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The JRPG Days are not over yet!
You've been playing Zwei: The Arges Adventure and Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds while snagging genre classics on the cheap from our jRPG Days sale. Now it's time to take a look behind the scenes: team leader Ken Berry and localization producer Thomas Lipschultz have taken some time to chat with us about how XSEED handles the release and localization of their beloved JRPG series.
The interview is broken down into two parts, for convenience. Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, January 30.

So, let's start with a quick year in review – from your professional point of view, has 2017 been good to Japanese games in the West?

Ken: Yes, I would say that 2017 has been a very good year for Japanese games in the West. The obvious big winner is Nintendo with their extremely successful launch of the Switch, as I remember some Japanese executives being concerned whether the idea of one machine being both a home console and a portable machine could succeed in North America where public transportation is not nearly as prevalent as Japan.
The PC platform also continues to get more support from the Japanese gaming industry. Not only are you seeing more instances of simultaneous PC launches with the console release, but they seem to be gradually accepting the idea of DRM-free on PC as well, which had always been a huge challenge in the past because they would often mistakenly equate “DRM-free” to “free.”

A lot can be said about different sensibilities in Japan vs. the West. In the past year, maybe more than ever, sexuality, sexualization, and consent, are talked about in mainstream Western culture – taboos are being broken and lines being drawn. Has this had an impact on your approach and your work?

Tom: As a company, I think it’s definitely made us stop and take stock of a game’s content a lot earlier in the process than ever before, so we know well in advance whether there will be any potentially problematic content, and can prepare ourselves to deal with that content as production ramps up.
For me specifically, it’s been kind of an inner struggle, as I think a lot of people are aware that I have a personal zero-tolerance policy for censorship in video games, along with a fairly broad definition of what constitutes censorship (for me, it consists of any content changes made not out of legal or contractual necessity, but solely in an attempt to avoid offending or upsetting members of the target audience). Despite this, I do fully understand that from a business standpoint – and even from a moral standpoint – it’s always best to avoid upsetting your fans, because obviously, an upset fan is not going to remain a fan for very long, and signing off on upsetting or troublesome language or imagery is never something anyone wants to do!
The problem I have, though, is that I truly do consider video games – ALL video games – to be art, and just as it wouldn’t feel right to me if someone painted over offensive material in a painting, edited out offensive material in a book, or cut offensive material from a film, I don’t want to see anyone (least of all us) editing out offensive material in games. My thought is, if it’s that offensive, then we probably shouldn’t be releasing the game at all – though that’s obviously not always a realistic option.
Recently, however, with all the news that’s come out about systemic sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and elsewhere, as well as the issues being faced by the LGBTQ community in this modern political climate, it’s become much harder to justify maintaining a zero-tolerance approach – and with a lot of Japanese games starting to really push the boundaries of “good taste” more and more, the looming threat of censorship has become much larger and more imposing than ever, and certainly more of a beast to fight on multiple levels. And it’s really not a battle I WANT to fight – I’d rather just localize games that everybody can enjoy!
I still hold firm in my belief, however, that if we want video games to be classified as an art form on par with books, films, and paintings, we need to maintain zero tolerance for censorship in localization, no matter how offensive the content we’re localizing may be. And if there’s any positive to be gained by doing so, it’s that the presence of offensive content in localized titles will spark much-needed discussion about those topics, and hopefully lead to a dialogue on the state of the industry in Japan, possibly even resulting in creators being a little more cognizant of people outside their tight-knit circle of acquaintances when designing new titles from here on out.
But for the immediate future, I believe content alteration will occur a little more often in the West than it has before (hopefully not by us, but regrettably, that isn’t outside the realm of possibility!), while little else will change for the industry overseas. My solace lies in the thought that we’ll just keep getting more games like the Zwei titles to work on: superb examples of classic action JRPG design with content that’s often snarky and a little mischievous, but never crosses the line into offensive territory, and thus isn’t at any risk of being toned down in localization. Those remain a joy to work on, and the more games of that sort I’m given, the less worried I’ll be about censorship moving forward.

The titles. We need to talk about the game titles...
What is it that makes Japanese naming conventions so different? How do you approach localizing a game's title, and what does it take to make it work in the West?


Tom: I don’t think most Japanese naming conventions are all that different, honestly, save for the fact that they’re usually much longer than the names we tend to see here (with subtitles on top of subtitles, e.g. “Corpse Party: BloodCovered: …Repeated Fear”). Which, I believe, is mostly attributable to some general differences in the way games are advertised in Japan, with more text meaning a bigger poster on the wall and more space allotted to discuss the game in print… not to mention the ability to strike a pose and rattle off a long name, looking and sounding kind of dorkily awesome in the process!
In the Western world, though, we’re definitely all about succinct naming: something short and to the point, that rolls off the tongue, with one or two words being the ideal. Especially if it’s unique enough to be Googlable! We want the name to be easy to remember so that prospective fans can always find information on it at a moment’s notice, even if they haven’t heard anyone talking about the game for quite some time.
I assume you’re speaking more in terms of translations, though (“Sen no Kiseki” → “Trails of Cold Steel”), as well as the rare addition of subtitles (“Zwei!!” → “Zwei: The Arges Adventure”). In the former case, the goal is to come up with something that remains relatively true to the original Japanese but still sounds snappy and natural in English, with bonus points for picking a name that perfectly fits the tone and content of the game (as “Trails of Cold Steel” most definitely does).
And in the latter case, we were really just trying to avoid drawing attention to the fact that we were releasing “Zwei II” before “Zwei” – a luxury afforded us by the fact that the two games tell standalone stories, and necessitated by the fact that Zwei II was finished and ready for release quite a bit sooner. We considered numerous possible subtitles for both games, but ultimately chose “The Ilvard Insurrection” for Zwei II because… well, it preserved the acronym, “Zwei:II”!
We attempted something similar with the first game, but despite our best attempts, we couldn’t come up with any viable names that would form the acronyms ONE, EINS, or even WAN, nor any single-word subtitles beginning with the letter I. We settled on AA to preserve the double lettering of Ilvard Insurrection, and because A is the first letter of the alphabet… and also because the first Zwei is a pretty tough game, so we anticipated a lot of people would be saying “AAAAAA” when playing it!
Post edited January 29, 2018 by maladr0Id
XSEED is cool, and I'll buy pretty much anything they release here. That is all.
Trails of Cold Steel II soon XD
Waiting for Tokyo Xanadu eX too...
Post edited January 29, 2018 by Reglisse
Can't wait to read part 2.
Also say no to SJWese and say yes to xseed.
Still need to beat trails in the sky fc though before i buy Tits sc, haven't tried any ys games yet or other games,but will try in the future.
Post edited January 29, 2018 by Fonzer
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GOG.com: Recently, however, with all the news that’s come out about systemic sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and elsewhere, as well as the issues being faced by the LGBTQ community in this modern political climate, it’s become much harder to justify maintaining a zero-tolerance approach – and with a lot of Japanese games starting to really push the boundaries of “good taste” more and more, the looming threat of censorship has become much larger and more imposing than ever, and certainly more of a beast to fight on multiple levels. And it’s really not a battle I WANT to fight – I’d rather just localize games that everybody can enjoy!
If this guy stands for 0 tolerance of censorship and freedom of expression, then he should stick with it. There is no "bad taste" exception to freedom of expression. Fiction is just that, fictional, not real. Creators can make whatever they want, and the market and only the market will then decide about success or failure. Is that really so difficult to understand for some people?
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GOG.com: I still hold firm in my belief, however, that if we want video games to be classified as an art form on par with books, films, and paintings, we need to maintain zero tolerance for censorship in localization, no matter how offensive the content we’re localizing may be. And if there’s any positive to be gained by doing so, it’s that the presence of offensive content in localized titles will spark much-needed discussion about those topics, and hopefully lead to a dialogue on the state of the industry in Japan, possibly even resulting in creators being a little more cognizant of people outside their tight-knit circle of acquaintances when designing new titles from here on out.
Self-censorship is still censorship, no matter how many mental gymnastics you undergo with it. Japanese creators already have enough trouble with moral guardians breathing down their necks when it comes to controversial topics, like gore, violence or lolis, we don't need even more of that. Stop being the fun police and let them create what they like, that's the only way to actually get somewhere.
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GOG.com: Recently, however, with all the news that’s come out about systemic sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and elsewhere, as well as the issues being faced by the LGBTQ community in this modern political climate, it’s become much harder to justify maintaining a zero-tolerance approach – and with a lot of Japanese games starting to really push the boundaries of “good taste” more and more, the looming threat of censorship has become much larger and more imposing than ever, and certainly more of a beast to fight on multiple levels. And it’s really not a battle I WANT to fight – I’d rather just localize games that everybody can enjoy!
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Thomas_Jackerson: If this guy stands for 0 tolerance of censorship and freedom of expression, then he should stick with it. There is no "bad taste" exception to freedom of expression. Fiction is just that, fictional, not real. Creators can make whatever they want, and the market and only the market will then decide about success or failure. Is that really so difficult to understand for some people?
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GOG.com: I still hold firm in my belief, however, that if we want video games to be classified as an art form on par with books, films, and paintings, we need to maintain zero tolerance for censorship in localization, no matter how offensive the content we’re localizing may be. And if there’s any positive to be gained by doing so, it’s that the presence of offensive content in localized titles will spark much-needed discussion about those topics, and hopefully lead to a dialogue on the state of the industry in Japan, possibly even resulting in creators being a little more cognizant of people outside their tight-knit circle of acquaintances when designing new titles from here on out.
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Thomas_Jackerson: Self-censorship is still censorship, no matter how many mental gymnastics you undergo with it. Japanese creators already have enough trouble with moral guardians breathing down their necks when it comes to controversial topics, like gore, violence or lolis, we don't need even more of that. Stop being the fun police and let them create what they like, that's the only way to actually get somewhere.
I agree with you. I hope the XSeed localization team reads this and understands one thing. Their audience, the ones who buy the games and they claim fear alienating, do not want content to be cut. They literally just want to understand the words in the game. Story, culture, context, we get most of it! We have been playing for years!

We are alienated by censorship.

An example of proper localization would be Okami. That is what should be done.

An example of what should never be done would be Fire Emblem: Fates... Or anything localized with politically correct censorship.

In fact I sincerely don't understand why Westerners are such prudes. They would rather see some guy getting chopped into bits than a pair of naked, healthy, natural breasts. It is insane! It is absurd! They would glorify the Guernica (Which is awful both in form and content) while disdaining Greco Roman nude statues.

Censorship should never be. And I am glad the person in that interview stated why a zero tolerance stance on censorship is logical. When localizers censor a game, they spit on both the audience who actually seek them uncut, and on the artists who made the game. As a writer, that is a personal thing.
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Fonzer: Can't wait to read part 2.
Also say no to SJWese and say yes to xseed.
Still need to beat trails in the sky fc though before i buy Tits sc, haven't tried any ys games yet or other games,but will try in the future.
Indeed! The ones who want censorship won't even play the games!
Post edited January 29, 2018 by LeonardoCornejo
FATE/ Extella
Senran Kagura

If XSEED loves the PC market so much, please prove it by releasing those games on GOG.
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Thomas_Jackerson: Self-censorship is still censorship, no matter how many mental gymnastics you undergo with it.
And you're still retarded. And Fonzer is having a hardon over JEWSJEWSJEWS poking through his swastika-decorated adult diapers. Nothing's changed.
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I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to XSEED and all the people who have worked on their releases from Ys 1 to Trails of Cold Steel. Your work provided me a lot of entertainment over Christmas because I blitzed through all the Ys games available here. I am eagerly awaiting Trails of Cold Steel 2 even though the first one may have jumped the shark at the end.

On the "good taste" point. I would rather you don't publish things that you find distasteful rather than removing sections of a game. The Internet will discover what you have removed and some of us will be very displeased by it. I don't think Japanese games are becoming any more distasteful excepting improved graphics allowing more details. Western audiences seem to turning more puritan. The loudest voices certainly are. As long as the people working at XSEED aren't Weinsteining about the office then you are free publish the most horrible, lecherous, insulting fantasy ever created should you wish. It. Is. Fantasy.

[EDIT]

Japanese games have longer titles because Kanji allows for much greater information density. Legend of Heroes on in image is just 4 characters. I love saying the full titles to people anyway. "The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky Second Chapter" "Hyperdimention Neptunia Rebirth 2 Sisters Generation". :)

/me out
Post edited January 29, 2018 by J_Darnley
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Thomas_Jackerson: Self-censorship is still censorship, no matter how many mental gymnastics you undergo with it.
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Starmaker: And you're still retarded. And Fonzer is having a hardon over JEWSJEWSJEWS poking through his swastika-decorated adult diapers. Nothing's changed.
errr...
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with a lot of Japanese games starting to really push the boundaries of “good taste” more and more, the looming threat of censorship has become much larger and more imposing than ever, and certainly more of a beast to fight on multiple levels.
Tom is definitely one of the most well-spoken guys I know of in the localization industry, and I generally agree with everything he says, but I think it's important to note here: if you genuinely think something is in bad taste, you don't have to localize it. If (and by "you" mean all translators, not specifically XSEED) you find something so objectionable that you would not be willing to publish it in the USA without censoring it, you can simply not do so and go work on something else instead. In fact, I don't think I would trust a translator who feels like they must change the intent and meaning of something in order to make it palatable for western audiences.

Anyway, thanks for fighting the good fight, and I'll continue to support XSEED.
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LeonardoCornejo: In fact I sincerely don't understand why Westerners are such prudes. They would rather see some guy getting chopped into bits than a pair of naked, healthy, natural breasts. It is insane! It is absurd! They would glorify the Guernica (Which is awful both in form and content) while disdaining Greco Roman nude statues.
While breasts may not be off limits they're still big on censorship laws surrounding genitalia. Currently I have hard time thinking of Japanese games that aren't purely H-games that actually show nudity while at least some western games like Witcher, Red Dead Redemption, GTA, God of War, Mafia 2, Far Cry and Saboteur are some that come to mind with nudity. Japanese games really stick to teasing at best.

And funnily enough violence is pretty toned down as well in Japanese games most of the time, they're not very often that bloody.
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Midnight_Wolf: FATE/ Extella
Senran Kagura

If XSEED loves the PC market so much, please prove it by releasing those games on GOG.
Not all the cards are in their hands though. I'm pretty sure XSeed is all for it, and that they tried, but Marvelous JP were simply against it.
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Starmaker: And you're still retarded. And Fonzer (...)
I remember a time when you were courteous as well as insightful. What happened to you?
You're better than this... I think.
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"possibly even resulting in creators being a little more cognizant of people outside their tight-knit circle of acquaintances when designing new titles from here on out."

ugh... what the hell is that? what is with this presumption that it is THEY who need to change?

people have a shitfit about "cultural appropriation" and yet it's totally fine to change the product of their culture willy nilly to be westernized to be "appropriate" for us? for those who would be offended at such things, how is that not offensive? how is that not CULTURAL WHITE WASHING?

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if you believe that games are art then games need to be personal and not sanded down to be the least offensive to everyone. and if you're not hard line about freedom of expression when it comes to art, then you might as well not even bring it up as a subject cuz you don't really believe in it.

if anything, i hope japan wins this culture clash and that it pokes a giant hole in this absurdly touchy american culture we're currently having to suffer through.
Post edited January 29, 2018 by jinchoung