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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: How does one go about acquiring these kinds of games without steam, a pegleg, or an eyepatch?
Importation. There is a number of online stores specializing in getting these items to a foreign doorstep.

J-List

AmiAmi

Right Stuf
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dtgreene: 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.)
This. Voice acting is a plague. Not only are well-voiced games few and far between, reading is always faster (and better, since you can read them several times over if you please) than listening to voiced lines.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by Erich_Zann
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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.
Sure, if it was a poorly made job of localization. But assuming a bit of good will from the team responsible neither of those are hard to fix. A game with the adequate VA and suffering from those issues is closer to being an ideal port than one that has no VA, no blocks on dialog skipping and has subtitles.

Besides, the most common request for VA is to have the original (japanese) voices in a localized game. There's no letting the foreign (english) subtitles out or you need all your customers to know the original language. (Also, if you're not including foreign subtitles what's the point of porting the game? You're pretty much going to sell a version that is the same as the original. Might as well just remove the useless middleman and import the original.)

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dtgreene: (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.)
Cutscenes are a bit of a bad example. You don't like them but other people do; they play more for the story than for the gameplay. The ideal solution is to have the cutscenes but make them skippable of course.

Edit: Every voiced game should have a option to disable voices. It would appease both crowds and cost nothing extra to the development.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by joppo
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cristian159753: 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.
Imagine how a deaf person would experience the game. Lots of scenes in which nothing is going on (because, to a deaf player, spoken dialog basically doesn't exist), and no way to skip it.

If they ever do remake that game, they should add subtitles so that the game would be accessible to deaf people or those who otherwise have a hard time with spoken dialog.

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dtgreene: (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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joppo: Cutscenes are a bit of a bad example. You don't like them but other people do; they play more for the story than for the gameplay. The ideal solution is to have the cutscenes but make them skippable of course.

Edit: Every voiced game should have a option to disable voices. It would appease both crowds and cost nothing extra to the development.
Personally, I think the idea is to move them to sepaarate games. Developers who want to make cutscene heavy games should make visual novels, and players who play games for story and not gameplay should play visual novels, not RPGs.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by dtgreene
high rated
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dtgreene: Personally, I think the idea is to move them to sepaarate games. Developers who want to make cutscene heavy games should make visual novels, and players who play games for story and not gameplay should play visual novels, not RPGs.
Yeah, no. Let's make a different proposition: they don't interfere with your right to enjoy the games you want, you don't deny their enjoyment either.

Seriously, there's so much wrong with your statement I don't even know where to start.
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joppo: Cutscenes are a bit of a bad example. You don't like them but other people do; they play more for the story than for the gameplay. The ideal solution is to have the cutscenes but make them skippable of course.
If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
Post edited January 31, 2018 by Erich_Zann
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Erich_Zann: If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
Books don't come with sound, music, voices, or graphical effects to emphasize the scene playing out. Movies are continuously moving, preventing the viewer from taking in the action at their own pace. Further, neither of those mediums allow the player to make choices.

Picture books, manga, text books, novels, newspapers, blogs and so forth all may cover the same topic through words - but they all use different approaches. Some people like their magazines, others just want a pamphlet.

The point being, everyone digests media in their own way.
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joppo: Cutscenes are a bit of a bad example. You don't like them but other people do; they play more for the story than for the gameplay. The ideal solution is to have the cutscenes but make them skippable of course.
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Erich_Zann: If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
Because games are interactive, books and movies are not. (at least most of the times)
So, the overall resounding message is, don't censor material or make decisions for me, but if you don't agree with me, you should totally do what i tell you to do.
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Erich_Zann: If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
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Sabin_Stargem: Books don't come with sound, music, voices, or graphical effects to emphasize the scene playing out. Movies are continuously moving, preventing the viewer from taking in the action at their own pace. Further, neither of those mediums allow the player to make choices.

Picture books, manga, text books, novels, newspapers, blogs and so forth all may cover the same topic through words - but they all use different approaches. Some people like their magazines, others just want a pamphlet.

The point being, everyone digests media in their own way.
Well, there's visual novels, which you can play at your own pace, which have the effects you're looking for, and which allow the player to make choices. There's also kinetic novels, which are like visual novels minus the ability to make choices.
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joppo: Cutscenes are a bit of a bad example. You don't like them but other people do; they play more for the story than for the gameplay. The ideal solution is to have the cutscenes but make them skippable of course.
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Erich_Zann: If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
Other than the very good replies already pitched by fellow goggers (thanks guys), what if I like both story and gameplay and just happen to enjoy more of one? I never said the gamer in my hypothetical scenario doesn't really like to play games. Apparently he should be denied one of them no matter what game he chooses.



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kohlrak: So, the overall resounding message is, don't censor material or make decisions for me, but if you don't agree with me, you should totally do what i tell you to do.
Indeed, that's what I'm taking from the discussion.
Post edited February 01, 2018 by joppo
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Erich_Zann: If you "play more for the story than the gameplay" (which effectively means you don't really want to "play"), why not read (or listen to) a book then ? Or even watch a movie ?
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joppo: Other than the very good replies already pitched by fellow goggers (thanks guys), what if I like both story and gameplay and just happen to enjoy more of one? I never said the gamer in my hypothetical scenario doesn't really like to play games. Apparently he should be denied one of them no matter what game he chooses.
There's nothing that says a person can't play two different games. When they want gameplay, they can play a gameplay-focused game, and when they want story, they can "play" a kinetic novel.

There's a reason different types of games exist.
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dtgreene: There's nothing that says a person can't play two different games. When they want gameplay, they can play a gameplay-focused game, and when they want story, they can "play" a kinetic novel.

There's a reason different types of games exist.
And there's a reason almost every game these days has RPG elements, too. People love the feeling of advancement, the feeling of the numbers getting bigger. People want these features in their favorite games and IPs, they don't necessarily play for the specific features.
I can't think of any specific examples, but I can remember thinking that certain features were great, but they were wasted on a shit game. Sorry, not all of us are compartmentalized enough to scratch a specific itch at the expense of disliking other parts of something... Sometimes, I really want to play a great game despite certain flaws that it has. I won't likely play a bad game with great features ever, though.
Think of those RPGs with tons of cutscenes as Visual Novels with RPG elements.
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dtgreene: There's a reason different types of games exist.
Yes. A game can't be everything for everyone. It can't be turn-based AND real-time at the same time. It can't be a management sim AND a platformer at the same time. It can't be a fast-paced action title and a relaxing casual match-3. Even if you have competing concepts in the same game you simply can't apply them at the same moment. Those examples I picked are so opposite that using one forbids you from using the other, just as you can't make a recipe that tastes like every taste you ever liked.

But having good gameplay doesn't preclude the dev from putting a decent story in and vice-versa. NOTHING forbids a game to have both at the same time, except possibly a dev's lack of something – be it funds, tech knowledge, imagination, taste, common sense, whatever.

(Well the one thing that could forbid a game to have both would be your magnanimous preferences, should they be vested upon us all masses that don't know any better how our games would be better if they were made exclusively to cater to the way you enjoy them.)
Post edited February 01, 2018 by joppo
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joppo: But having good gameplay doesn't preclude the dev from putting a decent story in and vice-versa. NOTHING forbids a game to have both at the same time, except possibly a dev's lack of something – be it funds, tech knowledge, imagination, taste, common sense, whatever.
There actually is an issue; if a game is telling a story at any given point, it is generally not going to be having gameplay at the exact same moment. Hence, in this case, the story (particularly stories tole in the form of non-interactive cutscenes) detracts from the gameplay at this point.

The same can be said vice-versa; when there's actual gameplay, the story (at least in the more conventional sense) is not being progressed at the moment. In fact, a gameplay segment that is hard or inaccessible can prevent a player from seeing the rest of the story.

The only real solution is to design a game so it tells its story *through* its gameplay, but that is not an easy task, and the resulting game will not look like a typical modern JRPG.