Bring back text boxes: why video games were better before they used voice actors


With the loss of text, we lose an understated emotional impact that just can’t be delivered through voice acting.

“Do you want to hear what I said again?” the owl asked, and my overly enthusiastic, trigger-happy finger – eager to get back to cutting the grass in the Kingdom of Hyrule – replied “Yes” before I realised what was being asked. Wait, I thought, I meant no! I didn’t want to hear it the first time!

Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) will be familiar with this encounter. The game, prior to this moment, had shown a vast open field begging for exploration, and yet now a big owl with a penchant for spewing out chunks of exposition was making me slow down to read box after box of text. Attempting to quickly skip through it by mashing buttons, as I did, often only means that you have to listen to him all over again.


The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

It’s easy to see how text boxes in video games get a bad reputation. And yet despite this encounter, I can’t help but miss the days when text boxes dominated video games; when voice acting was not the norm.

It was the release of Final Fantasy IX in the year 2000, a game I played before Ocarina of Time, that made me care for the stories that could be contained within these simple darn rectangles. I wanted to read them; I enjoyed reading them. Before this, I had struggled with the focus required to keep my head in good book – video games even helped me improve my own writing (and should probably be credited with earning me the honour of “Best Jabberwocky-inspired Story” in Year Six).

In games, the characters, themes, and story were all made accessible for me at my own pace. Information could be repeated or entirely skipped. I was the director of the narrative.

Late into Final Fantasy IX, one scene cemented how engaging text in games can be. During one of the many moments in which Vivi, a playable prototype mage (wizard) character, ponders the meaning of his own mortality, he says: “I don’t think I really understand what it means to live and die.” Wow, ten-year-old me thought, do I? Whether he is thinking this line or actually saying it aloud is somewhat down to players’ interpretation. It’s a quiet and personal moment for Vivi, the weight of the line conveyed far better when you read and muse alongside him. But when Kingdom Hearts II (a game that incorporated some of the characters from the Final Fantasy series) was released in 2005, an actor’s voice was given to Vivi. Entirely different to the voice I’d heard in my head for years, the line’s delivery in this Vivi voice felt jarring.

When told entirely via text, the game gave me ownership of the voice that came from the character; something that was entirely personal to me. The game’s examination on themes like the …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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