Chris Hackney Interview: Genshin Impact's Kamisato Ayato

Genshin Impact\’s Kamisato Ayato is the hottest character in the game right now, with a release in Version 2.6 that\’s been followed by a prominent role in the current Hues of the Violet Garden event as well. As the head of the Kamisato clan, Ayato\’s the older brother of another fan favorite in Ayaka, and his relationships with other popular characters like Thoma and Arataki Itto have made him a huge focus for many players interested in Genshin Impact lore.

We spoke with Chris Hackney, the voice actor behind Kamisato Ayato\’s English vocalization. Hackney is an industry veteran with past experience in big video game roles, most prominently as Dmitri in Fire Emblem: The Three Houses. Hackney shared insight into what goes into voicing a character like Ayato, how to bring out the most interesting traits in any role, and his own long-running relationship with video games.

How did you end up getting the role of Ayato?

Chris Hackney: I just got lucky, and I got the audition. I\’m just lucky in that my agent sent it to me, and I knew what it was. It\’s all codenamed and stuff, but I had the character art, and I\’m like, \”Oh, this looks like a very familiar style. I wonder… What could this be?\”

That\’s actually perfect, because I wanted to know how much you knew about the character going into auditions. How much do they give you to work with?

Chris Hackney: They always give a basic breakdown. I\’m always lucky whenever any audition has a piece of the character\’s art. That\’s the thing that always helps me connect more with them, because a visual representation of you says a lot about who you are. That\’s big and important to me.But they always give a breakdown. There\’s the basics: he has a sister that he loves, he\’s the head of this group of people – in general terms, because it\’s all codenames. They don\’t give you the actual names of all the stuff.

Once you got the part, was there any specific character trait or motivation that you saw afterwards and found moving or exciting?

Chris Hackney: Ayato is very much the scheming, planning sort of dude. In the anime, he\’s the guy who\’s pushing his glasses up and coming up with the idea. I love that kind of character, who knows everything that\’s going on. In chess, he\’s always six moves ahead of you.I find that fascinating in a character, because I\’m just very much like, \”Whatever.\”

Is there anything else about him that you were really excited about? Beyond that, have you actually had a chance to play him in game at all?

Chris Hackney: I did the trial to try him out, which was kind of ridiculous. His move set seems really OP. I\’m like, \”Please don\’t nerf him!\”But I feel like they\’re gonna have to, because the boost to physical damage that he gives in his ability, plus leaving the shadow of himself and then just constant hits. The explosion with the constant damage like this, it\’s just way too much DPS – even though he\’s not meant to be built as a straightforward DPS. He\’s more of a supporting DPS.

I feel like the community has really embraced him, both as a character and as a unit to use in the game, which I feel isn\’t always the case. Is it a nice bonus that the character you got to work with is both beloved as a character and, like you\’re saying, kind of broken? He\’s amazing.

Chris Hackney: I love it. As a gamer, I love it. It was funny, because I didn\’t realize how important he was as a character to a lot of people until I got the part and started looking up all the subtweeting about him and stuff.People have been wanting to know more, because he\’s just been lore, basically, in the background. We hadn\’t seen him; nobody knew anything. The trailer for Itto was the first time you even heard him, so everyone\’s freaking out like, \”Oh my gosh, he\’s real!\” He\’s this guy in the background who\’s the shadow putting all the pawns in place? \”He really does exist.\”That, from a story perspective, was really cool for me to learn about. But it doesn\’t hurt that, like you said, he\’s broken. He\’s broken.

That clip was interesting to me too, because it felt like he was maybe even upstaging Itto a bit – which is tough to do, because he\’s popular too. But the community really latched onto that little hint that Ayato was there. Were you confident because of stuff like that, or is the reception now that he\’s launched still surprising?

Chris Hackney: Stuff like that always worries me more than anything, because people set an expectation like that for themselves, whether that\’s based off genuinely what\’s been handed and given out as far as the information on the character or what they\’ve set up as their headcanon. So, you\’ve got this worry of needing to live up to it in some way. That\’s always a little bit of an anxiety-inducing thing.I hope people think he\’s cool. I think he\’s cool, and I liked his story. It\’s funny, because the story that you play through is more of political intrigue and subterfuge. As like someone whose favorite Final Fantasy is Final Fantasy Tactics, that\’s what I\’m all about. But there was just always that worry of, \”Please don\’t set us up for failure. I hope you guys are actually cool with this.\”

Is that a character type, even beyond Genshin Impact, that you find yourself drawn to? Those behind-the-scenes, \”outsmarting my opponents before they even see me\” kind of characters.

Chris Hackney: Honestly, yes. But, in general, I like any character who\’s kind of the opposite of me. The big, boisterous villains or the super heroic or the really scheming and conniving ones. Because it gives me a chance to just be somebody totally not me, which is the most fun in the world.

Ayato has connections to some characters you\’ve played in the past. The one that jumped out to me the most was Bungou Stray Dogs, because Francis Fitzgerald is very much the same kind of behind-the-scenes guy. That \”I\’ve got all these resources, I\’m wealthy, I have a family that I care about\” kind of thing. Do those experiences help when you\’re reprising characters that are similar, or do they hurt because you\’ve got to make him different enough as an extra challenge?

Chris Hackney: I don\’t see it necessarily as having to make them totally different, because people can have the same motivations for what they do in their life.Family is a good one to have for anything, like with Francis. He\’s a villain, ot he starts off as a major villain, but he\’s doing a really horrible thing for what he sees is the right reason. Which I can\’t fault him for. This is a dude who was broken by family. Spoilers, I guess, but his daughter is gone – dead to the family – and it breaks his wife. All he wants to do is put his family back together, and he goes to such extreme lengths in order to do it. You kind of have to love and respect that, even though the length that he\’s willing to go to is murdering millions of people.Then for Ayato, his whole thing is about Ayaka and supporting her. Even in the trailer for his character demo, you see that he was one really helping to pull the strings when they were doing everything with the Tenshukaku. He\’s the man behind the mission, and he says, \”I was just doing a favor for my sister, but I can\’t let it get back to me.\” But even if it could possibly get back to him, he\’s like, \”Look, I\’ll do whatever I have to for her.\”People can have similar reasons for doing stuff, and they can still be different people in what they\’re doing. Good guy versus mass murderer of millions, but it still kind of comes from the same place.

Ayato gives you the chance to take the same character and make him a little bit nicer overall.

Chris Hackney: Especially because I know the Japanese VA also voices a super hated character in Honkai Impact, Otto.Seeing people tweet about the differences between the different vocalizations, that was the thing that I saw come up. Akira Ishida voices both Otto, which is this truly detestable character in Honkai, and then this beloved suave man in Genshin.

When you\’re doing these voice lines for Ayato, recording the character and fleshing them out, do you ever have access to vocalizations in other languages? Do you have the ability to see what other people are doing and be like, \”That\’s cool,\” or \”I wouldn\’t go that way?\”

Chris Hackney: No, with Ayato I had no idea. I didn\’t hear anything, except for a little bit of the Chinese when we were doing the ADR stuff – which is like the character demo and his story trailer. But that was recorded at the very end of everything.As far as setting the character up, we have someone there from miHoYo to keep us in line and Chris Faiella, the director, telling me what\’s happening. It\’s us trying to just craft something that makes sense to this world, and they can either tell us yes or no.

Is that stressful or exciting, to know that there\’s so many interpretations of this character that are going to come out? Do you ever measure yourself against them afterwards, or is it more just cool to see what other people have done with the same material?

Chris Hackney: It\’s a bit of both, because there\’s no way to not compare yourself to someone else. Especially if it\’s a beloved character actor from another country who has a massive following; it\’s hard not to compare yourself. But at the end of the day, they did their thing with the information they\’re given, and we did our thing with what we have.They could be characterized as totally different people, and that\’s kind of a fun thing for people to explore. They come from the same kind of story, but maybe they\’re coming at it from a different perspective. And you could switch languages to hear how that perspective influences the way the character is played.

Do you ever pay attention to the really deep dive fan theories that come out for the characters you\’ve portrayed? One that I\’ve noticed just recently with Ayato is that you voiced Francis in Bungou and his Japanese voice actor voiced Fyodor, so now there\’s this theory that maybe Ayato is a villain after all.

Chris Hackney: I\’m of two minds on it, honestly. Because it\’s awesome; if you love something, take your love for it, and run with it and enjoy it. You should do that with everything. But on the other hand, going back to what I was saying before about headcanoning, maybe you\’re gonna set yourself up for disappointment and failure. And I don\’t want you to do that either.I don\’t want to discourage anybody from doing it because, like I said, it\’s a piece of media so enjoy it however you want. Make your fanfiction about it and love it for how it is. Just don\’t be upset if maybe the reality of the actual canon doesn\’t line up with your headcanon in the end.

That is great advice for every fandom.

Chris Hackney: Because I do it too! I fan theorize about stuff that I play; with games and with movies and cartoons and stuff. I do it too. And it\’s hard not to be like, \”Oh man, it would have been better if… If this had happened, and if that had happened.\” But that\’s not how it actually happened. So, we have to just rest and experience and love it for what it is and as it is.

It\’s pretty obvious that you\’re a very big fan of video games. Have you been playing a lot of Genshin Impact before this role? Is that a game that\’s in your rotation already?

Chris Hackney: I\’ve played a little bit. I\’m very casual with it. I\’m not spending tons of money on [primogems] in order to roll for my favorite characters or anything. That\’s just the general way I play every gacha game. If I can\’t play it and enjoy it the way I want to play it as a free version, it is what it is.But, yeah, I\’ve been playing it some. I\’m only through some of the Liyue story; I just finished the story arc with [Osial], doing the big battle where we sacrificed the Jade Chamber and everything. I play a little bit, but not a whole lot. I just try to play stuff that is important to me.Like we talked earlier about [Final Fantasy] XIV. I\’m waiting for next week\’s new patch, because I play XIV.

Is that one of the big games in your rotation? What kind of games have caught your eye recently?

Chris Hackney: Yeah, XIV is always in my rotation. I love my tanks; I\’m a tank main. I need to get my warrior and my gunblade user to 90. I\’ve got Paladin at 90; that\’s how I finished the Endwalker story, because I thought that was appropriate.

Recently, I tried my hand at Elden Ring. I am terrible at those games, but I\’m like, \”Maybe this one will be different!\” Nope, I\’m still garbage at it.

Chris Hackney: It\’s a beautiful game. It\’s just not for me. I got Triangle Strategy recently, because I\’m a huge Final Fantasy Tactics fan. I loved the demo when it came out. I just downloaded the Chrono Cross HD Remaster. I\’m excited to play like legit Radical Dreamers for the first time.

I feel a lot of the appeal of that so many people did not get to go hands-on with that very niche, but cool interpretation of the story. I think it\’s a big thing for video game preservation in general, to make sure people are able to play those games.

Chris Hackney: I\’m happy when companies like Square do that sort of thing. Like when the Final Fantasy X-2 collection came out, they included the audio dramas that were only released in Japan; they localized those for that. I\’m big on story, so I like all these games that are very story-driven and involved, like Triangle Strategy and Final Fantasy XIV. That\’s what I want: more of the story, because I want to love these characters and learn all about them.

There\’s not much more story-driven games than one that\’s been going on for a decade like Final Fantasy XIV\’s main narrative. It\’s tough to beat that.

Chris Hackney: Yeah, I\’ve been playing since 1.0.

After voicing a Genshin Impact character and dipping your toes into what is a very popular scene in video games – gacha games and whatnot – is there any other games or characters that you would want to take a shot at? Is there anything that\’s really stuck out to you?

Chris Hackney: Honestly, anything. Voiceover is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so any opportunity that I get on anything, I\’m grateful for. I don\’t care how small the part is, or how big the part is. It\’s cool when you have a bigger part, and there\’s more story and character to get into. But as long as I\’m working? I\’m having fun.If I\’m gonna fantasy myself into something? I got to do some additional voice work on the Final Fantasy VII remake, but I\’d love a shot at a bigger character in the game. I\’ve put at least 340 hours into Final Fantasy VII in high school when it came out, so I played the ever-loving bejesus out of it. Final Fantasy is something that I\’ve been playing since I came out, and it\’s the reason that I love stories. It helped teach me to read as a kid.

One of the beauties of RPG games and these story-driven games is that it\’s a form of literacy teaching that reaches people who might not be interested in books.

Chris Hackney: My mom was always big into reading, and she wanted me to be a reader too. I\’ve always loved books, but when I was first starting out…The NES just came out when I was about 4, and we were at Toys R Us one day. I was like, \”Mom, this game looks really cool. Can I get this game?\” And she\’s like, \”Okay, I\’ll get it for you. But you have to promise me you\’ll read it to me,\” to help me learn to read. And I was like, \”That\’s fine, whatever,\” because I just saw the box art and it looked really cool.And, sure enough, it was the original Final Fantasy – because it had the orb on there with the axe and the sword, and I thought it looked so cool. So, I had to read the original Final Fantasy as I played through it to my mom to help me read, and it just made me learn to love story and stuff.

That\’s a parenting win.

Chris Hackney: And then, let\’s see… I would love if I could somehow get into The Legend of Zelda, whenever that [Breath of the Wild 2] happens. That\’s one of my other fantasies, because Zelda to me is like a family thing. Because when I was a kid, we got the NES, and my dad and my mom both loved Zelda. We all played together – my dad ended up buying two more NES so that we could all play at the same time, and he bought three copies of Zelda.We had a contest in the house to see who could beat the game first, and if we got stuck on something, from the other room my dad would be like, \”What\’s this?\” I\’m like, \”You\’ve got to bomb the section over to the right over there. It\’s a secret hidden one bomb.\” \”Oh, awesome. Thanks, buddy.\” But my dad ended up being the one who did everything, because we beat it the one way, and then you can beat the reverse when they completely change where all of the dungeons are. And he beat it that way. He was the one who won in the family. My mom and I went to Toys R Us, and they had this little rubberized plastic statue of Link with the bow, shooting one of the bats. We got that for him as his trophy.As a kid, every time Zelda came out, that\’s what we did. We all played together, up until Wind Waker, because my mom has a hard time with the more 3D adventure kind of game. But that\’s what we did all the way up through to Wind Waker. I bought her a Gamecube specifically so that she could play Wind Waker.

Is there a favorite Legend of Zelda?

Chris Hackney: Link to the Past. And then Breath of the Wild would be my number two. Breath of the Wild was fantastic.I don\’t necessarily like open world games, because to me they can be too open world. If they\’re too open world, I get lost, I\’m kind of bored with it and then I just shut down. Skyrim and Fallout do that to me sometimes; if you don\’t give me a more direct path, I just get bored. I felt like Breath of the Wild was just open enough, where I was finding something new, and it was easy to relate to the story of what was going on. So, to me, it was like the perfect open world game.

That\’s part of the reason I feel there\’s this open world burnout some people are experiencing. \”I don\’t want to get dropped into a world that\’s gonna take 100 hours and have no idea where I\’m going at any point.\”

Chris Hackney: I\’ve been trying out Elden Ring, and that\’s how I felt. It just kind of drops you, and it doesn\’t give you much of anything. And I\’m like, \”This is cool, this is beautiful. There\’s a lot I can do, but I just need a little bit more to sink my teeth into like. To really get what I\’m doing and to get more practice.\” I don\’t want to sit here and have to level up my dude by killing the same 12 guards in this first area over and over and over and over again.

Legend of Zelda avoids those pitfalls.

Chris Hackney: You get your sword, you get the upgraded sword. You get a tunic, you get an upgraded tunic. Boom, good. It\’s great. It\’s just enough RPG elements.

Okay, mark it down: Final Fantasy VII, and anything to do with Legend of Zelda. Those are the two dream gigs.

Chris Hackney: Plus anything else. Like I said, genuinely, I\’m happy. Those are important to me because they\’ve been a big part of my past, but there\’s always a new series coming out that\’s really incredible. There\’s so many new ideas and new types of games coming out.Going back to games that aren\’t my gameplay cup of tea, but are still really cool, there\’s games like Hades. I like the story, and it\’s involved. I\’m not a big roguelite kind of guy, just because I\’m not as adept at the controls as I would like to be. But I enjoy the experience and the story of it as I\’m going through it. Anything that looks cool, I\’m here for it.

I feel like part of the key to your success, and why so many of your characters have resonated, is this kind of adaptability. Is there anything that you\’ve brought to your approach of voice acting that has really helped you succeed? Because I feel like, when you look at these characters, there\’s a lot of flexibility in the way you\’re portraying them. I\’m sure a lot of people would love to know what secrets you have to make that work.

Chris Hackney: For me, it\’s just being open to changing your mind. Because when we go into the studio, I might have one idea of the character. And then I get in there with the director and the company that produces the game, and they\’re like, \”That\’s not quite right. It\’s more like this.\”You\’ve got to just be able to accept that you\’re wrong and just change your perspective. Like, \”Okay, then it\’s this. Okay, then it\’s that. Oh, it\’s not that? Okay, it\’s this.\” For me, it\’s just a willingness to say I\’m wrong. Let\’s find out how to make this better.

That sounds terrifying to me. It must be a huge challenge, at least.

Chris Hackney: It can be, and I know a lot of people who are challenged by it. But I guess for me, it\’s just a character trait, or a personality trait. I assume I\’m always wrong. I\’ll go in, I\’ll make a choice, and it\’ll be a strong choice. And they\’re like, \”Good idea, but no.\” And I\’m like, \”Okay, here you go.\”And a lot of times, when we\’re recording a game, they\’ll want two or maybe three takes of something in a row. So, you\’ve got to have at least two perspectives on why someone\’s saying something at any given time. I go in and read a line one way, and that\’s the way [I\’d be] if I was really earnest about loving this thing. But what if maybe this next time, I was hiding the fact that I\’m kind of disgusted by it?You just have to come up with different stories for yourself on the fly of why things are the way they are?. That\’s that adaptability; that willingness to say, \”No, I don\’t know everything.\” It\’s okay to say, \”I don\’t know everything, let\’s find out together.\” Or sometimes I\’ll do a line and they\’ll be like, \”That wasn\’t what we expected. But that works even better with what we have planned out later on.\” So, you never know.

That last one\’s got to feel really good, when you nail it in a way that they didn\’t even expect.

Chris Hackney: But that\’s the cool part about the artistic and creative process. When you\’ve got a collaborative experience, everybody comes together to shape this thing. Everybody\’s fingerprints are on it. It\’s not necessarily like, \”This is the right way, and that\’s it.\”You go on this journey and discover it along the way, like, \”Ooh, what if…? Maybe that\’s even better.\” You make something that you weren\’t even expecting; that could be even more beautiful than you thought.

Has there been anyone you\’ve worked with in voice acting that\’s helped you develop this kind of perspective, or really pushed you to deliver a performance that challenges you?

Chris Hackney: Not one person, specifically. But I take a lot of workshops and classes, because I want different people\’s perspectives.And with different directors, like Andrea Toyias at Blizzard, or Wes Gleason, who directs and casts all the different DC animated movies and stuff like that – or Amanda Wyatt, who does a lot of video game casting. Learning their perspectives [is important], because everybody comes at it from a different place. Everybody\’s got a different idea, and maybe they can help push me in that direction. Like, \”I didn\’t think about it. What if I did this other thing?\”Whereas before, early on maybe I was more stiff when I was doing voiceover. Being told, \”It\’s okay to move and use your body and stuff,\” made [me think], \”I can actually better embody the character by doing this. Oh, wow. Cool.\” And it just takes what you do to another level.I\’ll always give a huge shout out to Patrick Seitz during Fire Emblem: The Three Houses. We went on a journey together, and I loved every moment of it. He steered the ship, and he was willing to give me all the latitude I needed with the character. We took it in a direction we weren\’t sure of, and I thought it ended up in a pretty good place.

I would say that, given the reception for Dimitri, that was probably true. Speaking of receptions, with conventions returning now finally, is there anything you\’ve worked on over the last two years that has you excited to go meet the fans now?

Chris Hackney: Right now, everybody\’s excited for Ayato. Now that they\’re happening again, I\’m excited too. Actually last weekend, I was just in Tennessee, and I met a lot of great fans. I was able to get a little bit of merch for Ayato. Even though he just came out, I got a couple of cool buttons from an artist. Seeing everybody in cosplay is cool.But, honestly, anything! Conventions specifically, you\’re going there for a reason. It\’s because you love that thing. You\’re paying your money to go experience and be a part of this culture. Because you love it, you spend months and months making your cosplay of whatever your favorite character is. Even if it\’s not necessarily one that I\’m into, I love that general vibe of people at a convention. And everybody\’s just so happy to be there, so I always want to make sure that I give them as best experience as I can and try to love it with them.

For a couple months or whatever, any conventions we\’re going to will be the Ayato tour. That\’s what the people want.

Chris Hackney: I guess so! I really genuinely hope everybody likes Ayato, his story and his playstyle. Let\’s talk about it, let\’s have fun with it.With Three Houses, I feel like the pandemic started not too far after, so maybe I didn\’t get to go out and experience people\’s love for it quite as much as I would like. But again, I think right now, everything\’s gonna be about Ayato. Which is cool. It doesn\’t hurt doesn\’t hurt my feelings, as long as people are happy and we\’re talking about fun stuff together. Awesome.

Has there been a favorite character that you\’ve done in recent memory, or a favorite character in terms of the reception you\’ve gotten?

Chris Hackney: I think the one that shocked me the most, as far as the reception from people, was Dimitri. Because, going back to what I was saying about expectations, I was worried that maybe it wouldn\’t live up to what people were hoping for.When you first see him, It\’s like, \”Bland, blonde noodle boy? Yeah, whatever. He\’s okay.\” And then the E3 trailer dropped where you see him time skipped, and everyone was just like, \”Oh? Okay, yeah!\” So, I felt like there was an expectation for that.One of the most fun ones I can think of in recent memory was Ghiaccio in Jojo\’s Bizarre Adventure, because he\’s just an angry, screaming Mafia hitman who just loses it. Getting to be super huge like that – because I feel like I\’m a fairly low key guy, getting to do something that\’s the opposite vibe of me is great. And he was even more over-the-top in some ways. But people loved it, and I was glad because I know the original Japanese [gave] an expectation. There\’s something to live up to, and I did my take on it and just hoped people enjoy it.

The last thing I want to do is give you a chance to plug what\’s going on. What are you looking forward to? Is there anywhere people can expect to see you in the coming months?

Chris Hackney: The only things I\’ve got announced right now are… This coming week, I will be in Colorado for Colorado Anime Fest 2022. And then the week after that, I\’ll be in Wisconsin for No Brand Con.There\’s other stuff coming up later in the year that I can\’t officially talk about. But I\’m just hopeful that I\’ll be able to wake up the next day and do something else fun that I get to tell people about soon. Hopefully.

I\’ve noticed your social media has a lot of engagement with fan questions and fan art and whatnot. Is that something you encourage?

Chris Hackney: Always. For me, an actor is another form of an artist. It sucks out there, being an artist and trying to get your art out there, especially if you\’re trying to make a living off it. Which is why, if I see a piece of fan art, I want to try and like it and retweet it.I can\’t do every single one, but I do as much as I can. If they\’ve got a print shop, and they\’ve got my characters in it, I\’ll try to share that to help support them. When I go to conventions, like in Tennessee last week, I found an artist who had made little prints of Ayato and was doing buttons. So, I went to their table and I bought the buttons from them. I made sure to put them on social media and show it, because it\’s hard to make headway – especially when you\’ve got no advertising budget, and you just hope maybe someone will find it.I figure the least that I can do, since I\’m lucky enough that more and more people are following me, is try to help somebody out who is also in the same kind of position I was earlier on. And maybe they\’ll do the same later, when they\’re a bigger artist. Maybe they\’ll share some other smaller artists, and we\’ll just encourage people to love the arts and support the arts.

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