Modern Fire Emblem games have been a real cornerstone of the 3DS’ library, with Awakening, Fates, and Echoes each excellent examples of the series’ endless tactical RPG appeal. They’ve become fan favourites not only because of their satisfyingly strategic gameplay, but also because of the likable, well-drawn personalities that populate their fighting forces; a big part of the characters’ appeal is down to the top-quality voice acting in all three games.
Recently, we were fortunate enough to sit down with Bonnie Gordon, the voice of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia’s kindly cleric Silque. Along with Fire Emblem and voicing Silque, she spoke with us about singing Echoes’ end credits song, voicing already-existing Japanese characters, and her advice for aspiring voice actresses and actors.
First of all, how did you get involved in video game voice-over?
Well the way I got involved with voice-over in general, which led to video games, was actually through doing a 1920’s-style radio show, performed in front of a live audience where the audience does all the sound effects. It had some very famous voice actors and actresses in it, like Taliesin Jaffe, Matt Mercer, Michael Coleman, so I was with all these big names in the voice-over world, and they all told me that I should get into voice-over. I believe it was Taliesin who really got me started; he was working on a video game, and since he also directs and casts, one of the girls on this project dropped out for a family emergency, so he called me and said “Can you be at a studio at 4 o’clock?” And I said “Yes!” and drove in!
It was a game for the Vita, and I played a villain — they needed a really low voice, and I have a low voice. It was really fun! I’d been doing voice-overs for little projects and iPhone games, but nothing that was actually known, so that was my big start in that. Then the company that cast that game kept sending me auditions for different projects, and that ultimately led me to getting on Street Fighter V as Rainbow Mika. And then the same thing happened with the company who cast Fire Emblem [Echoes] — I started out doing a small project with them, and then they kept sending me castings for other projects and ultimately that led to Fire Emblem, so I got really lucky. And I just started doing voices for a show on Cartoon Network called Mighty Magiswords, so I’m really excited about that!
Speaking of cartoons, since you’ve done all kinds of voice acting, is there anything particular about video game voice acting?
Well, for video games, I would say the biggest difference — especially with fighting games — is that half the time I’m screaming! A lot of the time I’m doing voices where I’m just getting punched in the face — it’s a lot of reaction shots. When you’re doing cartoons, unless you’re doing a fight scene, you’re usually not doing much of that. And with video games, you have to record so many different examples of hits, punches, attacks, and deaths, especially with games now, where there's so much dialogue and so much interaction, now the gap is being merged and it’s just as much voice-over as there are in cartoons and films.
Another big difference is that with a lot of the video games and anime that I do, they’re already coming from Japan, so there’s already someone who’s done a voice for this character, and the character’s already established in Japanese. Now that I’m doing voices for cartoons on Cartoon Network, they’re characters that don’t have voices yet — I’m creating the voices myself — and they also haven’t been animated yet. If it’s coming from Japan, it’s already been animated, so the mouths are moving and I have to try to fit all my lines in. Working on Cartoon Network, nothing’s animated yet, so I can just go in, say my lines, and then they go in and animate around my voice. That’s definitely cool! It gives me a little bit more freedom.
Do you ever reference original Japanese voices in deciding how you’ll voice a character in English?
It’s a little bit of both. When I go in to audition, sometimes the studio will play a sample of the Japanese voice, so you can kind of match the tone and quality — sometimes they’ll explicitly ask you to try and match that, and sometimes they don’t want you to reference it at all. So it really depends on the casting director and the production company. With Rainbow Mika, for example, the voice actress that does Naruto in Japanese also does R. Mika in Japanese. And it’s a very gruff voice — she’s a wrestler so she’s screaming all the time — so when I went in to do Rainbow Mika, I listened to the sample but I put my own spin on it, trying to make her really rough and as badass as possible, and then everyone was like “The voice of Naruto does the voice of R. Mika in English too!” Because listening to it, I do sound like a little boy!
Were you a Fire Emblem fan before you started working on Echoes?
I wouldn’t say I was a Fire Emblem fan per-se; I knew of the games, a lot of my friends did voices for them already, and I’m aware also of the universe and the story — and since I do a lot of conventions and so many people cosplay as the characters, I’m familiar with the characters. I don’t have a 3DS — sadly! — but my roommate does, so I might have to steal that to play Echoes! But when I got the part I was so excited, I thought “Oh my gosh I’m going to be on Fire Emblem, I actually know the name of that game!” Because when we audition for things, often we don’t even know what we’re recording. So I didn’t even know I was recording for Fire Emblem until I got in, and started saying lines and thinking “Some of these names seem really familiar!”
When I went in they gave me a bunch of auditions for different parts, so I read for several characters, and with Silque, they said she’s 19 years old, she’s a cleric, and even though she’s young they wanted her voice to sound like she was very wise, beyond her years. And they wanted her voice to be lower, which was nice for me — so many of the characters I voice are so wacky, so it was so nice to do a character who’s so smooth!
You also sang the ending credits song in Echoes — how did that come about?
It was just being in the right place at the right time — I overhead the director and the sound engineers in the booth talking about how they needed a singer for the closing credits song. And the fact that it’s a song about Mother Mila and that Silque sings it is a complete coincidence — I’d like to say that we totally planned that, but it was just a matter of me walking in and saying “Hey guys, I’m a singer — would you like me to send some of my stuff to you?”. I’m also in a nerd parody band, so I sent them a song we do about Star Trek, and apparently the powers that be liked what they heard, and wanted me to sing it!
When I got a recording of the song translated into English, it was sung by the gentleman who did the translation, and it’s a beautiful translation, he’s singing and I was thinking “Oh this is going to be perfect for my voice, I can’t wait!” Then I got into the booth to record it and they played the Japanese version and it’s an octave higher! Since my voice is pretty low, I’m used to singing blues and jazz and I have an earthy sound to my voice, so when I got into the booth and the entire song was way up there, I might’ve had a small heart attack! But I was very lucky that I was having some good vocal days when I recorded that song, I was able to get the notes out and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
Did you identify with Silque at all as you were recording her lines?
I do like that even though she’s very religious and very down-to-earth, she still has her snarky “Excuse me?” kind of lines, and puts men who hit on her in their place. I wouldn’t say ‘witty’, maybe, but she’s very smart in her responses, and I love that about her. There’s a difference between being witty and wise, and she’s definitely a bit of both.
It’s funny, too, because it was so long ago that I recorded these voices — I recorded all of Silque’s lines, maybe last year? But this was one of the fastest turnarounds I’ve seen in a game, so I’m lucky that some of those are still fresh in my mind! Usually when people ask “Oh what was it like saying this line?” I’ll think “I recorded that two years ago, I don’t even remember saying it!”
Speaking of that gap, what’s it like to record lines for a game that you won’t be able to talk about for a long time?
It’s very hard. I have a shirt that says “Don’t ask me, I signed an NDA!”, because that’s my life half the time! I travel around to conventions across the country with my band, and we do voice-over panels quite a bit, because my band partner also does voice-overs for video games and anime — he was the announcer on DiveKick — and when people ask “What are you working on now?”, nine times out of ten we have to say “We can’t talk about it!” Likewise, whenever I am allowed to announce something, I get really excited!
I try and be very active on Twitter with fans, so I’ll search for tweets on Fire Emblem Echoes and Silque, because I love to hear what fans are saying. Even if it’s bad! Sometimes I ignore the bad stuff, but I love liking and retweeting what people are saying, thanking people for their kind words — it’s really nice to be able to interact with fans. Especially if I can let them know “I’ll be at this convention in Vegas, or Hawaii, so come find me in person!”
What advice do you have for aspiring voice actresses/actors who hope to break into the industry?
The best advice I can give is learn how to record and edit yourself. That’s a huge, huge help. I have a USB mic and audio recording programs on my laptop, and if ever I’m traveling around and I get a last-minute audition or someone asks for a sample, I can literally just record something in five minutes, edit it to make it sound like I’m in a professional studio even if I’m just sitting on the couch with my cat in my lap! If you learn how to edit yourself well enough, you can really get some amazing sounding auditions, and that’s helped me immensely.
There are websites you can join, too — Voicebank.net, Voices.com, Voice123 — that put gigs up for people that are just starting out, to build credits. With those, that’s where you need to learn how to record and edit yourself, because if you send in an audition, when they narrow it down to their top five picks, the person that sounds the most professional will get the gig. That’s probably the biggest advice I can give people.
Also, learn how to use your instrument correctly. So many people who want to get into voice acting book a gig and then the first fighting game they do their vocal chords are ripped and bleeding, and they can’t talk anymore after! So definitely learn how to breathe properly, use your range properly, use your diaphragm.
Another piece of advice: take workshops, and take classes. That’s immensely helpful because it’s all about networking — being in the right place at the right time. You could be at a workshop where they hear your voice and go “I need her voice for this”. Also with workshops and classes, often they’ll record your audio for you during the class, and you can use that later to help put together some kind of audition reel.
For Fire Emblem fans that want to follow more of your work, what other projects are you involved in, and where can they find them?
My nerd parody band is called Library Bards, and we take top-40 hits and transform them into the nerdy versions that they should have been in the first place! Star Wars, Star Trek, Mario, Zelda, Sailor Moon, the Hobbit — you name it, we’re singing about it. You can find us all over social media at ‘Library Bards’. We travel to conventions all over the country too, and if anyone brings anything to me to sign I’ll always sign it for free, so come find me at a con and say hi!
We’d like to thank Bonnie for taking the time to chat with us.