Voice over in video games has become a staple to pulling the player into the storyline. But, if you've played any game from the Pokemon lineup, you might wonder how one of the most wildly successful franchises avoids narration. Welcome to my Monday rant.
So, unless you've been living under a rock, you've definitely heard of Pokemon before. The first release in the series dates back to 1996, when Game Freak developed Pokemon Red and Green to be released on the Nintendo Gameboy. Since then, it's become one of the most successful entertainment properties globally. Their total revenue is estimated to be over $118 billion, with over $27 billion of that profit coming from, you guessed it, video games!
With their most current release of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet there are plenty of issues to talk about surrounding the games. But, today I just want to dive into the world of voice over and how it has been completely avoided by the franchise. Considering there are already plenty of voice over talent involved in the animated television series of Pokemon, I've always scratched my head on the lack of voice over in the games.
Looking back to it's origins, it's easy to see why the original Gameboy releases didn't have voice over- it wasn't a thing yet! However, as games have evolved, developers have chosen to stick to this "stylistic decision." The argument is that this would take players out of the experience of playing a Pokemon game. So, the question remains. Would voice acting actually IMPROVE the experience?
When it comes to storytelling, Pokemon games really get into it. Personally, I think there is a lot of filler text in conversations that doesn't add to the already beefy storylines. However, when I recall playing Bordlerlands 3 and Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, I feel a similar way but far more interested. With the voice over in these games, the funny (albeit sometimes annoying) banter back and forth was part of the scenes. I'm sure I'm not the only one who found Claptrap annoying for a while, but then found themselves enjoying his mischievous attitude and rambling later on.
With Pokemon, this filler text is...for lack of a better expression, in the way. Does anyone really like having to click through every sentence in the cutscenes? Hear me out. If these scenes just had voice over instead, the experience would be much more memorable. Here are some examples of the riveting dialogue we get to skip through in game...
I also can't help but wonder why when there is so much revenue being brought in by these games, there is no budget for voice acting (or for finishing the game properly). Oh right, capitalism. I digress...
Look, I love running around catching and battling little pocket monsters as much as the next person. Heck, I've already put a ton of time into Pokemon Violet and still love it despite the endless bugs. But considering the Pokemon themselves are the only elements with an audible voice in the game, they couldn't even bother to give them an actual voice. The animated series is full of real voices for the Pokemon that give them an incredible sense of personality. Who can forget the sweet, comforting banter between Pikachu and Bulbasaur under the moonlight from season 1!? And don't even get me started on Cubone...
Please, Nintendo, check out Brizzy Voices on YouTube for a full suite of Gen 9 Pokemon voices all ready to go! There are so many talented voice over artists who already lend their voice so well to Pokemon!
As for the cut scenes, I tried my hand at adding some voice over to one of the early scenes. The overall feedback so far was that it was enjoyable and improved the experience. I'd love to hear your thoughts, since this is definitely a subjective topic.
To conclude my rant on this topic, I just want to say how aware I am that implementing voice over would be a massive overhaul to the stylistic decision that the developers have gone with thus far. Maybe working in the voice over industry has me biased on the topic. Or, maybe this is just another missing element that makes the newest games feel unfinished. With how far video games have come, I can't help but feel the importance of voice over is ever growing and would absolutely be an improvement to Pokemon games.