Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 1

So last time I did this, I wrote about Karen Strassman, which was a fun but extremely time consuming experiment. So this time, I thought it might be a good idea to change things up, and write about someone who hasn't been doing this since 1992 and had most of their early work stuck in obscure PC games that won't run on modern machines.

And what luck! I managed to shave a smooth twelve years off of the list of games I had to sort through this time around. Which was music to my ears I don't mind telling you. But then it somehow ended up longer than the last one anyway. I also thought it might be fun to write about a male actor this time too. So I thought to myself, who's a cool male voice actor? And Liam O'Brien was the first thing to come to mind. So that's what we're going to do then.

Front Mission 4 - 2004

Wagner

Wagner is kind of the villain of the piece in Front Mission 4, and O'Brien has played a lot of villains. So Front Mission 4 is kind of auspicious in that it's his first video game voice role to my knowledge, and his first video game villain. Beings as his name is Wagner, he has a pretty thick German accent. Also he sounds super evil. But he doesn't sound like a parody of an evil German soldier. The Front Mission series is all pretty serious games, so his accent isn't wacky or anything. It's pretty straightforward, which makes sense for his character, who is definitely evil, but more on the lawful evil end of the spectrum, rather than the cartoon super villain end.

His Cs, Ds, Gs and Ts all come out pretty mushy, which really helps sell the accent a lot. The lazier German accents will usually just swap the short I for a long E and lean heavily on using short O sounds for most As, but he skips all of that for the most part. You can tell he's either spoken a decent amount of German or at least studied it enough to lean on some of the more subtle sound differences, like the German soft ch, and leaning hard on L sounds where they normally wouldn't belong.

You may have also noticed in the video that Karen Strassman is playing a main character, and you may be wondering why that didn't get a mention in my previous retrospective. The reason for that is the story in this game just isn't all that interesting. The only reason it's coming up here is because it's O'Brien's first video game role, to the best of my knowledge, and his first video game villain. It’s also one of the rare cases where we get to hear O’Brien doing a more exotic sounding accent, which is always fun.

All in all, Front Mission 4 isn't the most riveting narrative experience you could subject yourself to. But it is a pretty cool strategy game, and it's got mech suits. Also, the soundtrack is pretty great, and the voice work for the admittedly thin story is mostly excellent. So all in all it's a pretty decent little game. If you have an interest in mech combat strategy games, I would say you might as well hit this up if you’ve got a PS2 handy. It’s no Front Mission Evolved, but then again, what is?

ObsCure - 2005

Kenny

If you're not getting a serious The Faculty vibe from that intro, then evidently you need to go watch The Faculty again. Some of the eagle-eyes in the audience might also notice one Dean Venture as the goofy kid with the camera. ObsCure is a delightful little horror game. It hearkens from a time when the genre was falling apart in the wake of overcrowding and every established series either abandoning its roots or just playing like garbage. Obscure is one of the extremely rare horror games that is actually fun to play while still being a scary experience.

And it's got a really different vibe from most other horror games. It's not like horror games haven't taken place in schools before, but there's the sense that it's 'your' high school you're running around in, and there's a sense that you're sleuthing around the place, Scooby Doo style or something. But then there's like, horrible monsters and the Principal might actually be trying to kill you or something too. And that makes Obscure really stand out against the swathes of other horror games with their zombies and J-horror knock-offs.

At any rate, O'Brien plays Kenny, the jock. Now, Kenny seems to come from a broken home, and sounds, to me, like a more gruff Akihiko Sanada, which makes it extra weird that his girlfriend, Ashley, sounds pretty much like Mitsuru Kirijou, only with a lot more attitude. This is, of course, made all the more strange when you consider that this game came before Persona 3. But I digress. Poor Kenny unfortunately doesn't get a lot of screen time in the game. You play as him at the beginning, and then the rest of the game pretty much revolves around his friends figuring out where he disappeared to. But O'Brien does a good job with the time allotted in making Kenny sound like a down on his luck, disenfranchised teen.

ObsCure is a fantastic little horror game that still doesn't get enough respect to this day. If you like the idea of having good controls in your horror game, or if the thought of a bizarre, alternate universe, American Persona 3 gets you all hot and bothered, check this game out and give it a play if you haven't already.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness - 2005

Isaac

Getting back to villains though, next up on deck is Isaac from Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. The game itself isn't exactly the best. It has a lot of potential, and I think that, on the whole, it's a pretty solid game even for the Castlevania name. The story and the voice acting are a little bit on the corny side though. They came so close to having a truly gripping story, but the script and the acting are just a little too much on the goofy side to really take seriously.

There's a lot of really good word choice in there though. You can tell that whoever was working on cleaning up the English script definitely had the right idea, and was establishing a really good sense of period-appropriate language, which is an often overlooked point in your more vague fantasy settings like this one. But it's just not quite there. It's so close you could taste it, but the end product inevitably betrays the game's more humble 'die monster you don't belong in this world' roots.

But they really made a cool character with Isaac. They make sure that you know there’s some serious bad blood between him and the protagonist, Hector, right off the bat. The pure vitriol you can hear in Isaac's voice when they cross paths is immediately arresting. But making a truly good crazy character takes more than just angry yelling. What O’Brien really gets across well here with Isaac is a lot of interruptions to the angry yelling. It’s that inconsistency of tone that really makes a good crazy character. I mean, he’s still monomaniacal in his whole revenge thing. But he still finds time to snatch a quick smooch from Trevor Belmont or make some goofy motion with his arms while he’s talking. That way you kinda don’t know whether he’s coming or going.

Their story is one of betrayal and revenge. And Isaac is obsessed with revenge, due to some unexplored betrayal in their past. And some of that is in the plot, but it wouldn’t really matter much if it weren’t for O’Brien’s selling it so well. O'Brien brought a lot of gravitas to the character, and it's a good thing he did too because it really just breathes so much life into the story, having an enemy who is immediately imposing and really seems like he has a reason for being there.

It's obvious that Isaac is supposed to be completely mad, but a lot of actors probably couldn't convey this kind of bald-faced insanity with the same kind of conviction that O'Brien does here. And that's actually kind of a running theme with a lot of O'Brien's early work, when he wasn't playing effeminate boys. Since he got to play so many crazy and evil characters, he really got a lot of practice at evil laughs and cackles. And whereas most actors would take the opportunity to ham it up, O'Brien really just kind of goes crazy instead. You'll see this with some of his later characters as well.

Notable Quotes:

“Indeed. With this, the most forbidden of arts, a wisp of conjured matter can be transformed into a hellish devil!”

“Enough talk. [smooch] Time to die.”

“You resurrected the castle. Hector! Bravo.”

“That is why you will reclaim your powers, and thence, follow where I lead. But, in the end, the glorious vengeance you seek will not be yours; ‘t will be mine…”

Samurai Champloo Sidetracked - 2006

Mugen

This game is so weird. O'Brien plays Mugen, filling in for Steve Blum, who did the voice in the anime dub, in this video game adaptation of Samurai Champloo. The game was made by Grasshopper, and in it, Mugen is basically just a prototype Travis Touchdown. I mean, if they had cast O'Brien as Travis, as opposed to Downes, this is basically what it would have sounded like. Which runs somewhat at odds with the story as we know it from the show. Mugen was definitely kind of a jerk, and he did kill a lot of dudes, but in Sidetracked, he's a straight-up murder obsessed psychopath, like Travis Touchdown.

And it's actually kind of crazy how much like Travis Touchdown Mugen is. Travis may well have been the defining role for Robin Atkin Downes, and Mugen doesn't quite have the same amount of charisma behind him as Travis did. He actually kind of feels like a cross between Travis and, say, Garcian or Coyote Smith. He's much more restrained and not near as much of a smartass as Travis.

But it is, ostensibly supposed to be Mugen. And I don't know how closely the voice director or whoever looked at the show, but O'Brien does seem to be doing sort of a Steve Blum impersonation. So there's this sort of weird cognitive dissonance in the performance between the anime's version of Mugen and Grasshopper's version of him. So between the change in personality and O'Brien replacing Blum, the whole thing just feels so weirdly off. Like you recognize the faces but everything else is just not quite right, from the music to the writing all the way down to the pacing. The game is already surreal enough as it is, but if you're familiar with the source material, then be prepared to be weirded out even more.

Grasshopper really isn't what it used to be, and if you're a fan of the unique brand of weird that Killer7 and No More Heroes brought to the table, then you should feel right at home with Samurai Champloo Sidetracked. It did come out somewhere in between the two, so it makes sense that it bears those familiar hallmarks. And it's super interesting hearing O'Brien play the same charismatic psychopath type that Downes made famous with Travis Touchdown before Travis even existed yet. So the game is definitely worth looking into for a number of reasons.

Enchanted Arms - 2006

Makoto

Enchanted Arms isn't exactly the best JRPG you could spend money on. It was the first one you could get on the Xbox 360 though. And that does count for something. I'm sure a lot of folks were itching pretty hard for some HD JRPGs, and even Blue Dragon, for how middling that game was, was still a year out at this point. But with early console releases come opportunistic studios with a captive audience. And From Software does love to groove on a bad RPG between Armored Cores.

Like I said, Enchanted Arms isn't the best JRPG around, and the story has a lot to do with that. It's not that it's all that bad, it's just that you can tell they really cut some corners, not only in the original script, but likely in the localization as well. The whole thing just feels like a rush job, with a lot of known talent delivering middling performances and the dialogue sounding like something that was thrown together over a weekend.

But getting back on topic, in this game, O'Brien plays Makoto, a member of the protagonist's circle of friends. He has a crush on their friend Toya, the generic bishie of the group. And that is pretty much the narrative focus of the game's opening. The story starts with the three of them hanging out during lunch and then engaging in wacky hijinks at the local fair. Oh, and Makoto also speaks with a lisp. You know, as the homosexual men are sometimes wont to do. Whereas O'Brien had, up until this point, been type cast to play effeminate male characters with sometimes vague sexuality, Makoto is in full-on fabulous mode here.

They don't really end up making too much of a 'thing' out of the whole gay part. The lisp definitely sticks out, but other than that he's a decent enough character I guess. I get the impression that the gay part was mostly an attempt at adding humor to this otherwise moribund opening. And he is pretty funny, more for how shitty he is to the main character and for O'Brien's acting than anything else though.

And he's really shitty to the main character. It's actually what I would consider the narrative backbone of the opening parts of the game, as O'Brien sort of steals the show with his vitriolic put-downs and dismissive tone. And the main character is one of those carefree dipshits that are so popular in shounen storytelling, so it's almost like you're rooting for Makoto to say something shitty to him every time he opens his mouth. But anyway, there's not a lot else to say about this one. He's sort of a funny character, and the game isn't great, so let's hop on over to the next game.

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria - 2006

Lezard Valeth

I don't really like Valkyrie Profile 2 very much. The combat controls are just so unwieldy and cumbersome in the early hours that I didn't enjoy playing it much at all. And the story doesn't start out much better. The performances are all sort of hit or miss. For instance, O'Brien, Platt, McGlynn and Sheh all deliver workmanlike performances, while everyone else is just sort of.. there. I suppose it's just the game showing its' age. Even in 2006, it wasn't a sure thing that you'd get a good dub on your JRPGs.

But O'Brien is a bit more than just 'there' in Valkyrie Profile 2. He actually delivers one of his more badass performances as Lezard Valeth. Spoiler alert for a seven year old game, but Lezard is kind of a bad guy in this piece, and his wicked cackles would give Mark Hamill a run for his money. His character makes quite the transformation over the course of the game, going from a soft-spoken bishie type, to something a bit more like the video embedded above.

For anyone who's played Valkyrie Profile 1, this is familiar territory for the character. But, oddly enough, O'Brien brings a much deeper voiced version of Lezard to the table, than the previous voice actor. That does come in handy for the more 'fire and brimstone' talk that ends up coming up later on in the game, with the requisite Tri-Ace/Crescendo battle quotes and all that.

But it's interesting that the guy they used to call in for the fey types is doing such a deep and husky voice here. It's certainly not the deepest or the huskiest he's done, but still. At any rate, Lezard is a great villain in a long list of great villains voiced by O'Brien. I definitely can’t recommend this game personally, but it’s certainly worth looking into if you would like to know more about that mysterious company that is Tri-Ace.

Notable Quotes:

"Pitiable fools! Does your folly never end? Very well. You are the first blasphemers to defy the new god. Ye shall burn in the fires of hell for all eternity!"

"I grant you the rights accorded to an enemy of the gods. You will live from now and forever in an endless cycle of rebirth, condemned in each life to be hated, feared, scorned, punished, and obliterated!"

Tales of the Abyss - 2006

Dist

We’re now fully ass-deep into O’Brien’s early, low budget JRPG localization period. It’s a period that I'm sure we all wish we could forget. That little window of time between 2000 and 2007 where most Japanese games had that lethal combination of extremely low budget localizations, often bad original scripts and a rapidly growing voiceover industry with a pointed lack of experienced personnel. The end results were predictable if nothing else. You had voice tracks that were just enough advanced over the ridiculous and campy classics of the nineties to no longer be amusing to poke fun at anymore. And which were instead excruciating and depressing.

And the Tales series is easily one of the most inconsistent JRPG series in terms of quality. The gameplay is pretty consistently tight, but everything else runs the gamut. Tales of the Abyss is one of the better localizations, though the writing leaves something to be desired. O’Brien plays Dist, who is the main bad guy of the game. He’s an extremely campy, effeminate dude with a cool, Jack Skellington look and a great big floaty chair that he’s always sitting in. His voice is pretty interesting too. He’s kind of crazy, and kind of effeminate too, but he’s more campy than anything. He’s got this insane sounding laugh that you hear like, every time right before he shows up on screen. So Dist is sort of like a greatest hits of O’Brien’s early character work.

And once he gets on screen, he talks a lot of mess. He’s one of those overconfident villains, which goes well with his goofy look and personality. I guess it makes sense. A character that looks like that should probably be a smartass. But then when people talk mess back at him he starts whining like a little kid. And O’Brien does this funny thing with his voice where he gets all high pitched and runs his words together when he’s whining. So he ends up working pretty well from a comedic perspective, what with his constantly getting bent out of shape over people not respecting his elegance and whatnot. It’s a great funny voice for an awesome looking character. And a port just came out on the 3DS not too long ago too. So I suppose there’s never been a better time to get into Tales of the Abyss.

.hack//G.U. Volumes 1-3 - 2006-7

Endrance

The .hack series is kind of a hard one to get into. There is the Quarantine series, which is four games deep, and there is the G.U. series, which is three games deep. Then there are a couple loose ones outside of those seven. So there's a lot of games to try to know anything about. Not to mention the anime, which does tie into the games as well. And it doesn't help that the games are mostly fairly hard to get ahold of these days. One interesting thing about the numbered games is that they all came out almost concurrently. So the .hack series is kind of like the Lord of the Rings movies of video games.

Another interesting thing about the .hack games is that they were all developed by our good friends at CyberConnect2, the people who brought us all of those Naruto Ultimate Ninja games and one of my personal favorites, Asura's Wrath. And amazing visuals are clearly not something CC2 has come by recently. The way the character models look so sharp with their clean designs and the way the faces emote are unmistakable hallmarks of the CC2 team. And the story, while it's definitely got some problems, definitely hooked me pretty early on. But then again, I was already a fan of the anime.

The voice work is quite impressive as well. O'Brien plays Endrance, a very mysterious character who is quite possibly the most faye and wispy of all his characters. He starts out as kind of a dismissive dick, being undefeated in the area, and having a pretty funny scene where he tells the main character off. And it's worth mentioning that the main character is a real douche in volume one. So Endrance makes a pretty cool enemy for basically saying what we're all thinking. But outside of that, you don't see much of him. They basically spend most of volume one hyping him up so he can be one of the later boss battles.

Then comes volume 2, Endrance becomes an actual party member, though you don't see much of him for the first half. But then we get to learn a bit about his character before he joins up with your little group. After his little change of allegiances, Endrance goes from being a cocky asshole to being a badass teammate with kind of a preoccupation with love and beauty. Nearly every time he makes an appearance in the cutscenes, it’s inexplicably accompanied by rose petals falling around him. That’s just kinda his character’s visual gimmick. They want to make sure you can feel the bishie washing over you every time he appears on screen. And O’Brien definitely gets that lighter, softer, fluffier sound into the character for sure. But Endrance is kind of a dark, brooding character as well. His preoccupation with ideas of love and things of beauty mostly come from having a very lonely and isolated existence, and O’Brien somehow found a way to reflect that aspect of the character in his vocal performance as well.

Overall it’s a really fascinating performance for an equally fascinating and really emotionally powerful character. The games are really cool, albeit pretty hard to get ahold of these days. So definitely consider looking them up if any of this sounds good to you. The localization has some rough spots, but they’re pretty great games despite their occasional shortcomings.

Notable Quotes:

"Only under light does a flower bloom with beauty. A flower tainted with darkness is fated to wither away. Now it's time..for the finale."

"My heart was parched like a desert, but your thoughts filled it up. After all. When feelings are shared, there can be no lies!"

Anyway, that just about does it for part 1. In part 2 we’ll be looking at more Tri-Ace games and a whole bunch of Capcom stuff. So look forward to that I guess. See you all next time.

- Kris Osborn

18 Comments
19 Comments
Edited by Video_Game_King

Damn it. Now I feel compelled to play this game.

Posted by csl316

I like what I've heard him in. Good stuff as War in Darksiders, and Asura must've been a ton of fun to play.

But I loved Valkyrie Profile 2, man. I really enjoyed the battle system, the music, and the Liam.

Posted by believer258

I just remember hearing him as War in Darksiders and Vincent in Ergo Proxy, so when I hear the name "Liam O' Brien", I just see War with a slack jaw repeating everything he just heard with a question mark over his head.

"What? Huh? Philosophy? Proxies?"

"Yes, you dipshit, that's what Rousseau said! Now, why don't you ask me what the fuck that has to do with anything so we can explain this plot to the audience? Oh, wait, if we did that we'd fall short by about 12 episodes."

Posted by Cyrus_Saren

Jesus, I remember investing in Enchanted Arms. I do not think I got too far. As you said, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.

Regardless, He's a good voice actor. Despite what he is usually known for, the first role I always think of when I see his name is Tenma from Monster.

Posted by stubbleman

Jesus, I remember investing in Enchanted Arms. I do not think I got too far. As you said, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.

Regardless, He's a good voice actor. Despite what he is usually known for, the first role I always think of when I see his name is Tenma from Monster.

Yooo. I wasn't expecting to see Monster come up in the comments. Tenma was legit.

Edited by Turambar

Oh right, he was the voice for Endrance. Completely forgot about that.

Posted by FLStyle

Akihiko's voice makes that character for me, great VO.

Posted by Brodehouse

He has a really breathy tone to his voice, like he either smoked a ton or he just has a natural smooth radio voice.

Surprised to find out he's American. Someone had told me he was from the UK.

I'm pretty sure he plays an evil prince-child character in Eternal Sonata, and his voice is hysterical. He sounds like Akihiko's kid brother.

Edited by Cathryn

Liam O'Brien has been one of my favourite English voice actors for some time now. I'm always excited when he's in a game I'm playing, though I have to say that I like him best as Akihiko in Persona 3. I never watch anime dubs, so I haven't heard him in many of his anime roles (though I know he's voiced a number of high profile characters), but I always laugh when I hear him in commercials from time to time. Recently, he's voiced those Wonderful Pistachios commercials and it's pretty amusing. I sometimes mix him up with Sam Riegel, as those two sound pretty similar at certain pitches.

Enjoyed reading this, along with your last one.

Posted by Ghostiet

Grimoire Weiss. Ham it up, O'Brien.

Posted by omdata

Good stuff. Liam O'Brien's characterization of War is one of my favorite voice performances ever in a video game. Every word spat painfully through clenched teeth. Beautiful. I really didn't think they could find anyone to follow that performance up, but Michael Wincott's take on Death is on the same level, IMO, I adore it.

Edited by Jeust

@ghostiet said:

Grimoire Weiss. Ham it up, O'Brien.

Posted by Vasta_Narada

He has a really breathy tone to his voice, like he either smoked a ton or he just has a natural smooth radio voice.

Surprised to find out he's American. Someone had told me he was from the UK.

I'm pretty sure he plays an evil prince-child character in Eternal Sonata, and his voice is hysterical. He sounds like Akihiko's kid brother.

If you're talking about Akihiko Sanada from Persona 3, O'Brien plays him :P

Posted by originalgamer

If you guys are interested in him, you should def check out his podcast with fellow voice actors, called All Work No Play.

Online
Edited by Svenzon

Liam O'Brien is fucking everywhere nowadays. Forget boxes, people should start measuring Time To Liam O'Brien" instead. Me and a friend of mine have made it a habit to text each other as soon as we hear his voice in a game, usually something along the lines of "OMG, LIAM O'BRIEN!". Needless to say, his presence on the voice track can be very distracting for me. When I played Tomb Raider and saw a group of thugs approaching I keep thinking "Here comes Liam O'Brien and his buddies" to myself.

That said, I still think he's a pretty good actor and seems like a cool guy. He reminded me a lot of Alan Rickman in Nier and I often imitate his furious "YOU TALK TOO MUCH!" from Asura's Wrath when I think someone needs to shut up for a moment. I don't punch them so hard they fly off into orbit though.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Dio and Akihiko are the same voice? ...actually, yeah that makes sense now. I can totally hear it.

Edited by NoK

Wow! This is awesome, thank you so much for taking the time to gather all this together. I really enjoy your writing, it was a great read.

Posted by pekoe212

Considering the latest thing I have heard Liam O'Brien in is Final Fantasy XIII-2 as Caius, reading this was fascinating. I really want to hear some of these characters for contrast. I thought he did a remarkable job in FFXIII-2. Of course the character is an overblown, tortured, ridiculously-dressed villain, but he commits to it so well and infuses his lines with true emotion. He actually had me feeling for the guy at times, even with the incomprehensible story. I hope you have time to continue this feature and to highlight some more O'Brien stuff, this was really well-written and I liked how in-depth you went describing the characters and how he used his voice to portray them.