The Year In Tiny Video Game Text, 2019

Games are cheaper than ever, but the three cataract surgeries I paid for this year in order to read the words in them has made the hobby itself way more expensive.

In all seriousness, it’s 2019 and so many games, both big and small, are still impossible to read without squinting until a blood vessel pops. The problem of tiny game text reared its inscrutable head last year as well, and we’ve arrived at some solutions, such as zoom-in features and other optional settings.

Both The Outer Worlds and Death Stranding released with headache-inducingly small words, and were later patched to make them more legible. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is on Switch where players can zoom in at their leisure. But these are more like band-aids over the problem than ideal fixes, like shipping books with magnifying glasses rather than also publishing them in big print form. If something major doesn’t change soon, they’ll have to ship The Witcher 4 with a telescope.

Here are all of the games we could barely read this year, and please be sure to share the ones that eluded your eye as well.


Kingdom Hearts III

Kotaku editor Maddy Myers had harsh words for Kingdom Hearts III’s grotesque fonts. “The size wasn’t great, but mostly the font choice is bad,” she told me. “I HATED reading all of these instructions.” While you were busy commenting she would have been studying the keyblade, but Square Enix decided to attack her eyes instead.


Stellaris (Console Edition)

Stellaris is an excellent 4X strategy game that is decided superior on PC, but I decided to play it on Xbox One so I could sit on my couch, a choice Paradox Interactive decided to punish me for by forcing me to manage my space empire as if all my accounting documents had been put through the shredder.


The Division 2

I can appreciate The Division 2's attempt at a sleek, minimal, techno-futurist-looking UI, but when I spend half the game trying to compare and contrast the numbers on my loot using my brain made of meat matter, it begins to take its toll.


Days Gone

Deciphering Days Gone-speak can be challenging enough on its own, but cramming blocking subtitles into the very bottom of the screen doesn’t make it any easier.


Dragon Quest Builders 2

Kotaku Editor-In-Chief Stephen Totilo was delighted to acquire some Kelp but had no idea what it did until he manually enlarged the item’s description using the Switch’s zoom feature.


Total War: Three Kingdoms

Screenshot: SergiuHellDragoonHQ, YouTube

Total War: Three Kingdoms strikes such a perfect balance between the approachable and the strategically arcane in almost every way except when it comes to the text size. Please tell me more about the stats of the battle I just micro-managed and spend less screen space on tiny model trees.


Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Staff writer Gita Jackson called out Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ incredibly tiny text size earlier this year. Apparently the best dialogue boxes aren’t the ones with one third white space on either side.


Remnant: From the Ashes

I briefly dipped into Remnant: From the Ashes during the holiday break because I’d heard a lot of good things about it and it was also on Game Pass. I also ventured a wild guess that its menus would be a little bit hard to navigate, and sure enough, the stat rolls on my demon hunter’s base armour are all but incomprehensible when I’m not standing four feet from my TV.


Control

Control has some of the best lore collectibles of any game this year. Unfortunately they are also as hellish to try and decipher as some of the game’s late-game shootouts. While Control lets you pump up the subtitle size, its menus and research files are one-size-only, and that size: way too fucking tiny.


The Witcher 3 (Switch port)

The Witcher 3 had terrible text size when it released in 2015 and the problem returns in this year’s otherwise impressive Switch port. Totilo also needed the Switch’s zoom feature to read the dozens of books Geralt can pick up along his journey, but it’s also a problem for comparing weapon stats and navigating the game’s skill tree. If only Geralt’s spectacles also worked for the player.


Greedfall

Staff writer Heather Alexandra described her mixed feelings about Greedfall in a lengthy Kotaku review, but one of its shortcomings is very clear: its menu text leaves something to be desired. Here we have Kurt who is probably a totally capable companion but we’ll never know because the small bolded text describing his unique skills smudges together into oblivion.


The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds is an inter-planetary role-playing game about reading people’s email and then deciding whether to fuck them over or not. More than once I decided to skim a computer terminal and then blindly fumbled my way through a companion’s dialogue tree because I only have two eyes, and unlike my friends in this game, they do not regenerate once all the bad guys in a 100 yard radius bite it.


Death Stranding

Sorry, Sam. Bad news. I have a bootlegged version of Microsoft Office that’s locked on 8pt font.


Ashen (Switch port)

Ashen had hard-to-read text when it released last year on PC. It’s even worse on console, and while yes it is nice that the Switch lets you zoom in, we must draw the line here before that becomes the de facto excuse for all PC games that get ported without HUD size options.

“I play Switch in handheld mode and regularly was squinting at the text in its menus,” Totilo told me when he gave me this screenshot. “The game that wants me to care about lore that I could barely read.”


Comments

    Understand the pain. I wear glasses normally but love getting on the PSVR. I know there are ways and means to wear glasses under the headset but that doesn't work for my head (sniper's dream). So I remove my glasses before I play. Some games are great as they put the text up close, others leave the text like six metres away and it is all a blurry mess.

    The Outer Worlds drove me crazy with small text. I just skipped through or got one of my kids to give me a precises while I went and made a coffee.

    Bit disappointing, text sizing in the menu could help I guess.

    Couldn't agree more about Fire Emblem. Played it for the first time on a long train trip home from xmas and damned if I didn't have to stop multiple times to give my eyes a rest. I get the aesthetic choice, but damn I wish they had a handheld mode.

    My most-wanted feature for next-gen consoles is system-level settings for subtitles and in-game text sizes. I don't know (or care) how it could be done on a technical level, but I will be furious if it doesn't happen.

    (More generally, I'd like to see huge amounts of accessibility settings taken out of the hands of developers and put in at the system level so they can be applied to every game. And if your game for some reason doesn't work with them then no compliance for you.)

    First things first... the text is not too small for folks with unimpaired vision. This is a complaint for people with vision problems.
    (Frankly, I LIKE not having massive fucking text filling the screen like it's the 90s or 00s again.)

    That said... everything digital - games included - should definitely be designed with accessibility in mind, which should include 'large print edition' for the curiously large number of folks complaining that they can't read the more pleasantly-unobtrusive font sizes.

      First things first... the text is not too small for folks with unimpaired vision. This is a complaint for people with vision problems.

      It’s purely subjective. I am mildly shortsighted but even with glasses with perfect prescription I still find small text annoying to read. It’s not that it’s blurry or illegible, it’s just that, if the text is small, it takes extra concentration to read.

      Of course TV size, resolution, ambient lighting and viewing distance all play into it. If you’re sitting 6ft from a 65” 4K LED panel in a dimly lit room, then you’re going to have a lot easier time reading compared to sitting at 10ft from a 42” 720p plasma panel in a brightly lit room. Which is all to say that, no, it’s not just a vision impairment problem.

      Yea.... no. I have 6/6 vision (or 20/20 if you want to take the American system), which means I can read at 6 meters what people with 'perfect vision' can read from 6 meters, but reading the font on some of these games at 4k from my couch is a strain on my eyes. Its lazy and also ignorant to try and say it's only if people have impaired vision that have problems. The cause of my eye strain is that my lounge is pretty far back from my TV, but thats a product of my setup and having kids and having a play space in the lounge room for them.

      The source of the problem is that the developers almost exclusively play test in office environments, which means sitting a couple of feet from a anywhere between a 22 to 40 inch monitor, not many play test areas have lounge room setups so there isn't enough testing of font size for a 50-55 inch tv from 6-10 feet away. I greatly appreciate that Death Stranding added in larger font sizes, I got sick of dragging one of my lounge chairs closer when the kids were in bed.

    We had this issue earlier in the week playing Judgment. Some of the text on the map is tiny and also white text on orange background. Hard to read. Ended up turning on the accessibility features in the PS4 settings for Zoom which allow you to zoom in by pressing the PS button and Square. There's also a "larger text" option, which we opted not to use as the rest of the text was fine. Just the map text was tiny.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now