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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
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kohlrak: I don't care what you initially said: i care about what you're saying now. Labels are useful, and as long as you can speak, you can argue against the label which you or someone else assigns you.
And what a waste of time that is. Expending energy hashing out who is or isn't X,Y,Z and which person has the presumptions which most or least closely mirror the present context.

I'd rather spend time on the actual subject (in this case cecnsorship) rather than trying to ascribe traits and/or blame to conceptual bundles of people.

You seem very content with your examples so I suppose those work well enough for your purposes, however nothing in my exprience can confirm what you've described as accurate and you've painted with such broad stroakes that I cannot attempt to evaluate any specific situation from your life for myself so I suppose I'll just have to agree to disagree.
You see classifying people as useful, I do not.

I'm now going to refocus myself on the main topic and leave this one to rest.
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kohlrak: I don't care what you initially said: i care about what you're saying now. Labels are useful, and as long as you can speak, you can argue against the label which you or someone else assigns you.
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RoseLegion: And what a waste of time that is. Expending energy hashing out who is or isn't X,Y,Z and which person has the presumptions which most or least closely mirror the present context.
Usually one or two labels suffices. If they can express how they're different, it usually doesn't take long or much to do so. Meanwhile, without them, you can find yourself spending alot of the conversation getting down to the actual core difference between you and the other person, when the label would've gotten you there faster.
I'd rather spend time on the actual subject (in this case cecnsorship) rather than trying to ascribe traits and/or blame to conceptual bundles of people.
Having the same conversations about a particular subject over and over again with the same points being made every time gets a little dull. Cut the crap, drop the bomb, and get to the core faster. If there's a conversation to be had, it's at the core.
You seem very content with your examples so I suppose those work well enough for your purposes, however nothing in my exprience can confirm what you've described as accurate and you've painted with such broad stroakes that I cannot attempt to evaluate any specific situation from your life for myself so I suppose I'll just have to agree to disagree.
You see classifying people as useful, I do not.
How much experience did you say you had again?
I'm now going to refocus myself on the main topic and leave this one to rest.
Oo, the escape route. Didn't see that coming (actually, i did). Don't pick a fight you don't plan to finish.
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kohlrak: Oo, the escape route. Didn't see that coming (actually, i did). Don't pick a fight you don't plan to finish.
Didn't pick a fight, didn't know this was you "fighting" and you started talking to me not the other way round.
(with as has been mentioned an unrelated comment, which you "didn't care" if it was related according to your later responses)

If riding a subject in such a way that someone no longer sees use in talking to you about it is your idea of "winning" then I suppose that explains why you're so fond of classifying people.

But hey, I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll treat a conversation as real when I'm being trolled.
Post edited January 30, 2018 by RoseLegion
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kohlrak: Oo, the escape route. Didn't see that coming (actually, i did). Don't pick a fight you don't plan to finish.
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RoseLegion: Didn't pick a fight, didn't know this was you "fighting" and you started talking to me no the other way round.
It's an idiom. Chill.
If riding a subject in such a way that someone no longer sees use in talking to you about it is your idea of "winning" then I suppose that explains why you're so fond of classifying people.
No, people have this habit of "let's go off the rails, disagree about something, then turn around and pretend that we're suddenly interested in staying on the rails." Usually this happens when someone attempts to bait someone into staying off the rails and wants to vilify them for doing it.
But hey, I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll treat a conversation as real when I'm being trolled.
See? Case in point.
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wyrdwad: Wow, OK. It seems in the short time I was gone from this forum, my words were quite heavily misunderstood!

I don't think you guys and I are on such opposite sides of the coin as you seem to feel we are; I think I'm just not quite making my points very clearly.

Allow me to clarify to the best of my ability.

No matter how you may feel about controversial content in games, you have to admit that on occasion, content comes up that -- if someone asks, "why is that in there?" -- the only real explanation anyone can come up with is, "for the hell of it." It doesn't fit the mood or feel of the game in any way, and seems to have been included solely for the sake of stirring the pot.

Now, there may be a deeper reason for its inclusion, which is part of why I feel it's necessary to always honor this content in localization. A lot of times, though, it's there before the creator didn't know any better -- maybe he/she saw it somewhere once and thought it was neat-looking, so he/she included it in the game without any further research whatsoever as to the possible subtler meaning behind it.

However, I believe more often than not, the real reason it's there is because the creator simply wanted to see how much he/she could get away with.

In other words, it exists as a DIRECT CHALLENGE to censorship culture. It's there because the creator knows all of his/her content is at risk of being altered or removed, and wants to see just how far he/she can push things before that happens.

What I want to see is a world where there's no need to test the waters like this; a world where creators know their content is never going to be altered or removed due to its offensive or salacious nature, so they no longer feel the need to add little things like that just to see if they can get away with them. Basically, I want a world where creators feel comfortable adding controversial content to their work whenever they feel it's appropriate to do so, without worry.

...And it would also be nice if creators educated themselves a bit more about stuff they don't understand, so they stop throwing in symbology without knowing what it actually represents. That way, if they still choose to include it, they do so with full awareness of its meaning, and can effectively defend it should the decision to include it be challenged.

That's basically all I'm saying here. I hate dealing with games that include "scandalous" content just for the sake of having it, because I hate that it's even necessary for game developers to do this; however, even in those cases, I will always defend that content, despite personally not liking it.

If that still offends or upsets anyone, I am sorry. But that is my personal view on this matter. I can't help it if I'd rather play (and thus also rather work on) games like Zwei, Brandish, and PopoloCrois -- those games are awesome, and can be localized without the constant fear of being told from above that some of their content needs to be changed.

Also, just to note: the reason I'm not mentioning any specific games or incidents by name is because most of them are from non-XSEED titles, and I don't feel it's in my place as an industry representative to blast other people's work. I just feel it would be professionally inappropriate for me to do so.

I'm sure you can all think of examples, though, where content was seemingly included "just for the hell of it," so please assume I'm talking about those titles in this discussion.

-Tom
You (EXSEED) as the license holder for the some localization title (Falcom, etc) of Japanese games feel free to censor, alter, INTEGRATE WESTERN VALUES or whatever you think is necessary but if you do that I guarantee some of the fans of Japanese games (including me) will start to consider for learn Japanese because of that.

I love Japanese culture and games and I want to play the game as the creator originally intended for JAPANESE AUDIENCE but until today I cannot read Japanese, so yeah I still need of your localization for now.

Oh man cannot wait to drop NISA, NOA, KONAMI or any other shitty localization company forever.
Post edited January 30, 2018 by Faith
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wyrdwad: Wow, OK. It seems in the short time I was gone from this forum, my words were quite heavily misunderstood!

I don't think you guys and I are on such opposite sides of the coin as you seem to feel we are; I think I'm just not quite making my points very clearly.

Allow me to clarify to the best of my ability.

No matter how you may feel about controversial content in games, you have to admit that on occasion, content comes up that -- if someone asks, "why is that in there?" -- the only real explanation anyone can come up with is, "for the hell of it." It doesn't fit the mood or feel of the game in any way, and seems to have been included solely for the sake of stirring the pot.

Now, there may be a deeper reason for its inclusion, which is part of why I feel it's necessary to always honor this content in localization. A lot of times, though, it's there before the creator didn't know any better -- maybe he/she saw it somewhere once and thought it was neat-looking, so he/she included it in the game without any further research whatsoever as to the possible subtler meaning behind it.

However, I believe more often than not, the real reason it's there is because the creator simply wanted to see how much he/she could get away with.

In other words, it exists as a DIRECT CHALLENGE to censorship culture. It's there because the creator knows all of his/her content is at risk of being altered or removed, and wants to see just how far he/she can push things before that happens.

What I want to see is a world where there's no need to test the waters like this; a world where creators know their content is never going to be altered or removed due to its offensive or salacious nature, so they no longer feel the need to add little things like that just to see if they can get away with them. Basically, I want a world where creators feel comfortable adding controversial content to their work whenever they feel it's appropriate to do so, without worry.

...And it would also be nice if creators educated themselves a bit more about stuff they don't understand, so they stop throwing in symbology without knowing what it actually represents. That way, if they still choose to include it, they do so with full awareness of its meaning, and can effectively defend it should the decision to include it be challenged.

That's basically all I'm saying here. I hate dealing with games that include "scandalous" content just for the sake of having it, because I hate that it's even necessary for game developers to do this; however, even in those cases, I will always defend that content, despite personally not liking it.

If that still offends or upsets anyone, I am sorry. But that is my personal view on this matter. I can't help it if I'd rather play (and thus also rather work on) games like Zwei, Brandish, and PopoloCrois -- those games are awesome, and can be localized without the constant fear of being told from above that some of their content needs to be changed.

Also, just to note: the reason I'm not mentioning any specific games or incidents by name is because most of them are from non-XSEED titles, and I don't feel it's in my place as an industry representative to blast other people's work. I just feel it would be professionally inappropriate for me to do so.

I'm sure you can all think of examples, though, where content was seemingly included "just for the hell of it," so please assume I'm talking about those titles in this discussion.

-Tom
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Faith: You (EXSEED) as the license holder of for the some localization title (Falcom, etc) of Japanese games feel free to censor, alter, INTEGRATE WESTERN VALUES or whatever you think is necessary but if you do that I guarantee some of the fans of Japanese games (including me) will start to consider for learn Japanese because of that.

I love Japanese culture and games and I want to play the game as the creator originally intended for JAPANESE AUDIENCE but until today I cannot read Japanese, so yeah I still need of your localization for now.

Oh man cannot wait to drop NISA, NOA, KONAMI or any other shitty localization company forever.
もう日本語読めるで。ねたんでるん?
I really don't trust localization companies.. Just translate the damn thing, nobody wants to have sushi changed to hamburger or things you don't like replaced with bad internet memes.
How come every single fan translation is of top notch quality and perfectly understandable, but somehow if a big game isn't localized and completely changed then it's not good enough?

You just can't trust localization.
Post edited January 30, 2018 by guruFTW
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guruFTW: Localization companies are the worst. Just translate the damn thing, nobody wants to have sushi changed to hamburger or things you don't like replaced with bad internet memes.
How come every single fan translation is of top notch quality and perfectly understandable, but somehow if a big game isn't localized and completely changed then it's not good enough?

You just can't trust localization.
Fan translations, in my experience, tend to be of mixed quality. There are some good ones, but then there are some bad ones; the Dragon Quest 6 fan translation is particularly bad, for example (shame, because I think the gameplay is better than the DS version's gameplay). In fact, the DQ6 fan translation is so bad that some simple menuing can cause the game to crash, and you can't check how much money you're carrying on the status screen.

The Lennus 2 translation, while not a bad translation, makes it so that you can't see how much medicine you have during battle. (I managed to find a video of the untranslated game, and you could see how much medicine you have left in your bottles during battle; that's missing in the fan translation.)

There's also Treasure of the Rudras, where the fan translation changed the balance of the magic system. (Admittedly, that is one thing you can't just translate, but I think it would have worked to keep spell names in Japanese (or made-up words using Japanese characters) but translate the rest. Of course, even then the connection between certain in-game names and certain functional spells would be lost.

Then, of course, there are things that just don't translate at all, like puns. At that point, a translator *has* to change it (I mentioned a couple examples in an earlier post).
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dtgreene: Then, of course, there are things that just don't translate at all, like puns. At that point, a translator *has* to change it (I mentioned a couple examples in an earlier post).
There is literally no need to do so. Just leave the game as it is.

It's more likely you're going to end up with a cringey joke rather than a weird joke that doesn't land by localizing it. Way worse.
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dtgreene: Then, of course, there are things that just don't translate at all, like puns. At that point, a translator *has* to change it (I mentioned a couple examples in an earlier post).
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guruFTW: There is literally no need to do so. Just leave the game as it is.

It's more likely you're going to end up with a cringey joke rather than a weird joke that doesn't land by localizing it. Way worse.
I agree to a point. I hear monster hunter translations don't suck. Then again, monster hunter is weak on story. But there are things that cannot be translated. If you spoke japanese, i'd make some examples for you.
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kohlrak: I agree to a point. I hear monster hunter translations don't suck. Then again, monster hunter is weak on story. But there are things that cannot be translated. If you spoke japanese, i'd make some examples for you.
I understand perfectly, I've got a marginal knowledge of how japanese works and I know of jokes that cannot be translated.
What surprise me is people that think people play Japanese games because they want a western experience.

It's like, why bother changing the text and the references when everything else about the game is still exactly the same as in Japan? Look at Persona, the whole school system is completely different from 90% of the world, is that a problem, does that ruin the game because it's different?

No, it makes the game special, and that's why people like it. Same goes for almost every single Japanese title I can think of. People that play shooters and Sports games aren't going to buy an anime game just because you removed a joke that would be considered offensive either way, why even bother?
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kohlrak: I agree to a point. I hear monster hunter translations don't suck. Then again, monster hunter is weak on story. But there are things that cannot be translated. If you spoke japanese, i'd make some examples for you.
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guruFTW: I understand perfectly, I've got a marginal knowledge of how japanese works and I know of jokes that cannot be translated.
What surprise me is people that think people play Japanese games because they want a western experience.

It's like, why bother changing the text and the references when everything else about the game is still exactly the same as in Japan? Look at Persona, the whole school system is completely different from 90% of the world, is that a problem, does that ruin the game because it's different?

No, it makes the game special, and that's why people like it. Same goes for almost every single Japanese title I can think of. People that play shooters and Sports games aren't going to buy an anime game just because you removed a joke that would be considered offensive either way, why even bother?
More than just jokes. A given character could have a particular speech peculiarity, which is so unbelievably common in japanse media, and it could even end up being a major plot point (which is why games like 大神 use terrible french accents, because in that game it ended up being a foreshadowing of a huge plot twist).
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kohlrak: More than just jokes. A given character could have a particular speech peculiarity, which is so unbelievably common in japanse media, and it could even end up being a major plot point (which is why games like 大神 use terrible french accents, because in that game it ended up being a foreshadowing of a huge plot twist).
Let's be honest here, if localization stopped at changing accents we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.
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kohlrak: More than just jokes. A given character could have a particular speech peculiarity, which is so unbelievably common in japanse media, and it could even end up being a major plot point (which is why games like 大神 use terrible french accents, because in that game it ended up being a foreshadowing of a huge plot twist).
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guruFTW: Let's be honest here, if localization stopped at changing accents we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.
I agree, which is why we must be a bit more upfront. I'm totally against the unnecessary changes, but you can't just say "simply translate it." It's a bit harder than that, and if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be upfront about that.
Censorship in the west is nothing new. By 1875 one hindu saint -some say god incarnate as we all are- had a terrible and nasty vision (a nephew asked him to showcase "occult" powers and such) and he had "(...) a vision. A middle-aged prostitute, about forty years old, appeared and sat with her back to me. She had large hips and wore a black-bordered sari. Soon she was covered with filth. The Mother (Kali) showed me that occult powers are as abominable as the filth of that prostitute."

His disciples thought this was too heavy for western readers and stuff.
In the original texts that prostitute.... ahem... shat profusely. Yes. That's censorship y'all ;P