Fans Are Concerned About Barret's Voice In The Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Yesterday a new teaser for the Final Fantasy 7 remake dropped, and players got to see and hear more of the characters as they will appear in the new game. For the most part, the reaction is positive. In the case of Barret Wallace, the reaction has been mixed.

I’ve never played Final Fantasy 7, and because of that, I’m interested in the remake. When it came out, the PlayStation was my older brother’s console, and I wasn’t allowed to touch it, as he (rightfully) feared I’d break it or mess up his saves. Eventually I was old enough to be trusted not to destroy a console, but by then, the game was much harder to find.

By the time I was in high school, I had already heard many stories from my friends about how this game had such a strong emotional impact on them. I didn’t learn that Barret was a pretty egregious stereotype of blackness until long after I had internalised the idea that my video game fandom was incomplete if I hadn’t played Final Fantasy 7.

Barret is a stereotype of a gruff black man in the English translation of the original game. In Kotaku video producer Tim Rogers’s analysis of the translation, he points out how the English translation, which he says was done by a single person in two weeks, inserted that characterisation after the fact.

Barret’s characterisation in this version involves an exaggerated black dialect, and his re-translated dialogue now also emphasises Americanised ideals about masculinity.

In what Tim describes as “the most important text box in Japanese role-playing game English translation history”, the game mis-translates Barret’s expression of empathy to a depressed Cloud. Instead of telling Cloud that everyone gets depressed, like he does in the Japanese text, Barret says that people only get depressed if they don’t know “what’s going on”.

The fact that that line is preceded with the line, “Yo, jes’ think about it… How many people in the world do ya think really understand themselves?” further reinforces Barret as some kind of hyper-masculine cartoon. Not a fully realised person, but a Mr T facsimile full of weak bon mots.

This depiction plays into racist assumptions people make about black men: Not seeing them as full people, but as hulking masses of muscle that sometimes provide folksy wisdom.

In the trailer for the Final Fantasy 7, the voice acting for Barret really leans into that Mr T characterisation. It’s something that some fans had hoped would change in the process of remaking the game, and they’re frustrated that it didn’t.

Kotaku video producer Paul Tamayo put it succinctly in a tweet:

I asked Paul how he’d try to modernise the character, and he told me it’s something he thinks about all the time.

“Especially as someone who watches anime on occasion — and whenever a black character comes on screen with the wild problematic features and just overall behaviours — I often wonder about how the Japanese portray black characters in general. In Barret’s case, I feel like just not having to resort to this like slick-talkin’, smooth ‘accent’ that could’ve probably been handled much better on the writer’s side and the performer’s side too,” he said.

“Thinking about it a little more though, I honestly think they could’ve gone without that direction altogether... It just makes me wonder how many black producers/writers/directors are involved (if at all) when these characters are made or how they could’ve been ‘modernised’ responsibly in the right hands.”

Many fans were indeed hoping for a modernisation of Barret with this remake. Barret’s voice actor, Beau Billingslea, is a wonderful actor, most famous for having played Jett in the English dub of Cowboy Bebop. In the trailer for the FF7 remake, though, he sounds like he’s about to start speaking in tongues in church. Yes lawd!

In the reactions that I’ve seen, fans don’t want to censor or remove Barret from the game; they were just hoping to see a better portrayal of his character this time around. Many are frustrated, annoyed, are laughing at the character rather than with him or saying they just wish the creative team had made a different call.

There are very few viral tweets about this topic, but the sentiment is there, quietly. One fan tweeted the trailer with the comment, “I wish they would Dead the Mr T voice.” Another said that the trailer looked great, but the voice made them uncomfortable.

The most aggressive criticism I saw came from Brandon Dixon, the creator of the upcoming tabletop RPG Swordsfall, which is set in an afrofuturist nation. “Can a game, for fucking once, just make the black guy NORMAL. Why is he a walking MTV cliche of what people THINK black men are like?” he wrote on Twitter. “Do [they] ever talk to PoC? At all?”

Dixon’s frustration is on the surface in his tweet, but the plea at its core is simple and understandable. Black people want to see themselves in games — not as a stereotype that other people think they are, but as they actually are. As people.

We all know that Beau Billingslea is capable of handling this character. He has a career’s worth of roles proving that he is an empathetic performer. There is still so much unknown about this remake. Many things about this game, including the voice acting, could still change.

If they do insist on keeping this iteration of Billingslea’s performance, though, I hope they let me summon the Holy Ghost in battle. Hallelu.


Comments

    As a big fan of the original, what I would do is keep him as true to the original as possible. I'd also be happy if they kept him true to the Japanese original, since as the article mentions, there was some changes from the Japanese to the English version. But he's a great character. Our teddy bear in a marshmellow.

    There’re like 3 lines in the trailer, so people can perhaps wait before casting their views? “I’m here to take the load off ya shoulders” ... toxic stuff

    Sounds like people heard a black dude doing a distinctly black voice and overreacted.
    Most of the tweets I've seen didn't even realise it was Billingslea well in to their tweets and either back off a little or double down.

    I think it's a bit early to be judging, we only hear a few lines from Big B and they aren't even close to how bad the English translation got and Advent children already toned down Barrets overly stereotypical speech.

    I'm kinda stoked we have the current established cast from AC.
    Burton, Newburn, Billingslea, Blum, Leigh Cook, Freeman and the rest of the crew?!
    Hell fucking yes!!

      I should point out I hate the fuckibg idea of a remake but I've struggled not to be a little impressed with the attention to detail and use of voice acting so far.

      Pisses me right off that I might actually enjoy it.

    The voice is already established from Advent Children (at the very least), it wouldn't make any sense to change it now.

    He's fine. There was like three lines in that trailer and he is a beloved (iconic) character from an older game. Can you even imagine the uproar if he suddenly changed his personality from the original game and movie (which I think had the same voice actor) to something else. Grumpy people gonna be grumpy.

    And if they’d changed the characterisation to be more nuanced then there’d be as many outraged that it was “pandering”.

    You can’t win.

    It's voiced by Beau Billingslea, he's a damn good voice actor

    Beau Billingslea is voicing Barrett, as tastypaste said, he's a damn good voice actor. His work in Bebop was fantastic, and he's already voiced Barrett before in Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children. Where was the outcry back then?

    It's not like Barrett walked into the trailer there spouting stereotypical lines? If any of the assclowns had played the game *at all* they'd know that Barrett puts on a hard exterior, a false set of external 'armour' as such through this sort of dialogue, but has genuine moments where he lets Cloud and co. see his true self, who's a damn sensitive, knowledgable and contemplative guy. But it'd take them having *actually* played the game instead of overreacting to three lines in a trailer to know that.

    But I shouldn't be surprised, outrage culture is where it's at these days...

      I don't know that we're at the outrage point or anything like that. But it does touch on that aspect of what people precisely want from the remake, and what they want from games in 2019. It's been so long, and it's been so long since we saw that it was in production, that I'm not sure a lot of people have a full idea of how they want the game to pan out. Certain characters, looks, maybe particular scenes, or something specific like the combat.

      But not a holistic view, certainly. And as more bits of the game start to come out, everyone's going to have these conversations out in the open, working out what they want (and what they want from remakes generally) on the fly.

      It's fun. I think it helps everyone, on an individual level, understand more about what they want from games.

      For me, FF7 has been the only post-Playstation era FF I've enjoyed until 15. So I'm a little ambivalent about a lot of this because I grew up more with Betrayal at Krondor, 3DO RPGs, and stuff on PC. And I'm feeling like not having that level of investment and nostalgia is a pretty good place to be, with the troubles they've had in development already.

        Very true but its hard not to see the influence that outrage culture has on this kind of thing because we've all seen it and, as much as some will refuse to admit it, all been part of it too.

        More to your point, the way these remake discussions play out is always interesting in how quickly near universal joy gives way to camps and factions that highlight the differences between fans, just look at vanilla WoW.

          WoW is trickier too because there was an existing community servicing that need, and Blizzard had to pull the rug out from under them. So the amount of licence there is a hell of a lot less than what a developer would normally have (because you're effectively making an official version of what the fans had, but was taken away, at that point).

        We aren't at the 'outrage' point officially, but we've got people who are 'preloading the gun' and trying to push us there. Articles such as the ones arising are definitely indicative of that. While everyones entitled to their own opinion, the thing that's generally lacking when it comes to these types of articles is something simple, the same thing time and time again, context.

        I don't believe conversation should ever be censored or stopped, I believe all sides should be explored (something that's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in the past here for example at times), but I think one of the traps people fall into too often is judging something by a part instead of the whole.

        I believe this is a premium example of just that. Three lines in a trailer, out of context, do not give anyone a full picture of anything. Barrett's persona, as anyone who's played FF7 knows, is a fascade, he puts on the Mr T like attitude to hide the hurt, damaged, PTSD ridden man underneath. He doesn't want to let people in on the fact he doesn't want to be this rough, tough one armed gun toting badass leader of AVALANCHE, but would rather be at home peacefully raising his adopted step-daughter, Marlene.

        He purposely plays up to stereotypes to strike fear into his enemies, because stereotypes make people afraid, they intimidate people. But he lets his friends into his heart when he genuinely wants them to be let in (such as the campfire moments and a few other random moments) and gives great insight into a knowledgeable, sensitive man. The more time you spend with him as a party member, the more you grow to like the character as a three dimensional one.

        I hope others get to understand this and the outrage is cut off before it starts, because quite frankly, it's a bit ridiculous. I also hope, conversely, that all of this is conveyed in the remake just as well as it was conveyed in the original. Because if it's not, all of that that I've said is four nought.

        We've had some horrendous one dimensional characters in games before, look no further than first person shooters for those in many cases. We've seen some terrible dialogue. But FF7 brought forward some incredibly nuanced characters, which I didn't see myself upon my first playthrough when I was 20, but as I've aged and gone back to it, I've picked up on with repeated playthroughs.

          I don't know. You've mentioned outrage more than the article did, and the way we receive things plays just as much a part.

          The biggest takeaway from this is that people care very, very deeply about FF7. It means a lot to a lot of people.

          I doubt people are even close to outraged - they just have high hopes, and want the best thing possible. What that means varies depending on what people connect with in the game, and in this it's Barret.

    Barret sounds like Barret. Why must everything be offensive in this day and age?

      Because unless these people get outraged about everything, They wont have any relevance anymore.

    There is nothing to be concerned, only pleb fans who play with dubbed audios find this "issue"

    Right I was with you with the Mr T comments, I didn't like that aspect of his voice, but as soon as you mentioned "masculinity" this entire article instantly lost all credibility.
    Barrett is SUPPOSED to be manly af! That's part of his character!
    The fact that they made him so "masculine" means they're nailing his character down correctly!
    If you find that somehow a problem, or even offensive, then the problem is with you, not the creators!

    A black woman attacks a black man voicing a black man as a black man. Isn't it ironic?

    Stereotypical accents exist because they are real. I learnt that when I went to the South in the US.

    This article is a good reminder that the term 'fans' is can be used both definitively, collectively, and singularly. I was like 'the fans don't like it? all of them? oh, a few people.'

      Its the vocal ones that only get heard, because people aren't who like the trailer are saying "I like the trailer" without specifying what they liked most, and those who don't like one aspect will specify it. SO you end up with all this positivity overall, but negativity on one or two little minor things. Worse still is that a lot of that outrage comes well after things could possibly change, or when the design choices were specifically made.

      Its like when the MK11 trailer came out last year and had the hiphop track in the background and people got upset about it. Netherrealm specifically chose that music, its not like the trailer was going to change after they released it

    No, fans are not concerned, SOME fans are. Barrett's attitude and accent are part of his character. There's no political correctness or SJW bullshit about it.

    Sigh... same voice actors as final fantasy vii: advent children ... characters have already
    Been voiced like this for years .. get over it

    "This depiction plays into racist assumptions people make about black men: Not seeing them as full people, but as hulking masses of muscle that sometimes provide folksy wisdom."

    No one other than Tumblr users thinks this.

    I have an idea, why not play one if the many updated versions of FF7 before writing an article on it? I struggled to follow anything you said after the first paragraph. Didn't play it, can't find the game, etc...
    The character is a strong one and in no way panders to the stereotype...but you would know that if you actually tried to play the original.... literally you can download it on PC, PlayStation, etc...
    I'll reserve my own opinion of the remake until after I've played it myself. Bad translation aside, it was one of the greatest RPG's ever made.

    Nothing wrong with his voice. Same VA from Derges and Advent. But SWJs need something to complain about since this is a popular title and this will get them clicks. Next will be that FF7 doesn't have enough of a diverse cast in the game and that riding on oversized chickens is abusive

    "I’ve never played Final Fantasy 7"

    Bye, Felicia.

    Wtf are you talking about Kotaku?

    But are they concerned? I as a fan, am more concerned with the poor translation from Japanese to what seems to be American English, I had a mate who works as a Japanese translator, translate the Japanese trailer for me, and bugger me is it way different from the English one!! That's more of a concern for me then Barrett sounding like shafts brother!!!

    "I've never played Final Fantasy VII" - tells me all I need to know about this garbage article

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now