Sound Off: Voices in JRPGs

Monday, May 31, 2010
Let me just lay this out. Cowboy style.

Voice acting in games is beginning to get on my nerves. Specifically in RPGs. Well. JRPGS.

When I was but a bairn, my first RPG was Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD. In those days I was still suffering from the acute retardation that comes with youth, and the game drifted to the back of my minor collection. Like many people, I didn't catch the RPG bug 'til I was wrapped up in the inescapable magicite-laced tentacles of Final Fantasy. And wrapped up I was.

I played the whole series. I collected the guides. I collected the soundtracks. I still have over three dozen Final Fantasy action figures. And the games grew and evolved as I did, and each revolution added vitality and depth to the series.

Then began the Playstation 2 era, and everything changed. Before PS2, voice acting was almost a joke. Today, it's a standard. If a game has talking, it has voice acting.

And you know what? That's okay. Sure, the voices in FFX were obnoxious. But hey! It was new! Fun! Right, guys? Right?


The voice acting in FFXII was decent. Pretty good, even. Now XIII is out...and so is the jury. (Except on Vanille. Everyone hates her voice. Her own mother hates it.) Lots of other RPGs have come out, and lots of them have voice acting. Some of it is good. Some of it isn't. That isn't really the point.

The point is this: Back in the 8-bit, 16-bit, and what-the-fuck-ever-bit pre-PS2 era, character animations looked something like this:

Back then, subtlety and nuance were impossible, animation-wise. Characters had big animations--the same way that in classic Kabuki theater, (and other forms of performance art) had big, obvious gesturing to communicate emotion. And it isn't that such stuff is no longer necessary--in fact, we love the hyperbolic reactions, the exclamations, the daft poses, the clenched fists, and the sorrowful looks at the ground. Everything about those old school games was over the top and we loved them for it.

The problem, today, is that developers have remained faithful to such stuff, without realizing that when you give a character a real human voice, it grounds that character and therefore that universe. All of a sudden, all the goofy moving, all the weird-ass dialogue, all of it--just feels embarrassingly awkward.

Being able to play out the dialogue in your head gives some gray area. Because the rhythm with which the characters speak is all in your own voice, as it were, you're able to forgive them their trespasses--hell, you probably don't even notice them.

When done wrong, giving JRPG characters voices shatters the illusion. Vanille in Final Fantasy XIII speaks with an Australian accent. I'm sorry--I didn't know Australia was in fucking Cocoon. It's even worse when characters that didn't used to have voices get them all of a sudden--Did you know that Cait Sith from FFVII is fucking Irish? Or that Cid is a Texan? I sure as hell didn't. Not until Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children came out.

Look, developers. I'm not asking for much. I know a lot of your audience likes voice acting in games because they're stupid, or because they're too lazy to read. But some of us remember the golden years--when campy dialogue and stupid anime poses didn't matter because what you were playing took place in its own world, where bullshit like that was acceptable. We remember when you could enjoy a game's music because you didn't have some whiny little bitch squawking at you all the time. And we want that back.

You already put subtitles in anyway, so I'm just asking for one little bit more. Let me read all that bad dialogue. Let me enjoy the music.

All I want is the option--just the option--to turn the voices off. Please?


The XCOM Debate

Friday, May 28, 2010
By now it's all old hat but it's taken some time to gather my thoughts on the XCOM issue. Take 2 bought the rights some time ago, so there was never any room for speculation on whether or not they would release a new XCOM, it was just a matter of time. That time is apparently nigh, though I expect Take 2 was hoping the news would garner far more aplomb than it did.

I've talked to a few people that don't really seem to understand why so many of the games fans are so upset about the news, some of them are even XCOM veterans. Let me put it this way. Say you have a favorite restaurant. Time goes by and the place closes. The building sits there untouched for a while until one day, a wealthy party buys it up. You hear rumors that they're going to bring it all back better than it was before. Then, when the big announcement comes that your beloved restaurant is re-opening you discover that the entire building was torn down and rebuilt into a cookie cutter fast food joint. Only the name had stayed the same. How would you feel?

I can't blame my fellow XCOM devotees for being upset. Hell, I was as angry as the worst of the mob for a little while. I had my own little breakdown, complete with raging forum posts and a Terror From the Deep marathon. Somewhere in that haze I realized something. I was getting upset over nothing. Literally, nothing. The truth of the matter is, we know very little about Take 2's XCOM.

I've tried contacting Take 2 about their promise to keep the strategic element intact. So far nobody wants to talk about what exactly they're doing to preserve that core mechanic. I don't doubt their claim, I just think it'd be nice to see what they have up their sleeves.

I can't say for sure if Take 2 can deliver a decent XCOM game or if this is going to just be an FPS that happens to be called XCOM. What I can say for sure is that Take 2 made this announcement far, far too early. All they really have to show us is a couple bits of concept art and one "screenshot" with no context behind it. Had they made their announcement later, when they had more resources to share or at least when they could explain the gameplay a little better, I think there would be far fewer disgruntled fans out there.

For me? Thanks, Take 2... What is it?

A substantial contingent of the unhappy horde have settled on Xenonauts as their remake of choice to carry the XCOM torch into the future. The gameplay seems to be nearly identical to the original games. The story is set during the dusk of the cold war rather than the distant future. The weapons, vehicles and equipment showcased so far reflect the time period well.

So is this what we want? A remake, a remastered version of the original XCOM? For me at least, it's not. I'm not looking for the same game I played countless times throughout my life and I suspect I'm not the only one. We want something familiar, yes, but fans want something new more than anything. There has been too much time wasted making copies of XCOM already.

Xenonauts is close, but not quite there. I love Goldhawk's tenacity and understanding of what made the original so spectacular, but it's too similar to be called much more than a remake. That's not all bad, but still not the new XCOM so many of us have been looking for. We've been waiting for something to expand the horizons of XCOM. Something beyond the dismal climbs of Interceptor and Enforcer.

As much as I'd like to forget those two dismal parts of the series, I am seriously disappointed to see that Take 2 has thrown the entire history and lengthy back story that already existed away in favor of something completely alien to me and the thousands of loyal XCOM players out there. Some acknowledgment of the series' illustrious roots would have been nice to see with the announcement. I can understand the decision to make it an FPS, given their seemingly universal popularity these days. Couldn't they at least maintain some of the established canon?

I have a lot of suggestions for Take 2 in regards to XCOM. As something near and dear to me there are a few mechanics I'd like to see preserved and/or revitalized. Perhaps give the game a sort of Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six tactical look, or use something akin to the VATS system in Fallout 3. Give players the ability to research new tech, examine aliens for new insights into how to fight them, even allow the players to tap into their own or other squad member's psychic potential. There are countless other requests, from me and the rest of the community, too many to discuss in just this one post.

Who knows, these may be things already present in the new game. If they are, we haven't seen them yet. What I'm trying to say here so very haphazardly is that Take 2's XCOM is still too much of an unknown. There's is little sense in grumbling to ourselves when we really know nothing about the game. Those of you that wanted a remake, you'll have your Xenonauts. Those of you who are like me; sit down, take a deep breath and wait. We've been doing just that for 13 years now, a few more months won't kill us.

Now That Is a Goddamn Crab

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Hello, sleepwalkers.

It's been a long time. Too long. But the prodigal has been forced off his ever-expanding ass and has arisen again to inform you that after much ranting and raving, my fucking prayers have been answered.

Final Fantasy XIV, which you may remember I have some interest in, is coming along nicely. And while it isn't the second coming of MMOs--in fact, aesthetically anyway, it's FFXI with a facelift--it seems Square Enix has learned a thing or two about the people who play their games. Yours truly, in particular.

See, a while back I ranted a lot about XI. One thing in particular. FFXI's fucking crabs. These little, dinky blue-shelled bastards which populated every possible ecology in the game. Deserts? Crabs. Beach? Crabs. Caves? Crabs. Man, those things were everywhere. It isn't even that they were everywhere, though--it was that you had six goddamn people fighting this thing which could be felled with a sturdy can opener.

Well, Square Enix listened. I said that if I was going to fight crabs, they needed to be cool crabs. Scary crabs. Crabs whose sole purpose was the consumption of manflesh.

They did it. Hot shooting ropes of joy, they did it. Now this is a fucking crab.
Note: At about 3 minutes you get a good hard look at the bastard.

Find more videos like this on FFXIVLOUNGE

'Privates' to be kept Private?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
There is a decent chance that Zombie Cow's 'Privates' will not pass the peer review on Xbox Live. When I first saw the press release for it I was intrigued by the premise. Zombie Cow described 'Privates' as,
"...a funky little game about tiny little condom-hatted marines going right up peoples’ rude areas and shooting all the nasty chompy things that tend to live there if you’ve been carelessly putting bits of yourself in silly places."
It sounds like a fun, if unusual, game and I like seeing developers push the envelope.

Condom capped privates marching dutifully across a pubis in search of evil STD beasties.

Honestly it confused me that this game might not pass. Sex and video games are nothing new, they are paired together and rated with an appropriate Mature all the time. It seems however the Xbox Live Indie Game guidelines are a bit more restrictive than one might expect in an industry that leans heavily on pixelated tits.

Add to the mix that Zombie Cow developed this game with the U.K.'s Channel 4 as an educational endeavor with the Personal, Social and Health Education guidelines of the British gov's National Curriculum in mind.

While no absolute verdict has been passed the outlook isn't good. In a release to the an Xbox Live spokesman stated,

"This game has not been submitted to our pre-publication peer review process, and it has not been approved for distribution on Xbox Live Indie Games. We have guidelines in place that closely track requirements of content ratings boards worldwide and, among other things, prohibit the publication of strong sexual content.

While we haven't seen this game, we can confirm that if it is consistent with the description we have seen on the Internet, this game would not pass peer review and would not be permitted to be distributed on Xbox Live."

Doesn't exactly raise the confidence does it?

While waiting on a verdict looks like I'll just have to get it on with any number of characters from Dragon Age, or Aphrodite in God of War III, or Madison in Heavy Rain, or well, you get the idea.

Halo: Reach Hangover

Monday, May 24, 2010
The Beta has come and gone leaving me with slightly empty feeling every time I turn on the 360. It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts about the Reach Beta and I think I have sorted out my feelings.

I need to preface my observations with the fact that I am not a particularly good player. My enjoyment of video games surpasses my skill by far. I usually stick to playing with friends online so I can avoid the depression of having my ass handed to me by some foul mouthed 11-year-old or the hassle of the anti chick gamer comments (Tits or GTFO!).

Halo: Reach, with all the beta bugs, was the most fun I have had playing online (outside of custom games with my friends). The variety introduced by Bungie with the new game types, maps, and armor abilities gave me a fighting chance I have never had in matchmaking before.

I could go into further detail about the gaming experiences I had with Reach, but with every single gaming news outlet throwing in their 2 cents, my monetary worth feels devalued. I will keep it brief, I loved Halo: Reach. I feel as if I was given the online gaming experience that my skill has always kept me from. I truly enjoyed myself during matches instead of slogging through trying desperately not to come in very last, again.

I know that the experience will change somewhat when Halo: Reach releases this fall. I just hope that with a greater audience participating my new found joy won't be quashed by more snot nosed kids. Until then I will try to reacquaint myself with the Halo 3 controller scheme and dream of more Headhunter.