Xenoblade Chronicles is an epic adventure on Wii, receiving universal praise from critics and gamers alike. Its release was so desired that it partly prompted fan-movement Operation Rainfall, and was the first of a trio of fantastic JRPGs to be localised for the West - The Last Story being second, and Pandora's Tower coming in third.
We were introduced to young Shulk, our main protagonist who hails from the Bionis. Behind the hero, comes the voice of Adam Howden, who has also worked on titles such as Dragon Age 2 and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Adam was kind enough to answer some questions for Nintendo Life.
Nintendo Life: Welcome Adam, it's great you could take the time out to chat with us here at Nintendo Life. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Adam Howden: Hi there & thank you for interviewing me. My name is Adam Howden & I'm an actor. I graduated from The Drama Centre London in 2005 & have been jobbing along in TV, Voice Overs, Film & Theatre ever since.
NL: You began voice acting for Video Games in 2009 for Dragon Age: Origins, can you please tell us how you began this adventure, after previously appearing on Television shows?
AH: I have an agent for acting in TV, Film and Theatre, and I have a separate agent for voice acting. My voice agent sent me along to audition at a company called SIDE UK who record voice acting for many, many video games. I was sent some character descriptions and a piece of script to prepare from SIDE UK via BIOWARE. I didn't get cast as the character I auditioned for but was lucky enough to still be chosen to play various small parts in DA: Origins. It was a great game to be involved with and the perfect induction into the world of video game voice acting.
NL: 2011 was a big year for your voice acting career; from Anders and Brekker in Dragon Age 2, Tintin in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn to various characters in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Shulk in Xenoblade Chronicles (not to mention a Theater performance too!). How did you juggle it all? Was it hard coming out of character for one role, and jumping straight into another one?
AH: A lot of the time with game voice overs you record in stages. This depends on what stage of development the game is at. You might record half of the game over the course of a couple of weeks, then record the second half 3 months later. So there can be a bit of jumping between roles. All the games you've mentioned though were recorded at the same studio so they very cleverly juggle the scheduling. It was very fun though to be going in one week and recording Dragon Age 2 and Tintin the following week. Xenoblade Chronicles was fully developed and I think already released in Japan by the time I was brought in to localise the role of "Shulk". So that was a case of being in the recording studio & doing it all in one go.
Shulk's voice is not completely different from my own voice, it's a variation of my own voice. How I sounded when I was 19, probably!
NL: How did you begin your role as Shulk in Xenoblade Chronicles? Did you audition for the part or were you approached?
AH: Yeah I had to audition for Shulk. I wasn't told too much information, just given some dialogue from the opening of the game to prep and told that he should seem quite young and innocent to begin with but that he will develop into a man and leader as his journey plays out. I usually have to audition for significant parts in games. There have only been a couple of occasions where I've been lucky enough to just be given a part without an audition.
NL: What were your thoughts on the script upon seeing it at first?
AH: I was never given the script in full so at first there was a lot that I didn't understand. I could tell that it was epic and somewhat philosophical. We worked through it mostly chronologically and I was told the story as we went along. The director did this on purpose. He wanted to both surprise me and also to not completely baffle me. I liked working like that. It meant that the performance was fresh and in the moment. My performance was heavily influenced by the visuals which were played on a screen for me in the sound booth. It was sometimes hard to gauge from the script alone all that was going on, because so much was going on.
NL: When the character of Shulk was described to you, did you have to study his personality before giving him a voice? Were you given much freedom in that department?
AH: With Shulk I was told that they wanted a slightly younger version of my own speaking voice. They wanted a neutral English voice, not posh sounding, but should sound educated. I had to make sure that he would sound both intelligent and fierce (when he needs to be). So in the end, Shulk's voice is not completely different from my own voice, it's a variation of my own voice. How I sounded when I was 19, probably!
NL: Xenoblade is quite an extensive game, with the story mode taking up to 50-60 hours to complete, not to mention the sidequests on top of this; how long was the recording process?
AH: As Xenoblade Chronicles was already voiced in Japanese, for me it was a case of re-voicing Shulk into English. We had to change some of the lines of the script because the English translation may end up as a shorter or longer sentence. This mattered mostly when you could actually see Shulk's mouth still moving but we'd run out of dialogue. So sometimes we had to add words or take words out. The recording was done over a 4 week period & there were some pick-ups shortly after that.
NL: Was Tetsuya Takahashi (director of Xenoblade Chronicles and co-founder of Monolith Soft) heavily involved while you were recording in the studio? Were any of the producers present at any stage?
AH: No, unfortunately Tetsuya wasn't around for my recording. There was nearly always a Nintendo representative in the studio though & a translator to help us out when we got a bit stuck. The way technology is these days, the producers were never really far away. I'm sure Skype was used on more than one occasion whilst recording.
NL: Were there any particular highlights while recording for the game?
AH: I loved recording battle scenes. It's a great feeling to let your voice really go for it. Obviously you have to be careful not to damage your voice but if you're doing it right you won't damage anything. I would love to see a recording of me in the booth doing battle scenes because I must look ridiculous, waving a pencil around like it's the Monado and punching the air.
NL: Are you a big video games fan yourself? If so what are your favourite games?
AH: I wouldn't say I'm a massive gamer but I do have an Xbox 360 and I do play games fairly regularly. As a child I was definitely a big gamer. My brother and I had every Nintendo console, even the "Virtual Boy". Then girls entered my life and spoiled everything! Luckily I've come back to games and really like the Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption, The Fable games, Call Of Duty. And I try to play the titles I've been involved with too.
NL: Have you had a chance to play through Xenoblade yourself?
AH: I've had a go on Xenoblade Chronicles but not played all the way through. I don't own a Wii unfortunately so have just had a go on it round at a friend's house. I know how the story plays out though.
NL: Are you interested in doing any more game voice roles in future? Are you working on anything at the moment?
AH: I'm always interested in doing more voice work on games. They're great fun & the games industry has been very kind to me. I have been working on a new game recently. I can't say what it is yet but I was very pleased to see it trending on Twitter when it was announced. It's very satisfying to know there's a buzz and anticipation for a project you're involved in. Aside from games, I've been working on television and film projects which will be released this year.
NL: We appreciate your time for the interview Adam, all the best for the future from all the team at Nintendo Life!
Ninterviews are a series of interviews where we get to know interesting people with a passion for Nintendo. Please contact us if you have any suggestions for future Ninterviews. Click here to see the full series.