FromSoftware games are memorable for a myriad of reasons but in their hostile, melancholy worlds, the small number of NPCs that players can befriend are precious and memorable. So are those villains whose reputations precede them. As its biggest title to date, Elden Ring has a cast far larger than most of its games, yet there are still so many characters that have captured people's imaginations. A large part of that is down to the truly excellent performances by the talented voice actors tasked with imbuing these small speaking roles with a meteor's worth of impact.
Of those, two voices in particular have been commented on a lot by my friends: Blaidd, the half-wolf with his sexy Welsh accent and Rykard, the grotesque snake man who is anything but sexy. (Well, I mean, am sure there's fan art out there. I'm not going to judge.) These two, more than most, were the voices that made people I know stop and listen, albeit for quite different reasons.
What goes into bringing such characters to life? I was curious about how much direction FromSoftware gave when the actors showed up to record. Did they get backstory, artwork? Was it clear they were the voice of a god-eating-snake-man who lives under a volcano?
"They just put me in the booth and they said 'this is what he looks like, we've sent you the lines,'" explains Simon Gregor, an actor who has had numerous roles in film and TV including Doctor Who and Pennyworth. "You kind of thought already where you could go and my voice can go quite low, so I knew what they were looking for... then as soon as you got in the booth, they let me know some of the creators are there and then they showed me Rykard. This is the fella, this is the creature you're playing. What will happen usually is a creator or someone will put their voice on it, just to give you a guideline.”
"It was only really the artwork I saw," says Scott Arthur, voice of Blaidd, an actor who starred in the long-running British radio drama The Archers for a few years and has also worked with the likes of Audible. "Which was incredibly helpful due to how amazing it is. All the other stuff like gameplay, and other characters, was top secret, so I had to use my imagination on that front."
That they've been able to bring these characters to life on such scant details is really a testament to their ability. For Simon, the process required a little forethought. “On the way, I'll be thinking, 'Get your Hall's mentholyptus. Start drinking water now... It's gonna be growly and it's gonna be a monster. He's gonna be an anti-hero.'”
Though with a character as strange as Rykard, finding that growl was only the half of it.
“Because you've got your headphones on, you can hear yourself brilliantly. You can start trying to imagine what kind of sound it would be if a sword, and bones, and bits of body, were coming out of your mouth. And then a really good director, I can't remember his name..." [Editor's note: This was likely Adam Chapman-Hailey, who has been voice director on numerous FromSoftware projects] “...who talked me through it really. More of this, more of that.”
For Scott, the process started in a somewhat similar place. “We worked on a few versions of ruggedness in the audition to see how 'Wolf-like' we wanted to make Blaidd, but then soon realised that something much closer to my own natural voice worked best. Blaidd is only meant to be in his late twenties, so we wanted that to come across, too."
Given that soft-spoken voice has been the real draw for fans of Blaidd, I think they made the right call.
One thing Simon remembers really surprised me, about just how long before the game's release he recorded his lines. "I think it was five years ago, it was pre-COVID you know, when we recorded it," Simon recalls. "As soon as COVID kicked in, [work] stopped. Everything stopped." Developing games is a long process, but it seems rare to have such a clear idea of characters so long before it's finished.
Simon isn't a gamer either, so the release of Elden Ring and its huge success was only really made known to him by a neighbour.
“I've got geezers who live upstairs, who are gamers. So they were dead interested. And then all of a sudden... 'What was that game you were in?' Uh, Elgen Ring? 'No, that's not it, it's Elden Ring isn't it?' Yeah, that's it! And he went 'F**k me...mate, that is massive! Who were you in it?' And I had to go look back in my emails, scrolled through and there he is, Rykard Lord of Blasphemy. 'Aw man, him!' [laughs] So I knew then this thing had gone big.”
I asked how he'd found the reaction to his character but Simon had seen so little, so I got to tell him how people loved his voice, which has been excerpted and commented upon across the internet for its strangeness.
“Ah, good!” he exclaims. “I'm really glad. I knew it was going to come out sooner or later and the writing was good... So it was a nice little treat to hear all that.”
This was new ground for Scott as well.
“Elden Ring is my first video game, which is pretty mad considering how huge it is!” Though they were somewhat aware of FromSoftware's previous work. “I'd heard of Dark Souls, and how big it was, but that's it really.”
I was curious if getting to speak in his native accent was a unique experience for Scott, as I'm aware so few roles call for British regional accents, let alone Welsh ones.
“Honestly, it's something I could only have dreamt of as a kid, being part of a video game, but to use my own accent, as well as other Welsh characters to be part of the game too, is really special. Welsh accents seem to work really well for these kinds of projects. My hope is that we see more of them in TV and film, too."
Scott has also been flattered by the response from fans who have taken to Blaidd with a lot of love and thinks it speaks to what the medium does best. “It's been quite overwhelming in all honesty. People send me some amazing fan art of Blaidd on Twitter, and I'm in complete awe at how brilliant they all are. The world of video games is so diverse and open for imagination, that I think that's what makes games like Elden Ring, and its characters, so successful. It's a world where we can be anyone we like and the possibilities are endless.”
Who were some of your favourite characters in Elden Ring and why? Did the voices of Blaidd and Rykard leave a particular impression on you? Let us know in the comments section below.