Not Immersive Enough: Why Zelda Should Embrace Voice Acting

voice-acting-zelda

I’m usually not one to ask for successful franchises from olden times to move on from their classic roots. More often than not, the very things that made those games classics in the first place would still make them stand out today, regardless of whether those features are part of “modern game design.” That’s not to say that it’s not nice every once in awhile to see a game made to newer standards – 3D entries in Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, for example – but at the end of the day the true identity of these franchises lies in their original design philosophies.

But when I look at a franchise like Zelda, I see a game that is about being immersed in a world – and specifically a fantasy world. One of the running fantasy tropes that the series picks up is the idea that many of the people the hero meets will have clues to offer that will aid in his quest to save the kingdom. It also introduces a number of smaller quests which give the hero a chance to help people with their own personal troubles. In video game terms, this translates to lots and lots of interactions with NPCs.

I do believe that Zelda should embrace voice acting, but it’s not because I think the series needs to get with the times. It has more to do with the possibilities for added immersion that fully voiced dialogue has to offer.

I’m not even really against a written script versus a spoken one. Video games were a key factor in keeping me interested in reading when I was growing up, and there’s an extent to which I think people need to be exposed to writing in their popular culture in order to become well-rounded human beings. My main beef is that written dialogue often fails to fall in line with a cohesive, immersive game atmosphere.

When people say “immersion,” they’re referring to the extent to which something engages them on a sensory level. Movies incorporated surround sound long ago and have been the most successful medium for 3D technology because people see movies in theaters to escape into the world of film. Sports fans try to bust out the biggest and best TV sets around the Super Bowl because it better emulates the experience of actually being present at the game. For video games, immersion usually has to do with integrating the “game” elements with the things being shown on-screen – the characters, environments, player actions, and so on.

Sound design is very important in video games – by that I mean the way sound is presented, mind you, not whether or not the design is logically sound. A lot of effort is put into the noises objects make when characters interact with them – everything from your run-of-the-mill footsteps to striding through tall grass to cutting down signs. Nailing these sounds is one of the keys to establishing a cohesive and believable world.

The way characters sound also falls into this category. If a character is making strange and seemingly nonsensical noises, it can often break the sense of immersion in the game world. For example, when Twilight Princess‘s Midna was presented as speaking some in-universe language, the small bursts of speech from the rest of the cast – a quirk that had been around since Ocarina of Time – seemed out of place. Most players seem to have liked the idea of “Hylian gibberish,” but why didn’t the other characters speak Hyrulian languages also? There was a sense of inconsistency in the way the game presented its NPCs.

But if you start giving all the characters voices, that opens up even more opportunities. Why force the player to effectively “pause” the action to listen to NPCs? Unlike written dialogue, you don’t necessarily have to give your full attention to a text box if lines are delivered aurally. That’s one thing I really appreciated about The Last Story – dialogue often kept going even while I was moving through the world.

I mentioned that originally NPCs served as clue-tippers and quest-givers. Adding voiced dialogue would introduce some interesting elements in terms of discovering these clues.

Instead of wandering around talking to every NPC you can find, the game could include more “crowd” NPCs – kind of like the wandering citizens from Twilight Princess‘s Castle Town. As you move through the city you might hear a snippet of frantic dialogue from a young mother searching for her lost son or catch wind of someone chatting about a rumor that’s related to your next story objective. The quest scenarios themselves don’t necessarily have to be anything unprecedented, but the way these interactions are delivered would be integrated much better into the process of exploring the game world.

To use another example: there was a short sequence in Twilight Princess where Link had to sneak up on a couple of townspeople to eavesdrop on their conversation. The restriction of dialogue to text boxes severely limited its effectiveness. That scene would have been much more impactful if you could actually hear what those characters were saying, and had to creep close enough to make it out clearly. The components of the eavesdropping scene wouldn’t have changed much, but it would have been delivered in a much more immersive way.

It may sound as though I’m betraying Zelda‘s roots, despite saying earlier that I think games should stick to things that make them stand out, but I don’t think that’s the case. I simply think voice acting would enhance elements that already exist – exploration and NPC interaction.

There is one tradition that I think should definitely be upheld, however: I think Link should remain a silent protagonist. Link speaking wouldn’t offer the same benefits that NPC voices could. All it would really accomplish is to force more drawn-out and scripted scenes between him and the other characters – something that definitely isn’t part of the series’ successful traditions and that I don’t think the franchise has ever needed.

For those who believe that having one-sided conversations with NPCs doesn’t quite qualify as “immersion,” I’d say that Skyward Sword‘s dialogue trees more than suffice to fill in Link’s side of the discussion. And what’s more, dialogue trees mean that the player is the one doing the speaking for Link, not the other way around. I think that including voice acting for NPCs could call for some enhancements for and expansions to the system, but by and large it did an effective job.

What do you think about voice acting in Zelda? Is it needed, or would it taint the purity of one of the longest-running franchises in gaming? Would it really make the world more immersive or would it just be annoying and out-of-place? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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  • BreanaMelvin

    I like the idea of Zelda having voice acting if they are indeed speaking gibberish hylian, similar to what they did with Midna (and what they did in Shadow of the Colossus), but a bit more fleshed out to include different emotional reactions. That way the characters become more real and believable, since they are gaining an extra element of presence and individuality. In addition, the tone and emotion of the dialogue becomes more stressed than the actual words; the delivery of the lines will be there to add a new level of character acting and emotion, but a lot is still left up to the imagination of the player.

    Actual English dialogue would interfere too much with everyone’s preconceived ideas for what these characters sound like, and could be distracting based on the quality of the voice-acting. Besides, a made-up language feels more fantastical and fits the series better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/coolkangarooo Gabriel Gomez

      i agree

    • http://www.facebook.com/ibarkis Ian Barkis

      I also agree…

    • Charlene Buffington

      I love your example of Shadow of the Colossus, a made up language would work perfectly.

    • Kosse Moore

      if they did make a fleshed out hylian language that could really work! and they wouldnt have to hire new voice actors when it gets localized to other countries. That could work well!

    • smcrzgi

      annd, for people like me, being able to name link is a HUGE part of the immersion. having in game characters call you by the name you input is huge for me. with skyrim or mass effect or other games like that with actual spoken dialogue, no matter what you name your character, they will only call you by some pre-set name. and while those games are immersive in their own ways, zelda is immersive for me in a different way, and its a way i don’t really want changed. your suggestion of a hylian language is one i have talked about so many times already. they had a sort of testing ground for it with midna and fi, and quite frankly it was beleivable for me. so bring on the hylian language please!!!! plus… if we do actual voice acting for dialoge… all those comedic moments where we name link something funny and it makes the dialogue sound funny out of context…. i dont want to give those up either :P

  • Zachary Morris

    Very well written article, I agree with many of your points, however, I would like to see the gibberish approach, for the sake of consistency across languages.

    Still I respect this article and your points very much, great job giving your argument!

    • ZSTroubadour

      Different voice actors for different countries?
      Nintendo of America could handle it during the localization.

      • Zachary Morris

        Because NoA could cheep out on it and botch it. Look how much better: Metroid Other M was received in Japan compared to here because of the voice acting.

        • autsin

          Kid Icarus: Uprising had very good voice acting, complete with some veteran voice actors.

  • joe

    I think voice acting should go on at times but not for all of the parts of a game. Imagine getting rid of Skyloft’s music and replaced it with busy city dissonance. Although not many people were outside in Skyloft, it was a small town and you would probably hear people talking from all over. All the commotion from the bazaar would be pouring out of the tent. You would hear Gonzo repairing everyone’s broken pots, smashed by Link, the bipolar salesman yelling at window shoppers to get out, the potion upgrader trying to soothe his baby, the potion saleswoman telling people to come buy her new concoction. This could all be heard inside the tent as well. Trying to mix the music with that dissonance is not going to work. Nintendo worked this out by changing the music and what could be heard at different parts of the tent but giving everyone a voice of their own and making it realistic is just annoying. May be giving people that would give you a quest a voice, for example someone could be crying out for people to help her find her boy that has run away and that would give you the initiative to talk to her. People would still be walking by minding their own business, keeping their thoughts to themselves. Have the conversations go like they do in Mass Effect 1 & 2, but not three because that wasn’t a game, where you are giving a dialogue tree and Link says something similar. I’d like Link to say something because just getting the reaction from the NPC once the player chooses a dialogue box just puts me off. Imagine if Groose said something along the lines of “It’s all your fault! You are the reason Zelda is gone!” and imagine if one of the responses was “No you butthurt ass-monkey! It is not my fault Zelda is gone. A giant tornado came by and swept her off her bird. Her bird couldn’t come to the rescue and because the tornado threw it into Skyloft. My bird was not cooperating either so I couldn’t zoom down there and save her. And where were you doing all this? In your room fapping to pictures of Zelda no doubt,” and then getting Groose running away sulking a second after choosing that answer, although they’d never put an answer like that in a Zelda game, it would be ridiculous. Like the side quest NPCs I think the main crew should have voice acting. Why? It would convey the dialogue a lot better than a box above their heads, especially for the dramatic scenes like finding Ganondorf and Zelda at the top of Hyrule Castle in Twilight Princess. It would also save the people the time of reading in the voices they have made for the characters because I know some people do that.

  • The concerned Zelda fan

    I have never liked the idea of voice acting in Zelda for a few reasons

    1. the gibberish they speak is like a Hylian language and the boxes are like translations
    2. stopping everything gives you more time to think
    3. if you see someone you need to talk too right before going into a conversation they would walk away and you would lose them for good
    4. being distracted by the sounds of the talking brings you back too reality enough to read what they are saying and think
    5.if there are lots of enemies you get into a killjoy that messes with the puzzle thinking you need to do to proceed in the game

    that is why I don’t think there should be voice acting in a Zelda game

  • K2L

    As long as Link doesn’t speak, I’m all for it. Put dialogue tress if you want. If he speaks, I’ll pass.

  • Billy

    The problem I have with that is people saying the same things would be kinda weird and th Npcs accent

  • Billy

    I’m on the fence about voice acting in Zelda games because I’m kind of a Zelda fanatic. And I’m a teen. So if my dad askes me to do something I can just not continue the dialogue and do it. :)

    • GHIRAHIM

      make it like Kingdom Hearts 3D, where you can pause during a cutscene

      • Nejove

        …or go the route of a game such as Tales of Symphonia or Baten Kaitos where you (in certain cases, at least) have voice acting in the background, but you still have to progress the dialogue because it isn’t truly a cutscene in the cinematic sense.

        In any case, I’m still in favor of making it Hylian gibberish (but with attention to tone and emotional conveyance) with accompanying text and keeping Link himself silent. It’d probably also be wise to allow voices to be turned on or off for those who don’t care for them.

  • SLINKYMAN!!!!

    I want voice acting in cutscenes, not just conversations.

    • GHIRAHIM

      I believe he’s referring to conversations during cutscenes. And if anything, there will be voice acting only in the cutscenes, and not, per se, when talking to the merchant at a store

  • anextremezeldanerd

    I don’t think I would support voice acting in Zelda. It would take away from the classic quality of the game. I love being able to imagine what the characters sound like, and give them your own voice, but if voice acting was implemented, then you don’t have the ability to use your imagination. I think the text boxes are a good way to get the npc’s message across. If nintendo added voice acting to Zelda, I would be disappointed. I would still play the game though. I guess I’m not entirely against it, but one thing is for sure. If they gave Link a voice, I would be royally pissed.

  • pjsmoulder

    Bad voice acting can yank you right out of a world and ruin the experience. Think Resident Evil 1. Yeesh…

    I’m happy with Zelda as it is. Wind Waker was one of the most beautiful, cinematic and immersive gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

  • Kevin

    I really think that voice acting would take away from immersion, rather than add to it.

    Hyrule is a fantasy world – it would have its own type of dialect, and, in my experience, fantasy worlds that embrace voice acting tend to either throw that away, and have the VA speak in their normal dialect (which ruins immersion), or come up with a very over the top and unrealistic dialect (which also ruins immersion).

    I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but, when comparing the relatively minor effects of it being done well, to the very annoying effects of it being done poorly, I say don’t bother.

  • Ryan

    This is the best way. Do what we have heard from Midna and Fi.

  • Blake Wigert

    What about LoZ isn’t immersive? I think the many, many fans would disagree with this article. If you think voice acting will break the game, don’t have it. If it will add to the experience then put it in

  • Nevan Lowe

    If they added voice acting, this is what I would want:
    Good Writing, like Borderlands 2
    Not forcing you to stop and sit there for 20 minutes watching a giant cutscene, lets the dialogue keep going while you play, also like Borderlands 2
    Link is still silent, I guess this one isn’t like Borderlands 2

    If they did these 3 things, I’d be all for it.

  • Dedede

    I just hope that it wouldnt be like this-

    • RockyAlboa

  • Neil Ferman

    I think that the way Zelda games handle voices with simple sounds is a better way than full on voice acting. It conveys the characters’ inflection in a way that gives you an understanding of what they’re feeling, allowing your imagination to ‘fill in the blanks’ as you see fit. Doing some of the Hylian gibberish with the main story and major characters wouldn’t be bad, though.

    I generally get annoyed with VA in other games unless it’s an fmv (the dialogue always seems slow and sluggish, and I can usually read what they’re saying two or three times before they finish their line). And I can sometimes find it jarring to go long bursts in a game where there’s no real VA and eventually reach a point where the story continues and suddenly there’s talking again (This happened in Xenoblade Chronicles a couple of times).

    I just don’t see English voice acting immersing me in a Zelda game.

  • MusubiKazesaru

    Agreed

    • Churze

      I used to deny that Zelda needed voice acting. Once again, Alex Plant was right.

  • David LaRocca

    I agree that Zelda needs to add voice acting, but I also think Link, himself, needs a voice. Not within the game, but perhaps put a microphone on the controller, and allow the player to give a verbal response, rather than pointing and clicking on “yes” or “no”.

  • Lewis SwishBang Osborne

    The issue with giving Zelda a voice is that they may have to give every other major character one too. (apart from Link ofc)

    Nintendo have always done this thing where they purposefully leave gaps (like voice acting) so that our imagination can take over and do the work for them. For a kid that’s astounding and creates such a sense of wonder. But I think that sense of wonder is lost a little on adults.

    It’s one of the reasons I still think of Nintendo games as the best on the market. and I’ve played a lot of games from pretty much every genre and system (PC as my main). President of the video gaming society at uni over here =P Whatever I hadn’t played already, I had a social obligation to at least try it haha.

    My point is. As an adult I can appreciate the depth that comes from a great voice actor (e.g bioshock infinite), but then I have this bit of my brain that says to me that it could totally kill the “wonder” created from filing in the characters voice yourself. But hey-ho. Add an option to turn that shit of what’s the problem? Test dem waters Nintendo!

  • tp13goron

    Look at Metroid Prime 3. Fantastic game, had voice acting, main character didn’t speak.

  • Alex Jones

    Japanese games are often poorly dubbed in English. I don’t want to be playing Zelda while having to deal with poor voice acting like I do whenever I play any given JRPG.

    No, keep Zelda’s text-based dialogue. It’s part of what makes the franchise so special, and (atleast for me) has never broken immersion.

  • Vitamin E

    Putting voice acting in Zelda is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. It may have some psychological benefit, but it does nothing to fix the core problem. (That Zelda has become a linear puzzle game.)

  • RockyAlboa

    I think the main reason people don’t embrace it is because it might not be done right based off VA in some other games, and can break immersion for the player.

    It would also increase the zelda teams budget significantly and finding the right actors for each character (several dozens in zelda games) would take a long time.

    You had some neat ideas in the article, but it’s not worth full voice acting. Midna style gibberish voice acting for all characters would be much more feasible financially and is less likely to be messed up by bad VA and would stil immerse the player imo.

    One reason why they might now have no VA yet is because music is such an important part of zelda to immerse the player, that VA would (particularly bad VA) would break that immersion. Some text in zelda you read multiple times, so with full english VA you’d have to hear the lines repeatedly, which would get annoying,

  • InfernalDinosaur

    Are you kidding me? Voice acting would suck the life and character completely out of the series. I really love the quirky animations and sounds that accompany the text. They add a nice storybook feel to the game and stimulate your imagination. It’s way more successful than voice acting, and helps the games actually retain a sense of charm and character unique to Zelda.

  • EnaZeibekiko

    Wonderfully stated.

    Skyward Sword’s branching dialogue impressed me (I know this game wasn’t the first to do it). One way to translate written dialogue into voice acting was predicted especially in conversation with Zelda on Skyloft. She would “speak” a line, make a flirty motion, and then hold it until Link gave the go ahead with ‘A.’ Replace the text with a good voice acting, and as long as the words aren’t too many and the gestures are simple and telling, it would be difficult to fail. I would be less happy with–and it would be more difficult to execute–NPCs railing off paragraphs. I would feel disengaged. I LIKE tapping ‘A.’

  • Alex Jones

    I like the way KotOR did crowd dialogue, with pop-up text boxes, and Zelda has done something similar before where someone wants Link’s attention and hollars at him with a text box that Link is able yo walk past and ignore.

  • smcrzgi

    I SAY BRING US THE HYLIAN LANGUAGE!

    there is something major about having text dialogue rather than voice acting that voice acting can and never will do. at the beginning of every zelda game, you have the chance to name your character. now, there are games with voice acting that do this too. but the BIG difference between them is that in zelda, becuase the dialogue is all text based, characters will call link by the name that you have inputted for him. with games like skyrim and mass effect, you will never hear that happen, simply becuase its impossible to do that with voice actors. now these games are immersive in their own way, skyrim with being able to choose what you want to do and what kind of race and character you are, and mass effect with the custom character creation and the whole thing with the choices in the story and dialogue. these are immersive in their own way, but to say zelda isnt immersive becuase its text based is in my opinion a silly statement to make. i LOVE seeing the characters call link by the name i gave him. heck, sometimes i give link my name, and pretend that i am actually link. for me this is plenty immersive. if they brought in full on voice acting, one of my favorite parts of zelda would be destroyed. id still play it, but i would not like it nearly as much. thats why i say bring on the hylian language. it would reduce the cost of making a game with voice acting by cancelling out the localization of the game, and we would have a sweet fantasy language that we could listen to while the character’s “translation” box was being read. not only that, but with this system, link’s name can be changed, and characters will still call link by the name you input for him. we already have seen this “hylian gibberish” style language in action before. fi and midna do it, and i dont know whyyy they didnt do it for the rest of the game’s characters becuase it would have been sweet. i do think this could also be a middle ground for those who want voice acting, and those who want text. and if they upped the whole hylian gibberish with creating a simple fake language, it would make the immersion so much better.

  • Mike

    The senseless babbling noises are good enough at portraying the characters unique character. The price of making games would go up by using voice actors.

  • VladNorris

    Persona 4
    Dragon Quest VIII
    Shadow of the Colossus.
    The idea can work if done right, people. I really hate purism against ideas like this one.
    A game being silent doesn’t give it identity whatsoever. This “unique” feature has being done to death!