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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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wyrdwad: Essentially what I'm saying is, it's not self-censorship if the dev never intended that content to be there. And I'd love to see more occasions where this is the case. I want developers to stop feeling like they HAVE to include controversial content just to sell their products, you know?
What you may perceive as 'fan service' or 'controversial' can actually be part of the developer's personality and intention. The world you propose is a sanitized prison, in which people can't be ludicrous, lewd, violent, or even truthful about their character.
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wyrdwad: Essentially what I'm saying is, it's not self-censorship if the dev never intended that content to be there. And I'd love to see more occasions where this is the case. I want developers to stop feeling like they HAVE to include controversial content just to sell their products, you know?
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Sabin_Stargem: What you may perceive as 'fan service' or 'controversial' can actually be part of the developer's personality and intention. The world you propose is a sanitized prison, in which people can't be ludicrous, lewd, violent, or even truthful about their character.
Not "can't." That's the point I'm trying to make here.

If developers feel they CAN'T be ludicrous, lewd, violent, or especially truthful, then that would be a sad world indeed.

I want to see a world in which developers feel they CAN be all of those things, whenever they wish. And indeed, I want to see all of those things in art... where it benefits the art.

But I also want to see a world in which developers don't feel they HAVE to be ANY of those things. Because right now, I see an industry in which a lot of developers add unnecessary fanservice or controversial content to their game not because it benefits the art, but because it helps get the game in the news and thus boosts sales, or because the game lacks substance or quality and the developers feel that they can sell copies regardless simply by adding things to -- again -- get the game in the news, or attract people to buy it solely for the fanservice (despite the game itself not being worthwhile otherwise).

And no, I'm not talking about Senran Kagura, nor any other favorite games of anyone here (most likely), as those are titles that absolutely 100% utilize their fanservice and controversial content to benefit the art.

Even in cases where that's not true, however -- even in cases where I feel the controversial content is 100% gratuitous and adds nothing whatsoever to the art -- I will always defend it to the end, fighting tooth and nail to include every last bit of it in the localized version. And I will never tell the developers that I feel they should not include that content, because it's not in my place to do so.

But I can still personally WISH that content weren't there, in those cases. I can still wish that those developers didn't feel inclined to include what I perceive to be completely extraneous, gratuitous fanservice or controversial themes.

And that's basically all I'm saying here.

Why that's been such a cause for concern, I'm not sure. I mean, for people to say I'm wrong to wish that developers were more discerning with their usage of controversial themes, it almost seems like they're saying I should censor my viewpoints! ;)

-Tom
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wyrdwad: But I can still personally WISH that content weren't there, in those cases. I can still wish that those developers didn't feel inclined to include what I perceive to be completely extraneous, gratuitous fanservice or controversial themes.

And that's basically all I'm saying here.

Why that's been such a cause for concern, I'm not sure. I mean, for people to say I'm wrong to wish that developers were more discerning with their usage of controversial themes, it almost seems like they're saying I should censor my viewpoints! ;)

-Tom
It is fine to be uncomfortable with various things, and to turn down a project on that basis. However, people have gotten the impression that Xseed wants all oriental games sanitized, so that Xseed doesn't have to make the call on whether or not to translate a game in the first place.

That is problematic: by default, no entity in that scenario can create or be involved with a 'dirty' game.

In any case, your viewpoint is valid. However, I will champion my own in response, because allowing your viewpoint go unchallenged will allow it to become the norm. This would determine what I can('t) play in the future. The people who oppose you in this thread care very deeply about their culture and freedom, so they speak their minds.
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Sabin_Stargem: It is fine to be uncomfortable with various things, and to turn down a project on that basis. However, people have gotten the impression that Xseed wants all oriental games sanitized, so that Xseed doesn't have to make the call on whether or not to translate a game in the first place.
And see, that's not accurate. For one thing, the opinions expressed in this interview are mine alone, not XSEED's. And for another -- again -- I am not looking to have anyone sanitize anything! I just take personal offense to bad games, basically, and wish there were more good ones. ;)

That is problematic: by default, no entity in that scenario can create or be involved with a 'dirty' game.
I wholly agree. The point here, though, is that the scenario in question is an invented one. You, and many others, are reading things into my answer to the interview question that were never meant.

In any case, your viewpoint is valid. However, I will champion my own in response, because allowing your viewpoint go unchallenged will allow it to become the norm. This would determine what I can('t) play in the future.
Again, no, it won't! If you believe that, then simply put, you do not actually comprehend my viewpoint. At no point in time whatsoever have I said that I want to influence developers in any way. I have merely lamented that some developers exercise what I feel to be a poor game design philosophy, and I would personally prefer that not to be the case.

I am not saying, and never have said, that I feel those developers should be told what to do, nor that their games should be sanitized or censored because of this belief. Simply that I wish things were different.

The people who oppose you in this thread care very deeply about their culture and freedom, so they speak their minds.
I care just as deeply about their/your culture and freedom, though. Because it is my culture and freedom as well. All of ours, in fact.

My words have been misinterpreted here. Everyone seems to assume -- for some bizarre reason! -- that I am advocating censorship (self- or otherwise), when anyone who knows me can tell you that I am one of the most vehemently anti-censorship people in this corner of the industry.

Please try to understand that the things you profess to assume about me, and about my viewpoints, are completely incorrect. I am, absolutely and wholeheartedly, on your side here.

-Tom
Post edited February 06, 2018 by wyrdwad
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wyrdwad: I want to see a world in which developers feel they CAN be all of those things, whenever they wish. And indeed, I want to see all of those things in art... where it benefits the art.

But I also want to see a world in which developers don't feel they HAVE to be ANY of those things. Because right now, I see an industry in which a lot of developers add unnecessary fanservice or controversial content to their game not because it benefits the art, but because it helps get the game in the news and thus boosts sales, or because the game lacks substance or quality and the developers feel that they can sell copies regardless simply by adding things to -- again -- get the game in the news, or attract people to buy it solely for the fanservice (despite the game itself not being worthwhile otherwise).
I agree with you here, but how can you escape that in a world dominated by consumerism?
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richlind33: I agree with you here, but how can you escape that in a world dominated by consumerism?
Oh, you can't. But I'm totally just pipe-dreaming here! I've long been a Trekkie, and have always striven for the ideal of the Roddenberry future. I know it's just an ideal... but dammit, it's a beautiful one! And I hope I live long enough to see at least the beginnings of that ideal take shape within society. I don't expect I will (particularly if I keep eating the way I do!), but hey, a man can dream, right? ;)

-Tom
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richlind33: I agree with you here, but how can you escape that in a world dominated by consumerism?
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wyrdwad: Oh, you can't. But I'm totally just pipe-dreaming here! I've long been a Trekkie, and have always striven for the ideal of the Roddenberry future. I know it's just an ideal... but dammit, it's a beautiful one! And I hope I live long enough to see at least the beginnings of that ideal take shape within society. I don't expect I will (particularly if I keep eating the way I do!), but hey, a man can dream, right? ;)

-Tom
Personally, I think consumerism is killing this world on all levels, so not only should we "dream", we should try to actualize our dreams to the greatest extent possible, and I would love to see this sentiment expressed more frequently. Yes, we *can* change the world -- but only if we try.
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dtgreene: Except that emotional harm is still real harm, and the wrong words can cause emotional harm.

If a person experiences enough physical harm, they will, of course, die. If a person experiences enough emotional harm, they will, eventually, commit suicide and die.

So, emotional harm is just as real as physical harm.

Also, you might want to read about what triggers really are. For example, a rape survivor, on reading a depiction of rape, might suddenly start re-experiencing the trauma associated with said rape; in this case, the depiction of rape triggered that person's PTSD from the rape experience. Such a person would be harmed, in fact, by depictions of rape in media; hence the need for trigger warnings in such situations. (Remember, people who are not triggered by such things are free to ignore the warnings.)
Really? Well it sure explains why so many people have to retreat to safe spaces in order to feel safe doesn't it. Unlike previous generations where people simply got on with their lives. Then again, maybe it's because they've had such an easy life that they simply fold under the tiniest amount of criticism. Very conductive in a society wouldn't you say?

You're trying to tell someone who had PTSD from a serious workplace injury, what triggers are? Amazing. Let me explain something to you, when I nearly died from a head injury while working at a lumber mill. The smell of freshly cut pine lumber bothered me, and yet I still loved the smell. Even almost 20 years later, the smell of pine will cause that immediate flash back when 1/3 tonne of lumber came down on top of me. Sure don't expect 'trigger warnings' in skyrim at lumber mills, I don't expect it in life either. And that's a fact for most of us who have it, we get on with life learn to steel ourselves, and keep going.

Challenge, discord, suffering are all life experiences. How you react, or don't tells the world exactly what type of person you really are.
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dtgreene: Except that emotional harm is still real harm, and the wrong words can cause emotional harm.

If a person experiences enough physical harm, they will, of course, die. If a person experiences enough emotional harm, they will, eventually, commit suicide and die.

So, emotional harm is just as real as physical harm.

Also, you might want to read about what triggers really are. For example, a rape survivor, on reading a depiction of rape, might suddenly start re-experiencing the trauma associated with said rape; in this case, the depiction of rape triggered that person's PTSD from the rape experience. Such a person would be harmed, in fact, by depictions of rape in media; hence the need for trigger warnings in such situations. (Remember, people who are not triggered by such things are free to ignore the warnings.)
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Hitchno: Really? Well it sure explains why so many people have to retreat to safe spaces in order to feel safe doesn't it. Unlike previous generations where people simply got on with their lives. Then again, maybe it's because they've had such an easy life that they simply fold under the tiniest amount of criticism. Very conductive in a society wouldn't you say?

You're trying to tell someone who had PTSD from a serious workplace injury, what triggers are? Amazing. Let me explain something to you, when I nearly died from a head injury while working at a lumber mill. The smell of freshly cut pine lumber bothered me, and yet I still loved the smell. Even almost 20 years later, the smell of pine will cause that immediate flash back when 1/3 tonne of lumber came down on top of me. Sure don't expect 'trigger warnings' in skyrim at lumber mills, I don't expect it in life either. And that's a fact for most of us who have it, we get on with life learn to steel ourselves, and keep going.

Challenge, discord, suffering are all life experiences. How you react, or don't tells the world exactly what type of person you really are.
Society promotes the notion that victim psychology isn't an affliction, because "victims" are easy to manipulate and exploit. Like taking candy from a baby.
"
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!"

My issue with that is that those fans who are easily offended are a very small minority. You end up offending and pissing ofg the majority of your fans with censorship and risk alienating them. It's it really worth the potential the lose the majority of your fans to appease the minority?
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wyrdwad: But I can still personally WISH that content weren't there, in those cases. I can still wish that those developers didn't feel inclined to include what I perceive to be completely extraneous, gratuitous fanservice or controversial themes.

And that's basically all I'm saying here.
The problem (with what you saying) is that there is a difference beween wishing some content not to be (or to be) in the game and wishing developers TO FEEL certain way.

The former is a natural desire for consumer with own taste, the latter is a rather creepy notion to reshape someone else's thoughts.
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dtgreene: Except that emotional harm is still real harm, and the wrong words can cause emotional harm.

If a person experiences enough physical harm, they will, of course, die. If a person experiences enough emotional harm, they will, eventually, commit suicide and die.

So, emotional harm is just as real as physical harm.
Except that an artist whose work is censored also experiences emotional harm. In fact suicides among artists who thought that their work is not appreciated are not unheard of.

So people who force censorship on art under the premise that emotional state of certain groups of people should be protected are doing it at the expense of other people.
Post edited February 12, 2018 by LootHunter
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wyrdwad: But I can still personally WISH that content weren't there, in those cases. I can still wish that those developers didn't feel inclined to include what I perceive to be completely extraneous, gratuitous fanservice or controversial themes.

And that's basically all I'm saying here.
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LootHunter: The problem (with what you saying) is that there is a difference beween wishing some content not to be (or to be) in the game and wishing developers TO FEEL certain way.

The former is a natural desire for consumer with own taste, the latter is a rather creepy notion to reshape someone else's thoughts.
See, that's where I feel you guys are getting the wrong idea. I'm not seeking to reshape anyone's thoughts -- I'm wishing the WORLD were a different place altogether, where those thoughts pretty much didn't exist in the first place.

I'm being an idealist -- wishing for a Star Trek future, basically, where all poverty and disease and prejudice are just completely gone, and there's no longer any need to represent them in fiction except as idle curiosities.

And if you have a problem with THAT, well, then we're just going to have to agree to disagree, because the Star Trek future is something I've always been hopeful for, and I always will be.

-Tom
Post edited February 12, 2018 by wyrdwad
low rated
Culture Clash? I wonder what that could be....
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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!
Easy. Screw political correctness, and ignore SJWs and the LGBT side of things. These will blow over sooner or later as they are likely going to be rejected by the public.

Games will be games to be enjoyed, and forcing something that wasn't intended to be there gets backlash and is annoying... Last thing you need is 'Oh by the way this character is VERY GAY and you should know that because it has NOTHING to do with the story and you didn't ask for it, but YEAH this character IS GAY'...

Not saying you can't have gay/trans characters, but it should be something that is discovered through subtle hints...

So in short my suggestions:

1) Localize as best you can, but don't try to rename or dumb things down
2) Ignore ideologies that are stupid and self-destructive
3) Don't pander to who isn't your audience
4) Don't apologize to 2 & 3, stand your ground
5) Respect your audience and fans
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wyrdwad: I'm not saying that I want Japanese developers to stop themselves from creating games with controversial content, I'm saying that I want to see a world in which it never occurs to them to create the controversial content in the first place.
Feeling orwellian lately, aren't we?
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rtcvb32: Easy. Screw political correctness, and ignore SJWs and the LGBT side of things. These will blow over sooner or later as they are likely going to be rejected by the public.

Games will be games to be enjoyed, and forcing something that wasn't intended to be there gets backlash and is annoying... Last thing you need is 'Oh by the way this character is VERY GAY and you should know that because it has NOTHING to do with the story and you didn't ask for it, but YEAH this character IS GAY'...

Not saying you can't have gay/trans characters, but it should be something that is discovered through subtle hints...
Er, what if "being gay" is what the creator wanted from that character? In that case, forcing the creator NOT to make them "VERY GAY" would be censorship. I can definitely think of games where the character being "very gay," as you put it, is pretty central to who they are, even if it's not relevant to the story (Knytt Underground springs to mind immediately, and is also a great title to rally behind for the pro-censorship crowd, since it's the only game I know of to receive an M rating from the ESRB *solely* for foul language and discussion of sexuality; I think most developers would've chosen to tone down the dialogue to get a T rating, but it was important to creator Nifflas that its characters swore like sailors and openly discussed their sexuality).

3) Don't pander to who isn't your audience
I see this a lot, and would just like to say that despite everything else that's been said here, they very much ARE our audience, just as much as you are. And they're more numerous than you might think, as well! Never underestimate the diversity of gamers.

That said, I still don't believe in content censorship at all, but I also see no problem with creators including proudly LGBT chaeracters in their work if they want to. As long as that's what the creator actually wants to do, I say bring it on. Video games could certainly use more diverse representation.

-Tom