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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
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

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

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 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.

Operative 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

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.

Operative Quotes:

"Welcome home big bro!"

"Dad's late again."

"Every day's great at your Junes!"

The Saboteur - 2009

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.

Operative 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

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.

operative quotes:

"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.

-Kris Osborn
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About stubblemanone of us since 8:53 PM on 05.04.2012

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