Why I Prefer No Voice Acting in RPGs

There was a time when characters only “spoke” through dialogue boxes and showed all their emotions and charm through body language. In modern RPGs voice acting is the norm, but I find myself more immersed in older games where I am free to imagine characters personalities. At first I thought this was just nostalgia to games made from that era, but after recently playing the newly released The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword I have come to the conclusion that I prefer it that way.

Firstly, by having characters converse through written dialogue the player is free to input their own ideas of how they think the character should sound. This really helps with engaging the player in the story as they care more about characters they have helped conceive. It is also easier to identify with the protagonist of the story if the player feels like they can imagine themselves saying the characters lines or adding in a bit of their own personality.

With the emergence of voice acting, musical scores in RPGs have also seemed to take a backseat. In older games music was used to create atmosphere, highlight a memorable scene or to characterise an important party member. In Chrono Trigger we instantly knew Frog was a courageous and noble character just by the triumphant music that played with him and most players would also remember fondly each character from Final Fantasy VI just by hearing their accompanying theme songs. When an RPG features voice acting, it takes centre stage and the music is relegated to background noise, more like a movie. Most of the soundtracks I hear in modern games consist mostly of not very memorable ambient sounds rather than the catchy melodies of years past.

Voice acting can also be over the top, and may even lose the simplicity of scenes where characters show their feelings through their actions. In Final Fantasy VII, after Aeris’ death, each character has their own unique reaction to the tragedy. Some look to the heavens or stand in contemplation, others break down crying or try to hide their tears, but no one says a word and the whole scene is more powerful because of it. If it were remade with voice acting I fear it would lose a lot of the emotion by trying to be too dramatic. Even the cut scenes in previously mentioned The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword perfectly demonstrates Links insurmountable determination and his affection for Zelda without the need to reiterate it through having him speak. I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.

There are many RPGs that have featured fantastic voice acting, but for me I would rather let my imagination fill out the characters personalities, let the enchanting music set the scene and have the characters show me their emotions.

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10 Comments

Filed under Chrono Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, The Legend of Zelda Series

10 responses to “Why I Prefer No Voice Acting in RPGs

  1. I most like the point you made about not being able to give characters your own voice. My friend and I would sometimes just start playing an RPG and decide who would be who and voice act ourselves. It’s strange to think that RPGs that don’t utilize voice acting are more like books in that they challenge the gamer to use their imagination to think of body language, reactions, and speech.

    As for the music, I state just what you said all the time: we’re losing something by not having those catchy melodies and themes at the forefront of our games today. The themes really do add to characterizations–I feel for the young gamers who are making up stories with their favorite characters in mind without having those characters’ themes pulsing through their brains.

    Lastly, voice acting destroys the chance of having a character like Crono. Not that I expect a silent main protagonist to be utilized today anyway, but unless a character is literally mute, that powerful silence won’t be seen again.

    • I agree with you about RPGs without voice acting being more like books. It allows for more imagination and immersion.
      Crono was such a great character, he naturally showed courage, but being silent meant that each player could think of their Crono anyway they liked. It’s a shame there is no equivalent in RPGs today.
      Thanks

  2. Laith

    True! It’s a nice aspect of past RPGs.

    Which RPG do you think has the best voice acting Trigger?

    • I think the best voice acting is in Final Fantasy XII, but it relies a lot on the fact that the dialogue is well written. Some modern RPGs have high profile voice casts, (such as Kingdom Hearts featuring some Hollywood actors) but if the script is mediorce it brings down the whole experience.
      Thanks for the comment and welcome to the site.

  3. Most of the time, if the voice acting is good, I don’t care too much if they have voice acting or not, but I do agree that sometimes it was better without it. I’m currently playing Skyward Sword, and I am so happy that after 25 years, Zelda games still have no voice acting. It would just ruin it if they started doing that. I have grown quite attached to Link and the Zelda series in general through the years, partly because I feel more like I’m part of the game because he never talks, so I kind of take his place in a way as the hero. And yes, scenes can be much more powerful when the characters show what they’re feeling, not say it. (That’s what you’re taught in writing classes, too. Show, don’t tell. Modern video game makers don’t seem to know this.) Some of the more emotional games are Okami and FFVII for me, and there is no voice acting. And I don’t like that music is often not as good now due to voice acting, either. Music has been a big part of video games for a long time, and that shouldn’t change.

    • Great comment, what I liked the most about Skyward Sword was the fact it kept the design aspects of what everyone loved about the older games and used the newer technology to present it, but without losing the spirit of the series. I wish other developers these days could do the same…
      I definitely agree with you about showing, not telling. It is an art that is almost completely lost in what I have seen from modern games.
      Thanks

  4. twelve

    I think voice acting can add some atmosphere if done right, like in FFX when Auron goes “Farewell” or “This ends now” in a fight, that was cool.

    I guess the problem is it is almost never done right.

    • I do agree with you and for the most part I think Final Fantasy X did it really well. I especially loved Auron’s dialogue before the fight with Yunalesca. Although FFX also has some poor moments such as the “laughing” scene between Tidus and Yuna that could have been handled better.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I fall on both sides of the fence on this. Most of the time though, I do prefer voice acting. Just like I could watch a movie with subtitles instead of hearing the actors speak, I think if the voice work is done well, it adds to the experience. Now, the exact opposite can be true. I’ll take silence over really shoddy voice work, which can completely pull you out of the experience, or even make you dislike certain characters and change your feeling toward the storyline from what it would have been otherwise.

    • I think you are right, that well done voice acting adds to the experience. It is much harder to convey epic scenes simply with just text. Xenoblade Chronicles is a recent game I felt had great voice acting, but what really made it special was the fact it also had a fantastic soundtrack full of catchy melodies. Put those together and you get the best of both worlds. Thanks for your input!

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