Narration in dialogue - yay or nay?

Mixing dialogue with narration?

  • Yay!

    Votes: 3 25.0%
  • Nay!

    Votes: 9 75.0%

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    12

Parallax Panda

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Let’s consider the pros and cons of not limiting the dialogue to just speech but also including a narrators voice. It’s rarely if ever done within the JRPG genre, which to be fair, we’re all making games based on.
For this very reason I’m thinking that it might not fit well into your typical RM game, or maybe even make your players uncomfortable because of how unfamiliar it would be.

Any opinions on this?

In case someone is wondering what I’m talking about here’s how a normal JRPG/RM game would handle dialogue;

“Are you lost?”

And here’s the same dialogue with some narration;

The dustman regards you with a stony gaze. “Are you lost?”

Basically, adding narration would make it closer to how text is written for books and visual novels. The above sentence is from the western CRPG classic of the 90’s, ‘Planscape Torment’ by the way.

But putting that aside, while the obvious pros to doing it this way is more engaging text, allowing for deeper storytelling, which might work better for text heavy games... but there’s drawbacks too. Mainly that we’re making games, not a books. And it might be weird for the player if you choose to tell what’s happening rather than showing what is going on?

Also if you think this is a good idea, what POV perspective should the narration be written in? Past tense or present? Third person or second person? Etc...
 
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Uzuki

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That depends on the tone of your game. It's popular in CRPGs because most of them are going after a pen and paper D&D vibe and it works there because of how High Fantasy is written. I guess it all depends on how immersive you make the world and writing.
 

Parallax Panda

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Well, that is true of course. But since it’s usually not a good idea to mix methods, the biggest drawback that I can see is that you’d most likely have to sacrifice choreographed onscreen movement including emotes... since you’re writing all that out in text. And consistency is probably to prefer in this regard.

Now, a good writer can probably squeeze in more emotion and information in narrated dialogue than most pixelated sprites would be able to express. So there is that. But you’ll force the player to read more all while taking away interesting movement from the screen (sprites looking left, right, moving, jumping, showing emotes and so on).

I dunno if it’s a good trade off.

[Edit; I kinda want to do this in my own game, but I fear it might not fit the game I’m considering it for since it’s an comedy RPG.]
 
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Xenphir

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:kaopride:I have seen narration used in an old sega genesis rpg called Crusader of Centy. It really comes down to your animation. Can your sprites blink, walk around, move their arms, etc? If so it would be best to show through animation. However for pixel art games especially with lower resolution I feel mixing is okay and even sometimes necessary to explain deeper parts of a scene. I recommend not including them in the same text box however. Instead I think the best way is to describe small narratives in a thin text box in center of screen with no particular bust image, then change to dialogue with a text box on the bottom. This will make it so you can use both, but has a more video game feel instead of a book.
 

Soryuju

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I think you’re right that standard, dry narration could be a tough fit for a comedy RPG, which would rely pretty heavily on the timing of its jokes and sharp delivery of its lines. However, it could work better if the narration itself was humorous.

The appropriate way to go about this would vary depending on your game’s tone and general style of humor. It could be as simple as giving humorous descriptions instead of serious ones. Even if the lines aren’t all hilarious on their own, just making your player smile with some light jokes could be worthwhile. For example, instead of describing the dustman and his “stony gaze,” above, the narrator might inform us that the dustman has a terrible hangover and could really use a cup of coffee. Then the player will interpret the dustman’s tone very differently when he asks “Are you lost?”

Some TV comedies like Arrested Development use the narrator to regularly comment on the happenings of the story, and even though this type of narration often breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule, it’s a stylistic choice that’s executed well and creates a unique comedic experience. Part of being a skilled writer is knowing when and how to break the rules of writing. You don’t often hear that advice, though, since there are usually good reasons for those rules, and less experienced writers will rarely be able to properly gauge the “when” and “how” for each situation.

If your comedy uses a more meta sense of humor, you could go so far as making the narrator their own character. They could interject with their own opinions on the plot, offer deadpan commentary to highlight the silliness of situations, play favorites amongst the cast, get sidetracked talking about their own experiences, or (if you really want to go meta) even have them bicker with the characters.

This is definitely a riskier approach that requires restraint and good execution in general. Done poorly, it would regularly derail your story, drag out scenes, and annoy your players. And some people just flat-out won’t enjoy this type of humor, though that’s often a risk with comedy in general.

Here’s an example of a very meta narrator in a goofy little scenario I thought up:

Narrator: As the foul demon approaches, Harold puts on his tiara and prepares to fight.

Harold: Oy! It’s a helmet! We’ve been through this already.

Narrator: Helmets cover more than just your forehead, Harold.

Harold: It’s for visibility!

Narrator: It makes you feel pretty.

Therese (to Harold): Time to focus, princess! Here it comes!

Harold: Always appreciate the support, Therese.



So yeah, narration in a comedy RPG isn’t a hard “no,” but it will definitely require you to examine whether your story would actually benefit from its inclusion, and what style of narration would lend itself best to your game’s humor. If your scenes are packed with character choreography and you don’t think the narration would fundamentally change the players’ experience, maybe it’s better to pass. Based on what you’ve written above, it sounds like you’re already thinking about these questions, so ultimately it will just come down to your judgment and your playtesters’ feedback on the execution.
 

Kes

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@Parallax Panda This thread really reads as though you are trying out ideas for your game (I thought that about another thread you started as well), but General Discussion is not meant to be looking at individual projects.
 

Parallax Panda

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@Kes
Well, I did edit in that tidbit about my personal project in an earlier post as an after thought. And reading it again, the wording in the first post can come across as slightly leaning in that direction. But this was really more meant as a general discussion and I’m happy to tweak the original post a bit if nessicary.

[Edit; Done, I’ve reworded the original post.]

As for the other thread, I don’t know what you’re referring to. I have no other threads in ‘General Discussion’ so it might not have been me? Unless you’re talking about some thread in a different part of the forums...
 
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Kes

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@Parallax Panda I thought you had another one over in Game Mechanics Design, but I can't immediately see it, so I think you must be right and I've mixed you up with someone else. My apologies for that.
 

Milennin

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I don't like narration in dialogue, unless you're making a visual novel, in which case it's fine and should be the way to go. For RPG's, less text is better, in my opinion. Let visuals and gameplay do the talking for you. I play RPG Maker games to play them, not to read them, so less text is always preferable to me.
 

Aesica

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As others have said, that's fine for visual novels, but not so much for RPGs. Since RPG presentations are more than just text and illustrations, we can simply show the player a lot of that stuff, and I'd say that's definitely the way to go:

The woodsman turns to face you as he hears you approach. "What are you doing here?"

-vs-

[Event sequence with a snapping twig sound, pause, exclamation or question balloon above the NPC, followed by him turning toward the player]
"What are you doing here?"
 

Elissiaro

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[Event sequence with a snapping twig sound, pause, exclamation or question balloon above the NPC, followed by him turning toward the player]
"What are you doing here?"
On the other hand if you don't have art skills or the money to comission lots of busts with different emotion, you can't really do that with emotions or hand motions and such.
Also imo the emote bubbles are kinda silly, so they don't fit with a serious dark game. (Escpecially if you use say the medieval tileset or something similar.)
Not to mention there aren't emotes for all feelings (I know there was one game that used the sweatdrop emote for crying, which just ruined every emotional scene...)
 

Parallax Panda

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I must say I see the point in what both of you are saying. It’s true we can show more than a visual novel, and that should be used of course. But like @Elissiaro said, more subtitle movements such as hand motions will not translate well to a small sprite. Unless you have lots of detailed busts for each character... which let’s face it, is not very likely for 99% of all hobby indies on this forum. And even then there are things you wouldn’t be able to show.

What most JRPG’s solution to that problem have been is simply not to bother with it. Which is fine, but it does limit your possibilities for storytelling.

Then again, it might be silly to write “The woodsman turns to face you...” when that’s something the sprite already shows. And I know many people don’t like reading a lot, especially this current generation, and if they are part of your target audience that might be worth considering too.

So I guess it boils down to completely excluding narrations at the cost of of depth in storytelling, or try to mix in a little bit of it with the risk that it might not blend well.
 

Aesica

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On the other hand if you don't have art skills or the money to comission lots of busts with different emotion, you can't really do that with emotions or hand motions and such.
Also imo the emote bubbles are kinda silly, so they don't fit with a serious dark game. (Escpecially if you use say the medieval tileset or something similar.)
Not to mention there aren't emotes for all feelings (I know there was one game that used the sweatdrop emote for crying, which just ruined every emotional scene...)
Yeah, I can see what you mean about the balloon icons. Still, even though the sweatdrop and such are lost causes in that regard, the question/exclamation ones could potentially be restyled to fit darker, more serious games.

I guess my point is that, in all my years of playing RPGs, I've never once seen one actually try to narrate actions via text, so it'd be odd, unfamiliar territory which might be offputting to some people. Earlier generation games would've been prime candidates for such a thing due to their subpar graphic capabilities, and yet they didn't for whatever reason. Still, if people want to try it, I say go for it. It might be interesting to see if it can be pulled off successfully.
 

Parallax Panda

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I guess my point is that, in all my years of playing RPGs, I've never once seen one actually try to narrate actions via text, so it'd be odd, unfamiliar territory which might be offputting to some people.
That's one concern I had. I'm sure it's possible to pull off with the right story written by the right person, but it might still not do well due to the unfamiliarity of the current (J)RPG community as a whole.

But then again, let's ask ourselves this; why does narration work so well in games such as Planscape Torment? Released in 1999, it's definitely an old-school RPG with pixelated sprites, although a western one so the aesthetics are slightly different.

It's been ages since I played that game and my memory might serve me wrong, but even though it's sprites allow for way more details than your average RM sprite does, the game doesn't use as much on-screen movement during it's dialogues. If I remember correctly most sprites has an idle animation and does not move at all, like ever (maybe they turn to face you when you initiate dialogue though, I'm not sure).
In any case almost everything is text and yet I'd argue it's storytelling is many times more engaging than your average JRPG. Heck, personally, I'd say the narration wins even against high ranked classics such as Final fantasy and Chrono Trigger.

But that's my opinion and while I don't love reading, I can tolerate it. Though I have a feeling that in the current market the average players attention span and the amount of effort they're willing to put into a game, is much less than it was ~20 years ago when Planscape was released. Heavily narrated games, even if the story is fantastic, might be part of a niche market nowadays and as such it might be a risky move to try something like that in 2018? But if one were to try it, limiting on screen movement/emotion-bubbles etc and just have your NPC's stand around with idle animations might work better. I dunno. Maybe, maybe not.
 

Ksi

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I've seen it done a few times and never really liked it. It comes off as telling instead of showing and in a game where you're supposed to be seeing the character running around from the POV of a god (that is, seeing through ceilings and watching from above) it just makes things a bit more awkward to be told what you can already see.

Save it for if you're making a first-person POV game, I think, or a Visual Novel where you're not seeing things from afar.
 

Milennin

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But then again, let's ask ourselves this; why does narration work so well in games such as Planscape Torment?
Why it works so well there is because it's written so well. Reading a bunch of text is only tolerable if the quality of the writing is outstanding, but this is a skill that is hard to come by. Most people using RPG Maker struggle to match the narration of a typical JRPG, and you wonder why games that try to go for more aren't being successful.

Then, there's also the issue with audience. Most people that are looking for RPG Maker games to play are there either for the JRPG experience or for the 2D horror games. Those are the engine's 2 main genres that attract the most players.
 

onekksu

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I have a game in the making that is more of a Visual Novel (as in, no gameplay) but is composed of 99% dialogue.
And I chose to remove the narration because I take advantage of the RM engine, that is: detailed maps, custom poses for the sprites and busts with a panel of emotions.
If I were to make the same game using, say, VN Maker, that wouldn't work as much because I'd lose the maps & sprites.

So, I'd say that it mostly depends on your engine and what you make with it.
 

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I have a hard time articulating why, but I don't think it works well for this medium. It's kind of like how the narrator can tell you exactly how a character is feeling, or how they say something, in a novel - but a narrator telling you the same in a movie would feel ridiculous. (And on a slight tangent, when that information is left out in the movie because it's not something conveyed well by that form, it's also really bad, which is why not all good books make for good movies.)

So it's interesting that this kind of narration tends to work well in text-based adventure games, but would feel terrible in a vivid, immersive, graphical modern RPG (whether JRPG or WRPG). I guess maybe when you grab hold of one or more of a person's senses, certain expectations come with it.
 

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