Hearing Voices (Published 2/19/2013)

 

Another guest post from a different contributor (Ian)!  How exciting!  Enjoy, everybody!

Where to even begin? I’ve been an avid gamer since I could hold a controller, and much like Casey and Tom, Final Fantasy IX represents the absolute most amazing gaming experience I’ve ever had. I first played it at the tender and impressionable age of 13, and the themes and lessons it taught me remain with me to this day. The story, the characters, the music, the art; all are unmatched in my eyes by any other Final Fantasy, or any other game for that matter. But enough gushing about it. The topic I want to discuss in this post is voice-acting, and how without it, a story and its characters become infinitely more relatable.

As Casey and I played through the first few hours of the game’s introduction, I had a realization of-sorts: there were no voices anywhere in the game. I’d become so accustomed to hearing the characters in my games speak, that when they were absent, it took me by surprise. All of the dialogue and in-game conversation is read by the player, and even in the cut scenes, none of the characters speak. I found this to be particularly interesting. Nowadays, voice acting has become a staple of modern games, something we’ve simply come to expect. But is it something that actually enhances a game? That’s the question I began to ask myself.

I remember popping Final Fantasy X into my Playstation 2, excited to embark on yet another epic quest in a new Final Fantasy world. To my knowledge, this was one of the first times I’d ever heard characters actually speak in an RPG. I have to admit, it was off-putting at first; I found the voices alienating and annoying, the voice actors unable to capture what I thought the characters should sound like. Tidus sounded boyish and whiny. Yuna’s voice was too soft and whispery. For me, their voices detracted from the game’s experience and its ability to immerse me. Because of this, I posit that just because you’re technologically able to add voices to a game, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.

RPG’s are all about story, narrative, and immersion. Afterall, a ROLE-Playing game is one where you assume a role. When I played Final Fantasy IX, and the earlier games in the series, I felt a strong connection with all of the characters. I put myself in their head, felt their emotions, and discovered the world through their eyes. I couldn’t hear Zidane’s voice, or Steiner’s, or Amarant’s. I imagined them. And this, I would argue, means that a player can develop more empathy with the characters they’re playing.

In regards to the game’s cutscenes, where the characters still remain silent, the lack of voice-acting becomes even more obvious. It’s here that story-telling without voices or text can be challenging. How do you make the player understand how the characters are reacting, thinking, and feeling if they’re unable to say anything? Simple. It’s on their faces. In any given cutscene, the player is conveyed everything they need to know about a character by their expression and their actions. It’s not necessary for Zidane to tell Garnet he loves her in the ending cutscene. You see it on his face. And in that way, it becomes more powerful.

So, after some deep thinking, I’ve come to find that for me, a character almost seems to possess more of a distinct “voice” when they don’t have one. Their voice becomes whatever you think it should be, whatever what you want to hear. Put any inclination, accent, or tone you want on it. Make it yours, because in the end, it’s your character and your story.

Powerful stuff. Go Ian! I’m writing up responses to this and Tom’s post as we speak. If anyone out there has anything to add/debate, hit me up!

12 Replies to “Hearing Voices (Published 2/19/2013)”

  1. This is very interesting to think about. Though one thing you didn’t mention is how the only voice we do hear is when Garnet is singing “Melodies of Life”, both the wordless versions throughout the game, and then the one with lyrics at the end. Would love to hear your thoughts on the significance of this. 🙂

    1. This is very true. Thanks for your comment, Karina! I hadn’t even thought of that!

      I think that Dagger singing the wordless versions throughout the game is very significant – it’s the only “voice” you ever hear any of the characters have, and it’s a song that Dagger has known since she was a small child, that she has used for comfort. Hearing the “voice” in-game makes that specific piece of music very different from the rest, and it makes it distinctly memorable (not that the other music in the game isn’t #$*&ing amazing. Because it is). It gives the song a layer of importance, especially because it’s only Zidane and Dagger around when she sings it – it gives the song not only importance to Dagger, but to the Zidane-Dagger relationship, as well, which is spelled out beautifully at the very end of the game.

      I’m a bit confused by what you mean in terms of “the one with lyrics at the end” – I know that they play the song with lyrics when the credits are rolling, but do you think that the singer of that song is meant to be Dagger? If so, that’s very interesting, as I’ve always just thought of it as some random Japanese singer xD regardless, that’s a very interesting thought, and I’ll have that in mind next time I beat the game.

      However, I think that keeping the song with lyrics until the end is very significant – it reveals exactly what Dagger has been singing since the first disc, and it is revealed to be a song whose theme goes hand-in-hand with the theme of FFIX itself – it’s about pain, life, loss, and the resilience and eternity of love. I think I can say for a fact that I’m not the only one who tears up at the end of this game – it’s pulled off perfectly, including this song at the end. Super duper powerful. I love it.

      Anyway, I’m actually not the writer of the “Hearing Voices” article – that was my buddy Ian, who I am trying to get to respond to this comment, as well. Thanks so much for your comment! It really made me think 😀 That’s the beauty of putting work online – there will always be people with different perspectives, remembering things you don’t, etc., no matter how much of a buff you think you are. It’s great. Have a wonderful day!

      P.S. If you ever want to write a post, definitely let me know – this blog is meant to be a community-driven process, and I welcome guest posts from anyone who has a passion for FFIX 🙂

  2. Emiko Shiratori is the one who sings Melodies of Life during the credits, so I always kind of associated her voice with Dagger’s. I’m pretty sure she sings the song that is called “The Song of Zidane and Dagger” on the Plus soundtrack that comes up in all scenes that Dagger sings. I kind of had some of the same things as you in mind, but never really thought about the whole “voices” in FFIX thing until I read this blog.

    Thank you for putting this blog together, I found it on tumblr just before you created the wordpress site so I’m glad I can read everything from the archives on here. I would love to write a post, but it’s been a while since I’ve played the game so I’m not sure I can think of anything right now. But if you end up doing a Let’s Play I’m sure I can think of things to write about as I’m watching!

    1. Yeah, that’s a really interesting way too look at it – never did before, myself. I’m sure I’ll bring it up in the LP when I get that going 🙂

      No problem! I’ll shoot you an invite to be a “Contributor”, if you’d like. Then, if you think of something, you can write it up and I’ll publish it to the site!

      P.S. There’s basically nothing I’d rather do than talk about FFIX all day, so it’s really no problem. 😉 haha

  3. Emiko Shiratori is the one who sings Melodies of Life during the credits, so I always kind of associated her voice with Dagger’s. I’m pretty sure she sings the song that is called “The Song of Zidane and Dagger” on the Plus soundtrack that comes up in all scenes that Dagger sings. I kind of had some of the same things as you in mind, but never really thought about the whole “voices” in FFIX thing until I read this blog.

    Thank you for putting this blog together, I found it on tumblr just before you created the wordpress site so I’m glad I can read everything from the archives on here. I would love to write a post, but it’s been a while since I’ve played the game so I’m not sure I can think of anything right now. But if you end up doing a Let’s Play I’m sure I can think of things to write about as I’m watching!

    1. Yeah, that’s a really interesting way too look at it – never did before, myself. I’m sure I’ll bring it up in the LP when I get that going 🙂

      No problem! I’ll shoot you an invite to be a “Contributor”, if you’d like. Then, if you think of something, you can write it up and I’ll publish it to the site!

      P.S. There’s basically nothing I’d rather do than talk about FFIX all day, so it’s really no problem. 😉 haha

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  5. This is the right webpage for anybody who wants to understand this
    topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic that’s been written about for ages. Great stuff, just wonderful!

  6. I just read something from an interview of one of the Square Enix localization managers in Tokyo regarding voice that I found very interesting:

    “Q. Do you think voice work has changed what localization needs to do? (For example, some of the lines from FF6, while classic, would sound terrible if spoken.) Do you think the team should be going further than it had in FFX? For example, eliminating unprovoked grunts like “Uh? Wha’? Ah!” that sound awkward to an English-speaker, or actually reprogramming scenes to sync the speaker to the words, similar to what was done in Kingdom Hearts?

    A. Absolutely. There are many more factors involved now with voices. (And it is much more restrictive…as Brian attests to in his answer below.)

    But written dialogue sounding strange when voiced is not a problem exclusive to video games. Many books that read well don’t flow when acted out, and even when you look at the dialogue on old TV shows (say out of the 70s) the dialogue can seem dated and weird. Add in the memory and space restrictions we had in those old games and it’s no wonder they sound odd when read aloud.

    I think Xenogears was the first Square game to have voice-overs localized, and boy, have we learned a lot since then. People often complain that the lips don’t match, but they don’t realize that Japanese games and cartoons very rarely lip-sync. (Japanese cartoons like Doraemon just have two or three mouth flap cels that never match what is being said, and no one cares. I guess the Japanese are so used to watching dubbed movies here that they don’t think such details matter much.) So if the original Japanese lip movements don’t match the dialogue, there is little chance of us fixing it in English (although the guys who did FFX and FFX-2 sure tried where they could).

    Fortunately, some dev teams have realized that lip-syncing does matter for the Western audience. For instance, we decided to record The Bouncer’s voices in English first, using two cameras placed in front and to the side of each actor to record the lip movements and expressions. After the English lip movements were rendered, we then dubbed the Japanese version to match the English. Tokita-san’s team deserves full credit for taking such a revolutionary step within the company. Other recent projects I have worked on, like FFXI’s opening movie, followed this lead.

    The Kingdom Hearts team did a fair effort of redoing the lip-syncing for English and European language releases. But it is labor-intensive and takes the team’s time away from creating their next game. Until we work out a better system to automate the process, it’s more out of love for the foreign versions of our own game than out of necessity (as it doesn’t make much economic sense either).

    So we are always working on improving things, and I’m sure you will start to see the bad lip-syncing and unnatural reactions improve with time as all the teams become accustomed to working with the relatively new media and the localization of it as well.

    Brian Gray (one of the translators of FFX-2) also chipped in the following answer:
    Yes. Before, localizing dialogue was pretty much just a matter of replacing Japanese text with English text. Character motion on-screen tended to not be very complex, so you could write just about anything and it would probably match what’s going on visually. Lately, though, with voiced dialogue and more cinematic event sequences, we have to think about other things. What are the characters doing? Who are they facing? How far away are they from whoever they’re talking to? How long a pause is there between the lines? All of these affect how believable a given translation will be. This isn’t just a matter of localization, either. The Japanese development team also needs to leave enough flexibility in their design so that we can fix unnatural pauses, grunts, or gestures. Overall, we’re getting better at coordinating this. Kingdom Hearts was a positive step forward, and Final Fantasy XII and our other coming releases will look even better.

    And Colin, our in-house editor at Tokyo HQ, had this to say:
    Voice work changes the ebb and flow of things enormously. Generally speaking, you get a lot more freedom in your translation if you know that your dialogue is only going to be displayed as text; your main limitation is what you can display on the screen. With voice, you generally have to match the exact length of the original Japanese line, and in many cases, have to match the lip flaps of the on-screen characters. I’d much prefer writing spoken dialogue for a character whose mouth is obscured by a mask or armor!

    Fortunately, we’re seeing more cases where the team will re-animate for the English dialogue, but that does consume both time and money – just imagine how many hours of cutscenes there are in the typical voiced RPG.

    And as for the monosyllabic grunts, it’s an inherent limitation of the system. For most in-game scenes, voice lines are played sequentially with a half-second pause before and after each line (or a request for a keypress). That in itself prevents any rapid-fire exchanges or dialogue overlap – and it makes the editor or ADR person’s job all the more difficult. We have to ensure everything is going to flow together, even with those “uncomfortable silences.” Of course, we could remove the grunts entirely, but that would mean having to re-script, remove lines, re-animate things… Not easy in an event- and timing-critical game environment. You’re bound to break something along the way!”

    The entire interview can be found here, at FFCompendium.com. Which is an amazing site. Check it out.

  7. I just read something from an interview of one of the Square Enix localization managers in Tokyo regarding voice that I found very interesting:

    “Q. Do you think voice work has changed what localization needs to do? (For example, some of the lines from FF6, while classic, would sound terrible if spoken.) Do you think the team should be going further than it had in FFX? For example, eliminating unprovoked grunts like “Uh? Wha’? Ah!” that sound awkward to an English-speaker, or actually reprogramming scenes to sync the speaker to the words, similar to what was done in Kingdom Hearts?

    A. Absolutely. There are many more factors involved now with voices. (And it is much more restrictive…as Brian attests to in his answer below.)

    But written dialogue sounding strange when voiced is not a problem exclusive to video games. Many books that read well don’t flow when acted out, and even when you look at the dialogue on old TV shows (say out of the 70s) the dialogue can seem dated and weird. Add in the memory and space restrictions we had in those old games and it’s no wonder they sound odd when read aloud.

    I think Xenogears was the first Square game to have voice-overs localized, and boy, have we learned a lot since then. People often complain that the lips don’t match, but they don’t realize that Japanese games and cartoons very rarely lip-sync. (Japanese cartoons like Doraemon just have two or three mouth flap cels that never match what is being said, and no one cares. I guess the Japanese are so used to watching dubbed movies here that they don’t think such details matter much.) So if the original Japanese lip movements don’t match the dialogue, there is little chance of us fixing it in English (although the guys who did FFX and FFX-2 sure tried where they could).

    Fortunately, some dev teams have realized that lip-syncing does matter for the Western audience. For instance, we decided to record The Bouncer’s voices in English first, using two cameras placed in front and to the side of each actor to record the lip movements and expressions. After the English lip movements were rendered, we then dubbed the Japanese version to match the English. Tokita-san’s team deserves full credit for taking such a revolutionary step within the company. Other recent projects I have worked on, like FFXI’s opening movie, followed this lead.

    The Kingdom Hearts team did a fair effort of redoing the lip-syncing for English and European language releases. But it is labor-intensive and takes the team’s time away from creating their next game. Until we work out a better system to automate the process, it’s more out of love for the foreign versions of our own game than out of necessity (as it doesn’t make much economic sense either).

    So we are always working on improving things, and I’m sure you will start to see the bad lip-syncing and unnatural reactions improve with time as all the teams become accustomed to working with the relatively new media and the localization of it as well.

    Brian Gray (one of the translators of FFX-2) also chipped in the following answer:
    Yes. Before, localizing dialogue was pretty much just a matter of replacing Japanese text with English text. Character motion on-screen tended to not be very complex, so you could write just about anything and it would probably match what’s going on visually. Lately, though, with voiced dialogue and more cinematic event sequences, we have to think about other things. What are the characters doing? Who are they facing? How far away are they from whoever they’re talking to? How long a pause is there between the lines? All of these affect how believable a given translation will be. This isn’t just a matter of localization, either. The Japanese development team also needs to leave enough flexibility in their design so that we can fix unnatural pauses, grunts, or gestures. Overall, we’re getting better at coordinating this. Kingdom Hearts was a positive step forward, and Final Fantasy XII and our other coming releases will look even better.

    And Colin, our in-house editor at Tokyo HQ, had this to say:
    Voice work changes the ebb and flow of things enormously. Generally speaking, you get a lot more freedom in your translation if you know that your dialogue is only going to be displayed as text; your main limitation is what you can display on the screen. With voice, you generally have to match the exact length of the original Japanese line, and in many cases, have to match the lip flaps of the on-screen characters. I’d much prefer writing spoken dialogue for a character whose mouth is obscured by a mask or armor!

    Fortunately, we’re seeing more cases where the team will re-animate for the English dialogue, but that does consume both time and money – just imagine how many hours of cutscenes there are in the typical voiced RPG.

    And as for the monosyllabic grunts, it’s an inherent limitation of the system. For most in-game scenes, voice lines are played sequentially with a half-second pause before and after each line (or a request for a keypress). That in itself prevents any rapid-fire exchanges or dialogue overlap – and it makes the editor or ADR person’s job all the more difficult. We have to ensure everything is going to flow together, even with those “uncomfortable silences.” Of course, we could remove the grunts entirely, but that would mean having to re-script, remove lines, re-animate things… Not easy in an event- and timing-critical game environment. You’re bound to break something along the way!”

    The entire interview can be found here, at FFCompendium.com. Which is an amazing site. Check it out.

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