Like all aspects of gaming, video game dialogue has been improving beyond the robotic, synthesised one liners of the 80s to fluid speeches that enhance and add to some already excellent story telling. Good dialogue can have us reeling from the profound implications, ready to lay down our lives in a suicide mission or just chuckling at the absurdity. We all have a favourite video game speech, here’s just a selection of ten particularly awesome offerings.
Spoiler warning: Spoilorz. We got them.
#10 Agnus Redux
(Dante & Agnus – Devil May Cry 4)
The Devil May Cry series hardly boasts a narrative worthy of all the literary classics put together…or even a narrative at all. You play as a cocky twat in a red coat and hack and/or slash your way through generic demonic environment with little more motivation than ‘herp derp the boss called you a queer,’ and the games are damned cool because of it. Dialogue, if it can be called that, is usually limited to an ‘ooh you burned them’ one liner when confronted with a boss whose entire vocabulary consists of, ‘I kill you now!’
However, Devil May Cry 4 displays one of the most bizarre conversations in the series, if not in video games generally. Our hero Dante, who has given us such sterling lines as, ‘flock off featherface,’ confronts Agnus, a cultist who has been experimenting on humans and demons and gained demonic power in the process. While Agnus muses on the nature of humanity’s inherent weaknesses, Dante criticises the extent to which Agnus has gone to increase his own power, which is probably the most conversation that the series has ever seen. Oh and did I mention that the entire scene takes place in the style of an overblown Shakespearean drama? Coz that’s kind of important. The two have a philosophical debate while parodying their own overly dramatic style complete with soliloquies, asides and a skull in the hand. It is as unexpected as it is hilarious.
#9 Wake up and smell the ashes
(G Man – Half Life 2)
After spending so many years waiting for the release of Half Life 2 the opening scenes do not disappoint! Faced with the mysterious G Man once more, you as Gordon Freeman are treated to a brief introduction where G Man sets the scene for your newest adventure. And it isn’t a positive scene. The wonder of this short piece of dialogue is that it manages to convey so much but by saying so very little.
In under a minute he establishes that he has some kind of control over you that has allowed him to suspend you until this moment, that he appreciates that now is the right time for you to come out of suspension so you can basically save the world but, his final line ‘wake up and smell the ashes’ suggests that the world you’re about to visit has gone to hell. And how! All delivered in his creepy stunted tone which Freeman probably wouldn’t want to respond to even if he could.
#8 NPC conversations
These days we are quite used to hearing NPCs having conversations with each other. Between the NCR patrolling the Mojave and wishing for a nuclear winter in Fallout: New Vegas to the idle chatter between goons in Batman: Arkham City, the notion of overhearing NPCs talking to each other is not surprising or most of the time, even interesting. But there was a time when this was not so! A time when NPCs were limited to saying hello, if they said anything at all, and then staring at you while you went about your business.
In the Thief series one of the more interesting points was that you could stealth your way behind somebody while they were having a conversation. After a bit of eavesdropping you can dispatch your opponant and continue on. One of the funnier moments is when you come across two guards, both tasked with general guarding duties who are having a rather heated discussion about the chastity of a particular lady. In fact, if you hide in the shadows and allow the scene to unfold, the discussion becomes a full blown argument which results in the guards drawing their weapons on each other, making your job a helluva lot easier and giving you a laugh in the process.
#7 I will do it without false hope
(Yuna – Final Fantasy X)
The protagonist of Final Fantasy X; seventeen year old Yuna, is undertaking an epic journey that will ultimately result in her death, assuming she does not die along the way. It’s pretty gruelling stuff. All she has to maintain her is her conviction that though she will die, she is giving her life in a just cause and will ultimately save the world.
At the culmination of the journey she is faced with the implications of her quest and it is revealed to her that her cause is futile, she will never defeat the being plaguing her world, she can only offer the people the lie that this time it might not come back, honest! While every other summoner before her accepts this in the hope that things might be different this time, they might be the ones to break the cycle (probably because it takes freaking ages to reach this point, imagine having to backtrack after throwing that towel in), Yuna stands her ground, dismisses the religion which has maintained her spirit thus far and vows that she will defeat the cycle, even at the cost of her own life, but she’s damned if she’s buying into their continued lies.
#6 Outer Heaven
(Big Boss – Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker)
There are a number of speeches from the Metal Gear Solid series that could have made this list, but one of the shortest and underrated is Big Boss’ (formerly Naked Snake) speech at the end of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Tired of the way in which governments exploit and misuse the military, Big Boss decides that he is going to open his doors to any disenfranchised soldier and give them a home and a purpose. They will become a private military organisation fighting because that’s what they do, but on their own terms, not on a corrupt government’s. It nicely preludes some of the more popular speeches in Metal Gear Solid 4 where Solid Snake expounds on how war is controlled to such an extent that soldiers might as well be numbers on a screen rather than active participants.
What makes this such a powerful speech is the sense of hope and the sheer good intentions Big Boss has. This is a prequel and so we know that things don’t work out the way he hoped. We know that his organisation becomes one of the most infamous mercenary unit in the world and we know that eventually it will all fall down around him, but for the moment we see him starting out simply trying to offer a home to all those soldiers abandoned by their countries and left without a home.
#5 Just go
(GlaDOS – Portal 2)
Like MGS, there are a wealth of lines in the Portal series that could have made this list, Cave Johnson’s ‘lemons’ speech has become somewhat iconic for one. But nothing is quite as chilling as the final lines from Portal 2 where, after saving your life the primary antagonist turns to you and says that trying to kill you is just too hard. It would be better for everyone involved if you just left.
The line is the culmination of two games which has seen GlaDOS mostly trying to kill you, save for taking a brief time out when she is reduced to a battery, powered by a potato. But whereas in most games an unlikely pairing of opponents results in some kind of bond where they realise their enmity is based on a misunderstanding or a they discover a mutual appreciation for the other’s positive qualities, putting their differences aside and uniting them in a common goal, GlaDOS learns just the one thing; killing Chell is hard; really hard and life would be so much simpler if she just let Chell leave. The ending takes on new significance when you consider that GlaDOS knows what the outside world is like. As the game takes place within the Half Life 2 universe the world has been invaded and enslaved by the Combine so it’s not like Chell is going to leave and make a new life for herself. In fact, GlaDOS knows that in all probability Chell will be killed anyway so telling her to just pack her bag and get out is some pretty harsh shit!
#4 Hold the line
(Captain Kirrahe – Mass Effect 2)
In any game where your protagonist is involved with a military organisation you are going to have the obligatory motivational speech before the final battle, which will almost always be billed as a suicide mission. It wouldn’t be fun unless you were overcoming odds that would make William Hill blush. Usually you can expect a long speech affirming the values which has led you to this moment, how you will all go down in history for your efforts here today whether you live or die, how your people will always remember you as heroes etc etc.
Not so in Mass Effect. Before the final, suicidal battle Captain Kirrahe motivates his men, and the player, with a stirring speech which is short and to the point. In a twist on the usual kind of military motivation Kirrahe assures his men that they probably won’t be remembered by History, that because they are espionage agents their names will probably be sealed and their role in the battle never spoken of again. But that doesn’t matter! They’re going to hold their ground regardless. In less than a minute and with no false promises of glory and/or immortality Kirrahe has us ready to storm into battle even knowing we’ll probably die in the first thirty seconds.
#3 How’s everybody doing?
(Squall – Final Fantasy VIII)
Anti-social introvert and emo teenager to boot, Squall Leonheart delivers one of the most poignant speeches in the Final Fantasy series when he is asked to take command of the Garden, a military school filled with teen students and children, and take it into battle against another Garden. The students have already been holding their own and are absolutely exhausted or injured. Bear in mind these are teenagers and so rushing into bloody battles where you watch your comrades die does not usually appear in second period right after double maths. So they’re not exactly going to be receptive to the notion that actually the battle has yet to begin.
Yet what makes the speech so poignant is less the situation and more the guy giving it. Squall doesn’t want to be in charge, he is thrust into a leadership position out of necessity when the only adult present, the man in charge of the school no less, sees the rival Garden approach and throw his arms up screaming, ‘nope’ before hiding under a desk. Squall himself is only a teenager and has graduated just the week before, so suddenly putting him in charge of the entire school and telling him to lead the students into a battle is a pretty big ask. The speech is not a motivational ‘ooh rah’ ‘let’s go get ‘em guys’ type that has you storming head first towards the enemy with the closest library book to hand as your only weapon, instead it’s the speech you would expect from a kid whose just been put into a position he neither sought nor wants and is just trying to get by. *Manly tear*
#2 A man chooses, a slave obeys
(Andrew Ryan – Bioshock)
Andrew Ryan; business magnate, philosopher and all round awesome orator has some damn fine speeches in Bioshock. While you progress through his fallen underwater city of Rapture you are treated to a number of audio diaries or direct radio communications from the man himself where he expounds his philosophy that a man should be entitled to the work of his own hands, denouncing communism, socialism and religion which seek to deprive a person of what they should rightfully own.
His greatest speech however, comes when you actually confront him in person. As well as revealing one of the more mind blowing plot twists in video game history, he also treats us to an awesome dialogue claiming that if a man chooses where a slave obeys, what are you? After proving that you are incapable of choice and thus nothing more than a slave without free will or choice, Ryan goes on to affirm his own status as a free man by ordering you to kill him. Furthermore he has deactivated a means to save his life in his own chamber, showing that he is in complete control of his fate, even if that fate is to die. A man chooses…
# 1 Wake up!
(Dr. Kaufmann – Silent Hill: Shattered Memories)
In the reimagining of Silent Hill, Michael Kaufman goes from being corrupt medical official to competent psychologist. While Silent Hill: Shattered Memories sees you reprise your role as Harry Mason searching for his lost daughter; Cheryl in the rather warped town of Silent Hill, the action is interspersed with occasional psychiatric evaluations by Kaufman which then determine how your experience will unfold. While Kaufman is a supporting character who simply poses questions to you to uncover your personality, the close of the game reveals that actually the entire game takes place inside Cheryl’s head while she undergoes psychiatric treatment with Kaufman.
Kaufman’s closing speech is incredibly powerful. Not only does he break down the Harry Mason construct within Cheryl’s head but in the player’s head too. Anyone who has played Silent Hill will applaud Harry as a bad ass protagonist and perfect dad, something which Kaufman completely destroys. Because the evaluations have thus far been about you as a person, rather than Cheryl, he really does get into your head and slap you in the face. Powerful stuff!