There's a reason speedrunners play Breath of the Wild 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.
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 in Japanese hold more information than other languages can. But for some games, you'd be surprised what the fastest language is. 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 isn't 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 timers 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 a Famicom exclusive glitch in the first game that allows you to perform arbirary 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
This time, 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 dashes quickly with pretty much any item equipped. The SNES cart is needed here; the virtual console uses version 1.1, which removes most of these glitches.
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 but 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 Season 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.
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 over 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. It so happens that the game will crash on the iQue or Nintendo 64 if you pick up the required Deku Nut, so Wii VC is the way to go.
Majora's Mask ends up being fairly straightforward. Japanese will save you time on text and the Wii virtual console version will cut down loading.
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 can fit more information in the text box so it's the preferred language. 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.
The 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.
So why not Japanese? Well, it comes down to glitches again. There's a glitch called 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 for NTSC) because it's convenient.
The fastest anyone has completed this game is four hours and 59 minutes. That's a lot of text, which means Japanese is the way to go. It's a big time difference: Nearly 17 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 about 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. This being the major hurdle, it's best to stick with German. At least until more glitches are found. It's a fast run though. The current time is 45 minutes and 32 seconds!
So, there we go. 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!