Many voice actors have some sort of hands-on experience with the games they work on. Genshin Impact Zach Aguilar regularly hosts streams related to the game with fellow voice actors. Brianna White, who voices Aerith Final Fantasy VII Remake, broadcast casual instructions about herself while playing the game. However, when it comes to fighting games, it’s harder to find actors who can do it really play, let alone compete in a real tournament.
Alex Gross is one of the few.
The awful voices of Axl Low, British time traveler and resident of the Guilty Gear zone. He talked about his competitive experience Guilty Gear player at Anime NYC, which is why I reached out to him to talk more about how his knowledge of the game has influenced the latest iteration of Axl in Guilty Gear Strive. In addition to Axl, Gross also voiced Eric from Boyfriend DungeonToru Iwashimizu from Free!and additional voices in popular games like Persona 5: Strikers. He is also a regular streamer and Twitch partner using Octopimp.
Gross gave me some insight into his history with the fighting game community and how he found his voice for Axl. He also offered some helpful tips for newcomers looking to get into competitive fighting games like Guilty Gear Strive.
What did you take away from past games and what inspired your take on Axl?
Guilty Gear -Strive- Beginner’s Guide #4 – Axl
I’ve been playing Guilty Gear ever since Sharp Reload, so I’ve been playing for a long, long time. The first game where Guilty Gear characters had English voices was Guilty Gear 2: Overture, but Axl wasn’t in that game. The first game in which he had an English voice was Xrd characterand was played by Liam O’Brien.
So I heard him speak with an English accent. But when I came to the audition, I didn’t want to copy him. I didn’t just want to create an impression of him, did I? Because the specs said “we’re going in a different direction”, which I think meant “we’re just remaking it because we want to try something different.” So I said, “Well, I’ll just do my best English accent.”
Keiichi Nanba, who plays him in Japanese, goes a little higher. His voice is a little higher. I just put the emphasis on it, turned it up a little bit, and you got Axl right there.
What kind of feeling did you want? Like, a little carefree or goofy?
Axl is a very silly character. The specs describe him as “optimistic all the time, unless he’s losing”, which was really funny. That’s the kind of role I’m most reserved for – a carefree, roguish buffoon, so I tried to play him that way. There are characters in that game that are extremely serious, and there are characters that are played for comedy, and he’s definitely one of the more comedic characters.
How did Guilty Gear become your favorite series?
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I love that the character designs are so off the wall and the story is wild. I actually played more originally BlazBlue but I made Guilty Gear because, at the time, BlazBlue it was more accessible online than Guilty Gear, so more people actually played there. But I like the music in Guilty Gear a bit more. It has that harder edge and it’s all rock and roll inspired, which is cool. I’m all about it.
It’s more comical. I think there’s a lot more comedy in it than there is BlazBlue. So I just vibe with the whole aesthetic and the whole feel of Guilty Gear, and I always have. I really, really love it.
So how was it when you came to the audition? Has anyone ever said to you, “Hey, we’re auditioning for Guilty Gear and we think you’d do well?”
It was completely accidental. Well, kind of by accident. I knew it was Studio PCB made previous syncs. They are Sign and they did Overture. I’ve worked with them before Persona 5: Strikers and I took their class.
So I went to one of the casting directors, Val, who is just the best, and I said, “Hey, I don’t know if you’re doing dubbing for this, but if you are, I’d love to audition.” I reached out because, first, we had a working professional relationship. Second, I was in their class, so they knew who I was. And, you know, what’s the worst thing they’ll say? “Ah, sorry, we won’t do that here.” What’s the worst that can happen? They’re going to say no, aren’t they? Or they will say: “It’s already been cast, sorry.” “
She said, “Oh my God, yes. Here, read for these two parts. Read for Axl and for Happy Chaos.” And so I said, okay, yes, of course. So I auditioned for both parts. Two days later they emailed me and said you booked Axl. Well that was crazy. That was insane.
How did your knowledge of games come in handy in the studio?
As soon as I saw certain lines I was reading, I knew they didn’t need to explain their context at all. Basically, the only thing they had to explain was for the story when we were shooting the story mode. I had to say a sentence that was just spelled “Yahoo” but I knew what it was because I heard it [Axl] say that a million times in Japanese.
I thought, “Oh, is this a 6H?” And they’re like, “How do you know that?” (laughs) Originally, Axl was going to say “Sickle Strike,” but I asked them, because Arc System was on the phone, “Can I say Rensengeki instead?” Because it is what it is. That’s the name of the move in Japanese. And they say: “Yes, of course record.” There is a recording of me speaking somewhere out there [Sickle Strike]but they just kept me writing Rensengeki in the game files.
“It’s a rock and roll fighting game, baby. Let’s go!”
So while I was filming, I knew not only about the character’s personality, but also about the mechanics of the game, where the lines are in relation to the context of the game itself. I knew what all the animations looked like. I had seen them all, so I knew what they were and I knew them by name. Not that they had to be like, “This is the thing where he runs and clotheslines.” They could have simply said, “This is Winter Mantis.”
Have you always been a fan of fighting games?
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I’ve been playing fighting games since I was very, very young. My cousin made me play Ranma 1/2 a fighting game for the SNES. I remember playing a lot at his house. And you know Street Fighter II for SNES, Mortal Kombat, all those things. I’ve always been interested in them, but I didn’t start taking them seriously until Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV it was the first time I really thought, oh, I want to learn to play these games. Then I started really practicing, going to tournaments, playing a lot online and competing with other people.
What was special about Street Fighter IV?
A close friend of mine brought it over and just mopped the floor with me. I didn’t even know what was going on. He lit a fire under my ass, so to speak, and I said, I want to actually learn to play-play, not just mash buttons.
It was really motivating just to try to get better. You get to those steps and see your progress, and you really feel good about learning this skill. So, I just wanted to compete and beat my friend, who really pushed me to try harder.
You’ve also participated in Evo and Arc Revo before, right?
That. I have qualified for the 2019 ArcRevo World Tour.
How was your experience with these competitions?
Last year at EVO was the best I’ve ever done. I think I got 48 or so. Earlier, in 2017, I made it to Pools, but was immediately kicked out of the Pool. But that was for Rev. I was pretty good and I lost to two really good players, so I don’t feel too bad about it. In the final of the winner of my pool I had to fight Lord Knight, who made the Top 8 at EVO, and is generally a very good player. So I didn’t feel bad about losing to him, and it was very close.
“This is good advice for any fighting game, but don’t focus so much on learning combos right away.”
I was in the top 8 at some regionals. I was 3rd at SCR Saga 2018. I made top 8 at NCR 2017. I play a lot of tournaments. I mean, I was in the Top 8 pretty consistently on Wednesday Night Fights. It’s been a minute just because I’m playing other stuff and I’m really busy right now so my gameplay isn’t as sharp as it was when the game was newer. But yes, I like to compete. I like to be in tournaments.
What advice would you give to people who want to compete in Guilty Gear?
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Learn movement and spacing first – don’t learn combos. This is good advice for any fighting game, but don’t focus so much on learning combos right away. That’s such a big trap that a lot of people who get into fighting games fall into. They immediately start learning combos, but then they don’t learn practical applications where their normals will hit so you can start those combos. So when they encounter these situations, they don’t execute the combos they’ve learned because they just swing randomly or don’t know the spacing or neutral very well.
Therefore, it is very important to learn: How does your character move? What are their normal jumps? What is the spacing on those jumping normals? Some characters have different walking and running speeds, so it is very good to know such things first. Then, once you figure that out, you learn the mechanics of the system, you learn what you can do with RCs, and Drift RCs, and all that stuff. Everything will start coming from there, and then you can start learning combos.
When you were teaching yourself, were you the type of person to just keep playing until you got it right, or did you look for specific instructions or something?
I did it the wrong way and I just started playing and then I picked up a bunch of bad habits and then I had to go to the lab and get rid of those habits. I basically experimented a little bit, and then I went online and started playing random games, and then I started winning and I was like, “I’m good,” and then I played with someone who actually well i got beat up too. And I said, “Oops, never mind, I’m bad.” (laughs) Then I had to go to the lab and unlearn all the stupid things I was doing.
Don’t be like me, kids. Don’t be like me.
So basically, a lab? (laughter)
Yes Yes. Learn a lot of stuff in a controlled environment first, then play with people at your skill level and gradually work your way up from there. Play with people better than you! Playing tricks on people who are worse than you doesn’t get you anything. But if you play people better than you, you’ll progress really fast.
I understand that. If it’s not someone you can learn from, then it’s not going to help you very much.
Plus, they’ll fall for things that good players won’t. It will fall for very simple setups, and it doesn’t really make you think too hard. Some of the most exciting matches that I learned the most from were the ones that were really close. The ones that were like that, I won by a pixel. I had one shot left and I won. It really made me play my best, or my best, instead of just completely wiping the floor with someone. It looks cool, but it doesn’t really make me feel better or teach me much as a player.
If you had to get people into Guilty Gear, how would you sell it to them?
It’s a rock and roll fighting game, baby. Let’s go!
If you’re interested in following Alex, you can find him at Twitter, Twitch or YouTube. You might even be watching it in the Guilty Gear-focused Frost Faustings tournament, which takes place January 28-30, or jump into the community tournament.
Guilty Gear Strive it’s available for PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. It also won Fighting Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2021, which is fantastic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.