Why Some Zelda Speedruns Use German And Others Use Japanese

Illustration for article titled Why Some Zelda Speedruns Use German And Others Use Japanese

There’s a reason Breath of the Wild is played in German. It’s just a heck of a lot faster. Speedruns use different languages and versions to cut down on time. Here’s how that works for The Legend of Zelda.


This post originally appeared 3/24/17.

Making sure you get the best times is mostly a matter of skill but what language and version you are playing on can make a huge difference. When in doubt, Japanese is the fastest language. The characters hold much more information. You can communicate concepts faster than languages that use an alphabet. There are some exceptions to that rule and you might be surprised what the faster languages are. This list will give you a look at the various decisions that go into picking which version to speedrun in popular Zelda games.

The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

We’ll start with the basics. There’s not as much text here to make a difference and grabbing a Famicom can be a hassle. Most runs are done in English for both games, on the NES.

In The Legend of Zelda, there are a few things that change depending on what version you are running. Item manipulation to get bombs and other goodies means that runners pause a bit before starting their runs to let the game’s internal timer reach a certain point before they start. In English, you wait during the opening text crawl. In Japanese, you’ll wait on the file select screen.

There is also Famicom-exclusive glitch in the first game that allows you to perform arbitrary code execution. Basically, you’re writing data into the game’s memory with specific in-game actions. This can skip right to the Triforce but it’s more of a exhibition trick than a competitive category.


A Link to the Past

Runners will seek out the Japanese 1.0 version of the game. In addition to the usual text scroll benefits, there are a few glitches that prove useful. In this version, it is possible to cancel Link’s drowning animation so he can swim before getting the Zora flippers and he can dash quickly with pretty much any item equipped. The SNES cart is needed here; Virtual Console uses version 1.1, which removes most of these glitches.


Link’s Awakening

Game Boy all the way. Japanese as well. You get the usual benefits but there’s also a few neat tricks that really bust the game open. A major one that makes it possible to clear the game in a handful of minutes is screen warping. It allows Link to move to a new screen put keep his position. It’s wild stuff that’s only available on some versions of the original edition of the game. No DX here.


Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages

Oracle of Seasons will use the Japanese version. More drastically, Oracle of Ages uses the US edition to perform a trick called Veran Warp. Heading out of bounds at a certain point in this version can send you right to the final battle. It’s a significant time save that makes up for the slower text.

A special trick in Ocarina of Time Any% means that you can’t use iQue or N64.

Ocarina of Time

While Narcissa Wright’s famous run used the Chinese iQue Player, which was thought to cut down on load times, current runs use the Japanese Virtual Console version on the Wii. When asked, community members gave me an estimate of around one-and-a-half to two minutes of time saved in an Any% run when compared to the English version.


Another major factor is a glitch called ‘Get Item Manipulation’ which allows runners to write a bottle into their inventory. It’s saved a lot of time on runs since it was discovered. Depending on the item you pick up to perform the glitch, your game can crash. In this case, you need to pick up a Deku Nut. It so happens that the game will crash on the iQue or Nintendo 64 so Wii VC is the way to go.

Majora’s Mask

Majora’s Mask ends up being fairly straightforward. Japanese will save you time on text and the Wii Virtual Console version will cut down load times.


There’s a few differences between the Japanese and English version. One notable change is that you cannot perform a ‘Power Crouch Stab’ in the English version. This is a glitch where stabbing your sword while crouching will take the damage value of the last attack such as a jump slash. It can speed up boss fights and helps make the Japanese version a little more viable overall.

The Wind Waker

On the GameCube, this is a straightforward decision. Japanese’s ability to put more information in text boxes is really handy. The Any% run is nearly four hours long. Text box time saved makes a big difference in longer runs. A detailed breakdown shows that it saved over nine minutes throughout the game.


The HD version is a little different. Speedy text scrolling all around means that Italian is the fastest language. The second fastest is Spanish.

The Japanese version isn’t used for Twilight Princess because it lacks a crucial glitch.

Twilight Princess

The best version for running Twilight Princess is German, but it’s not necessarily about text speed. In theory, the Japanese language saves a small amount of time over German. About 16 frames total.


Why not play in Japanese? It comes down to glitches again. There’s a glitch call the “Map Glitch” which can disable triggers that reset maps. It can be used to skip cutscenes or get to some dungeons early. NTSC-J copies of the game had the glitch patched out.

Because of this, the German GameCube version is preferred. The text is fast and glitch is still there. For the HD release, Japanese is the fastest language but the difference is minimal enough that many runners stick to English or German because it’s convenient.


Skyward Sword

The fastest anyone has completed this game is four hours and fifty nine minutes. That’s a lot of text, which means Japanese is the way to go. It’s a big time difference: nearly seventeen minutes faster.


In fact, it is so fast that there are tricks in other versions that can save a lot of time that runners don’t perform because the text speed still saves more time. Among these is the Cistern Clip, which is a pretty impressive shortcut that saves around five minutes in the NTSC 1.0 version of the game. It’s cool to watch but not as fast as simply playing the Japanese version.

The German language voice acting makes a time difference in Breath of the Wild. What is it abut German?

Breath of the Wild

Currently, the fastest language is German and the faster console is the Wii U. A difference to consider here is voice acting. German voice acting gets you out of the opening cutscenes much quicker than other versions of the game. It helps contribute to a pretty speedy run. The current record is 45 minutes and 32 seconds. Breath of the Wild is a young game; that time is going to get pushed much lower as time goes on.


That’s just one game series. These difference abound with other games. Be it fast text or special glitches, there’s a wide variety of reasons for choosing a specific version of a game. Short answer: ya gotta go fast, kids!

Former Senior Writer and Critic at Kotaku.



This article misses two things I thought important.

Zelda 2's English and Japanese versions are actually both played, as separate categories. The gameplay meaningfully changed when it was released in America: leveling up was actually made more difficult. (A game harder in America than Japan?!)

A Link Between Worlds is missing in the list above. Its speedruns are done in English. For whatever reason, ALBW’s English text is faster than any other language’s text, including Japanese.