Whenever I download Genshin Impact onto a new device, the first thing I do immediately is download the Chinese voice pack. I’m not a snob about dubs versus subs. The problem is that the English voice over turns my favorite characters into unrelatable strangers that I barely recognize.
Things are similarly awry in the latest Inazuma content, which was released this month as a part of Genshin Impact version 2.1. I found myself comparing and contrasting between the English voice acting and the Chinese voice acting within the new content. While Baal and Sara are both arrogant characters with a commanding air, they have protective personalities underneath. While I played their Chinese voice lines in their profiles, I had the impression that they cared for the Traveler in a motherly or sisterly way. The English dub, meanwhile, flattened these women into girlbosses. Unfortunately, Sara and Baal aren’t the only characters who have had their personalities changed through English localization.
A year ago, I started playing the game in Chinese because Paimon, your fairy guide throughout the game, has an infamously annoying tendency to speak in the third person. Once I did, I found out that Genshin Impact’s characters sound like real friends in the Chinese-voice over. By contrast, they sound like anime tropes in the English voice over. The differences are so jarring that I find it difficult to enjoy the English voice pack.
While my objections to the dub might seem nitpicky, the Genshin Impact community has frequently been embroiled in controversy over the English voice acting. Back in February of this year, Barbara’s voice actor was harassed online by players because miHoYo had changed her voice to sound less enthusiastic (please do not do this). It certainly doesn’t help that voice actors can’t always comment publicly on the voice directions that they were given.
But my quibbles with the voice acting is not just about the controversial characters who have had their personalities significantly changed over time. I find that most of the English-version characters either have unnaturally exaggerated personalities, they’re more arrogant than their Chinese counterparts, or they’re weirdly aggressive for someone who’s supposed to be your best friend.
I wish that the English voice direction allowed Genshin characters to be ordinary, everyday people. If you’ve ever found Paimon’s use of third-person to be annoying, I’m sorry to inform you that she mostly speaks normally in Chinese. She’s still cheeky and impulsive, but it doesn’t feel like she’s purposely trying to sound like a fairy. Paimon is a friend in Chinese, and an emergency ration in English.
Other characters sound less relatable in English, too. Mona’s regal English voice obfuscates that she’s a struggling, impoverished kid with delusions of grandeur. I would lend money to the grumpy, stumbling Chinese Mona more readily than the aristocratic English Mona.
Nor do I appreciate Kaeya’s mysterious, princely way of speaking English. Chinese Kaeya did suspicious things while appearing to be a perfectly normal, charismatic guy you could meet at a bar. I had to balance my suspicions of his actions with his easy going personality. This dynamic doesn’t exist at all in the English voice over, where he was thoroughly suspicious from the start.
There are some weirdly aggressive changes in the English dub. After hearing how gruff and no-nonsense Zhongli sounded in the English dub, I finally understood why the oft-repeated phrase, “Zhongli is abusive to Xiao” became a huge fandom controversy back in January of this year.
In the Chinese version, Zhongli is a kindly father figure who speaks patiently and gently. Xiao also wasn’t originally aggressive. English Xiao sounds like he wants to throw down with me at any given moment. Despite the same fearsome appearance, Chinese Xiao speaks in a very detached, soft, and indifferent tone. He doesn’t wear his heart on his silk sleeve at all. And the voice direction also did our boy Venti super dirty. I was so accustomed to a Venti who was self-deprecating, friendly, and teasing. After hearing how he would speak to me in the English voice pack, I wanted to throw him into a lake.
While I can’t claim to know why miHoYo made these soft boys so aggressive, I’ve also noticed a similar pattern for Japanese localization. Unless they’re aristocratic, soft men are forced to be voiced in a more aggressive manner for the English market. I can see why, considering the kind of macho masculinity that Hollywood constantly has on display. But these voice direction choices muddle the relationships between characters. Moreover, shouldn’t men be allowed to be soft? It’s 2021, and BTS is the most popular band in the world for their soft personas. As popular tastes shift, so should voice direction.
And the worst crime is how the English characters pronounce “Liyue” and “Qixing.” I’m very sympathetic to the fact that English voice actors are not bilingual. However, the anime industry has made a lot of English VAs proficient at pronouncing Japanese names. When I hear that a voice actor pronounces the “e” at the end of Liyue, I realize that they’re using the Japanese pronunciation.
I’m hoping that they’re eventually given the training to pronounce Chinese names. As someone with a Chinese name, it feels kind of bad to hear non-Asian people butcher Chinese names with embarrassing regularity! Until that happens, I’m content to play the game with the Chinese voice pack.
The English localization struggles to get across Chinese nuances, so it relies heavily on anime troupes instead of trying to replicate the experience of interacting with real people. The English dub is also a lot more straightforward, rather than relying on players to read between the lines and listen for tone. Localization is highly subjective, so I can’t say that the English voice over is necessarily “bad.” My issue is that the voice direction changes the context and implications of how English players experience the story. Regardless of the language that players choose, Genshin Impact is ultimately a Chinese story. If the characters’ personalities are changed, then it becomes harder for me to connect the different motivations that drive them to commit heroic or villainous acts.
Even if you only speak English, I highly recommend turning on the Chinese voice pack to experience better context for the characters in Genshin Impact. You might find that certain characters are a lot more likeable than at first glance.