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?