April 15, 2013

On voice acting in RPGs

Posted in video games tagged , , , at 10:57 pm by riulyn

Voice acting is pretty much used in every modern RPG made by non-indie studios (off the top of my head I can only think of Radiant Historia as an exception), but some game budgets are not the same as other game budgets, and some games have a lot more text than others. Also, not all game systems are equal. So when it comes to those special scenes, whether cut scenes, skits, battles, etc., what voice acting makes the cut and what voice acting should (in my opinion) make the cut?

Ideally, a game would voice everything fully, but that’s not practical even for the most expensive RPGs, unless there is very little dialogue. But if that can’t be achieved, here’s are two ways to look at it.

Importance to me

1. Cut scenes

2. Skits/sidequests/etc. dialogue

3. Battle quotes

4. Random reaction noises

Cheapest to most expensive/time & memory consuming

1. Random reaction noises

2. Battle quotes

3. Major cut scenes

4. All character-developing dialogue

So what do I want from each category? I obviously want good and appropriate voice acting. Variety is nice but consistency might be better, as voice acting needs to make the characters both interesting and relatable. In terms of general volume, it needs to be quite a bit louder than the background music in the cutscenes but not so loud during battle. Also,ideally all the voice acting can be turned off whenever a player wants to turn it off.

Voice acting in major cutscenes has to enhance the experience and thus needs to be very dynamic. I prefer it a bit overplayed than underplayed. Overplayed doesn’t equal slow (like Magna Carta: Tears of Blood slow), though dialogue should probably be a bit slower than it is in real life so that we can get every word. I mean, these events are supposed to matter to the characters and thus matter to you.

For skits and the like, I know it is rather difficult to have every single line voiced, but I think if one were to add voice acting emphasis to a skit, reaction noises could work. However, not every line of dialogue needs a reaction noise (Fire Emblem: Awakening is quite over the top with this), unless the characters are truly changing their moods with every line. Also, while on the subject of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I’d prefer a dialogue line be left unpaired with a sound clip than matched with an inappropriate one. It can be confusing and sometimes take me out of the situation.

For side quests, ideally you voice all the dialogue if you are giving them any voicing, but having the NPCs give you a voiced greeting depending on their mood isn’t too bad. This type of voice acting is pretty low on my priority list in general.

For battle quotes, I enjoy both when the characters say their attack names and post-battle quotes. If you are going to keep one, I suggest the latter as it doesn’t bother people nearly as much. Personally I prefer full battle quotes/phrases/sentences/dialogues (aka Xenoblade’s) to grunts and yells even if grunts are more logical. Of course if you are doing post-battle quotes, at least have multiple ones per character. We are going to be playing a lot of battles, and getting an appropriately-matched one that is somewhat random is better than 1000 battles of the same thing. Importantly, battle dialogue should be something that a player can mute in a modern game; there are too many people who get annoyed by this and you don’t want to turn them away!

Finally, some games use modified modern languages, conlangs, or random noises instead of English or Japanese or whatever. Obviously you can tell my stance on the made-up languages that aren’t based on modern language sounds, as I find them to be rather irritating random noises. Not to say that a language has to have a common modern language basis to be okay for me, as I know there are some interesting languages that are based on clicks and other rhythmic things, but I just can’t stand whatever they use in Okami and how the Cheagles talk in Tales of the Abyss. Not only does it annoy me, but it also seems kind of lazy to do voices that way. I’d love to hear an argument to convince me otherwise.

Anyway, there you have it. Voice acting has come a long way in RPGs, especially in JRPGs. Make your voices emotionally powerful but consistent with the characters and appropriate for the situations they are used in, and you are all set. Easier said than done, of course, but no one makes RPGs because they are easy to make, right?



  1. Joseph said,

    Agree with basically everything you said. I always prefer no voice acting to bad voice acting haha. Sometimes the english voices can be really bad, same as in anime. I LOVE battle quotes, and so far I think Tales of Graces f has done the best job of end battle dialogue. Usually pretty funny or charming. It’s amazing how just a few comments in game can add a level of depth that is so necessary to current gen gaming. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Maria said,

    Totally agree! Voice acting is a large part of what makes or breaks a game for me. For example, Baten Kaitos isn’t a bad game in regards to its plot and game-play, but I just can’t get over the absolute cheesiness of the voice acting. I usually wind up laughing over the most serious moments (“Loook at my beauuuutiful wiiiings!!!”). On the other hand there are games like Sands of Destruction, which, while its game-play and story line weren’t spectacular, had surprisingly good voice-acting, and has earned a place on my list of games that I definitely want to play through again.

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