January 19, 2017 – Voicing the protagonist in the newest entry of a franchise synonymous with the RPG genre, Ray Chase is living a dream come true for most voice actors. With his roots planted in the University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts (formerly known as the School of Theatre) and training from the British American Dramatic Academy under his belt, the actor has a strong understanding of his craft. Aside from voicing characters in animation and video games, Ray also narrates audiobooks—160 of them and counting! Was there pressure to voice such a significant role in gaming? Is voicing a character different from narrating an audiobook? And more importantly, what's the best Final Fantasy song to play during a road trip? Ray answers these questions and more in an interview opportunity we were more than grateful to have.
RPGFan (Nicholas Ransbottom): At its core, Final Fantasy XV is a game about the bonds between four friends. Did you and your fellow voice actors that make up Noctis' crew (Adam Croasdell, Robbie Daymond, and Chris Parson, who voice Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus, respectively) have a chance to record any of your lines together?
Ray Chase: Well, one of the unfortunate things about that is, due to the dubbing process, we only recorded one scene together as a test to see if we could do it as a whole. Unfortunately, it's just too costly and prohibitive to do it because we're dubbing; we're going after the Japanese cast goes, so we have to match the Japanese actors' level of projection and length of each of their lines. So it's just something you can't do when you ask two people in a normal scene to go with the flow. You just can't because you have all of these restrictions based on how long each line needs to be. The only thing that we recorded together—and even then, it wasn't all of us; it was me, Jim Pirri as Regis, Chris Parson as Gladio, and Robbie Daymond as Prompto—was the opening scene where Noctis leaves his father and leaves it all to Drautos. That was the only thing that we did in pairs. We did it once and unfortunately weren't able to do it again. We've actually never met in person, the four of us. The closest we ever got was, once, we did a little signing convention through Square. Prompto, Noct, Gladio, and Luna were all together in the same room, but that's the closest we've ever gotten.
RPGFan: That's amazing, because there is such a sense of camaraderie between these characters.
Ray: I totally agree, and I will always say that is due to how good our director and localization director were—Keythe Farley and Dan Inoue. They made sure that every single line, every single conversation, sounded like it was four people really talking to each other in real time, because they would listen to every single conversation once it was all recorded to make sure it didn't sound stilted, or that we recorded something three months ago and thought the scene was about something else.... Just really good quality control with those guys.
RPGFan: There's a classic Shakespeare quote that describes Noctis' situation well: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Without any warning, Noctis sort of finds himself responsible for a crumbling kingdom. Was it intimidating to have to play a character that had so much weight on his shoulders throughout the entire story?
Ray: Well, maybe you hit on something there—that Noctis and I are both are novices. This was my first big video game project, and I was suddenly thrust into this huge, new role. I had all my training to back up on, but still, it was a whole new journey that was sort of thrust upon me, so I could relate to Noct in that sense for sure.
RPGFan: Personally, one of my favorite things about Final Fantasy XV is that it allows its cast to be human by letting them express such a wide variety of emotions. Typically in these video games—and any media, really—when it's men...the only emotions you really get to portray are anger and something to that degree. In this game, they are sad, and happy, and concerned, and confused, and they can talk about this with the other characters without fear of being judged. What was it like to have this range to experiment with emotionally?
Ray: I mean, that's just an actor's dream, to be able to flesh out a character, especially one that you're with for so many hours for so many years; being able to really see the highest highs and the lowest lows. And also, the intimate, in-passing moments which I think really makes this game different from all others. That you can see the minutia of their everyday lives, which you really don't see in games because the characters only talk when there's a scene about to happen, and it's a very important scene. In this game, you see the hum-drum, getting-to-the-car conversations; talking about if Ebony coffee is really all that good; all those sorts of mundane conversations that video game characters really don't express that often.
RPGFan: There's one scene in particular that I'm a huge fan of, where Prompto is talking to Noctis on the rooftop of a hotel.
Ray: Oh yeah, that's wonderful!
RPGFan: Yeah! You know, just Prompto talking about how he feels so alone and isolated from the group. That was just a moment for me where I was like, "wow, the writing in this game is truly something special."
Ray: Yeah. If you think about other characters that would be Prompto's archetype—so say like, a Zell or a Yuffie, the plucky comic relief—you sort of get to see them feel sad or something like that, some broad stroke, but never in the level of preciseness where Prompto does; where you see, no, this is a real flesh and blood person who's trying to make the best of a crazy situation, and who has feelings of imposter syndrome that a lot of young people can relate to. It's something intimate that you rarely, maybe never, see in video games. Maybe Western video games, but certainly not Japanese video games; I've never seen anything like that before.
RPGFan: Agreed completely. It's weird because every character has some sort of vulnerability. They aren't perfect, and I think that's what makes them so human and so relatable.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. They did a really good job of fleshing these characters out and having them go through struggles that define them.
RPGFan: So, to relax during their journey (because not everything's all business), Noctis fishes, Prompto experiments with his photography, Ignis likes to cook, and Gladio has his weird obsession with Cup Noodles. What exactly would you do, if you were in Eos, to relax?
Ray: [laughs] If I was along for the ride? I play piano, so if it was like Final Fantasy V or II where you had the little pianos to play as you went along, I would do that in the bars. That'd be really fun, just a way to unwind.
RPGFan: Just playing some Billy Joel in the bars, some "Piano Man?"
Ray: [laughs] What I like to do is improvise. I used to work in the USC bookstore where I went to college, and I played every lunch hour. Just a lot of made up stuff, or ragtime, which I had memorized.
RPGFan: So you would essentially be a lounge singer?
Ray: I wouldn't be a lounge singer, I'd be more on the piano.
RPGFan: Of the four main characters, which one would you most likely be best friends with?
Ray: Who would I be best friends with? Hmm...of the four, I think I'd be best friends with Ignis, because he takes things pretty seriously. I think we'd be a good team; we'd understand that there are things at stake, there's stuff to do, and things can always be improved. I'm of that nature, so we'd probably get along pretty well.
RPGFan: Ignis is sort of the responsible one. He's kind of the "mom" friend.
Ray: Absolutely. "Mum's the word," he says!
RPGFan: If you were on this journey with them, as we were talking about—if you were in the Regalia, let's say you have the honor of having the aux cord passed to you for you to play whatever music you want from your phone. What's the one song you immediately blast for the road trip?
Ray: Probably "Fisherman's Horizon" from FF VIII; that one's great. Such a peaceful song.
RPGFan: What was your reaction to finding out that you were voicing the protagonist of the newest Final Fantasy game?
Ray: I was absolutely flabbergasted. I had some success in voice over at that point, but not a whole lot, especially not in terms of acting. In terms of doing commercials and promos and stuff, I had a lot of experience, but I hadn't had much luck with being able to really act a part. And for that to come out of nowhere like that was insane. The first thing I did was call Max Mittelman, who plays Saitama in One-Punch Man; we're really good friends who helped each other on our careers at the beginning, and I told him the good news because he understood it. And then I called my mom and told her what Final Fantasy was and all that sort of stuff. So it was a lot of fun and celebration, but also a little bit of apprehension; "Wow, I did it, but now I'm gonna have to actually do it and not get recast!"
RPGFan: Well, you did a great job. There isn't a single person I know who has not complimented your performance in the game.
Ray: Thank you so much, that means a lot!
RPGFan: On top of voicing characters in video games and animation, you also narrate audiobooks—I want to say over a hundred of them?
Ray: I've done about 160 at this point. I did most of them within a two-year period.
RPGFan: So, how do you approach that? Surely it's different than approaching a character?
Ray: Yeah, it's different because most of mine were self-recorded, so you have to be an engineer and a performer at the same time. When I first started out, I would make sure to read every single book that I got and then perform it. But when I was doing a couple dozen every couple of months, I found that I could just sort of guess where stories were, or sort of pick chapters that I knew were important, read those first, and then say "okay, I can sort of see where this goes," so I could make choices with characters that aren't so off-base. That was a less time-consuming way to do it, for sure.
RPGFan: RPG or otherwise, what's your favorite video game?
Ray: My favorite game is Fallout: New Vegas. I think it's just great; I've played it several times. I absolutely love that game, and I absolutely love all the different challenges and ways you can approach them. Do you know [Youtuber] Many a True Nerd? He's wonderful and he got his start doing New Vegas playthroughs; kill everything, kill nothing, and he recently did one where he does not heal. He plays all of New Vegas and all of the DLC without healing once. It's very impressive.
RPGFan: Do you have any advice for aspiring voice actors?
Ray: I would say, one thing that comes up a lot—and I think a lot of people sort of discount and say, "Well I'm different!"—is that you really need to be able to do commercial work to make a living as a voice actor. You can't really make a living just doing video games, and especially when you're starting out, doing animation. If you start out and you get your first series and you're ready to go—go for it, and then you can make a living just doing animation. But when you're first starting out, the vast majority of your jobs are going to be really boring, really run-of-the-mill. Like, "explainer" videos. You're going to do a lot of [Interactive Voice Response], which is the "Press-7-to-talk-to-a-representative!" sort of stuff.
You've got to be able to have a strong commercial and narrative voice and way of approaching that work, and a passion for that, because that's most of what you're going to be doing. Video games...you just can't make a living doing that, if you just do that. So I would say, a lot of people are very excited; they want to get an agent with their amazing animation demo. But what's more important is getting your commercial demo because that's what's going to get you your first agent. They're not going to care about your animation and especially not your video game demo if that's all you're bringing them; show them that you can book good paying work.