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Interviews: Cris Tales’ Kira Buckland Talks About Voice Acting Challenges

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The July 2021 release date for Cris Tales is slowly but surely creeping closer, bringing with it the chance to play a game that simultaneously shows past, present, and future. To learn more about the game and its characters while we’re trapped in the present, Siliconera reached out to Kira Buckland, voice actress for the game’s heroine, to get her impressions of the character and some information about the challenges of voice acting.

Joel Couture, Siliconera: What drew you to take on the role of Crisbell in Cris Tales? What do you feel draws you to the roles that you take?

Kira Buckland, voice actress for Crisbell in Cris Tales: I was first cast as Crisbell a few years ago when a friend recommended me to audition for the role. Typically, as actors we try not to get too attached to anything we audition for (because we only book a small fraction of the roles we try out for), so we just try to do our best with the opportunities that come our way, and then if something “sticks”, we know it was meant to be.

When I first auditioned for Crisbell, the art style of the game was what stood out to me the most. The visuals are so unique and colorful and really draws people in to the characters and world.

Can you tell us anything about the kind of character Crisbell is? What are your impressions of her, and how did you bring her to life?

Buckland: One thing I really noticed about Crisbell is how much she grows and matures throughout the course of the game. When we first started recording her, I played her as a bit more wide-eyed, unsure of herself, trying to find her place in the world. But as she learns more about her powers, and faces some tough situations, she grows a lot from it and becomes more confident in herself and her abilities. She’s also witnessed some pretty grim things happen around her, which I feel makes her able to empathize with the other characters she encounters.

Can you tell us a bit about how the voice recording process works? What’s the experience like for you? Especially now that the pandemic is a factor. 

Buckland: For Cris Tales, it’s actually always been recorded from home! Thankfully, I had a home recording booth even before the pandemic, although I did upgrade some of my equipment since then to make it even better.

Since there was so much dialogue to record, and so many nuances to the character and story, all of the sessions were directed live via Skype. I think the live direction is extremely beneficial for a game like this so that we can be sure to have the proper context for each scene, as well as to fine-tune each line to what the team is looking for. Whenever actors record for video games, we’re typically just seeing our lines on a big spreadsheet, so it’s always nice to get that background of “here’s what’ll be going on visually in this scene and what you’re responding to.”

I also assisted with casting quite a few of the additional characters in the game. I really love every chance I get to do casting work because it’s like getting to put together a puzzle with figuring out which actors could best suit each role. The hardest part was narrowing down selections. Even though I sent out the auditions to a pre-screened roster of professional actors, I’d still be going through several hundred submissions every time we had new characters to cast, and I’d typically pick the top five most fitting choices to send off to the team so they could make their final pick. We’d get back so many amazing reads from very talented actors, and I wish there was a part for everyone! But I’m so happy with the cast chosen and I think it will all come together really nicely.

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I’ve read that actors often don’t get a lot of time to prepare for roles, due to the confidentiality of the material. How do you prepare for your roles when you don’t get to see what you’re going to say in advance?

Buckland: Cold reading is one of the most important skills in voiceover, and it’s something I really try to stress whenever I give advice to newer or aspiring actors. It’s not like stage or screen acting where you have time to study the lines (to memorize them) and really break down the character. Most times, when we record for a show or game, we’re not seeing the script until we actually get in the booth to record the session. It’s really important to be able to make strong acting choices on the fly, which is why developing good acting instincts through training and practice is crucial.

The other major thing is to take direction and be adaptable. The director or client typically has a much bigger overall picture of what’s going on in the game than you do as the actor, so even if you think you know the “perfect” way to say the line, it’s more important to collaborate so that everything can come together in-game the way it’s supposed to. Since we record our lines individually for games without hearing what the other actors did, everything needs to sound like a cohesive conversation once it’s put together in the mix, which is another reason it’s important to trust your director.

Do you find recording for certain kinds of games more taxing on your voice than others? Is it harder to do more dialogue than it is to do all the shouting and grunting that comes with more combat-heavy games?

Buckland: Thankfully, the grand majority of Crisbell’s lines in Cris Tales were in fairly conversational situations, so most of it wasn’t too vocally stressful. But since Crisbell’s voice sits quite a bit higher in my vocal register than my natural voice, I did still need to keep up that stamina in order to maintain her pitch and energy, which was occasionally challenging if I already had a lot of other sessions that day or that week (on one of the afternoons we recorded, I had spent the morning of that same day recording for a different game that involved lots of screaming, so my voice was a bit shredded!) Proper vocal support and placement is essential to caring for your voice when you work on as many video games as I do. Even singing training can help you with this; a lot of singers do really well in voiceover because they understand their “instrument” and how to use and care for it. 

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Do you have a character type that you like to portray? Why do you prefer it?

Buckland: I’ve been fortunate enough to play all sorts of different character types, but I think my favorite archetype to play is the bratty “mean girls”. Crisbell is quite opposite of that, a bit more like a cinnamon roll in some ways, but one of the things I really loved about playing her is how much depth she had as a character. I appreciate any role big or small, but one benefit to playing a lead role is that there’s often a lot of meaty dialogue you get to work with and explore all sorts of emotions as that character.

Getting into character seems like something that would involve taking yourself to some difficult places, emotionally, to play them well. Do you find this is hard on you? Does taking yourself to a sad/angry/ecstatic place for a character have a lasting effect on you when you’re finished a session? 

Crisbell had some pretty dark and emotional moments in the story of Cris Tales, and there were most certainly some sad scenes. However, I do find it fairly easy to switch in and out of characters because so often we are recording multiple sessions in a day for different projects, and sometimes even multiple different characters in the same session. Every actor approaches things differently, but for me I feel it’s fairly easy to switch on the “actor brain” when I need to immerse myself in a character’s story while recording, and switch it off after the session.

There’s also other “real-world” things we have to pay attention to when recording from home, such as changing our input volume based on how loud the line is, starting and stopping the recording on our end between takes, revisiting a line to apply director’s notes, etc. Aside from games, I also do a lot of ADR dubbing work where every line needs to match an existing video with very precise timing, so I’m used to the multitasking that goes on while trying to deliver an authentic performance. Both your creative brain and your technical brain need to be engaged when doing voice work, and I think that helps with staying grounded.

Cris Tales will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Google Stadia in July 2021. Physical pre-orders include a poster. The Collector’s Edition includes a stuffed Matias the frog.

Joel Couture
Joel has been covering indie games for various sites including IndieGamesPlus, IndieGames.com, Siliconera, Gamasutra, Warp Door, CG Magazine, GameDaily, and more over the years, and has written book-length studies on Undertale, P.T., Friday the 13th, and Kirby's Dream Land.