Over the weekend, I (sadly) finished The Last of Us and my intriguing journey through post-apocalyptic America was over. I had an absolute blast with the story and its fascinating characters, brought to life by some extremely well-done motion capture and genuine, emotionally engaging voice-acting.
I enjoyed the cast and the writing so much that it – along with my recent playthroughs of other story-centric titles like Persona 4: Golden and Mass Effect – got me thinking about how under-appreciated the great voice talent in video games are compared to their television or film counterparts, and how important stellar voice-acting is in bringing your favourite video game narrative to life.
I decided to make a list of the most versatile, prolific VAs in video games to pinpoint some of the best talent who should get more recognition for making our favourite games that much more engaging and enjoyable.
Troy Baker is perhaps the biggest voice actor at the moment, and in my opinion is taking over Nolan North’s spot as one of the most popular and recognised in the video games industry. 2013 has been an especially prominent time for Baker, landing his now famous leading roles as Joel in the The Last of Us and Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite. Baker has voiced a diverse range of leading and supporting characters over the years: he is the default voice for male characters in Saints Row 3, the arrogant Jake Muller in Resident Evil 6, and heroic Ryu Hayabusa in the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden franchises.
Baker is also well known for his work in JRPG localisations in the West, with the most prominent (and my favourite) in Tales of Vesperia as protagonist Yuri Lowell and Kanji Tatsumi in Persona 4, the latter of which he’s personally attributed as one of the most “intriguing characters” he’s played. Kanji is a fan favourite for being a realistic portrayal of a sexually confused adolescent male in an industry that is usually hostile or otherwise stereotypical in their portrayal of such characters.
Baker brings every character he voices to life with genuine emotion and captivating charisma; whether it’s through Joel’s angry grunts and southern drawl or Yuri Lowell’s quiet genius, there’s a reason why he’s recognised as a distinctive and brilliant VA.
Jennifer Hale is undeniably one of the most recognisable voice actors in the industry, with over a hundred roles in games under her belt, and she has even been named the “the queen of video game acting” in a 2011 issue of The New Yorker. Hale is most well known as the voice of Naomi Hunter in Metal Gear Solid, female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect and Bastila Shan in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Like Baker, Hale has extensive credits in a diverse range of genres, and has done so much minor voice-acting work – she’s listed as the ‘Multiplayer Announcer’ in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and was the grunts and screams of Samus Aran in the Metroid Prime Trilogy – that it’s hard not to hear her voice somewhere in your favourite game.
My favourite role of Hale is as Sheena Fujibayashi in Tales of Symphonia and as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. She brings nuance and emotion to every role, making every character she plays infinitely more animated, grounded and exciting.
Keith David’s authoritative, resonant voice doesn’t need much distinguishing from the crowd. One of the most profilic and versatile VAs in the medium, David is probably most memorable for playing the hardened but kind-hearted mentor, particularly as Captain Anderson in Mass Effect and Julius in Saints Row.
David’s bad-ass voice as been put to work in more than just mentor roles, though: he’s voiced aliens in Halo 2 as the deeply troubled Arbiter, a trapped spirit in Planescape Torment as Vhailor, and even roles as minor as “Opening Video Voiceover” for WrestleMania 2000.
Whatever game he’s in, David always brings that extra dramatic oomph, especially in the upcoming Saints Row IV, where he plays… himself!
Play any popular video game and chances are you’ve heard Liam O’Brien’s distinctive voice. Whether he’s the laid-back loser, the gruff and tough survivor or the wannabe aristocrat, O’Brien is a master at his craft, but it’s crazy that’s he often uncredited for his work.
O’Brien seems to specialise in voicing a range of minor characters in each game he works on rather than one central figure: his voice is extremely prominent in The Last of Us as the Infected and random Hunters, in BioShock Infinite and Call of Duty as additional voices, and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty as the Terran Ghost Unit.
When he does voice a single figure, O’Brien often plays eccentric, aristocratic villains. He has a knack for bringing the completely insane to life, especially with his evil laugh, which he uses with pretty much every villain he plays. My favourite roles of his is as Cumore in Tales of Vesperia and Dist in Tales of the Abyss, but chances are you’ve heard him voice one of your favourite random characters without even realising it. You’d be forgiven though: his vocal range is ridiculous.
Claudia Black is another rising star in the video game voice acting field, coming from a successful acting career in several sci-fi television shows. Black is the husky, seductive voice behind the sultry Chloe Frazer in Uncharted, the manipulative Morrigan in Dragon Age: Origins, and the tough-as-nails Samantha Byrne in Gears of War 3. She’s also done plenty of minor work in Crysis, God of War, and Rage.
Black’s roles are often of strong-willed, sexually forward female companions which is pretty much a win-win with gamers. However, Black brings more than sex appeal to her portrayals. She brought the witty, manipulative Morrigan to life as a misunderstood outcast and is the only VA that embodies the same charisma and edginesss that Chloe Frazer carries.
Dee Bradley Baker
Dee Bradley Baker is the king of voicing all of our favourite video games monsters and zombies. He’s the rumbling, intimidating roar and scary hiss behind General RAAM and the Locust Theron Guards in Gears of War, the screaming Infected in Left 4 Dead 2, and the evil parasite Gravemind in Halo 3.
Bradley Baker isn’t just the guy to go to for animalistic noises, though. He’s also played Ra’s al Ghul in Arkham City and Joe in Viewtiful Joe, as well as several other minor characters over the years.
However, Bradley Baker’s most distinctive and colourful roles are always in our favourite video game monsters and demons, and the way he brings these inhuman characters to life is simply amazing and should be more noticed. Voicing evil things probably isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone.
If you ever want the tough-guy character, DiMaggio makes any game bad-ass. He’s behind the iconic rumbling growl of Marcus Fenix in Gears of War, Juggernaut in X-Men Legends and the voice of the Brutes (fitting) in Halo 2.
DiMaggio may be at his best as the “don’t f**k with me” kind of character, but he’s voiced plenty of unique roles over the years, including the extremely flamboyant Jann Walker in Valkyria Chronicles and, of course, Bender in most Futurama videogame adaptations. His voice is extremely distinctive but his range extremely broad, and he definitely deserves more attention for the level of personality he imbues into his characters.
If you’ve ever watched a cartoon from the 1990s or early 2000s, you’ll know Tara Strong’s voice. One of the most versatile voice actors in any industry, Strong has played everything from the energetic and spirited Rikku in Final Fantasy X, the stoic and creepy Presia Combatir in Tales of Symphonia, or the bubbly Juliet Starling in Lollipop Chainsaw.
Strong is one of my favourite VAs just because of the level of energy she exudes in her performances and how endearing she makes her characters, even if they’re overly happy. She’s best at playing hyper characters but every one she voices has personality and shines through the story, whether or not the dialogue is up to scratch – FF X, I’m looking at you.
Fred Tatasciore has one of the most flexible voices if you go by his extensive video game voice acting credits. He’s usually the go-to-guy for rough assholes or monstrous brutes like Damon Baird in Gears of War and his continuous recurring role as the Hulk in both television and video games.
Tatasciore’s voice is always prominent wherever he’s employed, with a particular highlight as Saren in Mass Effect. Even in the background, he’s noticeable: he played various brutal Hunters in The Last of Us and several monsters in Left 4 Dead, God of War and injected a level of unique personality many other VAs couldn’t hope to match.
Watch any cartoon, anime or play a video game in the last 15 years and you’ll know Blum’s voice. Playing a ridiculous amount of extras and minor characters in the background – he voiced nearly all of the random marines in Quake IV, for example – as well as some memorable, quirky roles – think Zombie Voice in Saints Row 3 – and Blum makes this list easily.
Blum’s signature giveaway is his distinctive guttural growl he employs with the various anti-heroes and tough guys he’s voiced – think Colonel Burns in Vanquish or Jack Cayman in MadWorld – and you’ll know who Blum is.