Voice Acting in Video Games: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Lots of games go the silent route, or give their characters the occasional grunting noise and that’s it. That’s why when a game is voiced, gamers take notice and the voices can make or break the experience.
Some companies put a lot of time and effort into choosing the right voices for the right characters. They understand that quality makes a difference. A good voice actor pulls you in and makes the whole experience more believable—whether you’re slaying dragons or just chatting with your squad mates.
Some examples of games with stellar voice work include (but are not limited to): Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Persona 4, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, and Remember Me.
So how do you judge the quality of the voice acting? There are several ways, but the key is that it feels natural for a character to be speaking that way. Let’s take Final Fantasy XIII, for example. We expect Lightning to have a tough voice because of her stern personality. If she suddenly started talking like a valley girl, or in a higher pitched voice than Vanille, it would cause you to do a double take and say, “That’s not right.” The voice has to match the character. The vocal work also has to be believable to be high quality. If someone in the game screams, the scream needs to sound real; otherwise you end up laughing at a moment that isn’t supposed to be funny. People who are angry should sound that way and people who are sad should sound sad—if everyone goes around the game talking in monotone it ruins part of the experience. With that in mind…
Whether it’s picking the wrong voice actor for your main character or that one bad apple in a sea of great vocal talent, this can damper your experience. Persona 3 is one of my all-time favorite games and almost all the vocal work in it is really well done…except Fuuka’s.
Fuuka was the girl keeping an eye on you in the dungeons while you fought the onslaught of shadows. Not only is she a major character, but if you grind a lot of levels (like I did) she will be there every step of the way with her obnoxious, “One enemy left!” Her voice grates on me in a way that’s impossible to ignore and it makes the overall experience less enjoyable. Fuuka is supposed to be a shy, sweet, likeable character, but this vocal work just makes her annoying.
Another example of this “one bad egg” principle comes from Tales of Xillia. Granted, I haven’t played far enough to meet all the characters yet, but of the ones I’ve met Milla sticks out: her voice is an absolute monotone. I understand that her character is supposed to be non-human and unused to emotions and such, so this works to a point. After she learns more about the outside world and starts trying to express herself, however, her vocal work should change to reflect this and it just doesn’t.
I have two examples of all-around bad voice acting that live in infamy in my house. Should you deign to experience these games, be warned: the vocal work is far from pretty.
The first example is XBOX 360’s Two Worlds. Two Worlds is supposed to be about some guy trying to save his sister. Occasionally, said guy sounds upset when things aren’t going his way. Problem #1 is that he only has two modes: bored or upset. Problem #2? Every other character in the game doesn’t even have two modes. This is the most monotone, bored set of characters I’ve ever laid ears on. A character would talk about his best friend being eaten by an ogre in the same tone as he’d talk about going to the dentist. Nothing these characters say is believable because they never actually get excited about anything.
I have no clue if the sequel’s any better—I’m too scared to find out.
The second horrid example of voice acting in my house comes from the Game Cube title Baten Kaitos. My friend and I like to joke that the producers of this game spent all their money on the music—the soundtrack is fantastic. The vocal work, however, is absolutely cringe-worthy. Not only do the voices not match the characters, many of them suffer from the opposite problem of that in Two Worlds—these characters are way too excited about ridiculously boring things, like washing laundry or herding sheep. So when something exciting actually does happen, it’s sort of hard to tell. When your town crier’s “It’s nine o’ clock!” yell sounds the same as his “The town’s on fire!” yell, you might have a problem. Also, the echoing. Oh, the echoing. I don’t know whether the company producing Baten Kaitos just had bad sound equipment or whether all the voice actors were in love with their microphones, but there is a distinct echoing sound attached to all of the vocal work in Baten Kaitos. You can just tell people were way too close to their microphones while recording.
What effect does this have on the game itself? A lot of laughing when you shouldn’t. Which is a shame, because the story underneath that voice work is golden. On the plus side, you can always turn the voices off for everything but battle.
Yes, the producers realized they were that bad.
Got your own tales of voice acting triumphs and downfalls? Sound off in the comments below.