IntroductionI love voice acting. Being heard and not seen permits an actor much more freedom to experiment, yet it also challenges them, as without the visual aspect of their performance, there is much more for them to convey with their voice. To me, listening to good voice acting, like listening to good music, is a euphoric experience. On the other hand, bad voice acting is something I find positively galling.
Now, as a part-time anime fan and a part-time video games fan, I find myself bombarded with bad voice acting on a perpetual basis. Maybe there is a shortage of money being channeled into this particular facet of production? Nevertheless, I quite regularly come across a performance that I feel is worthy of my praise, and perhaps for the fact that these are relatively scarce, I tend to get very vocal when I do.
Rather than ramble on incoherently, I shall focus my criticism on Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, a game that has kept me busy for many nights lately, and while it has both amazed and grated me with the quality of its voice acting at times, I am pleased to announce that in general the quality is pretty good. As I fancy myself something of an optimist, I choose to concentrate on its strengths, and as such, will begin by listing my top three favourite actors/roles below.
- Andy Milder as Prince Sebastian LaCroix
- J. Grant Albrecht as Dr Alistair Grout
- Karis Campbell as The Deb of Night
Prince Sebastian LaCroixMy choice of LaCroix did not come easy, as he is easily one of the characters I hate the most. But then, it is the very fact that I despise him so that prompted me to consider him. Why do I loathe him so? He is a pompous, cold-hearted, self-centred, backstabbing bureaucrat... and Andy Milder does a terrific job personifying those qualities, while still keeping the character believable.
While I doubt the player is ever expected to sympathize with the tyrant, we are nevertheless treated to a broader palette of LaCroix's emotions than any other character in the game – and delivered with point-blank precision across the board. His triumphant blusters, his fits of rage, his moments of weakness... We see him lose his composure and recollect his dignity, we see him quietly muse at the window of his office as he verbally justifies his actions, and not once does the actor miss the mark.
Oddly enough, I did hear Milder pronounce "can" as "kahn" once or twice in the Prince's ranting, but these are matters of accent mimicking, and who can speak with authority as to the accent of a vampire who has lived long enough to have served in Napoleon's ranks? This is something for which I would ridicule a bad performance, but there is so little else to fault with Milder's portrayal of the Camarilla boss that I can easily tolerate it.
Dr Alistair GroutA close contender for the first place is J. Grant Albrecht as Alistair Grout. Unlike LaCroix, Grout never makes an appearance in Bloodlines. In fact, the entirety of his character built through a series of voice tapes that the player's character discovers in the Malkavian mansion. Even so, a combination of good writing and excellent voice direction makes what little material is available more than enough to leave a powerful impression in the listener's mind.
I will admit that I have a soft spot for dramatic acting, and for the portrayal of mentally unstable characters in particular. There is something to be said for an actor that can cast away his inhibitions and place himself in the shoes of someone who steadily loses his grip on reality, and it is just that that Albrecht does so well as the Malkavian primogen.
The writers intentionally gave Grout uncomfortably long sentences, and Albrecht speaks them as if they eminate from his own subconscious. The actor paces himself well, with Grout's ramblings becoming ever more urgent and frantic as he succumbs to the voices in his mind, yet reserving enough humanity to communicate a tenderness in his voice when Grout makes mention of his dear wife. In the final tape, Albrecht brings Grout's rantings to a terrifying climax as he delivers a portent of impending doom.
Five stars for Albrecht. Interestingly, this actor has a couple more roles in Bloodlines, each of them unique and well acted, though none of them reach such heights as his work for Grout.
The Deb of NightIt was a difficult choice, but I have decided to settle for Karis Campbell as the Deb of Night for third place. Campbell is commendable for her realistic portrayal of a radio hostess, and a good radio hostess at that. Perhaps the actress had prior experience in this line of work? While Deb as a character has a very limited range of emotions to express, her snappy comebacks, knowing witticisms and seductive tones are so well rendered that one might easily forget that they aren't listening to a real radio broadcast.
I am particularly fond of her exchange with the Tsimiche. Deb's voice is cool as cucumber soup, as is to be expected from one who has to deal with all sorts of perverted callers every night. Another favourite of mine is the conversation about what qualifies one as a writer; Campbell has good synergy with the other actors here, and again the end product might believably have come from a real live radio program (and again, this is as much a result of good acting as it is of good writing).
OtherI do believe a special mention is in order for Grey DeLisle as Therese /Jeanette Voerman, if nothing else for how well she handled the duality of her role. Not only did she pull off two distinct voices for the two personalities that actually have a verbal showdown at one point (something that always intrigues me), but she also kept them close enough so that when the truth is revealed, the player can have no doubt that they have been coming from the same set of vocal cords all along.
John Di Maggio deserves mention for his portrayal of Smiling Jack, a character who does little more than crack jokes and explain things. I imagine the game's tutorials would be much less interesting were it not for the voice actor's comical take on his character. Phil LaMarr really pulls his weight as Fat Larry, whom I found to be the most entertaining merchant in the game. There are also some good performances by Neil Ross (as Gary), Nika Futterman (as Velvet) and Keone Young (as the Mandarin).
The Hall of ShameThe cast of Bloodlines is, sadly, not without its failures. Thankfully, most of these fall squarely into the category of "minor character" (and many seem to reside within Chinatown as well, though I will endeavour not to let actors with bad Asian accents overrun this section).
Allow me to start off with the worst offender, the "actress" for Yukie Ogami. I will try to stay focused on my criticism of the actress, though it must be said that, perhaps due to my own familiarity with Japanese, I consider the writing for this character particularly bad (in both languages). Her acting, if it can be termed such, is atrocious. I would not be surprised if it turns out the developers picked a random anime fan claiming to know something about Japanese pronunciation (which, in fact, she does not). And then there is that horrible buzz in all of Yukie's voice files, which I have trouble imagining why the sound team let it go to production.
You will note that none of the actors I have given positive mention do that terrible thing where they sound like they are (and most likely are) reading their lines for the first time. This is something that might not be obvious at the time of recording, where lines may be provided out of context, but it is usually very noticeable in the final product, where the intention behind the spoken words becomes obscured by misplaced emphasis, misleading intonation of voice, etc. This can be quite trying for those who wish to immerse themselves in the game world. Another bad habit among voice actors, I find, involves putting emphasis on almost every word. This happens perhaps especially among those that enjoy disguising their voices.
One actor who persistently makes both of these mistakes, is Michael Gough. In Bloodlines, he is the voice of the lone wolf Beckett – which is a shame, as Beckett is one of my favourite characters. (This is not the first time Gough voices my favourite character either; he also provided the voice of Tassadar in the original StarCraft.) Gough is good at changing his voice, I shall grant him that. This is well demonstrated within Bloodlines by his portrayal of another quite eccentric character, Stanley Gimble. Nevertheless, it seems Gough refuses to attach any sense of context to his lines, something he has failed to do since the days of the original Diablo (where he first voiced Cain the Elder).