I've been wanting to write something about video game voice actors for a little while now. It seems like interest in who the talents behind our favorite characters are has steadily risen over the past few years, and within my circle of friends, following those voice actors' work has become a pet hobby in and of itself.
So I'd been throwing around ideas on how to go about writing on the subject, trying various list formats, but I ended up settling on this. Basically, what I'm going to do is go through the major roles and my personal favorite roles of the particular actor, take at least a brief look at the performances that stand out among them, and also talk a little about the games and the characters themselves.
To kick off what will hopefully be a recurring series, I thought I should try starting with a less than obvious choice, and one of my personal favorite voice actors, Karen Strassman. Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive, in the interests of keeping some semblance of brevity.
Dune - 1992
Dune was, to the best of my knowledge, Strassman's first video game voice role. Now we're talking about the point and click adventure game Dune, and not the Westwood RTS Dune, just to clarify. Her voiceover career started in France, where she did various voice work for such gigs as Disneyland Paris, Air France and even the audio tour voice for the Lourve. The developer of Dune, Cryo Interactive Entertainment, was itself based out of France, and this was their first game as well.
In fact, Cryo was the source of a lot of Strassman's early game work, producing Dune, The Devil Inside and the Atlantis series games. One odd aspect of the voice work in this very, very early voiced game is that everyone seems to be almost whispering for some reason. It certainly makes for an interesting atmosphere, especially factoring in the almost Terry Gilliam style 2d art.
It's a different sound from what you may be used to with her more recent roles. Those voices she's become known for in recent years don't really come around until later on. She really had to grow into that sound over time, but more on that as we move forward.
If you would like to play Dune, all of Cryo's games are ostensibly abandonware at this point. So it's sadly unavailable on GOG and other services. If you have an aversion to piracy, then there is the Sega CD version, which you can still find on the resale market, and is probably the easiest and best version to get running.
Lost Eden - 1995
Lost Eden is another early Cryo Interactive game. This one involves talking dinosaurs and cave men and stuff. And it really sets the mood for Cryo Interactive style games. You've got the almost Gilliam-esque 2d portraits for all the characters with weird looking facial animations. They mostly consist of super old dudes with gigantic beards, crazy anthropomorphized animals/lizard creatures, sexy ladies and crazy evil looking robot cyborg dudes. You've got your fly-throughs for the all pre-rendered 3d backdrops and just some wild sounding background music in this one.
Strassman makes her first appearance as Komalla, leader of a band of Frazetta-esque Amazonian warriors. She doesn't get more than a few lines of dialogue, but the voice has a nice mix of tough and sexy to fit the portrait attached to it.
Strassman's other character starts off, er... somewhat strangely. The voice is fine. It basically sounds like Kitana from MK9, only with maybe a bit of cro mangnon in there to stay period appropriate. But the characters face is like, some sort of horrible hybrid fusion of Mayor McCheese, Grimace and a robot disguised as a salad bowl I guess. I don't really know how to describe it.
Now, it's later supposed to be some big reveal that 'Oh no! It wasn't really Mayor McCheese! It was really just some girl named Eve! And wait! I thought she was a he!' I don't know how anyone thought that walking purple robot salad bowl was supposed to be a man. I mean, if it was supposed to be a gruff sounding woman wearing the robot salad bowl as a disguise, then sure. I guess I can get behind that. Oh and go figure her name is Eve and your character's named Adam. What was the name of this game again? Oh yeah. Lost Eden. It's good to see they were really reaching for the stars with their plot there.
But at any rate, after Eve reveals her true identity, she starts speaking in this much softer and wispy voice, not entirely unlike the one in Dune previously. I honestly kind of miss the Mayor McCheese voice. I mean, she looked patently ridiculous, but she sounded rad as hell, and oddly enough, much more like the more recent roles she's better known for.
That said, while I might sound a little bit down on the game, I had a great time playing it. It's an awfully fun game just between the soundtrack and 2d art alone. So it's definitely worth a look if the mere thought of adventure games doesn't scare you off.
Lost Eden got several releases, for Dos, Mac, CD-i, 3DO and even PC98 of all things. So you have a good amount of choice in versions to get ahold of. As far as emulation goes though, the 3DO version is the one to go for if you're not into DOSBox. Otherwise, DOSBox is probably the one for you. Being a Cryo game, this too qualifies as abandonware and can't be bought new at the time of posting this.
Dark Earth - 1997
Dark Earth is a fun little 3d adventure game, this one, too, made by a French developer. This time by the now long defunct Kalisto Entertainment, known for such blockbuster hits as The Fifth Element and Nightmare Creatures.
Dark Earth plays mostly like Resident Evil with its' tank controls, only with more of an adventure game bent and some RPG trappings thrown in as well. The art style is somewhat inconsistent and doesn't necessarily hold up in this day and age. But it definitely has the look of a mid nineties adventure game, and the way it dates itself is definitely part of its charm.
Strassman plays Kalhi, the love interest to the player character, Arkhan. She's somewhat of a minor character, all told. Dark Earth is one of those games where the plot is fairly thin, and which relies more on world building and back story for narrative depth. And the voice acting in this game is pretty goofy.
Most of that is due to the stupid sounding made up names everything in this world of Dark Earth has. But, again, that goofiness feeds a lot into the charm of these older games. And Dark Earth is among the more bald-faced examples of B-movie style cheese that you're likely to hear Strassman acting in, so that's kind of fun in it's own right.
Beings as this is such an older game, there are some real issues trying to run it. Since Kalisto is no more, there's no telling who owns the rights to the game. So the chances of somewhere like GOG getting it are unlikely. It is, for all intents and purposes, abandonware at this point. Scuttlebutt says that running a windows 95 or 98 virtual machine is your best bet at getting the game to run at all, in case you were interested.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul - 1999
The Nomad Soul was the product of another French developer, David Cage's very own Quantic Dream this time. It's a fantastic looking game, given its age, and while the story couldn't be any more 1999 if they'd just skipped with the pretense and called it The Matrix instead, it's still really entertaining with its kitschy, late nineties cyberspace vibe.
That assessment's not entirely fair though. The game was for all intents and purposes concurrent with The Matrix. The Nomad Soul has much more of a new-age tribal aspiration to it too, which itself was quite popular at the time. There's all manner of magic and spiritualism superimposed onto a futuristic world full of bead necklaces and tribal tattoos, which sets the general vibe of the game apart from the more hard sci-fi offerings of the time, such as The Matrix, or System Shock 2 even. Although the game does ostensibly take place within cyberspace, where your character can posses the bodies of various NPCs.
The game's biggest claim to fame though is probably David Bowie. He worked on the soundtrack, voiced a character and was evidently very involved in writing the story. He even created a stage name to play under as the front man in a rock band that exists within the game world. So some of Bowie's music exists somewhat exclusively within the game, which means if you're a Bowie fan, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
Getting back on topic though, Strassman plays about half of the female cast in the game, and with the different characters she plays you get to see a good variety of performances from her. At this point, Strassman was moving into something more closely resembling her more modern and recognizable voices. That said, it also has a much more placid and conversational tone.
Chalk that more sedate atmosphere up to the game's whole Matrix vibe, but her main character, Jenna 712, definitely has the cool heroine sound down. She has that cool-headed but imposing quality to her voice that is the hallmark of a good heroine. You can even posses one of Strassman's character's bodies, and have Strassman talking to herself, which is a neat little added feature.
But as long as the thought of a turn-of-the-millenium sci-fi cyberspace epic doesn't immediately turn you away, then you should definitely check it out. It's a really neat little game, it's filled with David Bowie stuff, and Strassman has all of her numerous characters on lock-down. So it's pretty fun to listen to as well.
The Nomad Soul recently got a GOG release not too long ago. I'm not sure how well it runs, but it can't be worse than it did before. The PC version evidently will not run on most newer ATI cards, so a Windows 98 virtual machine is possibly the only way to run that version of the game. There's also the Dreamcast version, which should be just as easy to get ahold of, legally or otherwise, should you so be interested. So GOG or Dreamcast are the way to go for this one.
Breakdown - 2004
Breakdown was developed by Namco in 2004 as an Xbox exclusive, and it plays like a strange mixture of a first person shooter and a beat-em-up. The closest parallels to draw from for the game play are Condemned and Zeno Clash, with its focus on melee combat, but Breakdown deals more with punch kick combos, than pipes and other improvised weapons.
But like Condemned, Breakdown also includes a decent amount of gun-play on top of its' melee combat. And like in Condemned, they are fully committed to the first person perspective. You even consume health items, such as candy bars and soda in the first person. It's just such a cool game, and it's a real shame that nobody knows about or remembers it.
Actually, the game feels a lot like Half-Life 2, which is ironic, considering it came out a few months before Half-Life 2. It follows the same theme of running through a first person game full of action set-pieces and quirky game play innovations, occasionally joined by an attractive young woman named Alyx, except this time her name is spelled regular. It's actually fairly reminiscent of Half-Life 1 as well, with the labyrinthine facility you spend most of the game escaping and the mix of military and other-worldly enemies.
It's definitely got some problems. It's punch-your-balls hard if you don't get the controls down to a T, and it does occasionally venture into platforming. And don't even get me started on the controls. But it's really worth looking into. The story fits a really smart mix of action and scifi, with some really great feeling set-pieces, which are rendered even more immersing due to the first person perspective.
The game has sort of a lucid dream feeling to it, with your character occasionally tripping out and waking up in places he shouldn't be. So it's sort of like Half-Life 1 and 2 mixed with a healthy amount of Aeon Flux.
Getting back to Strassman's character though, Alex is a tough-as-nails badass, who's almost as lethal at fist fighting as she is with a knife. Her introduction involves her appearing out of nowhere and kicking a team of armed soldiers to death just before they execute you. Due to her kick first ask questions later attitude, you don't get a whole lot of dialogue out of her. She's not like Alyx Vance, always telling you what's on her mind. She mostly only speaks when she has something to explain to you.
But there is a background between the two characters. They evidently go back a ways, but your character is unfortunately stricken with a bit of amnesia. So she spends a good deal of time trying not to get too upset over the fact that you don't remember her, when she isn't too busy trying to keep from getting her ass shot off.
Needless to say, these things all work themselves out over the course of the game, and it's got some really cool things going on with the plot. But honestly, I just can't get over how eerily reminiscent to Half-Life 1 and 2 this game is. It's certainly a rough ride, and it could have really benefited from more polish and perhaps a shorter run time, but I would still recommend anyone track this game down and try it.
"You promised me you wouldn't let me die."
"Leave it to me!"
Ace Combat 5 - 2004
Kei Nagase is an aggressive, yet withdrawn fighter pilot in Ace Combat 5. She plays as your wing man in the game, going by the call sign of Edge. And her persona is as edgy and hardcore as her call sign makes her out to be. Strassman's performance does a great job of making her character sound imposing, despite her unassuming exterior. She really fits the part of wing man well, with her speech typified by an air of confidence and seriousness.
And she's definitely the serious type. Though the plot told through the cutscenes sometimes doesn't seem to know what it's trying to accomplish, there is definitely a dark tone surrounding the wartime imagery. Nagase starts out as almost kind of a cliched character, being something of a generic loner with a chip on her shoulder. But the story shows that she has seen enough of the war to have earned that affectation, and has grown somewhat world-weary as a result, having most of her team shot down during flight training.
As if she wasn't already cool and tough enough, early on in the story, she gets shot down and crash lands in enemy territory. She then somehow manages to capture the enemy soldiers sent to hunt her down and save the helicopter crew that crash landed while trying to pick her up, all during a prolonged manhunt with an areal battle ensuing overhead.
Kei Nagase is one of Strassman's more subdued heroine characters. And having so many heroines under her belt, Nagase doesn't stand out as much as some of the others, but she's still a pretty cool one none the less. And Nagase gets brownie points in my book for also, incidentally being the sister of Reiko Nagase, from the Ridge Racer series.
Give Ace Combat 5 a look if you're interested in playing some games with air planes and shooting air plains. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's probably the best in the series. The more recent entries have stories that vary from middling to terrible, and the gaphics on offer here are pretty impressive for 2004.
Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance -2005
Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance is a fascinating relic of the PS2 era. It was part of the great second wave of 3d Beat-em-up revival, alongside Squaresoft's The Bouncer, Capcom's Final Fight: Streetwise, Sega's Spikeout and Namco's Urban Reign among others. But Capcom tried doubling up on these games and failed miserably with both of them. Beat Down was Capcom's first attempt at this in 2005, Having Cavia, whom they had worked with for the Resident Evil light-gun shooters, develop it. This was mistake one.
I understand they had a decent working relationship with Cavia, having successfully shipped games with them before, and the Gun Survivor games were more flawed in concept than in practice, but let's face it. Cavia was a jack of all trades and a master of none. And the only thing they were ever truly great at was writing super depressing stories and coming up with out-there game mechanics.
Their second mistake was trying to make a 3d beat-em-up. If this second wave of 3d beat-em-ups has taught us anything, it's that making beat-em-ups is harder than it looks. So throwing a studio like Cavia at a game like Beat Down was just cruel. That said, they did manage to bring a lot of the Cavia charm to the table with this game, as poor as the fighting may have been. The character customization was well ahead of its' time, boasting features most new games don't offer. The character stats as well, were very smartly done, and offered a lot to do in the way of alternate endings. All in all, much like practically every other Cavia game, it's a broken mess of a game with some really great things going on under the surface.
Strassman plays Gina, one of the five playable characters. The game has a big foul mouth streak, and Gina is sort of in the upper registers of Strassman's stable of voices. She also has sort of a thuggish drawl to her voice. She is ostensibly one of the protagonists, but they're all bad people for the most part, and she definitely sounds like a bad guy just from the inflection of her voice. Other than that, there's not a whole lot to the character. The voice acting pretty much only happens in the infrequent cutscenes.
And it's just not a great game, so unless you're intensely fascinated with the little company known as Cavia, then you could probably stand to skip out on this one. I pretty much only included it here because I'll take just about any excuse to write about Cavia. Incidnetally, would you be interested in getting hyped for Drag-on Dragoon 3? It's looking pretty good. There's still no word on a U.S. release though, sadly.
Rumble Roses XX - 2006
So let's start this one off with a video to get you up to speed on what Rumble Roses is, in case you didn't have a 360 at launch and you're not a Japanese wrestling game connoisseur. Rumble Roses XX was the 360 follow-up to the PS2 (hit?) sexy lady wrestling game Rumble Roses. It sports better graphics and probably some other things as well.
One of the more glaring admissions in this updated version is in the voice department. Whereas its' PS2 predecessor featured some story mode business for all the different characters, which had one of the most hilariously bad voice tracks this side of House of the Dead 2, Rumble Roses XX abandoned all of that for a more straight game play experience. The game is still voiced, There just isn't any real story to speak of here, just busty ladies showing off their bodies and doing flying elbow drops.
The game play sacrifices a lot for the sake of spectacle, and that could be a good thing, wrestling is naturally fairly steeped in spectacle, but Rumble Roses leans much more heavily on upskirts than on German suplexes. And that's where my problem with the game really sits. I mean, it's got the German suplexes and figure four leg locks and all that, but it spends so much time trying to be perverted that it struggles at finding room to be fun or cool.
I wouldn't even bother complaining if I didn't think there was some quality content underneath the surface, and there really is. Every now and then you're reminded of why wrestling games are so much fun in the first place, before you're reminded of how bad the controls suck, and how shallow the move-sets are, and how stilted the character animations are.
And being able to take extreme closeup ass screenshots doesn't really change any of that unfortunately. It's obvious they just kinda slapped this game together because hey, tits right? But it was almost great. It almost hits that sweet spot between dumb pandering and awesome wrestling game, but it's just not quite good enough to clutch it out. Anyway, I hate this game, but it's awesome. Any game that lets you do hurricanranas whenever you want gets an automatic pass in my book. That's why Resident Evil 6 is a better game than 4.
There really isn't much else to say about this game, other than the music in this game is sexier than any one of the characters in it. Honestly, the game is worth looking into for the soundtrack alone, with awesomely cheesy Japanese wrestling butt rock and names like Akira Yamaoka and Michiru Yamane attached to it. It's not the best soundtrack ever, but it fits the game to a T.
Since there's not a whole lot in the way of acting to be seen here outside of characters calling out moves and trash-talking their opponents, there isn't too much to say about Strassman's performance. But hey, one of her characters gets to wear a badass eye patch and the other has this sick-assed German suplex into full nelson suplex into tiger suplex combo. How can you argue with that? You can't. Moving on.
Suikoden V - 2006
I put Sialeeds on here because she's another one of my personal favorites. The fact that this is a PS2 era JRPG we're talking about here means that the voiceover is sometimes embarrassing, the character animations sometimes make no sense whatsoever and cultural idioms are sure to occasionally throw a wrench in the spokes. That's just the lot of this kind of game.
But it is awfully tolerable for a mid 2000s JRPG. I'd even say it's one of the better ones actually. The voice acting is mostly excellent, and the character designs are very attractive. Silaeeds herself demonstrates both said points quite well actually. I mean, just look at that hair. That's great hair! But on to the character.
Karen Strassman really is an expert at over-acting. She has a knack for making it sound funny and endearing. Sialeeds is kind of a cartoonishly exaggerated depiction of royalty, belonging to affluent society and borrowing its' haughty tone, but being a very friendly and warm person despite that. Strassman makes Sialeeds sound like someone who genuinely enjoys sounding like a complete snob, but she also keeps her often joking demeanor from falling flat.
Sialeed's story is also one filled with twists and turns, and she has a truly tragic character arc throughout the course of the game. It's hard enough not to really like this character just for the personality they gave her. But all the ups and downs and plot twists that her character is subjected to only serve to endear her character even more.
"Never underestimate me."
Join us next time when we will be taking a look at Valkyrie warriors, sexy nurses and a whole lot of Persona!