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A Voice for Ivalice: The Localization and Voice Acting of Final Fantasy XII

Now almost ten years removed, the localization team and voice actors look back on a magnificent work of game translation.

Interview by John Learned, .

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Casting and Recording

As the casting director, what kind of qualities were you looking for in the actors?

JF: Simply, great acting. We wanted a unique take and someone who can fill the bill. Me and Alex and Joe were all talking to each other and collaborating on the casting. We cast a large net, I knew people in Britain, stage actors, and because of the world of FFXII, we looked for people from the UK and cast from there as well.

Alex, you're credited with producing the voice recordings. How involved were you in the casting?

AOS: Joe and I did casting together (he wasn't credited due to a silly Square rule that you can't be credited on more than one thing if you were internal). We sent descriptions to Jack who did casting as well as voice direction, and he sent us options, which we picked from. The team had a final check, and technically had veto power as well, but they never disagreed with our choices.

This isn't exactly a typical video game script, even among Japanese RPGs. How did these recording sessions differ from other games that you've directed and how did you prepare?

JF: It was like actually doing a play, or doing a film script. That's how it differed. The cutscenes were so important to the actual gameplay that it was not something you wanted to use your cheatcode to skip through. As an audience, you needed to watch the scenes, and the scenes were good, the story was really involving. And that's not always true with other games, be they Japanese or Western. These were critically, a classical sort of world we'd set up, very Shakespearean, very Greek. Never dull. The movies were relationship oriented, action oriented, and key to the story. On review, I think they were very well written and well performed, and that's what brings the audience in, and made you want to know what's going on. I think we did a good job putting them together. It was like watching a really good movie!

Gideon Emery (Balthier): As with almost all games, even more so today, script wasn't released ahead of time. All I knew was the character name and a few lines of description. Fortunately, the director is there to guide you in a world they know far more about than the actor. In this case, Jack Fletcher was that person and he was fantastic in filling in backstory and setting and, in this case, helping to make the localization from Japanese to English.

Elijah Alexander (Vayne Solidor): It was my first experience with a video game and the learning curve was straight vertical. It was so much fun to see the animated action and lend my voice to enhancing the life of the character. My prep was similar to playing a role on TV/film or in the theater. They wanted an RP dialect (note: Received Pronunciation LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Received_Pronunciation) and it was one that I was very familiar with at the time. Vayne was a ruling class aristocrat and the producers wanted his arrogance to be pronounced, his sense of invincibility, his cruelty and nonchalance. They were after an easy effortless quality in speech that expressed a sense of confidence and pride.

Were there certain actors that you were gunning for?

AOS/ JR: We would have loved Leonardo Di Caprio for Vaan and Bjork for Fran, but neither of those were going to happen. We did use them as touchstones for the casting process. On a more serious note, we placed a high value on great character actors, like John Dimaggio, who made even small parts like Migelo shine. We also wanted stage actors for the judges to not sound like every other anime/game and real kids for kids.

JF: When Gideon Emery (Balthier) came on our radar, I was gunning for him – perfect for the part. Kari (Wahlgren, Princess Ashe) also, was not someone I was looking for, but when we found her, I thought she was perfect.

GE: I don't know of any open calls for video games. My first audition was through my agent and I think I had a callback for the role with the casting director, where we did some to picture. I actually wasn't familiar with the franchise up to that point, which was probably best, because I didn't give the audition any extra weight or pressure.

In those days, the actor would go in to their voice agent's booth to record. I did a take or two with the in-house engineer and then forgot about it, until I got the call. I was fortunate in that I got to use my own accent, which was a rarity then. These days, I get to use it more often.

[…]I believe I had around 6 recording sessions, which would total around 24 hours of recording time. It felt like much more, actually, as up until that point, I hadn't done more than one session for a specific game.

EA: I was brought in to audition by my voiceover agency Abrams Artists Agency. The audition took about 45 minutes because I auditioned for about nine different characters in a variety of voices. I remember distinctly because my family was visiting and waiting for me in the car. I was cast as Vayne based on my audition and thrilled to be able to be 'the guy to beat' in such a popular game. I did about 4 sessions of recording and the rest is history.

Did the actors ever have the opportunity to be in the booth together or work off of each other in any way?

JF: In games and often in regular animation, you're unfortunately put in a situation where you have to record individually. What we did have was dialogue already recorded the other actors could follow that, but we never did a “cast record.”

Like most games and animation, the cast never had the opportunity to record together.

After hearing their performances, were there any instances of actors doing something wildly different than what you had envisioned?

AOS/ JR: Well, no one could have predicted what Dimaggio would do with Migelo, but we knew something great would happen. It's good to note that we were doing this to picture, so there were a lot of constraints. We also picked a good number of people with ADR experience, because we knew they'd be able to handle the tough on-screen tongue calisthenics.

JF: No, with the possible exception of DiMaggio, who is so good he can bring his own thing to roles and still match picture. […] Elijah Alexander (Vayne) and Michael Rodgers (Gabranth) weren't let off the leash, but Elijah especially really did a great job. And Johnny McKeown (Larsa) also didn't go off script, but revealed himself to be a very talented young actor who brought what we were hoping for and then some.

To go along with that, did you change any dialogue on the fly based on the performances?

AOS/ JR: You always change some things as you go, little tweaks and “errors” in performance that end up being better than what was written, so you take those. But there wasn't any wholesale rewriting for characters, due to ADR and time constraints.

Was the translation complete before you started recording dialogue or was it more fluid?

AOS/ JR: Complete, other than a handful of extra scenes that got added mid-project which were translated in hotel rooms or on lunch breaks. The interstitial Ondore parts were some of these extra scenes.

This is a pretty dense script with some challenging dialogue Was it difficult getting the actors on the same page or prepared in any specific way?

JF: No, because I'm a great director and it was great dialogue. (laughs) Seriously, great dialogue is easy to deliver if you hire the right actors. Award-winning British actress Anita Carey nailed the iambic meter in her character's (Venat) lines, as did Bernice Stegers. Fantastic.

We also did ADR recording to picture without the actors seeing the picture for many of the judges, who were largely stage actors from Britain who recorded for us in a studio in the UK with us giving direction over an ISDN line.

AOS: One judge we used a local actor for was Drace, voiced by Julia Fletcher. She knocked it out of the park with an incredible performance, emotional, dramatic, and yet perfectly in sync with the lip flaps.

GE: A lot of work happened in the recording sessions, where much was lip sync to the beautiful Japanese animation. It's a challenge to make one language fit the mouth flaps of a different language and sometimes, phrases just don't play. So we did some tweaking on the day as we found what best fit both character and animation. I happen to love lip sync and also language, so it was an extra component both challenging and enjoyable.

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Comments 28

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  • Avatar for Marchbanks #1 Marchbanks 3 years ago
    Great retrospective on a great game that did, indeed, have a great localization.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    Reading this gave me chills. This game will most likely always be my favorite FF. I still say that this is one of the best voice acted games to ever release and that history of Ivalice is really something that makes that world really special.
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  • Avatar for KakiOkami #3 KakiOkami 3 years ago
    Just when you think you know almost everything about one of your absolute most favorite games, USGamer comes along and provides yet another little glimpse into the making of (IMO) the best FF. How anyone can NOT like the open world to play in and explore, the long- full-of-atmosphere-and-mood dungeons, the amazingly fun to use combat system, and of course the colorful characters.

    Yeah, we know the game has flaws, but I'd be hard-pressed to recall the worst offenders even right this moment. The voice actors killed it for FFXII, especially coming after the decent/cheesy spoken word in FFX (man, who let Yuna's lines out the door in the first place!?). And looking at a world map of Ivalice and seeing where all the locations are for all the Ivalice games, it's just so much fun to piece it together, see different locations within the same world and yet be so FF'ish to the point that you've got the same world but different stories going on and different characters and very little (if any) overlap [FFTactics refers the most to other locations within the world through the artifacts found in side missions].

    Learning all these new things about this game just reminds me of how much love and soul went into it and I hope it gets the remaster treatment it deserves.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #4 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Noooooooo!!! I'm trying to Platinum Disgaea V, you are going to coerce me into breaking out one of my copies of FF XII and going through it again. Great article though. T.T Love this game so much.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #5 benjaminlu86 3 years ago
    Alex O Smith's work on this title is still unmatched.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #6 UnskippableCutscene 3 years ago
    This is going to be unpopular, but I'm prepared to get the downvotes:

    The script of this game built a brick-wall that ultimately discouraged me from going back to it. It's the Final Fantasy with an English degree, with acting that seems pulled from the stages of university theatres and sentence structures that are so layered in Victorian prose that it requires me to practically reverse-read them.

    I have no idea if that's originally in Japanese, or the result of the localization. It's a question I've wondered for years. The voice acted parts are occasionally so loaded with grammar only seen in stage drama vibe that is completely in left field for a video game, and some of the actors seem to also see it and read their lines like a stage drama. And mixed in with the usual fantasy macguffins and titles, it sometimes left me emotionally disassociated with the world and the characters.

    "No, the power of manufacted Nethicite is the power of man! A weapon forged by his wisdom... and who would challenge the gods themselves! A fitting blood for a true Dynast-King. Raithwall did but pretend the title... a cur begging Nethicite scraps from his master's table."

    It's not that I don't know what that dialogue means, but I have to sit and really notice it in a way that I don't with "the planet's dyin, Cloud!"

    I've been playing Final Fantasy since "fighting when mist will freeze you with breath," so I'm used to decyphering text that maybe meant something other than what was intended, but I also associate the Final Fantasy franchise with 20 hour anime-inspired action epics that uses heavy-handed story segments, dialogue at a 6th grade reading level, etc. The dialogue, particularly in the voice acted parts, felt like English grads were brought in to give the series intellectual depth and maturity, to push it past it's root as entertainment for teenagers with a slightly larger peripheral demographic. The problem is there's such a thing as being too intellectual.

    So while I don't actually dislike the gameplay, I reached a point where I was two boss fights beyond the point where I stopped even trying to keep track of the storyline. And when a boss eventually did stomp me in, I had passed on enough plot points that I felt disassociated with the story.

    I'm glad this game has it's fans, and I think it deserves the remastered treatment like FFX because it obviously outstripped what the PS2 was capable of. I just wonder frequently if the theme of thespian prose was in the Japanese script or completely added in localization.Edited October 2015 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #7 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    @UnskippableCutscene I wouldn't down vote you for not liking something that I love. But you should realize that the aspects of it that you don't like, especially "too intellectual", are some of the things that make others of us love it even more. Yes, I'm a huge fan of classic literature and can always go back to Joyce and Dickens and Poe and such for their wonderful Victorian era writing. But in video games that opportunity is seldom presented. Those who don't like that style of language have every other rpg to go to, so you have a fallback. As someone who does read a ton of classic literature, though, it wasn't just the translation and dialogue that lent to it's flavor. The accents and style were very much appropriate, they were not out of place at all. The story itself is classic in the best sense of the word. I may have given a small criticism to it if it was out of place.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #8 kidgorilla 3 years ago
    @UnskippableCutscene My man, I emphatically disagree with you, but your opinion is your own and you articulated it well enough. You just keep on keepin' on.
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  • Avatar for twopenny #9 twopenny 3 years ago
    What a fantastic read! I loved XII dearly, and the amazing script/performances made each cutscene a delight--something subsequent entries in the series might have emulated to their benefit. It's fascinating to read about this process, as it--particularly the successes--go generally unsung. The decision to give the Viera Icelandic-inflected speech was inspired--and I totally hear it now! Great idea.

    FFXII still feels like the series' zenith to me, and though moments buried in FFXIV have been amazing, I feel like it has been unmatched.
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  • Avatar for twopenny #10 twopenny 3 years ago
    @UnskippableCutscene I absolutely preferred XII's stylistic decisions to the uneven--and sometimes embarrassing--scripts of X and XIII. More importantly, I think it's a bit reductive to argue that dialog choices were made out of unearned intellectual posturing. XII's plot and tone share an awful lot with Shakespeare, with its political intrigue, secret twins and betrayals. The high drama felt--at least to me--elevated by the confident storytelling affectations. Sure, it doesn't hit every time, but I didn't find myself muting the game as I had with X and XII.

    As was noted in the article, dialog choices fit the characters they represent. Vayne, Ashe, Basch and Balthier (hinting at late-game revelations) often speak in near-iambic, as you might expect from the nobility, while Vaan and Penelo do not, being orphaned street thieves. This stuff, even if you don't notice it consciously, plays a huge role in telling the audience about our characters' backgrounds and contexts. It's a level of narrative sophistication that is sorely missed in the later games, and one that sets this entry apart.

    Here's a great moment!

    Vayne is an arrogant, pompous oligarch, clearly speaking over the heads of the crowd (and to some extent the audience)--that he straight-up references Hamlet underlines his inflated self-importance as he attempts to take the role of tortured people's-hero, and signals to the audience that this dude is a gigantic ass. I find this characterization to be a vastly more compelling than villains like Seymour in FFX, who must "destroy Spira to save it." Vayne's language is a fresh take for a series that had grown somewhat long in the tooth, and a move that looked like it might finally drag the series forward with more confident storytelling.

    Look, much of Final Fantasy XII's story is, at times, absolutely goofy--I think we can all laugh together at disappointing characters like Vaan--but when everything comes together, I think FFXII offers the most convincing/consistent dialog and performances the series has ever had.Edited 3 times. Last edited October 2015 by twopenny
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  • Avatar for Stevegasm #11 Stevegasm 3 years ago
    Pretty interesting read. I wish I was able to finish this game. As far as the story goes, I think it would have been better if they put more focus on the old knight. I never understood the Japanese obsession with little boys and girls in their stories, but it worked for me when I was still young. But overall, this one was one I thought I could sink my teeth into. There was so much that was great about this game, but it was the combat that kept me from bothering. I gave it a good 15 hours though.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #12 link6616 3 years ago
    I think FFXII is one of the bigger regrets I have about not owning a PS2 at the time. Frankly outside of remasters the PS2 library is something I haven't dealt too much in. And as much as I try to play the games either natively or on PC emulation I just never commit to them...

    I am hoping one day PS4/Vita HD collection will come and then no matter what the mood I'll be able to play.

    But love hearing about localization! Please more articles like this!Edited October 2015 by link6616
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #13 jeffcorry 3 years ago
    ...and now we need an HD re-release. This game is the best Final Fantasy game I have played of the "recent" games.
    It even eclipses many, if not most, of the "older" titles.
    I absolutely love the localisation. Reading through the bestiary contained in the clan primer, is also very, very interesting. It required me to think about what was being said. Nothing came easy in this game at first, but when you mastered it (and the gambit system)...everything came easily!Edited October 2015 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for Pacario #14 Pacario 3 years ago
    @jeffcorry Agreed. This entire feature has really ignited my interest in the game, but I'd love an HD remake versus having to scrounge for an old PS2 copy (and a PS2 to play it on, for that matter).
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #15 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago
    JF: "It was like actually doing a play, or doing a film script. That's how it differed. The cutscenes were so important to the actual gameplay that it was not something you wanted to use your cheatcode to skip through. As an audience, you needed to watch the scenes, and the scenes were good, the story was really involving. And that's not always true with other games, be they Japanese or Western. These were critically, a classical sort of world we'd set up, very Shakespearean, very Greek. Never dull. The movies were relationship oriented, action oriented, and key to the story. On review, I think they were very well written and well performed, and that's what brings the audience in, and made you want to know what's going on. I think we did a good job putting them together. It was like watching a really good movie!"

    This is why Lord Matsuno is so treasured. Gameplay and narrative boldly striding arm-in-arm together. He and his teammates are both auteurs and scientists, these wonderfully holistic works they put out...it's sad, really; Matsuno's way should've been a more learned, self-respecting way for video game design, but we had to wander in the wilderness before returning to the light again, chastened and hopefully wiser for it.
    @UnskippableCutscene

    That's what makes it so alive! Incredibly engauging, more a dance partner than a read/listen. They're some of those games I revel in just engauging with the narratives of, in that it's not how MUCH I get, or how much it EXACTLY mirrors what I sought, but has such depth, nuance, and worth. It's again, a breath of fresh air reading/listening to it in a sea of games that put such a similar level of emphasis on narrative matters and yet aim low for unintimidating and exceedingly expected Hollywood/Anime potboiler (and sometimes still miss!)

    Also, and this was true for Vagrant Story but I don't know to what degree for the subsequent Matsuno/Kajiya crew joints, that it was coloquial Japanese then given that chewy archaic flair.
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  • Avatar for KakiOkami #16 KakiOkami 3 years ago
    @Pacario Copies of the Limited Edition steelbook version of the game are ridiculously cheap and easy to find. I'ts worth snatching up!
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  • Avatar for theblacklaser #17 theblacklaser 3 years ago
    FFXII is my favorite FF game, and I've played all of them from FF to FFXIII. Hugely underrated. I recently played for a while again and it's just magnificent still.
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  • Avatar for lanmao #18 lanmao 3 years ago
    Thanks for this John. While I have mixed feelings on XII as a whole, the localization was and is a monumental accomplishment.

    One can only hope that we will see a re-release at some point in the not to distant future.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2015 by lanmao
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #19 manny_c44 3 years ago
    @SatelliteOfLove

    I'm curious as to which games we might might be playing as we return-to-the-light? Crimson Shroud is basically it for recent Matsuno releases.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #20 SatelliteOfLove 3 years ago
    @manny_c44

    Actually, that's not really one of those I was thinking of in that; CS (my 2nd place for GOTY 2012) is gameplay yes, but it's much more restrained on both fronts.

    As for games done in the "Matsuno Way", I can't really think of any right off hand that really, really push on both fronts like those used to do, but "returning to the light again" really meant that that kind of benchmark clearing (and many other forms of game design) has much, much fewer artificial hinderances like "difficult games don't sell" or "I'm skipping every cutscene, ever game's narrative is trash" interfering with great ideas of all shakes.
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  • Avatar for Thad #21 Thad 3 years ago
    Great feature; I really like the thorough making-of interviews.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #22 Pacario 3 years ago
    @KakiOkami- I might just do that. Thanks.
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  • Avatar for Kirinn #23 Kirinn 3 years ago
    Love this game and its localization, and after reading this article I appreciate it all the more knowing the subtleties that AOS and his team added even when they weren't really present in the original text. All that time Victorian-izing the bestiary was not wasted! I hung on every word.
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  • I love the rich atmosphere and the dialogue in this game. I love me some Balthier too (mmmph).
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  • Avatar for Adrockski #25 Adrockski 3 years ago
    Great deep-dive into the localization process, and great comments, too. Thanks for this, USG. This site is quickly becoming the go-to video-game community for grown-ups.

    This is a game I'd love to go back to if only they'd let me invert the damn camera controls! I've tried and tried. I guess I'm just too set in my ways at this point to re-orient my brain every time I pick it up. Here's hoping for that HD re-release...
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  • Avatar for michaeltraps #26 michaeltraps 2 years ago
    Really happy I've been marathoning Axe of the Blood God because I would have never found this gem of an article otherwise.

    It's a shame we'll probably never see a game like this again, but as long as we have John Learned on the case, we'll at least be able to live vicariously through (and still learn new things about) old ones.
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  • Avatar for Lucas-Amaral #27 Lucas-Amaral 2 years ago
    Deleted August 2016 by Lucas-Amaral
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  • Avatar for Kaua-Rodrigues #28 Kaua-Rodrigues 2 years ago
    Honorable psn plus abril 2017 mention goes to Al-Cid, who had extremely playstation plus abril 2017 long-winded lines delivered straight psn plus to camera, making writing to the lip flaps a considerable challenge. I know we had to playstation plus adjust a few of them on the fly to match the voice actor's colorful performance. Luckily, David Rasner was both a good sportEdited February 2017 by Kaua-Rodrigues
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  • Avatar for mayara-santos #29 mayara-santos 2 years ago
    A verdade é que o último ano foi um ótimo para todos nós gamers. A E3 confirmou o que já havia sido dito sobre os próximos lançamentos ps4 2017 e encher nossos olhos por meio de novas promessas de jogos que, em sua maioria serão lançamentos ps4 2018 ou jogos que ainda não tem data de lançamento. Se a Sony acham trailers, alguns gameplay e várias imagens sobre os jogo que serão lançados são o suficientes para nos deixar ansiosos sobre os jogos ps4 2017, é preciso dizer que eles estão absolutamente certos. E é claro que se alguns jogos serão protagonistas por superarem as expectativas, com certeza haverá lançamentos que se destacaram por serem um tremendo fiascos (lembra de Watchdog?), por terem lançamentos adiados (Nier: Automata, estou falando de você), ou por possuir falhas técnicas gravíssimas (como o caso de Mafia 3). Enfim, queremos logo o que foi prometido e estamos de olho nos próximos lançamentos ps4 2018, acompanhando novidades e criando listas com os melhores lançamentos, final de contas, precisamos nos planejar financeiramente, certo?Edited 2 times. Last edited February 2017 by mayara-santos
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