When Peter Bramhill, the English voice actor for Thancred, reflects on the professional and personal impact Final Fantasy XIV has had on him, he recounts an experience from just earlier this year. He had been filming in Romania for a week when a fellow actor suddenly pulled him aside and asked if they could, “please just talk about Thancred for a minute.” They’re one of the 22 million people who have played the critically-acclaimed MMORPG.
“That kind of thing surely doesn’t happen with any old job!” he tells Fanbyte. “I’m just delighted to be a small part of something that so many people seem to enjoy.”
Fewer than 40 days remain until early access begins for Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Serving as the fourth expansion, Endwalker marks the end of the current storyline and ushers in a mysterious new era. Unlike past expansions, which have spanned over post-release patches over several months, its story will be complete upon release. While every expansion is a momentous occasion for the community, Endwalker is poised to be more than that. It’s a celebration of Final Fantasy XIV’s journey thus far, as well as a foundation for the exciting path it will be taking in the future.
This journey has profoundly affected many, including the actors who voice the beloved main cast, The Scions of the Seventh Dawn.
Bethan Walker, who voices Alisaie, says it’s the most significant role in her voice-over career. But, to her, it’s also much more than a job — it’s a blessing that has introduced her to what she feels is a family of creatives who love what they do as much as she does, as well as “the most loyal fanbase you can imagine, people full of passion and heart.” Ever since walking into her first audition about six years ago, she’s been “enormously grateful.”
“For an actor to have such a consistent job is also a rare gift,” she states. “Most actors never get the chance to play a role over such a long period of time; to see that role develop and change as the years go on.” After having played Alisaie for so long, she feels so familiar to Walker that it’s, “like stepping into a costume but with my voice … Some of the best moments I’ve had voicing Alisaie behind the mic have been the instinctive moments I’ve not planned ahead.”
Colin Ryan, who voices Alisaie’s twin brother, Alphinaud, reiterates the unique gift of being able to revisit a character as much as he has. His voice-acting sessions feel like catching up with an old friend — one whom he’s always eager to watch grow. It’s a feeling he shares with the community, which often pinpoints the academic Elezen as one of the best-written characters in the game.
“I often receive the loveliest messages from people about how much the game and characters mean to them and even how it’s helped some through difficult times,” he says.
Voicing Y’shtola has helped Robyn Addison realize how much she loves voice acting. “There is something so freeing about being in the booth and pretending to go on adventures with characters who become so familiar,” she says. “It has been a real privilege to play Y’shtola. Sometimes, I picture my teenage self and think ‘you won’t believe what you get to do when you’re older’ and it reminds me of how lucky I am to do the job that I do.”
Playing roles across many years and franchises is something Timothy Watson, who voices Urianger, is used to. Even so, he says his role in Final Fantasy XIV is easily one of the most enjoyable and rewarding to him.
“The team of writers and range of directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with – as well, of course, as the superb engineers at Side UK — have made every session an absolute pleasure,” he says. “I’d add that, as an actor who is often cast in a range of dark and villainous roles — it has been such a pleasant change to play a character that may seem a bit forbidding, but has a good heart underneath and is utterly well-intentioned!”
Some actors among the Scions have been Final Fantasy fans for a long time. Robert Vernon remembers buying Final Fantasy VII on his 13th birthday. He says it was “one of the most affecting experiences of my young life,” and the catalyst for his similar love of Final Fantasy VIII, IX, and X. If you told him he’d be voicing Estinien in Final Fantasy XIV back when he was in school, he would’ve never believed you. Gemma Lawrence played Final Fantasy VII when she was 10 years old, though she never got to finish it. To be a part of the series through her role as Krile is, “a dream come true.”
Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how these actors bring their characters to life. Rather than seeing the developers behind soundproof glass in a studio, they could only hear developers through their headphones at home. “It was just a bit more lonely … but, hey, it still worked and we had a blast doing it,” says Bramhill, who sees everyone involved with the project as “one big Final Fantasy family.”
How much Bramhill, in particular, clearly loves playing Thancred is deeply infectious. He shares that, over the years, friends and family who find out about his role have taken great pleasure in sending him official and unofficial merchandise of the silver-tongued Gunbreaker. “I now sometimes find myself having my morning coffee out of a Thancred mug,” he says. “I even got sent a bedspread once, but I think that might be a bridge too far! Although I’m sure Thancred would love that!”
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Despite Final Fantasy XIV’s universe being so fleshed out that it can quite literally fill multiple encyclopedias, its developers leave plenty of room for interpretation. The ability to embrace headcanons — ideas not explicitly confirmed in the text — on top of following an extensive narrative is one of the things its community loves most. As some of the people closest to their characters, I was curious about any personal favorite headcanons these actors have.
“This might seem a bit wide off the mark,” begins Addison. “But I like to think that Y’shtola can never truly die.”
“What does Estinien do with all of his spare time? Does he frequent the taverns? Does he travel the world? Does he build himself a place to retire to? Does he have a family he keeps far from harm’s way? I imagine him having a secret identity or two, where he can move better in the shadows,” says Vernon. “Perhaps to indulge a Triple Triad habit.”
Lawrence enjoys Krile’s flirtatious streak when she teases her colleagues. “She’s very selfless and loyal and committed to doing the right thing, so I’d like to think she’s also doing something for herself off-screen and having a nice romance!”
While Krile certainly deserves such wholesome joy, one has to wonder how much room there will be for lighthearted moments in Endwalker. The Scions will be racing against time to prevent the eighth umbral calamity — a treacherous mission that may end in fans saying goodbye to beloved characters. As we inch closer to the end of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark storyline, Vernon wants fans to keep in mind that, “the mission historically always came first for Estinien.”
“While he has begun to warm to others, it cannot be ignored how much he has been through,” he says. “He still carries those scars. Those wounds never heal entirely. When he lost everything before, he also lost himself in the pursuit of vengeance. The risk of him falling again is always there, especially if a great tragedy befell.”
In Shadowbringers, Thancred is perhaps the character who has to reckon most with his personal tragedies. His grief over losing Minfillia at the end of A Realm Reborn catches up to him. It forces him to acknowledge his internal struggles in ways that the old Thancred would have kept hidden behind light-hearted quips and a confident demeanor.
“This, together with the trouble he has in accepting Ryne at first, and then slowly thawing to become more of a father figure to her, gives him a new depth of character, one that eventually shows his resilience and reveals both integrity and loyalty,” reflects Bramhill. “From a voice acting point of view, this has given me far more scope for using that broken world-weary quality and internal wrestling and self-loathing. It’s made him sometimes more barbed and brooding where once he may have been jovial, but he’s never lost that rapier wit when he needs it.”
Much like Thancred, Alphinaud is now a much different character from the Elezen boy we first meet — and one of the best examples of the power behind Final Fantasy XIV’s storytelling.
“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about voicing Alphinaud is charting his character development; seeing him make mistakes and learn from them to grow into the person and the leader that he is, which probably also came as a surprise to him,” says Ryan. “Alphinaud isn’t perfect and has made many mistakes, but something I’ve admired about him is his ability to acknowledge his flaws; to show real humility which has enabled him to learn and grow from his missteps.”
“His inherent goodness, which is at his core, helps with that,” he continues. “Maybe some of our leaders could start playing Final Fantasy XIV!”
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker will be released on November 23 for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Mac. Early Access starts November 19. Be sure to follow Fanbyte for our Endwalker preview coverage coming this week, as well as The Linkshell — our upcoming dedicated Final Fantasy XIV section!