Aleks Le, the actor who portrays Sonon in FF7R EPISODE INTERmission, explains why FINAL FANTASY is so close to his heart, and why you should never ask him for gameplay tips.
By Duncan Heaney

Sonon Kusakabe makes quite an impact in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE’s new adventure: FF7R EPISODE INTERmission.

The Wutai ninja accompanies fan-favorite character Yuffie on her mission into Midgar, providing support, guidance and some truly awesome synergized ninja moves too!

One of the things that makes him so memorable is the incredible performance by his English voice actor, Aleks Le. We recently sat down with Aleks to talk about how he brought Sonon to such vivid life.

But we started with some good ol’ fashioned FINAL FANTASY fanboying…

How familiar were you with FINAL FANTASY VII before playing Sonon?

I have quite a history with FINAL FANTASY VII. It was one of the first 3D games I ever played.

Actually, when I initially played it, it was an imported version of the game from America. I didn’t know how to read English at the time, so I didn’t really know what was going on with the story.

I could infer things from the visuals though - so I knew about the iconic characters and events.

The very first title that I played and understood was FINAL FANTASY X. That one I almost beat - I couldn’t defeat the last boss. But I had a lot of fun with that game, and that’s when I fell in love with the series.

And, of course, when FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE came out, I just had to play it for myself. That was the first FINAL FANTASY I ever completed - so by the time I got the role of Sonon, I already knew quite a bit about the series.

So, having played the game, how did it feel to find out you were going to be in it?

I mean… I can’t really put it into words (laughs).

When I auditioned, I didn’t know that it was for FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE specifically, though I had my suspicious based on the information they gave me. When I received the email, I was like: “(gasps) yes!”

I didn’t quite scream, but I did have a kind of heavy breathing fit afterwards where I was silently celebrating and fist-pumping in the air for quite a long time (laughs). It was a good day for me.

Unlike characters like Yuffie, Nero or Weiss, Sonon’s a new face for the series. Were you concerned about this?

No, it actually relieved a lot of the pressure for me.

With things like remakes and remasters, there’s usually a lot of pressure for an actor to stand out or live up to the original performance - particularly if they’re new to the series. There are always lots of opinions and comparisons to different interpretations of the role.

I’ve always found it stressful to have your work constantly nitpicked - not for the quality of your performance, but for the sake of comparing it to prior interpretations - so when it came to Sonon, I was relieved that he hadn’t been played by anyone else before.

That gave me a lot of scope as an actor to put my own spin on him and, in a way, make him my own.

Do you have a sense of ownership over the character as a result?

Not necessarily ‘ownership’ - I don’t own the character after all. It’s more of a sense of freedom. I feel like I get to help be a part of the process in creating the character.

But in no way is the character mine I’m just there to play a role - I’m just there to aid the creators in their efforts to make a great character.

And of course, there are international counterparts too. Overseas in Japan, Yoshimasa Hosoya plays Sonon and I really appreciate his work. I feel he was a bigger part than me in the creation.

But even then, no one actor owns the character.

Sonon is a character whose calm demeanour hides a lot of internal strife, which I think comes through in your performance…

That was a huge point of discussion when I was in the recording booth.

Initially, the plan for the character was to have him be a bit more of a carefree, brotherly type of character, but we decided to zone in on his seriousness and how dedicated he is to the mission.

I didn’t want to make him too outgoing, or too carefree because that would play against all the angst he has inside. The time we spent with him would have been more flippant, and more inconsistent if we went with something like that.

Of course, Yuffie’s there to break his concentration from time to time, but I feel like we found a good balance between being stoic and brooding, and also leaving a little bit of room for fun with Yuffie. And when it came to the battle stuff, we really went in on it (laughs).

I’m pretty happy with what we got in the end.

Was it challenging to find the right balance?

I found it was easy to slip into a more aggressive, rage-filled interpretation, especially with what he’s gone through - that Sonon who’s filled with anger and hatred.

But, for me, Sonon is also someone who’s a skilled fighter, who’s disciplined. It was hard to keep that balance, but I had a lot of help from the director.

He would pull me back when we went too far off the deep end, and basically say: “hey, you’ve got to calm down a little bit here. Yes he’s angry, but he’s also disciplined and focused on the mission. He’s not the type to let his anger get ahead of him when there’s something that needs to be done or someone that needs to be protected.”

His pride doesn’t come first, and that was one of the hardest things to find in the performance.

Sonon and Yuffie’s interactions are frequently hilarious. Did you work with Suzie Yeung (Yuffie) directly for that?

With videogames, there’s not a lot of opportunity for actors to work directly together.

Sometimes, very rarely, they would play me Suzie’s interactions with Sonon so I could play off her. That really helped to hear what she sounded like when she was setting up the scene.

A lot of Sonon’s comedy in the episode comes from how he reacts to Yuffie’s antics, so hearing them really helped me add to the performance.

Is there a particular scene or moment that you’re particularly proud of?

Before I’d played the game, I was proud of all the battle scenes, all the intense stuff that we did. Usually when you get to go ham is when you make the most memorable moments when recording (laughs).

But when I played it, I found that all the very subtle interactions with Yuffie were my favorite parts. When you record it, you don’t always fully understand the whole scene, so when I saw it all come together, and Sonon with Yuffie, I was like: “Wow. It came out really good!”

I never expected it to play quite that well. Of course, Suzie really helped with that - her performance really added to the dynamic of the two. They’re really likeable together and I’m a big fan of the scenes where Sonon’s just sort of face-palming over all the things that Yuffie’s doing!

How does it feel when you see those scenes in the final game? Did it match what was in your head, or were you taken by surprise?

It was wild! When I was recording, I never got to see what the scenes looked like - well, until the very last day, but even then, it was just an untextured cutscene that was about 30 seconds long.

So, when I was playing Sonon, I had to visualize the scene in my head. For some simpler moments, like Sonon and Yuffie on the train, that was easy to visualize, so when I saw that in the game, it matched my expectations.

But for the most part, it was completely mind-blowing when I saw how the scenes came together, and how good they looked.

I mean, it wasn’t exactly a surprise - FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE looks really, really good, right? But it was still amazing to see how many details there are. Everything was so gorgeous that when I saw it for the first time, I completely forgot how it was to record the game.

I dunno - I was mind-blown. I’m still at a loss for words, honestly (laughs).

Is it rare that you can turn off your actor brain like that and enjoy the scene?

Yeah, it’s kind of an actor’s curse that when you’re so far into the arts that you become aware of everything. I’m sure that’s the same for animators, or sound designers - any career in the arts.

For me, I find it super hard to enjoy videogames, cartoons or even live action movies without thinking of the performances.

And to be honest, this was no different as I played through. Every time I hear a line I’d think: “I could have done that better”, or pat myself on the back and be, like: “okay - that wasn’t bad.”

But the episode also gave me a lot of room to enjoy other people’s performances. Every time I heard Suzie, I was thinking: “Wow, Yuffie sounds great.” I wasn’t even thinking of the actor’s name. I got completely lost in the world and the game.

So, the only thing that stood out to me was my performance, but I’m sure that’s the same for a lot of actors (laughs).

Finally, having played through the episode now, do you have any pro tips on how to get the most out of Sonon?

Yes - go online and onto YouTube and get some pro tips on how to get the most out of Sonon (laughs)!

Actually, I did need a bit of a refresher when I played through EPISODE INTERmission. My memory is like a sponge and everything I learn about a game basically leaves my head the moment I finish it.

So, I implore you - go find some tips from someone more qualified (laughs).

Many thanks to Aleks for speaking to us about Sonon and his time in Midgar. You can see his terrific performance as the stoic ninja of Wutai in FF7R EPISODE INTERmission - available on PS5 now.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE INTERGRADE is out for PS5 now. The new episode - FF7R EPISODE INTERmission is included with all new copies of the game on PS5.

If you already own FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE for the PlayStation 4 (physical or digital version) and own a PlayStation 5, you can download the free FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE PlayStation 5 enhancement update (an internet connection is required to download it).

This update does not include FF7R EPISODE INTERmission. FF7R EPISODE INTERmission can be purchased separately as a digital download via the PlayStation Store.

Note: that the PS4 version of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE given to PlayStation Plus members is not eligible for the PS5 digital version upgrade.

In addition, if you have purchased FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE (physical edition) for PlayStation 4, and own the PlayStation 5 digital edition (the model without a disc drive) then you are not eligible to download the upgrade.

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