By: Anonymous – 13/4/2011

I live in Tokyo and usually perform voice over in English for TV commercials, documentaries, company promotion videos and all other kinds of voice over productions, for use in Japan and for worldwide distribution.

In Japan, specialised agencies handle foreign narrators. The majority of narration jobs in Japan go through these agencies. The agents handle all types of voice over projects. Some manage actors and other performers in addition to narrators

I’m not good at voice characterisations. For example, I can’t create a voice for a cartoon monkey. So I don’t do game voice overs.

Occasionally a game needs a large pool of voices, and I am sometimes contacted by an agency about a role in a game. In that case, I always remind the agent that in their information about me, it says I’m not good at voice characterisation, I can only speak in my “normal” voice, and I will only do the job as such – as an actor.

My first game was for a PC platform. I acted – that is, I played a role – without altering my voice.

My second game was for a dedicated game platform. I was the narrator and a crusty old man with a heart of gold. The agent assured me I would not need to change the sound of my voice for the old guy. I assumed the narration voice would not be heard near the character parts. But all that was up to the game producers.

Though the agent knew that I don’t do voice characterisations, the game director at the studio told me to “do an old man voice”. The agent did not say a word.

Well, okay, it’s their game. So, I did a gruff voice for the character. But it sounded like the narrator (me) doing a gruff voice.

Soon after the gruff game, an agent offered Shenmue II for Xbox. I was told Sega needed 800 voices. The agent was desperate for people, even asking if I knew anyone who was not necessarily a voice pro. Again, I confirmed I would act, but not alter my voice, and accepted the job on those terms.

I had a Shenmue II recording session on two occasions, one each in March and April 2002, at studios at the SEGA headquarters in Ota-ku, a couple kilometres from Haneda airport in Tokyo.

The recording sessions I attended were held in a wood-panelled studio that could hold a small band.

On the first days microphones on stands were set up in a corner of the studio. The producers and the director in the control room watched a monitor and made adjustments.

At first, I and a few other guys recorded gang scenes. A group of gang members chatting. We weren’t instructed to talk about anything specific. But we seemed to all chat about gang-related topics, as best we could imagine.

Prior to each recording, the scene, if available, was played on a monitor in the studio. Music and effects had not been added yet. The scenes seemed to be the final renderings. When they didn’t have a scene available, they gave brief descriptions verbally.

There was very little direction from the director. I did not meet any native English speaker. It seemed that whether a take was “good” or not was left to be decided by the voice talents. Some of the Japanese spoke a bit of English. The agent for the given voice talent stayed there only a short time, in the control room, to act as translator as necessary. 

After the group gang recordings, individuals recorded while the others waited outside the studio. During long sessions, we could leave the premises and come back for our session. 

Soon it was my turn. Now the mic was in the center of the room. The monitor had been moved to near the mic.

At the studio, I was given scripts for about 10 minor roles. I figured that since I would not be altering my voice, the characters I voiced would be far apart in the game and no one would notice the same voice is used for several characters. (I don’t play games. That’s how they do it, isn’t it?)

First, I was asked to voice some fight grunts and groans.

Then, I had to read a set of short words so that my voice could be assigned to correct mouth movements of the game characters. While I spoke, the staff stared at a monitor in the control room. I went through the words a few times until the staff had made all their audio adjustments.

Before doing the voiceover for each character, if they had the scene, it was played on the monitor. For the first character, I spoke in my normal voice.

For the next role, I was asked to do the voice of an old man.

My agent, who was in the control room, did not say anything at all. In fact, I saw the agent ducking out of my line of sight. Nothing from the agent about the fact that I had accepted the job on the condition that I not have to alter my voice. Because my voice characterizations are not good and game players will notice the poor quality. And no clearheaded game producer wants to put bad voices on their project. Right?

Once again, I was on the spot. Well, it’s their game, I figured. One standard elderly-man voice coming up.

So I imitated an old man. All the time wondering why they didn’t simply cast an actual elderly man for the role.

After that, they went on to ask for a unique voice for each of the roles. My agent was now invisible. So I just improvised.

One of the characters was described to me as an especially weird fellow and they needed an appropriately weird voice. They played some scenes on the monitor. They gave me a moment to think of a voice style. 

They didn’t like my first attempt and neither did I. 

The next attempt was a shrill, scratchy concoction that actually hurt to do. “No way will they want this voice,” I thought. 

They loved it. 

I had a created a voice that sounds like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Richard Simmons.

So we proceeded with page after page of lines. My throat hurt more and more. The time dragged on as I needed breaks to nurse my throat with a warm drink.

As I was recording, I remember thinking to myself “This character voice is terrible. If I were playing this game and heard this voice, I’d turn off the sound.”

Finally, it was over. 

I learned never to accept any game voice job again, no matter the assurances of the agent.

I was not surprised at all when the the majority of reviews of Shenmue II were posted, the writers pointed out the horrible English voice acting.