By stubbleman 3 Comments
Well it’s been a little while since part 3. But whatever. Better late than never. It’s part 4. There’s only like, maybe two more parts I guess left to go! So Let’s get to it! If I don’t hurry I might end up taking another stupidly long hiatus. I’m like the Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock of writing stupid novel length articles on the internet. And I guess Liam O’Brien would be Dennis Hopper in this analogy? Anyway, let’s get to it. Part 4 go.
Catherine - 2011
I really didn't like Catherine when it came out. I still don't, but I disliked it a lot more when I bought it the day it came out. I was just never prepared to deal with the puzzle gameplay, and the story very quickly started to feel like an afterthought to the interminable block puzzles.
O'Brien plays Orlando, good friend to the protagonist, Vincent. He's a suave-assed looking dude with a plaid fedora and a chip on his shoulder toward the ladies. He's probably the most pragmatic and not-stupid character in the whole game, and he's the only character that treats Vincent for the stupid dip-shit that he is. He's got a sexy deep man-voice thanks to O'Brien's contributions, and appears to have been jilted at least once before. So he's sort of a foil to a lot of things going on in the plot.
One of the problems with the story in Catherine is that it juggles a lot of things but doesn't really handle any of them well. You might think at first that Orlando is supposed to be the devil on Vincent's shoulder, but Vincent is too much of a stupid baby to want to do the right thing by his girlfriend. And you might think he's supposed to be the 'cut and run' to balance out the 'love conquers all.' But the story never gets around to having that other voice for him to be a foil to. So he's basically just there to chastise Vincent for being so stupid and indecisive.
The other big problem with this game is it's so entirely wrapped up in its own plot machinations that the characters don't get any room to have any actual character. And let me tell you that plot is one of the stupidest I’ve ever come by. I can’t for a half a second believe that this is the same people who made two of my favorite games in Persona 3 and 4. I swear, the Ancient Aliens guy could have come up with a better twist at the end of this pathetic attempt at a story.
But getting back on topic, the characters aren’t given any room for characterization because the plot is so constrictive. Vincent just spends the whole game bitching about how his girlfriend is going to kill him, getting shitfaced and waking up in bed with this new girl, then he just goes out and does it again. It's like an unfunny version of Gob's roofie loop and we're supposed to be cool with playing a character stupid enough to do that.
Katherine is supposed to have some sort of endearing qualities to make the thought of a long-term relationship seem rewarding on some level, but the plot isn't having it. All she gets to do is bitch and complain, and that's just because Vincent is being the sketchy, skittish dumbass that I have to assume he always acts like since we’re never shown anything different. She’s not even remotely aware of any kind of infidelity until later on. So evidently she's just always been a nagging obnoxious piece of shit. That's certainly the impression the game puts across.
In fact, Orlando might be one of the only characters that isn't obnoxious or stupid. There's Erica. She's pretty cool. But those two are pretty much it. And for being pretty much the lone voice of reason in a cast of mincing idiots and plot contrivances, he gets criminally underused. I guess at least he gets to sound sexy as hell on the odd occasion that we get to see him. But gosh. I guess I spent so much time complaining about the story that I barely mentioned how O’Brien sounds in it. He was pretty great. Anyway, what game do we have next?
Rise of Nightmares - 2011
Now this is more like it! Rise of Nightmares is an exceedingly fascinating little game by Sega Wow, designers of the House of the Dead games. This game is basically what happens when that team tries to make a more serious and adult version of House of the Dead. They start out with a married couple on vacation struggling with the husband's alcoholism. Luckily though, the husband, your player character, talks like Duke Nukem. So in case you were worried that making House of the Dead all serious would ruin what makes it so fun then don't. It's still beyond stupid.
Your guy even does the whole Duke Nukem kicking animation. But it does at least flirt with the darker, more serious tone. I would even say that it's a nice change of pace for the series if this were actually called House of the Dead and if it wasn't shackled to Kinect controls. The more serious tone allows the game to be stupid and funny in new and different ways, as opposed to simply being more B-grade cheese. And B-grade cheese is fun in it's own right. But like I said, it's a nice change of pace. It also allows them to create an amazing mood and setting. The train you start the game on just feels like an awesome place to start a horror story.
But let’s take a look at that story for a minute. Rise of Nightmares follows the common horror movie trope of dumb Americans vacationing off the beaten path in Romania of all places. Then bad shit happens because it's Romania, nobody knows what the fuck is going on because they don't speak the same language as everyone else, and no one can help them because it’s Romania and everyone is evil and wants to kill them anyway. You know, cause it’s Romania. We've all seen this before. But it is a good framing device for a horror story. It ends up feeling like a weird cross between Hostel and Transylvania 6-5000, leaning a bit more toward the Hostel end of things.
O'Brien plays one of the military men onboard the train, but he's unfortunately killed off fairly early on. And that’s too bad, because he appears to be speaking Romanian. I really couldn’t tell you if he’s any good at all at speaking Romanian. But it’s still pretty cool nonetheless. He also plays a character named Marchosias, who has a bit more bearing on the plot. Probably my favorite thing about Marchosias is that he looks like a slightly wilder, slightly less sunburned version of the Ancient Aliens guy. Wow. That’s two Ancient Aliens references in a row. That’s gotta be some kind of record.
But the character; what is this character? Well, if you imagine Weiss from Nier, but like, a creepy raper guy with the head of that guy from the Ancient Aliens, but also he’s a pretty snappy dresser, then you’re getting pretty close. Marchosias is an interesting change of tone for O’Brien in that he’s very transparently assholish. And he’s very charismatic and likeable too. So he’s using that eminently likeable voice of his toward a more darker end, making likeable a very shitty asshole of a character. He’s sort of like Cary Grant in His Girl Friday, if he was trying to kill you or something; which is a terrible analogy, but oh well. On to the next game.
White Knight Chronicles II - 2011
You know, the whole time everyone on the internet was wetting their pants over how 'omg cool' Ni No Kuni was, I was left to only think about their last console RPG, White Knight Chronicles II. You may not know a lot about this game and it’s predecessor, probably because people have a strange form of amnesia regarding Level 5 games that suck total shit, so I suppose I’ll have to describe it a bit here.
White Knight Chronicles II was something of a pseudo sequel to the original White Knight chronicles, which came out in 2010. It essentially took the original and expanded off of its’ less than spectacular cliffhanger ending, and added a lot of padding in the middle. This sequel, if it can so be called, only adds a few new areas to the game, one of which is an optional bonus dungeon which opens after having beat the game. But while it is just a god awful terrible excuse for a sequel, it’s decent as a ‘hey we actually finished the game now you guys’ re-release if you will.
The original White Knight Chronicles; however, wasn’t a very good game to begin with. But it wasn’t always that way. White Knight Chronicles made it’s debut, I believe, with this bad assed trailer at the 2006 Tokyo Game Show. As you can see, this was obviously a gussied up target render, but the gameplay and animations look tight as hell. It really does look like a fantastic game, the gameplay looks a lot like Final Fantasy XIII just slightly better, and thrown into a more medieval setting with Escaflowne style mecha. It was a fantastic demo that I remember my friend Wes showing me when I asked him what good games the PS3 had coming way back in 2006, 2007. He showed me that and I was convinced he’d found something special with White Knight Chronicles. Then the game came out.
And this is what we ended up getting, a bunch of half-assed flinching animations between one boring idle animation while you slap the dragon’s ass with your stupid sword. Then you occasionally do that henshin thing with your robot powers and then slap the same boring enemies with that, though I hear that is slightly more fun. But you know your game has got some serious problems when you’ve got giant robo henshin powers and the game is still boring and tedious to play.
At any rate. White Knight Chronicles II is more of an expansion pack for White Knight Chronicles, and while it did improve on the combat slightly, there’s just no saving this dire, unholy mess of a game. Nonetheless, O’Brien plays Madoras, the big bad, who doesn’t really show up, let alone even get mentioned until really late into the game. He’s doing ‘that voice’ again as Madoras, but the big difference here is that they put some really badass effects over his voice.
So O’Brien delivers disinterested sounding speeches, accompanied by an otherworldly echo, which makes for a very interesting sounding villain. Too powerful to have much interest in what he’s talking about, and too badass to sound boring doing it. At any rate, unless you’re one to throw caution to the wind, I would advise you steer yourself clear of White Knight Chronicles in any of its several forms. If you absolutely must see O’Brien’s turn as Madoras, then try YouTube. It’s free, and it’ll save you a good sixty plus hours.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter - 2011
O’Brien makes his second Layton appearance in 2011’s The Last Spector, this time playing the character Clark Triton, father of the precocious, future assistant to the professor, Luke Triton. Cark is the mayor of the town in which Layton finds his latest mystery taking place. And apparently he’s made some enemies since becoming mayor, because evidently mayors have lots of enemies or something. Also his son is like the biggest asshole ever. It’s actually kind of funny how much of a dick this kid is, especially considering his generally sunny disposition in the other games. But this means poor Clark is stuck having to play sort of the fuddy duddy father archetype, constantly getting after the boy, despite not really being much of a hardass.
He sounds kind of like a more laid-back Stahngun. He’s still got that kind of white-washed English accent, but he’s less goofy and more down-to-earth. He’s a bit more of a recurring character than Stahngun was as well, so you get to see him more often. And all these domestic issues he’s dealing with make him seem like just some regular guy. Granted this is a magical world that only communicates through puzzles and riddles, and there’s something about a giant coming out at night, when the fog comes in, to terrorize the town. But other than that though, Clark is about as regular a guy as you could hope to meet. And O’Brien does a good job of making him sound sort of wore out and down on his luck, which makes sense what with the magical giant monsters and his son being such a fucking asshole.
At any rate, if The Unwound Future’s story was a bit too much of a bummer for you, then maybe give this one a try. It’s a bit more consistently lighthearted and Emmy makes for a far cuter assistant than Luke could ever dream of being, with his stupid hat and his dumb Phoenix Wright hair. And Luke’s in it too anyway so everybody wins I guess.
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North - 2011
War in the North was kind of an unfortunate game. In theory, it should have been the Lord of the Rings game we’d always dreamed of. I mean, you've got Snowblind Studios, makers of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath, working on a game set concurrent with the events of the Lord of the Rings books/movies. That sounds like fucking game of the forever material right there. The voice cast as well is overflowing with talent. You've got, among others, Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Kim Mai Guest and Jennifer Hale throwing their talents into the pot. They were obviously trying to fill out their voice actor bingo cards on this project because damn if that wasn’t a sweet lineup they got for this game.
What we ended up with though, was really kind of disappointing. The game ended up being more like Dragon Age crossed with Gears of War, and the license just seemed like an afterthought at best. It's a real shame to think that Snowblind would be one-upped by other studios in the style of game that they themselves pioneered. The fact remains, though, that you would be better off with Marvel Ultimate Alliance than with War in the North. I think what’s most frustrating about this game is how all the animations are just terrible. The environments, story and characters are all fairly tight, but the game play experience completely undermines all of that. To call this game a slog would be a kindness. War in the North takes wave based combat to an absurd extreme.
That said though, the voice cast is still over-brimming with talent, and it really shows. O'Brien plays the elven twins Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond and brothers to Arwen. They tried to tie this shit into the books/movies pretty hard. But it is cool to see what all of the other heavy hitters who were around in that time frame were doing while Frodo was going on camping trips out in the outskirts of Emyn Muil with Sam and Sméagol.
One cool thing about this pair of twins is that O’Brien did a different voice for each of them. Elladan has more of a flat, lower voice, whereas Elrohir has more of a tendency to go up in pitch, though they’re both kind of raspy sounding in the same way. It’s just kind of neat that they kind of sound the same but they also sound kind of different.
While the writing for the cutscenes is about as moribund as the gameplay, the in-game voice track has got some real balls to it, which at least gives you something to tune the gameplay out to. It’s still worth a look if you’re an old school Baldur’s Gate/Snowblind fan, or if the good things I said about it piqued your interest. Make no mistake. The gameplay just isn’t quite there, and the pacing and animations are just atrocious. But it’s worth a look if those things don’t just kill it for you. And it’s worth a look if nothing else as a historical document on where the Baldur’s Gate genre ended up in 2012.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 - 2012
Caius Ballad is sort of the villain of Final Fantasy XIII-2. You spend most of the first several hours of the game not really knowing how all of the players in the story fit together; the game is kind of a mystery story in that regard. But Caius is pretty much always an antagonist to some degree. It is a pretty interesting dynamic, between O'Brien's super evil villain sounding voice and the character's vague allegiances starting out. He definitely sounds villainous, even if he rarely ever does anything all that evil in the early hours.
He also fits into the whole time travel aspect of the story in a fun way. He basically starts out as a scarier version of Van Damme in Time Cop, but with feathered hair and a fancy scarf. He usually shows up just long enough to tell Serah and Noel that they're jacking with the timeline and are probably going to fuck up all of existence if they don’t stop it. But he doesn’t actually do much. He’s kind of a tease. You fight him here and there but he basically just trades blows for a bit and then runs off. And that may have you mistakenly thinking that he’s some kind of chump, like the Turks in Final Fantasy VII. But then you only need think back to the game’s opening, which should quickly allay such suspicions.
One of the things I like the most about Caius is that his character gets better as the game goes along. It becomes fairly obvious as the story progresses that Caius has been doing this whole time traveling thing a lot longer than either of your characters have, and that his machinations run deeper than even you, the player, can see. While you’re trotting along the fractured timeline, trying to learn about the religious taxonomy on Pulse, and trying to learn who Etro even is, Caius has lived all of it. He spent eons as a servant of Etro, and more importantly, seems to have been manipulating everything for the vast majority of recorded history in this fictional universe. And while both the means and the ends still aren’t crystal clear going into Lightning returns, which he is confirmed to be a major character in, the game leaves you with a lot, and I mean a lot of digging to do if you want to see just how badly he was playing you all along.
But getting back to O’Brien – he’s got the evil guy voice going with Caius for sure, but there’s more to the performance than a gravelly voiced malaise. Caius’ unclear motivations play pretty heavily into O’Brien’s performance. There’s a real back and forth between a tired and sad man looking for mercy and respite in death, and a cold and calculating villain, manipulating everything to his unknown ends. And to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure where he falls on that scale. But O’Brien portrays both aspects of Caius really well. The game’s cold opening gives you a really poignant image of the former, whereas the game’s true ending really pushes the latter image.
There’s also a particular scene, where Noel is reliving his final days at the end of the world, where we see what his relationship with Caius was like back then (I know that doesn’t read right. But we’re talking about time travel here, so just bear with me, please.) And I think it’s a really telling scene, and offers a lot of insight into the character O’Brien brought us with Caius. He’s got a real paternal quality to the way he treats Noel here. There’s a real sense that Caius needs Noel, and while his intentions toward Noel are somewhat base, he still fawns over him not unlike toward a son. You can hear it in O’Brien’s voice. He praises the boy with an ironic distance that tells you he’s only doing it out of custom and affection. But more importantly than that, he does it with a straight face, as opposed to just patronizing him. It’s actually kind of sweet, and makes the rest of the story’s events seem all the more unfortunate.
Noel - “Do you think this will make Yeul happy?”
Caius - “Which Yeul are you talking about? I have known and protected hundreds of Yeuls. Although they had the same soul, every one of them was unique. A Yeul who dreamed of travel! A Yeul who loved to sing! A Yeul who collected flowers. They all died. All of them, before my eyes!”
“Behold! The heart of Chaos!”
“Wings of darkest night!”
NeverDead - 2012
Last time I brought NeverDead up mostly just as an excuse to mention it. But since we're talking about Liam O'Brien, I actually get a reasonable excuse to talk about it again, since O'Brien's character, Alex, is actually fairly important to the story in Neverdead. Alex is pretty freaking rad too. He’s kind of like a mix of Isaac in Curse of Darkness and Vamp in the Metal Gear games. He’s got the freakey bondange look of Isaac along with the deep, smoky voice of Vamp.
Alex has somewhat questionable allegiances. The premise in this game is that the main character, Bryce is an immortal and a demon hunter. He was turned immortal by a demon who defeated him 500 years ago, and present day is slumming it with a demon hunting company that employs immortals. Alex is one of these immortals, and is sort of a coworker of sorts. But he’s just a little bit crazy, go figure, and of course, O’Brien is really good at playing sociopaths.
he’s also really good at playing super friendly characters, and he sort of blends the two a bit for this character. Like, he speaks with a super friendly tone of voice, but that only makes him seem more scary and dangerous. I mean, he keeps his kunai handy by having them stuck in his arms. The guy obviously isn’t safe to have your children around. So he’s got that Mr. Rodgers creep factor going on with his character. You also get to play his character in the multiplayer, not that anyone alive is still around to play it with you.
Jesus. I’m getting depressed now. This game was almost great. I don’t care what anyone says. For all the soulless husks of games we get in this industry, this one sticks out like a sore thumb as a game that is only trying to be itself. And itself is a horribly confusing mess of unchecked japanese weirdness and baffling character design, and it’s absolutely beautiful for what it is. Few games take come as you are as seriously as NeverDead, and all the budgetary setbacks and quality issues in the world couldn’t mask this game’s heart. It’s not a very good game. But I’ll be goddamned if it’s not one of my favorites anyway.
Asura's Wrath - 2012
I wonder how bad O'Brien hated doing this character. I mean, I get that video games have a lot of shouting and screaming in them. But Asura's Wrath takes that concept to an entirely new level. But what is it that makes Asura’s Wrath worth sticking on this list, aside from several hours worth of his vocal chords slowly dying? Well it’s a lead role for one; his character’s name is right there in the title. It’s really a cool story too. I’ve heard people describe Asura’s Wrath as the best anime to come out in 2012, and that’s a pretty good way of describing it.
It’s an extremely derivative story, but it draws from a lot of really great influences, and they make a lot out of those influences. The entire experience just oozes style and personality, and comes away feeling like more than just the sum of its influences. I think what ended up appealing the most to me about Asura’s Wrath, and what most anime end up getting wrong in my eyes, is the voice acting. Usually a character like Yasha or Augus would be so caught up in trying to sound cool that they would be completely insufferable. And that would usually survive the transition to the English dub. It’s one of the reasons why I typically can’t stand shounen anime. But the English dub on Asura’s Wrath deftly skirts by this issue, while maintaining the defining aspects to the characters, such as Augus’ frequent bouts of laughter, or Yasha’s sullen demeanor. So it still bears those familiar hallmarks of the genre, but it sidesteps the tedious parts in the execution.
Back to O’Brien though, Asura is sort of the performance that War in Darksiders should have been. Asura is sort of the definitive role for that voice. Granted, like I mentioned already, he kind of spends half the game screaming. But his performance outside of the screaming is really impressive. Obviously rage and wrath are the two operative words when describing Asura, and O’Brien does a fantastic job of working that into his normal dialogue. Even when he’s playing with his newborn daughter, there’s the feeling in his voice that he’s almost worried at the fact that he’s not super pissed off. Like it’s some kind of surprise on the rare occasion that he isn’t just smoldering with anger, even to him. And when he isn’t stumbling confusedly over his awkward familial interactions, he’s growling. And he does so with a real conviction that I feel was missing with War in Darksiders. There’s a hatred and a spitefulness in Asura’s voice that really sells the exaggerated faces CC2 put on him.
And when he isn’t mumbling or growling, he’s probably screaming. And boy does he scream a lot. You’ve got your typical shouting. Then you’ve got the prolonged cutscenes where he is screaming his way through a combat encounter. And it’s not like that’s anything new for your bog standard action game, or anime for that matter. But this is where O’Brien’s penchant for delivering a, shall we say, more genuine experience comes into play. Episode 12 has this one scene where Asura freaks out. Which sounds like a stupid thing to say, in the game with the guy who spends half the time screaming at the top of his lungs. But to be fair, he does totally freak out. And it makes the rest of the performance seem milquetoast by comparison. I mean, the guy kinda got his start in game dubbing doing this kind of thing, but this shit just makes me feel bad for him. There’s not enough honey milk and chai tea lattes in California to fix the mess that recording session must have made. Anyway, definitely check out Asura’s Wrath if you haven’t already. O’Brien delivers only one of several very high quality performances in this game, and it’s a pretty cool game outside of the voice acting as well.
“Worthless scum. I’ll kill you all!”
“I didn’t start this fire...”
“I understand it all now! The true reason for my wrath! I could not stand it! There is always some fool who wants to rule the world! Always forcing others to do what they cannot do for themselves! That, is why... I pray to no one! Nor will I be prayed to! And above all else... I will never forgive you... for making my daughter cry!”
That should just about do it for part 4. Part 5 is going to be pretty much devoted to Resident Evil 6 and the Silent Hill HD Collection, neither of which would exactly win any popularity contests. So that's going to either be boring or highly controversial. Anyway, I guess I’ll see you then?
- Kris Osborn