I do not speak a lick of French, and yet the first thing I did upon (finally) unlocking Heavensward, Final Fantasy XIV’s first expansion, was switch to French audio. It was a recommendation of a dear friend who’s further into her first journey through FF14 than I am. Neck-deep in Heavensward’s main story quest, (I recently passed that cutscene after The Vault. You know the one), I can’t imagine a better way to play.
I didn’t mind the English cast in A Realm Reborn. Raubahn’s commanding yet gravelly voice made him sound like a general who could still muck it up with the rank and file soldiers. And though I still think she ain’t shit, Merlwyb’s raspy, two-packs-of-cigarettes-a-day voice gave her a distinct sound befitting a pirate-turned-politician. Despite being well-pleased with the ARR cast, it’s a good thing I did make the change to French audio. Apparently Square Enix switched voice acting studios between A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, resulting in everyone getting recast. It was a shame not to hear Gideon Emery, a Dragon Age fave of mine, lend his talents to the surly Urianger.
It feels right playing Heavensward in French. The game takes place primarily in Ishgard, which is awash with French names like Edmont, Haurchefant, and perhaps the Frenchiest of all: Jannequinard de Durendaire. I feel like I’m getting the most authentic Ishgardian experience hearing my compatriots speak in rapid-fire French. The difference enhances my enjoyment of events that I normally wouldn’t pay attention to in English. For example, Ravana — the many-armed insectoid god of the Gnath people — sounds like a generic, voice modulated video game villain in English, but he’s menacing as hell in French. Listen:
Ysayle Dangoulain is another one of those “everything sounds better in French” improvements. She was once your enemy turned ally, and while her English voice is perfectly fine, her French voice has this aged smokiness (no, not like a cheese) to it that better conveys her story. She’s fought a fruitless and bloody war for years, and her rough French voice sounds like she’s actually been through some real shit. Compare for yourself.
The best change from English to French is definitely Haurchefant. Haurchefant is a great guy no matter what language he’s speaking. In English he’s upbeat and happy-go-lucky. In French, he’s more mature, sexy even. He’s the guy who called me “mon ami” and handed me a hot mug of tea on what was my character’s worst night ever. He also showed up seemingly out of thin air to help me fend off a group of powerful Heaven’s Ward knights. He’s the guy who gave his life for mine and left me with words that I’ll etch on my heart forever.
His final words in English are one of those video game lines that’ll stick with me for all time. After he gets hit with a mortal wound, he gently admonishes you for being so teary eyed and tells you, “A smile better suits a hero.”
With French audio and English subtitles, I’m not getting a French translation of what’s being said. I needed to know what French Haurchefant’s real final words were, so I switched my game client from English to French in order to get French subtitles. Then, I ran the words through Google Translate and summarily wailed in grief.
With a simple audio/subtitle change, what was already a memorable exchange between friends became something deeper, more personal, and much more tragic. “A smile better suits a hero,” while nice on its face, feels impersonal. It’s something a writer would make someone say in order to squeeze more feeling out of a moment like an emotion juicer. But, “You have such a beautiful smile, try not to forget mine.” That’s something someone real would say. It’s something someone says as they gaze at their lover for the last time. Haurchefant loved you, and I think the English version of his final line robs you of truly feeling that love.
It’s not all great in Francophone-landia. In French, Alphinaud, a literal child, sounds like a grown man with two kids and a mortgage. It’s also easier to miss stuff when I zone out during voiced cutscenes. Playing in French demands my full attention, and sometimes I just can’t give that — especially after my heart has yet again been ripped, still beating, from my chest.
I was still reeling from losing my beloved Haurchefant that I just stopped understanding what was happening in the aftermath; my plot-processing power completely shut down, and I just went through the motions completing quests without any clue as to what was going on. It was only after defeating The Limitless Blue dungeon that I returned to plot-awareness, and that was only because the story returned me to Ishgard.
To maintain immersion, I’m going to keep playing in French for the rest of Heavensward, but come Stormblood I may make changes to the audio again. Since Stormblood is the east Asian themed expansion, maybe I’ll play in Japanese.