On Bombcast 529, Jeff complains at 33:30 about a shopkeeper in The Swords of Ditto that says something like "I stan for [character name]" and Jeff says "That's not something I want in this game." While the game obviously has a pretty lighthearted tone, I still think I share that opinion with just about every game that tries to pull that move with the dialogue.
Sometimes the game is jokey enough that it's fine, but when a game does cheeky modern day dialogue wrong, it makes me absolutely hate playing through the rest of the game. It feels less like you did something novel by making a weird collage of video game setting + cheeky modern day dialogue, and more that you just aren't a very good writer so instead of writing in-universe dialogue (funny or otherwise) you just emulated the banter you're used to seeing on Twitter. But let's go through some examples:
- Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. This is one of the biggest offenders in my own gaming history. It just feels like the whole game is trying to have it both ways. It goes for this fantasy aesthetic that alternates between serene, trippy, and tragic, but also has a bizarre in-game Twitter feed that contains tweets from the game's characters, and I just don't think that Twitter feed added anything to the game. Logfella's dialogue, in-game and in-faux-Twitter, is especially modern-day-stoner-y, and just clashed super hard when I played the game. The game also has a framing device that suggests you're playing through different "sides" of a vinyl record as you progress through the game's acts, so the faux Twitter isn't the only anachronistic element, but the shots of a vinyl record mostly serve as scene transitions and then it's back into the fantasy world for the other 90% of the game. A lot of Sword & Sworcery felt like what Hyper Light Drifter eventually was, in terms of being a pixely hero's quest about a doomed protagonist fighting some shadowy darkness in a world very light on details, but while HLD was more than happy to stay mostly silent and let the visuals and music set the mood, S&S has similarly good visuals and music but then cocks it all up with inane Twitter dialogue.
- Ridiculous Fishing - A Tale of Redemption. This game is much more lighthearted since it's mostly a weird fishing minigame, but I had a similar distaste for having to put up with its faux Twitter feed where all of the game's characters banter about nothing.
- God of War (2018). Someone pointed out to me that Atreus says "duh" at least a few times, and while the game obviously has to use modern day English for players to understand it, using slang like "duh" is perhaps a little too 1980s/1990s. There is a fine line here, since so many modern day English turns of phrase are rooted in things from the past couple centuries while God of War takes place in antiquity or earlier so obviously no version of English existed during the time period of the game, but I still think "duh" is a little much.
- The Secret of Monkey Island. I recall there being quite a few anachronistic bits of dialogue, but the whole game is such a comedy that breaks the 4th wall (Ask me about Loom) and has other anachronistic items and sight gags that there's a consistency of tone to the whole thing so it's fine.
- West of Loathing. Basically see everything I said about Monkey Island. West of Loathing is set in the Wild West, but is not taking itself seriously.
- Magicka. Again, lots of anachronism in dialogue, but the whole game is so comedic and laden in pop culture references that there's not any immersion to break.
- Undertale. It's ostensibly set in modern day anyways, but still, technically there's no solid reason that the monster society should be so similar in speaking style to modern day youth. But I'm totally fine with a bunch of the characters just being the walking embodiment of Tumblr, because feel-good JRPG/anime/Phoenix Wright/dating sim VN is the whole aesthetic of the game, and it knowingly breaks the 4th wall and makes allusions here and there that the people who like those things are going to get.
- Borderlands 2. I never got around to playing it, but I sure did hear a lot about how much people didn't like how its humour. I've heard a lot of it was rooted in references to internet memes that shouldn't have much of anything to do with Vault hunting on Pandora, but I'm not sure where I fall on this one. It's not like Borderlands ever took itself seriously, but also everyone has told me that the humour is just badly executed in Borderlands 2.
I don't think I have an exact list of criteria for when it is and is not OK for a game to break immersion and use a bunch of ill-fitting modern day speech in their fantastical/historical setting, but I can really only gel with it when the whole game is a front-to-back comedy of some sort. If the game's setting or story is actually cool or interesting in any way, I'd much rather they stick to the setting and write some believable dialogue for the setting. Using a bunch of modern day dialogue often just feels like a cop-out to me, where you're trying to be Adventure Time but not doing it half as well.
So I'm curious to hear what you think about games using modern day speech in this way. Love it? Hate it? Any examples that I missed? Chime in!
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