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Voice Grunting

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Link in just about every The Legend of Zelda game

Voice acting is ubiquitous in video games today, but in the old days, when budgets were smaller, sound hardware was more basic, and disk/cartridge space was limited, developers relied on text where story was emphasized. Figuring that some of the drama was lost when a potentially emotional scene was pantomimed like a silent movie, the developers had to get creative. Generally, there are two solutions to this problem.

One form is the use of beeps at various pitches syncing to the text, generally speeding up or slowing down depending on how quickly the speaker is talking. More creative sound designers will use different sounds for individual characters to give a sense of variety and a voice to otherwise soundless dialogue. This method was common in the 16-bit era but has mainly fallen out of practice among modern games with at least a modest budget, though this style can still be found among indie and role playing games as a homage.

The other workaround for games with a higher budget is to employ brief, character-specific voice clips over the relevant text boxes. Examples: "Yeah!" over "Alright, guys! Let's do it!"; "Oh no!" over "I can't believe I was fooled for so long!"; "Aaaaaaaaah!" over any number of alarmed outbursts; and the ubiquitous grunts, battle cries, and double-takes when facing down a boss. This type of voice grunting is often featured in games that have a handful of key scenes that are fully voice acted.

A third, somewhat less common method can be combined with either of the above. Characters, particularly party members and important bosses, would have full sentences or shouts during battles, with a victory quote or two. This way, players can still get a grasp on a character's voice without having to go through the trouble of creating clips or sounds in regular dialogue, though again combinations of these three have been used.

Not to be confused with a particular stage teenage boys tend to go through.

Compare Speaking Simlish, when Voice Grunting is turned into a language. Also compare Musical Instrument Voice, where characters are "voiced" by musical instruments or synthetic tones.

Video Game examples:

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    Action Games 
  • Every cutscene in the WarioWare series with the exception of Gold, which uses full voice acting.
  • In Copy Kitty, characters use various pitches and mechanical sounds in their textboxes. Boki, being a Kitera, speaks in high-pitched squeaks and mews. Savant has a lower-pitched chattering sound since he's an insect. The delivery person AKA Lymia, has a softer, high-pitched chirp to match her Genki Girl personality. The commander of the Constructs (Supreme Thremnat) speaks with metallic beeps that are replaced with loud clanging sounds when he's furious, which is often. As of version 3.1, Exchikkes speak in jumbled, pitch-shifted murmurs that grow more distressed or quiet as you destroy their comrades.
  • The first two Star Fox games utilized this for the Arwing pilots, though there were a few actual voice clips here and there (most notably at the beginning of the game). Every game from Star Fox 64 onward has been fully voice-acted.

  • In every 3D The Legend of Zelda game since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, all characters of importance (and some lesser ones) will do this, be it a laugh, grunt or a single word (Why hello there, Navi). The only pre-Breath of the Wild exceptions are Midna and Fi, who have full lines of gibberish that are picked at random each time the line is said.
    • Link is so famous for this trope, some people can find it jarring if they see media where he actually speaks (even in text!).
    • Used as a case of subtle foreshadowing due to Significant Double Casting in Ocarina of Time. Sheik is Zelda and thus the two share a voice actress.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, when Zelda learns that the Big Bad has taken her body and intends to possess it, she gives a very audible "Iyaaaaaaaa!" (That's Japanese for Big "NO!".) Presumably it was left alone in the various translations of the game because it could be understood as just a generic "Eeeyaaaaugh" scream.
    • Even though The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first game in the series to have full voice acting during cutscenes (not counting the CD-i games, which are Canon Discontinuity), most of the lines still feature this trope instead of being fully voiced, with Link himself having zero lines of spoken dialogue. Only main charactersnote  get full voice-acted cutscenes.
  • Geist. Only during cutscenes will people actually say all their lines. Soldiers will generally have "Sir!" if you're inhabiting a man, "Ma'am." if you're inhabiting a woman, and "Hey boy!" if you're inhabiting a dog. Gigi will always say "Raiiii-mi" or giggle. In one particular case when you're possessing an engineer, his irritable boss says "Walters!" each and every time you talk to him.
  • Par for the course in any LEGO Adaptation Game. LEGO Batman, for example, involved many scenes where Batman just goes, "HMMM!" As of LEGO Batman 2 onwards, they're Suddenly Speaking.
  • Metroid: Samus rarely speaks, only vocalizing screams when she dies in the mainline games, and grunts of exertion or pain in the Prime series. Though to be fair, given that she's usually exploring by her lonesome, she wouldn't have anyone to talk to regardless.
    • Samus does have a tendency for internal monologue, though these were never voice acted until Metroid: Other M. Metroid Prime also had intro narration that was ultimately unused in the final game.
    • She gained a few short voice clips as taunts for Super Smash Bros. Brawl upon the introduction of her Zero Suit form as a fighter, which would be reused in all subsequent Smash games.
  • Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure uses this, but most characters (oddly enough not including Henry) have one legible phrase they'll throw in at the ends of their sentences. Cole has "guv'ner", Lady D has "Yoohoo!", and so on. Weaselby, most noticeably, has an Evil Laugh.
  • In Ōkami all the characters seem to be speaking like they are drowning (yes, even when standing on the land!) while the text appears at the bottom of the screen. Amaterasu just barks, whimpers, growls, and howls.
  • Characters in A Hat in Time normally have full voice acting, but the Mumble Badge reduces their dialogue to this instead. Evidently the devs of the game are not fans of this trope, as the Mumble Badge is one of two badges to have flies circling it in the menu and be described by the Badge Seller as one of his "terrible badges that people inexplicably buy". The only other one to get this treatment is the awful One Hit Hero Badge useful only for Self Imposed Challenges.

    Adventure Games 
  • Zack & Wiki. Grunts and squicks, as Zero Punctuation put it in his review.
  • Starbound: Non Player Characters grunt when they say something (with the actual dialogue supplied in a speech bubble), with the sound dependent on their race and gender. Humans tend to make high-pitched squeaks, Florans growl, and Glitch make bleeping noises.
  • In Detective Pikachu, important humans and Pokémon have voice clips when talked to, with the Pokémon speaking in Pokémon Speak.

    Fighting Games 
  • This is everywhere in fighting games. For older fighting games most of the in-game voices were grunts and Calling Your Attacks, but more modern fighting games have more voice lines to add some variety. For more realistic fighting games like WWE games or anything that has character customization, it's much more prominent.
  • Link in Soul Calibur II was rather memetic for this. Most of the characters have at least a few highly quotable lines, but for Link all his voice lines were grunts and yells, and people noticed.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • There's a very simple reason why the bog-standard enemy soldiers in the Quake series are called Grunts. In fact, most of the humanoids and other creatures in the Quake games make some sort of random unintelligible sounds, but nothing complex enough to be considered as any sort of a language.
  • In Team Fortress 2, if your previously chatty buddy is reduced to spamming default voice commands, odds are that they are an enemy Spy.

    Platform Games 
  • In Portal, Chell will scream if hit by a cube that damages her but does not kill her. Other than that, she does not speak, even when being shot by Sentry Guns (or we might not be able to hear her over the bullets). She grunts if hit by bullets. And there is at least one sound clip that GLaDOS claims has her speaking. If it is her speaking, no wonder she doesn't talk that much.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • The Wii version of Sonic Unleashed makes Sonic sound like he's dropping a massive turd every five seconds.
    • The first Sonic Rivals game also makes use of it. The sequel (which is much, much larger) has fully-acted voice lines over the text boxes instead.
    • Sonic Generations also includes this for Sonic's pals when talking to them in the overworld.
    • Also in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), whenever you talk to an NPC.
  • Zeliard uses beeps for dialogue in cutscenes and building screens, but not for narration or talking with NPCs in towns.
  • Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy used this for the mute-at-the-time title character; much akin to Zelda, he would grunt when jumping, performing attacks, and generally any action/reaction event during gameplay.note  In the Japanese language track, he was given several more expressive vocalizations at certain moments. In the sequels Jak decided to start talking, so his gameplay grunts were replaced with air-whooshes and wisp sound effects.
  • The voice acting in Rogue Legacy is limited to nondescript shouts when the player is attacking and grunts of pain.
  • Shovel Knight's dialogue boxes are accompanied by beeping noises approximating the speakers' voice. Specter Knight's beeping sounds metallic and ethereal, Plague Knight's is high-pitched ("hee, hee!"), diving suit-wearing Treasure Knight's is metallic and Polar Knight's "voice" is appropriately gruff, among other examples.
  • Mari, Jowee, The Mayor, Wilfre, and the child Rapos from Drawn to Life all have voice bytes with various exclamations. They range from sighs and laughter to short words ("Hey you!" "Oh no..." "Wapo!" etc.) and each of the listed characters have several sound clips for various emotions. They even sigh when you close the DS and cheer when you open it back up!
  • Dallin and Unicorn from Will You Snail? have dialogue accompanied by voice grunting (i.e. sighs, gasps, etc.) for emotive effect. Meanwhile, the player character, Shelly, has no dialogue but will still make chirping sounds when jumping and pained cries when dying. The only character who is an exception is the Big Bad, Squid, who has full voice acting.

    Point & Click Games 
  • The Hex: Every character has Voice Grunting. Weasel Kid, Bryce and Lazarus have low-pitched grunting, Chandrelle's voice grunting is feminine-sounding, the old barkeep and Rust have low but slightly raspy voice grunting. Sado's voice grunting is noticeable for changing every sentence.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Ludger from Tales of Xillia 2 is the closest thing the Tales series has to a Silent Protagonist. He calls his attacks in battle, says short answers like "yes," "right" and "got it," and occasionally grunts or gasps during skits and cutscenes. Nothing else. Though, there is an option to give his dialogue trees voice acting in New Game Plus.
  • All three Golden Sun games. Hilariously, the third game didn't do a thing to resolve the Viewer Gender Confusion over Rief, who used a high-pitched voice squeaking usually reserved for girls.
  • This is actually the only type of voice acting in Final Fantasy XI. No words, just grunts.
  • Final Fantasy VI:
    • During the opera performance, the performers' singing is rendered as vocal grunting.
    • Kefka's famous Evil Laugh is voiced, which probably contributed to its fame. Uwehehehehehe!
  • The Izuna games have a lot of this, though the sequel does have a small amount of actual voice-acting as well.
  • The Baldur's Gate series is an especially odd example. Some dialog is fully voiced, but most of it is only partly voiced, with just the first sentence or page of dialog being spoken in a conversation.
  • Rune Factory 3 has voice clips for everyone, mostly short phrases that correspond with what they're talking about ("Sorry" and "Hello" and the like). A few of the plot-important cutscenes are voiced, but not all of them.
  • Illusion of Gaia has characters with differently pitched sounds accompanying their dialogue, with each character even having a different text color.
  • The World Ends with You does this during every instance of textboxing. There isn't any form of beeping or booping, but there are little snippets of dialogue, laughing (or girlish giggling in Joshua's case), grunting, gasping or any other one-second sound a human can make as well as little questions and phrases like "Ask Away" or "Alright. It's Time". For really important moments, the game breaks out cutscenes with full dialogue.
  • Mother:
    • Mother 3 uses bleeps with different pitches to indicate the voice of the current speaker.
    • Also, in its predecessor, EarthBound, when you name the characters, the confirmation noise is a clip of creator Shigesato Itoi saying "Okay desu ka?" ("Is it okay?")
  • In Valkyria Chronicles II, some scenes are full voiced out, but most of the minor scenes have Avan saying "I'll do it!" even when it doesn't make sense.
  • Skies of Arcadia includes a few short lines for each character used in random circumstances.
  • Persona:
    • While Persona 4 features full voice acting in most of the cutscenes, things like talking to VA'ed characters outside of cutscenes and in Social Link scenes will just have them chime in with short voiced snippets from time to time. You know you've almost completed a Social Link when the character gets particularly talkative.
    • Persona 5 also uses this trope outside of cutscenes. However, all characters have full voice acting in the first and last scenes of their Confidants. NPCs also speak with audible voices to each other when the protagonist is in their vicinity. A returning feature from the first two/three Persona games is that enemies (unbound Personas) can be persuaded during battle to join the team as Personas, and they also have their own voice clips when talking to the protagonist.
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days and Kingdom Hearts coded (the DS remake) both use this during the in-game rendered cutscenes. The FMVs use full voice acting, though.
  • This is the only voicing you'll hear in Magical Starsign, and only as exclamations during battles.
  • While there is some full voice-acting during the animated cutscenes in Lunar Knights, most other instances of consists of grunts and short phrases during dialogue.
  • Dragon Age: Origins does this when you order characters around outside of cutscenes, and in combat. Notably, Alistair seems to do his "Alright, let's go!" thing every. Single. Combat. The game lets you choose from several voices per race for your character, but all they are ever used for is voice grunting and short quips when you order your own character around.
  • All of the non-generic characters in Fire Emblem: Awakening have these in the "short voice clips" form.
  • In The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, every character talks with different-pitched beeps.
  • In Monster Hunter, the player characters make grunts in the same way Link does. You can even choose from several different voices for your character to grunt in!
  • Undertale lacks voice acting, though a small handful of scenes feature a short voice clip, every major character has a unique "voice". Some of these "voices", including the one on the Game Over screen, belong to characters you only actually get to meet much later.
  • Similarly to its predecessor, Deltarune has no voice acting (except for some short voice clips for Jevil and Spamton), opting to use this instead (including the original voice grunts of the characters from the previous game).
  • Trails Series:
    • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky only has this in battle, on the party selection screen, or as a victory quote. The text sounds don't distinguish between characters, it can be hard to tell what a character's supposed to sound like with so little to go off of. Subverted with Kloe, she actually has a bit more to say in battle with some full sentences. Kevin also has a distinctive voice that even changes to reflect his mood as The 3rd goes on. Blessed with a much larger budget, the Evolution remakes have full voice acting in every story scene. Characters also get voice acting in Alternative Saga, a crossover fighting game with Ys.
    • The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and its sequel Trails to Azure use the second method. Scenes are mostly silent, but occasionally characters will react in plot-important scenes with "Understood!", "Got it!", "Thank you!", and the like, combined with Sky's use of battle quotes. When characters have full sentences and are directly speaking with one another, something big's about to go down. The Evolution remakes also provide full voice acting in story scenes as with the above.
    • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and its sequels have a lot of voice acting and there's plenty of Calling Your Attacks, but this doesn't stop this from being used a fair amount in battles, probably as a stylistic choice. Rean tends to do it a fair amount, particularly when using his Spirit Unification ("ogre power"). Angelica is another character that does it a fair bit.
  • In Fairy Fencer F, your characters will often voice grunt once they've reached enough tension to fairize, though they'll just as often as not simply say something.
  • Sister series Neptunia has a large variety of quips and short phrases in battle that keep the girls a chatty bunch in dungeons. A few characters even have jokes and banter with each other if you leave them be. In Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, while confirming/canceling characters to select or during loading screens, each character has something to say.
  • In Miitopia, in addition to Speaking Simlish, Miis may also make grunting, laughing and yelling sounds depending on what's going on.
  • Ni no Kuni:
    • While Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is generally pretty polished, there wasn't a budget for voice acting outside of major cutscenes. As such, all other dialogue is rendered in on-screen subtitles, with accompanying snippets such as "Mm," "oy!", "Excuse me!" and "Flippin' heck!"
    • Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds has this of the "voice clips" type, though a bit more fleshed out than most examples. While the game has voice acting, you tend to hear rather less out loud than what's displayed on-screen. For example, the text box that appears may read "Hmm... We do issue badges to those who complete enough errands, but I'm apprehensive about giving work to outsiders...", but all that will be voiced out loud is "I'm apprehensive about giving work to outsiders." Extremely important story scenes tend to have full voice-acting, while some of the most minor quests will often have more typical grunting, with only a single word said, or just a vocalization of surprise, etc.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, with the exception of a few cut-scenes with spoken narration, all spoken dialogue is handled in this fashion. All NPC characters have a handfu, l of shared spoken greetings based on their race and gender, as well as battle cries, short taunts, and groans from taking damage. The Player Character only has the latter of these three. All other dialogue is in the form of text.
    • Oblivion expands voiced dialogue to all NPCs, but this trope is still in effect for the player character who only audibly communicates in the form of groans and grunts during combat or when otherwise taking damage.
    • Skyrim largely follows the same format as Oblivion, though adds Dragon Shouts to spoken dialogue for the player character. There are only two versions, however, regardless of race - a male voice and a female voice.
  • In OFF, every character (barring The Batter) has a little voice clip that occurs every time they start to speak. The Judge purrs, the Elsen make deep inhaling noises, Zacharie laughs and later meows when he's disguised as the Judge, Dedan screeches, Japhet chirps, Enoch chuckles, The Queen softly whispers (actually a reversed soundbyte of someone speaking), Hugo coughs and Sugar giggles.
  • Tales of Arise has full voice-acting during story cutscenes. However, during the acceptance and completion of sidequests, dialogue is presented in text-boxes, along with brief lines, i.e. "Right," "Mm-hmm," "I'm not so sure," etc.
  • Bug Fables uses different sound effects depending on what character is talking. A few minor NPCs share sound effects with each other, but main characters have more distinct "voices." Of the playable party, Vi's is high-pitched, Kabbu's is lower, and The Stoic Leif uses monotone "boop" sounds.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy has short voice clips added in the fifth game when talking to NPCs or when party members are killed. In games before that, animals made their expected noises, usually when animal enemies were killed or overworld animals were interacted with.

    Simulation Games 
  • Each character in Spiritfarer has unique vocalizations whenever they talk to Stella, while Stella herself grunts as she does her everyday activities. Even the generic spirits grunt when they talk to her, with some having vocalizations that don't match with what one would expect from their genders.
  • Most Story of Seasons games since Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life have characters who make a noise when talked to.
  • The Trauma Center series does this for every notable character in the game. Voice clips for Dr. Stiles range from the short "Yeah" and "What!" to full sentences like "Let's begin the operation" or "I WILL save this patient!" Different characters also yell out "Dr. Stiles!" when they need your attention or if you messed up something. New Blood adds full-voice acting for everyone.
    • At one point in Under the Knife 2, Angie's voice clip says "Yes!" while her text box says "no."
  • Yes, Your Grace: Characters utter various sounds while speaking, usually one each time their dialog is scrolled through.

    Sports Games 
  • Mario Golf Advance Tour and Mario Tennis Power Tour, both based off of the Golden Sun engine, use the same type of bleeping text. They also include stock voice clips for all the players.

    Survival Games 
  • In Don't Starve, every character is voiced by a musical instrument. For example, Willow is voiced by a flute, Wolfgang is voiced by a trombone, and WX-78 sounds like a synthesizer.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ace Attorney games have voice clips just for the series' famous catchphrases. OBJECTION! HOLD IT! TAKE THAT! GOTCHA! EUREKA! NOT SO FAST! Other than that, everyone uses beeps and boops for speech, with females and children typically having higher pitched beeps than adult males. Interestingly, especially in the later games, the beeps come in several different octaves (male, female, old male, old female, and so on). One character, Dee Vasquez, appears to have smoker's lung - she uses the male beeps. Whenever a character is yelling, there will be loud sound effects for the dialogue in question.
    • This is lampshaded in one of the commercials, where Maya and Phoenix have an aside conversation using the beeps, and Edgeworth complains that they should stop doing that.
    • They start playing around with it more in Spirit of Justice. During the first trial, a character sings his testimony, and his voice beeps change pitch to play the melodic line. Once his personality takes a 180 and he becomes a Heavy Metal rocker, his voice beeps become bass blips.
  • In Fleuret Blanc, characters have a variety of short lines and exclamations that they say at certain points, sometimes directly quoting the actual text and sometimes not. A few of these are repurposed for Boss Banter.
  • Danganronpa uses the "voice clips" approach for most of the game, save for some key lines and all dialogue in the trial sequences, which are fully voiced.

Non-video game examples:

    Web Animation 
  • Disney Channel has released a series of shorts entitled Chibi Tiny Tales, which feature characters from animated Disney shows in Animesque style. The shorts have very little spoken dialogue, with most of the sounds being grunts, laughs, screams and yells, and in the case of the Phineas and Ferb installments, the occasional "Mom!" from Candace.
  • Little Runmo: Pikit speaks through wood creaking noises at varying pitches.

    Other Media 
  • Lampshaded in the OVA adaptation of Gestalt. "Manic Pixie Slave Girl" Ohri, coprotagonist along with the straight man Oliver is mute, having had her voice and mystical might stripped away some time before the beginning of the narration. While she can still grunt and whine, she usually uses her residual voice along with a text box popping on the screen, and acting as she were fully aware of it, using grunts and facial expression as you could expect from an RPG character during gameplay. The other main characters are fully aware of this oddity, and despite express initial shock and surprise they're fully able to understand her.
  • The Indian telefilm Shorr has Kankoo, a Cute Mute and Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's mute, but not voiceless: she usually gets along with a huge lot of Voice Grunting and made-up Hand Signals, and she's still able to be somewhat understood.
  • In Hidamari Sketch Honeycomb Episode 3, when Hiro and Sae communicate in a Psychic Link, their mental conversation appears on the screen, with the words being accompanied by beeps.
  • In the original version of the Australian animated film Epic (1984), the main characters communicate with grunts and yelps; the U.S. release on the other hand has them speak to the point of Narrating the Obvious.
  • The 3-minute episodes of the anime adaptation of the comedy manga Joshi Kausei are silent, so the "voice acting" is limited to gasps, squeals, and giggles.
  • In the 2005 Stop Motion series Hello Kitty Stump Village, Hello Kitty and her friends communicate by making noises such as gasping, laughing, or crying. The narrator is the only one who talks with words and explains what's happening.


Video Example(s):


Voice grunts

The characters' speech is represented with grunts instead of reading out full sentences. From "games where only the cutscenes have full voice acting".

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Main / VoiceGrunting

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