Happy Monday, gang! I hope you all had a fantastic weekend full of fun and relaxation. Now we're all back to the grind, but hopefully it's a quick and easy week! As always, thanks for reading.
Haven has been near the top of my most-wanted games list for awhile now. The upcoming solo/co-op RPG adventure looks right up my alley. It has a gorgeous pastel, cel-shaded approach to visuals, the soundtrack comes from the ridiculously talented DANGER, and the game's story promises to tug at your heartstrings and get you emotionally invested. I also know that The Game Bakers, the team behind the game, is ridiculously talented. They created Furi, a boss-rush adventure that was pretty damn fantastic.
From the very first trailer from Haven, I knew I was on-board. All I had to do was sit back and wait for the game to come out. Sure, there would be some trailers and gameplay along the way, but as far as I was concerned, the deal was already sealed for me. I was going to pick up this one day-one. That's how I felt for awhile now...but my confidence has been shaken in recent weeks by one simple element; the game's voice acting.
Voice acting is an element a lot of gamers expect nowadays. To see a big-budget game ship without voice acting in today's era is almost unheard of. Games are expected to be fully voiced from start to finish, with every side character and narrative piece played out to the fullest. As games become bigger and reach a wider audience, adding in features like voice acting definitely make perfect sense. Having voiced dialog is one more way for games to break down potential barriers for players who wouldn't or couldn't enjoy the game otherwise.
Of course, adding voice acting to a game isn't as simple as just getting someone to read lines. While a game's visuals and gameplay mechanics can be tweaked and refined to a ridiculous degree, finding the right people to bring life to your characters can be an insurmountable task. The team behind the game obviously have an idea for the sort of tone they'd like to hear in their characters, and finding actors who can hit that approach is a real crap shoot. You could find the perfect voice right out of the gate, or spend months going through people who can't even come close.
That's not to mention the issues that arise when you're dealing with voice actors in other languages. Casting voices in your native tongue is difficult, but obviously much easier than trying to find people who can provide what you want in a different language. Often times other teams are brought in to try and find people who can handle the job in different languages, and the original team has to hope that the companies they've partnered with are capable of finding what they're looking for.
Unfortunately, it seems that even in today's industry, voice acting can be really hit or miss. A combination of all the factors listed above has resulted in games that have a voice cast that can handle the job in one language, and another set of voices who completely miss the mark in another. Sometimes that has to do with poor casting, other times it could be tied to poor localization of the script. Lines that aren't adapted correctly into other languages can come off awkward and stilted when read, but are taken to a whole new level of discomfort when spoken.
One of the greatest examples of poor voice acting for Nintendo fans has to be Metroid: Other M. That title is certainly the most divisive in the Metroid franchise, and most of the ire it draws is related to the game's story. Part of the negativity certainly has to do with the way the story and characters were handled, but there's also an issue with the voice acting as well. I think most would agree that the voice acting in that game was sub-par, which was only amplified by the fact that Metroid: Other M went all-out on voice acting when compared to previous installments. There had been Metroid games with voices sprinkled throughout, but Other M was implementing voice acting as a major feature.
Whenever I think back on Metroid: Other M, the story and voice acting stick out in my mind like a sore thumb. I honestly felt it was a painful experience that really took away from the adventure. Again, the story definitely had its issues, but that voice acting just took everything to a completely different, lower level. For a franchise that is so heavily built on mood and atmosphere, having lackluster voices behind these meaningful characters took away a ton of that mystique.
Now Haven doesn't have the same expectations tied to it that the Metroid franchise does, but I still fear it could fall into the same trap that Other M did. In recent weeks we've been hearing a lot of the voice acting for the game, and it is getting a lot of negative attention. I think most that hear the voices would say that they aren't exactly engaging. The more voiced footage I watched, the more worried I've become. We have what looks to be an emotional journey for these two lovers, and that could very well come across in text, but the voices being put with them are so mismatched that it's hard to listen to.
I've listen to the lines over and over again, desperately trying to take them in in a different way. I consider that I don't know the full context of how they're being delivered, I don't know much about the characters speaking them, I don't know about the alien universe the game takes place in, and so on. I really have tried to come at things from a different perspective while watching, but it just doesn't help. The dialog in the recent trailers comes across as two people who aren't sure how the lines are meant to be read. They don't know the emotional intention behind them, or are unclear of the game's story. I don't want to knock their work as simply "bad," as they could very well be talented voice actors. I just think in this instance they're lost for unknown reasons.
Voice acting, in my opinion, can go one of three ways. Sometimes it can lift a game to new heights, akin to what you'd hear in The Last of Us or The Witcher. Other examples are perfectly serviceable, and provide a way of taking in a game's story that's easier than reading lines of dialog. Lastly, you have voice work that actually detracts from the game and pulls you out of the experience. Again, I turn to Metroid: Other M for an example, and now I fear that Haven is going to be the same case.
Will you be able to turn off the voices in Haven? I don't know at this point, but if it's an option, I'm certainly going to take it. I'm honestly too afraid to go in and play the game with those voices, as I worry they'll taint my experience. Once I hear those voices, it will be too hard for me to shake how I feel about them from the game itself. I don't want to have a worse overall experience because of poor voices, and I'd rather just read the dialog to myself. That way I can hear it in my mind in a way that makes sense...in a way that sounds natural and allows me to connect to the characters.
I have personally always enjoyed the way Nintendo handled voice acting in their games. For a long time now, they really haven't had much in the way of traditional voice acting. They might have a character read a word or a line at most, and then the rest of the dialog is filled with various sound effects and grunts from the voice actor. I always thought that was a neat way of adding in a bit more life to a character while still letting you hear things as you want in your own mind. The right kind of simple interjection can help point you in the direction of a character's feelings, and then your imagination does the rest.
Nintendo does seem to be moving away from that approach though, at least in some of their games. Zelda: Breath of the Wild gave us more voice acting than any Zelda game before it, even though it still kept the approach mentioned above for some elements. The voice acting in the game was...fine for the most part. It wasn't great, and it wasn't terrible, but it bounced back and forth enough to land in a middle-of-the-road spot for me. I ended up actually happy that things came across luke-warm at best, rather than flat-out bad. I would have certainly liked better voice acting and I believe the series deserves it, but I never heard anything that was so bad it hurt my experience.
Haven is clearly not taking the mixed approach. It seems that most dialog will be voiced, and there's going to be tons of chatter during battles as well. Characters are going to be speaking all the time, which only makes nailing the voice acting that much more important. We're going to be constantly bombarded with the character voices, always reminded of how poor they come across. That's going to build up extremely quickly during a playthrough, and could end up souring the whole experience. It seems like such a shame, as Haven seems like it could be something quite special.
I guess all we can do from here on out is hope that The Game Bakers realize what they have isn't working. Do you push the game back to find better voice actors? Do you rewrite dialog to help the actors out? Do you nix voice acting altogether and go with a traditional text scroll? I can't tell you what the answer is, but I will say that I certainly think action is needed. I fear Haven is never going to get a fair shake because of the voice acting, and I'd hate to see that happen.