In videogames, both the constraints of space and simple practicality mean that there's a limited number of sound effects available, and this number is less than the number of actions a player can perform. So one sound effect will often be triggered by multiple actions. At its best, this is barely noticeable. Sure, the sound isn't exactly right, but it's close enough. Sometimes, though, this can get a little blatant.
For instance, if you're driving a car around, crashing into a metal warehouse could give you a "hitting hollow metal" sound effect. Which is perfect. Then, hitting a wooden building gives you the same effect. Not quite right, but close enough. Next, you hit a dirt cliff. Same sound. At this point, this trope has become noticeable.
This trope is present in almost every videogame, and is generally an Acceptable Break From Reality. Space constraints mean that it would be impossible to have every possible sound effect a player could make in the game. And even if it were possible, the time it would take to do so is probably better spent doing something else. Besides, as games become more complex, and allow the character more actions, especially those of the Die, Chair, Die! variety, it's harder for the designers to even guess what sound effects a player might need during a game. The only real way to avert this trope entirely is to make a game incredibly simple (how many sounds can you make in Pac-Man, anyway?) or so linear the player can only carry out certain actions. (Well, you could use a sound engine where sounds are procedurally generated, but nobody's even managed to do that in sufficiently universal fashion with scientific supercomputers... Yet.)
There are two broad categories of Limited Sound Effects: First, sound effects that are reused even in places where the sound may be inappropriate, and sound effects that are reused so often, they threaten to break the player's Suspension of Disbelief, as the same exact sound would never occur that often in Real Life. Possibly the most pervasive form of this trope is NPC voices, especially Mooks and their pain/death sounds or generic taunts and such. Even in the most advanced games each type of Mook tends to has a single set of stock sounds, so they all sound the same when they get shot.
- Hitting things with your sword in The Legend of Zelda games will usually only produce two different sounds: A clanging, "metal-on-metal" sound for stiff walls, and a lighter "clink" for hollow walls you can bomb down. In some games, wooden objects will get their own sound (a kind of hollow whump), but that's still the same whether you hit a tree or a crate.
- Later Legend of Zelda games do similar things with the Hookshot and other weapons. ('Clank'? It's a leaf.)
- Blocks in Wild ARMs puzzles always make the same sound when you push them, regardless of what type of material you're pushing them over. One would expect that futuristic glossy tiles, old stone floors, and dirt would all make different sounds, but no.
- Castlevania uses the same whip noise no matter what object they're hitting, fleshy zombies, armor, walls, skeletons, ectoplasm, etc.
- City of Heroes did this to varying degrees- regardless of whether you're hitting a zombie or a giant robot, you got the same sound effect for your attack. What was more noticeable was the sound of walking. While there were several different sounds note these appeared to be less granular than the floor detail: you could find yourself suddenly running across a linoleum floor to the muted thuds of carpet, or dashing through a particularly large planter while listening to hardwood flooring.
- And then there's the Arachnos Fliers (huge transport gunships) in City of Villains that, to the last, used the creaking wooden door sound for its access hatches.
- In Beyond Good & Evil, crashing the hoverboat into other boats, building and land all gives you the same metal sound. I suppose you could argue the boat is making that sound, but the boat has a large rubber bumper that should protect the metal from impact.
- In Sam & Max games, shooting random objects always gives the same pinging bullet sound. Lampshaded at one point in Chariots of the Dogs, if you shoot the right thing: "An iron pinata? I think someone is missing the point."
- In One Must Fall 2097 punching or kicking another mecha causes a clanging metal sound. Burn it with your Pyros, and you hear the same CLANGG. This a bit jarring when you realize that custom hit sounds were implemented for various stages, as well as some of the other robot's special attacks.
- Flying units in the Amiga version of Lords of Chaos make the same clip-clop sound as walking units when they move. This kind of stands out when it's otherwise more complex than the Commodore 64 version, which has different sounds for walking and flying.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has many such limited sound effects, for example, the sound for water spraying from a fire hose, water spraying from a fire hydrant, a boat skipping on water, and even the sound of a car scraping against a wall are one and the same.
- Superman for the Nintendo 64 has the sound of a bullet ricocheting that plays when Superman takes a health pick-up.
- Glider Pro has only one sound effect for collecting Power Ups, even though Glider 4.0 had distinctive sounds for picking up batteries, rubber bands and papers. Also, when a trigger destroys a prize, it plays the same sound heard whenever your glider crashes.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion contains a vast open world populated by hundreds of people. There's a total of about 11 voices among them (6 male ones and 5 female ones), aside from the one character voiced by Patrick freakin' Stewart. (Whose death is the impetus for the beginning of the game. Oh well.)
- NPCs in Mass Effect have about three combat taunt: ENEMIES EVERYWHERE! GO GO GO! I WILL DESTROY YOU!!!!. They like to say a taunt about once every... 2 seconds? So you will hear those three sound clips frequently. Strangely, they recorded multiple voices saying the same three taunts.
- Mass Effect 2 isn't nearly as bad about this as its predecessor, but it still has some sound effects that repeat way too much, especially since your allies now call their attacks. Yes, Jacob, I understood that gravity was one mean mother the first fifty times you used Pull!
- I KNOW THIS HURTS YOU, SHEPARD
- Not to mention the infamous "I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite store on the Citadel!" For those not familiar with the game, Shepard can offer an official endorsement to various stores in exchange for a discount. For convenience, the game uses the exact same voice clip every time you do this. This means that if you give endorsements to every store, you're going to be hearing the clip over and over every time you go in.
- If you think recycled sound effects within a single game are bad, imagine sound effects being re-used across multiple games. This is exactly the case with ActRaiser, SoulBlazer, and Illusion of Gaia. Enix re-used numerous sound effects in two or more of those games, such as taking damage, dealing damage, projectiles being fired, thunder, life bars being refilled, menu selection confirmations, cursor movements, and probably more.
- The Game Boy Advance version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets uses the same cry for both the half-dozen trolls scattered throughout the various levels and the basilisk.
- Almost every piece of machinery (especially lifts) in Tales of Symphonia makes the same whirring noise while running. It's a little jarring for the amusement park train to have the same sound effect as the conveyor belts of doom.
- Somewhat justified in any Fighting Game, as they usually don't have the space on the disk to make a battle cry for each attack.
- In Jade Cocoon, every single Minion has the same death scream.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) has the same voice clip of "Hey." for more than half of the male townspeople in the game.
- There's also only one voice clip per Player Character that plays when they pick up an item container (whether it be rings, a 1-Up, a shield etc.) - and if there are multiple containers in close proximity, the single clip plays every time, such as this famous moment from a playthrough done by Game Grumps.
- Heavy Rain uses the same three "Jason!" and "Shawn!" voice clips at random.
- During any one mission in "Blazing Angels", you will have to put up with your enemies taunting you, your allies begging for help, more taunting from your enemies, your squadmates panicking whenever you get shot at, even more taunting from your enemies, your squadmates celebrating whenever you or they shoot down an enemy, and lastly, more enemy taunts. This becomes even more deplorable when you move on from fighting Germans to fighting Japanese, as you find that the latter say exactly the same lines as the former, complete with very bad accents.
- Mega Man X7 featues Flame Hyenard, who only says "Burn to the ground!" and "Burn!" when he throws fireballs at you. He also says "Triformation!" when he's duplicating himself, and makes a loud yelping noise whenever he jumps. This results in his boss battle sounding like this.
- X3: Reunion and the two sequels based on its engine have precisely two explosion noises, one for fighter ship destruction and another for weaponry, the latter of which is obnoxiously loud. It's not too bad in Reunion where only Flak produces the explosions, but in the sequel multiple weapons use it. The Fragmentation Bomb Launcher plays it when it fragments, Flak Artillery Arrays play it upon detonation, Cluster Flak plays it multiple times, capital ships play it when they explode, and so on. A number of Game Mods change the firing noise or at least reduce its volume.
- Early versions of Doom seeked to partially avert this by randomly shifting the pitch of any sound effects played back. This doesn't work in later versions due to code bugs.
- The SNES version of the original Killer Instinct, like most fighting games of that era, announced the name of whatever fighter chosen at the character selection screen. However, this particular game used the same sound clip for both Cinder and Thunder. (It sounded like a constipated "UHN-derrrrrr".)
- Averted in the Half-Life series, where every texture is associated with a material, and every material has a different set of sound effects for things like crowbar impact, bullet impact, and footsteps. Other forms of the trope, such as limited NPC voices, are still present, however the variety of the lines and background chatter is quite large and well thought through, often giving hints to what's really going on.
- Ditto for Myst IV, in which every single thing within reach of your character produces a distinctive sound when rapped with your virtual knuckles or trod upon by your virtual feet.
- Despite being an animated TV series, The Simpsons isn't entirely immune.
- Auto accidents or windows breaking or anything else glass smashing almost always sound like a light bulb breaking, and most explosions sound like plastic explosives being set off, no matter what is being blown up (and it usually isn't plastic explosives.) Both of these sound effects are sampled from Sound Ideas's Series 1000 Sound Effects Library from 1979.
- Played for Laughs in some in-universe video games in recent seasons; in "Millior Dollar Maybe" Mr. Burns is playing a Zii game involving shooting Nazis, and each one that screams lets out the same low-quality 8-bit sample of the Wilhelm Scream.
- The later Looney Tunes cartoons of 1967 to 1969 (produced when Warner Bros. Animation reopened their doors under ownership of Warner Bros.- Seven Arts) had a very limited sound effects library, consisting of some of Treg Brown's classic sound effects (including several obscure ones only heard in two or three pre-1964 cartoons) as well as at least thirty effects taken from the Hanna-Barbera sound library. Compare this to when Treg Brown was sound editor prior to 1963, when Warner Bros. Animation had hundreds of effects.
- The studio did the same thing again on What's New, Scooby-Doo? 35 years later, using a similar small portion of the Hanna-Barbera sound effect library repeated over and over; most of the others were the studio's own effects created in-house.
- The original Alone in the Dark came as close to averting this trope as technology could allow at the time. Footstep sounds changed depending on whether the character was walking on wooden floorboards, rugs or tiles, sounds echoed when in the underground tunnels... while most of this is taken for granted nowadays, back in 1992 it was a remarkable achievement.
- Both (optionally) averted and played straight in the indie RPG Mount & Blade. There is an option to turn on 'variable sounds', which means that exactly the same action (firing a crossbow, say) can produce a slightly different sound each time, seemingly by simply altering the rate of the playback. NPC voices, however, are pretty repetitive.
- The Freeware and Independent game scenes (both Eastern and Western) generally have to make do with whatever Stock Sound Effects they can get hold of due to budget constraints; creating your own requires a good-quality microphone and a certain amount of skill at using Audacity, at the least. Just having your own bespoke sound samples is considered rather impressive.
- In Pokémon Red and Blue, due to the software limitations of the day, two sets of two Pokémon had identical cries - Charizard and Ryhorn as well as Poliwag and Ditto. Even more Pokémon had cries that were just sped-up or slowed-down version of the other's - Caterpie and Poliwag/Ditto, Fearow and Cloyster, Jynx and Exeggutor, etc. However, this was changed from Gen II onward, so now no two Pokémon have the same cry.