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Why Do Western Games Have Superior Voice Performances?

Many say Japanese games are lagging behind their Western counterparts. There are arguments for and against that theory but for the most part, it seems obvious.

But in which categories are the Eastern video games falling behind? Well, we could cite graphics but titles like Gran Turismo 5 and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots make us hesitate. That being said, few would argue that the best visual presentations of the generation are found in Western titles with names like Uncharted, God of War, RAGE, and upcoming titles like Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us.

But after reviewing games throughout the generation, there is one section that stands out in contrast when comparing high-profile Western to Japanese games: voice acting. The Japanese actors - the English actors they hire, that is - just aren't on the same level as the professionals we've heard in games like L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption, Heavenly Sword, Heavy Rain, Uncharted, etc. I mean, it's not even close. While I actually think the voice performances in Final Fantasy XIII-2 are better than what we heard in FFXIII, the overall voice package pales in comparison to last year's Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

Really, it pales in comparison to a lot of recent Western titles; this includes Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Battlefield 3, Batman: Arkham City, and Gears of War 3. Now, I thought the aforementioned MGS4 had great voice acting but there were still a few exceptions in that game, and I can't think of any other Japanese title that excels in the all-important category. It could just be the translation issue; these games could have awesome Japanese actors, but the developer only gets amateurs for the English versions.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't cut it anymore. It's one of the reasons Japanese games are seen as less refined, less accomplished, less cutting-edge. The dialogue is a part of this as well; it rarely flows naturally in Japanese titles and again, this could be due to translation problems. But great voice acting in games have become movie-esque; we really have to buy into the actors/characters on screen. I'm always distinctly aware I'm playing a video game whenever someone speaks in a Japanese title; that's all I'm saying.

There are exceptions, of course. But in general, I think this is a clear albeit disappointing observation.

Tags: voice acting, voice performances, video game voices

1/29/2012 9:23:23 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (89 posts)

LimitedVertigo
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 9:47:53 PM
Reply

I've always enjoyed the voice acting in FF games (minus that entire laughing scene in FFX). But I certainly understand where you're coming from. This is actually quite interesting I've never thought of comparing the voice talent given like this before.

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AnonymousPoster
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 10:05:17 PM
Reply

Yes, this is a very old issue, and not just in games. The trouble isn't so much on the Japanese end, where the voice acting is typically top-notch, but on the Western publisher's end. This is one of the reasons people were miffed at SE when they announced that FF13 wouldn't have Japanese voice options. We knew that a quality performance was likely given, and that we'd probably get a lame afterthought of a performance. This is the same issue anime fans have dealt with for as long as there have been anime fans, and why we have an obsession with watching them with the original voice acting.

Japanese game developers tend to cast people who are right for the role, even if they never do anything else for them, while English publishers tend to have a regular staff that they use repeatedly, no matter how well they may or may not fit the roles. Overseas, they run into same problem, but in reverse. Our English developers put love and attention into their product, while the foreign publishers just want to get the product onto shelves as quickly as possible.

It's a problem of business dynamics, unfortunately. The developers who keep everything in-house, including the publishing, like Konami, can have full control over the process. That's why MGS4 was so good. It was developed simultaneously in the East and West, with quality in mind. But that doesn't happen very often.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 2:10:52 AM

Well said.

To put it simply a project's original language dialogue tends to get the best treatment. It's as simple as that.

Japanese products are generally best viewed with Japanese dialogue (with maybe some exceptions) and so on.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 2:21:12 AM

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coverton341
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 11:44:21 AM

I fully agree with this. The translation problem might not cut it in some peoples' eyes but it is the long and short of it. And it ranges across multiple media as pointed out here, not just games.

Take Yip Man 2 for example. The original Cantonese is just great, the lines are delivered flawlessly and the emotion is there. If you listen to it with English dubbing, it's almost unwatchable.

Now the question is, why does this happen? The simple answer is money and time to market and get that money. If a blockbuster game/film/anime/book (in some cases) comes out in a foreign market, be it Asia, Europe, or even here with the reverse trend, then whoever gains the publishing rights in the foreign market is going to want to get that media out to the consumer as quick as humanly possible.

Do you want to take the time to research the roles, match the best fitting actor to the character, and then have them rehearse the lines and try for the parts? Or, from a purely business standpoint, do you want to get someone who knows how to translate from Japanese to English or (insert language) to (and another) and have them read the lines?

Just going through the motions you get the media to the consumer faster with less overhead and hence a higher return on margin.

It's just simple business and yes, in the grand scheme of things, the "lost in translation" excuse is more than valid.

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Russell Burrows
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 10:16:24 PM
Reply

A detailed question contains the seeds of an initial response to an unknown value.

Proper questions lead to wisdom.

Why are the english voice actors hired in Japan found lacking??

Questions:
Where are most movies made??
Where is the total size of the voice actor talent pool largest??

Where is the highest ratio of voice acting talent most likely to be??

Where do highly paid movie/voice talent actors register at??

What Nation is most likely to have a high ratio of Japanese speaking actors and a very low ratio of english speaking actors??

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 11:43:41 PM

All irrelevant questions when pursuing the best quality possible in any given entertainment production.

You overcome adversity to make something that's competitive, and there's absolutely nothing stopping big-budget productions like Final Fantasy or Resident Evil from obtaining professional talent.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:06:09 AM

@ Ben

Well Ben if you were to ask the businessmen, and especially the foreign businessmen, who publish these games overseas I think they would say something like "I think you are overestimating the commercial and financial importance of excellent voice acting. Why go through the trouble of devoting extra time and money toward looking for excellent when adequate will do?".

Know what I mean?

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 6:29:58 AM

But Looking Glass, according to limextree below often the *same* actors are used also for these games?

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 6:49:29 AM

@ Beamboom

I'll refer you to Kabutohunter's post a little ways up on this comment section for an answer.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 6:51:39 AM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:52:29 AM

Looking Glass: Obviously, that'd be an incorrect assessment by any publisher. Doesn't really change the facts.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:13:37 AM

@ Ben

Well I think it opens up the question of exactly how important excellent voice acting is in terms of sales.

Sure it may give the developers and publishers something to brag about but is so-so voice acting really a deal breaker for a significant number of consumers especially when that kind of thing tends to be subjective anyway?

I could be wrong about this but the impression I get is that the answer is no.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:26:47 AM

In today's world, mediocre voice acting sticks out like a sore thumb. It immediately makes the entire production seem outdated and again, that we're all very aware that we're playing a video game.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:35:48 AM

@ Ben

But is that an actual deal breaker for a significant number of consumers?

Because as I've said I get the impression that the answer is no.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 10:42:27 AM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:02:20 PM

This has nothing to do with being a "deal breaker." They need to change how they do things; you can't do the English voice acting as an after-thought, plain and simple.

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:22:55 PM

I've said this in the past many times, actually: The issue isn't the voice actor. It's the dialogue.

Look at FFXIII for an easy example. Lightning's voice actor is actually pretty well respected in the acting industry. But look at Lightning's dialogue? It's pathetic. It's generic, expected, and 85% of the time, she has 1 word answers. The story is decent, but the dialogue is utter crap.

Star Wars was the same way.

But look at the FF franchise. It's always been that bad with dialogue. We have countless amazing stories that are good enough on their own to capture us. But the dialogue has always been somewhat iffy. Mind you, characters can still be interesting and story can still be great without good dialogue, but it does limit our ability to connect with the characters.

I truly believe the issue is the dialogue. Don't forget the cultural difference in communication. Translate things the Japanese would say to each other into English, it's almost always a little sappy because English isn't as poetic as Japanese. So it comes out awkwardly. We also have a smaller dictionary, which means we have fewer words to draw from to relay meaning or feeling.

Translators do a decent job, but when the script is written originally in English for English with English characters, it's just a lot more fluid.


It honestly doesn't matter how good your actors are. If your dialogue is crap, they'll be limited. A good actor can make it decent, yes, but you can't do as good of a job as something as well written as Uncharted's dialogue.


For me, that's the real issue. (I've complained about that before in other topics, actually)

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Highlander
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:23:57 PM

Russel, a central issue with your questions is that they appear to be coming from a mistaken belief. The voice actors that provide the English voices for Japanese games are generally speaking hired in the west by the publisher handling the localization. They are western voice actors, often those that specialize in anime and game dubs.

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:11:35 PM

I agree 100% with Ben about the importance *and* Underdog about the fault being at the script rather than the actor (you'd never thin this day would come, huh Under? ;-) ).

Regarding being a "deal breaker" or not: It may not be right there and then, but in the long run I'd say it is. It makes me think less of the game, and that opinion may be the difference between buying the sequel or not.

There are so many games with amazing voice acting now so bad voice/dialogue has almost become "the new bad graphics".


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/30/2012 1:13:07 PM

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:37:59 PM

@ Ben

I'm actually inclined to agree with you that excellent voice acting is preferable.

But this also depends on how you define "need". If there is not a serious enough financial and commercial incentive for excellent voice acting then good luck at trying to sway a lot of companies. And is there a significant number of consumers who would forgo buying a game solely or mainly or mostly because of less than excellent voice acting?

As I've said I get the impression that the answer is no.

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Akuma07
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 4:33:45 PM

I actually cannot tell the difference.

Voices are voices to me.

I have NEVER thought that any game had bad voice acting, maybe a few here or there, or maybe "that voice doesn't suite that face" (Like the new Desmond in AC:R, horrible!)

But another thing to note, is that the Japanese market is heavily influenced by the anime industry, and in the anime industry, the japanese voice acting is second to none, but at the end of the day, they go for a "cool" sounding character.

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DemonNeno
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 8:02:13 PM

@LookingGlass - I can very EASILY get so god damn annoyed by the voice acting in terms of intrepreting the characters properly. I think you're UNDERestimating the significance of good voice acting. Devs spend a lot of time bring these characters to life, yet their voice is the main aspect that's reaching out to the gamers.

Have you ever talked to someone or heard them talking and thought to yourself "Man, I don't know what it is about this dude, but I totally want to punch him in the face because of the way he talks!"

Ok, maybe that's a bit far. Or is it?

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Looking Glass
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 6:44:41 AM

@ DemonNeno

That's an interesting position.

Although somehow I don't think the position and opinions of a single person would really be enough to sway significant numbers of cynical pragmatic business people unfortunately.

And incidentally I think that is a little far since it would probably get you arrested.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/31/2012 6:45:11 AM

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enjoi
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 10:37:44 PM
Reply

I've been feeling this way for a long time. It's not only the voice acting but the dialog itself that is really painful. Maybe the Japanese versions are really well written, but all I know is that the western translations seem really amateurish. I've rarely felt that conversations characters are having as being natural.
Also, a lot of things just don't make the transition well like the characters calling their siblings brother or sister constantly. When I talk to my brother we use each others names.

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AcHiLLiA
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 11:29:16 PM
Reply

maybe cause English is a worldwide language.

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maxpontiac
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 11:35:53 PM
Reply

Short answer - The good voice actors are speaking their native language in Japanese games

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cLoudou
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:00:32 AM

This.

Just leave the original voice over, and subtitles if you want good voice acting.

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limextree
Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 11:53:48 PM
Reply

I'm not sure the issue is the actors.
For instance, Lightnings voice actor is Liara for Mass Effect, and Snow's actor is the main character in bioshock infinite.

I have to say, some of of the western games you listed, have similar akward voice acting. Heavy Rain has some really good ones, but some, for instance any scene with the kid. And certain side characters. And even Deus Ex (my favorite game this gen), had quite a bit of akwardness in it too. (trash lady etc).

I think, it's mainly the dialogue/translation. As it adds an extra boundary towards quality VA's. Dubs on movies, from english to something or vise versa have had problems forever.



Last edited by limextree on 1/29/2012 11:56:54 PM

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:47:02 AM

That's an interesting post, limextree.
But if they often use the same actors as the western games then it must be either the direction/production or the scripts?


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/30/2012 1:18:45 AM

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:25:05 PM

@Beamboom

That's exactly it. The issue is the dialogue. Even in good stories, the dialogue is often poor in Japanese games.

Any FF is a great example of that. Even one with amazing story, like FFVI or FFVII. "Alright everyone.... let's Mosey." -Cloud ..... are you kidding me?! Sometimes the poor dialogue can even take the character OUT of character.

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ZenChichiri
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:21:33 AM
Reply

Resident Evil having bad voice acting is so staple, that I would be disappointed if it wasn't in the game.

Leon: "Where's everyone going? Bingo?"

Me: "Awwwwwwww yah!"

As for other games that take themselves seriously in this category, yes, they should have better voice acting. Like mentioned above though, it's the Western publisher's responsibility to get it right, and the fact they often use people unsuited for the roles is a big letdown.

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RaYz89
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:27:32 AM
Reply

Good question here~ Forgive me for writing long comments but this is a topic I did many research on as a non-japanese speaker who are a big fan of japanese indusrty (games, anime, manga, drama). First, There are also quite a number of japanese games with good english VA

Nier - excellent voice acting, especially among the main casts. I remember the first time playing it hearing Kaine's scolding Weiss during the title screen just blew me away~

Final Fantasy 12 and Crisis Core - I think these two games also have great voice acting

Kingdom Hearts - this game also boosts excellent VA, if you can accept the cheesy dialogue - which is what KH is about.

Disgaea - now this can be tricky, if you like this kind on genre, then I think the english VA done an excellent job, especially with the crazy only-to-be-found-in-japanese games characters.


In terms of dialog - western cultures tend to have more cool, serious, dark dialog, but in japanese industry (games,drama,anime), the dialog tends to be dramatic, simple, cheesy and a lot of moral values tend to be inserted (search google for famous japanese kanji to get examples of the common words in japanese script). So western gamers might view that as not as top-notch as western games have more "serious dialog"


But for most of the games, the main barier I think is the type of character, many characters in japanese games are unique to japanese culture - such as Vanille in FF13 - Vanille is the complete representation of the "moe"-type in girl in Japan (search youtube for Akihabara moe), which I personally belive only Japanese VA can truly represent the her attitude.

Even outside games industry, take the anime industry, best example for me - the anime One Piece - almost all the main casts are characters + dialogue unique to the japanese culture - and when their english counterpart tried to turn in into english - it sounded really awkward...

That's why for more non-japanese specific characters like Solid Snake - its easier for the english VA to do his role.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:54:02 AM

I certainly understand the culture gap and I'm aware it could be a contributing factor. But even in the games you cite, they're still a far cry from professional voice performances we get in games like Uncharted and L.A. Noire. It's just a whole different world in terms of talent and natural delivery.

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RaYz89
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:31:54 AM

I agree Uncharted and LA noire has better ENGLISH voice acting.

But games like LA Noire, Heavy rain and Uncharted if I'm not mistaken use the actual actor (plus movement and facial expression) as the in-game character - hence the voice acting is "perfect" because it is them acting in the game. So to compare them with japanese game which none I know use this approach is a bit unfair in my opinion.

But if you compare those games I mentioned above with western games that take a similiar approach like Dragon Age, Assassin Creed, GOW, Infamous etc... its not that much of a difference (at least in my opinion).

Also you have to looks at the script in Japanese game, for example you take the script in Kingdom Hearts (or Disgaea for extreme example) and you take the script for Heavy Rain. Even if both are covered by extremely talented VAs, Heavy Rain will still seemed more excellent (at least in many westerners opinion)~ the script in heavy rain is the kind that one would normally think to be of "higher standard"

Not to say that Japanese script are inferior, like I said in my previous post - its just that's the way japanese script are often presented - which I like better? I would say KH script & VA had more impact to me then Heavy Rain's. Personal preferences. Of course we're not talking about script now - forgive the sidetrack~

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:04:00 PM

Yes, writing and dialogue has a lot to do with it. I'm not sure why the scripts for Japanese games seem so amateur in comparison to that of higher-end Western games.

And I really don't think it matters if the actor is actually in the game (via mo-cap); voice performances are voice performances. Great ones stand out regardless of the visual.

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:28:31 PM

@Ben

I have a feeling that the dialogue in original Japanese might be pretty good writing in Japanese. But sometimes I wonder what happens when the translators get a hold of it. Especially if their goal is just to translate. How much though when trying to convey the same meaning in English, goes into what the character is actually like?

How much more difficult is that for passive-aggressive statements, or things with hidden or suppressed meaning? Quite quickly, it becomes much more than just translating... now you have to convey the exact same meaning in a way that accurately reflects the character it represents... To do that well, you'd have to sit down an closely analyze each and every sentence.

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Highlander
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:35:56 PM

I think RaYz89 has hit the nail on the head here.

Japanese games are games, they have archetypal characters such as the moe characters (and people better know what the hell they are talking about before they jump on that word 'moe' and make4 assertions about sexual content).

There is a complete difference in mood and context in the games and it's not entirely fair to compare them in the way that is being done.

Ben, I think you're off base with a couple of things here;

"Yes, writing and dialogue has a lot to do with it. I'm not sure why the scripts for Japanese games seem so amateur in comparison to that of higher-end Western games."

Which games are you comparing? JRPGs vs Heavy Rain? You might as well start comparing an Anime like Lucky Star to Citizen Kane for tha kind of comparison. The types of title and aims of the writing are so different, I don't see how you can put them side by side and expect a comparison to emerge.

Part of the problem with the 'scripting' of Japanese games is that they go through localization and translation and a script and story that in Japan has levels of nuance and reference, loses a lot of those levels when hacked up by a low budget crew localizing the game for the west. all the cultural references are lost and replaced, and often times the choices made are questionable. But let's face ti, even if you pay $1M for the original script, you're only going to pay $100K to localize it. Guess which writers are better?

"I've heard Japanese voices as well as English. I'm sorry, but most Japanese voice actors fail to understand certain acting principles like tone and nuance...I think it's really significant. "

No. The voice actors in anime are voice actors in anime. Japanese actors in live drama have all the nuance and subtlety that you think you are missing. Anime is not about those things, it's about emotional extremes, and that is reflected in the voice acting and writing. To use anime and video games as your reference points for the abilities of Japanese screen writers and actors misses everything outside of that realm.

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Shams
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:06:26 PM

Another example, of talented voice-actors, and possibly poorly translated lines...GG's KZ2. Again, professional voice actors. But, the poorly translated lines didn't give them much of opportunity to shine their talents.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:34:27 PM

Highlander: I'm not talking about anything besides video games. I don't watch anime so I don't know anything about it. However, I do know good voice acting when I hear it, in any language, and even the Japanese voices in games seem more one-dimensional.

As for the translation, I'm sure that's a factor but I doubt the determining one. Translators can translate. They know the language. They're not desperately trying to sift through a complicated script and picking out only words they know. All that might be lost are things like cultural references we won't get. But translators aren't going to mess up anything besides that, right down to punctuation.

I know dialogue and specifically, dialogue in writing. Much of the Japanese dialogue for characters looks as if it were written by amateurs; it doesn't flow, it doesn't have natural breaks and inflections, and it also doesn't know when to STOP. In FFXIII-2, for example, a good editor would've gone through that script and tossed out 30-40% of the lines as being entirely and in all other ways superfluous.

There are exceptions, of course. I'm only speaking in general, and I'm certainly not referring to anime or stage, TV, or film actors in Japan at all. I'm sure they have plenty of talent like any other country.

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RaYz89
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:49:43 PM

@Ben

I'm glad you get my point the lines are the main problem.

But like I said, its not because it is inferior or poorly done, it is because that's the way japanese script/games are made.


Take Kingdom Hearts 358/2 days (its on DS, not sure you've played it), its full of just simple lines and cheesy answer and when compared the games like Heavy Rain, LA Noire, the lines will seemed very poorly done.


But I think the lines in KH 358/2 days excellently portrays the "simple without a heart" characters in the game, for example ***Spoiler****

In the ending scene, after Xion dies, the last words Roxas said to her "Who else will I have ice-cream with?"

Now, people who dont understand this game will go WTF??? Ice cream?? What stupid and low level dialog?? Is this a 5 year old making this script?? Its nowhere near the level of Heavy Rain.


But people who truly understand really feel the impact behind those simple words, because Roxas is supposed to be Nobodies who doesn't really understand human emotions, so all his expression are very simple, yet reflects a very complicated emotional conflict within which he did not understand.


That's my point in the previous post, most westerners would never put the lines nor the VA in KH above Heavy Rain... Why? Well, maybe we tend to choose the lines that are more complicated, more serious, contain higher level vocab as a better lines compared to "Who else will I have ice-cream with?".

Or another game - Crisis Core - full of the main character saying the cheesy phrase like "Embrace your dream, if you want to be a hero you need dream" ... Now westerner will often brush that off as merely a simple low-level script, but that is a Japanese script - simple, cheesy, contain moral values and often includes famous japanese characters (which is "dream" in this case). I think the game will lose half it appeals if Zack started using lines like those used in Skyrim, Heavy Rain and LA Noire.


And I forgot to mention MGS Peace Walker. Excellent VAs. MGS PW can give such an impact using just a tape recording (my favorite; The Boss tape recording). The VA doesnt even need a high quality cutscenes with real-time facial expression to deliver such an amazing performance. And if you still think Heavy Rain, LA Noire and Uncharted are more impressive than MGSPW, then I guess we just have different preferences and what is better~

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Beamboom
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 6:26:33 AM

@Rayz89: Quoting, "its full of just simple lines and cheesy answer" - but isn't this more or less the very definition of poor dialogue/scripts?

I mean, "it's not bad, it's just Japanese" is an almost insulting excuse. :D


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/31/2012 6:27:39 AM

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RaYz89
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 7:04:45 AM

Firstly, I dont think its cheesy, I think its normal, I'm just saying it for argument sake.

and nope, its not an excuse its a fact, those unique attribute of japanese script are exactly the appeal of games like Kingdom Hearts & Crisis Core, and many other japanese games, anime, manga and dramas. I dont think my limited capabilty can ever make you understand, the best way would be to dive yourself into the realm of japanese art/film industry, watch some award-winning movie/anime/drama if you truly want to see the differences yourself.

But of course in the end its really up to personal preference~ do you want a game that's all serious or can you accept one with full of simple and cheesy lines (cheesy for western standard, normal for japanese culture).

For me, if anyone heard the lines in Crisis Core;
"Embrace your dream, if you want to be a hero you need dream"
and they say its cheesy or laughable, they probably just aren't suited to the common theme in Japanese game.

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:19:22 AM
Reply

I feel that I've played too few Japanese games to really have a strong opinion on this subject, but from the few games I do have played I must say none of them stands out as particularly good in the voice acting department.
However I've always felt that that's more due to poor manuscripts than the actors. A good actor can make a script better, but not even the best actor can make a bad script good.

What would be *really* interesting is to hear how a Japanese gamer perceive this: Would he agree?
We need more Japanese gamers around here.

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___________
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:23:02 AM
Reply

not falling behind, just loosing their way.
there trying to imitate, be who they are not.
and, well, the result is pretty obvious, its the cheap chinese rolex knock off you see at the markets.
i had to piss myself laughing when i got to our first port on my cruse last night.
first shop we went into was a electronics store and right there was a chinese knock off of the vita.
ITS NOT EVEN OUT YET!
gee, those chinese dont waste any time thats for sure!

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Qubex
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:28:19 AM
Reply

I haven't played L.A. Noire, but I am sure the voice acting is as good as a host of other titles, namely the Uncharted and GoW series, Heavy Rain etc. Very high quality generally across the top 360 and PS3 games, and the voice acting is getting better all the time.

Q!

"play.experience.enjoy"

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Grandma Pantyho
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:36:47 AM
Reply

Maybe because we are more exposed to a wider array of cultures here due to our controversial diversity and multiculturalism?

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Dancemachine55
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:55:48 AM
Reply

The Japanese take their knowledge and skills in Japanese game making and try to apply it to Western formaulas in an attempt to appeal to the Western market.

It hasn't worked so far, and I doubt it will ever work.

Japanese art style, story, characters, most tend to be based on Japanese stereotypes, Manga characters, Japanese history, artistic backgrounds, etc etc... However, this is a stark contrast to what us Westerners are used to seeing in movies and games made by Westerners.

Remember when one Japanese developer mentioned Westerners love aliens and guns, and many try to accommodate that violent tone towards American and Western gamers? Many of them think that more guns and more violence = more success in America and Europe. Not necessarily so.

Because of the difference in tastes, moods, character portrayals, direction and influences between Japanese and US entertainment (and most importantly, the actors playing those characters), IF the Japanese were to make an Uncharted game, or IF the US were to make a Final Fantasy game, I'm sure the Japanese would say their version of FF is better while Americans will say their version of Uncharted is better.

Honestly, I think the Japanese should just stop catering to US gamers altogether and focus on what they do best, artistic merit and incredibly engaging gameplay with long storylines.

Look at Ni No Kuni and Catherine. Both games were not aimed at US gamers AT ALL, but next to Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, they appear to be the most popular games coming out of Japan, hence them being translated and given a US and European release.

I'm not against great games targeted at US gamers in the first place, like Resident Evil and MGS. But Japanese franchises changing their formula in a bid to appease the US gamer just seems wrong to me, like Final Fantasy.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 2:42:11 AM
Reply

I'm not so sure if you're asking the right question Ben. A better one to ask might be "Why do Western Games have superior WESTERN Voice performances?". In which case I think the answer would kind of be in the question.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:54:57 AM

That the same question. A superior performance is a superior performance in the eyes of the world. Games are global; they're not just in Japan.

The voice acting is obviously lacking on one side, so something should be done about it, IMO.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 10:49:01 AM

@ Ben

With all due respect I beg to differ.

The original question seems to assume that each game gets only one performance. When actually there are numerous performances attached to each game in different languages, often with some performances for a game being better than others.

In this same vein people living in Japan could ask "Why do Japanese games have superior voice performances?".

The slight revision I pointed out is more specific.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 10:55:04 AM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:05:28 PM

I really don't think that's the case at all. I think the actors tapped for games in this country are accomplished stage and screen actors, and that is NOT the case in Japan. Or at least, it's not the case anywhere near as often.

I've heard Japanese voices as well as English. I'm sorry, but most Japanese voice actors fail to understand certain acting principles like tone and nuance...I think it's really significant.

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Shams
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:05:32 PM

I get that American film industry is far more developed and advanced than most other places in the world, not just Japan. But could it be, that since they have different language, intonation, style, mode, body language, that it's not that they don't get tone, but we just don't get theirs?

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SmokeyPSD
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:14:08 PM

"I've heard Japanese voices as well as English. I'm sorry, but most Japanese voice actors fail to understand certain acting principles like tone and nuance...I think it's really significant."
Wow, just wow Ben.

I can name so many more Japanese voice actors than I can voiceactors in English media, Why? Because they care more. They actually care about the job they are doing. Nolan North and co at Naughty Dog are one of the few with the same mentality across the sea but there really isn't that same culture.

Most Western voiceactors don't give a toss what they're doing in the booth. Hiring a normally live action actor does not immediately count as the most wonderful performance your ever going to get for a part. Bethesda prove that again and again.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:59:50 PM

@ Ben

I'm inclined to concur with SmokeyPSD.

I also find the overly broad, overly general, and more than a little presumptuous nature of your words to be troublesome (Most Japanese voice actors? Really? As in most of the ones in existence? I find that very hard to believe especially from someone who is admittedly not an anime fan. And performances and understanding are two different things. Good actors with good understandings can still give less than excellent performances. A good example would probably be Mark Wahlberg in the movie "The Happening".)

And even all of this is still beside the point of the evidently flawed nature of the original question.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:38:57 PM

Read my post above. Again, I have no idea why anyone thinks I ever spoke about anything besides VIDEO GAME voice actors. I never once mentioned anime and I never once said anything about their real actors.

Smokey, you're the one being biased, assuming that all Japanese voice actors "care" and those in North America or elsewhere don't. That's CRAP. I've spoken to several voice actors and they all take everything they do, often especially in games, extremely seriously, and they're proud of it, too.

Shams: Dialogue is dialogue, writing is writing. Fantastic Japanese authors may have different methods of writing, but it's still great and recognized as great. Nobody who knows anything about that discipline will say the writing in Japanese games (again, there are exceptions) can even remotely be considered "great."

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 4:00:38 PM

@ Ben

You said "all Japanese voice actors". Nowhere are video games mentioned. I told you that your words were overly broad and overly general. And furthermore saying that they lack understanding is presumptuous among other things.

"Nobody who knows anything about that discipline will say the writing in Japanese games (again, there are exceptions) can even remotely be considered "great.""

Speaking in such absolute terms that apparently leave no room for alternate possibilities is arrogant and really should be avoided whenever possible. And I'm afraid that it doesn't do your plausibility any favors either.



Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 4:01:40 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 4:22:28 PM

I ONLY mentioned video games anywhere in the article and in the comments. So when I said "all," of course I was referring to GAME ACTORS.

And there are no "absolute terms." I've stated multiple times there are exceptions. It isn't my fault you choose to ignore that.

Let me explain something to you- if you put any video game in front of my - ANY video game - and ask me to label it Japanese or Western based on voice performances alone, I'll always know. And it has nothing to do with style or differences in writing methods or emotions. One is simply professionally done and the other is not. Again, there ARE exceptions.

You can choose to accept that fact or not. Now stop lecturing me. I'm the one who played all the games; I'm the one listening to it all on a constant basis. My "plausibility" vastly supersedes yours, if I may be allowed to say so.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 1/30/2012 4:24:12 PM

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:01:01 PM

@ Ben

I was specifically referring to those four words that you used ("all Japanese voice actors") which were apparently overly broad.

And acknowledging exceptions does not really leave room for alternate possibilities (or perhaps in other words doesn't take into account that you could be at least partially wrong about something) It merely serves as one part of an overly definitive (or absolute) statement.

And I acknowledge that you have experience and credentials. I don't deny that. But even so you're still a human being and not some kind of deity or something. And no matter how much experience or how many credentials human beings may have they are still imperfect fallible human beings. And I believe that because of human imperfection no human being has the right to speak in terms (or perhaps establish terms) that ultimately leave no room for alternate possibilities.

Although perhaps there are times when this kind of thing can't really be helped. But I do not believe that this is one of those times.


Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 5:11:14 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:19:18 PM

I don't disagree with that. But you're letting your perception cloud the picture. You think I'm not allowing room for exceptions when in fact, I've done that with every post. What else do you want me to do?

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:58:56 PM

@ Ben

Okay, first of all let me say that I didn't mean to upset you.

Maybe that sentence I wrote about your plausibility went too far. And I apologize for that (I'm imperfect too you know).

And by the way I'm not referring to every post. Just the ones in this particular reply thread.

As I've indicated if you want to leave the door open for alternate possibilities then acknowledging exceptions doesn't really cut it because exceptions can still fall under the umbrella of a closed and narrow view (I hope I made that clear enough).

To explain I think I'll give you an example.

Instead of saying something like:

"Nobody who knows anything about that discipline will say the writing in Japanese games (again, there are exceptions) can even remotely be considered "great.""

try and say something like

"As far as I know nobody who knows..." or "To the best my knowledge nobody who knows..." or "As far as I can tell nobody who knows..." or something like that. (Personally I like the third one)

Another way to go about this kind of thing is saying something SEEMS such and such as opposed to something IS such and such.

That kind of thing.

If you frame your thoughts and words in this general manner then you stay conscious of your own limitations as a human being and you can keep an open mind. And by the way I also get the impression that this is a more polite and respectful way of doing things that's less likely to get people riled up (I believe that this can work to a person's advantage).

But I don't know if I would go so far as to say that I want you to do this. And this isn't a lecture either. It's really more of a suggestion (kind of like a certain verbal exchange between Tidus and Auron in Final Fantasy X if you remember).






Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 6:09:12 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 6:44:25 PM

I don't think it needs to be so dramatic. ;) I think you just read too much into what I was saying, and inferred something general when I was only talking specifically about games.

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Looking Glass
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 7:00:17 PM

@ Ben

With respect, that's not really it. It's just that the specific way you went about talking about games rubbed me the wrong way (although I acknowledge that this probably wasn't intentional). To put it in more simple and readily understandable terms, I believe that it's not fair for people to be too sure of themselves when discussing something (or at least something like that). Although I also acknowledge that sometimes people may simply forget to be keep this kind of thing in mind (being imperfect and all I guess).

But in any case I think it's probably best that we end this prolonged exchange here. I grow tired of it and would like to get on with my life. And I'd be willing to bet that you have better things to do with your time as well.

Last edited by Looking Glass on 1/30/2012 7:16:17 PM

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Palpatations911
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:38:05 AM
Reply

Perhaps our games have bigger budgets and we focus on quality voice acting? I don't know really. The Japanese developers only go in half cocked when they hire western actors to dub their games.

IMO, even listening to dubbed or non dubbed Japanese games can be pretty painful. They don't even put in effort to make the lips move in synch with what they're saying in Japanese :(

I'm interested to learn more about the industry when I start at the Art Institute later this year. I'm going to learn how to design games and the answer to your question should be more clear to me.

Last edited by Palpatations911 on 1/30/2012 3:41:34 AM

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SmokeyPSD
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:10:35 AM
Reply

I disagree? Like, a lot. Wonderful voice acting in Western games is not a given, consistency across entire casts aswell. Or one person doing TOO many voices in the one game.

There are wonderful actors working in Japan doing voice work, in anime and games.

Some Western games feel like they've been dubbed, with that terrible overacted heavy approach when there wasn't an original language track to begin with.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:56:11 AM

I didn't say it was a given. I'm comparing top-tier Western to top-tier Japanese and when you do that, it's not even close in the voice department.

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SmokeyPSD
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:15:29 PM

Still not seeing it. top-tier to top-tier. I just see excellent English actors and Japanese actors. Sometimes Western games don't even have that in the top tier... Yakuza 4 to Mass Effect 2, both great voiceacting, but even Mass Effect 2 is not immune to overacting and sometimes just plain bad. Making it sound like like a Saturday morning cartoon in comparison.

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:31:02 PM

I think Ben is very right about comparing the top Western performances with the other. I'm not sure how it would stack up if it was, say, "Japanese game, Japanese performance in Japanese" vs. "English game, English performance in English".

but when both are in English, Ben is right.

I'm convinced it's the writing in dialogue, though, and less-so the actors. I'm also curious how effective translators are in their translations.

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SmokeyPSD
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:45:48 PM

English to English is an entirely different topic. Your not actually comparing Japanese/Western development. Your just comparing the development house/studio that did the dubbing process. Many are in America anyway and the original Japanese developers don't have much say in the finished dub.

Completely silly way of comparing cultures. Japanese media is Japanese.

Like any other media you should view it in the original language.

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:01:28 PM

"Like any other media you should view it in the original language."

In some senses, yes, you're absolutely right.

I feel, however, that with a majority of games not even giving you an option to have original Japanese, that translating into English is a process that should be taken seriously. If you're going to make a product -for- a particular region, it should be made for that same region.

I mean, it's all well and good to say the Japanese product should be evaluated as a Japanese product. But at the end of the day, the Japanese product with English voice acting (in over 90% of games out there you don't have a choice of anything other than English) is simply not as solid as the English voice acting in Western titles.

It might not bother you or other fans, and that's great. But it's still one of those things where... you know... few people really care if the original Japanese is any good. i mean, we're English speaking, and that Western English stuff is better executed than the stuff sent on a boat.


I personally feel the translation is to blame and/or the dialogue. But the quality we get at the end of the day is found more easily in a Western made product.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:40:10 PM

I'm sorry, but if you think the voice acting in Yakuza is anything special, there's nothing more to debate about. You're obviously biased, per your comment that Western voice actors don't care about their work.

So don't act all high-and-mighty when you toss out ridiculous statements like that.

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rainrox
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 6:18:11 AM
Reply

japanese games(specially jrpgs) are meant to be played with japanese voices and english subtitles with the exception of mgs. anything else is be absolute garbage.

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Snaaaake
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 7:13:45 AM
Reply

I disagree, Japanese games with english voice might suck often, but with Japanese voice they put their soul into it.

It's just like anime, I hate watching anime with english voice when they suck so bad.
The only time I didn't watch with Japanese voice is when I watched Cowboy Bebop, that was the only anime with great english voice acting.

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Douchebaguette
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 7:32:45 AM
Reply

Because there's a language barrier which causes errors in attitude.

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wackazoa
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:23:22 AM
Reply

I think the translation thing is proubably the culpret.... but more so in a actor to producer kinda way. Take bioshock, for example. We have video of Levine and the actors bantering back and forth and coming to consensus on the right right way to present things and what to say. I dont know how it works in Japan but maybe the actors just go in and read the lines without alot of back and forth between them and the producers/directors.

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Arvis
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 9:52:48 AM
Reply

Resonance of Fate was a JRPG that had top Western voice actors in it like Nolan North and such. Final Fantasy XIII had terrific voice acting as well.

-Arvis

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Highlander
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 12:47:08 PM
Reply

Broadly speaking, Japanese games are more game than interactive entertainment product. Heavy Rain, LA Noire, Uncharted 3, are all movies playing at being games. What Japanese games are we comparing these heavyweights with? FFXIII?

You said it in your own article Ben, "I'm always distinctly aware I'm playing a video game whenever someone speaks in a Japanese title". That's exactly it. You are playing a video game. Japanese game makers make *games* not interactive entertainment experiences, or whatever we're calling things like Heavy Rain now.

I don't think you can hold Heavy Rain et al in comparison with games, they are not the same animal at all. I think you're indulging in the same BS that reviewers indulge in with JRPGs. Japanese games are so primitive, so amateur, so behind the times, etc... No, they aren't they are *games*. They are written as games, voiced as games, sold as games and played as games. They aren't trying to be Heavy Rain, or anything like it.

It's a false comparison that magnifies the cultural differences. Anime is culturally very Japanese, the voice acting amplifies that. They are caricatures of culture, not examples of culture.

If you start with a Japanese game that is full of cultural references and nuance aimed at Japanese gamers, and voice it appropriately for that market, you have a winning game. then you bring it to the west and pay a small team 10% of the original budget to localize the script and re-voice it. Nuance is trodden on, cultural references are replaced or ignored, and a script is put together from the translation and localization material. Then, just like in Japan, the same voice actors that handle anime dubs, voice the game.

Talk about things being lost in translation...

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 1:34:02 PM

I agree that those games you list there can be called "movie games", and you got a good point in that they should then be judged as such. I agree with you there.
But it's not only in those kind of games you find good vocal performances or well written manuscripts.

In my opinion Ben could just as well have mentioned games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Rage, Arkham City, Skyrim or Portal.
These are all most definitely 100% real video games too, and they got *excellent* voice performances.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/30/2012 1:40:43 PM

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 2:25:34 PM

Errah... So Ben mentioned a few of those too, I discover now that I looked over the article again. :D I don't see why you singled out just the movie games then. Clearly he is talking about a much wider spectre of games here.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/30/2012 2:28:11 PM

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:03:08 PM

I really feel that if a game wants to have good solid voice acting comparable to the best, the translation has to be completely re-written.

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Highlander
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:13:51 PM

Beamboom.

That's fine, but let's be honest, other than Yakuza, what Japanese games of a similar mood and genre are you going to compare against GTA, Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Rage, Arkham City, etc?

It's an apples and oranges comparison.

Underdog, completely rewritten or left completely alone. Anything in between breaks it. If you completely rewrite the script you have to do an in depth localization so that comparable cultural references familiar to the target audience are inserted instead of the typically Japanese ones. Such an extensive localization can be expensive. But if you don't invest in that you end up either a straight translation, or a hack job. Personally, I'd rather have a straight translation.

Last edited by Highlander on 1/30/2012 3:17:48 PM

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Underdog15
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:30:08 PM

That cultural reference comment, High, reminded me of Nier.

In Japan, the concept of a tight sibling relationship is more potent than a father/daughter one. Whereas, I think the latter is likely more relevant to our culture. Of course, there are exceptions.

But I think Nier having a brother/sister relationship was great in Japan, and the father/daughter relationship in English nations was a perfect example of a well done re-write. (Still could have been better, but a good example, none-the-less.) Of course, the story was still the exact same, but as you said, the different contexts make a difference for the better.


And you're right, I agree. Either do it well, and in depth from scratch. Or leave it and throw in subtitles. You aren't doing anyone a favor by putting in half-assed English dubs, anyways.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:59:39 PM

Highlander, I don't think you're giving translators enough credit. I've read several novels of Japanese masterpieces that were obviously translated.

...you don't really think they read anything like the dialogue I see in games, do you? The writing just isn't very good, lost nuances and cultural references or not.

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Beamboom
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:10:33 PM

Regarding translators: I live in Norway, a small country where practically *everything* is translated. Movies, TV series, books, articles, commercials. Often games as well, especially the games for a younger audience. Buzz, Ratchet & Clank and LittleBigPlanet are three examples of games with norwegian voices. How many thousand ps3 owners are there in Norway? Can't be that many, we are just 4.5 mill Norwegians in total. Still they bothered, and all three mentioned titles feature *really* good Norwegian translations and voices. Imagine that..

The American culture and Norwegian culture are both western and not that distanced from each other. Still, it's two different languages involved, and I can most definitely say that without good translations it would be unbearable.

Professional translators can do a *really* good job if the source is good.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/30/2012 5:16:37 PM

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:22:22 PM

Beamboom: Of course. Professional translators aren't about to make a mess of a script. I think the issue is a combination of things mentioned in the comments:

Firstly, that Japanese game makers don't go out of their way to get accomplished English voice actors, even if they got great actors for the Japanese roles. Secondly, that the writing, as I've said before, just isn't on par with the writing we've seen from Western studios, who are ALSO hiring professional writers these days.

The times of all the programmers writing the scripts for games are gone. You can't cut corners anymore. You have to have dedicated experts in each field to be competitive in today's market, and I don't believe enough Japanese studios are doing this.

Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 1/30/2012 5:23:37 PM

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Teddie9
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:39:49 PM
Reply

Japanese made video game voiced in english for audiences outside vs VA in North American made game in english. North American Voice acting wins, no contest.

The opposite I cannot comment on because I don't live in Japan - neither do I undestand the language. However I would speculate that it might be better considering Japanese developers may have a better insight on which voice actor to higher. (Which is exactly what happens when in comes to the english voice overs imo).

Finally, VA in Japanese in Japanese titles VS English VA in english titles. Equal quality for the most part in my experience and probably equal satisfaction from the intended audience.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 3:42:08 PM
Reply

Everyone, stop assuming I attacked Japanese acting in general. As I said in multiple replies above, this is only about VIDEO GAME acting. That's it. Nowhere did I mention anything else. Thanks.

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 4:52:18 PM

I understood that you were referring to acting in videogames. I think people are just derailing the thread by acting like they misunderstood.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 5:23:13 PM

I think it has a lot to do with defending something they love, which is Japanese culture in general. I can understand that.

But I think it's clear that I never called any Japanese acting outside of video games into question.

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FlyingKickPunch
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 12:51:56 PM
Reply

Stop it. Don't open THAT door!

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Warrior Poet
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 4:56:49 PM
Reply

Japanese dubs are almost always mediocre. I've heard a few that I liked (Cowboy Bebop, GunxSword...) but they're mostly bad and fans of Japanese games just have to put up with it.

Why? Moooooney.

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JackC8
Wednesday, February 01, 2012 @ 9:09:51 AM
Reply

When you're talking about games with budgets in the millions - if not tens-of-millions - of dollars, there's simply no excuse for not hiring a group of highly skilled native English speakers to oversee the voice acting. Especially considering that North American sales are are such a huge part of the total.

Meh, business as usual for Japanese developers.

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