English dubbing has been a controversial subject for a long time, especially concerning Japanese properties. Many believe that the original voice work is superior and that any subsequent attempt is flawed and lacking in return, which is certainly a true statement that could be said of many different shows and games.
Enter the Xenoblade Chronicles series of games: Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii), Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch), Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (Switch). Somehow, these games have not only embraced their English dub, but also surpassed the original voice work in a variety of ways. One of the core ways it achieves this revelry is through its strategic and ingenious use of character accents, something that is strangely unutilised in a lot of media aside from gag characters.
The use of accents in Xenoblade Chronicles has continued to change and evolve as the games have progressed, to the point where we are at today where accents are expected to be an integral part of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 launching on July 29th.
Part of this may sound silly: it’s just people speaking differently, how is that important? Let’s talk about it and the importance of accents in Xenoblade Chronicles.
If you wish to learn more about the various accents in Xenoblade Chronicles and what makes them different, Ace Linguist has a page showcasing each difference between the major accents used in the Xenoblade franchise.
What Makes Xenoblade Chronicles’ Accents Different?
The first thing we must do is quantify what makes the accents in the series different from other JRPGs like Final Fantasy or Nier.
For a large portion of the gaming industry, including games outside of the JRPG or RPG genre, American English is usually the go-to for voice-over work: many of the most prolific and experienced voice actors are American-based or American born, meaning that it is just makes sense to cater to their natural style of speaking. Games like Fallout or The Last of Us are obviously set in the United States and so their accents are a warranted thing, but it does bleed over into areas where it maybe shouldn’t: should American voices be as common as they are in fantasy titles?
The voice actors who play these roles usually do a fantastic job but it does pose an interesting question. When many think of the fantastical, they tend to think of the unordinary, the strange. To many, the various accents of the United Kingdom and its many dialects would classify under this umbrella of strangeness – those from London have a completely different way of speaking to those up in the North. While true of essentially every country and continent in the world, there is something about the UK’s ties to magic and fairy stories alongside that link to the vast accents that run across its coast that make it a haven for the fantasy genre.
It was something strangely absent from video games for a long time, the use of accents from the UK aside from the typical posh bloke or cockney urchin. That changed with Xenoblade Chronicles.
While certainly not the first to use British accents, it employed them in such a unique way that it just stuck with people. The accents of the characters and how they spoke were actually used to not only build character, but the world too, and without falling to the typical stereotypes associated with these accents. This would only snowball as the games progressed, with the accents becoming now diverse and ingrained into the fabric of the world with each passing game.
Xenoblade Chronicles embraced the strange variety in English speaking accents outside of America, something that would come to define the series in a great way.
Who Speaks What
So what accents am I actually referring to here?
In the original Xenoblade Chronicles there was actually only one distinct accent type, but it was their uniqueness and difference when compared to other voices in the gaming sphere of its release. The main accent of Xenoblade Chronicles was Southern English, which was used across the vast majority of characters: Homs, High Entia, Machina, even the Nopon all spoke in this same accent.
For Xenoblade Chronicles, it was how this one accent was altered by the class of the characters speaking it that left its impact. High Entia Princess Melia Antiqua speaks in a very high brow, stuck up way of speaking that is shared amongst a lot of High Entia, where as Reyn is a lot more straight forward and simple with his dialect. They speak roughly in the same accent, but it is their class that separates them and makes them different – even between Homs, Shulk definitely sounds more posh than Fiora or Reyn, which tells us something about his character.
The original game toyed around with accents and how they adapted to different classes, showcasing a unique side of worldbuilding and storytelling that was quite rare.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and beyond, however, the team at Monolith Soft went all in on the accent front. The accents present in the second game are:
- Northern English is spoken by Rex and those of the Leftherian Archipelago.
- Welsh is spoken by Nia and those from Gormott.
- Scottish is spoken by Morag, Niall and those from Mor Ardain.
- Australian is spoken by Vandamn and those from Uraya.
- Southern English is spoken by Zeke and those from Tantal.
- Even American is used here, spoken by those of Indol as well as by the majority of Blades.
As you can see, the sheer amount of diversity present is staggering, with each Titan housing its own civilisation of people who speak in their own tongue. For the second game, they even used accents outside of the UK in order to further that feeling of difference and diversity, with the American accents of the Blades appearing so foreign when compared to any of the British based accents, once again serving to help build the world and its characters.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 seems to be building up on this trend once more, with a mixture of accents from both games: Noah, Lanz and Eunie all seem to originate from that Xenoblade Chronicles 1 style of accent (with Eunie’s being a bit more Cockney) where as Mio is Welsh, Sena is an American Blade (presumably) and Taion is Southern English. All the accents have been melted down, intermingled from their time apart in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, becoming just as messy and unique as the real world.
What the series achieves in its use of various accents and dialects is a uniqueness and a memorability that is hard to find. People remember characters like Rex or Nia because they ‘sound funny’, but they remember them. It makes people pay attention, it makes people engage with the world even when they don’t know they are doing it.
Accents in Xenoblade Chronicles Worldbuilding
I previously eluded to the world building potential evident in the Xenoblade Chronicles series and how the use of varying accents accentuates this.
By using a variety of accents and dialects, the world of Xenoblade comes to life and starts to feel like a real world… if we ignore the massive monsters people make their homes on. You begin to identify people based on their accents, you begin to notice things about the world that you otherwise wouldn’t.
One example is in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Chapter 3. When the group reaches the Urayan capital, they are treated to a performance at the theatre which tells the story of Addam and how he and the Aegis fought off calamity. The interesting part here, and one I only noticed after watching the sequence again, is that the narrator and the performers are all Mor Ardainian. In the context of Alrest, Mor Ardain and Uraya are constantly being mentioned as close to war with one another, that they will soon erupt into a great battle. We see people in the Argentum Trade Guild preparing for weapons, Rex is told that he should try salvaging weapons, numerous Mor Ardanian outposts are set up on other Titans to ensure their success, it is a cutting undercurrent throughout all of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
However, in this moment, in this theatre, these Mor Ardanian people do not care about that. Instead, they put aside the hatred their two nations have for one another and have stayed in Uraya to perform, to create art. This is such a small moment, one that is never even commented on, but one of the best examples of background worldbuilding. It showcases that the people of this world are not just single-minded slaves to the ambitions and ideals of their kingdoms, that they have their own beliefs and can choose what they wish. You get all of that not through direct dialogue, but simply through associated because of their accents.
It also allows us to speculate. In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Sena appears to be a Blade, or at least a descendant of one. She speaks in an American accent (reminiscent of Blades from Xenoblade 2), she has what appears to be a core crystal and she is from Agnus, the faction affiliated with X2. However Taion doesn’t, at least outwardly. He doesn’t speak in an American accent, in fact his is Southern English like the Shulk, and he doesn’t have a core crystal… yet he too is from Agnus. Is Sena the only Blade or part of a small group? Is Taion hiding his Blade nature?
There are so many questions that spring to mind, and the accents are capable of allowing us to ask those questions. There are the races from both Xenoblade Chronicles 1 (the High Entia and the Machina) and those exclusive to the second game (Gormotti, Blades), so what has happened to the world? We are able to draw more conclusions because of the accents and what they may mean as a result of their distinctness.
Accents in Xenoblade Chronicles Character Building
While similar to the world building aspect, accents build character just as strongly.
Just take the example of Blades. By speaking in an American accent, they distance themselves from most of the other lifeforms in Alrest – they are alone in the way they speak, not like any other group. This makes Blades like Pyra and Mythra and Malos seem all the more alien, they are not unlike anything else, not even any other Blade, and their accents emphasise this. Even Poppi’s stilted, robotic American accent makes her stand out as an artificial Blade, one who is merely emulating real Blades.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 1, Dickson is much the same way. He doesn’t sound like anyone else, he is distinct, he is unique and there is a legitimate reason for this that is foreshadowed by his accent. Shulk’s dialect is more wordy and proper than say Reyn, because he spends time reading and experimenting all day where as Reyn spends his days training in the defence force. This showcases their character to you near immediately, even if you can’t see it straight away, and it reveals parts about them that you didn’t even need to be told.
And once again, it allows us to speculate. Eunie is a High-Entia, a race famous for their high class dialect and their tight upper lip. Yet there is a brashness to her, a cockiness that isn’t there with other High Entia. Is it just Eunie who is like this, or has being integrated with other races made that dialect less strict for all High Entia? We do not know, but the accents and dialects allow us to speculate.
Just as the accents tell us more about the world, on a superficial level it allows us to remember the characters more. You recall what Nia sounds like because, unfortunately, Welsh isn’t an accent heard much in video games. You remember characters like Xord because of how different he sounds to everyone else in the game, you remember Rex for the same reason. The additional fact that many of Xenoblade’s voice actors are not massive names, you get to hear these characters and remember them for being authentically them, instead of remembering them as their voice actor.
Accents are a very special part that foregrounds a lot of work in nearly every aspect of Xenoblade Chronicles, and its work in aiding the character building is some of its finest.
The Xenoblade Chronicles series has become one that is special to many, many people. They love its characters, its world, its gameplay (however overcomplicated it may be), its uniqueness compared to anything else on the market. Accents play a large role in all of these features, ranging from making a character stand out more, foregrounding environmental details about where certain races live, even just making it possible to understand the banter thrown about in combat because everyone sounds so distinct.
We don’t think about them often, but they really do play such a big part in keeping this series going. The English dub of Xenoblade Chronicles games has always had its detractors: to get that unique feeling sound to everyone, sometimes some performances do tread close to being a bit more amateurish than other productions (many people point to instances like Rex’s shouting for example), while some just find the different accents annoying.
However, its in that messiness that magic is made. The accents of Xenoblade are reflected on every part and show just have dedicated Monolith Soft is to creating an engaging, deep and significant world in the JRPG genre, with all its mess and complication alongside it.
It is this love and this attention that makes the accents of Xenoblade Chronicles so important and why I will never play in anything but English, if only so I can hear the Welsh cat say funny words.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 launches on July 29th 2022 exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.