Many voice actors have hands-on experience with the games they work on in some way. Genshin Impact’s Zach Aguilar regularly hosts streams related to the game with fellow voice actors. Brianna White, who voices Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Remake, has streamed casual walkthroughs of herself playing the game. However, when it comes to fighting games, it’s more difficult to find actors who can really play, let alone compete in an actual tournament.
Alex Gross is one of the few.
Gross voices Axl Low, British time traveler and resident Guilty Gear zoner. He talked about his experience as a competitive Guilty Gear player at Anime NYC, which is why I reached out to him to talk more about how his knowledge of the game affected the newest iteration of Axl in Guilty Gear Strive. Besides Axl, Gross has also voiced Eric from Boyfriend Dungeon, Toru Iwashimizu from Free!, and additional voices in popular games like Persona 5: Strikers. He’s also a full-time streamer and Twitch partner who goes by 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 from past games and what inspired your take on Axl?
I’ve been playing Guilty Gear since Sharp Reload, so I’ve been playing for a long, long time. The first game where any Guilty Gear characters had English voices was Guilty Gear 2: Overture, but Axl wasn’t in that game. The first game where he had an English voice was Xrd Sign, and he was played by Liam O’Brien.
So I’d heard him doing the English accent. But, when I got the audition, I didn’t want to copy him. I didn’t want to just do an impression of him, right? Because in the specs, it said “we’re going in a different direction,” which I think kind of meant “we’re just recasting just because we want to try something different.” So I was just like, “Well, I’m just gonna do my best English accent.”
Keiichi Nanba, who plays him in Japanese, goes a little higher. His voice is up a little bit. So I just put on the accent, made it a little higher, and you got Axl right there.
What kind of feel were you going for? Like, kind of lighthearted or goofy?
Axl is a very goofy character. They describe him in the specs as “an optimist all the time, unless he’s losing,” which was really funny. That’s the sort of the role that I get booked for the most — the lighthearted, roguish goofball, and so that’s how I tried to play him. 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?
I love that the character design is so off the wall and the story is wild. I actually originally played more BlazBlue than I did Guilty Gear because, at the time, BlazBlue was more accessible online than Guilty Gear was, and so that was really just where more people were playing. But, I like the music in Guilty Gear slightly more. It has that harder edge to it, and everything’s all rock and roll-inspired, which is cool. I’m all about that.
It’s more comedic. I think there’s a lot more comedy in it than there is in BlazBlue. So, I just vibe with the whole aesthetic and the whole feel of Guilty Gear, and I always have. I really, I really love it.
So how did it go when you got the audition? Did somebody tell you, “Hey, we’re auditioning for Guilty Gear, and we think you’d do a good job at it?”
It was totally just by chance. Well, kind of by chance. I knew that the studio PCB had done the previous dubs. They did Sign and they did Overture. I’d worked with them before on Persona 5: Strikers and I’d taken their class.
So I reached out to one of the casting directors, Val, who’s just the best, and I was like, “Hey, I don’t know if you guys are doing the dub for this, but if you are, I would love to audition.” I reached out because, one, we had a working professional relationship. Two, I’d taken their class, so they knew who I was. And, you know, what’s the worst they’re gonna say? “Ah, sorry, we’re not doing it here.” What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll say no, right? Or they’ll say “It’s already cast, sorry. “
She was like, “Oh my gosh, yes. Here, read for these two parts. Read for Axl and for Happy Chaos.” And so I said, okay, yeah, sure. So I auditioned for both those parts. Two days later, they emailed me and were like, you booked Axl. So that was crazy. That was insane.
How did your game knowledge come in handy in the studio?
I knew as soon as I saw certain lines that I was reading that they didn’t have to explain the context of them at all. Basically, the only ones they had to explain were for the story when we were recording the story mode. I had to say a line that was just written as “Yahoo,” but I knew what that was because I’d heard [Axl] say it a million times in Japanese.
I was like, “Oh, is this 6H?” And they’re like, “how do you know that?” (laughs) Originally, Axl was supposed to say “Sickle Strike,” but I asked them, because Arc System was on the phone, “Can I say Rensengeki instead?” Because that’s what it is. That’s the name of the move in Japanese. And they’re like, “Yeah, sure record it.” So there’s a recording of me out there somewhere saying [Sickle Strike], but they just kept me saying Rensengeki in the game files.
“It’s rock and roll the fighting game, baby. Let’s go!”
So, when I was recording, I knew not only about the character’s personality but also about the mechanics of the game, where the lines were in relation, and the context of the game itself. I knew what all the animations looked like. I’ve seen them all, so I knew what they were and I knew them by name. It’s not like they had to be like, “This is a thing where he runs up and does a clothesline.” They could just say, “This is Winter Mantis.”
Were you always a fighting game person?
I’ve played fighting games since I was very, very little. My cousin had me play the Ranma 1/2 fighting game for the SNES. I remember playing a lot of that at his house. And, you know, Street Fighter II for the SNES, Mortal Kombat, all that stuff. So I’ve always been interested in them, but I didn’t really start taking them seriously until Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV was the first time I was really like, oh, I want to learn how to play these games. That’s when I started really practicing, going to tournaments, playing online a lot, and competing with other people.
What was it about Street Fighter IV that was special?
A close friend of mine brought it over, and he just wiped the floor with me. I didn’t even know what was happening. It lit a fire under my ass, so to speak, and I was like, I want to actually learn how to play-play, not just mash buttons.
It was really motivating to just try and be better. You get to those steps and you see your progress, and it really does make you feel good about learning this skill. So it was just wanting to compete and beat my friend, who really made me want to try more.
You also participated in Evo and Arc Revo before, right?
Yeah. I qualified for ArcRevo the World Tour in 2019.
How did your experience go with those competitions?
This past year at EVO was the best I’ve ever done. I think I got 48th or something like that. Previously, in 2017, I made it at Pools, but immediately got bopped out of Pools. But that was for Rev. I did pretty well and I lost to two really good players, so I don’t feel too bad about it. In the Winners Final of my pool, I had to fight Lord Knight, who made Top 8 at EVO, and he’s just a really good player in general. 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’ve made Top 8 in some regionals. I got like third at SCR Saga in 2018. I made Top 8 at NCR back in 2017. I play a lot of tournaments. I mean, I’ve made Top 8 pretty consistently at 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 quite as sharp as it was when the game was newer. But yeah, I love competing. I love being in tournaments.
What kind of advice would you give to people who want to compete in Guilty Gear?
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 pitfall that a lot of people coming into fighting games fall into. They immediately start learning combos, but then don’t learn the practical applications of where their normals are going to hit so you can start those combos. So when they encounter those situations, they’re not doing the combos that they learned because they’re just swinging randomly, or they don’t know spacing or neutral very well.
So it’s really important to learn: How does your character move? What’s what are their jumping normals? What’s the spacing on those jumping normals? Some characters have different walk and run speeds, so that kind of thing is just very good to know first. Then, once you figure that out, learn the system mechanics, learn what you can do with RCs, and Drift RCs, and all that kind of stuff. It’ll all start coming from there, and then you can start learning combos.
When you were learning yourself, were you the kind of person who just kept playing until you got it right, or did you look up particular tutorials or something?
I did it the absolute wrong way and just started playing, and then picked up a bunch of bad habits, and then had to go into the lab and get rid of those habits. I basically labbed a little bit, and then went online and started playing randos, and then started winning and was like, “I’m good,” then played someone who’s actually good and got my ass beat. And I was like, “Oops, never mind, I’m bad.” (laughs) Then I had to go into the lab and unlearn all the dumb stuff that I was doing.
Don’t be like me, kids. Don’t be like me.
So basically, lab? (laughs)
Yes, yes. Learn a lot of things in a controlled environment first, and then play people at your skill level and gradually increase from there. Play people better than you, too! Playing people worse than you doesn’t get you anything. But, if you play people better than you, you’re gonna improve really fast.
I get that. If it’s not somebody you can learn from, then it’s not gonna really do you much.
Plus, they’re gonna fall for things that good players won’t. They’ll fall for very easy setups and that doesn’t really cause you to think very hard. Some of the most exciting matches I learned the most from are the ones that were really close. The ones that were just like, I won by a pixel. I had like one hit left, and I won. It really forced me to play the best that I could, or to the best of my ability, rather than just absolutely wiping the floor with somebody. It looks cool, but it doesn’t really make me feel better or teach me a lot as a player.
If you had to get people into Guilty Gear, how would you sell it to them?
It’s rock and roll the fighting game, baby. Let’s go!
If you’re interested in following Alex, you can find him on Twitter, Twitch, or YouTube. Maybe even watch him at Guilty Gear-centered tournament Frost Faustings, which takes place through January 28 to 30, or jump into a community tournament.
Guilty Gear Strive is available for PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. It also won Fighting Game of the Year at the 2021 The Game Awards, which rocks.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.