10 Games With Extremely Cringeworthy Writing
Words can hurt.
William H. Glass once said that “the true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.” Alas, it seems as though alchemy remains an imprecise art, because writing in video games has had something of a bumpy ride over the years.
As narratives have become a more crucial part of the gameplay experience, we have been treated to all manners of exposition. When it works, it helps to hook in the player, immersing them in the rich tapestry that the game has laid out before them. When it doesn’t, it’s jarring – a veritable spit take that leaves gamers shaking their head in dismay. Today, we are exploring those unfortunate situations where the prose leaves us morose; these are some of the most cringeworthy examples of writing found in video games.
Devil May Cry
Writing lowlight: “I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with liiiiiight!”
Devil May Cry’s Dante is a fine character who, on occasion, spouts out some ridiculous nonsense that he would probably prefer for us to forget. His cocky, laid-back attitude certainly appeals to the rebel in all of us, but his one-liners don’t always hit their mark, particularly when they involve enormous avian foes.
The most infamous line, bellowed in agony over his fallen ally, is a textbook example of dialogue that no voice actor could possibly salvage. You may think you can do it, but keep in mind – you have to shriek the word ‘light’ at the top of your lungs. It’s probably best if you attempt this in a church for the full effect. I’m sure the reverend would understand.
Writing lowlight: “We’ll show that creep the REAL SUPER POWER of TEAM WORK!”
As a whole, Sonic Heroes is a little cringeworthy. Made back in the days where Sonic Team were still convinced that people wanted to play as every single character in the extended Sonic universe, it was loaded with unnecessary bloat that diluted the sheer fun of zipping around as everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog.
The fact that Dr. Eggman lays down the gauntlet by describing his plans for world domination in a magical talking letter should give you an indication of what to expect. Characters exchange banter with one another throughout the levels, and it’s all fairly innocuous if not a little cheesy. …Then Charmy Bee appears, and you begin to regret your life. With absolute zingers like “You mean the BAD GUYS!?” and “Take this you BAD MAN!”, you will begin to notice a definite trend in Charmy’s BAD DIALOGUE.
What a wasted opportunity to bring back the only Sonic character who mattered. We still love you, Ray the Flying Squirrel.
Ride to Hell: Retribution
Writing lowlight: “Ohh, sooky sooky. Huhuhuh, oh wow…”
In the most aptly titled game on this list, playing Ride to Hell is very much like descending into the very bowels of the underworld, rife with glitches, painful stereotypes, and more dry humping than prom night. At one point, the protagonist Jake opines that he’d “rather be polishing boots than sit through this crap”, and we’re inclined to agree; the game features an erratic and disjointed storyline that you will find yourself desperate to skip every time a cutscene dares to cross your screen.
Indeed, the real challenge in this misogynistic tale of revenge is trying to find any character remotely likeable. However, if you’re fond of transparent, cliched and outright offensive caricatures of what are purportedly human beings, then this is the game for you!
…What’s that? You like fun, too? Afraid you’re out of luck then.
Tunnel Rats: 1968
Writing lowlight: “Dead… they’re all dead… Did everyone kill everyone else? Where did they all go?”
This one is just flat-out grim. Sure, encounters with the Viet Cong aren’t exactly supposed to be splendid fun for the whole family, but there is very little to like about this game, based on Uwe Boll’s film of the same name.
The writing is especially noteworthy, as it always feels stilted – like it was put through Google Translate and prematurely given the stamp of approval. Brooks’ mutterings to himself range from awkwardly insensitive to completely deranged, and the fact that he does much of this while collecting ears from fallen foes certainly doesn’t help his image. Overall, you leave the whole experience just a little bit traumatized; a lesser version of yourself with a more cynical perspective on life. If that was the developer’s intention, then by golly, they certainly pulled that off with aplomb.
Life is Strange
Writing lowlight: (INSERT PREFIX) “hella” (INSERT SUFFIX)
Lower your pitchforks, gentle townsfolk – we’re not trying to imply that the writing in Life is Strange is bad as a whole; it tackles serious issues and tenuous ground with a definite dignity that is both refreshing and compelling. However, even the most devout of apologists would be hard-pressed to ignore the foibles that crop up in Arcadia Bay on occasion.
Formulating dialogue for a teenager can be fraught with challenges; a tendency to overemphasize melodrama and poetic resonance, for instance. For this reason, Max can at times come off as somewhat disingenuous – akin to a mid-2000s Emma Stone archetype of down-to-earth likability interspersed with the occasional dalliance in ‘hip lingo’; referring to someone “talking smack”, for instance.
Meanwhile, deuteragonist Chloe has a tendency to feel like an adult’s perspective of what alternative teenagers might sound like. If you want to go meta on this, she can be neatly summed up as Max’s id: impulsive, adventurous, dangerous. There’s a whole level of psychology here that could be delved into if you were writing a thesis. …And yes, you can use Twinfinite as a reference. It totally checks out academically.
Silent Hill: The Arcade
Writing lowlight: “Oh boy! I thought I was gonna die.”
Arcade shooters in general probably deserve their own entry on this list. There is a bizarre tradition in the genre that seems to mandate that the people experiencing these horrible, post-apocalyptic horrors are to remain playfully casual throughout the whole game. Narrowing it down to one particularly rotten example is a practice in patience, but there’s something especially potent about the way Silent Hill’s protagonists, Eric and Tina, respond to the nightmarish ghouls before them with all of the panic of someone who’s just dropped their shopping.
Ways to make this game more fun: see if you can keep count of the amount of times someone asks “what’s going on?”, try to make some semblance of sense every time Tina’s lines are spoken incoherently, and for the love of all that is holy, please don’t bother saving George in the cemetery. That stupid red hat alone is reason enough for him to die.
Writing lowlight: “That was too close! You were almost a Jill sandwich!”
You knew it was coming. If not for the infamy it has garnered over the years, then because it’s in the featured image, silly.
Resident Evil redefined the survival horror genre with its incredible atmosphere and tense gameplay. The graphics may seem fairly crude by today’s standards, but in 1996, the pre-rendered backgrounds and grotesque models of the undead were enough to make us wet our pants with terror. It’s a masterclass in fear with its jump scares and sense of isolation, but every time someone opens their mouth, the atmosphere crumbles almost instantaneously.
Much like in Silent Hill, the primary issue comes from the lighthearted chitchat combined with voice acting so offbeat, it has become legendary. It’s rather bizarre how Capcom managed to capture every other aspect of dread so well, only to let something as minor as literally anyone talking completely ruin the mood, but most look back on it fondly, regardless.
Writing lowlight: CONGLATURATION !!! YOU HAVE COMPLETED A GREAT GAME.
Not all cringeworthy writing need be spoken in-game, though quite honestly, this gobbledygook would be fascinating to actually hear from a real actor, peering at their script in bewilderment.
Once you’ve suffered through some of the most grating action the NES had to offer (and some of that competition was certainly stiff), you face off against Gozer the Gozerian atop Spook Central, dodging red orbs and ghosts with a happy smile on their faces. Once the final blow is dealt, the screen goes into a maelstrom of colours, sure to please any epileptic.
It then presents you with bizarrely mistranslated text before the credits roll and you wonder whether New York City was really worth saving after all. Perhaps the most offensive aspect of this is the notion that anyone could consider Ghostbusters on the NES a “great game”.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3
Writing lowlight: “Okay! Let’s have some fun before I return to my training!”
In fairness, the dialogue in Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 isn’t particularly bad; it’s no worse than the writing found within any of the other entries in the franchise. The issue here is the fact that they are trying to assemble some kind of coherent storyline in a game where, if we’re being perfectly honest, most players aren’t exactly on the hunt for Shakespeare.
In this game, which is ostensibly about volleyball, players can compete against their favorite DoA girls in gripping competitions like capture the flag and that old Olympic classic, the butt battle. If you give a girl enough presents, she might go out with you on a date! And to top it off, the major new features include tanlines and bikini malfunctions. This feels dirty just typing it…
The premise of the game might make sense for frivolous characters like Marie Rose or Honoka, but every time Ayane makes another mention of her ‘secret mission’, you can’t help but facepalm. Dammit Ayane, you’re a ninja! Put some clothes on!!
Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon
Writing lowlight: “Oh, boy! I’m so hungry, I could eat an Octorock!”
You didn’t think we’d forget this one, did you? …Believe us, we’ve tried.
All three of the Zelda games on the CD-i are appalling beyond belief, but Wand of Gamelon holds a special place in history for its insipid cutscenes. Link is represented as a goofy slacker, while Zelda isn’t given the courtesy of having a personality at all. The animation is awkward and jerky, and the character designs look like something from a Ralph Bakshi fever dream. At times, they don’t even attempt to string together an appropriate gag; case in point, the epic death of Hectan, who upon declaring “you’ve killed me!”, melts into a puddle of ooze on the floor. Zelda’s response: “Good”. Straight to the point, at least.
Some may attest that the similarly dreadful cutscenes from Hotel Mario are more unforgivable, but they were at least reminiscent of the style of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Besides, it also taught us the invaluable lesson that “all toasters toast toast”.
Any other examples of terrible writing that spring to mind? Give it some thought, and let us know in the comments. Now go and rest our heroes!