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German Dubs in Video Games – why even bother?

Illustration for article titled German Dubs in Video Games – why even bother?

When I was a kid, I didn't understand English all that much. I depended on the German versions of the video games I played. I'm grateful for the translations of these games when I needed them.
Doesn't change the fact that more often than not, German video game dubs are pretty bad.


Note: This article is aimed at the German-speaking readers of Kotaku obviously, but others can share their impression of other languages in video games as well. How does is the situation in French or Spanish, for instance? I'd love to know, so feel free to post it here.

People complain about how bad English-speaking voice actors are all the time. Whether it be the Hollywood star that was brought in to the cast (StarCraft II, Metal Gear Solid V) or the actors that are not 100% perfect like Milla and Elize from Tales of Xillia, to use a recent example.


But all of this is NOTHING compared to the worst the German dubs have to offer. To put it another way, all the complaining the English-speaking community has are #firstworldproblems.
At least the actors can do a somewhat-good performance which has some emotion to it, the illusion of a living being in the video game is still there. But the Germans sound like they're reading their text for a speech in an almost monotonous tone way too often.

Take a look at the beginning of Uncharted 1, for instance. The voice actors are a rather bad choice and don't fit quite as good as the original English cast. You can't feel any authenticity or naturality in here, whereas the English version is the exact opposite, it feels perfect.
Not only that, the script is translated too literal, and there is one case of overlapping tracks and one track of not using a naturally-feeling expression.


In the English version, Elena says “the hell...?” upon seeing the contents of the coffin. It's a short form of “What the hell?” which is common in English.
What does the German version use? “zur Hölle...?”. This is a very bad choice because nobody ever uses a short form of “Was zur Hölle?” in German. A more fitting choice would be “Was zum...?” or “Ich glaub's nicht!”.

All of this happens in just the first 3 minutes of the game. I didn't bother to play further and just switched back to English while playing the game.


Of course, not all dubs are as bad as Uncharted 1 one's, but they still lack a certain edge. This edge can be best detected by a comparison with another medium.

Go ahead and watch the German-language version of any movie or TV series, then go back and play the German version of the game of your choice. Do you notice something? They raise or lower their voice. They get angry, you can notice when they are crying.
At least in TV or the movies. Do you get the same level of expression from the voice actors in the video game? Not always, anyway.


How both the German movie and TV localization industry manages to hire high-quality voice actors for decades by now, but video game dubs are still so hit and miss, is beyond me.
Maybe it's just me being too used to the English voice actors and I can't appreciate the German dub as much as someone who only listen to those, and he things it's fine. Still, I rarely found a game I would've played again in German after hearing the English cast.

There are exceptions of course. One of the few companies who still have good localizations is Ubisoft. In case you've forgotten, Ubisoft is a French company, so I guess it's partly a question of pride to provide a good localization for the European languages, which is their home after all.


Back in the PS2 era, I remember all of their games (Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Beyond Good and Evil, XIII) having a very good German dub. Even a game of the current generation – Prince of Persia 2008 – has a superb German cast.

I also read comments about people saying that older games like System Shock 2 had some good German versions.WarCraft III had the best German cast by far, it's the one and only game I would accept playing it in German instead of English for a longer time.
Which makes StarCraft II, and World of Warcraft for that matter, all that much more disappointing. Blizzard used to be good at this, now they slacked off a bit.

And let's not forget all the games Made in Germany who obviously have an excellent German dub like Gothic.


Still, I have a feeling that as soon as the 360/PS3 era began, the quality of German dubs in video games has decreased considerably - either that, or it is around that time that many people started being exposed to the Internet and went with the English version of basically everything anyway, just like I did.
These days I rarely, if ever, give the German version of a video game a chance these days and just jump straight to the English version.

Those of you who live in Germany or are otherwise exposed to German-language video games, what is your opinion about this? Am I just over-generalizing things, or are German voice actors in video games really that bad sometimes? Feel free to share your experiences here in the comments.

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