On a Zelda without Words

Something remarkable happens right near the beginning of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. After the introductory business of Zelda (and therefore the world!) being in trouble blah blah blah, Link encounters a race of people whose help he needs, but whose language he does not speak. Their phrases contain no information—it’s not a translatable language, like that of the old gods in Wind Waker—but only identical strings of gibberish: Piko riki poko ti po!

Of course, the game didn’t let me feel like a stranger in a strange land for long. It was less than a minute before I encountered a man whose words I inexplicably could understand, and who told me where I could go solve a rudimentary block-pushing puzzle in order to earn a “jabber nut,” which then allowed me to understand the Pikori language forever and ever amen.

The idea of Link as a foreigner, here abandoned as soon as it had been established, got me thinking about how much I want to play a Zelda game that is willing to shut the hell up. Much as I love those games, the last several have been awfully heavy on wordy exposition, pointless dialogue trees, and of course, jerks like this:

Forever in debt to your priceless advice.

In The Minish Cap it’s a talking hat. Usually it’s a fairy. But it’s always a buzzkill. This character is your chaperone, always making sure that you don’t get into any nasty trouble or have too much fun or anything. I hate the chaperone character, because the chaperone character gives away the solution to the puzzle before I even know for sure that it’s a puzzle. The chaperone character says stuff like this:

I know! What a puzzler! Ever think I might just like to, you know, solve it?

So I’ve been thinking: What if Link spent a whole game in a place where he barely spoke the language? Wouldn’t it be incredible to play a wordless Zelda?

Because honestly, we don’t need the words. Even if you’ve never played the games, you know that the hero is saving the princess. Even if you’ve never forged a Master Sword, you know that you’ll need those three or four McGuffins marked on your map for something. Even if you’ve never fought a Zelda boss, it’s not hard to figure out how to beat one.

And the puzzles are all about using your tools correctly, and knowing when you need to come back with some tool that you don’t have yet, and none of that requires words.

And game animation is at the point where we can tell stories wordlessly, especially if they’re as simple as Zelda stories, and especially when the new Zelda has a graphical style that is all about clarity by way of exaggeration–or was about that prior to E3, anyway.

I guess what I’m saying is that players are not stupid, confusion can be the best catalyst for exploration, and I’d rather just play a game than hear a fairy or a hat tell me how to play it.

3 comments

    • You know, I haven’t played Ocarina of Time in years, and I have very few memories of Navi beyond “Hey!” and “Listen!”

      So maybe that means she’s the best of her kind? Could that be what that means?

      I did make an attempt to replay Majora’s Mask not too long ago, and it didn’t take me very long to want to throttle Tatl.

      • Looking back on this post, I have now played Link Between Worlds, replayed much of Windwaker & Twilight Princess, still never played anything else more recent than or peripheral than those, never spent more than a few hours with Majora’s Mask, AND ALSO played substantial amounts of Dark Souls and Hyper Light Drifter. With all that added perspective, well, Navi was probably a bit on the chatty side, but only sporadically. That OWL though, was beyond obnoxious, and Windwaker makes me want to set that CONDESCENDING BOAT ON FIRE.

        …Ahem. One can only hope that Zelda games learn from their descendants, no?

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