Ahmet (residentevil) wrote,
Ahmet
residentevil

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Gibberish Languages: Star Fox 64

When most of your time revolves around linguistics, foreign languages and video games, you tend to take note of the methods of communication employed within your favorite interactive universes.

While many games with voice acting just stick to spoken English or Japanese (depending on the country of origin/release), other games go that extra mile to invent their own language for the sake of immersion. In a lot of cases, this is a practice I am quite fond of.

Unless it's for a highly refined production like "Metal Gear," the quality of voice acting in video games can greatly vary and more often than not fall flat. The dramatic effect is lost in many games due to a lack of motivation in reading lines from unmotivated scripts. The inappropriateness is compounded by the fact that a lot of established universes are fantasy worlds whose linguistic histories in all probability would spawn languages quite distinct from the ones we hear in our own world. Given this context, if the characters in such a game have to vocalize something it's best that it is (phonetically) something with no preexisting frame of reference. Something unreal. Something artificial.



When it comes to how they actually sound, the artificial languages of video games could be plotted onto a spectrum of stylized expression that ranges anywhere from engagingly serious to overtly frivolous. On the former end you have the elegantly crafted speech from epics like "Panzer Dragoon" and "Shadow of the Colossus." On the latter end you have complete gibberish like the never ending babble in "Okami" or the childish "Phantomile" dialect of "Klonoa."

The aforementioned titles hit the market in a time where prerecorded dialogue was not only possible but in fact one of the big new things about gaming (especially during the CD-ROM based 32-bit era). However, the developers of these particular games avoided any sort of technological bandwagon and instead chose to tell their stories (successfully, I might add) through odd mumblings, adding a layer of abstraction to their individual narratives.





This leads us to one of Nintendo's flagship games for their N64, "Star Fox 64." The game was not only a well designed shooter with good replay value, but it featured some cutting edge things for its time: great graphics, a wonderful score, cinematic presentation of a story, force feedback support and most importantly: voice acting for the entire Star Fox crew.

While the English voice acting for "Star Fox 64" is mocked from time to time (I have yet to figure out why in this day and age the "barrel roll" line is so popular), it is generally regarded as complementary to the overall game, which I believe is the most important quality of voice acting. A great example are old the "Resident Evil" games: designed as tributes to B-movies, the lousy dialogue you hear fits in perfectly.

But for those of us living in the US and Japan, we didn't quite hear everything from Fox and his crew. Unique to the European release of "Star Fox 64" (entitled "Lylat Wars" for legal reasons) there exists a brand new language track in addition to your standard English: "Lylat."

Watch this video to see the Lylat language in action:



If you're wondering what the significance of this is, do yourself a favor and load up the original "Star Fox" on the Super Nintendo. The Lylat language offered in the European release of the sequel is a recreation of the gibberish language spoken in the first Super Nintendo game. Yes, Nintendo's cinematic masterpiece of 1997 can substitute its epic in-game dialogue with complete gibberish.

The original "Star Fox" had gibberish language. It's one of the quirks people remember most about it, as a matter of fact. As advanced as the game was for its time, the Fox crew had to communicate with each other for an enhanced gaming experience, but there lacked the means for actual prerecorded dialogue. Thus the Lylat language was born (or synthesized, I should say) under specific circumstances to fulfill a specific necessity. What made this language fitting was it was primarily spoken by anthropomorphic creatures in a far away galaxy - all the more reason it should sound weird and therefore alien.

It's obvious why the US and Japanese releases of the N64 sequel lack this feature - when you release a product in the two biggest markets that's supposed to flaunt all the capabilities of your hardware, you don't want the realism to be shattered by "BABBABADUBAP!!!"

What's not so obvious is why Nintendo of Europe took the time to implement this option. For those who haven't played the original, it would appear to be a simple if not odd novelty: "Oh look honey, they're aliens. This is how they speak. How cute." For those who have played the original, it arguably stands out as fan service, not unlike the "legacy mode" option in "Mega Man 9" which would emulate the hardware limitations of the previous games to really deliver that feeling of nostalgia for long time players.

But as great a game as the Super NES "Star Fox" was, it was the only entry in the franchise before the N64 release. It's not like there had been a long-established practice of gibberish Lylat talk that fans had become accustomed to; the language at this point could not be considered representative of its mythos. Lylat was definitely not on the level of the constructed "Klingon" language which was prevalent throughout every iteration of "Star Trek," a series that had spanned across several decades. This gibberish was just a one-time only thing! It's fan service but perhaps a little too soon.



All mystery aside, I had to sit down and play through the game with this newly discovered option. And I have to say, I am glad that it exists in at least the European release. My play-through of "Lylat Wars" was quite enjoyable, and as a classic I had been meaning to revisit for years, I am happy to be able to do it this way now.

I always thought "Star Fox 64" had beautiful levels and a fantastic soundtrack. Because I was no longer hearing and having to parse English, the unintelligible Lylat language blended in perfectly with the environment and allowed me to focus on and better appreciate the visuals and musical score. Not only that, but not hearing the same cheesy [English] lines of dialogue over and over again really helped the game age in terms of presentation. Let's be honest: Since 1997 there has been a lot of improvement in video game voice acting, especially when you consider the influx of professional and celebrity talent from other industries. "Star Fox 64" has fossilized in this department. In the 21st century the gibberish language actually fits the game better in my opinion.

For those who've been meaning to fire up "Star Fox 64" for nostalgic reasons, track down "Lylat Wars" to experience it in a new way.



Alright, I'll go back to focusing on real languages now. First day of class and I already have Korean homework!
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