On July 20, 2021 the „JRPG love letter“ Cris Tales will be released for consoles and PC. If you’ve watched some trailers, you may have heard very familiar sounds. Cris Tales has a prominent cast of voice actors, and Kira Buckland is one of them. You certainly know her voice. She lent it to Edna from Tales of Zestiria, as well as Honoka from Dead or Alive 5 and Emilia Christie from Detective Pikachu. Maybe her best-known work to date is NieR: Automata, where she spoke 2B.
We had the opportunity to ask Kira a few questions about Cris Tales and her work. Have fun while reading! Hey Kira, we are JPGAMES.DE, a website dedicated to Japanese video games, anime games, retro games and niche games in general. So we’ve heard your voice in a lot of games and media! Looking forward to ask you some questions.
We often do interviews with developers or producers. But to be honest, this is the first interview with a voice actress. How does one become a voice actor? That doesn’t seem like a typical career choice to us. But we read this was your goal from the beginning. You voiced a lot of small independent projects at the start, you got a coach, you moved all the way for your goal. You invested a lot!
I first started voice acting in 2004 as a hobby, and eventually worked my way up to moving to Los Angeles in late 2011. To be honest, voice acting is quite a difficult market to get into, especially these days considering how competitive and saturated the field is. There are many different paths to getting into voiceover, but the common piece of advice that pretty much everyone will give is to learn to act. The „voice“ is only a small part of „voice ACTING“—the acting itself is the biggest part. What’s going to get you hired isn’t just about how you sound, but how well you can portray all the facets of a character’s personality and make their dialogue believable and „in the moment“.
It’s not a coincidence that you mostly dub Japanese games. I read you were president of the Anime Club at the University of Alaska Anchorage. That sounds like an introduction to the plot of an anime RPG. Tell us more about that, please.
When I was in high school, I started becoming very interested in Japanese culture and media and learning the language. Getting into anime and video games also led me to discover more about voice acting, and I realized it was what I wanted to do with my career. I was president of the anime club my senior year of high school as well as throughout university, and we also hosted the first anime convention in Alaska (Senshi-Con), which is still going to this day.
Now about your current work. In Cris Tales, you played the protagonist Crisbell. She can travel through time and do magic. A lot of JRPG characters can do that. You didn’t have to get very used to her, did you?
When you work in JRPGs and anime, you get to a point where nothing surprises you anymore. It’s like „Okay, this character has time powers? Cool!“ To give you an idea, my favorite series is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, where the entire show just consists of all sorts of strange and absurd things happening. I’ve also worked on a lot of „isekai“ shows where characters find themselves reincarnated into another world and having to slay dragons, etc. So you just find out the rules of that particular universe and go with it!
Cris Tales is supposed to be a „JRPG love letter,“ with lots of borrowings from the genre. Are you going to play it yourself?
Yes, I can’t wait to play it! The visuals and animation in particular are so beautiful.
Speaking of playing. How does your work as a voice actor on a game that isn’t finished actually go? How much do you learn about the game before you start your work? I imagine you need some insight into the characters you get to voice.
Typically for video games, the script is on a big spreadsheet. We often get to see some artwork of our character, but rarely do we get to see animation or in-game mechanics unless it’s a localized game that involves dubbing certain cutscenes to picture. But we normally do a live session, whether from home or at a recording studio, where either a voice director or someone from the production team will give us the context we need to know about the game and our character, and give us real-time notes and feedback on each line. This will help everything sound seamless in game, especially considering each actor records individually and isn’t hearing how the rest of the cast members delivered their lines.
You work a lot with Japanese developers, but you live in America. Do you have direct contact with the developers in Japan or does it all work through localization efforts in America?
It depends! Some clients are more hands-on than others, but typically someone from the localization team, such as a writer or translator, will be in the room to help supervise the voice recording sessions. Other times, the performances will be left up to the discretion of the voice director.
You have over 50,000 followers on Twitter and a lot of fans. I think it helps to like the same things as your fans. And you mean it, it is quite obvious. You even play Pokémon GO. We do too, since launch! We also follow you on Twitter. Isn’t it also exhausting sometimes to have so many followers?
One thing I often remind other actors I mentor is that the majority of social media is fake. Unless you know someone as a personal friend, it’s less that they follow „you“ and more like they follow this certain image of you that you have created. Everyone has to curate their online presence to an extent to be considered marketable to fans and potential clients, so it can take a toll on your mental health if you aren’t prepared. It also means you have to be extra careful what you say and do so that you don’t accidentally offend or alienate fans of the media you work in.
For example, it is normal for actors to feel bad sometimes because it seems like all their peers are working more than they are based on their social media posts. But what you don’t see is that these same people who seem so successful can also be depressed, insecure or anxious about their own lives and careers too; they just don’t post about it. So I think it’s important to remember that everyone is human and they’re all dealing with their own issues too. (Also, Team Mystic!)
Having a lot of fans is definitely an advantage too. Without a doubt, your hard work and diligence has made you the voice actress you are today. Meanwhile, some companies also hire YouTube stars who didn’t make it big in the VA industry. In Germany, for example, Julien Bam (he has over 5 million subscribers on YouTube) voiced Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog. I think they also do it to get the attention of their fans for their project. What do you think about that?
Ideally, whoever is cast for a role is whoever is the best fit for the job. I understand that from a marketing perspective, it helps to get influencers on your project, but I feel that it is generally better to do „stunt casting“ for small cameo parts rather than major roles. That being said, there are a lot of influencers, streamers and YouTubers who are also actors, so as long as they are good at what they do and take the work seriously then they deserve a fair shot at auditioning for roles alongside people who are strictly actors. I think some of the frustration in the industry comes from lesser-known actors feeling like follower/subscriber count can be a barrier to being considered fairly for certain projects where marketing is a factor. But it’s definitely not always like that.
For Xenoblade Chronicles X, you voiced the female avatar. In that game one could choose multiple voices. Your voice was the option „Independent“ in the English version of the game. In German, that means „Unabhängig“, it has a positive connotation in our language (as it does in yours). But in the German version of Xenoblade Chronicles X, your voice is „Arrogant,“ which means „arrogant, lordly“ in English. Phew, what do you say to that?!
I did not know that! That is an interesting piece of trivia. It’s been a long time since I recorded those lines, but I think it’s also up to the player how they want to interpet the personality.
You love fighting games. You’re a bit ahead of me, because I don’t like them at all. I’m just not good enough, I guess. I don’t even like Smash Bros. You’ve worked on BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Street Fighter V, Soulcalibur VI and Dead or Alive 5, among others. Which one is your favorite fighting game?
I used to play fighting games competitively, so my biggest goal was always to voice a playable character in a fighting game. I was finally able to make that happen when I played Honoka in Dead or Alive, and was fortunate enough to voice a handful of others since! If I had to choose a favorite fighting game franchise that I worked on, it would be Soul Calibur. If I had to choose one that I DIDN’T work on, it would be Guilty Gear.
Which of your projects so far has challenged you the most? There are games where you don’t have that many lines. Then there are JRPGs that you probably get to voice a lot for. Or was it an anime?
There are a lot of projects that were challenging in their own ways, but a recent project that I worked on that I found challenging was „YashaHime: Princess Half Demon“, in which I play the character „Setsuna“. She has a more cold and stoic personality, which is in contrast to the character types I normally play. And recently there were some scenes where we had to do A LOT of screaming, which can be quite vocally stressful! But I appreciate the challenge and I am so happy to be a part of the show.
2B and NieR: Automata made you very well known in the gaming industry. But it may not be the project you would call your „breakthrough“. Which project could you look back on and say, „I did it. Now I can work as a full-time voice actress. My dream has come true.“?
This is one of the interesting misconceptions that people have about the industry. Going full-time is a process, and it’s usually less about getting a particular „big“ role and more about how consistently you are working. When I was recording NieR, I still had a part-time job working at a kitten nursery. Because when that particular project ends, you have to worry about what your next job will be. Even if you are recording fairly often for a certain franchise, it’s extremely rare for any actor to be able to make a living on that alone; you need to be constantly working on different shows and games. Also, living in the Los Angeles area is very expensive. So I didn’t go full-time until I was working so consistently that it became nearly impossible to schedule my work shifts around my recording sessions.
Kira, thank you for your time. That was a lot of questions. Do you have a message for people who want to become a voice actress/actor? Thank you very much for your answers and we wish you all the best. Stay healthy.
There are so many free resources out there now for people who want to become voice actors! Study acting (even if you can’t afford classes or a coach, watch videos and read articles online) and practice reading out loud on your own. Record yourself acting out various characters. Get involved in hobby and volunteer projects for fun online. I am the founder of a website called Voice Acting Club which has a lot of resources including a Discord server. (One of our moderators is actually from Germany!)