Shigeru Miyamoto is a revered video game developer who has had a massive impact on the video game industry. Among the series he’s created, The Legend of Zelda ranks as one the most critically acclaimed. While we wait for the imminent release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at the character of Link, what he represents, and whether the series should give him more of a personality or use him as he was originally intended – the link between the player and the game. Link as a silent protagonist is such a key part of the Zelda experience, but what would it mean if he started talking in the games? Would this be a good idea, or would it negatively impact the experience?
Link – Is He Just a ‘Link’ between the Game and the Player?
In the original The Legend of Zelda (1986) game, Link appeared as a small green elf who wandered around an expansive 8-bit world, killed enemies, and solved puzzles. While Miyamoto took inspiration for the game from exploring the countryside as a child, as well as from the film Legend (1985) and maybe the stories of Peter Pan (1904) or The Sword in the Stone (1963), Link was always meant to be the connection between the player and the game. The name ‘Link’ was originally meant to show that he is the ‘Link’ between the player and the game.
Link is usually a silent protagonist in Zelda games. This is exemplified in games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where he never actually speaks in text form (the game uses text rather than voice acting to tell its story). He has some personality in most games, and can be heard shouting ‘hiya’ and other emotionally expressive vocalizations during combat and when he’s injured. However, he mainly takes in what goes on around him, and isn’t active in terms of speech.
Link being generally silent suits the games well, as it lets the player really become immersed and feel in control. Especially since Link basically communicates through his action, for example, puzzle-solving and combat (which leads to him often saving the world). This is such an integral part of Zelda games and might be important to what makes them special. Since Ocarina of Time, there has been debate about whether Link should have more of a personality and get more involved in the dialogue that makes up the stories of Zelda games. Would this be a good development for the series as a whole?
The More Expressive Link in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Link’s character model has proportionally huge eyes that are really emotionally expressive. He still doesn’t talk much in the game (although in The Wind Waker, he does actually say words in a similar way to his emotive noises in Ocarina of Time). Because of these additions, he seems to have more of a personality in The Wind Waker but he’s still a coy, energetic, little elf boy like he is in all the games.
In many role-playing games, the player can completely create their own character, either completely from scratch or using templates (of a warrior, archer, mage, etc). While this has never been implemented in Zelda, there have been some calls for it, and I think that is not the worst direction to take the series in. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link is extremely customizable.
You can change clothes (usually based on what is useful for survival in different environments) and you can almost customize Link so that he looks unique to your game experience. I think that the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will keep this feature, judging from the gameplay we’ve seen, and may even iterate on it. However, similarly to Breath of the Wild, the new game will feature voice acting. While we never heard Link speak in Breath of the Wild, could we hear him talk in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom?
Voice Acting in Zelda – What This Means For Link
In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild voice acting was featured during cutscenes for the first time in the Zelda series. The voice acting had a mixed reception and whilst it was cool to see it in a Zelda game for the first time, it really was hit or miss. Some characters sounded good and reflected how they looked and acted in the game, while with others, it came off as over the top. When the stories in Zelda games were told just through text, the player could build how the characters would sound in their head, and it added to the mystery of the series.
In terms of Link himself, in Breath of the Wild he doesn’t speak and because of this retains some of his coy personality from the previous games. However, I still feel that the voice acting that occurs around him, takes away from the mystery, and magic of the game. I would much rather we went back to text-based storytelling, like in the old games.
Overall, Link is a silent protagonist, who rarely is active in conversations. He is integral to the experience of Zelda games. His silence allows the player to be in control of the events that occur within the story. This is based on the player’s success or failure in combat, puzzle-solving, and conquering dungeons. If Link spoke regularly, it’d feel like the player was less involved in the unfolding events of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Link does need some identity, and I even think it would be cool to have a female Link. However, having him turn into a cheeky, extrovert teenager like what has been done with Sonic definitely wouldn’t be good for the series for multiple reasons. The main one is that once that happens the essence of Zelda games (with the player being the main character) would be gone. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom releases this Friday, May 12th and we will definitely see the direction that Nintendo is going down, both in terms of the series and the character of Link.