After its European launch back in December, North American fans were left to wait until a further two months until they would be able to play Silicon Studios and Square Enix’s JRPG Bravely Default. In the run up to the European release, we at WiiUAndMii ran a weekly feature called Brave Friday, with each week leading up to release focusing on a different aspect of the game. For the American release though, something special was needed – so we are absolutely delighted that Bill Black, the voice director of the English version of Bravely Default agreed to answer a few questions about his involvement in the game for us and we are incredibly grateful for the in-depth answers he provided, giving us a really detailed view into what goes on behind the scenes. He mentioned that if anyone has any further questions about Bravely Default or any of his other work, that he can be contacted on his website and is more than willing to answer any questions he can. So without further ado, here’s our interview with Bill Black!:
WUM: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us about your work on Bravely Default! We wanted to do something special for the game’s North American release, so we’re ecstatic that you’ve agreed to help us do just that! To kick things off, I was wondering if you would be willing to briefly describe your involvement with the game for our readers?
BB: It’s a pleasure to talk about my participation in Bravely Default. The story starts when myself and the head of Binari Sonori‘s Tokyo office were summoned to a meeting with members of the SQEX production team in February 2013. We discussed a possible new localisation they were considering having us translate and record the character dialogue. We agreed to collaborate and auditions got started in May and within a few weeks we commenced recording the first characters. My role was a voice-over director and I selected a team that included a live audio engineer and a post audio engineer (a challenging position, as I have a strong technical background in audio). My associate producer and the internal US and Milan staff at Binari Sonori provides all the project management and logistical support. At the same time our European office was translating the script into 4 additional languages for a release to pre-date the US release. As you can imagine it was a challenge in the Burbank and Milan office to coordinate this undertaking but they have experience tailored for that. And we have two Japanese bilingual Project Managers in the US facility.
WUM: One of the most remarkable things about Bravely Default is despite it being a JRPG that can last over 100 hours, almost every piece of dialogue has full voice acting. I imagine the whole process must have taken some time, but if you’re willing to say, roughly of how much time was spent on Bravely Default? And did the Japanese release of Bravely Default: For the Sequel having English text and audio affect this process at all?
BB: I was pleased when I received the breakdown and script. I admire RPGs rich in well-crafted dialogue so replete with memorable characters. It was a huge script, I have in the past been given enormous scripts with large casts. I don’t flinch, I love the challenge but that was a lot of dialogue to perfect on a short deadline. It was early May when I was reading the character descriptions and right away I began forming ideas about what actors I would approach to read for various roles. I commenced concentrating on the five primary characters followed by the secondary roles that interact directly with our heroes. Finally, I considered the tertiary characters, balancing out this large cast. My notes show I started recording on 24th May and wrapped up late July around the 26th. The English version was most impacted by For the Sequel as we used that script as our production script. Of note I did not receive the entire script in English at the beginning of the production. Like many films this was produced out of order beginning with Chapter 4 at the start of recording.
WUM: You mentioned that like with films Bravely Default was produced out of order, beginning with Chapter 4 and you didn’t have the full script at the beginning of production. With games as story and emotion heavy as Bravely Default can be, do you find that this makes directing more challenging than it would be if you could work on the game chronologically or not?
BB: It was more challenging than if I had the entire script in English in advance but with the Japanese dialogue available, the very knowledgeable representatives at SQEX US and a good understanding of the story we were able to develop the characters without starting from the first line. With games it is a non-linear format so it is different than film in that respect.
WUM: With films it can be expected that some reasons behind them being filmed out of a chronological order could include things such as the availability of actors or locations for filming. Are there any particular reasons why the recording of games follows a similar process?
BB: In this particular case I had a tight deadline, I have so many hours to record so we organised the sessions to get the most out of each performance. As the script came in from adaptation in pieces when I had enough lines to warrant getting a particular actor in the studio I would have them scheduled. In essence it was a balance of productivity and creativity. The real world goal is getting the best possible production within the time you have to create that production.
WUM: As someone who admittedly knows little about what goes on behind the scenes in game production, three months of production time for such a long game sounds rather short. Were the days rather busy or was this a usual pace?
BB: By all means this was a short amount of time, as I have worked at two game development studios ‘crunching’ is not new to me. I am accustomed to being handed a script the size of a phone directory and told to cast it, direct it , edit it…NOW! To answer your question, I did run longer days in the studio and in post-production. I got some great performances out of a very talented cast.
WUM: Both the Japanese and English releases of Bravely Default offer the player the chance to play the game with either English or Japanese audio. What is your opinion on for example, a non-Japanese speaker playing through a game with English text but Japanese dialogue (for the record, I did compare the two while playing Bravely Default, but playing in English was an easy decision for me).
BB: The Japanese action was exquisite, to hear Bravely Default in the original language is a treat, I am impressed with this option. I have no doubt otaku players are going to get rabid with this options. Others want to hear their favourite anime and game voice over actors in their English roles. It is a balance to respect the original performance while creating the English voice and cultural counterpart. I have often applied the concept of the 2005 Gore Verbinski film adaptations of Ringu (released in the west as “The Ring“). It is an exceptional model of how a great Japanese story can be retold in the West with US culture prominent in the forefront without extinguishing the subtle strength of the Japanese theme. They are master storytellers in many genres.
Q: You managed to amass quite the amazing cast for the English production of Bravely Default who all provided solid performances (and special mention has to go to Spike Spencer’s Ringabel). I was wondering if you would be willing to share some of the thought processes that go into casting decisions and maybe even go into detail about the casting of the main five characters?
BB: Thank you, casting is everything to me. In this case, it was a collaborative effort between the development team, SQEX and Binari Sonori. I really go through a comprehensive process especially when the game has already been recorded in another language. I first read the character descriptions, I had also been provided art allowing me to visualise each character. Then listening to performances of the Japanese counterpart is indispensable to the process. At that point I form ideas about who should audition for these roles. I take notes jotting down a character’s name and the actors I want to audition for that role. I consider the interaction between characters as well, my thought process is often “Will this actor in this role complement that actor in the opposite role?“. It is not just about the right actor for the role but the best ensemble cast. Erin (who played Agnés) remarked that my casting job was like assembling a large puzzle. I think that is a very interesting perspective.
I keep samples of most all the actors I work with, often listening to them read in past productions and imagine them performing the new role I am considering. Once I have selected the prospective cast, I most often record my choices for primary and secondary characters reading specifically for that role. Once that was complete, I pruned a set of choices to consider for each role. At the request of the developer I sent my first choice picks along with a brief credit list for the primary and secondary roles. The primary cast was of the most importance, I knew the right choices had been made when SQEX confirmed these five talented actors.
I had worked with all of the primary cast over the years on large roles with the exception of Cassandra Lee Morris. She came highly recommended and after a few meetings, I was more than confident she would be Edea. I was impressed with her theatre background and how well she ‘sells’ a character. I knew Spike would be a remarkable Ringabel before he even read for the part, boom!
Stephanie Sheh was my choice for Airy and we debated it for a bit but I persuaded the developer that she was an Airy and of course she is! (P.S. You might hear Stephanie sing a song with Michael Sinterniklass and Tony Oliver on backing vocals!).
Erin Fitzgerald whom I first started working with in 2005 was a good fit, it was an immense challenge to find a counterpart for Agnés. This character had to be resolute yet naive. An emotional character that is often awkward yet resolute. I worked hard to find the right fit and Erin did a remarkable job true to the original Japanese Agnés.
Bryce, whom I have worked with starting in 2002 as a teen actor was nothing less than remarkable; I knew he was Tiz when he read the sides at the audition. He brought the role to life with a performance of a character with strength yet vulnerability.
I was really pleased that there were so many female roles, it really balanced the story. I think more female roles make a better game.
Though challenging as this was, it provided an excellent opportunity to involve this fine group of select actors I have come to know over the years. I worked with actors their early 20s to seasoned voice talent with decades of experience. The large cast, the thoughtful character development, the well translated and endearing story was a dream with a creative foundation that allowed the various characters to flourish.
And there you have it folks! It was an absolute honour to have your support during our Operation Brave campaign – we were brave, we didn’t accept the default and we brought Bravely Default to the west! For our European readers, the game is available now, while our North American supporters will be able to purchase the game as a cartridge or from the Nintendo eShop next week!
If you would like to read previous entries in our Brave Friday series, then here are the links you need:
- Brave Friday #1: The Talent Behind Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #2: Connectivity Features in Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #3: The Battle System of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #4: The World of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #5: Operation Brave & Critical Reception of Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #6: The Miiverse Love for Bravely Default
- Brave Friday #7: The Review of Bravely Default