Subtitles serve three different purposes:
- to display dialog of what is being said on screen (the one purpose all subtitles have)
- translate what is being said on screen into another language (like in Yakuza 3)
- aiding the hearing impaired so they can understand what is going on (in these cases the subtitles can describe what is going on off screen such as an explosion)
Subtitles can be beneficial when a character is speaking during a moment with large amounts of ambient noise, such as during a fire-fight. It means that a player can still understand what is being said if it is important, but the voice is being drowned out by the other noises. At times, the subtitles will be displayed as a compressed version of what is being said on screen, or will be written slightly differently to what is actually said. These occasions are relatively infrequent and generally do not hamper the understanding of the story.
Also, subtitles can be used to present a character that has just appeared by putting his or her name on screen when they show up, like in Deadly Premonition. In these cases, sometimes the player discovers the name of the of a character before the character he's playing as does.
Subtitles in games can occasionally give further insight into a game, as they may show dialogue that would otherwise be difficult to hear (for example, distant enemies conspiring or a telephone conversation). This additional information rarely provides an actual benefit for players, but it allows them to gain additional insight into what is occurring in the game world. Typically, this is most noticeable with games such as Grand Theft Auto IV and L.A. Noire, due to their large amounts of dialogue and general focus upon it.