So many beloved video game characters are remembered for their voices. What would Mario be without his nasally Italian accent, or Bayonetta without her low-pitched, smoky rumble? Video game voice actors are known for consistent, memorable performances no matter how much or how little they are given to work with – most gamers could probably recognize Link’s signature shouts of “HI-YAH” with their eyes closed.
But this article is not about them. Instead, this list will chronicle the surprising, the bizarre, and the unexpected moments in video game voice acting. Here are ten moments when you had to pause the game and check IMDB or BehindTheVoice to confirm “wait, that was really THAT actor? They got them to play WHICH part in WHAT game?”
Warning: consuming this list may cause frequent head-shaking, mouths falling open, and an inescapable urge to share all your fun new voice actor knowledge with all your gamer friends.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Hamill as Mosely in the Gabriel Knight series, Peter Dinklage as Ghost in Destiny, Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2, Elijah Wood as Spyro in Spyro the Dragon, Kristen Bell as Lucy in the Assassin’s Creed series, pretty much every single character in Death Stranding
10. 50 Cent as 50 Cent in 50 Cent: Bulletproof
Rapper 50 Cent once infamously said that he would only appear in a video game if he got to voice himself – so he did! In 50 Cent: Bulletproof, the titular rapper must take on the darkest elements of New York’s criminal underworld. It also stars Dr. Dre as an arms dealer, Eminem as a police officer, and Tony Yayo as a demolitions expert. The sequel, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, sees the rapper taking down terrorists in the Middle East as revenge for stealing his prized position, a diamond-encrusted human skull. You just can’t make this stuff up!
9. Charles Dance as Emperor Emhyr var Emreis in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Most actors who earn fame for a certain role follow this up by taking on a variety of different parts in order to avoid typecasting. Not so much for Charles Dance. After his villainous, eloquent, scheming nobleman Tywin Lannister met his less-than-dignified end on the TV series Game of Thrones, Dance immediately took on the role of….villainous, eloquent, scheming emperor Emhyr in The Witcher III. As a Thrones fan, I can definitely say choosing all the sassiest and least reverent responses during Geralt’s imperial audience was beyond satisfying.
8. Greg Proops and John DiMaggio as the Announcers in MadWorld
MadWorld is an ultra-violent hack-and-slash for the ultra-family-friendly Nintendo Wii console. Players control the violent Jack as he takes down hordes of enemies with plenty of visible blood in order to survive the lethal DeathWatch tournament. And who best to narrate this tournament than Adventure Time and Kim Possible star, John DiMaggio, joined by comedian Greg Proops, known for voicing the title character of children’s edu-tainment series Bob the Builder. CAN HE DISMEMBER IT? YES! HE! CAN!
7. Various Celebrities as Various Roles in the Saint’s Row Series
Action-adventure series Saints Row could be re-titled “Wait….WHAT? The Game(s)!” It boasts a truly impressive roster of celebrity cameos. Keith David plays both a villainous gangster and himself – as the Vice President of the United States. Burt Reynolds is a mayor, Neil Patrick Harris cameos as a DJ, and Terry Crews plays foul-mouthed gang leader Ben King. Wrestlers Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper also appear – the latter even plays an antagonistic version of himself during a journey into Keith David’s nightmares!
6. Kiefer Sutherland as Snake/Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Sutherland’s casting as Venom Snake aka Big Boss aka “why does every character in this series have so many names” was met with surprise, as he replaced veteran voice actor David Hayter, who had played every previous incarnation of Snake. He also voiced his version of Snake in a series of Japanese commercials advertising the “meal replacement” snack CalorieMate, which were depressingly devoid of puns regarding how they supposedly keep you full for 24 hours.
5. Doug Cockle as Voice of GPS in Euro Truck Simulator 2
You’re driving your huge truck down to the road, feel a bit lost and turn on your trusty GPS. You flip through the various audio options – British, American, etc., etc. – until you come upon a track simply labeled “Raspy”. Out of curiosity, you choose this one…and suddenly Geralt of Rivia is growling in your ear, telling you to turn left and slow down like you’re his beloved horse Roach. Don’t you think we’d all be better drivers if we had a Witcher as our co-pilot?
4. Tim Curry as Gabriel Knight in the Gabriel Knight Series
Hovering somewhere between nasally Nigel Thornberry and fabulous Frank N’ Further, novelist/investigator Gabriel Knight may be the least “Tim Curry-like” voice that Tim Curry has ever done. Although Curry is frequently referred to as having a unique and memorable voice, if you played all three Gabriel Knight games in a row, you probably wouldn’t be able to identify which one had someone other than him in the role. (Answer: it’s The Beast Within, which features an actor doing a better Curry impression than Curry himself.)
3. Nobuyo Oyama and Tarako as Monokuma in the Danganronpa Series
Imagine Big Bird or Elmo narrating the Hunger Games and you’ve got an idea of just how bizarre this Danganronpa casting is. Beloved children’s television actors Oyama (Doraemon) and Tarako (Chibi Maruko-chan) ruin thousands of Japanese childhoods in one fell swoop as Monokuma, the simpering, giggling, utterly sadistic host of a deadly murder game in a high school setting. You can BEAR-ly believe how unBEARable it is to BEAR-ly BEAR such a casting choice….okay, okay, that’s enough.
2. Buzz Aldrin as “The Stargazer” in Mass Effect 3
“The Stargazer” is such a minor character that even the most devoted Mass Effect fans don’t remember who he was. He briefly appears during the epilogue of Mass Effect 3 to narrate the heroic adventures of Commander Shepard to an unnamed future child. Given how many cool things he’s done in his life, the real question is whether real-life astronaut Aldrin even remembers that he was in this game. Still, “Buzz Aldrin was in a video game” is a really neat piece of trivia for impressing friends and family.
1. Lance Bass as Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts
Sephiroth’s appearance in the original Kingdom Hearts is random to begin with. While a number of Final Fantasy characters feature as important NPCs, the iconic Final Fantasy VII villain appears only as a well-hidden (and nearly impossible) bonus boss fight in Hercules’ Olympus Coliseum. While it’s not exactly out of character for the One-Winged Angel himself to show up, beat up a kid, and then fly (or would that be “flap” or “flop,” given the whole “one wing” thing?) away, what is a bit strange is that he’s voiced by none other than NSYNC singer Lance Bass. While Sephiroth is certainly pretty enough to be in a boy band, this casting choice still takes the paopu fruit for “Most Unexpected”.
If we’re being honest, though, the number one entry on this list could easily have just been most of the Kingdom Hearts cast. Bass’s fellow heartthrob Jesse McCartney as Roxas? Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel’s David Boreanaz as Squall Leonhart? Mandy Moore as Aerith? Man, sometimes it’s hard to believe that game was even real. Next you’ll be telling me that Goofy isn’t just some kind of collective fever dream
Do you have any favorite voice acting moments that didn’t make this list? Any big name actors you’d love to see jump into video game voice acting in the future? Let us know!