I've been wanting to write something about video game voice actors for a little while now. It seems like interest in who the talents behind our favorite characters are has steadily risen over the past few years, and within my circle of friends, following those voice actors has become a pet hobby in and of itself.
So I'd been throwing around ideas on how to go about writing on the subject, trying various list formats, but I ended up settling on this. Basically, what I'm going to do is go through the major roles and my personal favorite roles of the particular actor, take at least a brief look at the performances that stand out among them, and also talk a little about the games and the characters themselves.
To kick off what will hopefully be a recurring series, I thought I should try starting with a less than obvious choice, and one of my personal favorite voice actors, Karen Strassman. Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive, in the interests of brevity.
Dune - 1992 Chani
Dune was, to the best of my knowledge, Strassman's first video game voice role. Now we're talking about the point and click adventure game Dune, and not the Westwood RTS Dune, just to clarify. Her voiceover career started in France, where she did various voice work for such gigs as Disneyland Paris, Air France and even the audio tour voice for the Lourve, and the developer of Dune, Cryo Interactive Entertainment, was itself based out of France, and this was their first game as well.
In fact, Cryo was the source of a lot of Strassman's early game work, producing Dune, The Devil Inside and the Atlantis series games. One odd aspect of the voice work in this very, very early game is that everyone seems to be almost whispering for some reason. It certainly makes for an interesting atmosphere, especially factoring in the almost Terry Gilliam style 2d art.
It's a different sound from what you may be used to with her more recent roles. Those voices she's become known for in recent years don't really come around until later on. She really had to grow into that sound over time, but more on that as we move forward.
If you would like to play Dune, all of Cryo's games are ostensibly abandonware at this point. So it's sadly unavailable on GOG and other services. If you have an aversion to piracy, then there is the Sega CD version, which you can still find on the resale market, and is probably the easiest and best version to get running.
Lost Eden - 1995 Eve/Komalla
Lost Eden is another early Cryo Interactive game. This one involves talking dinosaurs and cave men and stuff. And it really sets the mood for Cryo Interactive style games. You've got the almost Gilliam-esque 2d portraits for all the characters with weird looking facial animations. They mostly consist of super old dudes with gigantic beards, crazy anthropomorphized animals/lizard creatures, sexy ladies and crazy evil looking robot cyborg dudes. You've got your fly-throughs for the all pre-rendered 3d backdrops and just some wild sounding background music in this one.
Strassman makes her first appearance as Komalla, leader of a band of Frazetta-esque Amazonian warriors. She doesn't get more than a few lines of dialogue, but the voice has a nice mix of tough and sexy to fit the portrait attached to it.
Strassman's other character starts off, er... somewhat strangely. The voice is fine. It's basically just Kara from Red Faction: Armageddon, only maybe a little bit gruffer. But the characters face is like, some sort of horrible hybrid fusion of Mayor McCheese, Grimace and a robot disguised as a salad bowl I guess. I don't really know how to describe it.
Now, it's later supposed to be some big reveal that 'Oh no! It wasn't really Mayor McCheese! It was really just some girl named Eve! And wait! I thought she was a he!' I don't know how anyone thought that walking purple robot salad bowl was supposed to be a man. I mean, if it was supposed to be a gruff sounding woman wearing the robot salad bowl as a disguise, then sure. I guess I can get behind that.
But at any rate, after Eve reveals her true identity, she starts speaking in this much softer and wispy voice, not entirely unlike the one in Dune previously. I honestly kind of miss the Mayor McCheese voice. I mean, she looked patently ridiculous, but she sounded rad as hell, and oddly enough, much more like the more recent roles she's better known for.
That said, while I might sound a little bit down on the game, I had a great time playing it. It's an awfully fun game just between the soundtrack and 2d art alone. So it's definitely worth a look if the mere thought of adventure games doesn't scare you off.
Lost Eden got several releases, for Dos, Mac, CD-i, 3DO and even PC98 of all things. So you have a good amount of choice in versions to get a hold of. As far as emulation goes though, the 3DO version is the one to go for. Being a Cryo game, this too qualifies as abandonware and can't be bought new at the time of posting this.
Dark Earth - 1997 Kalhi
Dark Earth is a fun little 3d adventure game, this one, too, made by a French developer. This time by the now long defunct Kalisto Entertainment, known for such blockbuster hits as The Fifth Element and Nightmare Creatures.
Dark Earth plays mostly like Resident Evil with more of an adventure game bent and some RPG trappings thrown in as well. The art style is somewhat inconsistent and doesn't necessarily hold up in this day and age. But it definitely has the look of a mid nineties adventure game, and the way it dates itself is definitely part of its charm.
Strassman plays Kalhi, the love interest to the player character, Arkhan. She's somewhat of a minor character, all told. Dark Earth is one of those games where the plot is fairly thin, and which relies more on world building and back story for narrative depth. And the voice acting in this game is pretty goofy. Most of that is due to the stupid sounding made up names everything in this world of Dark Earth has. But, again, that goofiness feeds a lot into the charm of these older games.
Beings as this is such an older game, there are some real issues trying to run it. Since Kalisto is no more, there's no telling who owns the rights to the game. So the chances of somewhere like GOG getting it are unlikely. It is, for all intents and purposes, abandonware at this point. Scuttlebutt says that running a windows 95 or 98 virtual machine is your best bet at getting the game to run at all, in case you were interested.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul - 1999 various characters
The Nomad Soul was the product of another French developer, David Cage's very own Quantic Dream this time. It's a fantastic looking game, given its age, and while the story couldn't be any more 1999 if they'd just skipped with the pretense and called it The Matrix instead, it's still really entertaining with its kitschy, late nineties cyberspace vibe.
That assessment's not entirely fair though. The game was for all intents and purposes concurrent with The Matrix. The Nomad Soul has much more of a new-age tribal aspiration to it too, which itself was quite popular at the time. There's all manner of magic and spiritualism superimposed onto a futuristic world full of bead necklaces and tribal tattoos, which sets the general vibe of the game apart from the more hard sci-fi offerings of the time, such as The Matrix, or System Shock 2 even. Although the game does ostensibly take place within cyberspace, where your character can posses the bodies of various NPCs.
The game's biggest claim to fame though is probably David Bowie. He worked on the soundtrack, voiced a character and was evidently very involved in writing the story. He even created a stage name to play under as the front man in a rock band that exists within the game world. So some of Bowie's music exists somewhat exclusively within the game, which means if you're a Bowie fan, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
Getting back on topic though, Strassman plays about half of the female cast in the game, and with the different characters she plays you get to see a good variety of performances from her. At this point, Strassman was moving into something more closely resembling her more modern and recognizable voices. That said, it also has a much more placid and conversational tone.
Chalk that more sedate atmosphere up to the game's whole Matrix vibe, but her main character, Jenna 712, definitely has the cool heroine sound down. She has that cool-headed but imposing quality to her voice that is the hallmark of a good heroine. You can even posses one of Strassman's character's bodies, and have Strassman talking to herself, which is a neat little added feature.
But as long as the thought of a turn-of-the-millenium sci-fi cyberspace epic doesn't immediately turn you away, then you should definitely check it out. It's a really neat little game, it's filled with David Bowie and Strassman has all of her numerous characters on lock-down, so it's pretty fun to listen to as well.
While The Nomad Soul is a bit more modern than those titles previously listed, it's still a bit of a pain to get a hold of. The rights to the title should theoretically fall under Square Enix at this point, but it is currently not available on GOG or any other services. The PC version evidently will not run on most newer ATI cards, so a Windows 98 virtual machine may be the only way to run that version of the game. There is; however, a Dreamcast version, which should be just as easy to find, legally or otherwise, and much easier to run, either natively or through emulation should you so be interested.
Ace Combat 5 - 2004 Kei Nagase
Kei Nagase is an aggressive, yet withdrawn fighter pilot in Ace Combat 5. She plays as your wing man in the game, going by the call sign of Edge. And her persona is as edgy and hardcore as her call sign makes her out to be. Strassman's performance does a great job of making her character sound imposing, despite her unassuming exterior. She really fits the part of wing man well, with her speech typified by an air of confidence and seriousness.
And she's definitely the serious type. Though the plot told through the cutscenes sometimes doesn't seem to know what it's trying to accomplish, there is definitely a dark tone surrounding the wartime imagery. Nagase starts out as almost kind of a cliched character, being something of a generic loner with a chip on her shoulder. But the story shows that she has seen enough of the war to have earned that affectation, and has grown somewhat world-weary as a result, having most of her team shot down during flight training.
As if she wasn't already cool and tough enough, early on in the story, she gets shot down and crash lands in enemy territory. She then somehow manages to capture the enemy soldiers sent to hunt her down and save the helicopter crew that crash landed while trying to pick her up, all during a prolonged manhunt with an areal battle ensuing overhead.
Ace Combat 5 is also, to the best of my knowledge, Strassman's first major non-European voice over role. You can tell because Steve Bloom is like the first guy you hear in the game, so it's definitely American actors. I kind of regret that I didn't get more of her French roles listed here, but I think I did at least get some of the bigger ones.
Rumble Roses XX - 2006 Ms. Spenser/Mistress
I don't really know what to say to that, other than the music in this game is sexier than any one of the characters in it. Honestly, the game is worth looking into for the soundtrack alone, with names like Akira Yamaoka and Michiru Yamane attached to it.
Also, fuck reversal attacks. If you're going to put a reversal attack or a riposte in a game, you're supposed to either have some kind of a spark in the enemy's attack animation to time yourself against or you're supposed to time it to the impact of the attack, not just have it timed to whenever to make it challenging. Anyway, I hate this game, but it's awesome. Moving on.
Suikoden V - 2006 Sialeeds
I put Sialeeds on here because she's another one of my personal favorites. The fact that this is a PS2 era JRPG we're talking about here means that the voiceover is sometimes embarrassing, the character animations sometimes make no sense whatsoever and cultural idioms are sure to occasionally throw a wrench in the spokes. That's just the lot of this kind of game.
But it is awfully tolerable for a mid 2000s JRPG. Awfully tolerable, quite good even, I might say. The voice acting is mostly excellent, and the character designs are very attractive. Silaeeds herself demonstrates both said points quite well actually. I mean, just look at that hair. That's great hair! But on to the character.
Karen Strassman really is an expert at over-acting. She has a knack for making it sound funny and endearing. Sialeeds is kind of a cartoonishly exaggerated depiction of royalty, belonging to affluent society and borrowing its' haughty tone, but being a very friendly and warm person despite that. Strassman makes Sialeeds sound like someone who genuinely enjoys sounding like a complete snob, but she also keeps her often joking demeanor from falling flat.
Sialeed's story is also one filled with twists and turns, and she has a truly tragic character arc throughout the course of the game. It's hard enough not to really like this character just for the personality they gave her. But all the ups and downs and plot twists that her character is subjected to only serve to endear her character even more.
"Never underestimate me."
Join us next time when we will be taking a look at valkyrie warriors, sexy nurses and a whole lot of Persona!