Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 2

Odin Sphere - 2007

Ingway

In Odin Sphere, O'Brien plays Ingway, twin brother of Velvet, and bastard child of the Demon Lord Odin himself. We first meet him; however, in the form of a cute little frog. And at this point in the story, he plays a sweet and goofy character, constantly following the flighty princess Mercedes in hopes of finally snatching the kiss that she promised him. He's a dashing prince who was turned into a toad by an evil conjurer, and he must have a lovely lady give him crazy smooches to transform back into the dashing prince of Valentine Ingway. And I feel like that cliche is actually really fitting for this game. The whole world of Odin Sphere feels so nostalgically familiar and yet so fantastically foreign at the same time. And the way the visuals look like a children's book literally come to life have a lot to do with that.

But at any rate, he does eventually get that kiss from the lovely princess and sadly, takes his leave. After that we see him through the lens of his sister's story, where he is not nearly as sweet or silly. In fact, he acts much more the part of a bastard child of royalty. He's got plenty of reasons to be angry and bitter, and seems to be pretty wrapped up in taking care of his sister, and when he isn't busy with that, he’s got some pretty serious revenge plots to work on a number of characters in the game, mostly out of a desire to save his sister from an evil curse. And unfortunately that ends up really getting in the way of his plot thread with Mercedes, which is actually kind of tragic.

But getting back to the voice part, O’Brien is doing his British voice again for this character. But Ingway kind of stands apart from most of his British characters in that the character has so much bad stuff on his plate to deal with, and he really sounds like he can’t deal with it all. It’s obvious that he’s in full-on protective big brother mode, but he can’t help but act like an asshole to her when they speak. He pulls a bit of that Isaac style rage back out for Ingway in a way that makes for a really convincing character. Whether you like him or not, you know where he’s coming from. He’s a guy that’s spent most of his life getting fucked at the drive-through and O’Brien makes sure that you can hear that in his voice.

And all of that makes his funny frog times with Mercedes all the more amusing. The dude’s obviously got some serious patience when it comes to working his little machinations, and he’s not about to let a flighty goofball princess break his stride. He’s got revenging that needs revenged, and he’s unfortunately not going to let love get in the way of that. Anyway. I’ve probably talked far too long about this game. So how about we just move on to another Atlus game for me to talk way too much about.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 - 2007

Akihiko Sanada

Persona 3 was kind of accidentally O'Brien's first big break in games. All of the previous games here have all been middling to obscure. And it's hard to remember that, for a time, Persona 3 was obscure as well. It's hard to say weather Persona 3 really was the big break it appears to be or if it was rather the fact that most of Persona 3's English voice cast were all Naruto alumni, but you're going to start seeing a lot more major roles from this guy moving forward.

At any rate. Akihiko is an awesome character in one of my favorite games, and although he's not my favorite character in the game, I'm still a pretty big fan. All of the voices in this game have this strange air about them. There's something about the ambiance of this game that's just really unsettling. Maybe not as much so as some of the earlier Megaten games with Kaneko on character designs, but the ambiance is unsettling. And it's hard to say if the voice performances are a reason for that or if they sound so strange because of it. But there's this pervading sense of unheimlich in the game, and that goes for the characters too.

Akihiko kind of seems like he might be crazy at first. He's like, really super hardcore into fighting these freaky, otherworldly creatures in a way that's bordering on fetishistic. It's not really until you start learning about his background and get into some of the eventual social hijinks with him that he starts to not seem like that creepy guy who's maybe more of a liability in your weird little quest you're going on. But that creepiness really feeds a lot into his mystique as a character early on. He gives off the distinct impression that he's a sociopath, and that's sorta cool in it's own right, and then you sort of warm up to him naturally as you learn that he's actually a pretty cool guy.

And the way his character plays off of Junpei is pretty fun too. He ends up sort of becoming the fuddy duddy of the bunch, being outclassed as the cool, silent type by your character, and looking up tight compared to Junpei. His relationship with Shinji really contrasts that aspect of his character well though, making him seem very reminiscent of Kiryu in the Yakuza games due to his background. He's a real tough-as-nails dude who's already seen a lot of shit for not even being out of high school yet. And his relationship with Mitsuru is definitely interesting as well. The way she’s sort of this rich kid, and he's an orphan is a really strong contrast, but they're both extremely strong minded and strong willed individuals, and they seem to really stand on even footing with one another, despite Mitsuru basically owning the entire city. There's this mutual respect between the two that's really interesting to look at, considering their vastly different backgrounds.

And of course a lot of that is just in the writing, but O'Brien definitely brought a certain touch to the character. There's an unwavering coolness in his voice, which is I think what interested me in his character the most starting out. Like, he's this really dapper dressing, Duddley looking motherfucker with a really smooth yet smoky voice. And that really never changes as the story progresses. It's a pretty subdued role compared against some of his earlier ones, and I feel like that was intentional. There's a real energy behind his performance, even though he's a fairly soft-spoken character, that I think really defines the character. Like there's an intensity there that isn't used, but you can still feel that it's there.

There's also this sort of friendly warmness to his personality that we haven't really seen in his previous characters. This sort of amiable tone O'Brien strikes in Persona 3 is something we're going to be seeing more of moving along. It's actually one of the main qualities that defines a lot of his roles I would say. But we'll talk a bit more about that later on.

Notable Quotes:

"Heh. I've been waiting for this!"

"Did you see that, Shinji?"

"Huh. Where you been?"

Eternal Sonata - 2007

Count Waltz

Evidently Tri-Crescendo was busy this year. Judging by how similar Valkyrie Profile 2 and Eternal Sonata are in terms of style and game play, I can only assume that Tri-Crescendo played a heavy role in the Development of Valkyrie Profile 2 outside of merely supplying the music. Eternal Sonata, on the other hand, was their first fully-fledged game developed on their own in earnest, coming out in late 2007.

Eternal Sonata was another early 360 JRPG. This one looks and plays a bit better than Enchanted Arms. The art style is still impressive to look at. It looks a lot like Tales of Vesperia, only with a bit more of a chibi art style and faux nineteenth century period clothing. It actually follows the exploits of Frédéric Chopin, in a magical dream world he inhabits while comatose from a fatal disease, so points for creativity. That's also why all of the characters are named after music terminology, Waltz, in O'Brien's case. Speaking of O'Brien, let's talk a bit about his character. Count Waltz is a super evil, Prince Joffrey type, albeit in cutesy anime form. He doesn't really figure into the game's story until the back half, where he starts to have a bit more bearing, and then he disappears almost as quickly as he had arrived.

The game takes sort of a left-turn toward the end where all the political intrigue they had been building up just sort of disappears in favor of your bog-standard existentialist fair for the ending. The PS3 version changed this a little, but Waltz is ultimately a red herring villain. But what little we get to hear of O'Brien is a real treat. There are shades of Lezard Valeth, which is appropriate, given the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, they're both Tri-Crescendo games. And they share quite a bit in the way of gameplay and style. One of the most obvious touchstones of that is in the crazy special attacks with their goofy quotes played with a deep echo effect over the voices. Try comparing this against the video back in the Valkyrie Profile 2 section, and I think you'll see what I mean. There's also that laugh of his, which even gives his previous role as Lezard a run for its money.

So if you like your Tri-Ace/Crescendo JRPGs and you like your Liam O'Brien prepubescent and sociopathic, then evidently Eternal Sonata is the game for you. I personally couldn't get into it because the plot just didn't do it for me, but there's a lot of cool stuff in here to see if this kind of game happens to be up your alley. Plus it’s got Cam Clarke. And it's still a gorgeous game to look at, even six years out if nothing else.

Notable Quotes:

"Volcano Concussio!"

"Harsh Torment!"

"Heheheh! You're too slow!"

Devil May Cry 4 - 2008

Sanctus

Devil May Cry 4 is basically what happens when you give Chaos Legion a proper budget. It’s also, unfortunately, what happens when you don’t give Devil May Cry a big enough budget. It’s a great game, except for the fact that you spend the second half of the game retracing the levels in the first half with a different, way less cool character, even fighting the same bosses a second time.

O'Brien actually, evidently, got sent to Japan to do motion capture for Sanctus, though Sanctus doesn’t necessarily move around a whole lot in the cutscenes. But I get the impression that having to do something a bit closer to stage acting for the character teased out a different sounding, and somewhat more subtle performance out of him. And O’Brien does a great job of sounding like an old man in this game too. It’s the only game role I can think of where he plays a straight old man character, and he does a really great job of it. It’s a really nicely understated performance, despite having some nice dramatic speeches here and there. My only real qualm is that the writing isn’t quite up to snuff. I don’t know if it was the source material or the localization, but the actual dialogue leaves a lot to be desired.

Bosch’s character, Nero is cool as hell throughout, Credo isn’t bad either, but Dante is just a mess. It seems like any time they try for comic relief, it falls flat on its face. And sadly, Sanctus is somewhat inconsistent himself. The rousing sermon during the opening of the game just doesn’t quite sound right. It sounds a bit too much like a plot dump, which is a real shame, because it was well performed and could have worked really well, but the writing was just so not quite there that it didn’t. And at the game’s opening no less. It’s a real shame. But other than that one issue, Sanctus is pretty consistently excellent. That said, if you can look past the second half of the game being pure backtracking, then you're in for some really great gameplay that's marred by a few glaring story and budget issues here and there.

Disgaea 3 - 2008

Master Big Star

Disgaea is something of a blind spot of mine. But whatever. I fought a couple of Prinnies in Last Rebellion, so it should be fine. I think that makes me an expert in Disgaea lore... probably. So let’s get right into it then. With Disgaea 3, we’ve got something of a Battle Royale type scenario, wherein classes, at this evil academy in the Netherrealm I mean Outland I mean Netherworld, act as armies, which are controlled by class representatives. Master Big Star is one such class representative, alongside the main character, Mao.

The voice track is a bit odd. It’s hard to tell sometimes when the game is making fun of stupid anime and video game habits and when it’s simply guilty of perpetuating them, and the main characters all kinda sound like chipmunks. But overall, the story has an absurd and overly excited charm about it that hits more than it misses.There are some really amazing characters on offer here as well. And Salvatore definitely comes foremost on that list.

But back to Master Bigster, O’Brien turns in a similarly spirited performance here. Big Star is another of O’Brien’s many bishie characters, as evinced by the many shimmering sparkles which gleam around him every time he makes an appearance. In this case, there are also some tinges of aristocracy in his voice. And his voice fluctuates in pitch pretty dramatically. At times it’s deep and thick, and sounds similar to Weiss in Nier. At other times, it sounds high and airy, almost like Endrance. And having that wide range in pitch really helps make Big Star stand out among his many English accents and bishied out characters. And, of course, the writing affords him some choice lines to chew on as well.

All in all, it’s a really good, very animated performance, with some fun dialogue to go with it. And I probably don’t need to tell you whether you should play Disgaea or not. I feel like that’s a pretty clear sell one way or the other. That said, the graphical bells and whistles introduced with Disgaea 4 might make that the better choice for newcomers like myself. But if you require Bishie O’Brien in your JRPGs, then the choice is clear. Atelier Meruru of course. But if you need your JRPGS grid based, then I guess Disgaea 3 is your man.

Resident Evil 5 - 2009

Reynard Fisher/Voice Director

Resident Evil 5 was destined to fail. It had just about everything you could possibly have working against it doing so with zeal. First, it came after a generation defining game. Resident Evil 4 didn’t just define horror games for a generation. It defined games for a generation. Secondly, it came in the wake of a mass exodus of talent from Capcom, including all of Clover Studios, most prominently the director of Resident Evils 1 and 4, Shinji Mikami and the director of Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry, Hideki Kamiya. Not to mention Kenji Inafune, who was still around but just could not stop talking shit about his company for two seconds.

Meanwhile every attempt the existing team made at modernizing the game’s design was met with scorn and derision from fans and onlookers alike. For a game that sold six million some copies, Resident Evil 5 had a lot of detractors. That’s not to say it was a bad game though. Expectations and blind animosity toward the rapidly crumbling Capcom were what secured all the drama and negative opinions. Nevermind that the series had been chasing Hollywood bombast since Resident evil 2 in 1998 and never looked back. People read every step as a misstep and bemoaned every feature included. It was too actioney. It was too dumb. It was too serious. But worst of all, it wasn’t scary.

Resident Evil 5 was, to the best of my knowledge, O'Brien's first voice directing role in video games. He'd already been doing a lot of the same work in anime for a little while, but I think this is his first directing gig for a game. And evidently the process was somewhat arcane. If I’m remembering this right, they did all of the mocap for the game, and then did facial capture separately with different actors, which is where O’Brien comes in.

Tone wise, Resident Evil 5 never can seem to find a consistent footing. It sits in a very similar place as 4, generally trying to be serious, but constantly giving in to goofiness. I think there’s just something about the lineage of this series that you can’t help but want to put a bunch of goofy shit in there, which does play hell with the more serious tone they were going for here. But either way, let’s take a look at the acting in this game, since that’s what he was in charge of.

Let’s just get the elephant in the room out of the way straight off. DC Douglas is a cartoon supervillain among supervillains in Resident Evil 5. And as much as I miss that snoody-talking hairdresser that played Wesker in RE1, DC Douglass definitely made Wesker his bitch in RE5. Granted, he’d played Wesker in Umbrella Chronicles previously, but I mean come on. Nobody actually played that. Wesker’s voice in this game is sort of ‘that voice’ for DC Douglass. He did the same for Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia and Nier, among others. But it’s done with such a conviction and excitement here that it’s hard not to get swept up in the performance. Wesker also appears to be a personal favorite of Douglas’ as well.

Then, of course, there’s Irving. And I really appreciate that they were able to get an actor with standards for this character, because he’s just so goddamn fun. It’s a fucking shame we haven’t gotten to see more of this Allan Groves guy, because he’s just so good in this game. He even looks like a more handsome version of Irving. I mean, Irving’s not even that major a character in the game, but he’s so fun I wish he was. And I really felt bad when he ate it. Cause honestly, I’d like to see more of that guy. I’d like to see more of Allan Groves too. He still hasn’t been in very much stuff. Maybe he’ll get to reprise his role as Enzo in Bayonetta 2.

Oh and O’Brien plays a character too, though he only gets a few lines of dialogue. Outside of that, we’ve got Chris and Sheva, played by Roger Craig Smith and Karen Dyer respectively. Smith brings a real every-man likability to Chris’ voice that really helps distract from those massive biceps. But Smith does a great job of making Chris feel just a little threadbare and worn out as well. Dyer does a real good job with the British accent. It makes Sheva seem appropriately exotic. She looks like someone you don’t want to fuck with, and she sounds like a badass Bond girl. It's also worth noting that Dyer was one of the actors who did both the motion capture and voice for her character. And Sheva definitely cuts an imposing visage. And it really is telling that Dyer imbued Sheva with so much personality that I still enjoyed her as a character, despite her being such an insufferable AI partner in the single player.

But of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses. There is some wonkiness here and there. Like the D-Pad partner commands. I don’t know what’s up with those. When Sheva is supposed to be saying ‘thanks’ it sounds more like ‘panks’ or something. Then of course there’s her “I NEED A HERB!” shout where she pronounces it with a harder H than anyone has ever made before in the history of time. Then of course there’s Chris’s bumbling quote of “D’uh I need ammo!” And I don’t know if all of that was just something they left that way because it was hilarious or if they were just in a hurry to get those lines done, but I’m glad it ended up that way. I think I got more amusement out of those busted assed partner shouts than I did throwing eggs at the crocodile in the fan boat level.

It’s certainly a strong start. Like I said, this isn’t O’Brien’s first rodeo if we’re counting anime, but Resident Evil 5 was one of my favorite dubs before I even knew O’Brien directed it. It’s got gravitas. It’s got laughs. And it’s got some great performances with a lot of fairly unknown actors in it. So definite props to O’Brien for that.

Undead Knights - 2009

Lord Follis

Undead Knights is one of O'Brien's lesser gigs. I only included it because it's such a weird game. It's a pretty generic third person hack n slash, and the fact that this is a PSP game makes the fact that this is basically just a bad Musou game even harder to deal with. So what's so weird about this game? Well, first off, the soundtrack was handled by some California pseudo-black metal band called Lightning Swords of Death. Who's idea this was I have no idea, and while I bristle at the thought of black metal music coming out of California, the soundtrack at least gives the game a different vibe, which a game like this desperately needs.

This is the team, by the way, that developed Quantum Theory, Team Tachyon of Tecmo. So it's not a huge surprise that it's not the best game ever. I think the lesson here if there is one is that you shouldn't hazzard to make a Musou style game unless you can make the moment to moment gameplay engaging. Otherwise you're likely to bore your audience to death. The real problem here though is the controls and camera. Obviously you don’t get much for camera control because third-person games on the PSP in general were one gross escapade. But it’s difficult just navigating your character around the level.

At any rate, O'Brien plays a character named Lord Follis, who is one of the several bad guys in the game. He's got this evil guy alchemy lab in his castle, and gets up to all sorts of wacky hijinks down there. In the meantime he's mugging for the camera in the cutscenes, which is the part we're going to be looking at here. Follis has this bored, aristocratic sound to his voice, and kind of speaks in a super soft tone, almost mumbling. Like he’s so up his own ass that it’s a true exertion just to speak clearly or something. It’s a real shame there wasn’t more of him to listen to in this game, because O’Brien really sells this goofy character super well.

Undead Knights is kind of a hard sell. Ninety percent of its’ appeal is in its’ weirdness, and while I do enjoy weird games, the fact that it’s a PSP game makes this a problem. You can get it on PSN right now, if you feel like dropping forty dollars for a decidedly mediocre game. Otherwise I guess you have to find the thing on UMD. But I don’t think I’m too far out of line to suggest that you save your money and save yourself the trouble and just don’t. Anyway, thanks for reading. We’ll pick this back up in part 3.

- Kris Osborn

6 Comments
6 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

I have to wonder what the Asura's Wrath entry is gonna be like. "Yep, Liam O'Brien sure can yell a lot, and he does sound angry while doing it. Guess he lives up to the "wrath" part of the title."

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Edited by stubbleman

I have to wonder what the Asura's Wrath entry is gonna be like. "Yep, Liam O'Brien sure can yell a lot, and he does sound angry while doing it. Guess he lives up to the "wrath" part of the title."

I really just spent most of it ruminating on how sexy Robin Atkin Downes' hair is... And making bad My Little Pony jokes...

Posted by FLStyle

No fucking way, Liam o'Brien is crazy old man Sanctus? Didn't spot it at the time, listening to that first link I can definitely hear it now.

Posted by medacris

@stubbleman said:

@video_game_king said:

I have to wonder what the Asura's Wrath entry is gonna be like. "Yep, Liam O'Brien sure can yell a lot, and he does sound angry while doing it. Guess he lives up to the "wrath" part of the title."

I really just spent most of it ruminating on how sexy Robin Atkin Downes' hair is... And making bad My Little Pony jokes...

I look forward to it, then. And gosh, that man really does have pretty hair. I can't wait until you do an entry on him, especially if you focus on Travis and Medic at some point.

Also, a request: Maybe a actor/actress switch-off every installment. Although I can think of more voice actors than actresses...

Random thoughts throughout these first two entries:

  • I figured //.HACK was so hard to find because the games came with episodes of the anime. Now that that's a much more common thing (not just licensed games based on anime, but anime tie-in prequels/interquels and adaptions of the game), why don't they do that more?
  • Asura's Wrath always reminds me of the screaming booth Capcom had two years ago at NYCC. Scream as loud as Asura, win a wig that looks like his hair. For some reason, little girls and women were really good at it.
  • I really need to play Disgaea and Persona.
  • Do you think he gets sick of being typecast as a bishonen?
Posted by stubbleman

@medacris: Thanks for the kind words.

Some random replies. I think the fact that when the anime bubble in America popped, it popped super hard, and it's actually pretty hard for an anime based game to come over here now unless it's Naruto. Case in point, that last .hack pseudo fighting game with the tie-in cg movie never came out here. But, then again, Tekken Hybrid totally did.

And I doubt O'Brien's too worried about playing bishies now that he's so busy being typecast as super grizzled warrior dudes these days.

Edited by medacris

@stubbleman: No problem, bud. And ah, good points. I'm still hoping for some combo deal with Danganronpa and the anime, though, as both are excellent. It's interesting to see what roles someone ends up getting changing over the years.