Breath of the Wild: the Dissonance of Silence

March 21, 2017

Reva Short, Host

Note: While I am trying to keep this piece relatively spoiler free, there is absolutely no guarantee that you won’t be spoiled.  So, please keep in mind that light Breath of the Wild spoilers follow.

I, like almost everyone else it seems, have become absolutely enamored with Breath of the Wild.  There’s so much to talk about—how big the map is, how purposeful the elements feel, how freeform the puzzle solving can be, and seemingly countless more topics—but there’s one piece of Breath of the Wild that struck me as strange.

Breath of the Wild is, for all intents and purposes, the first main Zelda release to feature full voice acting.  Everyone’s voices are well done, even if at times they seem a little cheesy.  Most of the characters you’ll come across will only have vocalizations or voice a greeting (“Sav’aaq” being my favorite), but most of the main characters will be fully voiced in cut scenes. But Link doesn’t have a voice.

It’s not that Link is mute (and as an aside, that would’ve been an interesting plot point and easy workaround this issue).  Link is clearly shown talking with the characters he runs across through his movements, but we don’t get to hear him.  He’s also curiously silent in the cut scenes as well.  Link’s silence falls in line with his past characterizations, but it feels strange that Nintendo is so gung-ho on keeping him quiet.

In the early days of Zelda, back when Hyrule’s expansive geography was constrained by 8-bit technology, Link had nothing to say.  He was also supposed to serve more as a blank slate that the players could project themselves on to; a “link” between Hyrule and Earth, so to say.  Link was emotionless and speechless.  He was there to save Hyrule, and that’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.

This characterization worked well with all the 2D Zeldas.   But as Zelda moved into the 3D realm with Ocarina of Time, Link’s personality began to shine through.  You saw him, as a child, amazed by the size of Castle Town.  You saw his determination when he stared down Ganondorf.  You saw the relief he shared with Zelda when they finally manage to seal Ganondorf away and his grief when he’s sent back in time and away from Zelda.  You saw Link.

In the games since, Link’s personality has only become more and more solidified.  He has friends and family, he has a job, he has emotions and thought processes that shine through in his amazingly detailed animations.  Wind Waker’s Link is easily the best example of how much spunk Link’s come to have.  The way that his expressions seem to perfectly match those of a child’s is absolutely perfect.

Link is allowed to have a personality, but not a voice.  He no longer is the blank slate Nintendo created him to be.  By giving him reactions, they gave him a personality. What Link thinks and reacts to is supposed to align with what the player would also feel, but that’s not always the case.  If Link is surprised by something that I figured out a while ago, he becomes distant from me.  We lose that connection that we had previously had and he becomes his own separate character again.

Breath of the Wild does acknowledge that Link is curiously silent.  It does offer a reason as to why he doesn’t speak, but it still feels like an excuse.  Yet again, it’s not that Link doesn’t talk, it’s that we don’t hear him say anything.  Nintendo is trying to straddle a fine line between modern and classic Zelda, but this tiptoe-ing leaves Link worse off.

Finding a voice actor to play one of the most beloved characters in gaming isn’t going to be easy, and they probably won’t get it right the first time.  But giving Link a voice is the only natural course of action if they want to continue to give him a personality.  I’d hate to see Hyrule’s hero lose his personality, but to have him remain voiceless is just as large a disservice.

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