Acting, and by extension voice acting, is a refined artform. You can’t just waltz into a recording booth, spout lines into a microphone, and expect it to come out perfectly. If that were the case, everyone would be an actor. Every scene in television, movies, and narrative-based video games has to sell a specific emotion, and if an actor delivers a wooden performance, they risk taking audiences out of the moment. Paradoxically, pouring an excess of emotion into a scene can have the same effect.
Overacting is an easy trap. While an actor might be tempted to pour their heart and soul into a scene, putting (too much) emphasis on the wrong element or syllable can make audiences laugh, and not because the scene is comedic. Without the proper guidance to reel an actor in (or worse, bad direction that encourages bad performances), an audience’s investment can go right out the window.
While video game studios have shored up most of their overacting problems, that doesn’t erase earlier instances which continue to make audiences laugh decades later. Buckle up for some of the most cringeworthy, overacted scenes in video game history.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Die, monster!
"Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" is a masterclass in game design. Everything in the game, from its level design to its exploration-based gameplay, became a template for most subsequent "Castlevania" games, as well as metroidvania titles in general. "Symphony of the Night" holds up remarkably well — except for its voice acting, that is, which can only be enjoyed ironically.
Because "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" released during the dawn of console game voice acting, its grasp on proper intonation is tenuous at best. The game is full of cheesy dialogue performed by actors who are trying a little too hard to make the game feel like a gothic horror story. Characters emphasize words that normally wouldn’t receive extra attention, which gives the experience an odd charm. It’s not quite b-movie camp, but it sets the tone rather well, especially early in the game.
See, during the first "level" of "Symphony of the Night," the game tricks audiences into assuming a Belmont will once again serve as the main character, and the ensuing conversation is immortalized in video game infamy. The notorious "Die monster" exchange between Richter Belmont and Dracula is a glorious display of stilted dialogue, as the characters verbally spar with flowery philosophies unbecoming of a game series about slaying vampires with a whip.
This scene is still memed to this day, and for good reason. The overacting and strange dialogue blindsided audiences right out of the gate, and players can’t help but be entertained by the strangeness of it all.
Resident Evil (1996) – Everyone, especially Barry
Quality entertainment is subjective. Some people prefer slow, poetic films such as "Citizen Kane," while others go for high-octane chase flicks like "Mad Max: Fury Road." And some audiences just love good old "so bad it’s good" camp where 90% of the fun is laughing ironically at the bad acting. For video games, the crown jewel of this category is the original "Resident Evil."
"Resident Evil" came out when studios hadn’t grasped the importance of good voice acting or voice direction — or they didn’t have the budget for it. Regardless, early video game voice acting is notorious for generally being flat and devoid of emotion, while "Resident Evil" has the exact opposite problem: its characters often have too much emotion. Each cutscene is host to unwieldy dialogue and inflections that fly all over the place. "Resident Evil" is like a campy b-movie horror flick, and the game is gloriously entertaining because of it.
While every character in "Resident Evil" overacts as though their lives depend on it, Barry Burton is easily the hammiest of them all. Think of the most memorable (or meme-able) lines in the game; odds are you thought of something Barry said. The infamous "master of unlocking" and "Jill sandwich" lines both originate from the character, and players adore that about him.
Sometimes, a gamer is in the mood for a challenging experience, and other times, they want a (Jill) sandwich made out of hammy voice acting and cheesy dialogue. "Resident Evil" delivers both.
Mega Man X4 – What am I fighting for
The "Mega Man" games are known for three things: amazing gameplay, killer music – and pathetic voice acting, at least in the later games. Virtually everyone has made fun of the "Dr. Wi-whee" scene from "Mega Man 8," but that was merely the result of unfitting voices and bad sound editing. What if Capcom added overacting to the mix? You’d get the cutscenes of "Mega Man X4."
Since "Mega Man 8" and "Mega Man X4" came out within a year of each other, critics have noted they share many of the same vocal gripes. Characters and voices don’t match, and line delivery is often so rushed that you wonder if scripts had punctuation marks. But the crown jewel of bad comes during a post-boss battle scene after Zero defeats Iris.
Since Iris is supposed to be Zero’s semi-girlfriend, Zero is obviously distraught that he was forced to kill her. The voice actor tries to sell the sadness by tossing in far more emotion than his previous lines — he still rushes his delivery, but he also tries to sound distraught, so his voice cracks at the apex of the final line, "What am I fighting for?" Such a vocal gaffe would be funny on its own, but the reading (vocal crack included) reverberates for several seconds, changing the tone from one of tragedy to immortalized comedy gold.
While Capcom eventually learned how to fix its voicing woes, it took far longer than expected. This series was still making audience ears bleed well into the 2000s, thanks to games like "Mega Man X7."
Two Worlds – All the old-timey lines
When creating a piece of media that takes place during a specific time period, writers need to keep the vocabulary consistent and accurate — nothing ruins immersion in medieval fantasy games quite like hearing anachronistic terms like "tubular." Conversely, writers who don’t properly use the lexicon of the time also end up kneecapping their products.
Back when "The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion" was the gold standard of open world RPGs, many other studios wanted to dethrone the king, and "Two Worlds" was one such contender. The game was touted as an "‘Oblivion’ killer" before release, but when it launched, critics were less than positive. "Two Worlds" is held back by a myriad of issues, the most hilarious of which is its overacted dialogue.
The voice acting of "Two Worlds" is best summed up as laughable. Not only do some actors underplay their parts with zero emotion and random inflections, but many of their lines are downright confusing. Every sentence is written in faux-Shakespearean syntax and diction; words such as "forsooth" and "pray" are sprinkled throughout the game with zero concern for proper usage. The dialogue in "Two Worlds" is arguably worse than a grade school performance of "Hamlet," since at least those productions use Shakespearean vernacular correctly.
Gamers might never know what the developers were thinking, but they clearly learned from their mistakes since they dropped the fake Shakespearean language in the sequel, "Two Worlds 2." The dev team even created a singular NPC who speaks in flowery old-timey English to make fun of the dialogue from the first title.
Halo – Sgt. Johnson
Overacting is generally stigmatized. Sometimes an actor tries a little too hard to sell a scene, which backfires. But what if that’s the point? What if character is so overblown by design that hypertheatrics are the only way to do them justice?
When you think of games with bad voice acting, "Halo" doesn’t come to mind. After all, the series is the seminal Xbox-seller that changed the face of the first-person shooter genre (for good and bad), complete with a space opera paint job and vocal performances that sold the tone and universe. Virtually everyone remembers and loves Master Chief‘s stoicism sprinkled with dry wit, but Sgt. Avery Johnson stole the show thanks to his line delivery.
In many ways, Sgt. Johnson has the personality of a double-barreled shotgun: He is loud, boisterous, and knows how to cause a lot of damage. More importantly, Sgt. Johnson has some of the best lines in the series, and everything he says is dialed up to eleven thanks to his voice actor, David Scully.
Scully brilliantly imbues every line from Sgt. Johnson’s mouth, be it a motivational speech or a funny quip, with more spirit than a whole army of drill sergeants. Sgt. Johnson’s big personality left an impact on many gamers. If it weren’t for Scully putting 115% into every line and overacting the heck out of the character, audiences probably wouldn’t remember Sgt. Johnson any more than Yapyap, Deacon of the Covenant’s Ministry of Sanitation.
Michigan: Report from Hell – Almost everything, especially the boom mic guy
Most gamers probably never heard of Grasshopper Manufacture and its founder, Goichi Suda (a.k.a. Suda51), before 2005’s underrated shooter "killer7." Nowadays, audiences praise many Grasshopper titles — most notably the "No More Heroes" franchise — but nobody ever really talks about Grasshopper’s "Michigan: Report from Hell" from 2004. One of the many reasons is its amateurish overacting.
"Michigan: Report from Hell" is a survival horror title in which players control a news cameraman. Despite what the title implies, the game doesn’t take place in Michigan (or the very real Hell, Michigan, for that matter) but rather Chicago, Illinois. Moreover, even though "Report from Hell" received an English translation, the game only released in Japan and Europe. Then again, the English deliveries are so bad they are a different kind of hell.
Like any self-respecting survival horror game, "Michigan: Report from Hell" features plenty of death sequences, each more exaggerated than the last. Not only do most NPCs scream unconvincingly, the voice actor of the in-game boom mic operator, Brisco, yells "Oh my god!" at the top of his lungs so loudly that he pops his own microphone with frightening regularity.
Suda once told Destructoid that he doesn’t like horror games, even though he worked on "Michigan: Report from Hell." Either he forgot about this game (not surprising since it is better off forgotten), or its embarrassing voice acting convinced him to swear off the genre.
Final Fantasy 10 – The laughing scene
When audiences don’t hear overblown lines during the opening hours of a game, most might assume they are in the clear and breathe a sigh of relief. This assumption that overacting must permeate every scene is incorrect, as sometimes only a specific moment calls for histrionics — and you would be surprised how often viewers can misinterpret these moments.
"Final Fantasy 10" is a notorious example of overacting, since the game starts with good voice work. However, when the main character Tidus is trying to catch his bearings after being flung forward through time (and learning his father has been transformed into a destructive Lovecraftian whale), his voice acting seemingly takes a nosedive. In the infamous "Tidus laugh" segment, Tidus, well, utters one of the strangest and most robotic laughs in any medium. Audiences around the world have ragged on the scene for sounding forced, but the irony is that was the point all along.
Viewers who’ve dissected the moment and its context clues have noticed that Tidus laughed because Yuna was trying to cheer him up, or at the very least help him feign happiness. In other words, the laugh was meant to sound fake, because Tidus didn’t feel like laughing. According Tidus’ voice actor, James Arnold Taylor, "It was supposed to be an awkward, goofy, dumb laugh." That was the direction he received; it was how the moment was written in the script, and it is how the Japanese version plays out.
It’s hard to really call this moment overacting when the actors followed all the instructions to the letter, but it still sticks out to many fans as a truly strange moment.
Devil May Cry – Fill your soul with light
"Devil May Cry" had a weird development history. What was supposed to be an early concept for "Resident Evil 4" spiraled into its own rival franchise. The game’s creators had the good fortune of developing "Devil May Cry" with the lessons they learned from previous projects (and with stronger hardware), including how to implement proper voice direction. That doesn’t mean the game is devoid of overacting, though.
Compared to the rest of the franchise, the first "Devil May Cry" is sparse on narrative. Most cutscenes are designed to ferry players from point A to B, introduce new enemies, and stab Dante through the chest with new weapons. However, the game features several story beats that primarily revolve around Trish and her eventual redemption. Near the end of the game, Trish seemingly sacrifices herself to save Dante, and when he has a moment to breathe after a tense boss fight, he mourns her death — or at least tries to.
During this touching scene, Dante grieves that he should have saved Trish’s life, and that she is the second woman to sacrifice herself for him (the first was Dante’s mother). The speech is enough to make even devils cry, but then Dante’s voice cracks while shouting the phrase, "I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with light!" This gaffe, combined with an audio edit that makes the crack echo for several seconds, replaces tears with snickers.
Unfortunately, actor Drew Coombs never got the chance to make up for this moment. He was replaced in the next entry by another actor (who was subsequently replaced in the entry after that).
The Town With No Name – The entire game
Many video games try to provide a semblance of sanity, or at least consistency. Rules are set up early so that gamers have a basic idea of what to expect after only playing a fraction of the experience. But what happens when a game is part random fever dream musings and part MS paint project? Not even voice acting is safe in that instance.
"The Town With No Name" is an obscure point and click title for the Commodore CDTV, starring a nameless protagonist who gets into a series of gunfights as he wanders a similarly nameless town. Most jokes in the game fall flat, the graphics are lopsided, and the voice acting is an earful of cringe.
Without exception, every single character in "The Town With No Name" is different degrees of overacting. For instance, the main character has an overpowering, drawling cowboy accent that comes at the cost of emotive speech, and every time he kills an enemy, the soon-to-be-corpse spends more time rambling hammy nonsense than actually dying. To pile on the problems, the music sometimes drowns out the voices.
Some players believe "The Town With No Name" is bad by design and meant to be one big, extended joke. Whether or not that’s true, the game is still a collection of baffling events and overacted characters.
Postal 2 – Postal Dude’s constant quips
Game studios often try to make players live vicariously through mute first-person shooter heroes, like the Doom Slayer, but it used to be more common to give gun-toting protagonists loud personalities. Duke Nukem is widely regarded as the king of shotgun gab, but one FPS "hero" is even more bombastic than the rest — and he achieves this by overacting like crazy.
The highly controversial game "Postal 2" is one of the most crass and lowbrow experiences ever made, and players love it for that. The game follows the daily life of the edgy protagonist known only as the Postal Dude as he violently deals with job troubles, speeding tickets, and Gary Coleman. "Postal 2" is intentionally overblown and offensive, and the protagonist’s actor vocally winks at the audience to sell the jokes.
Every line out of the Postal Dude’s mouth, from general quips to cutscene dialogue, is hammed up to at least 11. The character’s intentionally weird intonations permanently set his emotional state to flat and scary snark, and even the most mundane of phrases are turned into jokes. Granted, Postal Dude is far from the only insane character with hammy lines, but he is the constant voice that accompanies players throughout the game, whispering cheesy cynicism in their ears.
Of course, "Postal 2" is definitely not for everyone. In fact, given the number of groups it makes fun of, it’s a miracle the game works for anyone. Even so, "Postal 2" still found a dedicated audience thanks to its combination of unapologetic humor and story beats, as well as a troupe of actors who overplayed their roles in service of the ongoing joke.
Dynasty Warriors 3 – Zhang Bao’s magic
The "Dynasty Warriors" franchise is simple, clean fun that has mastered the art of power fantasy. Players slaughter whole armies of disposable enemies with apocalyptic attacks that can topple mountains, and the only things in the game bigger than the spectacle are the characters. While the series takes inspiration from the Chinese novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," everyone and everything is larger than life — but some characters go a little too far.
Some of the most histrionic moments in any "Dynasty Warriors" game come from "Dynasty Warriors 3," courtesy of Zhang Bao. In the series’ earlier entries, he uses "magic" — which mostly consists of sandstorms and boulders — and sports an amusingly high-pitched voice. In one scene, he calls his enemies "flaming idiots" with a voice crack that would suck all the threat out of him if it weren’t for his soldier-crushing rocks. And during another scene, when his opponents engage in an uphill charge, he tries to put fear in their hearts by proclaiming he will show them his magic. But instead of cracking his voice, Zhang Bao stresses and elongates the word "magic" to the point where he sounds like a sheep. A sharply dressed sheep who can devastate enemies, but a sheep nonetheless.
Given the state of translated voice work at the time, you might assume Zhang Bao’s over the top acting was a symptom of the English localization, but he is just as shrill and bleating in the Japanese version. It might not be intimidating, but at least it’s accurate to the source material.
Arc Rise Fantasia – Cries of fear and pain
Localizing a game is no easy task. You have to translate lines, make sure they aren’t nonsensical bowls of word salad, and then hire actors who can sell the necessary emotions. Cutting corners is an easy way to ruin the product, especially when the budgeted actors both under and overact.
"Arc Rise Fantasia" is a throwback JRPG for the Wii. Like many older RPGs, the title features turn-based battles, a lot of grinding, and abysmal voice acting. Virtually every character emphasizes the strangest parts of what should be normal sentences, twisting them into bizarre caricatures of dialogue. Apparently, blame can be divvied up between developer Marvelous Entertainment, publisher Ignition Entertainment, and Japan-based localization company Entalize. According to SuperDerek RPGs, Marvelous wanted to "maximize profitability" by working with Ignition; Ignition Entertainment wanted to work with Entalize, and Entalize delivered the baffling performances because of its lack of experience.
While decent line delivery is rare in "Arc Rise Fantasia," two particular moments stand out for betraying the tone of their scenes. The first is a cry of fear from a man about to be murdered by two schoolgirls with a scythe and parasol (as one does in JRPGs), and the second is a cry of pain from a playable character who was uppercut by a young girl. Both deliveries sound utterly unconvincing.
"Arc Rise of Fantasia" is so thoroughly immersed in bad acting that it circles back into "so bad it’s good" territory, and these two overacted scenes are the cheese-flavored cherries on top.
Shenmue – Milk’s perfect for a schoolboy
Budget is everything in video game development. Studios on a shoestring budget need to scrimp and save however they can, either by making smaller, linear titles or by cutting out costly voicework. When teams have an influx of funding, they can more easily afford larger worlds, multiple endings, and seasoned voice actors. You might assume that "Shenmue" could have hired some excellent voices with its $47 million budget , but that isn’t the case. The game’s dialogue is infamously wooden, and when characters do put emotion into their lines, it leads to some serious overacting.
During Ryo Hazuki‘s early quest for a Chinese sailor, he enters a bar (because sailors apparently like bars) and is greeted by a bartender who hands him a glass of milk. One of the patrons tries to rub salt in the insult by snidely proclaiming that milk is "perfect for a schoolboy," but he goes overboard on the sarcasm. There is no subtlety in the delivery, which makes it sound less like a snide, mocking comment meant for a character and more like a loud, boisterous PA system announcement.
Not only is the delivery confusingly over the top in its own right, but it is one of the few instances of emotive acting in a game with strangely flat performances. It all makes the scene even more noteworthy for all the wrong reasons.