In just over a month's time, Nintendo will finally be releasing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. With BOTW, Nintendo appears to be walking paths old and new; inspired by both the obscurity of the original Legend of Zelda, and the freedom of much more recent games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
On Jan. 12th, fans were treated to an in-depth look at the company's newest console, the Nintendo Switch. During this Switch conference, Nintendo showed off a brand new trailer for BOTW, which revealed that the series would feature voice acting for the first time in about 20 years.
But unbeknownst to some, a collection of recently released Zelda games have already been given the voice acting treatment. Just not by Nintendo.
Since 2015, Alex Trevino, a producer and audio connoisseur, has been working together with fan-site Zelda Universe to give voice to one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises.
Trevino has successfully released English voice dubs for Zelda titles such as The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword through both Zelda Universe and Youtube. Starting out as full feature-length videos, these dubs have more recently become episodic releases, with Trevino's latest creation being a re-imagining of last year's Twilight Princess HD remake.
In light of Nintendo's grand BOTW reveal, I approached both Trevino and Zelda Universe's Head of Media Alex Rosenberg to discover more about how these community-made dubs began and what it takes to bring them to fruition.
Our initial topic of conversation was not about the fan dubs, but about Nintendo's very own attempt to put voice acting into a Zelda. Obviously, both Trevino and Rosenberg had seen the most recent BOTW trailer, and were equally optimistic about the game's potential, but there are a significant amount of Zelda fans that don't thanks to unfortunate efforts from the early 90s.
"When we've had voice acting prior to BOTW, it's been in things that we don't like talking about, like the 80's cartoon or the CDI games," Rosenberg said.
So this reluctance is understandable to Trevino: "Fans don't want to see their favorite characters portrayed in a bad way."
It's actually a major reason why Trevino created his dubs in the first place. His desire to finally give the games the opportunity they deserve is what drove him to pitch the idea to his editor. More than anything, Trevino wanted to showcase the games' stories in an entirely new and thoughtful way: "A lot of people just mash the 'A' button and don't read the storyline….but when you do read it, and you hear the lines, the story just comes to life," he said.
Aside from telling stories, another essential goal of the project was to give some of the series' most beloved characters another chance to shine. Trevino confessed that at the time he "really wanted the fans to connect with these voices," something that would require a very talented cast.
For their very first video; an English dub of Hyrule Warriors, Trevino and the team put out an ad asking for dedicated community members to volunteer for the project. Afraid of expecting too much too soon, Trevino was amazed by the amount of interest the ad received: "Surprisingly, I got over 600 auditions for the first dub. And I only had about two weeks to sort through them. It was mind-blowing."
This enthusiasm from the community carried on throughout the entire project, with Trevino finding it difficult to select from auditions. "Eventually it came down wherever the actors sounded like they really could be these characters. That's when we'd choose them."
From casting, the team went into recording. With distance and a lack of studio space preventing them from recording in person, Trevino set up a system wherein actors were encouraged to use their own intuition to deliver their lines. But when direction was needed, Trevino would provide constructive feedback: "I'd send them some directorial notes... they'd take my comments on-board, re-record, and send those recordings back to me."
There were, however, some unique cases where Trevino would provide live direction upon request. "I occasionally would do some on-the-spot coaching and directing; something I actually did a lot for our Link in Skyward Sword, who was played by Youtube streamer Natewantstobattle"
This collaborative approach has led to some fine performances throughout the Zelda dub project, with Trevino citing Zelda in Hyrule Warriors (played by Hedi Tabing) as being good enough to appear "in an actual Nintendo licensed project." But it seems as if the fans were far more drawn to performances dripping with cheese and character.
"The huge fan favorites from Hyrule Warriors were really the villains," Trevino said.
But it's not just the voice actors' performances that have made these Zelda dubs so impressive.
A huge amount of editing has gone into every one of Trevino's videos—from cutting out disruptive background sound, to carefully melding both audio and video together.
That last step is especially important, as it can make the dub feel authentic. Rosenberg elaborated on this: "You want [the dub] to be natural and to flow. When it's not, it's painfully obvious." However, he assured me that Trevino's dubs get it just right: "You couldn't tell...when the audio was in-game or when it was the voice actor."
When I asked whether Trevino ever used any of the game's original audio, he explained how he often fuses various grunts and exclamations with his own unique touches. For example, Midna in Trevino's dub of Twilight Princess retains her iconic warped accent while still managing to sound natural and believable. He even hinted at playing around with some new ideas for characters, such as the Zora. "I've finally found a way to make them sound watery," he said.
Trevino applies a similar approach when adding music to his dubs, continuously turning to fan-made compositions, such as the fantastic "Twilight Symphony" by the Zelda Re-Orchestrated group.
And when playing with the games' original scripts, Trevino often sees the dubs as an opportunity to fix some of the series' more awkward plot points and scenes: " Hyrule Warriors is a mess of a story at times, so I think the ad-lib really helped out," he said. Rosenberg agreed, saying: "I think [the ad-lib] adds such an extra dynamic and much more immersion."
With all this hard work, the dubs have been a serious hit with fans. During our interview, Trevino proudly stated that, "The Zelda dubs are one of the most popular things on our channel at this point."
Luckily for Trevino and the team, it seems as if Nintendo haven't felt the need to step in (legally speaking) just yet, unlike the less fortunate creators of Pokemon Uranium, a popular fan-made game that was pulled offline due to multiple takedown notices from the company.
When asked about any Nintendo involvement, Trevino replied, "They haven't openly spoken about it… But we have heard they are keeping an eye on the whole site, especially our media stuff. So they have to be aware of it in some regard."
So what's next for the Zelda Universe dub team? Trevino is looking to take a break, but he's had scores of fans asking for dubs of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. While interested in the idea, Trevino admitted that he'd have to approach the dubs from a completely new angle, even if it means re-creating entire scenes from scratch: "If I could recruit some animators to make some really awesome scenes in Unreal Engine or Cinemax, it could be done. It'd be huge."
When asked about potentially creating a dub for Breath of the Wild, Trevino joked that he hoped it wasn't the case. "But if Breath of the Wild's voice acting is bad, I'll be happy to re-do it!"