On June 11, 2023, hundreds of Final Fantasy fans from around the world gathered on a small studio sound stage in Los Angeles to commemorate the coming release of Final Fantasy XVI on PlayStation 5. The event was filled with fun events including photo opportunities with a giant Ifrit sculpture, demo stations to try out the Eikonic Challenge, autograph sessions with the voice cast and developers, and live panels highlighting the music, story, and combat of the game.
In between all of the fun opportunities during the event, we were lucky enough to get the chance to interview Ben Starr and Ralph Ineson, the voices of Clive Rosfield and Cidolfus Telamon, and learn more about their experience while working on Final Fantasy XVI.
When I asked Ben and Ralph what their inspirations were when they were performing their roles as Clive and Cid respectively, Ralph said it was the script and the character backgrounds that allowed him to find the voice for Cid. “The fact that Cid’s been a soldier all his life, he’s kind of a toughened man–that informs his humor.”
For Ben, he drew on the more personal tragedies that Clive experiences throughout the story of Final Fantasy XVI to breathe life into him. “You’ve got to make him relatable–he’s still a hero, so you have to draw from life experiences. At the beginning of the game, Clive goes through a lot. He experiences a lot of loss. That really inspires what happens to him for the rest of the game. He’s so defined by those great, fateful moments.”
The way Clive and Cid interact with others in the world of Valisthea is extremely important to how they grow as people. Ben felt that it was those interactions that inspired Clive, especially his interactions with Cid. “How does he take that desperation and move from there? The fact that I got to work with Ralph, who is a massive inspiration, enabled me to figure out how Clive would maneuver through that.” After all, both Clive and Cid are unique in that they are Dominants–people capable of transforming into magical, all-powerful beings called Eikons. These Eikons are capable of mass amounts of destruction, and the way they are treated within the world of Valisthea varies from being treated like gods to being scorned as monsters. When Clive and Cid meet, they form a deep bond of trust and respect with each other. “It was that interplay between us that helped us figure out how each of the characters could grow individually and also together.”
“We were blessed with the process. Usually in video game acting, you do it on your own just with a director and engineer and you in the booth. This time they made the great choice of putting us in the studio together for the first few sessions so we could bounce off of each other,” Ralph mentioned as he reflected on the unique recording experience they had. “We got to find these characters and make them real, human before we launched into a huge story.”
“It wasn’t done in isolation. All human conversations are real because it is an interaction between two people. To have that physical interaction is so cool.” Ben had some funny anecdotes about his recording sessions with Ralph, emphasizing how cool the technology was while dealing with the humorous, yet awkward attempts at acting out certain scenes. “We had the big head cams on so we couldn’t be too close together so we don’t hit the two together.”
In fact, recording with the motion capture head cameras caused some difficulties for Ralph’s performance. Ben remarked that he remembered an instance when Ralph had to mime smoking for a scene in a later part of the game. “How do you mime putting something in your mouth when you can’t put your fingers in front of the camera?”
This sort of voice over work was unique and had its own challenges, but when asked about the level of freedom they were given with their performances, Ralph felt that there was little need to deviate from the script that was laid out. He had a lot of praise for the writing of Final Fantasy XVI. “There’s not much you want to change about it. It’s a matter of bringing the humanity to it within the rhythm of the script.”
“When you work with someone, it’s about getting those vocal textures. Cid has a very particular cadence and a way of speaking that Ralph brought to him individually, and I had to do a very similar thing–bring my own sense of self to this role. The freedom we had was that we got an amazing script and there isn’t a blueprint of how to perform it.” Ben further explained that performing certain lines would lead to a delivery that was least expected, which defined the level of freedom they were given when acting out their roles and the different nuances in these deliveries helped to make the story relatable.
Both Ben and Ralph have a wealth of skill and talent as actors, bringing their on-camera skills to their voice acting performances in Final Fantasy XVI. Ralph has an extensive 30-year career as an actor, having been in major projects like A24’s The Green Knight, HBO’s Chernobyl, BBC’s The Office, and more, but he’s fairly fresh in the voice acting arena. He began taking on more voice acting roles about four years ago after being asked to join on board a few different video games. “I take whatever job comes in on its merits–the quality of the script, the quality of the character.”
Comparatively, Ben has 10 years of acting experience, but voicing Clive in Final Fantasy XVI was one of his first major voice acting roles. “What was great about this call was when we did our auditions, they weren’t just vocal auditions. They filmed us as well because I think they wanted a lot of people who worked in film and television to audition for this. That’s the texture they wanted for the roles, so people who normally wouldn’t audition for the roles were given the opportunity.” Ben expressed a lot of excitement over being able to audition for a project like this game. “It was a great opportunity for me to do something this extensively. It was one audition that changed my life.”
Final Fantasy just celebrated its 35th anniversary, and the series has continued to grow extensively within those years. Millions of fans around the world have been waiting with bated breath for the release of this new numbered title, and Ralph, he hardly expected the franchise to be as celebrated as it is. “I was not blissfully unaware, but I did know it was a big video game franchise. I didn’t understand until I got to LA. We do the job in isolation, so we do the job purely and for the right reasons–artistically. We just come and enjoy all of this amazing stuff they are sharing with these fans who this means so much to.”
As for Ben, he has been a fan of Final Fantasy for a long time. “As a huge fan of this franchise, I’m blown away by the scale of where we are today. The importance of this franchise has never been lost on me. The fact that we are celebrating it in this way with so many fans shows the love of this franchise and excitement for this new entry. This is the first new mainline entry in years, and that anticipation is the reason why so many people are intrigued to see what the next thing is.” Clearly as a fan himself, Ben understands the importance this new release carries for old and new fans alike. “Fans of the series all have their favorite ones. Hopefully we’ll get loads of new fans because we’ve approached it differently this time. Hopefully this will be lots of people’s first entry into the franchise so they can discover all of the other amazing entries.”
With a new approach came a new sort of story being told in the Final Fantasy franchise. The game has been described as being darker, more grounded, and filled with storylines never before seen in a Final Fantasy game before. When discovering what it was like for Ben and Ralph to experience this sort of story with their characters, Ralph explained that it was an extremely immersive experience. “The nature of recording is that you tend to do it in three to four-hour really intensive sessions. You get a lot to do in that time. You don’t wait for lights to be reset or costumes to change. You really get a chance to emotionally invest in every line. You’re physically drained after every session, but it means that every minute of every hour of that four hours, you are really into it.”
Ben clearly agreed with Ralph’s assessment that they really invested so much of themselves into these characters. “You are seeing proper blood, sweat, and tears. We would come out of some of these sessions completely wrecked. For example, the prime noises. When the Eikons have to prime, it’s like a tension of your entire body. Sometimes you have to do that multiple times in a session as well as everything else, as well as the emotional story. They said this game is the equivalent of four seasons of a TV show. We’ve been intensely working on this game. There is so much story–so much character to experience. To get to embody that has been amazing. No one ever really gets to do this much material and in such a cool way on such a scale.”
Final Fantasy XVI is now available for PlayStation 5. You can read our review here.