Text in games, should it be acceptable today?

November 30, 2006

I come to this point after reading several reviews for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that discredit the game for its use of text instead of voice actors throughout the game. When I read this, it forces me to cast my mind back to a time when we didn’t have voice’s to portray a games story, if the game had a particularly long story discussion about what it means to be who we are, the player had to read it and portray the emotions in our own head along with the designers puppetry of the characters on screen, potentially creating a link to the character that we do not achieve through listening (I have had countless discussions with friends about how we imagine Cloud sounding until Advent Children showed us who’s boss). True, some games have impressive vocal work which absorbs us in the experience, but how often do these games appear? I will admit that I like the gruff voice work in Gears of War however; I can found one of my primary arguments against voice actors here.

The voice actors of Gears recorded separately, and it does show rarely during the game. In a few situations the banter between the characters doesn’t seem to flow as you would expect it to, with characters seemingly over reacting or responding in a strange way, this does nothing but distract from the movie like experience the designers were trying to create. This said, the voice acting in Gears is excellent beside the few cases where individual recording is apparent.

My second argument against voice actors is the game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I don’t know if everyone has the same father, but the same voice actors are used for almost all of the arbitrary town folk. Not just that, these voices get to some of the main characters as well. How about the fact that all Khajiits and Argonians all sound the same? This is not immersive, and ultimately detracts from the experience. The second thing about Oblivion (which is also apparent in other games) is the way it breaks the recording up to correspond with your button press’ through text, something which helps detract from the immersion, but also the fact you can read faster than they speak, causing you to skip dialogue and make characters sound like stuttering fools.

Simply put, Zelda falls into a similar category as Oblivion when considering voice actors. If Nintendo were to tackle the task of giving everyone in Zelda a voice, they would be forced to have a different voice for everyone due to the usually distinct characters. Zelda is never a series to use identikit copy and paste characters in its towns and as such, copy and paste voices would, in my mind, be a disappointment.

I’m not saying that voice acting is totally bad, I’ve played several games in which the voice acting is of a high standard and helps to inject an amount of personality into the characters. These games include Beyond Good and Evil, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath and Escape from Monkey Island. However, good writing is normally just as respectable as exceptional vocal work.

Games that are trying to be like Hollywood blockbusters can parade their vocal talents with pride if they must, but I’m simply saying that because we have the technology, doesn’t mean we have to use it. To be honest, it shows how lazy gamers are getting if they consider having to read as a negative point.

And just to conclude, let’s look at some recent great text heavy games:




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