Subtitles During Cut Scenes

My video game genre of choice is role playing games. Many of these have detailed cut scenes that tell the story of the game as you progress through the experience. Unfortunately,  in a number of games that I have recently played there has been a glaring omission: subtitles. Games with this issue include Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, Jeanne d’Arc, and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these games is text heavy during the game play but then has NO subtitles during the animated cut scenes. These specific games also have the problem that they do not recap the cut scenes in text form after they finish. If a player was unable to hear the dialogue during the scenes, he or she would miss part of the story.

Image from a Jeanne d'Arc cut scene. Shows Jeanne (a blonde short-haired female warrior in silver plate armor) yelling at soldiers. It is unclear what she is saying since there are no subtitles on the image.

With hearing loss affecting approximately 17% of Ameican adults and that number only rising with age this is a large concern for many gamers. Television and the movie studios have added Close Captioning and subtitles to their media. Ubisoft pledged to include subtitles in future games produced in-house.  Are some developers consistently providing subtitles and should be commended? How many others appear to ignore this issue? We need more publishers and developers to understand this as an important accessibility concern and consistently provide subtitles when characters speak.

About Gunthera1

Twitter name: Gunthera1
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14 Responses to Subtitles During Cut Scenes

  1. Pacian says:

    There’s also the issue of subtitles that just transcribe dialogue and those that include sound effects. To my knowledge Half Life 2 and its Source spin offs are the only games that include an option for the latter. (And the subtitles for Portal completely leave out the cute things the turrets say.)

    • Gunthera1 says:

      That is a very good point. Games that use sound cues to let the player know an enemy is about to attack or something is important in the environment should also include that information in the subtitles. I have played some games that include a visual cue with the sound and that is also helpful.

      In terms of a game, that at least at the start, is doing a WONDERFUL job with subtitles I recommend Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon for the Wii. A hint system is implemented by holding the Wii remote vertical and the hint is told through the speaker of the remote BUT at the same time the hint is transcribed on the screen. I was very happy to see this.

      EDIT: After playing a bit more of Fragile I have found a problem. There are times when there is only a sound cue for some things. I was hearing frog sounds in a section where I would not have noticed the frog without the sound.

      • Maverynthia says:

        I half wonder if the hints are transcribed on the screen due to the fact you can also have the languages in Japanese or French too in addition to English. If the they were not transcribed then people using the JP and FR settings would be missing dialogue.

        I’m currently playing with the JP option, since I prefer the original voices for the characters.

        • nanasuyl says:

          A bit off topic, but do you guys recommend Fragile Dreams? Is this game really good? I was thinking about getting it myself.

          • Gunthera1 says:

            I am only 3 hours into the game but so far I really enjoy the art style and the atmosphere. But I can’t give a definite yes or no on a recommendation since I am still early on in the game.

      • Mantheos says:

        Left 4 Dead does that. It will say in subtitles, “Tank growls.” That way the fear builds up because I know that I’m close to getting Hulk smashed. Yay! :)

  2. Jargo says:

    Missing subtitles is a total no go. Apart from the ignoring of people with impaired hearing, also there is the problem that many people understand the text of a english video-game but are not so good in the language to understand a fast spoken text.

    And a last usability problem. i think every game should be playable without sound. gaming consoles are often in the living room and i want always the possibility too turn of the sound when i don’t wont to disturb other housemates.

    • Gunthera1 says:

      It is also a problem for people that process written words better than speech. Lack of subtitles definitely affects a large group of people.

    • nanasuyl says:

      I was just going to say that. Subtitles are great for people whose first language is not English. I always put them on because usually I find it difficult to understand American English, unless it’s Sex and the City accent.

      I must say you’ve been unlucky, Gunthera1, most of the games I’ve played have subtitles. Or maybe I’m lucky. I don’t know! I think subtitles should exist in every game, it shows respect for the consumer.

  3. Maverynthia says:

    I wish there were more subtitles, even though I don’t have hearing loss and speak English, sometimes they will use strange words for things, or the names of places are hard to make out (was that Volteria, Bontaria, Boltania? Ooooohhh Pronteria!) and sometimes the audio volume dips to be dramatic. I know I use subtitles on DVDs where there is only 5.1 sound as I only have a 2.0 setup and I KNOW that the volume will dip in places where the characters are being close and intimate and I can’t hear then. (Turning up the volume results in earbleed when ZOMGS EXPLOSIONS AND THINGS!)

    I also want subtitles for selfish reasons. If there were subtitles on videos, then there would be less excuse to not have games with their original spoken language intact (mostly Japanese here). Since one of the excuses I hear is that subtitling the videos would reduce it’s quality or some other excuse like that, thus the companies just dub it and think it’s good for everyone. Honestly it’s a bit whitwashing the game too, since they also remove cultural references usually when they do that and give that excuse.

    An independent team decided to “undub” (put the original voices back into a game) Persona 3 and 4, and when doing that, they also subtitled the videos since they were using the original Japanese, and the quality was still there.
    So for people wanting to play those games with hearing problems, or even people that just don’t want to wake up the roomates, they are forced to basically pirate the game, patch it with the original voices to read what’s going on in the cut scenes.

  4. Ohma says:

    Yeah even leaving aside hearing and language barrier difficulties there are more than enough reasons for a lack of subtitles in games to be not just frustrating, but baffling.

    I mean, seriously, you’ve both the problems of your game’s audio potentially making it difficult to understand what is being said, and on the flip side you can also potentially have the audio cut out due to a glitch.

    I can kind of almost understand not having subtitles for sound effects because it could be difficult to decide what needs subtitling there and what would just clutter things up. But there’s really no excuse for a lack of dialogue subtitles.

  5. Robin says:

    As a language student I really appreciate it when I’m playing Japanese editions of games and they have subtitles (and thankfully most Japanese RPGs do, although some of them ignore non-essential chatter between party members and just focus on the cut scenes). Having the dialogue visual as well as verbal makes it much quicker for me to process the sentence, which is necessary in cut scenes that move in real time rather than progression by pressing a button.

    There are more than enough different reasons why a player might need subtitles, so I’d love so see it as an industry standard. For anyone who prefers to play without subtitles, all they have to do is add an option to turn them off and everybody is satisfied. I’d also like to see them move beyond just the cut scene dialogue, but also include sound effects, and subtitle conversations between characters that while not plot-essential are really useful for learning more about the characters (which I feel should be a big draw in a good RPG).

  6. Alex says:

    The cutscenes are sooooooo pretty in Jeanne d’Arc, it’s such a shame there are no subtitles. At this point, not having at least the option for subtitles is just unacceptable.

  7. obo says:

    Valve! They subtitle everything, including environmental sounds.

    See also:

    “In this case, after Half-Life shipped I started getting a trickle of letters from deaf gamers pointing out that scenes reliant on audio were completely incomprehensible to them, and I felt terrible–especially because I had seen plenty of games with text captions at that point (usually in the service of conversation trees). I went to Jay Stelly, one of our chief programmers, and he explained that it was not at all a hard problem to solve and that it made sense to solve it right away for HL2. At that point, I was simply thinking of subtitles. This idea lay dormant but unforgotten for a long time; the code that allowed it was put in place fairly early on but we didn’t have finished dialog, so we didn’t push on it very much. When we had enough dialog to start really using the feature, Ken Birdwell pointed out that there was no reason not to do a full closed caption system to cover all the major sound effects. This made total sense in the gamespace, since sound cues are extremely important in games. We have a somewhat flat organizational structure, so there is nothing in the way of me talking to Jay or Ken or Gabe; and it’s the sort of thing we all felt right away would be a huge benefit to some portion of our audience. The expense of doing it was very small and there was no negative aspect, so it never occurred to us not to do it. The embarrassing thing is that it never occurred to us until after we had shipped the first Half-Life.”

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