Screenshot: Fire Emblem (Nintendo)

Joe Zieja’s path to voicing the English-language version of Fire Emblem: Three Houses lead Claude von Reigan was a circuitous one. Zieja said over the phone that he only realized what a huge role Claude was while he was recording. He told me that the director for the English voice actors, Patrick Seitz, broke the news while he was halfway through a recording session. The internet was crazy about the Golden Deer House’s nice young lad.

“He was like, ‘Do you realize how thirsty the audience is for Claude?’” Zieja said. “He’s like, ‘Why don’t you take a look at these,’ and started showing me all the fanart that people were drawing, and like all the tweets that people had made about Claude. Claude was trending on Twitter like a month before the game came out.”

Claude’s design, and the barest hint of his voice acting that we saw in early trailers, certainly piqued my interest. Once I had my hands on the game, he was my instant pick for marriage. Something about the way Claude took everything in stride, the slightly sarcastic tone of his voice, made me want to know all about him.

“What really stood out to me about Claude in general was, even though he was in a military academy—I went to a military academy, graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado—even though he was in that environment, he was very like chill,” Zieja said. “A lot of things just rolled off his back. So getting to play an easygoing character, especially in something that’s very anime influenced where everything is always super intense, it was really great to be able to lay back and apply some snark.”

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Zieja turned to voice acting after his military intelligence job burned him out. His path from the Air Force Academy led him to the actual Air Force, then to a government job, then to the corporate world.

“It had its moments of excitement, and military intelligence sounds sexy,” Zieja said, “but it’s a lot of PowerPoints.”

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Voice acting has proven to be much more interesting to Zieja than military intelligence. About eight months after starting, he realized that his client list had grown long enough that he needed to quit his day job to focus on this new career. He has since had roles in shows like Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans and games like Just Cause 4. Zieja said that realizing that he was going to be a lead character in a franchise as huge as Fire Emblem was kind of a slow burn.

“I was familiar with Fire Emblem. I played Awakening,” Zieja said. “It was a slow realization of just how big it was. Honestly, I don’t think I understood even how big it was until I made my announcement video and the internet lost its mind.”

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Zieja said that playing Claude reminded him of his own days in a military academy, for the ways that he was unlike the character.

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“It was super refreshing to see someone like, yeah, it’s war, having that kind of easy, carefree thing in really dire circumstances,” Zieja said. “I respect that, because as I learned in my military career, you can’t let everything get to you. I’m not going to name any names, but telling people, ‘Kill every last one of them on the field...’” We both laughed at this dramatic moment a different character had during the game. “Well, there is that part,” Zieja continued. “Claude is like, ‘Well, this is life, and you have the play the hand that you’re dealt.’ Claude can work within the rules of the system but stay outside of the system. That’s what makes him so strong.”

Zieja’s path to playing a lead character in such a huge franchise is an unusual one, and he seems grateful for, if slightly baffled by, his success.

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“I feel like my life is being conducted,” Zieja said, “like I’m in an orchestra that’s being conducted by someone with a very strange sense of humor.”