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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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dtgreene: 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.
Even if I were to concede your point here, why would skippable cutscenes be rejected as the solution?

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dtgreene: 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.
You can't know that. You can't know beforehand what the hypothetical game would look like. And why should it be made to look like this or that?
Telling the story through gameplay is a good way to tell the story, but by no means it should be the only one. It depends a lot on the author's artistic view.

Have you read the previous interview thread? If you did, you may have noticed how the GOG public is mostly not fond of censorship. Paraphrasing one of them, i liked the definition of censorship as "interfering with the author's art to be different of what he or she imagined to fit one's personal tastes."

Kinda like telling one dev to "take your cutscene off my ArPeeGees" or "I know you imagined a great game in the RPG genre to tell a nice story, but you should shift the game into a Visual Novel, regardless of whether it fits the story, just because I say so."

You're a censor, you just might not have realized it earlier.
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wyrdwad: 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.

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
Thanks for that Tom. I'd say I own most of XSEED's releases because of the interesting selection of titles and care you've put into them. I speak a couple of languages and I love to play my games with different voice tracks (or sometimes none, if I'm feeling nostalgic for the classic rpg days). I especially wanted to thank you for Return to PopoloCrois. You have no idea how excited I was that it came with a manual! PopoloCrois Story was really my first RPG played in Japanese, and I have them all. I had to play with the classic voices, of course.

I can appreciate that it's a tough position you're in because there's no way to please everyone, but It seems like you're doing the best that you're able to considering the circumstances. I'm personally glad that you're against censorship and for accurate translations and conveying the intent of the developers, in spite of perceived flaws. That's infinitely preferable to people who decide only to localize according to their own taste or without regard for the source material. It would be great to work with you on some future game, but, sadly, I have no intention of moving to the US. Anyway, keep it up and I'll keep buying.
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joppo: Kinda like telling one dev to "take your cutscene off my ArPeeGees" or "I know you imagined a great game in the RPG genre to tell a nice story, but you should shift the game into a Visual Novel, regardless of whether it fits the story, just because I say so."
I see it along the lines of not wanting stealth sections in non-stealth games (though, perhaps, of less severity, as cutscenes are usually not roadblocks the way insta-fail steallth sections can be).

Part of my frustration is that people seem to think cutscenes are RPG elements and associate them with that genre, when in reality, they are not RPG elements.
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dtgreene: 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.
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joppo: Even if I were to concede your point here, why would skippable cutscenes be rejected as the solution?
One problem is that some games only implement skipping for some cutscenes.

For example, Dust: An Elysian Tail doesn't let you skip most cutscenes until dialog starts, and there are some cutscenes (most annoyingly the opening and tutorial cutscenes) that can't be skipped at all.

Iconoclasts, based on the speedrun I've watched, has the occasional cutscene that can't be skipped. (Most cutscenes are skippable, it seemes, but not all of them.)

Going away from indie games, Disgaea had only partial cutscene skips; I believe you could only skip pre-battle cutscenes, not post-battle ones. (Also, the original had annoying special attack animations that you couldn't turn off; remember Hell Pepper?)
Post edited February 01, 2018 by dtgreene
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dtgreene: I see it along the lines of not wanting stealth sections in non-stealth games (though, perhaps, of less severity, as cutscenes are usually not roadblocks the way insta-fail steallth sections can be).

Part of my frustration is that people seem to think cutscenes are RPG elements and associate them with that genre, when in reality, they are not RPG elements.
That much I kinda can sorta agree with. Somewhat. Still, if people misinterpret the elements of the games they play it's their problem. People are free to make their own misconceptions and to live with them. As long as it doesn't leave the boundaries of their relationship with their game to enter my personal relationship with my games it doesn't bother me at all.

The stealth example is interesting. I can understand the reasoning. I guess it falls down to how well it was done. If it is done correctly it will fit the game, be neither too easy nor too hard and some gamers will even praise the dev for making them enjoy a genre they're not usually interested in. If done poorly it will look out of place, pathetic easy or frustrating. In the end this will reward or punish the dev with future sales. It's in their interest to do it right, so I'm somewhat okay with a bit of variation in a game I bought for other genre. If their game pisses me off I'll vote with my wallet in the future.

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dtgreene: One problem is that some games only implement skipping for some cutscenes.
I haven't played these games so I can't comment them (yet. Dust is near the top of my queue and Iconoclasts is in my wishlist. Disgaea's example looks frighteningly like Knights of the Round in FF7 tho), but it just seems a few examples of cutscenes not done properly. This pissed me off a bit too when I was replaying some game I had just finished (so I had the story fresh in my mind) and I could only skip a cutscene after watching the first 5 or 6 seconds.
(It didn't piss me off too much, tho. I'm not a twitch gamer, I often make fraction-of-a-second pauses even in action heavy areas to make sure I'm using the best strategy to tackle whatever the current challenge is, or where I'm supposed to go next, or something. I'm always thinking while I play. Those cutscenes were just a longer pause to do just that.)

Either way, what you and I just described are what properly skippable cutscenes are NOT. Heavy emphasis on "properly"
great read