Debate: Voice Acting in Zelda games

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Casper: I don’t really watch trailers or keep up with gaming news much nowadays. I have enough of a backlog as it is, so when the new Nintendo Switch reveals rolled in I wasn’t exactly jumping to see what was up. Mario Odyssey sounded interesting when somebody mentioned it on Whatsapp, but somehow that person failed to mention that there was a Zelda trailer out. Probably for the better, since I would have dropped all my work and rushed home for that.

The new trailer is the bee’s knees and leaves us with a lot to talk and theorize about. Perhaps the most remarkable thing Nintendo did with it, though, is criminally understated. You get your narration, you get your world building, when all of a sudden characters just begin to talk. What?! A Zelda game with voice acting that exceeds characters shouting and maybe reaction noises is a big change from the formula as we know it, and though it was apparently announced sometime before, and Hyrule Warriors already enjoyed narration in its campaign, this will be a strange shift for the fanbase.

What are your initial thoughts Stian?

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Stian: This is were I think our differences can be quite amusing. I was up 5 AM and watched the whole press-conference before I went for a quick workout at a gym. I might have scribbled a bunch of thoughts to you if I did not have to go to work that day, but that might have been for the better as you pointed out. Nonetheless: I watched the new Zelda trailer as well and the whole game seems quite different from what we are used to. While previous Zelda games have given us freedom to explore and enjoy the side quests, characters, and just search for secrets, it has been a while since the last time we got close to such freedom of exploration in a Zelda-game, with the closest possibly being the original for the NES. Although Wind Waker did it well.

However, throughout the years, Zelda has become more and more about not just the world, but also about the characters and story rather than your average adventure. It is somehow similar to what we talked about in the A Link to the Past vs Ocarina of Time debate, where story became more and more important, so I think it is an important step for the series to include voice-acting. It seems also likely that Link will be a silent protagonist, which I welcome since it makes it easier to put ourselves in his shoes. Somewhat similar to what Metroid Prime 2 and 3 did.

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Casper: Breath of the Wild has me intrigued if only for what you just mentioned. It looks like a mesh between all the big games on all fronts, as in: it mixed lore, gameplay, and aesthetic elements from all the major titles together. The trailer shows us Koroks besides Twilight Princess’ style of Zora, it shows companion characters that are reminiscent of Hyrule Warriors, and we see returning faces like the Great Deku Tree, the voice of Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, and who knows what else, put into a big world for us to explore that brings back memories of the original NES classic that started it all.

The entire trailer is mindblowing, but let’s focus on the voice acting. This is not just new to the series, many would argue that voice-acting in Zelda games is a taboo that should never be touched upon. “It would ruin the world of Hyrule”, “it would shatter the fantastical atmosphere”, “the voice acting would probably suck and drag the game down” those are all arguments I heard many times in the past, and I am not sure how true they will prove to be. Personally, I am worried that voice acting would ruin the image I had of characters, like in the trailer alone I thought Zelda herself had a heavier voice than I figured she’d have and The Deku Tree I always imagined having a much slower, elderly way of speaking. Do you have such worries?

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Stian: I could not have put it better myself, so I won’t gush anymore over the game. Personally I am not that worried for different reasons. First of: this is a new Zelda game set in a different Hyrule like many others, which makes it so returning characters while having the same names, are different. For example, I think we can agree that the Zelda in Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker are all different. Because of this, I don’t think it will ruin our images of our lovable characters and hopefully just expand the amount of characters we will come to love.

I do however agree about the voices not being quite what I imagined originally. But at the same time: I don’t really know what I did expect. Because of what I am used to, I think the new voices would have been off either way. They do solid work and who am I to say how Zelda games should be? I think if we had used the same logic before, we would never have gotten Wind Waker. Because of this, it is kinda hard for me to take such criticism seriously, at least when it comes to simply outright hating it, instead of explaining why. And hey: nostalgia is a seductive liar.

I also think this might have something to do with 90s and early 2000s, where voice-acting was hit and miss. Not just the outright cringeworthy Zelda-CDi games, but also those with more serious tones, such as Silent Hill. We have come a long way since then, so I do believe they want to take extra care for the voice-acting. I do wonder though: will Link begin to talk one day? I mean he can’t stay a mute for too long, especially when the conversations can be grand and not every question can be answered with his head-movements? Or can actions speak louder than words?

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Casper: As for your last argument, I totally agree. The quality of your voice acting isn’t the same as the quality of your graphics and Nintendo was wise to wait it out this long. Ocarina of Time might not be the prettiest duck anymore with its dark colors and polygonal design, but at least it was spared cringeworthy performances of an industry trying to work out how voice acting should be handled.

But I do disagree with you using Zelda herself as an example here. The main characters change every time, that much I agree on and in future titles we may see Zelda return with a voice that matches my expectations, but characters like The Great Deku Tree have a more defined role and less freedom, especially when his appearance here is so akin to how he looked in Ocarina of Time as opposed to the reimagining of the tree we saw in Wind Waker. Speaking of WW, the debate is sort-of similar in many ways and we may look back on this matter much the same way.

I am not preaching against voice acting, if anything I find it exciting to finally see this step being made, but if the plot is as dramatic as the trailer hints at, then this will be a demanding project on both the actors and the directors involved.

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Stian: That is actually true though: some characters might be so similar to previous entries, it is hard to put a perfect voice on them in comparison to what we might have expected. But I think it would have been a bit off either way, due to it being hard to pinpoint something that would perfectly fit them. However, now that you mention it: carrying a heavy scene can be quite demanding. I do believe Nintendo has done it well with similar scenes, such as in Majora’s Mask, Fire Emblem 7 and Mother 3 (if that counts). I do believe however they are much better at doing calmer scenes where tension can rise or where a sad moment lasts with few words. Doing a more action-heavy scene with voice-acting, that is something I am definitely wondering if they can do well.

However, if you think about it: there might have been a reason why they have not done many similar scenes before. Whenever there was a scene with a lot of emotions, drama or general things being at the edge of chaos, we usually got them with text. Because of that, we needed a form of “pause” in the story. With voice-acting, I think it is possible to go even further with scenes like that. They did it pretty well in the cutscenes from Fire Emblem Awakening and in Path of Radiance, so I do have my hopes that they can do it well with ingame cutscenes in a Zelda-title.

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Casper: Remind me that I need to check out those Fire Emblem games. I didn’t realize those were voiced and it’ll be an interesting opportunity to see what Nintendo can do.

It seems like we are both cautiously optimistic about this change and right now I am having a lot fun imagining some classic, emotional scenes done with voices, like the deaths of the Deku Tree and Mikau, or Link’s farewell to his grandmother in Wind Waker. Some might declare me crazy, but perhaps we’ll see Nintendo remake those classic games some day to include voices in them.

Either way, I think this will serve as a turning point in the series and I hope that the inclusion of voices will draw new players to the series. Reading just naturally turns some people away, people that might actually enjoy the kind of fantasy that this franchise offers if only they could get past having to click through so much dialog, or even just young kids that will be the future of the fanbase some day but have yet to really develop their reading skills.

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Stian: Some of them have voice-acting in them, but usually reserved for cutscenes. I definitely will remind you, especially when I one day review the entire series.

That would be interesting actually, since the voicework can either give or take away. I would love a dialogue between Link and the Deku Tree before he passes away, but with Link’s farewell to his grandmother in Wind Waker, I love how silent they are because of how strong emotions can speak compared to words. I do not know if it would have been better or worse, but I can’t deny how excited I am for the possibility of such remakes!

The voicework can certainly help to get more people on board, and I think it is a good support. I think it is shallow if you don’t want to play a game because you have to read, but as you stated: it can certainly be a reason if you can’t read to begin with. Regardless: I am excited and happy that Nintendo still takes chances, while also respecting their franchises! Hopefully with this and Witcher 3, we can demand more from Bethesda with their Elder Scrolls-games!

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