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!