This Final Fantasy XVI interview with the voice actors and localization director behind the characters was edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full 30-minute interview here.
When it comes to creating media that crosses language boundaries, fans don’t often appreciate the dynamic and monumental task of not only translating work into new languages but, more specifically, localizing dialogue and story to the culture in which it’s being played. The process is something that has been a high point in many Final Fantasy titles, with the many double entendres and jokes in Final Fantasy XIV getting the well-deserved spotlight and love from the MMO community. At PAX West 2023, we sat down with Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox and some of the voices behind beloved characters, including Clive Rosfield (Ben Starr), Margrace (Jonathan Case), and Benedikta Harman (Nina Yndis) to discuss what it’s like to bring a game to life in English.
We discussed the unique localization process that was created in Final Fantasy XVI, which included recording the voices of characters and their facial capture with the English voice cast first instead of beginning with Japanese seiyuu first. For his part, Koji Fox shared the intricacies of adapting scripts to cultural contexts and how this process of English first allowed the individual actors the freedom to help create their characters alongside the development team, injecting their own style and emotion into Clive, Margrace, and Benedikta.
Koji Fox explained that the back-and-forth communication between him, his team, and writer Kazutoyo Maehiro, created a collaborative environment that pushed the story even further, particularly when it came to giving the actors the space to have creative involvement in the process. Koji Fox said, “Because the recording was English, first, we weren’t going off of anything. So we had a lot of freedom to let the actors create the characters and adjust things. We would record some lines, and after we did the recording, we would change lines based on their performances because we were learning about who the character was as they were recording.” He added, “It becomes this organic thing that rather than having a source language and a localization or localized languages, you kind of have this kind of hodgepodge. Sometimes, the English is the source, and sometimes, the Japanese is the source, and neither of them feels like they came before the other. I think that’s why they both really work well. And so it’s really cool that like a lot of players are playing through the first time in English and then do a play through the second time in Japanese and the like them both.”
With that freedom came a sense of belonging for the actors as they took up their roles and became a part of a storied legacy of one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. While the franchise has been around for over 30 years, each new addition to the franchise, like any, will be someone’s first. With such a strong creative investment, we asked the actors what it’s like to know that they are now some players’ very first Final Fantasy memory. Ben Starr began, “I think as a person who Final Fantasy changed their life in every way, from knowing that this was Final Fantasy XVI, I think it was always at the back of my mind, sometimes it was the front of my mind. And that was like an inner demon that maybe I had to shake off through that because. I was fortunate enough to because we did it for so long that it became just me and about five other people secretly making this game but knowing that this game is going to introduce people to what I think is probably one of the most important franchises in any media, with how daring a lot of the storytelling is the amazing worlds.”
Starr continued, “I know personally that Final Fantasy changed my life and introduced me to some of the most amazing characters, not just in that game but onwards. I think just knowing how passionate the fan base is, and how even if you aren’t a fan of one game, you can be deeply in love with another—I think that is just the power of what Final Fantasy has. And knowing that there are people who’d say this is the first time I played a Final Fantasy game…that’s what you want. This has a 36-year legacy. But we’re a part of that.”
For his part, Jonathan Case explained what it was like learning that they were tapped to be in a Final Fantasy game. Case said, “[Learning what the game was was] one of the most unusual, most exciting days on any job I’ve done. I’m gonna say probably, like, three, four months into recording. Someone was like, ‘You know what game you’re in right now?’ And I was like, no, of course, I don’t because nobody’s told me. They didn’t say by name, but they strongly hinted what it was. And I was like, ‘wow.’ I was excited to do a brilliantly written video game and then found out what it was exactly, and I realized the impact of the franchise and how amazing it is to be in something that might inspire someone to delve into that lexicon of work. It’s so powerful.”
While both Starr and Case knew of the game franchise’s impact, Nina Yndis didn’t. Not a gamer herself, Yndis explained how the role was just one of a great character in a video game. While Starr did tell her the game’s impact on multiple generations of gamers, Yndis shared that it wasn’t until the Benedikta cutscenes were released and when she got to meet fans in person that she was able to fully grasp the lasting power that Final Fantasy has. She said, “I came into this process totally naive. I had no clue about the impact of the [franchise]. No idea….When you guys said it was Final Fantasy, I just thought, okay, cool. Yeah, I’ve heard of that. I didn’t think anything of it. Then, our names were announced. Again, I didn’t really think that much of it. Then suddenly, my cutscenes were published in February or January, and my social media just went like,” Yndis makes an expanding motion with her hands to signify the growth in interaction, and continued, It was like, what, what is going on?”
She adds, “At that time, I didn’t even understand what a cutscene meant…And then, before the London launch you we had a phone conversation. And I was like, man, what is going on? I’m so I’m so confused. And [Ben] was like, ‘you have no idea how impactful your character is going to be.’ Because I didn’t think of it that way…Again, it didn’t quite sink in until, I think, we went to LA with the [pre-launch event]. I got to meet everyone, all of the fans…and now it’s like, started to sink in that. Wow, this is such a big deal. And I had no idea. And I feel so grateful for the fact that I had no idea because I didn’t carry the weight of responsibility ever.”
While these answers have been curated for length and clarity, there is much more to the conversation in the full interview audio below. In it, we hear more about the process of voice acting and localization, and what each interviewee wants players to walk away from Final Fantasy XVI with when they role credits.