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Subtitles Are Superfluous
Game developers often do not bother to include options for subtitles or Closed Captioning
in their games that have full voice acting. There are many reasons for this. Written text for each piece of dialog must be added to the game's data. Considering the time pressure game developers are under, it is often not considered an important feature. Also, pre-rendered movies are usually played with simple movie playing libraries; knowing when the right moment to display a line of text to sync with the dialog is not a trivial exercise.
Regardless of the reason, this often makes playing dialog-heavy games more difficult for the hard of hearing and those with an imperfect grasp of the language in which the game's dialog is written, and frustrating for those who might just prefer to quickly read through a text rather than paying close attention to the dialog. In any case, it can get quite aggravating if the sound is muddled to begin with, or if your home becomes a center for lots of noises
. Especially as games rarely let you replay cutscenes if you happened to mishear something important.
Sometimes games will go the opposite route and have subtitles that cannot be hidden, which can get annoying in its own right.
Non-Video Game Examples
Live Action Television
- A rare DVD example: Retail copies of Disney/Pixar's Up are fully subtitled, including bonus materials. Rental copies of the same movie, however, have no subtitles or closed captions whatsoever— and this was apparently intentional on Disney's part, not just a mastering glitch. Did we mention that the movie's protagonist is hard of hearing, and that dogs who talk through translator collars are notoriously difficult to lip-read?
- The purchased DVD of the theatrical release of Daredevil has both subtitles and a speak-along-thing describing what's happening on-screen. Granted, this option for the blind makes a bit of sense, considering...
- Bitter Lake is entirely subtitled, presumably in case any members of the audience are deaf, because the acting is done entirely in fursuits and the mouths are not puppeteered well at all (nor were they apparently made to be puppeteered in any fashion to begin with).
- The boxed sets for Leverage inexplicably lack subtitles.
- Weirdly enough, played straight and averted by Stargate SG-1. They have subtitles... for seasons 1 and 8-10 only.
Curiously, all of the above examples except for Up do
include closed captions that can be decoded and displayed by an NTSC TV—but only if you're using standard-definition cables with the DVD player. Thus, they technically are present, but in an antiquated form that can't be displayed using a modern up-converting player
Video Game Examples
- Advent Rising was weird about this. There is a subtitle option, but it only affects the FMVs, while the in-game speech is left unsubtitled. Oh, and the in-game speech is ridiculously quiet, while the background music is ridiculously loud. Good luck knowing what anyone is saying!
- Capcom is a repeat offender; many of its games have featured cutscenes with unsubtitled dialog.
- Devil May Cry was particularly weird with this; there actually is a subtitle option that defaults to 'on,' but a large part of dialogue is left unsubtitled. The optional subtitles are instead only used for the especially difficult-to-understand and garbled, such as non-humanoid bosses.
- Doom 3 features lengthy audio logs that often must be listened to to get access codes to lockers containing weapons or medical supplies. There's no way to skip forward and no way to see the logs as text. Luckily, you can listen while you play. Of course, that means if a demon suddenly noisily materialises just when you're supposed to hear the access code, you'll have to start the recording over from the beginning.
- It's not usually as bad as all that, as the audio logs with codes will usually be just thirty to forty-five seconds long. Special mention, however, goes to the audio log which is five minutes long and conspicuously has the code at the very end. If you miss it (and you will the first time, because you'll get bored and go off to kill something), then you have to replay the whole thing. It's not even a good audio log.
- FPS S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl suffers quite a bit because of this. The game was originally made in Russian, and the English version has the most important speech dubbed into accented English, while leaving signs and NPC banter untranslated. This is unfortunate, given that much of the banter (like jokes told around a campfire) is quite witty, and makes it more unrealistically difficult for a non-Russophone player to immerse himself in the game world. Your character is obviously supposed to be Russian or Ukrainian himself and have no trouble talking to people or reading signs, but if the player doesn't understand what is being said, his experience is severed from that of his character.
- Metro 2033 has a similar problem; although it does dub everything, it only subtitles "important" dialogue. If you can't hear or want to play with the truly excellent Russian voice track, you're going to be missing out on a lot.
- Singularity doesn't subtitle anything, and again causes problems due to the thick Russian accents almost every character has. Singularity also implements the dynamic audio from Half-Life which makes it even worse.
- Hackers have been making 'undub' versions of PlayStation 2 games, where the ISO is modified to have the text from the English release and the voice tracks from the Japanese release, so people who hate dubbing can play a version they can understand while keeping the original speech. Except, of course, during cutscenes, where there are no subtitles and the voices are still Japanese, which means most of the plot will still be impossible to follow without resorting to an external translation.
- Hackers have been getting better at this. Most video cutscenes are subtitled before release, and certain games have subtitle options that can be exploited (or implemented, if absent). Games that have dialogue boxes only make it easier.
- Supposedly, this will become moot with Blu-ray games on the PlayStation 3. International versions of games published by Sony CEA generally ship with the most common languages in the region at least. White Knight Chronicles, for example, has English, French and Spanish languages available in North America.
- The Viewtiful Joe games have this, unless you are playing with one of the unlockable characters in the first game, in which case the dialogue is spoken in some other language, and uses subtitles to make new dialogue for the new character.
- The first boss in Viewtiful Joe is nigh-incomprehensible thanks to the way he talks and the lack of subtitles.
- Big Fish Games has taken some flack for not captioning the videotapes (or providing a transcript in the in-game diary) in Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove. To be fair, the complainers have a point — while most of the tapes are just backstory of what happened to the students, one of them has the only hint about how to beat the final puzzles unless you're reading the strategy guide as you play.
- Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria was a good example of this. Of course, being an RPG it wasn't exactly much of a problem... except for one cutscene, where the villain from the first game, Lezard Valeth, up to this point believed to be just a fanservice cameo, betrays the party and utters an absolutely BADASS incantation that ends up up with him metaphorically EATING Odin that NOBODY can understand.
- On the other hand, most cutscenes are subtitled...
Tower Defence Games
- Assassin's Creed has many lengthy conversations and absolutely no subtitles. A portion of the game requires you to listen to a conversation through an air vent in a tiled bathroom, and acts as if you could make it out. Uh, Ubisoft? Nobody has any clue what plot-important stuff those NPCs just said.
- Ubisoft games in general suffers from this, all the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games suffer because there's absolutely no subtitles, combined with the fact you can't up the voice volume and tone down the sound effects like you can do with most games.
- Assassins Creed II, at last, has subtitles. There was much rejoicing.
- The subtitles and menu text in Assassin's Creed II even follows the system settings (at least the 360 version) thus averting the usual "five major European languages subtitles" treatment that most PAL releases get. This troper was really surprised to see the text pop up in Norwegian. However, this same troper - who knows English as a second language - actually prefers the subtitles to stay in English, so his 360 currently believes it's in the UK. While grateful for there being a lot of options available, he'd prefer if it could be changed ingame instead.
- The PAL versions of Assassins Creed 2 even have the option to select different languages (Italian!) and then have them subtitled in your native language.
- Orcs Must Die has some very funny dialogue at times, but no subtitles. The Sorceress' lines are all too easy to miss, seeing as she whispers them all right at the starts of waves. Which is when the Orcs are yelling, and all your traps are going off.
- Brutal Legend provides subtitles for everything, even grunts and yells.
- The French version of Tail Concerto, which retained the Japanese voice acting (unlike the U.S. version), includes French subtitles in all anime cutscenes, as well as in the opening.
- Torin's Passage, a Sierra adventure game from 1994, not only features (optional) subtitles for all spoken dialog and audio cues, but also allows you to scroll back through them in the manner of a TelePrompTer at any point in the game. Sometimes it subverts it though, by having the narrator of the spoken subtitles go off into tangential rants.
- The adventure game The Last Express makes subtitles part of the gameplay. The action takes place aboard one of the last Orient Express journeys before the outbreak of the first world war. The player character is an American who knows French, German and Russian. If the player overhears conversations in these languages, they will be subtitled to demonstrate that your character understands what is being said. If conversations in other languages are overheard, there will be no subtitles because your character does not understand what is being said.
- Many of Valve's games feature not only subtitles, but full closed captions of sound effects.
- The Half-Life 2 series feature closed captions for both the regular game and the commentary feature in Lost Coast and the Episodes, making it significantly easier to catch plot-relevant information that might otherwise be drowned out by other sounds.
- This is an extraordinary blessing, considering the unusual way Half-Life handles spoken dialogue. Face a character when he's speaking, and you'll hear him loud and clear. Turn away while he's speaking, however, and his words become soft and almost unintelligible.
- There's also one notable point where Barney says "And if you see Dr. Breen, tell him 'Fuck You'!" The "fuck" is drowned out by a large crash of metal, though it's quite obvious what Barney is saying. The subtitles and captions, however, all say "...tell him * crash* you!"
- Left 4 Dead also has full subtitles and closed captions. This is a great help, as the player can often see captions related to the special infected before actually hearing them or their leitmotif.
- The No One Lives Forever games feature many funny conversations that can be overheard. The subtitles make it significantly easier to catch them.
- In the original Perfect Dark, when eavesdropping on an executive, the subtitle box fades or gets brighter as you move away from or closer to the door.
- BioShock had subtitles. Too bad they would scroll through lines much faster than the characters actually spoke them, resulting in seemingly random sentences flashing up, and then the characters speaking. They were more distracting than helpful, which can get annoying when other things are happening during dialogue, or when the character's accent was especially thick.
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay has many options for what the player want or doesn't want to be subtitled. You could turn off the subtitles for the Enemy Chatter and still have text in the cutscenes.
- Portal has not only a subtitle option, but actual closed captioning. Although the latter is perhaps too distracting to be worth it in particularly noisy rooms. (Do we really need to be told every time a portal opens or closes? Especially when they do so about every second? And there's several of them?)
- Even the audio commentary feature in Portal is captioned, impressively enough.
- Sadly, in spite of this, the turrets' responses are left untranslated.
- Most Japanese RPGs seem to have both text and voice in important cutscenes, such as Final Fantasy X, Xenosaga, Rogue Galaxy, etc.
- Fallout New Vegas is notable in that one of your companions is a flying robot that communicates via beeps and boops, so if the player wants to hear what it says during the end-credits, they need to have the subtitles on.
- Metal Gear Solid, delivering as much of its plot through cutscenes and CODEC discussions as it does, subtitles everything. One gaming magazine (unironically) praised it for being so accessible to the deaf.
- In the second game, it's possible to eavesdrop on interesting conversations using a directional microphone. The size of the subtitles changes in size depending on how close you are, and the font becomes legible at the exact point the dialogue becomes audible.
- Peace Walker gives us a literal example. Cutscenes are presented in motion-comic form, with text bubble and everything. Yet it still lets you turn on subtitles, even though they're completely unnecessary.
Wide Open Sandbox
- Generally speaking, this is also true of "adventure" games such as Resident Evil and Dino Crisis. In those cases, the original Japanese game had English voice actors, making subtitles a necessity. Particularly noticeable in Dino Crisis, with the import version almost playable (item names and such were still in Japanese, making it hard to know what the items were supposed to do).
- Resident Evil 5 was the first to include full subtitles, whereas Resident Evil 4 only included them during Leon's two-way radio transmissions. The Silent Hill series has always been an exception, however, providing subtitles in all the games.
- The cutscenes of the Grand Theft Auto games are subtitled by default.
- Subtitles are particularly beneficial in Grand Theft Auto IV, as they will translate Niko's Bosnian into English.
- Homeworld included full subtitles throughout, after lobbying from a player in the open beta who was himself completely deaf.
Beat Em Ups
- One of the Quest For Glory games has 3 men whose voice acting goes so far off script with various impressions that the subtitles just give the base information, leaving out all the extra jokes.
- MadWorld, like Shadow Hearts, has the subtitles deviate from the speech at several points. This is most noticeable with the Black Baron, where it feels like the subtitles are the script and the spoken dialogue is largely improvised by the voice actor.
- BlazBlue has English subtitles in cutscenes... but only when you've set the audio to English as well. Fortunately, there's a gallery feature that allows you to re-watch the cutscenes. Story and Arcade mode plot-related discussions are properly subtitled, but not the pre- and post-battle banter. In addition, the hidden Japanese voice actor interviews are completely unsubbed.
Shoot Em Ups
- While voiced portions of the Shadow Hearts games often do feature subtitles, the voice actors notably deviate slightly from them. It likely that the written subtitles were taken from the original script, and the deviations were made during the voice recording sessions so that the lip sync matched up.
- Something similar happens in Final Fantasy XII, although in this case, the subtitles seem to be done so you can catch the most relevant information at a time on one screen, without having the text scroll into another block. This is especially evident when Cidolphus speaks: his mounting insanity makes him talk extremely fast by the end of the game, and particularly just before the final fight against him, but he's also keeping up with a high-end vocabulary, which would make it difficult for most people to be able to completely read each chunk of dialogue before moving on to the next, especially if they're also trying to listen to him.
- Too Human has subtitles, but they're inconsistent. It seems that skippable cutscenes have subtitles, but the rest of the game does not.
- Fallout 3 has a couple of these that are Played for Laughs. One is with the robot butler the player gets with their house in Megaton, where he greets you by asking if there's anything he can do for you, before muttering under his breath (metaphorically speaking) "hopefully nothing." That extra bit isn't in the subtitles.
- The second is the robot receptionist at the Weatherly Hotel in Rivet City (same model of the Mr Handy series as the butler, incidentally) when he gives you directions to your room. After saying the directions he mutters "Or is that the broom cupboard, I always get those two mixed up."
- All of the dialogue in Sin And Punishment is in English, but due to odd circumstances, the game was only released in Japan. Thus, the game helpfully provided subtitles, which were retained when the game became available via Virtual Console. So for players who have difficulty understanding the muddy cartridge-stored lines, subtitles are helpfully provided... in Japanese.
- ZombiU has subtitles... but they aren't on by default. Which is rather silly, as the majority of the dialogue in the game comes from a very static-y radio.