British heritage (which includes the accents).

    Any actor who has ever done an extended run of a play or a tour will tell you that as you repeat the lines over and over again – new meanings and new possible emotions can come out of the same words as you discover new interpretations for those words and new emotions behind them. A beat-pause before a word can alter the entire meaning of a line. So having that defined for you by a voice actor limits the possibilities of what could really be being said it prevents you the reader from forming an opinion on what a character means or is thinking – because it is laid out bare.

    If a developer wants to remove that ambiguity in order to have a clearer definition of what a character is saying then fair enough but part of Zelda’s charm is that what it doesn’t tell you is as interesting as what it does… Windwaker is a prime example of this… no-one tells you who the faces are in the stained glass window of the Castle basement. No-one actually tells you that the Rito were once the Zora, or that Salvatore is bored out of his skull in his job. The same is true in Twilight Princess where the Gerudo and the Sheikah are hinted to have a connection to the Dark interlopers who became the Twili, but it is never stated outright There are visual clues that allow you to fill in the blanks yourself (in some cases it is obvious from their connections to other games) and is part of what makes the world of Hyrule so fun to explore each time.

    All pieces of art choose what they do and don’t tell/show you… because art is basically drawing your focus to the things they want to highlight and blurring out the things that detract from it. One of Pixar’s best films is Wall E… a film that barely has any dialogue at all but it tells a fantastic story with expression, mise en scene and music. Removing the dialogue brings those elements into sharper focus and makes them far more impactful. Compare that to Metroid Other M – whose profligate use of voice acting actually distracted from the game… It turned the previously terse bounty hunter into a character that was unrecognisable to many fans and caused people to ignore or even boycott the game in protest.

    As for breath of the Wild… clearly Nintendo have opted to use some voice acting. The female voice in the game however limits its interactions with Link to cut-scenes that are there to advance the plot… she is literally the voice that guides the player… and that is all that is needed. They are using her lone voice as punctuation of the rest of the games silence because it contrasts well with the lack of dialogue in the rest of the game. Those sections are voice acted because they are important to the plot whereas the rest of the game uses other means to tell the story. It highlights the significance of those sections and the importance of the unknown female (almost certainly Zelda) to what is going on in the game. Doing that with every character would limit that impact. The voice in BOTW is not a U-turn on the series’ long tradition of silent characters it is there to emphasise that silence as a story telling device.

    Zelda isn’t Call of Duty or Assassin’s creed, it isn’t Spyro or Resident Evil, it isn’t the last of Us or Tomb Raider… it’s style and its choice to not use voice acting is part of what defines it… other games use the same technique to great atmospheric effect… look at Limbo or Banjo Kazooie, Look at Steam world dig or Pokemon…

    Games don’t need to define everything for us… otherwise what is there for us to discover or decide for ourselves?

    • Matthew Hobbs

      Thank you. You put all my feelings into a well thought-out response.

  • True Davad

    Though I have not made a final decision on this topic, there are several problems with some of these arguments I would like to point out.

    First Nintendo is smart enough not to base it on the the cartoon. Just because a show produced by a DIFFERENT company and games produced by a DIFFERENT company on a virtually nonexistent budget did it wrong does not mean Nintendo would do it remotely similar. They would be fools if they did not learn from those examples. And we have never seen Nintendo themselves attempt to give Link actual lines themselves. So we should not expect an attempt by Nintendo to be anything like the the show or CDI games.

    Second no one is suggesting taking Link’s actions away. He would still take all the same actions to save the day he would otherwise. Giving him lines does not take anything away from his actions. It just adds his side of the dialogue to the conversation and nothing more.

    Now I am still undecided on this issue but here are some PERSONAL opinions on IF they were to implement Link having lines. I think if this were implemented it might be better to start with written dialogue before voice acting. I think the link to the player point has the most merit of this articles points personally. If we did get dialogue I would only want him to have lines for dialogue. I would not want him talking to himself, talking during specific attacks, or talking in the middle of a fight like Kid Icarus Uprising or something. not that those things aren’t enjoyable but they aren’t really things they should start with if they implement Link talking in my opinion. In other words they would want to take it slow. Taking a step back to rethink it if it doesn’t seem to be working would also be an option.

    • taienquinn

      3 points: 1. They’ve never voiced Link, but they have voiced Samus and the result was not popular.

      2. Giving Link a voice DOES detract from his actions and expressions. If his expression is all we have to go on then we look more closely at what it means. Compare to games that have voice acting few have the animated flair for expression that Link has. Adding dialogue removes the need for expressive animation and I think doing that would lead to fewer special moments in the series.

      3. Link already had some written dialogue choices in SS. A key example of this comes during the fight between Impa and Ghirahim at the temple of time… Where Link can choose to be serious and tell Impa to get Zelda to safety or can make a quip about not being late this time. But these choices reflect what the player wants to say, not what an actor does.

      • True Davad

        1. If you are referring to Other M, I agree that that was a disaster. I don’t even understand how they messed up that badly on that game. I would only support the giving Link lines if they were extremely careful about doing it right.

        2. I hadn’t really though about it like that. It makes more sense to me now and I think it is a valid point now that I understand what you mean better.

        3. Maybe expanding upon the number of choices like those would be a good way to do it. I liked them alot and they seem to bypass those problems.

        On another note I think one potential problem with Link’s silence is if they were to have more playable characters in a future Zelda game, then would all the playable characters have to be silent? If you are playing as one character then can the ones you aren’t playing as speak? That could be problematic to work out.

      • Azerik

        1) Other M was worked on by another studio, and more to the point, as discussed in the article this is responding to, that is more an issue of poor writing, not poor voice acting.

        2) I disagree with this point. Giving a character a voice does not remove the need for expressive animation, and in fact doing either one without the other often leaves a hole in most narratives. These days, voice acting without expressive animation is looked at very critically, and never received well. Everyone knows that today’s technology allows both to be used together, and thus they expect it.

        While expressive animation can be used on it’s own to more effect than VA work can on it’s own, they work best in tandem. My next point will focus on how I think, it would/should work, and for the most part how it does work in other games.

        3) Most of the time, protagonists speak (as in VA’d lines) in cutscenes, not in normal dialogue throughout the game. Sometimes it’s different, but most times they speak only when it is plot necessary. I don’t think anyone wants or expects Link to speak in normal dialogue, but giving him a proper reaction in a cutscene (especially now that we have other character’s being VA’d) would be nice. For example, in the part of the newest trailer, when Zelda is crying, some sort of verbal response would be expected by most, and with the presentation of the scene, we KNOW that they want us to feel a certain way when it’s happening, and on such occasions we usually feel what they want us to because that’s what plot does; so in this instance there should be no problem, and no immersion breakage happening when Link speaks.

        And seeing as how the plot is set in stone, and unchangeable, the illusion of “a link to the game” is not required during plot cutscenes, what’s required is the narrative motivation, the reason you want Link to progress, which is more easily conveyed through spoken lines.

    • Matthew Hobbs

      To put more to what tainequinn has said: Voice acting gives a preconceived notion of what we should feel in a given scene. A spoken word can have much more behind it than what is said. This is accomplished with tone. Has someone ever said anything to you that in essence was not threatening, but you perceived it as such. That is tone.

      With this in mind, we would be told how to perceive the emotion in scenes. We would be told what a relationship means. We would be told how angry Link is. We would be told how sad Link is and the list goes on. This is why it would be such a disaster to give link a voice. How deep we feel in a scene is up to us. We interpret what a relationship means given Link’s non-verbal communication. We interpret how angry Link is. WE interpret how sad Link is….

      That results in a personal and emotional attachment on a level that is deep, pure and unique to each person who plays. We may play the same game, but we all have our own personal feelings and attachments throughout the game.

      As it stands, I feel we do not need any voice acting, dialog or otherwise. A laugh here, a yell here, or a single line like, “Come on!” are all fine. I equate those to be onomatopoeic in nature and purpose.

      • True Davad

        that all falls in the link to the player category I didn’t cover in my comment. It has nothing to do with my comment, I did say I was undecided.

      • Azerik

        Link’s expressive animation already shows us how strongly he feels, so I think this point is moot. Using the newest trailer as an example, near the end, when we see him recovering from what seems to have been a very devastating attack, he looks tired, he looks worn, but he looks fierce and determined.

        Since Wind Waker, Link’s expressions have been crystal clear, but the one with the most “character” is probably Skyward Sword’s Link. We know his motivation better than any other’s I think, and small dialogue choices gave us some agency over smaller aspects of his personality, making him feel more like a link to the game. Voice acting in cutscenes, won’t change those small things, and it won’t change the by and large of how we feel about the scene, because the scenes are constructed to make you feel a certain range of emotions, and with other characters speaking in them, that will be more true than it has ever been. We will see Link’s reactions to their words and actions, and his feelings will be clear, but for some, the logical verbal acknowledgement will make the scene feel a little bit emptier than intended.

  • Matthew Hobbs

    Some of my greatest memories are of Link looking deeply at something happening. Wind Waker did fantastic on this. Link does not need to speak. It is set in my mind Link waving bye to his grandmother as he leaves her. The look of pain on his face says more than any voice actor could have.

    To take that away…..would be to take away part of the reason why TLoZ has been so successful. No words allows you to be in the scene and feel the emotions clearly and effectively. I’m not saying that this could not be accomplished with words; I’m saying that the unique air and flair that Link brings to the series is accomplished because of this. He does not need a voice. Let us keep seeing the world through his emotions and his eyes. Seeing his emotions so raw sticks to us. We interpret the degree of the emotion. It is not told to us. THAT! That right there is the reason why so many have such a pure and severe attachment to moments in this series. WE FEEL IT IN ALL OF ITS GLORY. Please. Leave the formula that has worked so well alone. Please.

    • Darkstar

      “WE FEEL IT IN ALL OF ITS GLORY.” I’m REALLY feelin’ it! lol I had to say it.

    • Azerik

      There’s no reason to remove scenes like that, just to give him a voice. There are plenty of films and shows that have such scenes with speaking characters, and the fact that they can speak, BUT don’t makes them more powerful.

      Also, as I’ve said in a couple comments above, his expressions have always shown his feelings, and how strong they are, but some things need words, or other form of verbal acknowledgement. He doesn’t need to be as heavily voiced as other characters, but certain points would be nice.

  • Dinho Machado

    link does not speak because nintendo is very very die-hard. Its just like the Mortal Kombat without blood in the 90’s.

  • Darkstar

    Link could sound like this, and that would be awesome!

  • Matthew Krankall

    I have to admit I am still on the fence myself about LoZ voice acting, though your opinion is more in line with mine. I’m considered a voice for Link would limit rather than enhance his character. I’ve enjoyed enjoyed his emoting as part of his character, and I don’t want him to turn into an edgy anti-hero with bad one liners..