Top 10 Memorable Character Voices In Video Games

by Katie Seville on Oct 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM

Imagining beloved characters with different voices is difficult – even upsetting. The most iconic video game characters are often easy to recognize just by the sound of their voices, a feature that helps define many of the memorable ones. The distinctive voice of a classic character can become inseparable from that of their longtime voice actor, and sometimes the voice is so unique that it makes the character unforgettable. However, a character’s voice doesn’t stand out merely because it’s provided by a prolific voice actor, but because an actor’s performance in that particular role is exceptional. The following are our picks for the ones that stuck with us most. 

Please note that this article contain spoilers, particularly in the first and last entries.

10. Atlas/Frank Fontaine (Karl Hanover/Greg Baldwin): Bioshock

Atlas’ voice is one of the first you hear in Rapture, and he wastes no time getting on your good side. It’s easy to form an attachment to the only sane, living thing you hear on a regular basis, and Karl Hanover’s endearing voice makes it that much easier. Hearing his very believable grief upon the “deaths” of his wife and son makes it difficult not to trust him completely. On the heels of the game’s most iconic scene comes the revelation that “Atlas” is merely a cover for infamous crime lord Frank Fontaine, voiced by Greg Baldwin. Having to listen to a once-trusted voice transform into that of the infamous crime lord is downright appalling, and the transition from Hanover to Baldwin is masterfully executed. Fontaine/Atlas earns his spot on this list because the majority of his performance is solely auditory.

9. Mario (Charles Martinet): Super Mario series

Back in his 8-bit days, Mario smashed goombas just fine without a voice. Now it’s impossible to imagine anything but an overdone Italian accent coming out of his mustachioed mouth. Mario’s Game Gallery was the first title to feature the plumber with a voice, and likewise is Charles Martinet’s first in-game performance in his most famous role. Martinet came up with the voice himself, and provides it for both the English and Japanese versions of the Mario games. 

8. Nathan Drake (Nolan North): Uncharted series

Nolan North is one of the foremost voice actors in the video game industry. Given the scores of characters North voiced in the past, it’s especially amazing how distinctive his portrayal of Nathan Drake is. Like a modern-day Indiana Jones, Drake is always cracking wise regardless of the trouble he’s in. It doesn’t matter if he’s dodging bullets, getting hurt, trading barbs with Elena, or just being a weirdo. Let’s face it: Drake is a total goofball, and gamers love him for it. North’s snarky delivery of the dialogue is a huge part of what makes Drake the sarcastic guy that he is.

7. Solid Snake (David Hayter): Metal Gear series

Until recently, David Hayter has been the one and only voice of Solid Snake. Hayter adopts a deep, gruff voice for the role, a portrayal that’s considered to be a real classic in the history of video game voice acting. Long-time fans are still reeling from the casting of Keifer Sutherland as Snake for MGSV. Hearing Sutherland’s voice for Snake in released footage of the intro sequence is strange.

6. Sam Fisher (Michael Ironside): Splinter Cell series

Like Snake, Sam Fisher has – until recently – been voiced by only one man since the character’s inception. Fisher is a veteran operative, and Michael Ironside’s gravelly voice has always provided a sense of the enormous amount of experience Fisher has in the field – which is why the more youthful voice of Eric Johnson, Fisher’s new voice actor, is so jarring for longtime fans. Not to say that Eric Johnson isn’t doing a fine job in the role, but his Fisher feels like a different man. The increasing use of motion capture technology in development has allowed for a greater degree of realism in video games. In an effort to further enhance that realism, the same actor often performs both the motion capture and the voice of a character. Still, many fans would’ve preferred hearing no voice at all, rather than listening to a new performer.

[Next up: See which characters land a spot in our top five]

5. Balthier (Gideon Emery): Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII has some of the best voice-acting in the franchise, and Gideon Emery’s portrayal of the sky pirate Balthier is especially compelling. Everything about Balthier is suave and sexy, clever and controlled. His voice is no exception. When Balthier speaks, you better listen because Emery’s portrayal of the pirate is a true pleasure to hear. Emery puts so much emotion into everything Balthier says, and still maintains the sense that every word the man speaks is carefully chosen. Thanks to Emery’s performance in the role, players are dying to know what Balthier’s hiding by the time his history is finally revealed.

4. Commander Shepard (Jennifer Hale): Mass Effect series

Jennifer Hale always delivers quality voice acting, but her role as the female version of Commander Shepard is her best performance yet. Regardless of the player’s moral choices, Shepard is consistently portrayed as brave and determined, an impression that is greatly enforced by her voice. Even before controlling her at all, Shepard’s voice conveys how strong and authoritative she is. It is easily distinguishable from Hale’s previous voice work by the lower, sometimes even gruff quality she produces for the role. Hearing such a powerful voice come out of a character you customize and control is empowering.

3. The Joker (Mark Hamill) – Batman: Arkham series

The Arkham series of Batman video games are some of the most successful superhero titles to date. One of many things the series has going for it is its voice acting. Kevin Conroy excels in the role of Batman, but what is a hero without a villainous clown? Those of us who grew up watching shows from the DC animated universe can easily recall the Joker’s psychotic laughter and unique voice, courtesy of Mark Hamill. Arkham’s Joker is both more familiar and more sinister with Hamill reprising his celebrated role. We can only wish Troy Baker luck in stepping into Hamill’s enormous clown shoes in the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins.

2. Master Chief (Steve Downes) – Halo series

The Master Chief is a man of few words, making his few spoken lines all the more impactful. Steve Downes’ delivery of these lines makes all the difference. Players never see the Chief’s face, and it’s hard to relate to someone with superhuman abilities and no fear. Downes humanizes the Chief without compromising his stoicism. Before anyone learned that “John” was the Chief’s name, his voice taught us to see him as more than just Spartan 117.

1. GLaDOS (Ellen Mclain) – Portal series

Having an Artificial Intelligence as an antagonist is certainly not a new concept, but the Portal series’ GLaDOS breathes new life into the trope. As with Fontaine, players don’t meet GLaDOS "in person" for most of the game, so her voice is very influential in how they perceive her character. Mclain’s deadpan delivery makes GLaDOS’ taunts both hilarious and infuriating. Stephen Merchant’s performance in the role of Portal 2’s Wheatley is excellent as well, but it's GLaDOS’ eerie yet musical voice that really stays with you. Years after the last game came out, people are still making fan films about Portal and its metallic matriarch. As a bonus, both Portal games conclude with a song from GLaDOS, whose singing voice is just as haunting as her regular one.

 Let us know what you think of our selections in the comments. Did we forget anyone? What characters would be in your top ten?