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Zelda, Voices and Communicating Narrative

You can browse any forum or comments section relating to gaming and find a multitude of ill thought out or carefully considered debates over a whole host of subjects; or sometimes just trolling and in-jokes. With the recent wave of info regarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a familiar criticism reared its head: why doesnít this game have voice acting?

As a fan of the series Iíve heard it since Wind Waker as voice acting was becoming common place around that time, especially with big AAA releases which a Zelda title certainly is. Iíve even found myself wondering the same thing; this is the direction games are going so why isnít Nintendo falling in line? Is it laziness? Is it the budget? Itís none of these, Nintendo could quite easily add voice acting if they wished, but they donít, and after finishing Wind Waker, Majorís Mask and Twilight Princess quite recently I think I know why.

I see the cutscenes in any Legend of Zelda title - but mostly in the more recent 3D games Ė and the way they are shot harks back to those books of fairy tales that seemed to accumulate in the house when I was young (probably well meaning presents but all I wanted was anything Thundercats). They were usually made up of beautiful illustrations with a little exposition or dialogue tucked away in a clear area, all of which communicates everything you need to know about the narrative and characters. That sort of set up will seem familiar to anyone whoís been in contact with a Zelda game. And that is whatís important in story telling; the Legend of Zelda isnít a twisting and turning plot, itís a fairy tale. So the style of storytelling simply fits the style of the game, and youíd think that would be the end of it. Well, unfortunately not.

The unfortunate truth is that videogames are, arguably, too dependant on technology. What I mean by that in the Legend of Zeldaís case is there is a preconceived expectation for games to have all the advancements that all the other AAA games have, and since it doesnít contain one of these advancements then gamers feel short changed. I wish it was understood a little more that games are a creative medium and not a showcase for how many tricks your games console or PC can do. Features in a game arenít something you tick off a checklist and if it doesnít contain them then it fails; they should be considered whether they are fitting to the style of game.

Games can do so many things and itís only damaging to go in one direction only because they can and not consider the alternatives. It makes me think of silent movies or Tom & Jerry cartoons which brought a very physical means of communicating the simple story. Iím not for one moment suggesting cinema should be like this but for short slapstick comedy why on earth do you need voices? Apart from when Tom gets hit on the paw with a giant mallet and lets off that blood curdling scream, naturally. Pixarís Up has a very poignant scene early on where a number of key memories of his time with his wife are shown and a single word isnít uttered and its all the more brilliant for it. And of course Wall-E has very little dialogue yet the story is conveyed in a brilliantly eloquent manner. Seriously, there is more to communication than voices.
I only bring up cinema as it seems to be a little more comfortable in exploring within its history rather than staying on the bleeding edge, even in mainstream films. And Iím not saying games donít do that but it is entirely done in the indie scene and not in mainstream games Ė but Iím happy to be proven wrong.

So baring that in mind go back to a cutscene in a Zelda game and take in the visual style and direction, read the dialogue in an inner voice that will be entirely unique to you and bring you a little closer to the world, see how the characters are exaggeratedly animated to show how they feel and how a push of a button is like turning a page. It compliments the world so well and I start to wonder why I or anyone else would want it portrayed any differently.

Perhaps this desire for adding voice acting is also driven by a desire for change in the series that has remained largely the same for some time and its obvious absence may seem like a good place to start reinvigorating things; but that wonít work. Maybe something does need to change in the series but the way in which the story is told isnít what needs to be altered; because nobody has come away from any Zelda game confused by whatís going on, and thatís because itís so elegantly told. Changing it to using a more cinematic way of telling stories would make the series conform to every other game using that technique, and then it would lose a little quirk that makes it unique; that makes it the Legend of Zelda. I would actually prefer it if a different game came along and tried to improve on what the Legend of Zelda is doing. Iíd also hate a message to be sent out that suggests that character voices are the only way to tell a story and anyone not doing it is cheap.

Iím certainly not against progression in technology but when something works and is rare then donít get rid of it just because new technology has come along, especially if it takes away an identity of a brilliant series.
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About Leigh Davidsonone of us since 4:59 PM on 09.14.2010


I'm a gamer from the 90s who was raised on games with cute characters in them, both the genuine, heart-warming kind and the cynically designed ones.
But despite me mostly being a Nintendo fanboy it was probably the holy trinity Final fantasy VII, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil that truly got me into gaming.

Now I play anything as I'm open to anything.

Favourite game of all time? probably a toss up between Mass Effect 2, Persona 4, Metroid Prime, Killer7 or Resident Evil 4.

I write bits for the gaming site BitParade

My Twitter - @LeighDavidson
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Mii code:0228-6106-8734-8508


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