Today’s Pokemon Presents showcase spent a lot of time with Pokemon Scarlet & Violet, but there was one part of the trailer Game Freak showed off that was odd in that it brought attention to something the series has long lacked and just how outdated that omission has felt in recent entries. Before a frame of footage was shown, there was text that said “voiceovers are not present in-game,” which you only have to put ahead of a trailer if it’s going to do something that would confuse the issue. This trailer does that by having voice acting that will apparently not be heard when the RPGs launch on Switch on November 18. A whole speech is spoken by a voice actor portraying newly-revealed character Clavell over a scene that will be silent when the games are finally out.
We’re nine generations in, and the mainline Pokemon games have never had voice acting. Back when the games were primarily sprite-based, or even in the early 3DS era, this was pretty much fine. But as the series has gotten more cinematic, it’s made some scenes a bit off-putting. The one most often cited is in Pokemon Sword & Shield, which featured a scene of Piers, one of the gym leaders in the Galar region, putting on a concert. But since there was no voice acting, we just saw several seconds of him mouthing in front of a microphone and dancing. It made what could have been a more impactful scene just come off a bit silly, and it really drew attention to the lack of voice acting in a game where the series’ characters were more animated and lively than they’d ever been before.
This extended to Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which had some of the series’ most cinematic moments. While they didn’t feel undermined in the same silly way Sword & Shield’s did, watching characters pantomime and gesture as the subtitles were changed for dramatic effect didn’t hit quite the way it might have with voiced lines booming through my headphones.
Implementing voice acting is an expensive undertaking, and one that a few Nintendo franchises have taken time getting around to. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild finally gave beloved characters voices beyond Link’s usual “hyaaaaaaaahs,” and while there was mixed opinions on whether or not performances like Zelda’s divisive British accent were any good, it still felt like the game’s most emotional moments were amplified by having those voices.
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Ultimately, Pokemon games don’t need voice acting to continue to be the worldwide phenomenon they already are. While games like Pokemon Legends: Arceus have taken great strides to evolve the series’ formula, the franchise has always been one of the slowest to embrace change (why would you when you already sell millions of copies on a near yearly basis?), and there have been subsets of the fanbase that have voiced a contentment with how things are. But even so, this latest Scarlet & Violet trailer feels like it’s acknowledging a shortcoming in how the series presents itself, even if it’s doing so by saying “things are still going to stay the same.”