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A Link Between Worlds
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The Legend of Zelda:
A Link Between Worlds
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Whenever the subject of developing the character of Link is brought up, Zelda fans appear in droves to insist that Link should be a blank slate for the player to project themselves onto, complaining that it would ruin the Zelda experience that they know and love if Link became a character of his own.

The problem is, though, that Link is becoming more developed in each game, and every time Nintendo does it, these same fans love it. This fabled blank slate Link has not existed since A Link to the Past, and that to say that a true Zelda game needs to have this is to say that Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and especially Skyward Sword are not true Zelda games.

The blank slate Link “tradition” was started back with the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, a game which also included several other features that fans are now nostalgic for, such as a lack of story/introduction in general, and a higher level of difficulty. Here’s the thing, though: those weren’t there because Nintendo thought it would be “totes indie”, they were there because they were limitations of the NES.

Nintendo’s skimping on a story and introduction was because they couldn’t fit the story into the game and had to put one into the instruction booklet instead. The higher difficulty setting was simply artificial difficulty from having a non-streamlined control system, and the lack of a character for Link was because they couldn’t have one.

As soon as they had the N64 technology to pull it off, though, suddenly Link had a face and a voice and cutscenes and his own reactions to situations. Then, with the advent of the Gamecube, they pulled the brilliant maneuver of basing the entire graphics style around being able to show Link and the NPCs as expressive characters. This version of Link had a huge and expressive face, created so that Nintendo could show off this Link as a character of his own, someone with family and friends and thoughts and beliefs.

It was Link, not the player, who cried and waved as he left his island behind, and it was Link who, with his own will, made the decision to get his sister back whatever it took. Sure, you guided him through it as the player, because it’s a video game, but it was clearly the decision of Link the character, not you as a blank slate.

Skyward Sword has taken this a step further again. They’ve once again created an expressive art style where they can showcase the “character” of each character, and used it to give Link not only emotions, but his own love interest, who he as a character is determined to find again. And the reaction to that, as with every other step along this path, has been overwhelmingly positive.

You don’t have to agree with the idea of voice acting for Link – that’s an debate of its own – but simply being nostalgic about old games isn’t going to take the new ones forward. It’s time to publicly embrace the fact that when Nintendo wants to give Link a character, they do it well, and instead of asking Nintendo to hold themselves back, support them in bringing the games forward.

  • Juzzash

    Agreed.

  • robotortoise

    Amen.

    I doubt that Link will ever have voice acting anytime soon, but he IS getting more expressive.

    The Wind Waker having multiple textures for Link's face and separately modeled eyes was a huge step forward.

  • REMAKEOCARINAINHD

    the fans that want to make link for their own are dumb, zelda games are not rpgs, but adventures. zelda games have a story and a compelling one at that. Link might have the name to ''link'' the players to the character, but the creators said themselves that it was mainly because every descendant of link would have the same name, therefore the hero has ''a link to the past'' i dont care if i dont explain my point of view very well but…those fans are stupid if they want to make zelda games like skyrim. zelda games are all about VARIOUS elements from adventure, action and rpg. its not entirely in its own a gendra i believe. the only thing i would change to zelda would be expanding the world of hyrule more towns with awesome interesting civilian characters. kakariko village is not enough!! but other than the zelda games are perfect!! A FUN GAME

    • bob

      Lol, btw, RPG's generally have the protaganist be a "character" as well, much more than adventure games in fact. Downvoted, though I agree with the article's sentiment.

    • Gustwing

      It has a genre of its own! Its called. . . ZELDA!

    • htf

      you just said it's "not skyrim", and i for one would like to keep it that way.

  • killer

    I would love voice acting, if it was Japanese with subtitles =). American voices would ruin it.

    • ABAZELDAFAN

      GOOD ONE

    • Jara

      Correction: BAD American voices would ruin it.

      There’s plenty of good voice actors in the States, many of whom do work for videogames, but it seems the majority of Japanese-made games get the *budget* VA treatment, instead of quality VAs like, say, Craig Sechler, Wes Johnson or Jeff Baker.

    • HyruleWeirdo

      American voices would ruin Link, that's for sure.

    • http://artist-critique.blogspot.com Sam

      I would get a headache having to listen to Japanese all the time. It's so crisp, and fast. Besides, voice acting in vg's have greatly improved this past decade. (Dude, Bethesda got Patrick Stewart one time!)
      Personally, I'd like a made-up, or dead, language to do the voices. That way no dubs will be needed to be done, just subtitle translations.

      • cvb

        i wanna hear him speak Hylian

      • yhg

        they did that with midna and fi…

  • brk

    I loved how much character link had with skyward sword. would love to see that developed further in the games.
    if we're going to talk about voice acting… I think it would be great if all the characters had a little bit of voice acting, even if it's just the nonsensical noises that some of the characters make in skyward sword / twilight princess…

  • danielneves

    I think it would be awsome voice acting, but withouy Link speaking, of course.

  • Agentbarto

    I loved the fact that they let you chose how the Gratitude crystals story lines progressed; it let you transpose your own personality onto Link's responses.

  • Kwuz

    I personally love the way they've characterized link…. It makes me feel real emotion for him. I feel that nintendo has reached the perfect balance — link has some emotions and motivations of his own, but doesn't say anything you wouldn't say. (cause, well he doesn't talk…much….) making the character yours, but his own at the same time.

  • http://twitter.com/BlizzagaLantean @BlizzagaLantean

    I wouldn't mind voice acting in the next Zelda game. The random noises ARE starting to get a tad bit annoying.

    • http://artist-critique.blogspot.com Sam

      I don't find them annoying, but there are several times I feel that some of the grunts are poorly placed or not sounding right.

  • ABAZELDAFAN

    WHAT TOO SAY MMMM
    I KNOW: PLEASE NINTENDO VOICE ACTING AND FOR LINK THE SAME, IMAGEN EVERYONE TALKING EXCEPT LINK, THAT WOULD BE STRANGE!

  • Guest

    I really like what little personality shows in Link in MM, and I wish he'd had more of it. I don't mind Link having the kind of character that Nintendo gives him, I've loved what they've done so far, especially in WW and SS, and I support expressive Links in the future.

  • Zeldahootowl

    i want Link to have text boxes, asking for voice acting is too risky since they could easily mess that up (although im not as critical about voice acting as most people) i really agree with this article, thank you for writing this!

  • Ordeth

    I do like that Link is expressive, and have enjoyed all the games thus far. Since other people are commenting on it, I will too: A voice for Link would ruin the series for me. Expression is great up until a certain point. A voice crosses that point.

  • Amber Relic

    Seriously, sometimes the Zelda fandom can be so silly! Nostalgia has absolutely nothing to do with how the games change over the years. Nostalgia merely means the games HAVE changed but we still have these incredible retro games to look at.

    How about, instead of complaining and saying "NO! Please don't do THIS, Nintendo!" we can start making compromises and say things like "Okay, voice acting is fine here and there but please no voice acting for Link."

    If we start building a box for Nintendo, the games won't get any greater than that. Every time Nintendo steps out of the box WE FANS built, we're pleasantly surprised and want more creativity, all the while bringing forward requests that put up walls all over again.

    In short: Agree with your point, fanbase sucks sometimes.

    Rant over.

    • UnholySanctuary

      I'd have to agree with you on that. Nintendo won't sell anything that would risk being a flop. As far as the voice acting situation goes, I'd prefer it to remain text based, but at the same time, I'd also like to see the Big N experiment in the issue (and hopefully not eff it up).

  • zeldafan4040

    Ok, well said, MR. Yes, voice acting for every character except for Link. I don't want anyone putting words in my mouth. I don't like that, not just in Zelda games, but ANY game that makes my character say cheesy things is a turn off! I like how in SS, you had options as to what to say! That, I like.

    • MittyKitty

      Yeah, in OoT when you're talking to young Zelda you have options but that's the only time in the game. However, even though you had options, you technically didn't. Cause you say "no" and it comes right back to the same options until you select "yes".

    • zeldafan1982

      These are not mutually exclusive. They can implement voice acting and give you options on what to say.

      • Delicious Robot

        I was just thinking of that spread this idea because it is actually a good one.

  • HylianPwnage

    "ZOMG THEY'RE GOOD FRIENDS THEREFORE THEY'RE MADLY IN LOVE, AMIRITE?"
    brb lol'ing forever at the end of this article >_>

    • zeldafan1982

      You must have missed this quote then :)

      Fi: Master, your interest in this young
      woman [Peatrice] is clear. I can see your aura
      shining brightly with joy in her
      presence.
      …I strongly recommend that you do
      not mention this when you next
      encounter Zelda.

      • Delicious Robot

        Actually to me she is just the item girl :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Thareous Thareous

    Link is characterized in whatever way the player interprets him as. He can portray emotion himself, as is evidenced by certain scenes in Skyward Sword, but most of his character comes from the player's point of view.

  • Vahan

    I disagree. There is an appropriate level of character to Link. I think they hit the nail on the head with the N64 Zeldas and Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward sword was way too much. The truth is Link IS an empty shell, and that IS what's made the Zelda games so great.

    If you can't agree on that, you can at least agree that what they have done with Link's voice has been absolutely atrocious. The sounds that he makes when he sees Zelda or someone he "cares" about, are terrible. He lets out this noise that sounds half painful and half confused. It ruins the game for me.

    Personally, I think they should keep Link's character at what it was in Ocarina of Time. I'm fine with other characters having voice actors, but please, don't turn Zelda into a movie. I don't want to watch someone else save Hyrule and the Princess, I want to save Hyrule and the Princess.

    • April

      Agreed!

  • Gamer

    Personally, it's weird even talking about Link's "character." I have never thought about the "character of Link". I've always just thought of the main character of the series as being myself.

  • Jara

    Part of the problem with voice acting is that they’d either have to force you to name your character “Link” (instead of naming him after yourself, or whatever you feel like), or they’d have to have everyone call him “hero” or “adventurer” or “hey, you”, like that they do in franchises like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls.

    Voice acting does limit things in regards to player freedom like that (remember when Final Fantasy games let you rename every. single. party member?), but I do feel that it’s high time Nintendo did it.

    They’re already far behind in the CPU/RAM/graphics department, the least they can do is catch up with everyone else in the 21st century and give their characters voices.

  • MarrowHearts

    Ok, I love Link having his own emotions and body language so that I can feel those same emotions and become better emotionally attached to the game, Skyward sword did that, I cried at parts of that game, I "FELT" that game. so I'm all for him having those and acctually having a conversation with people even though you don't hear him speek, but I love him being partly speechless, that way I can imagine a voice for him and that helps me better connect with the game cause I can give him a voice of my chosing wether it be mine or someone elses voice that would fit the part in my mind, If he had his own voice especially one that to me might not fit, then most of that connection and the emotion projected twords me through his actions and his emotion would be dulled and blurred, in my opinion.
    In all I'm all for and I love Link having his own emotions, body language and facial expressions It just helps you to become so much more emotionally and mentally submerged in the game and actually feel like you are expriencing exactally what Link is.

    • MarrowHearts

      Also I'm not completely like, ( OH NO DON"T GIVE LINK A VOICE!) as long as it is done with a good voice actor like Johnny Yong Bosch the voice for Ichigo Kurosaki to me his voice would fit it's a very nice hero-like voice, but it would just be so hard to please everyone with a voice for Link cause everyone has their own opinions on how they think in their mind how he would sound.

      • Darkstar

        I agree with Link having his own emotions/expressions which really do help portray his mind, but we really don't need to "imagine" what his voice sounds like when we can already hear it with his sounds/noises that he makes. All he needs to do is actually speak now and it will be the same sound of his voice, just with words. If they let us choose what to say in replies he can easily speak the sentence/reply intead of reading it via text box.

  • Oxling

    I completely agree. But voice acting would probably only work if Link doesn't speak, just NPCs. And if he does get a voice, whoever plays him would have to have or put on an English accent… Or at least not American.

    On a less serious note – If Zelda does get voice acting, Link should be Morgan Freeman, obviously. Ganondorf NEEDS to be played by Johnny Depp.

  • EraZ3712

    I completely agree that Nintendo has done an excellent job at creating a character for Link in such a way that we know his basic motives towards the mainstream storyline, but still allows for the player's own characterization of him through the side-quests and the multiple options for replying towards characters.

    However, I don't think they'll put voice acting in Zelda, and if any, certainly not for Link.
    Trust me. Whether we are aware or not, we have all become very accustomed to a voiceless Link, and because we have not ever HAD a voiced Link, we want to satisfy our curiosity. It's human nature. :)

    But, I guarantee you all, the reaction to voice-acted Link, unless it is done EXCEPTIONALLY well that it surpasses all expectation, will be far worse than even the initial reaction towards the graphics style of Wind Waker. Just like when we read a book, we create voices for the characters we come to empathize with and know. The grunts, yells, laughs, and the screams of the characters in Zelda only help us create our voices for the characters. However, should voice acting ever be done for Zelda, I can't imagine how contradictory the voice selection will be…

    • Delicious Robot

      Just think Final Fantasy X… oh wait

  • cloverplayer

    Skyward Sword's characters' facial emotions/expressions (especially Link/Zelda) are amazing. period.

  • Verunme

    I think Skyward Sword is the limit of what I think should be Link's characterization.

    He has just enough personality so as to set a framework (Lazy, love interest and others) but still undefined enough to allow the players to participate in his personality. This is why I loved the capacity to choose from three possible answers in conversations for example.

    As of voice acting, they can do it for Zelda, Impa and others (As long as the voice acting is absolutely perfect, not cheesy or unexpressive), but not Link. It is his total lack of answers that allow the player to make up what he thinks.

  • Link and Cuccos

    I loved Link's expressions in Skyward Sword. It was enough for me to feel how alive he is, but at the same time not too much to prevent me from projecting my own thoughts into the character. I feel that Skyward Sword had a good balance of the amount of emotions and personality Link shows while still giving us choices with, for instance, the dialogue (i.e. "Am I late?" and "Not that guy…", lol)

  • Rakshael

    Sure, Link has emotions, but doesn't the game make you want to feel the same emotions? For instance, when the Helmaroc King steals Aryll, you're just as pissed as Link is. Or in ALttP, when Aganhim is teleporting a recently kidnapped Zelda into the Dark World right in front of you, you're supposed to get angry. In SS, Link loves Zelda. We all, as fans, love zelda too, to a certain extent. The game does project Link's emotions to us, but also draws out our emotions, which we also project onto him. It's a lot easier to do that when he's silent, and I never want anyone in the series to actually speak. It would totally ruin my image of each character. I've grown extremely fond of the grunts and sqeals everyone makes, and I hope Nintendo never deviates from this.

  • Nope

    Please for the love of god no, stop giving Link more character. I hate what they did to him in Skyward sword. His facial expressions and sounds were terrible

  • Tayo

    I felt like I could feel for Link like never before in Skyward Sword.

  • Kare

    I dont want voice acting, It will ruin the charm and feel of zelda. It will for me atleast

  • http://mytriforce.deviantart.com/ Ezlo

    I can name several scenes from Skyward Sword that will stick with me for a long time. Link's expression is getting better and better with each game, and yes, I DO LOVE IT. It feels like an honor to be allowed into his world to help him reach his goals.

  • http://twitter.com/FNCTINroboNINJA @FNCTINroboNINJA

    Okay, i'm a fan of the series, big one. I'm not 20 yet, but i own a NES with the first game, a N64 with OoT and MM, and on my 3DS i have the 1st and 2nd, 4 swords, Minish Cap, and OoT 3D. I have other misc. versions of the first as well. I plan to eventually own all of them (going to buy Link's Awakening DX on 3DS here soon). I love playing Twilight Princess on my friends Wii, and am ready for SS. In the end, i love them all. What i would like to see though, is some different stories. Make it like a Choose Your Own Adventure. Have like a hub where you choose which Dungeon you want to do, and you get the necessary equipment. Also MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE, dungeons. The games are to short for an experienced play, and Master Quest is just a little tricky, but not much harder.

  • Midnight C

    This is a great post, and so true. Skyward Sword Link is my favorite incarnation of him so far, and that's largely because he is so expressive and feels like his own character. I'm still split on whether or not I want voice acting in Zelda games, but I like it when Link has a personality of his own, even if it's only vaguely alluded to as in the N64 games.

    I've never seen Link as a pure audience surrogate, or someone who *should* be an audience surrogate. Zelda games are sweeping, epic stories and it'd feel weird to have a faceless, empty hero. It worked in the NES days because of the programming limitations, but that's not an issue now. If Zelda herself is allowed to be her own character, Link should be too. It works so well in Skyward Sword, and you wind up feeling for both of them as the game unfolds. It makes the story that much more poignant.

  • MereMare

    Personally I like voice acting, it lets me feel what the character is saying. I stopped playing Zelda games because of the lack of this feature. If future Zelda games has voice acting, I might be willing to give them a playthrough.

  • the_voice

    Yes, Link has a character. He has character development, too, for those willing to look for it. He even shows emotion now. And for those complaining that they don't like being "told" how they feel about something (seeing Link respond to things), we've been reading about how ecstatic we are to find a bunch of rupees in a chest since LA at the *latest.*

    But one thing I'm pretty sure Link still doesn't have is a personality. Zelda is so expressive in the cutscenes in Skyward Sword. Link just kind of stands there. He smiles, he nods his head, whatever he needs to do to show the player that Zelda is his best friend. But to me he doesn't show any more complex emotions than "happy, sad, angry." He's like a dog.

    And I'm cool with that. They don't even show him that much. They really are still letting the player BE Link. At least, *I* still feel like I am Link.

  • anon

    It's not like Nintendo's going to listen to us either way so I'm not too worried. XD

  • Sanguiluna

    I don't mind Link having his own personality, but the obligation is on Nintendo to make it so that Link's motives are also our motives. When we're controlling Link fighting to save Zelda, or save Aryll, we should be doing it because WE want to as well, not because it's simply "the objective". If we see it as just the objective of the game and have no desire to save these people (or worse, actually DISlike them), then I think that would be a failure on Nintendo's part.

    I think a pretty notorious example of a failure of this is Resident Evil 4: we're controlling a guy who has to save this young girl. HE obviously cares for her and is willing to do whatever it takes to save her, but WE hate her to no end and see it as a chore to rescue her.

  • FullmetalHeart

    SS is the best game Nintendo's made in this franchise yet, in my humble opinion. I felt really drawn in to the story like no other LoZ game and the different options you're given during the gratitude crystals quests and answers to some of the questions was just great to me. I absolutely cracked up at some of the answers I could give, and the choice to use the letter as toilet paper was priceless. I also really liked how you weren't annoyingly stuck in the beginning of the game (like the deku scrub in MM) and all of the side quests really seemed to flow nicely and I only found one or two to be annoying.

    And to weigh in on the voice acting… I think sometimes when there are the best of intentions to give voice to a silent character, you can really ruin it for alot of people unless it is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, which is impossible because everyone has their own idea of what he should sound like. Like when books are made into movies – how many times do you hear people complain about how horrible the movie was? It's sorta the same thing. While I personally would like to see it, I'm sure I wouldn't like it and it's nice the way it is. There's plenty of times where you KNOW Link's talking to someone (so he's not a mute or something) and it's okay that you can't actually hear him speak. I don't even think the NPCs should have voice acting.

    Just my two cents.

  • Pedro B.

    I think that if they took back the "blank slate" character for Link, some idiotic people would think they're plagiarizing "The Elder Scrolls" since it has been absent from Zelda for so much time that some kids won't accept that Zelda was the pioneer in having a character that is a direct link between the player and the game.

  • BlackOwlDog

    Expression =/= characterization.
    When Link almost cried when Zelda was sealed, it wasn't just him crying. Expressions aren't there to isolate the player from the character, they're there to invite player participation, and Nintendo's done a masterful job (yes, I cried too when Zelda sealed herself off ;_;).