What with all this buzz and hype surrounding the new Gears and Walking Dead games coming out, you might have missed the news circulating about Persona 4 Arena finally getting a maybe solid release date in Europe. So as long as that presumably definite May 10 date is for sure accurate, that puts the European release date a smooth nine months behind the August 7 date that we got over here in the U.S. last year.
Now, that would have been a non-issue if it weren't for the fact that Persona 4 Arena was the first game, like, ever to be region locked on the PS3. I get the distinct impression that European video game enthusiasts have become reasonably adept at circumventing local publishers if they can't actually get the games they buy the rights to out in a reasonable time frame. The PS3 being region free means a discerning European fighting game fan could potentially import their games from Japan or the U.S. if they saw the need to. And that's what I feel is so galling about the way Atlus has handled Persona 4 Arena, is that they went and took away that one option these people had to circumvent their machinations.
The publisher/consumer relationship is a difficult one to parse out clearly. It's difficult to say where one party's responsibility ends and where the other's begins. But I don't think many people would disagree with me when I say that the best situation is the one where both parties win. And in the event that one party isn't getting what they want, what recourse is there in the matter? What kind of negative reinforcement does the consumer have at his or her disposal to condition publishers away from anti-consumer business decisions? What recourse is there for European fighting game fans in this situation, when Atlus went and fucked them out of the only recourse that they had?
The silver lining here is that it looks as though Atlus has probably fucked themselves with their own petard on this deal as well. They've had their Pyrrhic victory with their sales numbers in Japan. They've lost good will with fans the world over for being the first and only publisher to region lock a PS3 game. They've lost out on sales in the PAL territory that I don't foresee them possibly getting back. And they've lost even more good will with fans, in the PAL territory at the very least for this idiotically over-long delay. I really hope that price tag on the Japanese version justified all of this ill-will they've garnered from everyone who wanted to buy the game. Because that's going to hang on them a lot longer than people are going to hang on to the game's multiplayer.
Here's how this whole thing should have played out. The game should have come out with no region locking. Index would have had to look into how many sales they lost in Japan to reverse importing and considered some other, more consumer friendly solution to that problem, such as competitive pricing in Japan. Either Zen United, Atlus or both would have been left twisting in the wind after the debacle that the PAL release has been, and some party would have to be held accountable. And the European fans could have gotten the game if they really wanted it in the meantime.
As it stands though, the European fans are getting the raw end of this deal along with Zen United, who I assume is going to be the one to take the hickey when the game under performs in May. The thing is though, it's probably not going to under perform like it should. Persona 4 Arena isn't just an Ark fighting game. It's also got that story mode that's going to appeal to more than just fighting game fans. I don't think that fact is going to have them making out like bandits from this deal. But with a nine month delay, Zen United isn't getting nearly as raw a deal as the fans.
Which takes us back to the publisher/consumer relationship. I understand that these companies are ostensibly trying to provide us with goods and services, and are thus virtuous by their very nature. But when they are incapable of providing those goods and services in a satisfactory manner, then whatever benefit these companies could possibly serve to us is lost completely. Zen United is failing to provide the one service they exist to provide. So why then, shouldn't consumers fail to hold up their end of the transaction as well?
As it stands, this region locking debacle has given Atlus and Zen a safety net from the very obvious fallout their very obviously bad business decision was definitely going to cause. And there might not be any obvious and simple solution to this whole importing thing, but there definitely is an obvious solution to a nine month delay in the PAL territory. And that's to not play along like that was ever an okay thing to do. But as it stands, I can't blame anyone over there who ends up buying it anyway, since there aren't any better options presenting themselves.
Zen United or Atlus or whoever doesn't have to come to their consumers, cap in hand, asking them to stick around and telling them they'll do better next time. Nine months late, and all they really need to say is be happy you're getting it at all, since they made the decision to do this to their fans long ago. Any development at this point is practically an act of mercy. The fans aren't happy, but the publisher(s) have impunity in this situation. The balance of power is skewed in their favor, so they don't have any reason to be contrite. They've made it so that there is no other way than their way. It's the only way.
According to Siliconera, not only has Square Enix announced a sequel to Cavia's Drakengard series in the latest Famitsu, but Square has also announced that they will be bringing back certain key Drakengard team members from Cavia, which was dissolved into Marvelous AQL in 2010. Among them is the character designer for the series, Kimihiko Fujisaka, who also did the character designs for Last Story, the director of the original Drakengard and Nier, Yoko Taro, the producer for Drakengard, Takamasa Shiba, and Keiichi Okabe of Tekken and Nier fame will be handling the music.
But those three people aren't going to make the game all by themselves, and you might be interested to hear who will be joining them on this little adventure. Why, it's none other than Hidetaka Suehiro's own Access Games. Now, obviously Swery won't be directing the game, since Yoko Taro will be doing that. But while Deadly Premonition was a bit of a mess in the gameplay department, their other games have all been fairly well realized. At least as well realized as anything poor Cavia ever put out. Spy fiction was a fantastic little game, and Lord of Arcana was a solid dungeon crawler as well. So this is definitely going to be an interesting project on pretty much every level of development.
From what little I've gathered from people translating the Famitsu article, the story sounds like it's going to be about as insane and dark as Nier and Drakengard before it, and I can't wait to hear more about this game. Quite possibly the best news of all is that the release date is set for some time in 2013.
There's just nothing else quite like the original Drakengard and Nier. They truly are games without paralell. On a narrative level, they are unrivaled. And even on a game play and art design level they are so wildly different from anything else out there. So I am beyond excited to see these people have the chance to get the band back together and make what I can only reasonably assume will be another fantastically original game.
If you are not already familiar with Cavia's games and would like to become more familiar, it might be worth pointing out that Nier is twenty dollars new these days and is a fantastic game that is well worth playing.
If there's one thing I love, it's the Persona series. But if there's another thing I love, it's the rest of the Megami Tensei series. Granted, my experience with the series is a pretty big blank between SMTII and III, and that's a whole lot of games to have missed out on, but I truly do love the series despite never having played any of the spin-offs that weren't Persona, or Imagine, or Digital Devil Saga.
Anyway. I'm a huge fan of the art in Atlus games in general though, Soejima's work just as much as Kaneko's. And that's sort of what this artists wanted entry is all about, my love for those two artist's work and my love for Persona 3. Persona 3 is about the closest thing I can think of to a perfect game, and Shigenori Soejima's character designs and art in the game has a lot to do with that.
But I really like Kazuma Kaneko's art as well. It's just so awesomely dark and creepy looking. It's the reason I became interested in the Megami Tensei series in the first place. So I had this weird idea that I would try re-illustrating one of my favorite characters from Persona 3, Aigis in this case, in an impersonation of Kaneko's art style.
So that's like four things that I love all lumped into one drawing right there. Now, you will have to excuse how poor the coloring is on this picture. I did what I could to imitate Kaneko's coloring style, but it just didn't quite work out. I'm not, strictly speaking, that good at coloring things in the first place, and I'm by no means a painter. I do a lot better with line work.
So this picture really shows a lot of my weaknesses as a would-be artist. So I figured it would be a good idea if I included a line only version for you to look at here as well, which I think does a slightly better job of looking like Kaneko's work without the coloring in the way to distract.
This little project was as much a learning experience as it was a labor of love. You can become superficially familiar with an artist's foibles and idiosyncrasies just by looking at their work often enough. But to actually apply those same idiosyncrasies requires a fair amount of studying and a bit of flexibility. Probably the part that kept me held up the longest outside of my terrible coloring was the mouth.
Kaneko has a very distinct way of drawing mouths. He draws them in elongated saw-tooth shaped lines for the top lip with very thick, bold lines. Now, if I had picked a closed-mouth picture for reference, then maybe it would have been a bit easier, but getting a mouth that fit the original image and fit the new style required a lot of staring at reference pictures and a lot of sketching to get it the way I wanted it. Which ended up working pretty well because they're very pretty reference pictures.
The second biggest trick was probably the hair. Kaneko has a handful of different ways of drawing hair, and I was left at an impasse on what style to try and adapt for Aigis' hair. My final decision was that the character portrait for Aigis has fairly thick-clumped hair compared to Soejima's other drawings of Aigis, so I decided I should go for something like the DemiFeind's hair in Nocturne.
Oh and the hands. The hands are an enduring source of hatred and anger for me. Aigis' left hand isn't posed in a way even resembling something Kaneko would draw himself, so it was really like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. As much as I loved doing this picture, I'm sick to death of looking at it. But, I did take the time out to paste the picture into the game to help visualize what a screenshot of the game would potentially look like
Anyway, I should probably wrap this thing up. So that's my artist's wanted. I hope you all enjoyed it at least a little bit. I put a lot of love into it.
So I've made it something of a pet project to write about lesser known or somewhat obscure games that are fun enough to be worth tracking down. And in my near constant search for good older and obscure games, I've certainly found some games that only really qualify as obscure. But I really thought I was on to something with MindJack. It has surface qualities that suggest that it might be a fun and worthwhile experience, but those qualities all reveal themselves to be purely illusory.
MindJack is a Gears of War clone by Feel Plus. Now, Feel Plus is an interesting little group. They mostly work with other studios on outside projects. They worked with Grasshopper on No More Heroes and Mistwalker on Lost Oddessy and Blue Dragon. They've also had a couple much more successful forays into solo game development with the Ju-On game on the Wii and that Moon Diver game on PSN and XBLA.
But getting back on topic, this game is a completely mess. The controls are generally garbage. Your character slows to a complete crawl if you strafe or walk backward, which is utterly maddening. I mean, you should walk faster forward than backward or strafing, but they obviously don't know how to set an acceptable walking speed at all.
The guns are mostly all terrible as well. The pistol is better for head shots, but aiming the damn thing is like pulling teeth. It takes at least a little bit of luck to line up a head shot again after the enemy moves, what with the recoil and whatnot. And weather that shot actually takes them down seems like a dice roll, which is always fun. The automatic weapons are somewhat more effective, since you don't have to worry nearly as much about aiming.
But the game seems to have accounted for that, and you have to dump Halo levels of bullets into these generic enemy soldiers before they finally go down, which is pretty messed up since you go down way way faster than them. So if you try to get in close to dump full automatic fire, you'll probably just get dropped before you can even get your iron sights up. And assuming you get in behind cover, and try the stop and pop tactic, the enemies move in the most stilted and robotic way. It's hard enough to aim at them with the god awful aiming, but then you have to contend with enemies who's animation routines defy prediction.
You sort of come to expect enemies in cover based shooters to get down behind a piece of cover and pop up to shoot sporadically. These guys seem more content to just sit behind cover like they sense your looming eyes watching them or something. And worse yet, the standing cover you take will jack you smooth up if there are enemies out of cover walking the floor around you. At this point, in order to avoid having your ass shot off, you have to retreat to some other cover.
So assuming you do get your ass shot off, for whatever reason, I've listed several already, you will turn into a white cloud of mist that floats around the level, and you are allowed to hack into another body, be it a civilian, your partner, or some sort of Roomba-like robot inexplicably sitting around the arena. So this is where the game attempts to get cool.
You can try to use this feature to some tactical advantage by taking over a new character behind the enemy forces, but the problem there is that the friendly AI can be accurately described as ineffectual. So instead of being able to flank the enemy, you're basically just moving the line of scrimmage to a different location, as your AI partner isn't actually doing anything really.
Half the time the damn things get stuck on walls and just stand there doing nothing. So the only tangible advantage to mind jacking, as they call it, is certain characters have certain weapons, so maybe the airport employee lady who's mind you took over will have a shotgun and that's pretty cool because you don't pick one of those up in the wild playing as the main character until later on. But that's about it in the way of tangible advantages to the titular mind jacking as it were.
Now, in addition to mind jacking, there is also a feature called mind slave. Basically, if you can down an enemy, like when you would do an execution move in Gears of War, you can shoot out this little beam out of your hand that will posess the enemy and turn them to your side. So whereas the mind jack ability is largely ineffectual, the mind slave ability is almost kind of useful. The AI is still useless, but they do help distract enemies from shooting only at you. And that's at least something.
I should probably take the occasion here to mention the melee attack too. It's hard to express just how much latency there is between when you push the button and when your character actually executes the move without having you experience it for yourself. It's so slow in fact, that most enemies are literally too fast for you to even be able to pull the move off on them. By the time your animation has played out, they're already well out of range. Not that you would want to use melee attacks anyway, what with how easily your character goes down.
The level design in the game is about half stupid as well. I'll give them this. They're true innovators in the field of thinking up new objects to put in their levels for you to press X and stand behind, but they're also leading innovators in the field of thinking up similar crap to put in the level to keep you from walking around to places that there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to walk around in. And in the event that they were exercising that specific talent in a combat environment, it takes an already stilted experience of getting from point A to point B and turns it into a maze, one in which you are getting shot up by robots and swat teams from multiple angles.
So say you've started getting kinda partial to the automatic weapons and have sworn off the pistols for being useless and slow. You might be excited to find out that they will replace your running weapon load-out at certain checkpoints with that busted pistol. They realize that you might have wanted that weapon load-out you just had, hence your having it equipped, so they place those weapons near you in the level after said checkpoint, sometimes.
Now where this really gets interesting is when that first room is also a large combat encounter, wherein you are running around trying to pick up your weapons and run back to cover before they shoot you down like they usually do. And I suppose you could say that the inclusion of that adds a further dimension to the game play, and I guess you might be right.
Anyway. If you've gotten this far, I should probably point out that you will at some point get to posses a giant robot gorilla and beat up enemies with it. And you might be interested to know that it controls like the worst piece of shit ever and goes down in just about as many shots as all the other characters. So if you were excited about the giant robot gorilla, I'm here to tell you not to. MindJack is the kind of game that can make beating up puny, gun-wielding humans with a giant robot gorilla something that you'd rather pass on.
The story is about as fun as piloting the robot gorilla. It's not even that funny either. The dialogue is more cringe-worthy than laugh-worthy most of the time. The story is so barely there that it doesn't even warrant describing, and I'm having a hard time remembering why I bought this game in the first place. But there's something there. I'm having trouble remembering exactly what it is, but there is something about it that's attractive. I thought there was anyway.
The art design is probably what drew me to it in the first place. That opening scene in the future airport was a real sight to see. It has this really cool sense of place to it that's hard to describe. It almost felt like the first time I got outside the city in Assassin's Creed. It was really exciting just looking around and seeing what they'd made. Unfortunately that airport very quickly devolves into a series of corridors.
The cutscenes are kind of cool though. They've got kind of a latter day PS1 cutscene atmosphere to them. Like it's all hover jet bikes and walking mechs with gattling guns. The models actually look quite nice in the pre-rendered cutscenes though. It's just a shame that the same can't be said for the in-game models.
Oddly enough, the main character, like, the character you play as, has the worst looking character model of them all. As though it wasn't bad enough that he is intensely generic looking with his jeans and gray jacket combo, his face just looks terrible. It's a really glaring annoyance in a game comprised mostly of glaring annoyances.
At any rate, getting back to the game play. You may have taken my complaints as a tacit indication that the multiplayer fixes all of this. It doesn't. It certainly does something about the AI, but the mechanics you're using still suck. The tactics against humans are to simply lay down and die if there's more than one against you alone. Anything outside of that does begin to verge upon becoming tactical.
Human opponents and partners can't fix the stilted gun play and brain dead level design though. I've already complained about the level design, and trying to squeeze a remotely interesting tactical experience out of them is a hopeless persuit. The game was made for standing behind cover and it's not even very good at that. So when you superimpose multiplayer game play onto that, it just doesn't accomplish anything good for anyone involved.
There is a leveling system, which doesn't appear to actually do anything other than unlock powerups, which themselves don't appear to actually do much of anything either. As much as the multiplayer aspect of the game comes across as one of the main focuses at first blush, it's apparent that most of the actual surrounding features were an afterthought at best.
It's funny. When I rented the game, I was enamored by it. I only spent enough time to know the controls were pretty bad and that the story was poorly delivered. When I bought it, I was still high off of my first impression of the game. But my experience playing since buying it has been uniformly miserable. And I thought somehow I had just magically forgotten what I had liked about the game and that I was just missing something.
But it's obvious that my first impression was the mistaken one, and I still hate to put this game down, as I had sensed so much potential, even just from a schedenfreude angle. But I can't find anything in this game that stands out as worthy of recommending. Worse than being bad, it's boring. And that is quite possibly the worst epithet to hurl at any game. But when your giant robot gorillas are bad, you know something is wrong.
Sometimes it's just not worth it to go to the trouble. I'm pretty sure this is one of those times. I paid five dollars for the game and I still regret buying it. Unless you are beyond desperately bored, then it's best just to stay far away from this game.
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
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. 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. But they're both pretty neat little characters in their own way.
Sonic series - 2010 up Rouge the Bat
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.
Red Faction Armageddon - 2011 Kara
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. The script certainly seems to have proved the SyFy channel logo on the splash screens right I'm sorry to say. 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 isn't something you get to see that often, 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 any of the hallmarks of her other characters' voices. So it's not a great game, but Strassman's performance is worth taking a look at anyway.
Mortal Kombat 9 -2011 Kitana/Mileena
Strassman pulled double duty in MK9, since Mileena is supposed to be some sort of clone 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 pretty generically badass.
Now, Mileena, on the other hand, is quite the entertaining little gal. She's a bad guy, so 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.
"Mother! You're alive?!"
Wait. No. That's from the other thing. Never mind.
Street Fighter X Tekken - 2012 Poison
While SFxT 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 SFxT 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 on to 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.
"I'm not just hotter than you. I also just kicked your ass!"
Neverdead - 2012 Cypher
While Cypher only has all of, let's say five minutes of screen time at best in Neverdead, The game has got a star-studded cast for an off-the-wall, goofy script. With some of the funniest performances from some of the most ubiquitous voices in the industry, they needed a rad enough dude, even for a bit part, to make this thing work. And Karen Strassman, as Aigis herself might say, is "the coolest of the cool," and was more than rad enough dude enough to take the 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.
Persona 4 arena -2012 Aigis
Poor Aigis didn't exactly get the best return performance 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 in Persona 3. But it really does end up being sort of an elephant in the room when she speaks, at least starting out anyway.
Going back to that hanging thread from before about Aigis actually just being an asshole though, Persona 4 Arena really changes the way Aigis works in a humor sense too. 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.
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.
(But seriously though, that part's really not her fault.)
Zero Escape - 2012 Phi
Phi is an interesting character. I guess everyone in that game is a little interesting. No one really sounds the way you're accustomed to hearing them sound. That goes for Laura Bailey et al. 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.
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.
"I'm not Batman..."
Fire Emblem Awakening - 2013 Anna/Olivia?
I don't really know a whole lot about this game because I don't have a 3DS. But I hear it's the new hotness right now, and it definitely looks like a lot of fun. Strassman plays the money obsessed merchant Anna and also Olivia who does something that isn't being a merchant I think. So that's pretty cool I guess.
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. And then, of course, you can marry your characters too.
Ugh! My waifus!!1
"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!"
Anyway, 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.
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 Helena Douglas
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 an English voice for Helena for even two consecutive games. 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 pretty sure it's her, but how could you know for sure?
But getting back to the credits thing, It's not as though DOA5 is the only game that doesn't bother crediting the English voice roles. It's actually a fairly common occurrence. It's really quite ridiculous how many games do this, great games like Persona 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 one's being left out of game credits, so I suppose they're in good company at least, but it's still annoying.
Trauma Center: New Blood - 2007 Elena/various
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 is 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 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. Gwendolyn is an absolutely fascinating character to look at, and she definitely stands as one of the better roles Strassman has worked on.
Persona 3 - 2007 Aigis/Natsuki
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 rhaspy 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.
Strassman plays ignorant when saying comedic things, and then acts puzzled when others react to them. She 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.
"That was a humorous joke."
"Let us commence with an all-out attack."
"My level of aptitude has increased."
Persona 4 - 2008 half the background cast/Nanako
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.
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 by her very nature, and as a stranger, she doesn't have much to say to your character, 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.
"Welcome home big bro!"
"Dad's late again."
"Every day's great at your Junes!"
The Saboteur - 2009 Veronique/Franziska
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.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories - 2009 Lisa Garland
Karen Strassman seems to be something of a go-to for mousey, 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.
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
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 beyond peer 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 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 uniformly 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. Kitana seems utterly milquetoast by comparison.
Magoichi sort of comes across almost like Brian Blessed or Tommy Lee Jones in the game in that she just steals the show any time she walks into frame, with her barking proclamations and her deliciously 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.
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.
"Sharpen your Claws! Crows of Saika!"
"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!"
"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.