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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
high rated
I'm going to sidestep the issue of censorship in localization (there should be none, full-stop) because there's a sentiment here that I find far, far more frightening. It's the idea that developers in Japan need to censor THEMSELVES, or that there's some sort of moral imperative to convince them that they should do so, so that there's nothing TO censor.

Quotes like "...if by some utter miracle my words DID influence a Japanese developer in some stray corner of the country to reconsider adding something gratuitious into their game...selfishly, I'd be pretty happy."

If a product is censored during localization, I can buy the original. If a product isn't localized at all, I can buy the original. I can make use of my Japanese on the level of a 2-year old to muddle through the story, though it will take me years for even a short game, I'm sure. But if we begin shaming (and even if that's not how you meant it, and even if you're not talking directly to developers, that's what it comes off to me as: shaming) developers into removing things they've put into games, or shaming them into preventing themselves from putting in things they want to put in, that option is forever removed from me. I no longer have the option to buy the original because the original has been altered from the outset for fear of an ever-increasing definition of "offense" or "gratuitousness."

It's admirable that even in the face of some of your coworkers' ire you stand against censorship. I thought removing your name from Akiba's Trip 2 for the minor censorship change there was a grand gesture. I really do appreciate it. Honestly, the only reason I even consider buying XSEED products at this point is because I know you're still there and you'll fight against these changes, letting fans know when things have been changed. The second you're gone and I no longer have that assurance, I don't know if I'll continue buying XSEED products: that's the level of trust I have in you.

But that quote, sentiments like it, and any amount of agreement with it legitimately make me fear for the future of Japanese games.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by Domnkou
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bluewave256: Yes, you are free to think I am an idiot. I do not care. You are still ugly.
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kohlrak: Crushed argument, now to this. Oh well, you can't win them all. =p
You only show you are an arrogant ignorant. You do not have any credit at your disposal.
That is the core reason your localisations suck. You are full of yourselves. You think you are on a civilizing mission on behalf of humanity. The native amerindians know very much what I am talking about.
No one cares about your shithole country (to quote someone else), you not represent anyone.
You should translate 100% accurate. Not changing anything at all.
But by the way the entire concept of translating is stupid. It is better to learn another language to play or read without any corruption.
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kohlrak: Crushed argument, now to this. Oh well, you can't win them all. =p
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bluewave256: You only show you are an arrogant ignorant. You do not have any credit at your disposal.
That is the core reason your localisations suck. You are full of yourselves. You think you are on a civilizing mission on behalf of humanity. The native amerindians know very much what I am talking about.
No one cares about your shithole country (to quote someone else), you not represent anyone.
You should translate 100% accurate. Not changing anything at all.
But by the way the entire concept of translating is stupid. It is better to learn another language to play or read without any corruption.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsyJkoSa9Fg

I figured you were a lefty, the people who are hardcore trying to censor right now. You're a hypocrite. Go away.

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Domnkou: I'm going to sidestep the issue of censorship in localization (there should be none, full-stop) because there's a sentiment here that I find far, far more frightening. It's the idea that developers in Japan need to censor THEMSELVES, or that there's some sort of moral imperative to convince them that they should do so, so that there's nothing TO censor.

Quotes like "...if by some utter miracle my words DID influence a Japanese developer in some stray corner of the country to reconsider adding something gratuitious into their game...selfishly, I'd be pretty happy."

If a product is censored during localization, I can buy the original. If a product isn't localized at all, I can buy the original. I can make use of my Japanese on the level of a 2-year old to muddle through the story, though it will take me years for even a short game, I'm sure. But if we begin shaming (and even if that's not how you meant it, and even if you're not talking directly to developers, that's what it comes off to me as: shaming) developers into removing things they've put into games, or shaming them into preventing themselves from putting in things they want to put in, that option is forever removed from me. I no longer have the option to buy the original because the original has been altered from the outset for fear of an ever-increasing definition of "offense" or "gratuitousness."

It's admirable that even in the face of some of your coworkers' ire you stand against censorship. I thought removing your name from Akiba's Trip 2 for the minor censorship change there was a grand gesture. I really do appreciate it. Honestly, the only reason I even consider buying XSEED products at this point is because I know you're still there and you'll fight against these changes, letting fans know when things have been changed. The second you're gone and I no longer have that assurance, I don't know if I'll continue buying XSEED products: that's the level of trust I have in you.

But that quote, sentiments like it, and any amount of agreement with it legitimately make me fear for the future of Japanese games.
I agree.
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bluewave256: You only show you are an arrogant ignorant. You do not have any credit at your disposal.
That is the core reason your localisations suck. You are full of yourselves. You think you are on a civilizing mission on behalf of humanity. The native amerindians know very much what I am talking about.
No one cares about your shithole country (to quote someone else), you not represent anyone.
You should translate 100% accurate. Not changing anything at all.
But by the way the entire concept of translating is stupid. It is better to learn another language to play or read without any corruption.
avatar
kohlrak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsyJkoSa9Fg

I figured you were a lefty, the people who are hardcore trying to censor right now. You're a hypocrite. Go away.
So you are a fascist? Good, that explains many things. Proud to be a european liberal (not in the warped idiocy you intend) and not a fascist who supports the unscientific concept of "races". Your stupid unitedstatian or americanized video does not work at all with me because there is no "white people". We are a multitude of ethnicities. Sardinians, corsicans, sicilians, piedmontese, lombards, venetians, maltese, albanians, friulans, cimbrians, mochens, ladins, etc etc etc. Even in the sardinians for example there are a mixture of different DNA groups. We are all mixed you unscientific illiterate. But I understand that you neanderthals living in caves who only study your praesidents can not comprehend that there is a huge world out there.
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kohlrak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsyJkoSa9Fg

I figured you were a lefty, the people who are hardcore trying to censor right now. You're a hypocrite. Go away.
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bluewave256: So you are a fascist? Good, that explains many things. Proud to be a european liberal (not in the warped idiocy you intend) and not a fascist who supports the unscientific concept of "races". Your stupid unitedstatian or americanized video does not work at all with me because there is no "white people". We are a multitude of ethnicities. Sardinians, corsicans, sicilians, piedmontese, lombards, venetians, maltese, albanians, friulans, cimbrians, mochens, ladins, etc etc etc. Even in the sardinians for example there are a mixture of different DNA groups. We are all mixed you unscientific illiterate. But I understand that you neanderthals living in caves who only study your praesidents can not comprehend that there is a huge world out there.
Yep, definitely the censorship crowd. You say you are against censorship, but you oppose people who are trying to end censorship. Speaking of hypocrites. Well, thank you for coming out into the light for all to see.

Though, i must touch on the race thing: why are white people at fault for everything if there are no races? You people are really weird. =p
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bluewave256: So you are a fascist? Good, that explains many things. Proud to be a european liberal (not in the warped idiocy you intend) and not a fascist who supports the unscientific concept of "races". Your stupid unitedstatian or americanized video does not work at all with me because there is no "white people". We are a multitude of ethnicities. Sardinians, corsicans, sicilians, piedmontese, lombards, venetians, maltese, albanians, friulans, cimbrians, mochens, ladins, etc etc etc. Even in the sardinians for example there are a mixture of different DNA groups. We are all mixed you unscientific illiterate. But I understand that you neanderthals living in caves who only study your praesidents can not comprehend that there is a huge world out there.
avatar
kohlrak: Yep, definitely the censorship crowd. You say you are against censorship, but you oppose people who are trying to end censorship. Speaking of hypocrites. Well, thank you for coming out into the light for all to see.

Though, i must touch on the race thing: why are white people at fault for everything if there are no races? You people are really weird. =p
Where did I say I am against people who want to stop censorship? I did not at all.
Where did I say "the white people" are at fault for everything? I did not at all again.
Are you even sane in the head? This strengthen my creed that is absolutely deleterious talking to a unitedstatian.
I repeat "white people" do not exist as a scientific concept. Races do not exist. We are all intermixed.
Stop being offended at everything. When you do that stop localising and start translating. Respect the other cultures and embrace diversity as the normality that already exists. (but your country had apartheid until the 70s so I do not have many hope in your lot)
It's very concerning to hear that Tom may one day give up his zero tolerance policy and help turn XSEED into yet another one of those localization companies that are happy with changing the creative vision of the original company because certain themes might not sit right with some people. If this is the road you wish to go down, that is fine. Just know that there are going to be far more people dropping XSEED as one of their top companies due to you changing the artistic vision of a game than there would be people dropping you if you decide to keep the game intact, "offending" them in the process. So far, I've seen your political beliefs and while I don't agree with all of them, you are free to think how you please. Do not become a company who shoves your political beliefs into the game you are working on. Far too many localization companies feel it is one hundred percent okay to insert their political messages where they don't belong. That, to me, is more disgusting than learning about a character's extremely tragic experience which shaped her into the kind of person she is.

The vast majority of people who would be "offended" by the games they say they are "offended" about, don't actually care about the game. They are a very vocal minority who, most likely, wouldn't buy the game in the first place. They feel as though everything must cater to them, however, and actively work to cry as loud as they can until someone listens and crumbles to their wishes. It's my hope you don't become one of those companies who listens to those people. It is my hope you do not walk down that road to self destruction. It is my hope that you spread this message to your coworkers and remind them if they do decide to alter the original creator's vision, sales for your company will drop hard.

TL;DR Just do your job well. Don't alter content. Don't inject political statements where they don't belong. Keep your zero tolerance policy intact and do not bend your knee to people who want to change that.
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kohlrak: Yep, definitely the censorship crowd. You say you are against censorship, but you oppose people who are trying to end censorship. Speaking of hypocrites. Well, thank you for coming out into the light for all to see.

Though, i must touch on the race thing: why are white people at fault for everything if there are no races? You people are really weird. =p
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bluewave256: Where did I say I am against people who want to stop censorship? I did not at all.
Where did I say "the white people" are at fault for everything? I did not at all again.
Are you even sane in the head? This strengthen my creed that is absolutely deleterious talking to a unitedstatian.
I repeat "white people" do not exist as a scientific concept. Races do not exist. We are all intermixed.
Stop being offended at everything. When you do that stop localising and start translating. Respect the other cultures and embrace diversity as the normality that already exists. (but your country had apartheid until the 70s so I do not have many hope in your lot)
And how do you define Apartheid?

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vexedperson: It's very concerning to hear that Tom may one day give up his zero tolerance policy and help turn XSEED into yet another one of those localization companies that are happy with changing the creative vision of the original company because certain themes might not sit right with some people. If this is the road you wish to go down, that is fine. Just know that there are going to be far more people dropping XSEED as one of their top companies due to you changing the artistic vision of a game than there would be people dropping you if you decide to keep the game intact, "offending" them in the process. So far, I've seen your political beliefs and while I don't agree with all of them, you are free to think how you please. Do not become a company who shoves your political beliefs into the game you are working on. Far too many localization companies feel it is one hundred percent okay to insert their political messages where they don't belong. That, to me, is more disgusting than learning about a character's extremely tragic experience which shaped her into the kind of person she is.

The vast majority of people who would be "offended" by the games they say they are "offended" about, don't actually care about the game. They are a very vocal minority who, most likely, wouldn't buy the game in the first place. They feel as though everything must cater to them, however, and actively work to cry as loud as they can until someone listens and crumbles to their wishes. It's my hope you don't become one of those companies who listens to those people. It is my hope you do not walk down that road to self destruction. It is my hope that you spread this message to your coworkers and remind them if they do decide to alter the original creator's vision, sales for your company will drop hard.

TL;DR Just do your job well. Don't alter content. Don't inject political statements where they don't belong. Keep your zero tolerance policy intact and do not bend your knee to people who want to change that.
I honestly think they don't understand niche games are niche games. Most japanese games are going to go to a niche market, and that is not going to change any time soon. As for the political injection, people feel that just because they have power they also have a right to use it for any purpose. People have a hard time seeing it immoral to use their power to enact their moral beliefs on others, who do not share their morality.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by kohlrak
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bluewave256: Where did I say I am against people who want to stop censorship? I did not at all.
Where did I say "the white people" are at fault for everything? I did not at all again.
Are you even sane in the head? This strengthen my creed that is absolutely deleterious talking to a unitedstatian.
I repeat "white people" do not exist as a scientific concept. Races do not exist. We are all intermixed.
Stop being offended at everything. When you do that stop localising and start translating. Respect the other cultures and embrace diversity as the normality that already exists. (but your country had apartheid until the 70s so I do not have many hope in your lot)
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kohlrak: And how do you define Apartheid?
Skin colour segregation. Forbidding mixed skin colour marriages. Ghettoization of cities. KKK. Forbidding of mixed skin colour schools. Discrimination in the army. Your shame. Everyone knows. You were the same as South Africa and Israel. And you did not become better that much.
Great! Seriously, it's wonderful. At least there is one person who has the balls to admit of what's really happening in US media. Not liberation, not progress and defenitely not tolerance. It's just censorship and bullying those creators who don't comply with "social justice" - plain and simple.
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kohlrak: And how do you define Apartheid?
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bluewave256: Skin colour segregation. Forbidding mixed skin colour marriages. Ghettoization of cities. KKK. Forbidding of mixed skin colour schools. Discrimination in the army. Your shame. Everyone knows. You were the same as South Africa and Israel. And you did not become better that much.
So in the less than 1000 years of our existence, it changes from how the rest of the world was for over 1000 years?
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bluewave256: Skin colour segregation. Forbidding mixed skin colour marriages. Ghettoization of cities. KKK. Forbidding of mixed skin colour schools. Discrimination in the army. Your shame. Everyone knows. You were the same as South Africa and Israel. And you did not become better that much.
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kohlrak: So in the less than 1000 years of our existence, it changes from how the rest of the world was for over 1000 years?
You confirm you are clearly not sane. You can not understand a logic reasoning. I tried to reason with you even if you are beyond hope because I am a good person but you are really unsalvageable.
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bluewave256: Skin colour segregation. Forbidding mixed skin colour marriages. Ghettoization of cities. KKK. Forbidding of mixed skin colour schools. Discrimination in the army. Your shame. Everyone knows. You were the same as South Africa and Israel. And you did not become better that much.
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kohlrak: So in the less than 1000 years of our existence, it changes from how the rest of the world was for over 1000 years?
Actually, human culture existed for more than 2000 years. And through that time people were generally quite indeffirent to subject of race. It is US where racism really took shape. First against native americans, who were driven to reservations, then to people of color, who were brought to America as slaves, and now white people are getting the same treatment. All this stems from one single thing - US belief in their moral superiority.
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kohlrak: So in the less than 1000 years of our existence, it changes from how the rest of the world was for over 1000 years?
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bluewave256: You confirm you are clearly not sane. You can not understand a logic reasoning. I tried to reason with you even if you are beyond hope because I am a good person but you are really unsalvageable.
By definition i'm quite sane. By definition, your lack of answer to the question defines you as very insane, by extension of "irrational." My question is quite rational. My question is a logical question, and you provided no logical answer for it.

So what we have, here, is projection, which we frequently see from the left, and it's also how they justify hypocrisy.
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kohlrak: So in the less than 1000 years of our existence, it changes from how the rest of the world was for over 1000 years?
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LootHunter: Actually, human culture existed for more than 2000 years. And through that time people were generally quite indeffirent to subject of race. It is US where racism really took shape. First against native americans, who were driven to reservations, then to people of color, who were brought to America as slaves, and now white people are getting the same treatment. All this stems from one single thing - US belief in their moral superiority.
Actually, most native americans ended up intermixing with white people, hence the disappearance. A few groups were pretty much anti-white, and these were typically the same groups that had issues with other tribes, too. As for reservations, i agree they should not have been done, yet it's getting old how little context is placed into the matter when ti's talked about.

As for slavery, it's been practiced by everyone all over the world. Actually, IIRC, the US was one of the first 10 countries to abolish slavery. In fact, in some countries, it's still practiced today, like in Libya.

But, you're right about moral superiority. Everyone thinks they have it towards everyone. The fact that people are coming after the US for it also precludes that those coming after us feel the same way: that they're superior. Frankly, that's the basis of human differences: everyone thinks they have the right way. If someone has a different idea, they're wrong, otherwise would you not adopt the way of someone doing better than you? If you're better than that other person, because you don't agree with them and become like them, then they must be doing something immoral or must immorally have better chances than you.
Post edited January 31, 2018 by kohlrak
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bluewave256: You confirm you are clearly not sane. You can not understand a logic reasoning. I tried to reason with you even if you are beyond hope because I am a good person but you are really unsalvageable.
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kohlrak: By definition i'm quite sane. By definition, your lack of answer to the question defines you as very insane, by extension of "irrational." My question is quite rational. My question is a logical question, and you provided no logical answer for it.

So what we have, here, is projection, which we frequently see from the left, and it's also how they justify hypocrisy.
Why are you dumb fat subhumans so fixated on the left there left that? Is everything communists fault?
By the way I am a left wing nationalist green anarcho-syndicalist. I am against censorship, sjws, hypocrisy and political correctness.
If you want to stroke your penis telling yourself how are you so much better than me because I am a "libtard" while only earing news from Fox News you can look at my Twitter profile to understand how much evil I am because I am a red commie that eats children and wants to corrupt and destroy your "american dream" (of obesity and stupidity)
https://twitter.com/Bluewave256
I predict you will not understand a thing because you are stupid. (but you write japanese phrases so you are so cool, yo!)
Have fun!
Post edited January 31, 2018 by bluewave256