Game Freak’s release of Pokémon Sword & Shield has been a commercial and critical success so far, but that is not to say that the game is perfect. Disregarding the lack of a National Pokédex that most players have made their peace with, the exclusion of voice acting was a mistake.
The series is now twenty-three years old, and first began with classic RPG elements that involve scrolling past pages and pages of dialogue text. Now though, the lack of any voice acting in the game feels antiquated, especially considering the popularity and success of the anime series which is now about to enter its twenty-third season of production. There are no shortage of professional voice actors who have taken on the mantle of some the game's major characters.
Voice acting could have been used to bring many of the characters to life, including some of the most important to the main story with the gym leaders, competitors at the Champion Cup, and major characters like Hop, Sonia, and Professor Magnolia.
Why Game Freak Left Out Voice Acting
Speaking to Metro, director Shigeru Ohmori was asked why there would be no voice acting in the game. The reason given is sure to make eyes roll when considering other recent issues leading up to the release of the game, as his answer boils down to voice acting taking too much effort to implement. Given that the National Pokédex was cut because it was also too much work to create brand new models for each Pokémon (which turned out not to be true as many models were recycled), it is completely unbelievable that voice acting was skipped because of the effort involved.
The second reason given relates more to the images players have in their minds of a character, as Ohmori states,
“if you’ve got a voice on that character that instantly provides to the player an image, a feel for that character that they don’t generate themselves, it’s pushed on them from the development side. Whereas if we have really flavourful text, for those characters, but no voice the players can kind of create their own image of who that character is as they’re playing.”
The second explanation sounds perfectly reasonable and would have been far more believable had it not been preceded by the explanation that the process was simply too much work.
Pokémon Is Too Big To Fail
The omission of voice acting in the latest installment of Pokémon was not unexpected by players given the news that the roster of Pokémon was being drastically cut, and sales have clearly not taken a hit, with over six million copies of the game sold so far. Game Freak has been criticized for its handling of the property, but fans are still more than happy to buy into new games.
Right now, it may seem inconceivable that Pokémon as a series will ever become stale, given its staying power after two decades since its first release, but updating presentation to include voice acting would simply be a great level of polish.
Though for the to happen, Nintendo would need to find a developer who does not hide behind the claim that it would be too much work to achieve.