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It definitely takes more than just a long flight over the ocean.

Japanese games are largely governed by a particular aesthetic approach, while at the same time offering a unique perspective in storytelling and gameplay mechanics. It's what makes them instantly distinguishable from their western counterparts, why we're so fond of them, and why we gathered them together for our current <span class="bold">Kawaii Sale</span>.

But some of these differences can also make their transition to the global market challenging. Ken Barry, executive Vice President of XSEED, is one of the people whose mission is to overcome those obstacles and bring some of the most popular Japanese games to the rest of the world.

What are the main challenges of bringing Japanese games to the Western market?

I would say cultural issues as they pertain to text are still a major challenge, though to varying degrees for each project. As a recent example, our parent company Marvelous put out a game called NetHigh for Vita in Japan not too long ago where the gameplay focused on solving puzzles a la the Ace Attorney games, but instead of solving cases in a courtroom you’re trying to reveal the true identity of people on the internet. Our hopes of being able to localize it were quickly dashed once we realized that most of the puzzles were based on Japanese puns and wordplay using written kanji characters which often have multiple meanings. Seeing that it also had a lot of text displaying from top to bottom rather than our way of reading from left to right sealed its fate of definitely not coming to the West.

The rest of the world seems much more receptive to everything Japanese these days but there are still things keeping the markets apart. What are those differences, in your experience?

I know this is something that’s been examined before, but the Japanese culture is much more tolerant of sexuality while graphic depictions of violence are frowned upon, whereas here in the US we are very tolerant of violence but much more conservative when it comes to issues concerning sex. This is a huge fundamental difference in the videogames being created in Japan, and their culture also having an affinity for cute and innocent-looking things and then often combining that together with sexuality can be quite shocking at times, resulting in such things as Hello Kitty sex toys.

Which are the necessary adjustments that you usually have to make for the jump to be as smooth as possible (subtitles, game names, dubbing, etc.)?

There is no single element, you have to factor all things and consider how best to immerse the player in the world created by the original developers that happen to be of another culture. For example, all our Senran Kagura games have only the Japanese voices in them because not only were we extremely lucky to get them, but also because we weren’t quite sure how the sexual nature of the content would be received in the West when first bringing over the series years ago. Seeing something lewd happening onscreen and hearing a girl say something in a different language while the sub-title “Don’t touch me like that” appears is very different from hearing a girl in English verbally expressing her objections.

Are there any kinds of games (due to genre of theme) that you can't really see making that jump in the foreseeable future?

We always thought the “otome” genre geared toward female players that often involves developing a romantic relationship with one of the many male characters would be difficult, but we’re not quite so sure anymore. We continue to get fan requests for this kind of game, so it’s one that we wouldn’t mind testing out in the future at some point to see if there really is a market for it or not.

Can you share with us a story about a game that you handled and things took an unexpected turn along the way?

Well, we published a cute game on 3DS a while ago called Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven that was by the producer of the Story of Seasons series and being made by the Rune Factory developers, and sure enough playing the first few hours it was just as cute and adorable as we had expected it to be given the pedigree. So I start pitching it to all our retail partners as our next family-friendly 3DS title because I’m expecting an ESRB rating of Everyone 10+, only to find out months into the project from our localization producer that there’s a totally gratuitous scene at a hot spring where the lead character, who had been a very nice and caring guy with nothing but love and respect for all the girls working at his inn until then, somehow gets convinced by his buddy to go sneak a peek at the girls as they bathe. This results in a completely out of place 30-second animated cutscene featuring the girls in the hot springs together, and we were lucky to get away with a Teen rating. Needless to say I had to go back and revise my sales pitch on the title to more of a “coming of age” type of story.

--AMA coming up!--
But that's not all! If you're looking to learn more about the intricacies involved in this process, make sure to tune in today, Friday, at 6PM UTC. We're holding an AskMeAnything session with XSEED's Localization Producer, Tom Lipshultz, right here on the forum!
Post edited February 25, 2017 by maladr0Id
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omega64: Would still increase the rating.
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phaolo: Mm.. what if they sold 2 versions, one for teenagers and another for adults?

Damn, I should have asked this in the Q&A..
(plus a question about the possibility to swap eng\jap ingame)
Hey, stick around until 6PM UTC and maybe you'll get a chance to ask Tom about all this stuff!
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Chacranajxy: The fact that this article exists suggests to me that GOG might actually be making an effort to bring over more Japanese-developed stuff this year. Which would be just dandy.
I'm sure they're interested in whatever will sell well, including - amongst others - Final Fantasy games and other Squeenix Japan titles. Don't hold your breathe though, of course.
Post edited February 24, 2017 by tfishell
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Chacranajxy: The fact that this article exists suggests to me that GOG might actually be making an effort to bring over more Japanese-developed stuff this year. Which would be just dandy.
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acute71: That would be great (as long as they have the Japanese voices included), but Japanese companies imho do not seem to be very non-DRM friendly.Japanese developed games with only English voices. No thank you.
We've come a long way from the early 90's anime series where English dubs were narm-fests from beginning until the end. XSeed was forced to release their Trails of Cold Steel games with a dub only (because Japanese casting agencies frequently have Asia-only contracts), but they put so much effort into properly directing the voice recording that the result ended up really, really good.
I'd like to say thanks for doing this interview. Its always interesting hearing about behind the scenes bits in game development. In particularly how different regions of the planet are more open or closed to certain kinds of games or aspects of games.
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Hey all,

Tom Lipschultz, XSEED localization producer here. I'll be taking AMA questions in this topic starting now. I've never done an AMA before, so please forgive me if my answers are overly verbose (I have a tendency to do that!) or if I seem kind of confused (I'm always kind of confused). ;)

I'll probably get the ball rolling with some of the questions that have already been asked in here prior to the AMA announcement -- just figured I'd post an introduction first to let you guys know I'm here, and will be monitoring this topic starting now.

Ask away!

-Tom
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omega64: Would still increase the rating.
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phaolo: Mm.. what if they sold 2 versions, one for teenagers and another for adults?

Damn, I should have asked this in the Q&A..
(plus a question about the possibility to swap eng\jap ingame)
Japanese not being available is usually because they had no other choice. There are Voice actors in Japan that force contracts so their audio can only be distributed in Japan for example.
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wyrdwad: Ask away!

-Tom
Is Senran Kagura still gonna show up or is that dead?
Is Little King's Story gonna get more patches. I've seen the port was a bit... bad. Heard it's better now but I don't know how far fixing it went.

Thanks for your time btw.
Post edited February 24, 2017 by omega64
Hey Tom!
Thanks for working so hard on these titles (I know that you did "voiceovers" once for a wii game) and thanks for the tremendous variety and so on. Huge fan here, from DS games to PC ones ;)

I'll shoot straight:

1) Is pc a good platform overall? How's the drm-free model working for you guys?
2) will we see something unique and weird (and maybe.. classic?) like, uh, Shadow Hearts FTNW coming to pc?

Thanks a ton, Tom. ;P
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EndlessKnight: Does anyone understand what he means by "Graphic depictions of violence are frowned upon"? Is Mr. Barry referring to video games specifically? For decades, video games and anime from Japan have been filled with graphic depictions of violence, so I am curious as to what he means.
This is true, but there are limits, and they've just gotten stricter in recent years. It's particularly true of video games, since a lot of violence censorship in Japanese gaming is based on trying to get a lower CERO rating (the equivalent of removing or altering content here to get a lower ESRB rating), but has affected a few anime as well, mostly due to violent incidents in those anime bearing an unfortunate resemblance to real-life events of the day.
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wyrdwad: mostly due to violent incidents in those anime bearing an unfortunate resemblance to real-life events of the day.
Nice boat.
Why is that you thought that the "otome" genre wouldn't do well over in the west, or in the US if that is what you were mostly referring to?
Hey Tom,

1) You knew you were going to get questions about Senran Kagura, so... what actually happened to it? I remember bugging you about it at E3 last year and you said "if we can release it, we want to," but... if it's dead, can we at least get a post mortem of some kind? Kinda stings now every time a new SK gets announced for PC and ends up being Steam-only from the drop.

2) Oh, and I know you can't answer this, but can you maybe suggest whether the future looks bright for more Trails games on PC in the west? Like, is Falcom happy? I know we're getting The 3rd, but... ya know. More is always better.

3) Since this is GOG, might as well ask: is there any possibility of getting some legacy Falcom games on PC in the West? I'd love to get a chance to play some of the old Brandish or Sorcerian games that got a PC release way back in the day.
Post edited February 24, 2017 by Chacranajxy
That was a fun read! Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions.
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Japanese not being available is usually because they had no other choice. There are Voice actors in Japan that force contracts so their audio can only be distributed in Japan for example.
Yeah, I can confirm this to be absolutely true. We always, *always* try to include Japanese voices in our games. If we ever release a game that's dub-only, it's not for lack of trying -- it's because we ultimately had no choice but to remove the Japanese voices.
Is Senran Kagura still gonna show up or is that dead?
That, too, is unfortunately out of our hands. We'd really like to bring it to GOG, and will continue pursuing that, but right now... well, let's just say it's not in the foreseeable future.
Is Little King's Story gonna get more patches. I've seen the port was a bit... bad. Heard it's better now but I don't know how far fixing it went.
It went about as far as it could, and the game should be in a very stable state now. Durante was an enormous help, really wringing every last ounce of performance out of the game that he possibly could.

You can read all about what he changed in his own words here. It's a good read, and really gets to the heart of why it was so difficult to get this game originally designed for the Wii to behave itself on PC: http://xseedgames.tumblr.com/post/156725636690/little-kings-story-pc-relaunch-guest-blog
1) Is pc a good platform overall? How's the drm-free model working for you guys?
PC is great because it's so dynamic. If something isn't quite working right, you can very easily tweak it on PC, whereas on console or handheld, your only choice is to submit a patch, which takes a lot of time (and sometimes money) to process. Additionally, while the foreknowledge that the hardware specs will be exactly the same for every single user helps tremendously with console and handheld titles, the fact that it's not is a boon all its own for PC titles, allowing games to include allowances for pushing themselves farther than they'd be able to on other platforms.

And DRM-free is great! We've received countless messages from fans who were very pleased to be able to play our PC titles on the GOG platform, knowing that they could back these games up and future-proof them so that no matter what happens down the line, and whether or not a network connection is available, they'll always be able to play these titles as long as they have a compatible PC at their disposal.
2) will we see something unique and weird (and maybe.. classic?) like, uh, Shadow Hearts FTNW coming to pc?
I wish! The Shadow Hearts IP is mired in a sea of thorny rights issues, though, so it's not likely to get a rerelease on any platform anytime in the foreseeable future. Sorry.
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wyrdwad:
Just fyi, I love most of the games you guys release, keep it up. ;)

Sad to hear the next Ys won't be done by Xseed. (if my memory is working properly)
Hey Tom!

Could you tell us about the negotiations that goes into publishing Japanese games ? Do you usually deal with small developers or local publishers, and how the profit from the localized version are distributed, does most of the profit goes to a developer as royalties or do xseed get the money for doing the work on the translation ?