Lately I’ve been wanting to write a post celebrating voice acting in video games. It’s a big topic I wasn’t sure how to broach, so I’ve brought in some of my fellow gamers and bloggers to share their favorite VO actors, performances, and moments. Please share yours in the comments too!
Since my favorite games tend to be pretty heavy on story, the VO performances become vital for helping me suspend my disbelief and buy into this other world. I want to know these characters. I want to believe they’re real. They keep me feeling grounded as I explore these foreign, fictional places.
My two personal favorite performances come from Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect and Troy Baker as Joel in The Last of Us. Camilla Luddington has also impressed me lately in her Tomb Raider reboot performance as Lara Croft, making the character sound vulnerable even as she gears up for some scary stuff. (I posted one of my favorite Rise of the Tomb Raider monologues from her here, about her late father — it totally got to me.)
Joining in this post are awesome personalities I recommend everybody check out if you haven’t already. Here are their picks, in their own words (headers are mine), to celebrate voice acting in games!
Laura Bailey in Saints Row 3 and 4
“Sometimes I wonder if I would like a character as much with a different voice actor playing the same role. I did think of at least one case where I know the answer. In Saints Row 3 and 4, you get to pick from a handful of different voices when you create your character. But for me, Laura Bailey is the only choice. I remember looking up a video to relive one of my favorite Saints Row moments and ran across the scene with a different voice for the protagonist… it just wasn’t the same for me. Part of this is simply the fact that I love Laura’s voice in these games, but I also think she plays the role so well – delivering the kind of bravado that being the boss of the 3rd Street Saints requires while at the same time imbuing a playfulness into the character that the series’ absurd sense of humor necessitates.
“The other thing that jumped out at me about Laura’s performance is just how much fun she seemed to be having. I think this is most evident in the bits where she sings along with songs like Sublime’s “What I Got” in SR3 or Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” in 4. Not only are these sequences hilarious, they exude a joy from the actors involved – Bailey in particular – that really struck me as unique when I first played through these segments.
“In truth, this isn’t my favorite voice acting performance in gaming (that would probably go to the leads in The Last of Us or Emily Rose as Elena Fisher in the Uncharted series). And voicing the player character in a Saints Row game might not task one with mining the same emotional depths as gaming’s most impactful roles do, but for the reasons I talked about here, Laura Bailey’s performance in the third and fourth outings of the SR series still really stood out as special to me.”
A Badass and a Bad Guy: Brandon Keener and Martin Sheen in Mass Effect 2
“Picking just one voice actor is impossible. Among my favorites are Jennifer Hale, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Troy Baker, Claudia Black, Tara Strong, Steve Blum and so many others.
“And, of course, my favorite performance comes from a Bioware game — and in my opinion, one of the greatest games of all time — Mass Effect 2. When I first started playing Mass Effect, I was really draw to the character of Garrus, but it wasn’t until ME2 that I could really see Brandon Keener’s voice acting for the amazing performance it was. I mean, I don’t think any of us anticipated being so attracted to an avian/feline alien sniper — and a lot of that has to do with his voice. Obviously, Garrus is a crazy cool character in any case, but Keener’s performance really made him feel real. The fandom surrounding Garrus, who I affectionately call ‘Garr-Bear,’ is a testament to that.
“I do want to mention though, that Martin Sheen’s performance as the Illusive Man was also incredible. Voice acting is not the same as stage, TV, or movie acting — mostly because VO artists typically don’t have a set or other actors to play off of, which makes great VO performances even more impressive. Sheen’s delivery and ease with the character blows me away every time I play the game. He brought a sense of gravitas, danger and intelligence to the character that perfectly meshed with the Illusive Man’s look and background.
Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft
“Voice acting is a true artform which I feel is worthy of a ridiculous amount of praise, especially due to the fact that many voice actors also perform the motion captures for their roles in video games. Let’s be honest: you can write the best dialog or narrative in the world but without proper talent to act it out then the content falls flat. Obviously video games aren’t the only place where voice acting counts, nearly all animated media benefits from talented voice acting. Because of this, I find that I personally have a ton of respect for voice actors in general.
“Some of my favorite performances include Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series, Troy Baker as Joel in The Last of Us, Nolan North as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series and Kevin Conroy who is Batman.
“If I had to choose a favorite performance, though, I’d have to say it’s Camilla Luddington for her work as Lara Croft in the two most recent Tomb Raider games. In specific her performance in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which made me an emotional wreck throughout my first playthrough of the game. Not only was her vocal performance amazing but the motion capture work she did for the character was out of this world. She brought a new level of emotion to the role, one which was so palpable that it almost felt like reality, not just a video game. She is crazy talented, without a doubt, and her overall performance as Lara Croft is awe-inspiring.”
Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard / the Cast of “Tales from the Borderlands”
“I don’t think we often realize how important voice acting can be when thinking about what makes a video game memorable for many of us. It’s another piece that helps tie a game together in the same way we can’t have a game without good writing and seamless gameplay. I started appreciating and respecting the work a voice actor puts into video games when I started playing games beyond the Marios and Kirbys of the world. There are two voice acting performances which stood out in my mind as high on my favorites list and those are Jennifer Hale as FemShep of the Mass Effect series and the entire cast of Telltale’s Tales From the Borderlands.
“When I started out as a late bloomer gamer, I wasn’t well-versed in the who’s who of famous voice actors. I was dipping my feet in all kinds of games in a quest to find the ones that spoke to my passion for good stories and memorable characters. One of the earlier games to give me all of that and more was Mass Effect. Playing as FemShep for the first time with Jennifer Hale as the voice of this playable character was an interesting and strange concept to me after having just finished Dragon Age: Origins. Origins had no voice actor speaking the lines your playable character would say, so you made one up in your head. It made sense because you’re playing an RPG encouraging the use of your imagination. At first I didn’t think I’d like this shift in style of RPG gaming from Bioware, but as I gradually got deeper and deeper into Mass Effect, FemShep wouldn’t be who she was for all gamers if Jennifer Hale wasn’t the one voicing her.
“Depending on how you played FemShep, Paragon or Renegade, Hale’s performance only enhances the backstory you create in your head of what you want your Commander Shepard to be. My FemShep has always been a Paragon, a tough capable woman who’s ready to take on Saren or the Reapers, but has her own set of doubts and vulnerabilities she doesn’t let anyone see except when she’s alone with her closest friends or the love of her life Kaidan. Hale’s performance resonates with me the best when she’s doing the quieter moments in the series, like telling Kaidan how much she loves him in a soft and almost shy kind of voice or admitting to her best friend Garrus, a bit of doubt laced in her tone, how she’s not sure if she’ll succeed against the Reapers. The dialogue options in this game allow you to fill in or interpret each line delivery however you want based on who Shepard is to you in your game. I’ll always credit Hale for making Mass Effect one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
“Tales From the Borderlands is a more recent example of an entire cast of voice actors, not just one, having the ability to make this game a joy to play from episode to episode. I could go on and on about how the story and characters were so good it’d be a shame for anyone to miss out on experiencing this game first hand, but this isn’t the place for a post about voice acting.
“Instead, I’ll mention a few who makes this game the best there is in a while: Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and Nolan North. These three, who have been named among the most famous voice actors in the industry, along with many of the other cast who lend their voices to the game really make their characters shine. Everything from the delivery of a wisecracking line from Baker’s company man character Rhys to quick talking Bailey’s con-woman Fiona, it’s really difficult to pick any one favorite from this game. Everyone cast in the game are fantastic, even the voice actors I’m not familiar with, and if it wasn’t for the careful casting of all these different characters in Tales From the Borderlands, I’m not so sure the game would have been as good as it truly is. To me, Tales From the Borderlands is all about the voice acting and it’s crucial to have the right people to sell a joke or a wry remark effectively with the right tone to invite the player to stay engaged in the game as you ‘catch a ride’ (to use Scooter’s catchphrase) through the world of Borderlands.”
FemShep in Mass Effect / Cullen in Dragon Age: Inquisition
“How do I pick my favourite voice acting from a game? I’ve been playing so many good games lately it’s hard to pick! That said, Bioware’s two main console series (Dragon Age & Mass Effect) hold very special places in my heart in part due to the outstanding voice acting.
“One of my favourites is FemShep from the Mass Effect trilogy, voiced by the incredible Jennifer Hale. I played through the trilogy for the first time quite recently and absolutely loved her performance; she was authoritative and strong, whilst also being caring and kind. Hale channels a natural air of authority which works perfectly for Shep (even with the infamous “I should go” line!), but even when she’s not being serious (in particular, the Citadel DLC for ME3) her voice is gentler and calmer but still has the well-known and powerful delivery that Hale is known for.
“Another of my favourites is from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I played for the first time last summer and served as an introduction to both the DA series and Bioware. It also got me hooked on the series! One of my favourite things about DAI was being able to romance certain characters, and I settled on the object of affection very quickly: Commander Cullen Rutherford. He’s honourable but troubled, fiercely loyal and incredibly protective of the Inquisition. His voice actor, Jonny Rees (listed as Gregory Ellis), does such a fantastic performance voicing him and I especially love the subtle changes in this performance when you romance him. It’s the little things, such as changes in pitch and the way emotions are portrayed in his delivery.
“Things like that are what make me really appreciate the art of voice acting, as there is so much to portray through only your voice. Keep it up, voice actors!
About the Contributors
If you’re looking for more content on video games, check out the amazing work from the contributors here!
Matt Thompson is a fellow blogger who writes about video games and TV (among a few other things) at his website The Triple Option. (He’s written some pretty kickass reviews of Game of Thrones!) He was also kind enough to invite me to one of his community blog posts earlier this year, all about our favorite gaming moments of 2015.
Emily Kelley is a gamer, blogger, and cosplayer who I’ve been following on Wrong Button Blog for, well, years. =) She’s all over the geek space and has made a mark for herself with her amazing cosplay! You can catch her videos (including game playthroughs) on Youtube here.
Kelly Flatley is a blogger who writes about gaming, comic books, and pop culture at her site LinkSavesZelda. One of the things I like most about her writing is that it often takes a relevant feminist approach. I follow a lot of feminist sites with a geek slant, and hers is a favorite of mine. You can tell how much she loves gaming, comics, and the themes she writes about.
Christine is one of the very first bloggers I followed when I first created my WordPress site here. Since she is also a gamer who started playing as an adult (and loves Dragon Age and Mass Effect too!), she is like a kindred spirit. In addition to video games, she also covers anime, manga, and fashion at her awesome blog Simpleek.
Ari Carr is a gamer I’ve been following on Twitter for awhile. She’s recently live Tweeted her entire playthroughs of the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, which has been fun (and super funny) to follow. She also has a lovely lifestyle/beauty blog (with a nerdy twist) here.