Monday 13 February 2017

How Playing Games in Japanese Made Me Appreciate English Dubs

A short time ago, I could play JRPGs in subbed and dubbed forms no problem. JRPG voice actors are high quality in both Japanese and Western voice tracks nowadays, and I was lucky to be playing subbed JRPGs at all, right? There are certainly characters I have a voice preference for, such as Tharja from Fire Emblem Awakening's low creepy voice in the Japanese version and pretty much anything Erin Fitzgerald does a cartoon-style voice for in Western JRPGs including Chie Satonaka from Persona 4, but this usually never stopped me from enjoying the other version.
My opinion on subbed or dubbed games changed after I played Final Fantasy X HD in Japanese for fun study. I chose Final Fantasy X to play because I knew the story so well and could already play the game well enough to focus on the language learning for my Japanese. I found it really interesting hearing the Japanese voice track and actually preferred quite a few of the Japanese voices, not because the English voice acting was bad (I don't even mind the infamous ‘hahaha’ scene), just because of personal preference. I got very used to trying to get some sort of meaning from the Japanese which was great for when I play games in Japanese only, but pretty much ruined subbed games for me.

I'd like to stress that subbed games being ruined for me isn't anyone's fault but my own for the most part. What's happened is that now when I play a subbed game, I'm still trying to get meaning from the Japanese and during this, there’s a chance I’ll get completely wrapped up in the concept of exact translation vs localisation. I get tied up in really small localisation tidbits, not because I know better than the wonderful people who localisation, but just hearing minor differences. I can't think of any specific instances recently as I've been strictly using dubs for a while but it could be the difference between something in the Japanese track saying ‘yes’ and the English track changing it to ‘Yes sir’ or ‘Yeah man’. The meaning is the same but the personality being displayed in the speaking style is enough to set my brain into overdrive. For a lot of people this probably is a non-issue, but for me it really pulls me out of being immersed in the game.

And that's what I've come to appreciate about dubs: the true immersion they provide. I think most people would agree that hearing, reading and seeing something you 100% understand makes it much easier to take something in. Especially in cutscenes, being able to focus on the entire screen and not the line of text lets me pay attention to the small details the make a scene go from great to amazing. A non-JRPG example I've noticed this with is the Danganronpa 3 anime dub. When I watch the dub instead of the sub, my eyes are free to look for clues to the mystery. On top of this, English voice acting is at a very high standard at the moment and the voice actors in games do a great job of doing justice to the Japanese versions, often using similar pitches and tones to create the most faithful experience to the original character. I’m a bit of a purist at heart, so being able to feel like I’m getting something as close as possible to the source material makes me enjoy dubs even more.
Despite this, it hasn't completely ruined subbed games for me. If it's the only option between not having the game and having a subbed version, I will gladly take a subbed game any day. One of my favourite games of last year, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, is only available in English in subbed form. Even though it had a few very minor typos here and there, the deep gameplay and fun story was enough to keep me absorbed and hearing the great Japanese voice acting was a nice bonus. An English dub would have been nice but with all the Digimon to voice alongside the main characters, it would no doubt be expensive and for a smaller game, I can see why they saved the money and just released the sub.
It's fantastic that a majority of JRPGs offer both a subbed and dubbed option nowadays. There are definitely people who prefer one over the other and as a person who used to not be bothered, it's nice to be able to choose more often than not depending on what I'm feeling at the time. At the moment, I'm really enjoying the full immersion I feel from dubbed JRPGs and hope for more JRPGs to get dubbed for others who feel the same. Above all, I'm just happy we're lucky enough to get all these great games localised for our enjoyment!

Do you prefer subs, dubs or the native experience? What's your favourite dubbed-JRPG?
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