I Still Can’t Listen To Genshin Impact’s Inaccurate English Voice Acting

I Still Can’t Listen To Genshin Impact’s Inaccurate English Voice Acting
Illustration: miHoYo

Whenever I download Genshin Impact onto a new device, the first thing I do immediately is download the Chinese voice pack. I’m not a snob about dubs versus subs. The problem is that the English voice over turns my favourite characters into unrelatable strangers that I barely recognise.

Things are similarly awry in the latest Inazuma content, which was released this month as a part of Genshin Impact version 2.1. I found myself comparing and contrasting between the English voice acting and the Chinese voice acting within the new content. While Baal and Sara are both arrogant characters with a commanding air, they have protective personalities underneath. While I played their Chinese voice lines in their profiles, I had the impression that they cared for the Traveller in a motherly or sisterly way. The English dub, meanwhile, flattened these women into girlbosses. Unfortunately, Sara and Baal aren’t the only characters who have had their personalities changed through English localisation.

A year ago, I started playing the game in Chinese because Paimon, your fairy guide throughout the game, has an infamously annoying tendency to speak in the third person. Once I did, I found out that Genshin Impact’s characters sound like real friends in the Chinese-voice over. By contrast, they sound like anime tropes in the English voice over. The differences are so jarring that I find it difficult to enjoy the English voice pack.

While my objections to the dub might seem nitpicky, the Genshin Impact community has frequently been embroiled in controversy over the English voice acting. Back in February of this year, Barbara’s voice actor was harassed online by players because miHoYo had changed her voice to sound less enthusiastic (please do not do this). It certainly doesn’t help that voice actors can’t always comment publicly on the voice directions that they were given.

But my quibbles with the voice acting is not just about the controversial characters who have had their personalities significantly changed over time. I find that most of the English-version characters either have unnaturally exaggerated personalities, they’re more arrogant than their Chinese counterparts, or they’re weirdly aggressive for someone who’s supposed to be your best friend.

I wish that the English voice direction allowed Genshin characters to be ordinary, everyday people. If you’ve ever found Paimon’s use of third-person to be annoying, I’m sorry to inform you that she mostly speaks normally in Chinese. She’s still cheeky and impulsive, but it doesn’t feel like she’s purposely trying to sound like a fairy. Paimon is a friend in Chinese, and an emergency ration in English.

Other characters sound less relatable in English, too. Mona’s regal English voice obfuscates that she’s a struggling, impoverished kid with delusions of grandeur. I would lend money to the grumpy, stumbling Chinese Mona more readily than the aristocratic English Mona.

Nor do I appreciate Kaeya’s mysterious, princely way of speaking English. Chinese Kaeya did suspicious things while appearing to be a perfectly normal, charismatic guy you could meet at a bar. I had to balance my suspicions of his actions with his easy going personality. This dynamic doesn’t exist at all in the English voice over, where he was thoroughly suspicious from the start.

There are some weirdly aggressive changes in the English dub. After hearing how gruff and no-nonsense Zhongli sounded in the English dub, I finally understood why the oft-repeated phrase, “Zhongli is abusive to Xiao” became a huge fandom controversy back in January of this year.

In the Chinese version, Zhongli is a kindly father figure who speaks patiently and gently. Xiao also wasn’t originally aggressive. English Xiao sounds like he wants to throw down with me at any given moment. Despite the same fearsome appearance, Chinese Xiao speaks in a very detached, soft, and indifferent tone. He doesn’t wear his heart on his silk sleeve at all. And the voice direction also did our boy Venti super dirty. I was so accustomed to a Venti who was self-deprecating, friendly, and teasing. After hearing how he would speak to me in the English voice pack, I wanted to throw him into a lake.

While I can’t claim to know why miHoYo made these soft boys so aggressive, I’ve also noticed a similar pattern for Japanese localisation. Unless they’re aristocratic, soft men are forced to be voiced in a more aggressive manner for the English market. I can see why, considering the kind of macho masculinity that Hollywood constantly has on display. But these voice direction choices muddle the relationships between characters. Moreover, shouldn’t men be allowed to be soft? It’s 2021, and BTS is the most popular band in the world for their soft personas. As popular tastes shift, so should voice direction.

And the worst crime is how the English characters pronounce “Liyue” and “Qixing.” I’m very sympathetic to the fact that English voice actors are not bilingual. However, the anime industry has made a lot of English VAs proficient at pronouncing Japanese names. When I hear that a voice actor pronounces the “e” at the end of Liyue, I realise that they’re using the Japanese pronunciation.

I’m hoping that they’re eventually given the training to pronounce Chinese names. As someone with a Chinese name, it feels kind of bad to hear non-Asian people butcher Chinese names with embarrassing regularity! Until that happens, I’m content to play the game with the Chinese voice pack.

The English localisation struggles to get across Chinese nuances, so it relies heavily on anime troupes instead of trying to replicate the experience of interacting with real people. The English dub is also a lot more straightforward, rather than relying on players to read between the lines and listen for tone. Localisation is highly subjective, so I can’t say that the English voice over is necessarily “bad.” My issue is that the voice direction changes the context and implications of how English players experience the story. Regardless of the language that players choose, Genshin Impact is ultimately a Chinese story. If the characters’ personalities are changed, then it becomes harder for me to connect the different motivations that drive them to commit heroic or villainous acts.

Even if you only speak English, I highly recommend turning on the Chinese voice pack to experience better context for the characters in Genshin Impact. You might find that certain characters are a lot more likeable than at first glance.

Comments

  • “Localisation is highly subjective, so I can’t say that the English voice over is necessarily “bad.””

    No, it’s bad. You can say that with confidence.

    The thing that bugs me about the English voices is that being a native speaker makes it unavoidably and obnoxiously glaring that they’re ‘putting on a voice’ – a horrifically fake caricature of a voice, only suited to children’s cartoons. The ‘weirdly aggressive’ or otherwise exaggerated traits noted by the author seem to come from that.

    The impression that it leans into English-voiced ‘anime tropes’ is perhaps a symptom of the possibility that maybe exaggerated stereotypes are exactly what American audiences want?

    It’s almost as if there was this formative cultural moment in the 90s and 00s where everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) was voiced by fucking Crispin Freeman and co (look up his work and you’ll know exactly what I mean), at a time when American youth were discovering anime… and I can only imagine that as a result they consider anime to be inextricably linked by that formative memory to an exaggerated style that is so very far removed from acting like an ordinary, believable person.

    And while it’s true that there are definitely Japanese characters whose actors similarly ‘put on a voice’ (Paimon, Barbara, Klee, not gonna say Fischl because that’s actually her schtick), it’s nowhere near as universal as it is for the English voices.

    One of the characters I always find myself happy to be playing (despite her power being suboptimal) is Yan Fei, the lawyer character. She sounds almost exactly like this Japanese slice-of-life/cooking/otaku vlogger my partner follows. Like… she sounds like a PERSON, not a ‘character’. And that’s just so damn refreshing after constantly enduring the unnaturally cutesy throat-contortions performed by a character like Barbara.

    • Yan Feis voice acting and dialogue is awesome, for a crazy ambulance chasing menace.
      (I kept joking to my partner that she would be constantly telling friends during co-op that I would be liable for any damages or injuries incurred by players who visit my world)

      One thing though, don’t call my gurl suboptimal!!
      She may not be in the top tier but she’s leagues ahead of most people in her own tier.
      I’ve had a lot of folks comment on her power, even when their several levels above me.
      So far she’s one of the few casters I’ve actually enjoyed playing and she’s carried me through a lot of difficult sections and world level barriers with zero effort.
      (Although Diluc dropped on the weekend and I have a very tough choice to make or field em both and watch the world burn!)

      • Oh don’t get me wrong she was hands-down the best ‘trial run’ character I’ve ever used, so built right she’s probably devastating and I’ve got her up to the mid-80s, great as the power hitter in my second-half Abyss team, but when it comes to prime time… I have crowned the ever loving fuck out of Diluc who is a god damn monster, and Zhongli’s shields are too good to pass up. Jean gives me great spit-healing and diversity, so I really need another element that isn’t fire, y’know? Double fire is great for attack but it robs me of reactions, which are better.

        • Diluc, Zhongli and Jean?! Lucky sod!

          My luck has been pretty rough when it comes to wishes, Diluc was my first legitimate 5 star character so Yan Fei is in a league of her own at this stage.
          I built her out for reactions and crits so her 15 second charge attack barrage is absolutely insane.
          (I have Xingqui though since the start of the game and he pairs so well with Yan Fei and other fire/lightning characters for some sick reactions combos and bursts)

          • Diluc and Jean were the first characters I ever pulled. Zhongli is a relatively recent addition, had me grinding the geo hypostasis for a solid month just trying to get him to replace Barbara. Fischl still has my remaining reaction-setup slot, but I’ve been trying to build up Chongyun (and recently Aloy) to add some more reliably persistent variety. Especially since newer Electro enemy content tends to make Electro characters not as useful.

  • Personally love English Zhongli and Mona. Zhongli sounds stern but also a bit sad. Fitting for the god of contracts who’s been alive for thousands of years and seen the passing of many friends. As for Mona, I always thought her proper, high class way of speaking fit the character. She wants to come off as mysterious and powerful, and also hide the fact that she’s poor. So it makes sense she’d speak in a grand way.

    I don’t really like the cutesy voice that a lot of the female characters do. But I guess I’ve always blamed that more on the fact that the game feels so Japanese, rather than the English voicing. Which is to say I find a lot of female character’s Japanese voices in anime and Japanese games to be the same annoying fake cutesy voices, which is also way I never go the argument that sub > dub because it all sounds the same quality to me. So even though Genshin Impact is Chinese, I’ve just sort of accepted that that’s how women sound in media out of Asia.

    Exception being Paimon, who I should find annoying but instead just sound cute. And I think the reason for that is the writing for her is just so good.

  • Hmm… I enjoy the english dub though. I dont speak chinese and the subtitles are the same across both languages… And English dub speak what the subtitles say. I finished the story for inazuma in 2.5 hours, and the way Raiden spoke matched her Actions. While the Way Ei spoke was very nice and soothing. Sara sounded like she was determined to prove the Traveller wrong.

    I have no clue what you were trying to say… Especially in that essay long article about Person Prefference. kotaku is a joke.

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