Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 4

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.

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Catherine - 2011

Orlando

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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?

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Rise of Nightmares - 2011

Marchosias

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.

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White Knight Chronicles II - 2011

Madoras

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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.

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Professor Layton and the Last Specter - 2011

Clark Triton

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.

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The Lord of the Rings: War in the North - 2011

Elladan/Elrohir

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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.

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 - 2012

Caius Ballad

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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.

Notable Quotes:

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!”

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NeverDead - 2012

Alex

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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.

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Asura's Wrath - 2012

Asura

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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.

Notable Quotes:

“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!”

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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?

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- Kris Osborn

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Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 3

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles - 2009

Voice Director

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Evidently they liked what O’Brien did with Resident Evil 5, because they called him in a few months later to work on Darkside Chronicles, the followup to 2008’s Wii light-gun shooter by Cavia. It’s a neat game, if only for the sake of seeing those classic RE2 and CVX locales in a new light. Sadly, though, the game does as much to disrupt that nostalgia by constantly dicking around with the order of events. God knows the Resident Evil series is not known for its deep and nuanced storytelling, but they change such superfluous things that it warrants question. For instance, why is that first cop you meet lying propped up against the fountain statue in the front atrium instead of the office just off to the northwest corner? Was that just to save time modeling rooms? Or does the conspiracy run deeper than that?

Probably not. But they even cock up the pacing as well. It’s not as though Resident Evil 2 was the most subtle of horror experiences, even when it came out, but it at least tried to pace itself a little bit. Darkside Chronicles has you shooting birds out of the sky like it’s Birdemic like two minutes into the game. Remember how the bird attack was kind of a special moment in RE2? But at any rate, the voice performances sound a little off too. They’re quite good on the whole, but there are parts that seem weird.

Leon and Claire’s conversations are a good example of this. When you pass the chain link fence with the basketball court just before the empty white van past the gun shop at the beginning, Leon makes an offhand comment about the zombies ‘having the hots’ for Claire, which is just fucking weird. And it’s shit like this that makes the game seem so strange. Also, Leon sounds all badass and gruff like in RE6 or something, despite this being the events of RE2. It’s worth clarifying that it’s Paul Mercier, or RE4 Leon, this time around. I had really hoped that they would do something to make Leon sound younger and more fresh-faced to fit the time period but what can you do.

Claire does a great job of sounding appropriately freaked out by the events taking place though. And it’s worth pointing out that Claire is the only Resident Evil character who’s actually had the same voice actor for the entire series. And Alyson Court does a really good job here too. It was a really good performance that towed the line between sounding freaked out while still being cool and tough. I mean, she spends a lot of time freaking out about zombies and weird noises, and then of course she has to be all ‘OMG Steve Burnside you saxxy man, I wanna have all ur babbies!’ later on, and that could have really made Claire feel like a shitty character if they hadn’t really gotten that performance balanced out just right.

But speaking of Steve Burnside, what the fuck happened with Steve Burnside? I mean, I know they weren’t going to get that weird Australian kid to reprise his role or whatever, but they had actors. Sam Riegel is an actor. Make him act. The fact that he doesn’t pronounce “I said I was sorry” like a cross between ‘surry’ and ‘soooooooooory’ is a complete dropping of the ball on the entire ADR department’s part, O’Brien included, and I would like to ask for my money back. I don’t think he even says that line in the first place. Some attention to detail.

Laura Bailey does a decent turn as Sherry as well. It’s not always a sure bet that actresses will get those little kid roles down right, but she did pretty well here. Granted, she doesn’t have much in the way of lines. They basically just called her in to cry, scream and try and talk while crying and or screaming, so given the material she was given to work with, she really knocked out a solid performance.

Then there’s Sally Cahill reprising her role as Ada Wong from Resident Evil 4. And I always though Cahill brought a more no-nonsense kind of personality to Ada Wong, as opposed to Courtenay Taylor’s turn as Ada, who has a much more sort of a put-upon seductiveness to her voice. And both are fun for what they are. It’s just that Cahill’s performance here is very sort of cold and businesslike by comparison, which actually makes her character even more interesting given the context. It’s also something Claire is constantly pointing out, when she isn’t getting all weirdly defensive over Leon. I mean Claire desperately wants to cat fight with this girl, which is really fun.

All in all, it’s a pretty good performance. You have to keep in mind that this is a light gun retelling of two of the worst written games in the series. You’re trading in a measure of that old Resident Evil camp for a measure of that old House of the Dead camp. So it all adds up to a tough gig if you’re the voice director and you’re trying to make the story not sound just inscrutably stupid. The game is what it is though, and the performances make the best of what they’re given. Do I think O’Brien completely fucked up with Steve Burnside? Yes. Do I think Sam Riegel could have made it work? Sure. But I’d probably better cut this off here. Cause I could bitch about my waifu Steve all day.

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Darksiders - 2010

War

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War is definitely one of the more stand-out roles O'Brien has done. I wouldn't say it's one of his best performances. It's more that it's kind of a defining role. He's always been good at doing the whole super deep voiced, gravely sounding thing, but War is kind of the defining role for that I would say. Which is kind of a shame, because it’s one of his lesser performances in my opinion.

And Darksiders is a really neat little game, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that Vigil games got shafted so badly by THQ. It was originally conceived of by the comic artist Joe Mad, and it’s pretty much the most heshed out video game this side of Brutal Legend. And speaking of Brutal Legend, this game’s animation is about as bad as Brutal Legend’s, worse, even, actually. At least Double Fine was able to get a good sense of comedic beats with their super barebones animations. Here, the game just feels unfinished. There are even scenes that are lacking sound effects for things like picking up weapons and the such. It really kind of kills the grand scale and scope of this angels versus demons story, and it just sucks all the life out of these awesome performances at times.

But it’s still a really cool game despite all that. The story kind of takes its time in picking up. I would say it doesn’t start getting really interesting until about the halfway point, but it just keeps picking up from there, culminating in one of the cooler endings in a game I’ve seen in a while now. The voice performances are also quite impressive, which makes it all the worse how middling O’Brien’s character, the main character no less, ends up being by comparison.

Maybe it’s that the character was supposed to be so evenly pitched in his disposition at all times that he ends up falling flat, but boy does he ever fall flat. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone else has such wildly exciting and vibrant characters to play around him that make War feel like such a wet noodle by comparison. I mean, just take a look at this video, and compare Abaddon’s scene against War’s scene. It’s not like War is bad by any stretch of the imagination. He’s just not nearly as vibrant or exciting. I mean hell. Look at how awesome Death sounds in Darksiders 2. Michael Wincott gave that dude so much personality and charisma. It’s like fucking night and day. Like I said though, it’s not a bad performance by any stretch of the imagination, and it is, if nothing else, one of his more iconic roles, and a pretty fucking cool game to boot. I just wish O’Brien had gotten to be a bit more cool in it.

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Nier - 2010

Grimoir Weiss

No Caption Provided

Like this game. O’Brien is cool as shit in this one. Weiss is probably my favorite character O'Brien has played. I mean, it’s hard to say. I’m terrible at picking favorites, but this one’s probably it, which is sort of odd. He does sort of a British accent in this, and it’s not exactly the most believable British accent I’ve ever heard. It kind of sounds like he’s channeling Alan Rickman, which is what everyone always says I know. But it’s fine. Alan Rickman is a rad sounding dude. O’Brien chose to go just a bit more cartoonish though, which I think was probably the idea in the first place. But all arguments about dialect accuracy aside, Weiss is an amazingly awesome character in an amazingly awesome game, and O’Brien breathed so much life into this already beautiful character.

Weiss is a proud to a fault braggart who claims to have all manner of mind blowing ways of destroying your insolent ass if you don’t address him with the proper reverence. I mean he lays it on thick when you first meet him. He’s just awoken from an indeterminately long slumber, and unfortunately his mind bullets or whatever he was planning on using to blow your mind clean off don’t seem to work. He appears as baffled by this as the player, which suggests that either he really did used to be hot shit back in the day or else he was intensely deluded before meeting you.

But while his crazy magic powers may have atrophied to near nonexistence, his ego definitely has not suffered the same loss. The opening hours are spent with Weiss and your character bickering back and forth before introducing new characters to the party for Weiss to bicker with. What’s so wonderful about this game’s story is that it tackles a tired trope in Japanese games, the quirky gang of unlikely heroes meet and come together to save the world. They twist the trope from quirky heroes to broken humans, and their coming together and becoming friends consequently ends up feeling less cloying and obligatory than it does imperative. These are people, and I use that term somewhat loosely here, who have long since given up on dreams of love or even polite society.

Nier lives only for his dying daughter who has been cruelly kidnapped from him, Weiss has lost his power and lives in a strange and alien world after a long slumber, Kaine is a foul-mouthed hermaphrodite in a negligee with a sociopathic monster constantly speaking to her inside her head, and Emil was turned into a grotesque skeleton with a Burtonesque face after having lived in exile as a child because anything he looked at with his eyes was turned to stone. No one in the party has had an especially easy go of things. Their unlikely friendship is a slow convalescent for these broken and tragic creatures. It’s a constant ameliorating force that helps to make them all whole again.

So if you haven’t already, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, I’m not remotely close to being the first person on the forums to recommend this game by far, you really should go ahead and check this game out. You’ll want to be all caught up for Drakengard 3, which is somehow actually coming out in the states next year.

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Notable Quotes:

"Speak the truth hussy!"

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and I shall smite you with unholy magic!"

"You can hide nothing from Grimoire Weiss! Confess Oh guilty one! Confess and unburden your soul! Confess, lest others who are not as forgiving as I discover your terrible secret!"

"Will you at least procure a new set of lingerie for the festivities? Some, spring colors perhaps?"

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Transformers: War for Cybertron - 2010

Air Raid

Well this is a bit of a change of pace. High Moon’s Transformers games just never quite appealed to me personally. I actually didn’t grow up with the Transformers animated series, despite being old enough to have, so I don’t have the nostalgia for the characters like most do. Also, spoiler alert, but I don’t actually play all of these games, and what I watched of this game on youtube gave me a fucking headache. There are some definitely serious issues with the art style in these games.

It’s mostly an issue of there just being so much shit on the screen at any given time, that eventually nothing in the game reads visually. It’s just a bunch of noise with a startlingly uniform color scheme on top of it. And it’s bad enough that this kind of game is usually super repetitive in the gameplay department. The visual style on offer here only worsens that. Honestly, I think if they’d just changed up the color pallet here and there, and had a few areas that didn’t look like Unreal Tournament 3 on amphetamines, that it would have worked out just fine. But, nonetheless, these games definitely appear to be fairly potent fanservice, which is definitely cool.

At any rate, O’Brien plays Air Raid and evidently also Cyclonus, but he’s only in the portable version. And I think they did a fantastic job of taking these anime voice actors and having them effectively mimic the unique tone of the old cartoon. Obviously they had Peter Cullen returning to his classic role as Optimus, but all the other characters have new voices behind them. And while the voice work could have stood to be just a smidge more campy and goofy, they did a great job of evoking the sound of the old cartoon that inspired these games. Because the late 80s and early 90s cartoons had a unique sound, and you don’t need me to tell you that. You just know it when you hear it. It’s unmistakable, and I think they pulled it off really well here.

There is something just a bit surreal about hearing these familiar actors being transformers and hanging out with Optimus Prime. Air Raid is kind of a cocky smartass, and O’Brien makes his little quips work really well. And he’s just a very charismatic and energetic sounding personality, which works well for one of the bigger Autobot characters. So if the look on this game doesn’t turn you off, and you like you some Transformers, and you somehow haven’t already checked this game out, then I guess there’s no time like the present?

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Professor Layton and the Unwound Future - 2010

Dr. Stahngun

Aside from having just about the most badass wrasslin' name this side of the Macho Man Randy Savage, Dr. Stahngun is also a nice change of pace in O'Brien's work. The video above starts with O'Brien playing some portly announcer with a microphone, who sounds like he enjoys the sound of his own voice just about as much as he enjoys ladling gravy over his dewlap. The announcer promptly hands it off to Stahngun, and I think O'Brien was channeling Cam Clarke with this one, because Stahngun sounds like an older, more chilled out Liquid Snake. He's got that sort of, off-kilter pep in his voice, almost veering into Captain Kirk territories.

He also has some very, very crisp diction mixed in with just a tad bit of that British 'harrumph,' so that we're covering all the bases for stereotypical British accents. It's suitably cartoony for the material, and O'Brien's amiable voice is on full display with Stahngun. Also, it’s kind of strange how these actors tend to get attached to certain studios’ games, in this case, Level 5. He also seems to show up in nearly every CC2 game that’s come out in the states, what with having been in all the .hack//G.U. games and Asura’s Wrath, not to mention having been so wrapped up in the Naruto franchise like he has been. But I guess these are just the happy little accidents of the video game voiceover world.

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Atelier Arland Series - 2010-2012

Sterkenburg Cranach

No Caption Provided

The Atelier Arland series is some of the most brutal and and violent RPGs ever released. All jokes aside though, the recent entries in the Atelier series are basically one step removed from Otome games. And you know what that means. Bishies. O’Brien plays Sterkenberg, who is one of the side characters. These games are basically structured around hiring from a pool of pretty boys to come along with you exploring as an attache/body guard. Sterkenberg is one of those boys.

He’s also the first character you meet in the first game. He’s a knight, serving under the king of _, and on top of being an optional party member, he also serves as a go between for your character and the local government as you build your business over the course of the first game. And he’s got kind of an attitude. He’s sort of standoffish and is of painfully few words. This ends up being a being a jumping off point for all the girl characters constantly commenting on how scary he is and telling him not to scare the girls so much with his grumpy attitude. My theory is that all the girl characters being stupid is the real reason for his attitude. But that’s just me.

Then some stuff happens in the second game. Then in the third game everyone keeps calling him grandpa for some reason. The idea here is that time has passed since the first game, and they wanted to draw some attention to the fact that he’s no longer the young heartthrob, and has since transitioned into more of an older hunk role. But calling him a grandpa is probably the most counterproductive way of going about that that I can imagine. And he doesn’t like it. He’s all like ‘Ahh, come on guys, that hurts my feelings’ like some kinda baby.

All in all, the Rorona sub-series is kind of whatever. They’re pretty cool, but the more recent games are considerably better in production quality. So unless you’re looking for something to play on your Vita, and the awesome art style on offer appeals to you, then you’re better off looking forward in the Atelier series. That said, I don’t think any of the other games include the Masked G. So, just keep that in mind I guess…

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Sengoku Basara - 2010

Ieyasu Tokugawa

No Caption Provided

Ieyasu is sort of the main hero in Sengoku Basara. What’s cool about O’Brien’s performance here is how cool and friendly Ieyasu sounds. He’s written to be a very cliched character. He’s about as generic a hero as you can get, but he’s still really fun to listen to. I’ve mentioned before, when I was talking about Persona 3, that O’Brien kind of stands apart from other actors for being able to put on such a jovial sounding voice, and Ieyasu is probably one of the more stark examples of that.

And Ieyasu kind of sounds like a slightly older, somewhat more barrel chested Akihiko, which is somewhat strange. If you follow the Sengoku Basara series at all, you know that this is the first we’re seeing of Ieyasu as a grown up in the series, and he’s really not even all that grown up here. I don’t know what age the writers would slap on him here, but I would estimate somewhere around seventeen to twenty tops. So it is kind of surprising that they went for such an older sounding, manly voice for Ieyasu here, but it does kind of work.

He is supposed to be the main good guy after all, and the Sengoku Basara series is kind of all about lampooning anime and video game story tropes. So Ieyasu is sort of the shounen equivalent to Leslie Nielsen in this game. So you can probably see how he would need that more radio announcer quality deeper voice going for him here. And O’Brien brings that quality to this role full-stop. The character doesn’t really give him a whole lot to work with, but he does sound like a weird cross between Leslie Nielsen and Jeff Bridges, and he does make Ieyasu a character that’s really hard not to like, despite being such a cliched and generic hero.

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Fallout: New Vegas - 2010

Half the male cast

I don’t really have the time or the patience to write about this dumb game and all the characters O’Brien played in it, so instead I’ll leave you with this list of all his characters in New Vegas.

Pacer, Cachino, Jessup, Sergeant McGee, Sergeant Lee, Sergeant Cooper, Major Dhatri, Major Knight, Private Davey Crenshaw, Lieutenant Gorobets, Captain Parker, Poindexter, Comm Officer Castillo, Comm Officer Tilden, Comm Officer Stepinac, Private Kowalski, Private Sexton, Ranger Pason, Private Stone, Lieutenant Markland, Ranger Grant, Alexander, Isaac, Tomas, James Garrett, Ralph, Santiago, Orris, Jacob Hoff, Carlitos, Jerry the Punk, Anders, Ranger Jackson, Dixon, Mr. Soren, Comm Officer Green, Farris, Private Jensen, Little Beard, Tom Dooley, Les Fretwell, Willis, Missionary, Paladins, NCR engineers, Gomorrah bartender, Atomic Wrangler cashier, Gun Runner guards, Gun Runner gunsmith, and Kings gang members.

It’s good to see the Oblivion engine wasn’t the only corner they cut with this game. But I guess at least they got someone who can do a lot of different kinds of voices. Oh that’s right. They pretty much just had him do the one voice for all of them. Well what can you do. Also, a huge thanks to the Fallout wiki for having already compiled that list for me because there’s no way in god’s green earth I would do all the research to compile that list myself. His most prominent character on that list though, I would say, is probably James Garrett at the Atomic Wrangler. Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a little look at Dissidia, why don’t we.

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Dissidia 012 [Duodecim] Final Fantasy - 2011

Kain Highwind

No Caption Provided

The voice over in this game is, well, not the best. Most of the performances feel a little lifeless, and some of the voices seem really mismatched. Like Cloud sounds like Master Chief. I mean, some of these voices sound super miscast. Even Kefka sounds bland and lifeless half the time. Kefka! How the hell do you mess that one up? The actor really killed it on a few scenes too, so it’s not the actor’s fault. But half the time he sounds like he’s just reading off a script. So something is definitely up here, but who could say what?

At any rate, O’Brien plays Kain Highwind, and he has one of the better performances in the game. Granted, they have him doing ‘that one’ voice, that sort of low, dramatic voice that he does, and it is kind of weird to have O’Brien doing that voice for Kain Highwind in Dissidia, and then have him do the same voice as Caius Ballad in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but that’s neither here nor there. I hear that might have something to do with his having played Kain in the remake of Final Fantasy IV on the DS. Sadly, he also inherited his terrible looking costume from the DS remake as well. Either way, no matter how many times you hear O’Brien doing ‘that voice,’ it’s inarguably badass sounding, and he’s got some pretty decent lines to do in that voice, so it works out pretty well.

Most of the best dialogue happens in the battles though. The cutscenes are more about characters standing around and talking about the not so great plot they contrived together to get all these dumb characters in the same place. Though Kain is doing sort of a buddy cop thing with Cecil, who is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal in one of his more awesome sounding roles. And the pair of them make a pretty awesome team. That little hook is sadly but a stop-gap between fits of plot exposition. But the battles have a bit more pep to them, which is really good for such an actiony character as Kain. And O’Brien sounds really good in combat. I mean like, really good. And that isn’t always the case, even with the good actors. You can’t go one battle with Kain without being like ‘damn, what a badass.’

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Notable Quotes:

Exdeath - “So, you offer your life in exchange for theirs?”

Kain - “Of course not. I offer yours.”

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Anyway, that just about does it for part 3. Join me next time where I'll spend way too much time complaining about Catharine. Then we'll look at a bunch of pretty obscure games and then I finally get to Asura's Wrath. See you then.

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- Kris Osborn

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Real Racing Roots Retrospective - Part 2

Yeah! It's a new record. Two laps to go!

Ridge Racer 4 is my favorite racing game ever, and quite possibly my favorite video game ever. It’s the reason I'm writing this article and the reason why I ever bothered playing the other games in this series. The soundtrack is still my favorite in any game to this day. The menus have such a gorgeous sense of design to them. They increased the stable of cars dramatically. All of the graphical issues in the previous games are gone completely, and the car handling has been completely overhauled once again.

This time, how badly your car is affected by hitting a wall depends on how hard and from what angle you hit it now, which makes the whole proceeding seem so much more fair, and really helps keep the pace going. Which is good, because Ridge Racer 4 doesn't have the break-neck speed of Rage Racer. It's still fast, but it's more about finesse and complex turns than it is about the sense of speed. The later cars do get pretty fast, but the feel is pretty different early on.

Whereas Rage Racer allowed you to change the way your car handled by changing the grip on the tires, in 4, the different models of car have different handling models attached to them. the most mild drift types actually allow you to go through most turns without drifting, so long as you've got your line down, whereas the heavy drift cars let you sort of drive straight into a turn and drift around the corner. The variety in handling really forces you to change your approach considerably when trying out different vehicles, which you will likely be doing a lot of, given the immense variety of cars on offer here.

And while we're tangentially on the topic of controls, Ridge Racer 4 came packed in with it's own NeGcon style controller in certain special edition bundles, this one called the JogCon. The JogCon wasn't quite as well received as the NeGcon, in part, due to the fact that it came out so late in the system's life cycle. It looks like a Virtual Boy controller but with a big, circular dial in the middle. It's only real boast was force feedback, which the NeGcon lacked.

While Rage Racer stepped things up a bit in terms of cars, Ridge Racer 4 goes completely crazy with the cars. There's somewhere around 46 by my rough count, not counting duplicates. The Devil 13 makes a triumphant return, after its' absence in Rage Racer, going under the name of Nightmare this time around. Unfortunately the White Angel and Devil Kid are still absent, but Ridge Racer 4 also introduced a new series standard, the Pac-Man car. And you could spend weeks unlocking all of the cars in the game. Counting duplicates, there's about 231 cars, which itself has become something of a running theme for the series.

After completing a grand prix, an extra trials mode is unlocked for the manufacturer you beat the gran prix with. This consists of one rival style race, like with the Devil 13 and White Angel in the previous PlayStation games. This extra trial mode is where you unlock all of the cars that don't unlock in the story mode. So there's plenty to do once you've finished the regular grand prix mode as well.

The tracks don't have the same sense of variety to them as in the previous games either, which is funny considering this is the first time there's been so many of them. Ridge Racer 4 has three tracks with one variant a piece, and two tracks without variants. Whereas the previous games' tracks feel more like OutRun or something with several wild set pieces in every track, the tracks in Ridge Racer 4 are much more cohesive and subdued.

Pacing and finesse are very much on the forefront in Ridge Racer 4 though, and it concentrates more on lighting effects and natural scenery than on prop plains, waterfalls and helicopters to catch the eye. The tracks, though much more subdued, are still packed with sweeping vistas and gorgeous scenery. The color palette is really sort of muted and desaturated, which gives the whole thing this almost otherworldly feeling to it. The game is very firmly seated in realism, but the color palette gives it this feeling like it's outside of time or something. And the soundtrack on top of that makes for some of the most memorable scenery and racing experiences in any racing series.

The grand prix mode from Rage Racer has been replaced with a story mode, where you pick a racing team to go through a grand prix with. You have the pick of four different teams, each with their own awesome logo type and story that happens between the racing heats. You then pick from the car manufacturers introduced in Rage Racer to partner with in the grand prix. You're also, choosing your difficulty level with the team select. The Itallian team, Mappy is easy, the Japanese Pac Racing Club is normal and so on.

The story happens with text and drawn images, cycling through various poses and facial expressions over heavily post-processed photos of garages, offices and other locations. The writing's actually pretty good, all told, and it's just a really cool added feature to the standard gran prix mode. And the idea of a story mode in your racing game was kind of ahead of it's time on the PlayStation, especially considering how slow Namco was to get with the times with this series beforehand.

Story modes are still infrequent in racing games at best, and while this one isn't Razor Cunningham awesome, it's still a really awesome framing for the racing, which is something of a running theme in this game. The character portraits are all gorgeous looking and have a really powerful sense of place to them. The whole thing is just oozing with style like no other game before it or sense. Oh, and Reiko makes a brief appearance in the story mode as well, which is pretty rad too.

Part of that is the music playing during the story parts. Speaking of which, the music in this game is amazing. So let's talk about that for a bit. This is Okubo and Nakanishi's second round in the series, and this time they were joined by Kohta Takahashi, Asuka Sakai and Koji Nakagawa. What they went for with this soundtrack is almost a complete 180 from the Rage Racer soundtrack. The sounds in Ridge Racer 4 are steeped in breakbeats, lounge keyboards and organ and some of the funkiest bass Japan has ever produced. And you all know how funky Japan likes their bass. I could go on about this soundtrack for days, so I'll quit while I'm ahead. But I'm just going to throw one more track in the mix here.

But I haven't mentioned the CG opening yet. Obviously CG video was one of the biggest fads on the PlayStation. It was one of those budgetary flourishes that really set PlayStation games apart and gave them a real sense of personality. I'm sure we all have our favorites. I've linked to a couple of mine already. But the opening for this game is, in my opinion, the best game intro ever. It so perfectly encapsulates the entire look and feel of the game, not to mention the era in which it was made. And it's easily one of the most attractive looking on the PlayStation. That beat where the music stops and Reiko walks up to the car is one of those gaming moments I remember from the first time I saw it and it still gets me every time I see it.

Hurry. Time's running out!

In 2000, Namco couldn't have been riding higher. The success they had enjoyed on the PlayStation was truly something. And the Ridge Racer series could not have given the PlayStation a better send-off than Ridge Racer 4 in 1999. But 2000 sang a much different tune for Ridge Racer. It saw the release of not one, but two new Ridge Racer games. February saw the release of Ridge Racer 64 for the Nintendo 64. Now, Ridge Racer 64 was not developed by Namco, but by Nintendo Software Technology Corporation, which was I think the first U.S. development studio that Nintendo owned. Now, I don't want to sound like too much of a purist, but when I buy a Ridge Racer game, it's to play a Namco game. But I don't want to turn my nose up at this game like a snob, so let's give it a look anyway.

This was NSTC's third release as a studio, and their track record shows a lot of very small scale work, and I mean no disrespect at all when I say that they're kind of a B-team among the Nintendo family of studios. And the game is competently put together on a lot of levels, which leads me to believe that they were saddled with either a slim budget, a rough deadline or maybe even a little bit of both. I mean, this is a Nintendo 64 game that came out in 2000. I'm guessing there was at least some sort of business going on here.

But let's get to the game play. It's pretty abysmal. Like I said, it's quite competent; the drifting is actually really well done. It feels smooth and intuitive and they did a better job with it than Namco did with Ridge Racer 1 on the PlayStation. The biggest thing it has going against it is the collisions. The collisions completely break the game.

And I know that the first Ridge Racer couldn't even decide if it had collisions in it half the time, but the collisions in that didn't knock you back several yards just for touching another car. It's so bad in this game, that a car coming up from behind you will just effortlessly slide right up alongside you and knock you backward like you just came up from behind and hit it in the ass. That's how bad the collisions are. And quite possibly my favorite trick is when you get knocked down to such a slow speed before a hard turn that you can't even drift right through it, and you end up just scraping your nose along the railing.

But it's completely infuriating how even slightly touching another car is like some magical power-up for the other car and sends you lurching to a stop. And it seems like the other cars are magnetized to you or something. That aside, the in game work is pretty tight. There are three tracks, with three difficulty variants and two track variants. One is based on the beginner and intermediate tracks from Ridge Racer 1.

The second is based on the beginner and I think intermediate tracks from Ridge Racer Revolution. But this one is kind of messed up. Instead of being all tropical and derivative of the original Ridge Racer track, they re-did the backgrounds to give the track an alpine feel. They actually put some pretty cool looking new scenery in there to look at, and the iconic tunnel at the beginning is intact.

The third track is all new, and takes place in a sort of desert/canyon environment and has some pretty cool turns in it. One of the annoying things about the tracks is they all have some pretty narrow roads. It's almost as if they were wanting to make a more difficult Ridge Racer game, but then they messed up the collisions and made a Ridge Racer where you can't humanly get around the other cars to save your life.

One symptom of this game coming out in 2000, is that the tracks all look much better than the PlayStation versions they are based on. If you compare it against Ridge Racer 4, the geometry and textures look way worse, but the resolution seems noticeably higher. Granted, the Nintendo 64 makes it look like you applied a thin veneer of Vaseline to the screen, but the visibility is still better than all the other console Ridge Racers, with the exception of Ridge Racer 4.

Ridge Racer 64 also carries on with the series' trend toward lots of cars. This time there's only 25, but that's still a good haul for the time. They also, appropriately enough, leaned pretty heavily on the rival races. You unlock cars in a separate mode called car attack. After beating a heat of three races in the gran prix, you unlock three cars to unlock in the car attack mode.

They also brought back all the secret rival cars from the previous games. You get the Devil 13 in the form of the Lizard Nightmare, which is I guess a tip of the hat to Ridge Racer 4. You've also got the White Angel and the 13 Racing Kid. But, not to be made to look like fools by Namco Japan, they added a couple cars of their own, the Ultra 64, which I think is a cute name, and the Digipen.

Now, you may be wondering to yourself why there's a car called DigiPen in Ridge Racer 64. Well I'll tell you. Nintendo Software Technology Corporation still exists to this day, and has always been stationed in Redmond Washington. It was co-founded by Claude Comair and Scott Tsumura, and Comair was also a founder of DigiPen. In fact, DigiPen and NSTC were both situated in the same building as late as 2010, if wikipedia is to be believed.

Speaking of weird and interesting things about Ridge Racer 64. The soundtrack was composed by one Keith Arem. The same Keith Arem who directed the English dubs for Persona 3 and 4, did the voice direction for Saints Row the Third and, well, you can hit up his page if you want to see what all else he did. But it is kind of odd. This game actually kicks off PCB Studios’ long running involvement with the series.

Anyway, it's a pretty good soundtrack too. It maybe doesn't feel too much like a Ridge Racer game, by the strict rule of what qualifies as Ridge Racer, but it definitely hits some of the same notes as the previous soundtracks. It's got a very 1999 electronica feel to it, go figure right, and it's just really good driving music. And that's really what's most important at the end of the day.

Probably my favorite track is Evolution, which has this sound that reminds me a lot of J Majik's remix of Spaced Invader. It leans real heavy on the bass, but it's not high funk bass, it's just super low, groovy bass, and the synths sound like crazy alien ships invading the inside of a computer. Just like all good turn of the millennium techno is supposed to sound.

Manual Override actually sounds a lot like PlayStation era Namco Sound Team would have produced. It's got some really cool synth/pad sections with some nice chip sounds thrown in that feel super ethereal, and the beat is so high energy. It's a great racing song and feels very Ridge Racer despite its' non-traditional origin.

Then there's Motion Blur, which really shows off the synths in a big way. And I really like Arem's choice in synths. They fit the music really well and help make the rest of the compositions stand out. The drum work is all very workmanlike, but the synths really make the songs. And that low bass is back in full force, along with some pretty good guitar samples to round the whole thing out.

And while we're talking about outside features. Let's talk about the packaging. As I've mentioned before. Ridge Racer 4 pretty much had some of the best packaging in a game ever. From the manual design to the in-game menus to the CG opening, Ridge Racer 4 was the full package, without question. Ridge Racer 64 starts with text and static images scrolling over footage of the game in one of the most flaccid video game openings/attract screens I can call to recent memory. It's not even that the presentation is that bad. It's just that it's so inferior to Ridge Racer 4 that it seems like it's that bad.

All in all, Ridge Racer 64 is kind of a shit mess. The control issues and it's late release date really do make it a failure for the most part, despite having so much to offer. And the fact that the game was tasked to carry on the legacy left by Ridge Racer 4 certainly didn't do it any favors. And at the end of the day, unless you're crazy about Ridge Racer like I am, then you don't need to be playing a Ridge Racer that wasn't made by Namco. You just don't. So unless you’re desperate to find something to play on the N64, then you can probably give this one a pass.

And they’re off! The cars are streaming past the starting line.

Ridge Racer V marks the series turn toward putting a new game out for every system launch. On paper it seems like a great idea. Get a brand new game system and get a brand new Ridge Racer game to play on it. But if there is anything that this game proves is that a brand new Ridge Racer game on your brand new game system is no guarantee that you will have any fun playing it. I should probably just say now that I'm not a very big fan of this game.

It looks pretty impressive for a launch game. The frame rate seems solid, but the tracks just do not read. When they aren't too dim to see where you're going, the monochromatic color scheme makes discerning your surroundings way too difficult. Other than that, the environments are quite attractive. It's a dramatic leap up from the last two games, and they put some impressive visual effects on display here, such as the Jin Roh, Akira style long exposure tail light effect, but it's hard to appreciate them when you're too busy squinting to see what the track is doing up ahead of you.

The soundtrack is a real disappointment. Someone had the brilliant idea of bringing in outside talent for the music. This seems to be a running theme with the series, that they are constantly considering changing or getting rid of one or two integral parts of the formula, like the arcade drifting, or Reiko.

They open out the game with this track from some Japanese group called Boom Boom Satellites that just could not be more flaccid and lifeless if it tried. Like, it's a cool enough song on its' own. It's really chill and relaxing, but it's absolutely terrible for driving too. It's got no sense of speed or adrenaline to it. Like I say, it's good relaxing music, but I don't want to relax when I'm playing a racing game. Hell that’s not even true. There’s plenty of Ridge Racer songs that are super relaxing and somehow still fit driving like a bat out of hell at the same time, but this track definitely isn’t one of them.

Then there's about three tracks by this Mijk van Dijk, a German DJ and producer. And I don't know anything about his music, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the songs they picked out or had written for the soundtrack don't really bring anything to the table either. I think it has something to do with how low in the mix the music is. It takes what could have otherwise been a steady ramp-up into a fevered pitch of tension into just some dumb bleeps and bloops playing in the background. That said, these songs feel like they would have been a better fit in WipeOut Fusion, I'm sorry to say.

But I don't want to sound like I'm down on the outside talent, because the bulk of this soundtrack came from Kohta Takahashi, who just tore that shit up on the Ridge Racer 4 soundtrack if you'll remember. But he's got some real stinkers this time around. Sanodg and Yuu Miyake, aka Acid Eutron round the stable out on this just cold and lifeless soundtrack. Even Sanodg couldn't save this soundtrack from its' own mediocrity. Oddly enough. Hiroshi Okubo is nowhere to be seen in this game's credits, which raises my eyebrow just ever so slightly.

It's not all bad though. Since Takahashi wrote the bulk of the soundtrack, he's got some good tracks in here. There's Grip Millenium and RidgeCityFM, which are pretty tight tracks and all, but three or four tracks just isn't enough to hold back my disappointment. It's obviously not the worst video game soundtrack, but especially after Ridge Racer 4, it just feels like they really dropped the ball on this one. I mean, Keith Arem has neither Hiroshi nor Okubo in his name, and his soundtrack still kicks the shit out of this one.

The announcer is another serious down side to the game. His disinterested line readings just suck any remaining life out of the races. The tracks aren't exactly setting the world on fire either. They aren't like actively bad or anything, but they went and repeated the same mistake they made with Rage Racer, which was to start you out with slow cars that make the game feel sluggish and boring. So, while the tracks feel a bit more exciting later on, you have to stick it out through the early parts of the game before it gets around to picking up.

Also, speaking of getting rid of Reiko, I guess they actually did get rid of her, and didn't just give her a weird haircut like I had initially thought. This new girl's name is Ai Fukiami, and evidently people aren't a fan of her. I can't say as her being in Ridge Racer V is a strong argument for her case with me either, though she's not exactly on screen enough to leave much of an impression good or bad. But maybe she does suck. She's certainly no Gina Cavalli. That's for sure.

But getting back to the driving, I can only assume they were trying to incorporate some modicum of realism to the game play, which takes me back to the messing with things they shouldn't point. But they don't go far enough either way on the realism issue. They even tried to incorporate drafting in the game. The cars don't go as fast as they should early on, and at the same time, if you so much as glance into another car, you're likely to veer off course and lose speed while the other car goes rocketing ahead of you. It's not as bad as Ridge Racer 64, but it's not great.

It's completely unrealistic and pretty infuriating. Just about everything about this game is like the opposite of empowering. Even as I mastered the controls and started getting first in the races, I never really felt like I was having fun. That's probably because of how slow the cars seem to move early on. And I guess that's my main problem with this game. I didn't really have any fun playing it, and I never got over that hump to the part where it gets good.

And I know there's people out there who like the game, because youtube has all sorts of videos from people posting up their best times, and they're pretty good at it. So I guess if you can get behind the way the cars handle, then all of my other complaints can be forgotten easily enough. So I guess Ridge Racer V is kind of like Rage Racer in that regard. Except you definitely can't see what the hell you're doing. I stand by that part.

Anyway. That just about does it for part 2. In Part 3, we’ll be traveling to the far flung world of 2005. So look forward to that I suppose.

-Kris Osborn

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Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 2

Odin Sphere - 2007

Ingway

No Caption Provided

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

No Caption Provided

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

No Caption Provided

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

No Caption Provided

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

No Caption Provided

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

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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

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Real Racing Roots Retrospective - Part 1

You know, I hadn't even planned around this, but this year marks the twentieth anniversary of the original Ridge Racer. So I suppose that makes now as good a time as any to take a look back on the series, and the many games it has brought us.

Ridge Racer has the distinction of having existed since near the advent of 3d gaming, and having existed in regular iterations into the present day. The only other series to really do that is Need For Speed, which got its start a year later, in 1994. So in that respect, there really is no other racing game series quite like Ridge Racer. It’s one of the longest running racing game series ever, and it's one of the few series that’s remained mostly constant in feel and approach throughout its two decades of existence.

It's been a mostly static entity in a genre defined by constant change, which has been a source of pointed criticism from critics. Whereas studios like Bizarre or Criterion were busy finding their own voices in the early to mid 2000s, the Ridge Racer series had already hit its stride and lost it by that point. And in that way, the Ridge Racer games have sometimes seemed like relics of an older time, and in many ways they are. It's just that most racing game series died off before they lived to see themselves become outdated like Ridge Racer has.

But while that has left the series feeling stale in some respects, by mere admission of its age even, those defining characteristics that typify the series are some of the main reasons I've stuck with it over the years. When a series is good, it's usually a bad idea to change it too much. Too many changes and you risk losing what made the experience so compelling in the first place. But why don't we step back for a minute and take a look at that first game in the series?The Need for Speed series has been around almost as long, but it doesn't bear the distinction of having many of the same key staff attached to it to this day. Electronic Arts goes through staff and studios like a fat kid goes through corndogs, and thus has found little difficulty in completely rethinking what it means for a game to be Need for Speed. Which has definitely had its' advantages; it's kept the series fresh over the years, while Namco has struggled for relevance and interest for a while now.

The engines sound like they’re ready to go. Are you all set?

This is the game that started it all. Ridge Racer came out in arcades in 1993, and, for the time, this was one of the best looking games around. Even today it's an attractive game to look at. At the time, it was sort of the underdog competition to Daytona, which was basically the big name in racing games in 93. There was a bit of an arms race between Namco and Sega with their System 22 and Model 2 boards respectively. And while they are very close in terms of fidelity and overall quality, the power of the Sega brand in the arcades made Daytona the winner, at least in terms of popularity.

When you look at a 3d game that's this old, one of the main things you should want to do is check out how they repurposed their already existing skills in 2d art onto this burgeoning new template of 3d games. One of the coolest little bits at the beginning of every race are the pit crew and grid girl walking off screen, both of which are 2d sprite art, animated in 2d and moving in 3d space off the screen, not unlike something like Doom or Wolfenstein just less complex since you don't have any camera or movement control.

The one track on offer here, that's right just one track, is still pretty cool looking, and is thoroughly arcade-y feeling with the palm trees and whatnot. The game has three variations on the one track, that are separated out based on difficulty. The more difficult variants add sections of track while adding stricter time limits between checkpoints. The selection in cars is similarly slim, with four to choose from, each with different top speeds and grip types, for the sake of variety.

But let's talk about the driving some. The graphics are good for more than just drawing the eye. The game runs at a buttery sixty frames and uses that to feel nice and nimble on the track. It's not the fastest game around, but it feels good. The fidelity also makes it so that you see nice and clearly ahead of you at all times, which is always important in a racing game.

But graphics aside, the steering is probably the main attraction here. It's not as though drifting and power sliding hadn't been done before, but no game has ever quite done it like Ridge Racer. Drifting basically auto-steers you through turns, sort of locking you into a track, which can be a little difficult to deal with starting out.

Knowing when the game is going to release you off of that track, and being able to keep your car from spinning out and losing speed is key to getting your times down. The trick to that is learning that, as long as your car is straightened out just right after a drift, it will let you off that track and your drift will effectively end. So, in addition to getting your line down, you have to make sure and get your turns worked out just right or else you’re going to end up losing a lot of seconds.

Another defining aspect of the original Ridge Racer was the soundtrack. I want you to take a listen to this song, and then listen to this song. Now, probably the first thing you noticed was that both songs are badass as shit. But what you may have also noticed, was that they were quite different from one another.

While The entire Daytona USA soundtrack is some of the most classic music Sega has ever produced, it was very much steeped in the traditional sound of arcade racing games, OutRun in particular. The Ridge Racer soundtrack, on the other hand is filled with happy hardcore and rave music, which was something of a change of pace for the racing game scene. It didn't hurt that the composers were at the top of their game with this soundtrack either.

And that different sound in the music made for a game that didn't feel like all the other racing games on the market. While the gameplay and hardware are quite similar to Daytona when you look underneath the surface, the sound really set the two games apart. And while Ridge Racer hasn't ever been the hugest success in the racing game scene, the music has always been a defining aspect of the series without question.

Shortly after Ridge Racer's release, Namco came out with a revision, known as Ridge Racer 2. It's essentially the same game, put out to accompany several periphery additions, such as a third-person view mode, a rear-view mirror, new music tracks, and a day-night cycle on the tracks. But the main addition on offer in Ridge Racer 2 is eight player multiplayer, which Daytona USA already had in the twin cabinets. So it's easy to come to the conclusion that Ridge Racer 2 came about mostly to undercut Daytona USA's success with its' multiplayer setup. But, despite these efforts, and the already amazing base gameplay, Daytona continued to boast the upper hand in the arcades.

You're one genius of a driver. You've gotta teach me!

So Namco went and took their game to the PlayStation. It was a launch title in both Japan and North America, so it released both in late 94 and in 95 respectively. And whereas Ridge Racer sort of always played second banana to Daytona in the arcades, Namco found much more esteem on Sony's burgeoning system. The PlayStation version doesn't begin to hold a candle to the original, graphics wise. The System 22 and Model 2 boards were possibly the apex of arcade hardware, grossly outstripping any consumer electronics on the market for years. So the graphics were destined to take a pretty big hickey.

When it comes to racing games, visibility is one of most important aspects. If you can't see what's in front of you, then you probably aren't playing a very good racing game. And Ridge Racer on the PlayStation had a lot of things working against it from the outset. For one, there was the fact that the System 22 board had way more powerful hardware on it than the PlayStation. Then there was the fact that it was a launch title on an early 3d console. So with the low resolution and aliasing, and these weird, horrible looking geometry leaks in the background distracting as well, the graphics make it kinda hard to see what's up ahead of you.

The way this version lets you off the rails when coming out of a drift feels way more mechanical this time around as well. There was also the fact that the PlayStation only had digital input via it's d-pad, as the analog sticks had not been introduced until November 1996. And Namco wanted desperately to recreate the feel of the analogue steering wheel in the arcade version. This was the circumstance which lead Namco to create the NeGcon in early 1995.

The NeGcon was basically a regular controller, broken in half, with a swivel connecting the two pieces. You would twist the controller along the swivel to turn your vehicle. And it enjoyed a decent amount of success, being the only major analogue controller for the most popular console for around three years. Some of the bigger non-Namco racing games on the system, such as Wipeout and Gran Turismo, had control options built in for the NeGcon. By the way, NeGcon is pronounced neh-gee con, which is a shortened form of neji, or twist controller.

Getting back to the game though, it looks good for a PlayStation launch game, and it comes with some of the additions found in the Ridge Racer 2 revision as well, namely the third-person view. And it also introduced a pair of rival cars known as the 13 Racing and White Angel to square off against and unlock. So those additions made for a decent enough trade off. It doesn't look too bad for a PlayStation launch game, and you got the stupid third person view and two awesome rival cars along with the ability to quarter up to your hearts content.

Time to leave this joker in another time zone ha-Haa!

Rave Racer is pretty much the ultimate edition of the original Ridge Racer. It comes complete with two variations on the track from the original with the addition of two all new tracks. One is a mountain pass, and the other is set in a city, presumably Ridge City. Though any attempts at Ridge Racer lore are a bit premature at this point. Rave Racer also has all of the additions brought on with Ridge Racer 2, with some fairly dramatically improved visuals as well.

Whereas Ridge Racer 2 added some billboards here and there, Rave Racer replaces most of the billboards and adds a significant number of sprites along the side of the track. It sounds like a small touch, but it really adds a lot of life to the already iconic track. Now, when you're passing the beach, you are greeted with a mass of people in swim trunks and bikinis, some with surf boards. And the rest of the track is smattered with onlookers behind the barricades. Like I said, it's a small touch, but a welcome one.

I mentioned billboards, and the Ridge Racer games are pretty famous for cramming just about anything Namco related into every conceivable corner of their tracks. One of the more interesting little additions in Rave Racer is the billboard you see coming out of the first tunnel. What's so interesting about it is the grid girl on it, who looks suspiciously like the girl in the attract screen, who, herself, looks suspiciously like Reiko Nagase. Now, Reiko doesn't officially make her debut in the Ridge Racer series until I guess Rage racer, in 97, but it's a fun little detail detail to catch, as it was a busy couple years for the franchise, and there's a lot of shared DNA among these early games.

The new tracks are pretty cool though. The mountain pass has something of a pastoral feel to it. It's actually kind of a weird track, all told. There's a shortcut of sorts. I'm not sure if it actually shortens out your time, but it's at a hard turn, where you have to be on top of your line, and if you aren't there's a gap in the railing where you can just fall down onto the road below.

The roads eventually converge back, Mario Kart style, and it's just kind of weird. Ridge Racer games don't usually do this. And the weirdness is just compounded by the fact that there is a glitched wall at the beginning of the track that warps you ahead with a rocketing start further on in the track. It's a weird track, but it's got some really cool scenery in it.

The city track is extra cool though. It's all elevated highways, tunnels, construction cranes and skyscrapers. It's very industrial looking, and all of the road markers and signs really help make it feel like you are just tearing ass through these roads at an unreasonable speed. Driving under all the overpasses is really cool too.

Probably my favorite thing about this track, though, is the giant monitor at the end of this big straightaway. It just screams style and has a silhouetted dancing figure on a flashing colored background, kind of like an old iPod commercial. And while that may sound kind of lame, it really sets an awesome vibe in-game.

It's also worth noting that Rave Racer is where the current Namco Sound team took their leave of Namco and went freelance under the name Sampling Masters. Now, Sampling Masters' principal cast consists of SamplingMasters Mega - Shinji Hosoe and SamplingMasters Aya - Ayako Saso. They are backed up by one Sanodg - Nobuyoshi Sano and one J99 - Takayuki Aihara. And these four comprised the sound staff for the arcade Ridge Racers, and the first two PlayStation Ridge Racers as well.

Ridge Racer Revolution took the bulk of its' soundtrack from Ridge Racer 2's remixes and new tracks. So this is the last we'll be hearing from Sampling Masters proper until 2005, with the exception of Sanodg, who makes the occasional appearance before then. It's a pretty tight soundtrack all round. Sano's increased presence in this soundtrack really rounds the experience out a lot.

Hosoe's tracks are mostly really heavy and thumping, and, appropriately enough, lean pretty heavily on the samples. Sano's tracks are much less abrasively percussive. So all in all it's a somewhat more varied soundtrack, and a really solid farewell to some of the series' most defining key staff.

And that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Ridge Racer at the arcades. There is that version of Ridge Racer V that didn’t come to arcades until some time after the PlayStation 2 version. But honestly, that hardly counts. Namco quickly found far more success on Sony’s family of consoles than they ever did at the arcades. So Rave Racer sort of signals the end of one era for the series as another was just beginning.

Come on! Pull up to the starting line and rev your engine!

There’s also this game called Ridge Racer Revolution, for the PlayStation, which came out in 96. With Ridge Racer Revolution, Namco tried making an all new track, complete with novice, intermediate and expert variants. It looks suspiciously similar to the original Ridge Racer track; the whole thing feels like they cut out bits of track, added parts and stitched it all together, with revised, but similar scenery to go with it. But it's a good track. The scenery, while oddly similar, is very cool to race through, especially in the more advanced sections. The half-tunnel along the cliff face is particularly memorable.

They made some changes to the handling too. As opposed to the other cars rubber banding when you get too far away, they made it so that you accelerate much faster. So when you hit something, you get back up to speed much faster. Also when you hit a wall it bounces you backward like it's bumper cars or something, which takes a bit of getting used to, especially when cars will bounce you into corners as they come up from behind. It sounds bad, but it really isn't. It forces you to have a bit more awareness of where the other cars are, and it's a lot less punitive about getting back up to speed like I said.

This PlayStation sequel of sorts does boast some new features outside of the computer controlled cars being assholes now. They also included the unlockable cars from the previous PlayStation outing, the White Angel, the Devil 13th, and the new Devil Kid. This gives Revolution a bit more for you to do in it, when compared against the PlayStation port of the original. Though given the fact that the graphics are pretty much the same, your preference in car handling and tracks will be the ultimate deciding factor in which version is the better of the two.

It was being billed as a straight sequel though, and a vaguely new looking track and a couple unlockable cars just wasn't enough to cut it, especially considering the graphics it was boasting for the time being an extra big step down from Rave Racer the year before. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination though, and suffers more from Namco's predilection for iterative design than any problems with the game itself.

I already mentioned the soundtrack briefly in the previous section, and there's not a lot more to say about it, aside from pointing out that Lords of Techno is still badass as fuck. It's also perhaps worth pointing out that Hiroshi Okubo poked his head in for one track on this soundtrack. We'll be hearing more about him in the next game though. So let’s just move right along into that.

The race is on. Show 'em what you've got!

Rage Racer is kind of a hard game to pin down. It continues the series’ tradition of having one big, long track broken up into shorter pieces, but it's easily as iconic a track as the original. You've got some awesome European streets with a great big Roman style stone arch, which you pass under before moving on to an elevated road passing a massive cliff face with a waterfall. There's a good deal of waterside bits of track and some really tricky turns in the later portions, along with some ridiculous looking stretches of tunnel.

It's a real shame they were so committed to the one track per game rule with their early games, given how imaginative and fun to race the tracks all were. And Rage Racer's very European looking track easily stands up among the others, like I said. So, while the graphics are quite dated three games in, they more than make up for if with some really fantastic art.

They were able to get rid of the pop-in too, which is nice. The aliasing was the real problem in terms of visibility for Ridge Racer and Revolution on the PlayStation though, and Rage Racer does seem slightly better in that regard. The geometry leaks are still on full display though, sadly.

But let's talk about the racing. It's super important how a racing game handles touching the walls and other cars. It's easily one of the most important aspects of a racing game. If you overdo it, and make the car completely freak out as soon as you even brush up against something, it can really kill the sense of speed. And you really don't want that in a racing game, especially an arcade racing game.

Now, it's not that Rage Racer is overly punitive with it's collisions. It's more that you're likely to spend way more time dealing with them than you would with most of the other games in the series. The drifting is just near broken, so you’re going to spend a lot of time hitting walls. Revolution really sort of got it right in this department. You're constantly getting knocked into things by the more aggressive CPU controlled cars, but it works out because you get back up to speed so fast. But with Rage Racer, the drifting is bad and it takes far too long to get back up to speed.

It's really hard to say just what the problem is with the drifting, other than to say that it feels like a gamble every time weather your drift is going to take or not. I know I'm not the only one who holds that sentiment toward Rage Racer though, and if it weren't for all the rest of the game being so above average, Rage Racer could have easily been the black sheep in the series.

Rage Racer is also host to another Ridge Racer game first, the CG opening. It's not exactly a classic by Namco PlayStation game opening standards, but it's significant if only for marking the debut of the face of Ridge Racer, legendary grid girl Reiko Nagase. This was Kei Yoshimizu's first game in the series. Yoshimizu is the man behind Reiko's design, and has been responsible for all her subsequent appearances in the series. Reiko is also, presumably the girl holding the card at the start of every race as well. She also features prominently in the packaging.

But Reiko was merely a symptom of the changing face of Ridge Racer. Rage Racer is definitely a step up from Revolution in terms of style and content. They introduced a few new cars and added customization options in the way of paint jobs, team logos and even a few tuning options. And beyond that, they made a much more cohesive feeling experience in terms of all the things outside of just the race.

Rage Racer is kind of the first game in the series where the soundtrack and menu design started to really coalesce into something greater than its parts. It's one of the series' defining characteristics in my eyes. The way these extraneous features work together make for games that are more than just racing games. I'm sure some of you oldschool Gran Turismo fans know what I'm talking about with the manufacturer songs in the first game. It would still be Gran Turismo without them, but why on earth would you want it without them?

These little flourishes make these games more than just an assortment of pretty cars and tracks with cool looking backgrounds. They make them into a place that you love being in. They are the parts that make you remember these games ten, twenty years down the line. Because it's not the graphics. Those lose their zeal with time. And it's not the gameplay, since these games mostly play worse the farther back they go. And in that regard, Rage Racer marks the turning point in the series, where it went from being sort of like Outrun, with its' sunny beaches and tropical waterfalls, to being something altogether different and equally wonderful.

The first two PlayStation outings were very much just recreations of the arcade experience. They had attract screens and the menus consisted mostly of car select, transmission select, track select and go. And Rage Racer was very much a clean break from the previous entries in that regard.

The soundtracks on the previous entries were definitely a key element to their success, giving them a feel and atmosphere that set them apart your OutRuns and your Daytonas. But this time, the entire game just feels like it better accommodates and embellishes upon the musical talent they had at Namco. It helps that they had some real good talent to fill in for Sampling Masters for this entry.

The talent this time around is the previously mentioned Hiroshi Okubo and Tetsukazu Nakanishi. Okubo has handled music and sound effects on the series from here out, so this is his first time running all that. The soundtrack marks a really good middle ground between the harder, sampling filled sound in the previous games and the lighter, more melodic sound in the later games. I don't know if it was from working with Hosoe and Saso, or if it was a deliberate choice to maintain consistency, but there's a very obvious reliance on harder beats and samples. It's an impressive show of diversity, considering Nakanishi and Okubo were two of the principal composers on Ridge Racer 4 as well, which is categorically different in terms of sound.

It's maybe not the best Ridge Racer game. Like with Revolution, it didn't do enough to stand out against the other racing games of the time with it's dearth of tracks to race on. And the handling is one of my least favorite in the series. But it's still a really cool game despite these otherwise glaring flaws. With the deeper stable of cars, new grand prix mode, and all the other additions, Rage Racer is nothing if not ambitious, and sets the groundwork for one of the greatest racing games ever created, which we will look at come part 2. So I’ll see you there.

- Kris Osborn

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Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 1

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Behind the Voice: Liam O'Brien - Part 1

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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So I Got This Brilliant Idea to Play Through Death by Degrees

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I’m realizing twenty-five hours in that this might have been a bad decision. Death by Degrees was a game I added to my collection after finding it in the loose sleeve bin at my local Gamestop, my only knowledge of it beforehand being a brief comment by Shawn Elliot on the GFW podcast about it being really terrible. But I love Tekken, and I love bad games, so I figured it would be a perfect match.

But what exactly is Death by Degrees? Well, for one, it’s a non-canonical gaiden story following Tekken series veteran Nina Williams actually doing some spy work for a change. It is also one of Namco’s infrequent but typically misguided forays into the action genre, which leads me to my next point.

I think they might have had a game in mind when making Death by Degrees, two games actually. One of them involves sixteen year old girls with ninety-nine year old breasts, and the other one is that other game with Ryu Hayabusa in it. It all adds up; the bikinis and battle damaged sneaking suits, the fighting game turned character action game, the time frames line up perfectly! I think Death by Degrees might have been a misguided cash grab at all that Ninja Gaiden money.

But as I mentioned, DOA might well have been on their minds as well, and I’m talking the Xtreme Beach variety of DOA. There’s a lot of fanservice in this game. Your first costume is a two piece bikini with stiletto heels, and after that is a skimpy cocktail dress that gets more damaged with each successive boss fight you survive. This game’s version of powerups is various kinds of massage oils that you inexplicably pick up off of downed soldiers. It almost made sense on the cruise ship, but you even collect them later on in the derelict prison building so your guess is as good as mine on this one.

At any rate, these fancy massage oils boost her various stats for a short period. For example, the Rosemary essential oil boosts Nina’s hand-to-hand attack damage, whereas the eucalyptus oil boosts her overall speed. The only thing that would have made it any cheesier is if you went into a Snake Eater style 3d viewer and rubbed them on her yourself. Which you do not, in fact, do, for the record.

The funny thing though is that the gameplay barely even resembles Ninja Gaiden. For one, the difficulty centers mostly around getting used to the garbage-assed controls and those fucking camera angles. There was a reason the Devil May Cry series left the Resident Evil camera behind after 1. But the thing is, Namco lifted a whole lot more than just the camera from Resident Evil. In fact, with the exception of the tank controls, Death by Degrees copies over most of the Resident Evil formula. Which works fine for me, I have an irrational love for that kind of game. I even like the lesser known ones like Carrier, and Fear Effect.

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But they really went the whole nine yards here. It’s got the weird contrived adventure game puzzles, it’s got the Metroid style map, you spend like half the game in the menus doing things, weapon item and health scarcity is a real issue, I mean they really did just sort of make a Resident Evil game. It also, oddly enough, feels a lot like Metal Gear Solid. One of the things I liked the most about Metal Gear Solid, was that it was sort of the 1998 equivalent to today’s Call of Duties, in that it’s packed full of bombastic set-pieces. And while most modern triple-A games’ use of set-pieces is bordering on self-parody at this point, it was a really good way to design an action adventure game back in the day, probably because back then that involved tying together more disparate feeling pieces of gameplay, making the final product feel more varied as a result.

And Death by Degrees does a great job of following the Metal Gear Solid style of set-piece design. There are points in the game where you realize that just a couple hours ago, you were doing Resident Evil puzzles on a luxury cruise ship, and now you’re sniping guys above a heliport on the roof of a prison. And the game has that kind of moment to moment variety for the duration. It’s got super deep melee combat, a good assortment of guns, adventure game puzzles, various kinds of stealth sections, boss battles, sniping missions. I mean, it’s almost bordering on too much. Especially considering half these things don’t even quite work right. Did I mention that this game is a complete train wreck?

Because oh man is this game a train wreck. The combat is the thing you’ll spend the most time doing, and I doubt you will ever get ‘good’ at it. This video does a great job of showing how awesome the combat can look, but that’s probably the best anyone has or will ever be at the combat in this game. Nina has about as many moves as she would in any latter-day Tekken game, but somehow you’re supposed to execute all of these moves with the two analog sticks and the L and R buttons. And all of that might have been doable if it weren’t for the fact that this is a Resident Evil clone. The fixed camera angles destroy the combat in this game absolutely. You can’t ever feel like you have any real command over a combat situation because you quite literally don’t. The camera decides whether you hit a guy or he hits you. And needless to say that can become fairly exasperating later on into the game as your patience gradually wears thinner.

The game does throw plenty of health items your way though, which tells me the combat was a known problem during development but they weren’t able to come up with a way to fix it in time. So now instead of having good combat, you just have to spend half the game in the menus making Nina stuff her face with candy bars. Which, funnily enough, is a pretty old-school Resident Evil design eccentricity. And there is always stealth. But if all the Tekken and SoulCalibur staff on the team couldn’t get the fighting down, then I don’t know why you would think they could get the stealth right. The stealth usually only amounts to you getting the jump on one guy before the rest of the enemies in the room are alerted, which can be sorta fun I guess.

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But try as I might, I could not get into this game. I mean, I beat it. I bought in to it’s stupid bullshit. But I never really got into it. The combat I could have gotten over. The stealth wasn’t necessarily key in the first place. But this game has some of the worst load times I’ve seen in a while. And let me remind you that this game came out in 2005. So whatever optimizing didn’t get done on this game is kind of inexcusable. It’s a good looking game to be sure, but nothing about it tells me that the loading should take so long, or be so frequent.

And honestly, the loading could have skirted by my ire as well if it weren’t for the minigames, for lack of a better term. There are parts where you are required to do some swimming, or climb ladders and horizontal pipes on a timer, or fly a remote controlled recon drone, or other little things like that which fall outside the general gameplay, and I think it’s safe to say that all of them are abject exercises in trial and error. So cross trial and error minigames with terrible load times and only occasional checkpointing and I think you can see where I’m going with this.

It’s a real shame that the game feels as half-finished as it does too because I feel like I could have really liked it if it’d just sucked less. Like I said before, I really like Resident Evil style games, and Nina’s moves are all really awesome, her five and ten hit combos especially. The cruise ship is a really cool location too. The bright, sunny tropical setting is a real nice change of pace from your typical action games, and the mix of luxury and futuristic interiors make for one of the more memorable Resident Evil style game locales I can call to recent memory. The boss battles are actually pretty fun as well. They’re not Metal Gear calibur, but they are inching up on it in a way that would probably surprise you, given how much time I’ve spent complaining about the game so far.

That first boss battle is a bitch though. In fact, now’s probably as good a time as any to talk about the difficulty level. Full disclosure, I insisted on playing through the game on normal, despite the fact that some sections are nearly broken and there’s no reward for beating it on normal or hard over beginner. In fact, it even does the Devil May Cry thing and asks you every time you die if you would like to turn ‘stupid diaper-baby easy mode’ on now. But my pride wouldn’t have it. And playing through this game on normal is like a rollercoaster of difficulty.

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You spend a couple hours just figuring out how to actually hit an enemy with a kick in 3d space with the stupid fucking right stick. Then, once you’ve gotten over that hurdle, you have to find a save point. A couple more hours later you can successfully defeat a regular enemy and save your game and you’re ready to take on the world. Now it’s time to try your hand at a broken sniping sequence. But don’t worry. This one is fucking easy compared to some of the later ones.

So twenty minutes of retrying a two minute segment later you’re done with the broken sniping part, you’ve saved your game and you’re smooth sailing at this point. Then you fight the first boss. And he’s not bad. It’s in a meat locker and you just have to hide behind the cover and hit and run with swords and you're set. Easy enough. Then you get to his second form. This time you’re fighting him in an enclosed arena with spikes on all sides. He’s got dual automatic pistols and animation priority over every move you have but one.

A couple more hours later, you’ve learned far more about evasive dashing than you ever wanted, and you’ve probably learned how important massage oils are to Nina’s success in boss battles. And if you haven’t given up by this point, then you’re back to smooth sailing for most of the game. But rest assured, there will be the odd minigame to gum up the works, such as the return of the sniping segment, or that one boss fight where Nina keeps jumping into a bottomless pit. Or my personal favorite, the part where they straight lifted the shape-memory alloy puzzle from MGS1.

If any of this sounds enticing, Death by Degrees usually sells for around two dollars these days. It’s certainly not the best game ever to bear the Tekken name, which might explain why it’s in such small lettering on the cover. But this was almost a great game. For every terrible part, there’s an awesome bit to match it. Sadly, they end up balancing out to a mediocre experience that sounds like a hard sell as I type it. But the more I think about it, the cooler this game seems in hindsight. Those of you without access to a PlayStation 2 should try bothering Harada for an HD re-release on twitter. I’m sure he’d find it a nice change of pace from people asking if Tekken X Street Fighter is canceled.

- Kris Osborn

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Behind the Voice: Karen Strassman Part 3

Welcome to part three of this epic trilogy. Last time we looked at a bunch of Atlus games and I talked probably for too long about Sengoku Basara. It was bunches of fun. Anyway, let's get right back into it. Shall we?

Fallout New Vegas - 2010

Beatrix/Calamity

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While New Vegas wasn't half as well written as Obsidian fans on the internet tried to convince everyone it was, it was still an entertaining enough distraction. Karen Strassman got to play not one but two named ghoul characters in New Vegas. Beatrix and Calamity were both about as entertaining as you could hope for a poorly rigged and robotically posed burn victim rendered on a six, seven year old engine to be.

They both sound appropriately well-weathered. They kinda sound like Marge's sisters from The Simpsons, who are themselves quite ghoulish sounding. So that part works itself out pretty well, though the two characters basically have the exact same voice. I would complain, but when you look at how many characters they had Liam O'Brien read in the same voice, it doesn't look like variety in vocal performances was high up on Obsidian's to-do list.

There's really not too much else to say about this one. If you weren't looking for it, you might not notice this one, as it's not exactly in her usual repertoire, so that's fun, but other than that the characters don't really do anything super interesting. I mean, these are Fallout NPCs after all. Neither of them get more than a bit of a single side quest with them in it apiece. Other than that they're just local color.

Calamity does get to repair your equipment and sell you stuff though, and evidently Beatrix is in everyone's favorite side quest because ghoul prostitutes are hilarious or something I guess? Like I said, I don't think the writing in this game is the best thing ever. It's certainly no worse than Fallout 3's writing or anything, but this is ostensibly supposed to be the lineage of Planescape: Torment right? Like, these are supposed to be some of the taste makers in game writing right? I don't know. I just don't see it. But the game is good, dumb fun and Karen Strassman is in it so that's fun too. Moving on.

Notable Quotes:

"The only thing I know for certain is that I don't know nothing."

"I've never really done much science stuff until now. I'm pretty good at it, or so Doctor Henry tells me."

"Time you enjoyed wasting isn't wasted time."

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But I've always been a fan of hog tying my lovers so they can't escape."

Sonic series - 2010 up

Rouge the Bat

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So, at some point in 2010, the Sonic series got a new voice director or casting director or something, and they threw out pretty much their entire stable of voice talent they'd been using for the past four or five years for a completely new cast. At any rate, Strassman came along with all the new actors in the wake of this mass exodus, to take on the role of Rouge.

There's not really a whole lot more to say about that. The Sonic franchise is only just slightly more relevant in this day and age than Bomberman. So it's not like these are good games you're missing or anything. I mean, there's Sonic Colors, but I don't think she was in that one, and there's Sonic Generations I guess. But I think Sega has given up on trying with Sonic in much the same way that most gamers have given up with caring about Sonic.

But if you liked her performance as Poison, then Rouge the bat is kind of like a more kid friendly version of that. But we're talking like, third tier Sonic characters here with Rouge the bat. I mean, she's no Charmy the Bee, but you're not likely to get much more than a B plot with her in it either. So you aren't likely to see much of her regardless of the game in question. Maybe she'll make a return in Sonic Lost World. We'll just have to wait and see on that one though.

Mortal Kombat 9 - 2011

Kitana/Mileena

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Strassman pulled double duty in Mortal Kombat 9, since Mileena is supposed to be some sort of creepy clone monster thing version of Kitana. They do sound pretty different though. Kitana has this sort of generic heroine quality to her voice. She's royalty, so she speaks in an elevated tone of voice, and her personality is kind of severe, but other than that, she's a pretty flat character. I mean, she's a good guy in a Mortal Kombat game. She's supposed to be boring. I mean, she's an awesome character to play as, but she pretty much only exists in the story mode to be waifu material for Liu Kang.

Now, Mileena, on the other hand, is quite the entertaining little gal. Since she's a bad guy, she gets to be way more interesting than Kitana. She's sort of like this weird, creepy, lipless harpy thing that sort of plays off of her sexuality to ensnare men. So when she isn't doing sexy moans, she's making crazy squawking shrieking noises, which make her sound like a rabid animal or something, which is pretty cool.

But she's an interesting twist on your typical female characters. She's like this sort of sex monster type thing, that is equal parts alluring and revolting. So she takes on this weird, disembodied form of sexual energy that is certainly fairly off-putting but nonetheless interesting, at least from a male perspective anyway. She's like, totally way better than Baraka too. That looser scrub got his butt whupped by Johnny Cage in the first round. So being only half Tarkatan means she's only half dumb loser or something I guess.

Like, you can tell she was basically designed to be his female counterpart, on top of being the second palette swapped version of Kitana. But Baraka's just a dumb loser in a Halloween mask, while Mileena actually has some interesting stuff going on with her character. She's got kind of a Caliban angle going on with her character, but instead of just being abjectly ridiculed for being gross and ugly, she still has that sexy body, and she can sort of do whatever as long as she's under disguise. She's also a complete psychopath and spends her free time plotting to take over both Outworld and Edenia.

Compare all of that against Kitana, who basically just has a bad relationship with her step dad and then falls in love with Liu Kang. They don't even go into any depth with her dead mother being turned into an evil zombie. Like, that whole part is just kind of glossed over in the story mode. But Strassman does do a pretty good job with her nonetheless. She gives her this pretty cool 'I used to be royalty' thing with the way she talks, even though she's barely there plot wise and nobody actually seems to care about Edenia anyway.

But she really brings it with both characters. I mean, MK9 is kind of all about really heavy impacts. Like, that's the overall takeaway from this game I think, is 'Holy shit did you see how fucking hard he just hit that guy!?' And I think that's extra true than with any of the previous Mortal Kombat games. And It's good to have someone who can sound super intense when doing those crazy impact sounds and whatnot during the fights.

Notable Quotes:

"Mother! You're alive?!"

Wait. No. That's from the other thing. Never mind.

Red Faction Armageddon - 2011

Kara

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I don't really know what to say about this one here. For some reason nothing in the story really ever stuck with me. I guess I could say the same for the game play too. But I don't know why the story didn't do anything for me. The cast is all tight, and has familiar voices in interesting places, the whole thing has a very Resident Evil 5 vibe to it, but my eyes just sort of glaze over when I try to think back to anything particularly interesting happening in the story, except for that one thing, but I am trying to politely avoid spoilers as much as is reasonable here.

The performances are all good, though the writing lacks any kind of creative spark to make those performances memorable or stand out in any way. There's a little bit of Whedonesque snark, that's decently enjoyable I guess, but nothing worth shooting your grandmother to get ahold of. The script certainly seems to have proved the SyFy channel logo on the splash screens right, I'm sorry to say, with it's generic blandness. Though the game isn't all that bad, it's just kind of middling is all.

But Armageddon is one of the few gigs where Strassman did mo-cap, so it's a rare case where you get to see her doing camera acting on top of voice acting in the cutscenes, which is something of a rarity, and that's pretty cool I think. Strassman's voice doesn't really sound like any of her other roles here either. Maybe that has something to do with the acting in front of cameras part of the deal. But you might not recognize it from her other roles. It doesn't really have many of the hallmarks of her other characters' voices.

The less exaggerated vocal performance makes it sort of sound like some of her more early characters, but she's doing kind of a lower pitch with her voice here too, so it's just kinda got it's own thing going. Unfortunately, the game decides to head off without her about halfway in, so you're back to lone wolfing it after that. So while she's a fairly major character in the story, she doesn't get all that much screen time in the game. Armageddon isn't a great game, but Strassman's performance is at least pretty enjoyable anyway.

Neverdead - 2012

Cypher

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While Cypher only has all of, let's say five minutes of screen time at best in Neverdead, I'm still putting it on this list, mostly because it's such a rad game. The whole cast is in rare form on this project, and Karen Strassman, as Aigis herself might say, is "the coolest of the cool" as Cypher, despite it being such a small bit part.

I'm really only writing about this one to have another excuse to bring up Neverdead, which is at least a dozen times cooler than everyone else says it is. It's a shame everyone was all too busy prattling on about other things to pay even passing support to this game. I suppose Konami is at least partially to blame for sending this game out to die with almost zero marketing. It's certainly nothing new for Konami, picking up a cheap and probably not very good Western studio to make a game with probably a really tiny budget and then just throwing it out to market. But it stings all the worse because this was a genuinely cool game despite the game play being middling.

It's also really disappointing to see one of the more prolific Metal Gear series staff members, the creator of Ghost Babel and Ac!d no less, go out to tell a story of his own to zero fanfare and active derision from several publications. I'm sure if they'd thrown a token executive producer credit for Kojima on this game, people would have suddenly and instinctively been interested in it and probably would have given him credit for all the good parts too.

I should probably stop shit talking Kojima here, but the story really does scratch that itch for stupid weirdness that the Metal Gear series has, but without all of the pitiful shit humor marring the ham-handed attempts at serious narrative. It's like all the parts of Metal Gear that I love without all the stupid lame and embarrassing parts.

It's got an unflinching sense of weirdness about it, and it's one of the few Japanese games coming out these days that doesn't have just horrible pandering fan-service with its' female characters. It's more interested in showing you fight weird demons while Megadeath plays in the background in some absolutely gorgeous cutscenes than it is in showing you what color panties it's heroine is wearing. And hey, kudos to Shinta Nojiri for thinking outside the box on that one.

Street Fighter X Tekken - 2012

Poison

While Street Fighter X Tekken was a mess of hot bullshit, they certainly didn't lack for fun and vibrant characters to play with. What they chose to do with that was to make a story mode that spends more time on loading screens than it does actually telling the story. But what I'm trying to say is Poison is a fun character historically, and she's a fun character in Street Fighter X Tekken too. I wish we'd gotten to see more of her, but she is fun.

She and Hugo are kind of like an old Loony Tunes cartoon. Spike and Chester in particular come to mind off the top of my head. And Strassman does a really good job of working the 'big-mouthed runt' and 'over the top sex-pot' aspects of the character into something cohesive and entertaining. Which, again, makes me wish we'd gotten to see more of her, because it really seems like they were onto something with this.

But I guess we'll just have to wait for Ultimate Super Street Fighter Cross Tekken 2nd Impact Turbo Arcade Edition Version 2014, because who even knows if Namco would use those characters, assuming they even do get around to making Tekken X Street Fighter. Oh but if they did though! The chances of that are slim, so we're left with what they gave us, which isn't too awful much and that's too bad.

Notable Quotes:

"I'm not just hotter than you. I also just kicked your ass!"

Tales of Graces F - 2012

Fourier

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Speaking of Poison, Fourier in Tales of Graces actually sounds quite a bit like Poison. There's a sort of cartoony bounciness to her voice that resembles her turn as Poison, though her character is a bit more serious in tone, though maybe not so much in style. Actually, all of the characters have that sort of cartoony bounce to their voices, and I get the impression that was to put sort of a lighter tone on the game overall.

And it's rare that you get to hear Strassman do such a rubbery sounding voice, so that's pretty cool. And that plays back into Strassman's knack for overacting. There are shades of Sialeeds' voice in the performance too, with flashes of that haughtiness there. It's not as pronounced, and it's much less of a put-on with Fourier. It gives the impression that she really is proud maybe to a fault.

But she's also kind of creepy sounding. And I know this is maybe kind of a stretch, but she has this sort of, SHODAN as Dr. Polito thing going with her voice that makes her sound kind of menacing and malicious. She does have kind of a severe personality, so I suppose those dips into that menacing voice were meant to convey as much. But then her voice has a tendency to go really high in pitch too, which I think is just what Strassman's voice naturally does when playing more animated voices.

Another interesting point worth noting is how similar Strassman's character, Fourier, and her sister Pascal's voices sound. I don't know if they started with one voice and then imitated the other, or if this was due to some outside meddling on the director's part, but it's a pretty neat little detail to have included.

And that whole being sisters with the main character thing is sort of the crux of her character. She's got a bit of an inferiority complex due to her younger sister being so naturally gifted. So there's something of a rivalry there. Even though they are generally on good terms, their relationship seems strained. And that maybe explains how haughty she sounds. This wouldn't be the first time a character with an inferiority complex liked to flash their feathers like a peacock, and that definitely seems to be case here.

Persona 4 arena -2012

Aigis

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Poor Aigis didn't exactly get the best return appearance in Arena. Sure, she at least kept her amazing original actress, unlike certain other characters in the game which we won't name here. But all of the characters from Persona 3 had some pretty significant changes brought to their characters in Persona 4 Arena. Aigis, in particular, has lost most of the robotic intonation to her voice, which was one of the main points of focus when I wrote about her earlier.

Losing that makes sense for the most part given the context; the idea was that she had gradually become more familiar with imitating human speech, something which is evident even during Persona 3. But it really does end up being sort of an elephant in the room when she speaks, at least starting out anyway. It probably would have been impossible to just come back to these old characters in a different context and not have some issues, but it definitely stands out, and especially so with Aigis.

Going back to that hanging thread from before about Aigis actually just being a total dick though, Persona 4 Arena really changes the way Aigis works in a humor sense too. She doesn't have the robot voice anymore, and she obviously has enough awareness of the world that she can't bust someone's ass without getting called on it, but she still does it anyway. She is just talking mess left and right, so apparently Aigis has just always been a total smart ass, and before she was just doing it on accident or something, which I personally think is just great.

They do still try and do the whole fish out of water thing with her, even though her robot voice is gone, but they don't spend enough time focusing on her character to really get much of the old Persona 3 Aigis going on, which is kind of a shame. That said, she's still a ton of fun to listen to despite any complaints I had about her robot voice, with the one exception of hearing her in actual game play.

Notable Quotes:

"My armor!"

"My armor!"

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"My armor!"

(But seriously though, that part's really not her fault.)

Zero Escape - 2012

Phi

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Phi is an interesting character. I guess everyone in that game is a little interesting. Actually, none of the actors sound the way you're accustomed to hearing them sound. That goes for Laura Bailey et al. The characters all have really odd and kitschy idiosyncrasies to their performances, which actually goes really well with the writing and character designs.

I don't know if it was the director or what, but they really managed to get some very different sounding performances out of everyone involved, which is kind of rare to see really. Evidently the direction can be credited to Valerie Arem, who really knocked it out of the park on this project. I mean, it's always great to get a little variety with these things, and the game manages to sound really different with so many familiar names attached.

Strassman's character, Phi, seems reticent in her speech. She has this shrugging reservation to everything she says, not so much like she's hiding something, but more like she has some sort of chip on her shoulder, more as a general character affectation than anything specific, though I don't know where the story of the game goes personally.

Her speech seems a lot more animated than you usually see in games too. That goes for the other characters too It's hard to put concisely, but it's like the characters jump from one emotion to the next with more frequency than you see in other games. But it's not that the characters feel inconsistent or anything bad like that. It actually makes the performances sound more realistic even, having the characters emote as much for off-hand comments as they do for more serious scenes.

It definitely doesn't sound like any other game I've ever played, and that helps make the whole game seem all the more surreal. And it's pretty surreal already, what with talking bunny monsters and the just wacky costume designs. It's definitely a different game, but the acting is some of the best I've heard in a while for sure.

Notable Quotes:

"I'm not Batman..."

Fire Emblem Awakening - 2013

Anna/Olivia?

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I don't really know a whole lot about this game because I don't have a 3DS. But I hear it was the new hotness when it came out earlier this year, and it definitely looks like a lot of fun. Strassman plays the money loving merchant Anna and also Olivia who does something that isn't being a merchant or something I think. So that's pretty cool I guess. And while I believe Olivia is kind of a plot-centric character in the story, Anna is really more of a side character, being a merchant and all.

Now, granted, the voice acting is pretty sparse in Fire Emblem Awakening. The voice acting only ever really comes up in the cutscenes and the occasional story vignette.The rest of the voiceover consists of weird grunts and monosyllabic words triggered to dialogue voices, which is actually kind of off-putting. If you're not reading along, you basically just hear 'Huh?' "Yes.' 'Oh?' '...Right' 'Well..' 'Ahh!' 'Heh...' 'Right...' 'mmm' 'No?' 'Wait!' 'Okay.' and that sort of stands out pretty bad, since they took the time to voice all of that in the first place. It's also odd how they seem to always use voice clips that sound confrontational and angry in situations where it doesn't make sense to.

But of course I would be remiss not to mention that you can marry your characters too. Evidently it sort of works like the social links in the Persona series. You basically raise your support rank with particular characters by spending time with them, and if you are able to achieve an S-rank with a support character of the opposite sex to your general, then you get to tie the knot with them. It really doesn't amount to a whole lot. It's basically just a picture of the girl with her saying something like 'OMG ur such a saxxy man!' and that's it, but it's a neat enough little added feature, and it seems to have proven fairly popular nonetheless.

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Ugh! My waifus!!1

Notable Quotes:

"This sure beats gold! ...Wait, no it doesn't."

“Keep this up and someday I may love you more than money! Haha... no, seriously.”

"Violence is on sale today!"

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm - 2013

Izsha

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Karen Strassman plays Izsha, who is Kerrigan's advisor in the Heart of the Swarm campaign, and it's actually one of her cooler roles. While the story in Heart of the Swarm wasn't all I'd hoped it would be, the character is really cool. She's a creepy looking Zerg thing, and her voice has that sort of insect hive mind quality to it. And that's probably what's coolest about this voice, as it's a real cool gimmick when it's done right.

There are definitely shades of Aigis in this performance. Being as it's a creepy bug monster thing, it speaks in a really flat tone to emphasize the fact that speech shouldn't come naturally to it, and it's got a nice, creepy, pitch-shifted delay effect on it that makes it sound extra not-human, which is nothing you haven't seen before. But it's done well here. And Strassman has already proven pretty adept at intentionally emotionless voices. So they definitely hit all the right notes for creepy hive mind bug monster thing.

Outside of that though, they don't do a whole lot with the character. As you can see from the provided video, you get conversation points between missions and whatnot, and she shows up in like, a couple cutscenes I think, but other than that, she doesn't get a whole lot of screen time. But, you know, interestingly enough, Blizzard seemed to have been playing with the idea of using Strassman to play Kerrigan, back when Wings of Liberty was in development. Evidently those fools just couldn't make up their minds on what they were doing over there though. The list of rumors surrounding the voice cast alone is ridiculous.

And evidently the change in voice wasn't even because the original actress, Glynnis Talken Campbell, was unavailable. It sounds like she auditioned just like everyone else, and they were going to go with her, but then they decided to go with Strassman, and presumably did all of the recording with her, but then canceled that at the last second for Tricia Helfer too. All in all, it was, as Jim Ross would put it, 'a complete debacle.' But everything worked out in the end I suppose. And Izsha is a pretty cool character, though I don't know if I can honestly recommend the game for the campaign, as it seems kind of light on story, and what story there is just seems a bit hit or miss to me. But that might just be my unfamiliarity with the series talking.

Notable Quotes:

"I feel my queen's hatred, burning like a star. But there is something underneath it... I do not understand."

"You were mighty. You made us cunning and strong, and we knew we would survive forever under you."

"We are numberless, we are fearless, and we are evolving."

So there you have it. That's 1992 on halfway through 2013 all summed up into three parts. I hope I didn't bore you too much with this not so little abridged guide to an actor's imdb page. I hope it was fun and maybe a little informative. And I hope there was at least one or two games on here you haven't played that maybe I've interested you in checking out, or maybe even reminded you of some old favorites worth booting up again.

-Kris Osborn

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Behind the Voice: Karen Strassman Part 2

Welcome to part two, the dark middle chapter of this exciting list of vaguely related video games. Last time I said nice things about two separate Konami games and even a David Cage game, so this truly is a brave new world. Let's jump back in and see what revelations part two has in store, shall we?

DOA series - 2006 on

Helena Douglas

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I was going to write something about how Karen Strassman voicing Helena is such a smart fit because she speaks fluent French and whatnot, but this series can't seem to keep a steady voice cast from game to game. To my knowledge, Strassman has voiced Helena in Xtreme 2, Paradise and maybe Dead or Alive 5 but it's hard to say as they didn't bother crediting the English voice cast.

I would cross check with her website, but her website seems to think she played a lead role in Resident Evil 5. And unless Karen Strassman is also secretly D.C. Douglas or something, then I don't think her website knows for sure either. So it's hard to say whether she was in DOA5 or not. I'm like, pretty positive that it's her, but I also like having a name in a credits scroll that I can point to so you're not just taking me on my word.

But it's not as though DOA5 is the only game that doesn't bother crediting the English voice roles. It's really a fairly common occurrence in games. It's actually pretty ridiculous how many games do this, great games like Persona 3 and 4 even. It's super annoying and there isn't a single good reason for it.

I mean, it's one thing for imdb to not have the right credits for something since user moderated sites might as well be run by animals, but it would be nice to at least be able to consult with the game's credits to find out who was, you know, involved in the production of said game. I guess English voice actors aren't the only ones being left out of game credits, so I suppose they're in good company at least, but it's still annoying.

Earth Defense Force 2017

Mission Briefings

Sandlot is, as far as I'm concerned, the only developer out there that can deliver such a pure, low level B-grade cheese in the games business. Games like EDF and RAD are without peer in this regard. Their games are so corny, they look like parodies. Deadly Premonition wishes it could be this busted and dumb. Sandlot's games make Illbleed look like Silent Hill 3. They make Mad Dog Mcree look like Red Dead Redemption.

And god bless them. Sometimes you just want a game to tell you that alien space ships are dropping giant fire ants onto Earth's major metropolises, and you have to shoot them all with an infinite rocket launcher. And that's what Strassman is here to do, handling the disembodied voice who explains to you just how stupid and messed up things have gotten since the last mission and giving you orders on what dumb thing you're going to be fighting next.

And the voiceover in this game sounds like they knocked it out over a long weekend. The game doesn't have all that much voice work in it, and I can see how everyone involved was probably just there to collect a quick paycheck, directors and engineers included. There's not a lot to hear in this game in the way of voice work, but what there is sounds as dumb and as slapped together as the insane premise and the barely-there game play. And that's pretty much perfect for a game like EDF.

Notable Quotes:

"Look at this image..."

Trauma Center: New Blood - 2007

Elena/various

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What a fantastic dub for such a terrible story. If you've ever played a Trauma Center game, then you know their stories make pretty much no sense at all. I've seen Cronenberg films with more cohesive plots to them than these games. But like I said, the dub on this game is just so good. Someone at Atlus must really be pulling their weight over there. Even the best games like this, where you tap X to bring up the next voice line, tend to be at least a little stilted by their very nature. But this one manages to sound just straight up perfect pretty much the whole time. Which I imagine is no small feat.

Anyway, Strassman plays several characters in this game, and she's as good as everyone else is in it. I think what sets the performances in this game apart is that they don't sound so much like characters. They sound a lot more natural and conversational, which really smartly embellishes the more domestic setting. It's a shame that the story didn't get the memo on that point, as it seems more intent on ruining that with its constant sci-fi cliches.

It's hard to explain just what makes the voice work sound so conversational though, other than that the lines all sound a lot less pieced together. A lot of the time in a game like this, the inflection will come out wrong on a line here or there and kind of disrupt the flow of the conversation or the scene. But that just doesn't seem to happen much at all in this game. It's just a shame the same can't be said for the plot, cause it really does feel like all that talent was just a little bit squandered on this story.

Odin Sphere - 2007

Gwendolyn

Odin Sphere is such an awesomely melodramatic story. You start off the story as Gwendolyn, who sees her sister fall in battle, barely escapes with her life, and then must go tell her father, the king and general of the army of her sister's death. And that's just in the tutorial mission. Vanillaware put together a story that does not want for Homeric lachrymosity. And that could have been a terrible misstep if they had gotten the voice work wrong. But Strassman doesn't miss a step as Gwendolyn. She sounds vulnerable, but she also sounds the part of a proud and imposing Valkyrie warrior at the same time.

I think it's the pitch of her voice that makes her sound so ladylike yet commanding. It's one of the higher pitched voices she's done, and it makes her sound very small and girlish, but everything outside the pitch of her voice is very proud and assertive. She carries herself as a proud warrior despite sounding so slight and small. It's a really interesting dynamic, that back and forth between strength and weakness in her character, that really carries the early parts of the story along.

That dynamic really ties into Gwendolyn's character arc as well. The world of Odin Sphere isn't exactly fair to anyone, but it seems extra rough on Gwendolyn. There's a lot of helplessness and hopelessness in her story, a lot of which is tied up in Middle Ages gender roles and the broader apocalyptic story line, and thus she comes across as being extremely vulnerable.

But she shows an unwavering tenacity? Maybe that's not the best word for it. She is very much a frightened child, but she never gives up either, despite how overwhelmingly fatalistic the story seems. She proves to be nothing if not resourceful. When she isn't playing Disney princess, she's defeating ancient dragon gods and fending off entire armies single handed. So while she often seems weak and powerless, she never stays that way for very long. Gwendolyn is an absolutely fascinating character to look at, and she definitely stands as one of the better roles Strassman has worked on.

Notable Quotes:

"Prepare yourself queen of the ghosts! I, King Odin's daughter, Gwendolyn, shall be the one to take your life! "

"Your majesty, if you persist in insulting my husband, my spear will take your hand. If you do not want your life extinguished, get out of my sight!"

"The Valkyrie do not fear death! And if death cannot be avoided, then we welcome our fate!"

Persona 3 - 2007

Aigis/Natsuki

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Aigis is another of my all time favorites. If you took Strassman's voice as Gwendolyn in Odin Sphere and made it into a robot, then you'd be getting pretty close to Aigis' voice. It's sort of high and soft and raspy like Gwendolyn but it's lacking the emotion and has that added affectation on top of it that sets it apart. And that affectation is important since Aigis is supposed to be a robot after all.

What makes Aigis such a good character is her line delivery. She's an excessively well written character, but it's easy to see the character failing without the right inflection behind her performance. Strassman provides an Aigis who is funny when she's supposed to be and touching when she's supposed to be too, all while maintaining the weird, robotic delivery.

Comedic timing and video games are kind of like oil and water. Actors aren't usually given a lot to work with, alone in a recording booth, to keep a joke from falling flat, but Strassman did her part, at least, in making Aigis consistently funny throughout the game. She fills the role of precocious fish-out-of-water with an almost winking seriousness. And she does a fantastic job of underplaying the line delivery for greater effect.

Her character sort of straddles the line between knowing she's making things harder for some characters and not. As the fish-out-of-water, she's allowed to throw people under the bus in comedic situations, since she can't really know any better as a robot, and Strassman leans on that fact a lot in her performance.

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There's a matter-of-fact quality in her voice that really makes her character seem unsuited for social situations, and while you could see that is something of a crutch, it makes her one of the most consistently funny characters in a video game. Strassman plays Aigis with such a straight face that it begs the question of just how ignorant Aigis really is, and whether Aigis is actually just an smart-ass with a great poker face. We'll talk more on that later though.

When it comes time for the more heavy stuff, she excels at keeping the robotic mannerisms while having fits and starts of emotion underneath it. It's the kind of thing that's hard to visualize in your head, how a robot would express emotions through speech. It seems like a real feat, being able to maintain that robotic affectation even when emoting, but Strassman makes an effort that sounds truly believable throughout. And I think that's what impresses me so much about Strassman's performance here, that neither the emotion of the scene, nor the integrity of the character are ever compromised for the other.

And it's probably worth also noting that Strassman plays Natsuki in Persona 3 as well. Natsuki is really kind of a confusing character, in that there doesn't seem to be much point for her being there. She starts out as just a device for getting your group to hook up with Fuuka partway through the game, but then she becomes close friends with Fuuka afterward. And I suppose she was meant to be used to show Fuuka growing as a person later on in the game, much like Mitsuru and Yukari sort of do with each other, but it just feels a little tacked-on.

Strassman's performance is fine and all, there just isn't too much else to say about the character, other than having to say 'Fuuka...' in a pensive tone of voice would be a stretch for anyone to not sound weird saying. Then there's the fact that the writers didn't seem to really know what they were doing with the character either. Anyway, that's enough Persona for now. Let's see what we have lined up next.

Notable Quotes:

"That was a humorous joke."

"Efficiently executed."

"Let us commence with an all-out attack."

"My level of aptitude has increased."

Persona 4 - 2008

half the background cast/Nanako

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I don't even know what to say about Nanako. She's easily one of the most adorable characters in anything ever. But it's hard to express with words how deeply her character got to me. It goes beyond the simple protective big brother angle, that's certainly there to some extent. But I actually identify with her character specifically. I think it's pretty telling that a child character of that age has enough depth of character for adults to identify with like that.

And while most of that is likely the work of the writers and localizers, I think there's something to be said for Strassman's performance there too, especially considering that this is such a young character. I mean, we all know that child characters in games are usually too shrill to be taken seriously, even if they're written well, and especially so with Japanese games. But Strassman really never misses a beat with Nanako. And for all the Clementines and Ellies we have in today's video game market, there's still something to be said for being the first.

I especially like how she really treats your character like a stranger at first, and gradually warms up to him over time. I mean, she's by no means hostile at first, but neither is she friendly and inviting. She's very reticent around strangers merely by nature, and as a stranger, she doesn't have much to say to your character in the opening months of the game, which Strassman captures perfectly.

So seeing that change in her character is really something else. It's also great seeing her character grow as your little family unit becomes closer over the course of the game. She makes this transition from being this delicate child who is unsure of the future, to being much more self-assured and strong, emboldened by the friends you've made together, and the family bond you helped to forge. And seeing all of those dips and dives in between is truly harrowing to experience in it's own right.

It's also worth pointing out that Strassman plays Kanji's mom, Izanami, one of the student council reps, the kid working at the gas station and I think a news anchor on the TV. So her voice comes up quite a bit. Kanji's Mom is probably my favorite of the side characters. She has a real knack for making Kanji look like such fool with that dismissive tone of voice she uses on him.

Notable Quotes:

"Welcome home big bro!"

"Dad's late again."

"Every day's great at your Junes!"

The Saboteur - 2009

Veronique/Franziska

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Speaking of good roles for French speakers, The Saboteur came out in 2009, just in time for the remains of Pandemic Studios to finally crumble to dust, just as everyone had been expecting for a good while. Outside of soul-crushing corporate exploitation, The Saboteur featured a liberal smattering of German and French speech and accents, what with it taking place in a German occupied WWII Paris.

So Strassman gets put to reasonably good use as Veronique, an inexplicably English speaking French sort-of love interest to the main character. It's one of the few games that actually features Strassman doing her whole French thing, but she also gets to do kind of a German thing too, playing a Nazi officer named Franziska, who doesn't really get a whole lot of screen time, but she's still pretty cool. I mean, as far as Nazis go, she's a cool character. Wait, that didn't sound right either. Ugh, let's move on.

Veronique has an interesting little character arc over the course of the game, and while she doesn't really speak much of any actual French, it's a neat little role, and well acted too. So it's just good times all around, except for former Pandemic employees I guess. But it is a pretty cool game. While the game play and graphics are a bit of a disappointment, it's still better than Mercs 2 by a country mile and the art style really shines. And it's a fitting enough swan song for the studio that brought us the original Mercenaries, all the way back in 2005.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - 2009

Lisa Garland

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Karen Strassman seems to be something of a go-to for mousy, understated characters. She fills that role as nurse Lisa this time around in this latter-day Silent Hill game. Now, fans of the series probably have a soft spot in their heart for the original nurse Lisa. Her story in the 1999 Silent Hill is still easily one of the most heart rending in any game ever. So Strassman had some understandably big shoes to fill on this game.

That said, the script wasn't really written to match the original on that point. Most of the characters in Shattered Memories are more like cameo appearances in a spin-off than an actual retelling of the events of the first game. But it is pretty interesting how and what they choose to retell from the original.

And while there certainly isn't the original gravitas in Nurse Lisa's story on the writing end of the deal, they still retell the events of Lisa's original story after a fashion. And despite the script choosing not to linger on her story like in the original this time around, Strassman made a nurse Lisa who sounds charismatic and funny but also awkward and somewhat confrontational. And she really makes you feel like a dirt-bag when she dies. I wish I had more to say about this one, but she literally takes up like, ten minutes in the whole game. While it was something of a squandered character, what little we do get to see of her is still pretty interesting.

Notable quotes

A nurse is on her feet all day, and night. I don't need a man in my life. I need a really good podiatrist.

"If you were a real writer you'd be taking notes."

"It's a lot bigger than the others, but I only pay standard rent. My landlord has a thing for nurses."

Sengoku Basara - 2010

Magoichi Saika

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A lot of you might not know what Sengoku Basara is. So let me explain what it is for those of you in the dark. You know how Dynasty warriors 3 is sort of famous for its terrible English dub? Sengoku Basara is kind of like a parody of that.

I remember when this game came out. I didn't really know anything about voice actors, but my friends had got the game, and were playing it while we would talk over skype. So I was hearing the game over their mics, and the dialogue was the most inscrutably weird thing I'd ever heard in a video game. And I remember one of my friends was playing as Magoichi at the time, and while we were conversing, the game would occasionally interrupt with the barking proclamation "Sharpen your claws! Crows of Saika!"

And as I kept hearing more and more of Magoichi's story mode playing off of my friend's television, I became more and more curious as to just what in the world this game was, mostly due to her insane dialogue, so curious that the next day I went out and rented the game after having made sure of which character to start with. The next day I took it back and bought the game on the spot. I started with Magoichi and fell in love with the game almost instantly.

The game play was fantastic, the story was the goofiest thing I'd seen in years and Strassman was hilarious and awesome throughout. Magoichi Saika is quite possibly my favorite character Karen Strassman has ever voiced. She's definitely up there anyway. She is also quite possibly the most badass female character in anything ever.

It's truly rare to get a female character who is genuinely on equal terms with her male counterparts. Girls in action stories can be tough, but they usually have to be slight, and reliant on speed or maneuverability over raw strength, and are thusly type-cast into a handful of roles, most of which are subordinate to the male hero roles, which I think is really stupid.

I mean. They're all cartoon characters anyway. Why can't the girls be as cartoonishly powerful as the guys? It's not like most men in real life can even maintain an athletic physique, let alone shatter a small wooden structure in a hail of splinters and dead bodies with nothing more than a single head-butt. Why should the girls get a raw deal in a world made entirely of unchecked, gross excess?

Magoichi is one of the few characters I can think of who breaks with this trend entirely rather than just subverting or dealing with it. She is truly on equal footing with any other character in the game without question. Also, she's equally campy as she is badass. Karen Strassman created a character who simultaneously sounds hilariously campy and ridiculously awesome with Magoichi.

I mean, the Japanese dub came first of course, but English localizations have been getting more and more adventurous over the years, and Strassman's Magoichi certainly stands apart from the original. You almost wouldn't recognize her from her other, more subdued roles by the barking and brooding delivery she gives here, which stands in stark contrast to the, by comparison, more soft-spoken Japanese performance, which is done by Sayaka Ohara in case you wanted to know.

But like I said, you almost wouldn't recognize her from her other roles. She really takes on this larger-than-life persona with Magoichi, which I don't feel like she's ever really done before. At least not in any games anyway. Even her role as Kitana in MK9, while similar in some ways, doesn't have the boisterousness to it that her performance as Magoichi has. She really just seems utterly milquetoast by comparison.

Magoichi really just steals the show any time she walks into frame, with her over-the-top shouting and her ridiculously confident laugh. I had mentioned before that Strassman excels at over acting, and this game stands as the greatest testament to that fact. She's a character who is fully aware of just how awesome and tough she really is and is not afraid of being boastful.

Probably the best thing about this game's dubs is the winking seriousness with which the actors portrayed the characters. It's a game that very rarely gets lost in its' own drama, and relies more on camp than drama. Sengoku Basara is an ensemble cast of almost cartoonishly larger-than-life personalities, but Magoichi stands right up at the fore of all of them as both the most cartoonish and the most awesome of them all.

Notable Quotes:

"Foolish ninja. You're no match for my artillery."

"Let the red bell toll for the proud Saika faction!"

"What is it that you fear the most!? Your own death? Or the shame of defeat? Either way, know that there is nothing we fear! Nothing at all! We are the Saika faction! Prepare to face us if you dare!"

"Sharpen your Claws! Crows of Saika!"

"It's not polite to stare. After all, we're people too."

Anyway, that's all for this installment. Tune in next time when we will finish this thing out by talking about ghouls and bats and weddings. It's sure to be spooky and bloody and maybe even a little romantic. Anyway, see you then.

-Kris Osborn

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