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!

Tom’s Take on the Beginning of FFIX (Published 2/17/2013)

I really like our first guest blog post.  Tom’s a great friend of mine, and he’s the one who introduced me to FFIX all those years ago.  He’s got some great insight to the game.  He wrote this after listening to our audio (yes, we recorded ourselves playing FFIX;  if you want the audio, I can provide it), so if you’re confused by the few times he says “Like you guys said”, etc., that’s what he’s talking about.

Besides some minor grammatical editions, the following is straight from him.

Final Fantasy 9 Blog

1:  Intro – Dark Forest

The game itself is kind of like an enlightenment game, both figuratively and literally.    It brings up many themes from older games. I mean the originals; it’s coming off of the two most industrial and modern Final Fantasies, but FFIX is instead bringing us back to those ones we love so much.  X and XII follow this theme as well to some extent.  And I agree with most of what you guys said though those two games I mentioned aren’t that bad and even though they change some aspects they still follow the heart of the series.

Commonalities: Vivi’s look is a bring back to what is probably the most common look of a black mage, not knowing who the main character is in the beginning, like the originals, Vivi starts out with ???? Just like the original FF, then we also are introduced to the cinematic with Garnet and Zidane, so we really have no idea who we are going to play as.  Which is great because it allows the fluidity that comes up later where we play through others as they go through their own choices?  Though unlike what you said Zidane is clearly 100% the hero, the story lives and dies with his choices, the others have their own hero moments, even taken Zidane out of that role, but overall it’s him.

This game in my eyes is a two act play.  With discs 1 and 2 being act 1, and discs 3 and 4 being act 2.  It just flows more like a play than it does a movie.

The world is very elaborate and strange, where just about every person is something new; even the main characters have a wide variety to them, which again makes this game something special. It’s not building off of an existing world; it’s making something completely strange and unique.

Music, another just so much win, though to echo your point about it being actually around in the game rather than it just being on top of it.  Again this is an echo to earlier games, with FF3/6’s Overture and Wedding, where the songs actually change pace to reflect different voices that were singing or talking.  But again, I love the music so much, but that’s the whole series.  On the Cinematics, I agree with you again, for the time period they are very well done even now, you can see the emotions of every character, they are fluid, smooth, just great, and we have only seen a couple of them at this point in time…. Ugh they get so good.

Where are we now, love the play, which in turn is a play within a play and also mirrors the first act of the game, and it’s even used later on in the game, another reason I say the game is a play because it’s cyclical, not linear.  Love the swordfight scene, and I have gotten 100/100 as well I think I got it first too but we don’t need to get in to that.  Now on to Steiner, we know he is important, because we get to name him, though we could see him as goofy and bumbling, he is the picture of zeal and virtue, innocent even, blindly following orders because they must be right.  And you say he is so over exaggerated and yes he is but in Alexandria it seems that men are second class, so he kind of has to be to even stand a chance at being on the same level of Beatrix, which no one is since she is amazing.  So we go through boss fights which are really jokes and you know it, just stealing battles.  Blah blah, Garnet joins which I a bit of a twist since you don’t name her, and she is a princess that kidnaps herself.

Oh and about Brahne. Well, FF games are notorious for having characters parents being dead or going to die, with that we know that the Queen and Princess aren’t really related, at least it’s implied with the opening cinematic.  So anyway she is a very evil character, no not nearly as bad as Kuja but moving on, she fires on a ship that has her daughter, it’s clear she doesn’t really care about Garnet at this point, and really is more worried about the pendant being taken.  And with Zorn and Thorn and even how she talks to Beatrix, it’s clear that she isn’t right in the head, and with Garnet suddenly wanting to leave I agree that before the game we would see Brahne and the king being well normal.  Saving spoilers and what not for later where we can discuss other reasons, but you guys have spoiled enough already.

Then we have the cinematic with the unusually coincidental, harpoon and bomb firing cannons that are all facing where the theatre ship is, guess that’s to defend against Lindblum or whatever but anyway, this finally brings us into the darkness, literally as the ship crashes into the Dark Forest, another common theme of FF games, evil forests, it’s a nice play at something that is normally good, being nature and like the first real boss flowers, and turning it over to show you just how bad this “Mist” you have been hearing about really is, you are safe nowhere, and who knows what is going to happen next. Such a great start to this amazing game.

Questions?  Comments?  I’d love to hear them!

Wanna write your own guest post?  Feel free to hit me up at the email address to the left and we can make that happen 🙂