It isn’t often that an anime-inspired Japanese game is localised for the Western market, and receives warm praise for the quality of the voice acting. It is even less frequent that you would hear a distinctive Welsh timbre emanating from a character within a game. As well as setting the benchmark for old-school JRPGs thus far in 2013, Ni No Kuni is a game happy to buck both of these trends, and follows previous Level 5 classic Dragon Quest VIII in featuring a well known actor in a prominent and hugely impressive vocal role.
The man in question is none other than Mr Steffan Rhodri – a thespian of some renown from the Land of Our Fathers, and veteran of a vast array of work on both stage and screen. He will be well known to UK television viewers for playing the part of Dave Coaches in the phenomenally successful BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey, but to me he will always be synonymous with the role of Mr Drippy, the insolent, hilarious Lord High Lord of the Fairies from Level 5’s spectacular Ghibli collaboration. Here is a character who engaged me from the very second he sprang into existence from his inanimate state, who was brought hilariously and touchingly to life by the talented Rhodri, his barrage of Welsh colloquialisms, put downs and jokes marking him out as easily my favourite ever character from an RPG. I was desperate to find out more about the process of voicing this charming creation, which is why I was absolutely thrilled when Steffan agreed to answer a few questions for GodisaGeek recently.
Naturally the first thing I wanted to ask was just how the hell he landed this gig, which is hardly your run of the mill job offer, to say the least. Being a veteran of voice acting work in other media, Rhodri pointed out that there were a combination of factors at play, and no small element of chance: “I’m never quite sure how a voice job comes along – sometimes my acting agent puts me forward, sometimes my voiceover agent, and sometimes the producers know of me and want my particular voice. I think Ni no Kuni was a combination of 1 and 3!”
Surely he must have been a fan of video games though, to accept such a left-field assignment? Strangely, this isn’t the case. “I know nothing about video games at all,” reveals Rhodri in a statement of Saint & Greensie-esque proportions. “I’m old enough to have played Space Invaders and I used to love that but never really ventured beyond it. I bought a PS2 for my children to play about 12 years ago and enjoyed the first couple of levels of The Getaway, mainly for the novelty of driving around the familiar sights of London without leaving my living room. I wasn’t too keen on all the shooting it also entailed.” It turns out that he was not even aware of Level 5 themselves, and prepared for the role simply by “Watching the animated footage, chatting to the director and writers and listening to the tone of the Japanese actor”. I asked how his kids felt about their old man snagging such a cool role, but sadly unlike us nerdy types they weren’t that bothered! “My kids don’t seem to be interested in gaming any more it seems. They’re more at the age of being secretly embarrassed than secretly thrilled at my exploits these days!”
The actual accent part of the Drippy character intrigued me greatly. I had heard that the Japanese voice job was performed by a gentleman with a strong Osaka accent, to give a unique regional flavour to the little fella. I asked Rhodri if he was aware of what led to his Welsh tones being chosen. “I had no idea how it was done in Japanese. One of the writers of the English script was a Welsh speaker from North Wales and this may have influenced their choice. I think a Welsh accent often works for comedy. Either the accent itself, or maybe the people, are naturally funny”. This is true. I cannot imagine Mr Drippy being anything other than Welsh. “Drippy was very close to my real accent, maybe more like my accent when I was a child” he continued, obviously aware of how this ties in with the storyline from the game: “It was useful for the character to remember myself as a child and several people I knew growing up. I think, in general, the Welsh people from my home town are enthusiastic and straight talking like Drippy!”
I asked Rhodri to explain a bit about what goes on in the clandestine world of voiceover work. How demanding is it, and how does it compare to more conventional acting work? “Actors are rarely aware of the whole logistical process in voiceover, animation and game work. We just do one scene at a time as put in front of us. It can be quite demanding – but that is demanding for an actor, not demanding for someone who does a proper manual or lifesaving job for a living. Compared with the hanging around and trying to stay mentally fresh of a day’s filming, a day doing animation voiceover is challenging in keeping the performance and the voice fresh and not sounding tired, hurried or bored! You’re concentrating on several things at once and trying to give a credible performance, without wrecking your voice. Saving my voice was particularly important as Drippy – he’s a high energy character who does a lot of shouting and screaming, but at the time of recording I was doing 4 hour sessions then going on to do a performance in a West End play at night!”
Despite the tough challenge it presents, he is keen to take on more work in the video game industry. “I’d love more game voicing work! Keep plugging it!” So enjoyable was this performance, I would fully endorse that, with bells on. And seeing as there are plenty of fans who will want to know (members of my own family included), I made the inevitable enquiry as to whether a Nessa/Dave reunion may be on the cards in a certain Welsh seaside town: ”I’d love to work with Ruth again. I did a tiny part in the latest series of her ‘Stella’ but we weren’t in the same scene. The logistics of doing a special or anything else of Gavin and Stacey are massive but I think there’s enough will and desire from Ruth and James and the rest of the cast as well as from the public for it to become a reality one day. We may all be in zimmer frames by then (maybe Dave’ll be driving them all to the old people’s Day Centre) but I’d like to think that it will happen”.
Thanks to Steffan for his time. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available to buy now, for PlayStation 3.