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When Video Game Voice Acting Work Doesn't Work
Video game voice acting in big budget titles has been reaching an extremely high ceiling of quality in recent years. There was and will always be games that refute the idea of using someone with qualitative skills on par with Nolan North however, giving players around the world a library of horrendous dialogue, stilted pronunciation and some painstakingly hilarious voice acting work in their beloved titles. For every Metal Gear Solid or Uncharted 2, there will undoubtedly be another House of The Dead or Zelda CD-i game, painstakingly replicating awfulness through voice work alone.
Here is a top 5 list of the worst video game voice acting work, including a special mentions section at the end for some truly incredulous entries that couldn’t make this list of horrendous proportions. Anyways, without further ado, descend the page and descend into the madness of poorly scripted and translated Japanese imports...
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Number 5 - Shenmue II (Xbox English Dub)
They should print t-shirts with the words “I survived Shenmue II in English!" written on the chest, such is the instant terror that Ryo Hazuki and the Shenmue II cast give me. With one of the most expansive, realistic, lush and open worlds in any game, it would seem fitting to have a plethora of voice acting talent to encapsulate the awe-inspiring verisimilitude, unfortunately it looks apparent that Yu Suzuki thought otherwise.
Not only does Shenmue II cripple the audio frequency waves frequently, it soon rises to the status of good because its bad, before rising further still to another plateau of terrible voice acting work by the time you meet more of the rather insanely voiced companions Ryo meets in his Hong Kong travels.
Even if the reasons for such voice acting discrepancies are down to a lack of funds (I mean they spent an exorbitant amount on the first Shenmue) or console limitations insofar as audio compression, I still can’t reconcile a game that destroys everything not only the original but even the sequel tries to advance and setup, defacing it with some ugly voice acting work. One positive, at least for the Dreamcast version, is that it came with the Japanese dub and nothing else. Shame original Xbox owners got the raw deal on the voice work and will never truly experience Shenmue without incessantly terrible NPC acting.
Also, I would like to point out that Yakuza is another game that suffers from this. However, it is the first of the series that was dubbed, and subsequently in hindsight the English dub is often comparative to the contents of garbage (Mark Hamill as Majima somewhat makes up for it though).
Continue onto page 2 of this look at some terrible voice acting work in the sphere of video games...
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Number 4 - Resident Evil
The infamous “master of unlocking" Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield were eponymously introduced in the infamous mansion of the first Resident Evil entry. With abundantly atrocious voice work, as soon as the mansion doors are closed and the zombie dogs have been out-sprinted, the game continues throughout with some memorable moments of voice acting madness. Not limited to including quips about Jill becoming a sandwich and poisonous snakes being monsters.
There isn’t much more to say about this, it came out in 1996, and was clearly hampered by being a new intellectual property. Added to this are the technological limitations of the original Playstation, which hampered many a games sound and audio quality, take Grandia as an example. The choice by creator Shinji Mikami to use a fully English dub in both western and eastern versions of the game makes it nigh unforgivable that voice acting work turned out that bad. Fortunately though, unlike Shenmue II, the games voice work is so bad its good and doesn’t rotate back around to being bad again.
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Number 3 - Two Worlds
Delivery is often key where video game voice acting is concerned. The ability to properly enunciate and emphasise the words you’re reading is the trick to creating something realistic. Two Worlds, released in 2007 on Xbox 360, is probably the worst culprit of muddled delivery and stupidly inconsistent word emphasis. Being compared to an Elder Scrolls game was the marketing preamble that Two Worlds achieved in the gaming media, unfortunately when the game was released, this comparison soon dissipated.
It’s a hard task to make Oblivion’s voice acting work look superlative and not in the least repetitive or even dull. Two Worlds probably does the best job any Oblivion enthusiast could hope for. Want to critique the voice work of Oblivion? well take a look at Two Worlds and embrace the comparatively stunning voice acting Bethesda utilised.
Two Worlds is like the ugly best friend of Oblivion, making said friend seem positively remarkable when held next to one another. Just thinking about the voice acting in this game makes me want to absolve the thought by playing Oblivion, if that doesn’t tell you something about the quality (or lack there of) in this game, I don’t know what can.
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Number 2 - Heavy Rain
Obviously this isn’t an average choice for this kind of list. It doesn’t have stupid over the top emphasis on random words or syllables. Also, overall the game is engaging and immersive, however the entire premise of the experience is washed away because of a terrible design choice. This choice is probably more damaging that just having straight up bad voice acting work in your game.
If you hire French people to provide an American accent, failure is bound to ensue. While Heavy Rain has some very well produced and often very high quality dialogue and video game voice acting in general (Scott Shelby being the pinnacle), it falls apart when foreign voices are imitating authenticity, especially given the supposed realism the game presents in general. This reinforcement of simulacrum is completely de-constructed when the atmosphere, setting and characters become caricatures, much like Indigo Prophecy. With the shortcomings of Heavy Rain’s voice acting often appraising this.
The main characters still sound good however, even with incessant chants of “Jason!" and comical hard-boiled one lines, but the whole immersion and experience is simply illusory and completely ruined by the inaccurate voice acting work. It seems this oversight isn’t down to any reason other than lazy auditory auditions and casting by the audio producers.
We are near the apex of our descent into the worst voice acting work video games have to offer, continue to the final page for possibly the worst/best voice acting in any game ever!...
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Number 1 - Castle Shikagami 2
“I like girls...but now...it’s about justice"
“slaves for fashion dislike bulges"
“man-to-man is out!..army vs. army is in!"
Castle Shikigami 2 was a 2003 localised multi-platform release, providing a decent if unspectacular vertical shooter, known for its spastic and almost insane voice acting work. Sentences come and go at random, they make little sense in context, while being voiced poorly almost all the time.
I can forgive games like Grandia and other older games like Martian Gothic and Link: The Faces of Evil, they were made in a vacuum of gaming where badly compressed and rushed translations led to remarkable results, but Castle Shikigami 2 was released in 2003/04 on all the major platforms of the time (including PC).
Although a rushed dub invariably produces hilarious results, it would be more cost effective and slightly less painful to use the original Japanese language track, only translating the dialogue as opposed to making it English and voice acted. Yakuza 2 and 3 are perfect examples of this reasoning, not only do they convey the action through the creators intended manner, but they also set out a provocative and contextually significant voice track. It’s the reason why a fully dubbed film like Hard Boiled is inconsequential when being sized up alongside a subtitled affair such as Rashomon or Ikiru.
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There is a whole host of games that I won't be able to expedite here, but I'll try and list a couple of the stand out games with terrible voice acting work in, at least from my standpoint and experience that is.
Have fun with this selection, including the ones mentioned throughout the article, but I warn not to play them with your serious head on...
- Dreamfall - If only for main character Zoe Castillo and her incredulous, penetrating and nauseating English accent.
- Deus Ex - Criminal voice acting work can only get you so far.
- Animal Soccer World - Dutch people impersonating animals.
- The House of The Dead - Some of the best bad dubbing in a game series.
- Martian Gothic - Because having a lisp and background echo don’t help elevate meaning into your voice.
- Tenchu - A game that reinforces the idea of subtitles instead of dubs.