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The second part of our in-depth discussion with XSEED's team leader Ken Berry and localization producer Thomas Lipschultz is now here.
Learn more about the challenges and delights of bringing beloved JRPG series into the western market, as well as why Tom loves Zwei: The Arges Adventure so darn much!

Make sure to catch up on Part 1 here.

Last week we released Zwei: The Arges Adventure, and it feels like you had a great time working on it. Can you tell us more about your work on the game and how you approach localizing its brand of humor?

Tom: I’ve been talking about this quite a bit over on our Tumblr (/shamelessplug), but that’s mostly because I can’t shut up about this game! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s the most fun I’ve ever had translating anything, owed entirely to the wonderful Japanese writing from Falcom. You can tell the devs just let loose here, casting away all their inhibitions and just writing whatever the hell they wanted, and the end result is a beautiful cacophony of bad puns, blunt proclamations, pure snark, and fourth-wall-breaking.
It’s funny, too, because Arges Adventure’s story is actually pretty minimalistic, when you get right down to it. There’s really not a lot that happens over its course, as far as earth-shaking events go. Instead, it focuses pretty squarely on its cast of characters, bringing every NPC to life and giving each one of them his/her own tale to tell. In a way, it’s very similar to the treatment the NPCs get in the Trails games, but because of the “podunk floating island with one main village” setting, there are far fewer NPCs, meaning each one gets to have a lot more screen time to tug at your heartstrings, make you laugh, or anything in between, really. As for how I approached localizing all of this, I just kind of… dove in head-first. Which may have been a slight mistake, in retrospect, as it turns out this is a game that had numerous prior iterations with totally different stories and very different character personalities, seemingly all of which still have some rather significant remnants left over in the game’s text files. And… well, I started translating the game before I realized this, and without playing it at the same time (having played it only once before around 12 or 13 years ago). So for the first little while, I was... really, really confused!
Once I realized what was happening, though, I started doing the “play, translate, and edit at the same time” thing, which isn’t always possible but IS always a good idea. And that’s when things really started to come together. Pokkle’s puns and Pipiro’s snark all had a certain comedic timing to it that I couldn’t really hear in my head when I was just combing through Excel files, but which came through loud and clear when I was actually playing. This allowed me to edit the text in such a way as to ensure the humor really worked in English (“worked” being a relative term, but hey, bad humor is still humor!).
I also was able to get a little creative with it, adding some puns to Pokkle’s repertoire to ensure he lived up to his groanworthy reputation in English, while also adding some snippy remarks to Pipiro’s repertoire for the same reason. Being a punster myself, I understood Pokkle’s struggle, and localized him in a very “honest” fashion, remaining true to my own life experiences… whereas with Pipiro, I channeled a couple of my coworkers, ensuring she was as charmingly blunt as humanly possible.
As a result, Pokkle’s got some bad jokes that I imagine people are going to screencap and groan about for a long time, but Pipiro’s just… got some of the best lines in the entire game, without question. Pipiro is basically everyone’s spirit animal, saying what we’re all thinking – but crucially, even when she’s saying horribly mean things, she’s never mean-SPIRITED about it.
Anyway, this is getting kind of long now, so I’ll let our localization blogs on Tumblr do their thing and answer some of these questions in a little more depth. Hopefully, though, I’ve convinced those of you who’ve bothered to read this wall of text that Zwei: The Arges Adventure is a game worth playing, because… seriously… this game is a hoot. If it doesn’t make you laugh with some degree of regularity, then I’ve failed at my job… and I really don’t feel like I’ve failed at my job!

Ys VIII is the first game in the series that you did not publish – and which prompted an official apology for the localization (which is getting completely redone for the PC release). What's your take on what happened there, and what can developers do to avoid those mistakes in the future?

Ken: Based on the very active release schedule that publisher had at the time, one can only guess that the localization team wasn’t given the time and resources needed as they were forced to meet a hard deadline for most likely financial reasons (since September is the end of a fiscal quarter for most companies). That was likely compounded by them shipping a total of four titles within four weeks of each other, one of which was the absolute localization beast Danganronpa V3, which would have required tons of their resources and have taken priority as it’s been one of their top-selling franchises for years.
The localization team over there is capable of putting out good work if given the proper support, as I’m sure they will prove once the new localization patch is released. This is true of most teams and projects, but sometimes harsh financial realities don’t afford people that luxury, so I’m not really sure there’s an easy answer on how to fix it when time and/or budgetary constraints get in the way of passionate people trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Finally, have you thought about expanding into other languages (i.e. Chinese, French, Russian, German, Polish)? After all, jRPGs have a dedicated audience all over the world.

Ken: We would like to localize into as many languages as possible in addition to English, especially for our PC releases which are worldwide, but the large amount of text in JRPGs can make that quite challenging.

It’s definitely something we’re looking into, but we can’t make any promises just yet.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by maladr0Id
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kohlrak: If Falcom changed their minds, would they use XSEED or a different company? I imagine lost momentum in negotiations (suddenly swinging the other way) and/or the need to save face being major reasons.
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the_importer: So Falcom would still refuse XSEED to use JPN VA in Ys Seven for PC, but then turns around and allows NISA to do it in Ys VIII ? Both games were released in 2017 BTW.
Under those conditions, absolutely.

Then there's the possibility that XSEED wasn't the ones lying to us, but Falcom lied to XSEED about their reasons. It's also possible that XSEED lied to us, but before we jump to conclusions without any sort of evidence or pattern to reference, why don't we at least get all the options on the table?
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the_importer: So Falcom would still refuse XSEED to use JPN VA in Ys Seven for PC, but then turns around and allows NISA to do it in Ys VIII ? Both games were released in 2017 BTW.
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kohlrak: Under those conditions, absolutely.

Then there's the possibility that XSEED wasn't the ones lying to us, but Falcom lied to XSEED about their reasons. It's also possible that XSEED lied to us, but before we jump to conclusions without any sort of evidence or pattern to reference, why don't we at least get all the options on the table?
Fair enough, then let's bring someone else to the party, namely AKSYS Games who published Toyko Xanadu in NA for Vita and PS4 with JPN VA. So far, we have 2 compagnies that were able to to use V JPN VA outside of Japan in with their published games in 2017 Vs 1 that didn't.
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kohlrak: Under those conditions, absolutely.

Then there's the possibility that XSEED wasn't the ones lying to us, but Falcom lied to XSEED about their reasons. It's also possible that XSEED lied to us, but before we jump to conclusions without any sort of evidence or pattern to reference, why don't we at least get all the options on the table?
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the_importer: Fair enough, then let's bring someone else to the party, namely AKSYS Games who published Toyko Xanadu in NA for Vita and PS4 with JPN VA. So far, we have 2 compagnies that were able to to use V JPN VA outside of Japan in with their published games in 2017 Vs 1 that didn't.
These cases are less relevant than the one case above, because those didn't have one company unable to do it, then suddenly able to do it. Unless i'm missing something.
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the_importer: Fair enough, then let's bring someone else to the party, namely AKSYS Games who published Toyko Xanadu in NA for Vita and PS4 with JPN VA. So far, we have 2 compagnies that were able to to use V JPN VA outside of Japan in with their published games in 2017 Vs 1 that didn't.
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kohlrak: These cases are less relevant than the one case above, because those didn't have one company unable to do it, then suddenly able to do it. Unless i'm missing something.
But they're all Falcom games. If Falcom were the ones refusing the usage of JPN VA, why is a small company like AKSYS able to use them?
Post edited January 31, 2018 by the_importer
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kohlrak: These cases are less relevant than the one case above, because those didn't have one company unable to do it, then suddenly able to do it. Unless i'm missing something.
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the_importer: But they're all Falcom games. If Falcom were the ones refusing the usage of JPN VA, why is a small company like AKSYS able to use them?
You make the assumption that AKSYS was the one who made the decision, not a labor union, which is what XSEED said before about this topic.
high rated
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the_importer: I'd like to see how XSEED would answer this question:

XSEED once stated in an interview that it is sometime impossible to get the rights to the Japanese VA in a game, hence why the Ys games have had only dubs from your side of publishing. OK, then does Falcom somehow favor NISA by allowing them to use the Japanese VA in Ys VIII ? Could it be that Falcom were just asking for asking for too much money which you weren't willing to invest?
It wasn't a case of money -- we would've paid whatever was necessary to secure dual voice, because we know how important the original Japanese voices are to a great many customers.

In each of the Falcom games we've released, the voices simply weren't available to us -- period! Not for any amount of money.

How NISA and Aksys managed to get the rights to use the Japanese voices in the Falcom games they released, I can't say -- I have no insider information about the sorts of deals they were able to strike with Falcom. My best guess is, since those are the two newest Falcom titles to receive English localizations, Falcom may have negotiated better voice contracts when initially recording those titles than they did when recording the games we've released of theirs.

Either way, it is what it is. I know a lot of people don't believe us when we say this, but I ask you: why would we lie? What possible good could be served by doing so? And even beyond that, why would we NOT pay the extra money for the Japanese voices, knowing how important they are to such a large contingent of the playerbase? It's not like we have no history of releasing games with Japanese voices -- we always offer them when we can, as evidenced by the Corpse Party games, the Senran Kagura games, every one of the Acquire titles we've worked on (Akiba's Trip, Akiba's Beat, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, and Way of the Samurai 4), Killer Is Dead, Return to PopoloCrois... the list goes on!

We'd love more than anything to have offered you guys the Japanese voices in our Falcom games. It just couldn't be done.

-Tom
I love XSEED's localization work, so I don't mind waiting even a couple of years until the next The Legend of Heroes game. And I hope the rumors I've read about NISA getting the rights for the rest of the series are not true. So Tom, could you confirm XSEED is still working on Falcom games? Thanks.
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Griok: I love XSEED's localization work, so I don't mind waiting even a couple of years until the next The Legend of Heroes game. And I hope the rumors I've read about NISA getting the rights for the rest of the series are not true. So Tom, could you confirm XSEED is still working on Falcom games? Thanks.
I can neither confirm nor deny anything of the sort! Until and unless we make an official announcement, anything you hear is all just rumors and supposition. Sorry!

-Tom
Post edited January 31, 2018 by wyrdwad
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Sabin_Stargem: Oriental companies are starting to sell dual-language games in Asian countries, having both English and the primary language. By doing this, it allows middlemen like J-List to offer the games to Western customers without running afoul of resistant marketplaces or hostile reporters.
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kohlrak: Yeah, but then we never hear of the games. How good is the english out of them?
Good enough, considering that the Super Robot Taisen series is in perpetual legal lockdown: You got Gundam, Tengen Gurren Lagann, Full Metal Panic, Getter Robo, and many other series that are in too many hands outside of Japan. Being able to play SRT on day one in English is very much appreciated.

Even if a translation is butchered in these dual releases, they also lay the groundwork necessary for unofficial editing projects: The fonts are already in place and the general idea about the situations depicted in the game is gotten across. A hacker who doesn't know a foreign language can still edit the game's dialogue to be more enjoyable, without needing a translator to go over the whole script.
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Griok: I love XSEED's localization work, so I don't mind waiting even a couple of years until the next The Legend of Heroes game. And I hope the rumors I've read about NISA getting the rights for the rest of the series are not true. So Tom, could you confirm XSEED is still working on Falcom games? Thanks.
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wyrdwad: I can neither confirm nor deny anything of the sort! Until and unless we make an official announcement, anything you hear is all just rumors and supposition. Sorry!

-Tom
I had to try it. Thanks for your answer!
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kohlrak: Yeah, but then we never hear of the games. How good is the english out of them?
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Sabin_Stargem: Good enough, considering that the Super Robot Taisen series is in perpetual legal lockdown: You got Gundam, Tengen Gurren Lagann, Full Metal Panic, Getter Robo, and many other series that are in too many hands outside of Japan. Being able to play SRT on day one in English is very much appreciated.

Even if a translation is butchered in these dual releases, they also lay the groundwork necessary for unofficial editing projects: The fonts are already in place and the general idea about the situations depicted in the game is gotten across. A hacker who doesn't know a foreign language can still edit the game's dialogue to be more enjoyable, without needing a translator to go over the whole script.
How does one go about acquiring these kinds of games without steam, a pegleg, or an eyepatch?
Very nice interview, especially since it's with a company I admire. Thank you GOG and XSEED!

I have always equated XSEED & Falcom with quality releases, but I must admit I'm hugely impressed with XSEED, ever since I've heard about their collaboration with Durante. I devoured and enjoyed immensely, Durante's blog posts about his work on Trails of Cold Steel. You guys deserve some awards for the love you show your releases, not only for the quality translation work, but also for the great PC ports.
I notice that many people seem to be under the notion that one language of voice acting is not enough.

I, personally, take the opposite viewpoint; one language of voice acting is too many. I actually prefer it when games don't have any voice acting at all (and preferably if that's true of the original game).

There are two issues that, if the developer isn't careful, can easily come up with voice acting:
1. One loses the ability to skip through dialog quickly. This can be quite annoying, especially if one doesn't care about the dialog and wants to get to the actual gameplay, or if one accidentally talks to an NPC a second time.
2. Sometimes, the developer decides that, since there's voice acting, there is no need to include the corresponding text. This is, of course, an accessibility issue, and there is a very obvious solution (include subtitles), but there's the temptation for the developer to skimp out and not include them.

(Of note, I also don't like cutscenes in my RPGs either; I want to get to the actual gameplay, not sit and watch, if I am sitting down to play a game.)
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dtgreene: There are two issues that, if the developer isn't careful, can easily come up with voice acting:
1. One loses the ability to skip through dialog quickly. This can be quite annoying, especially if one doesn't care about the dialog and wants to get to the actual gameplay, or if one accidentally talks to an NPC a second time.
2. Sometimes, the developer decides that, since there's voice acting, there is no need to include the corresponding text. This is, of course, an accessibility issue, and there is a very obvious solution (include subtitles), but there's the temptation for the developer to skimp out and not include them.

(Of note, I also don't like cutscenes in my RPGs either; I want to get to the actual gameplay, not sit and watch, if I am sitting down to play a game.)
You reminded of Feycraft's RPG for the Sega Saturn "Marika: Shinjitsu no Sekai": all voice acting with no text for the main dialogues, the game is mostly dialogues with very little gameplay, and of course, it can't be skipped.
It's not a bad game and the story is interesting but being a Saturn game... I don't think we will see an official localization of it ever.

And that's a shame really. In my opinion, those RPG and adventure games from back then (pre 1999) are far better than the ones we get now.

Although I know the answer to this, I still have to ask:
Tom, any chance of localizing old Saturn, Super Famicom, etc games?
Post edited January 31, 2018 by cristian159753
Actually was an interesting interview.