Global Gamers, Global Developers: #TorrentialDownpour and Improving Localizations

With the current focus on quality of localizations, Josh lists some fan generated options to increase quality


There has been a cer­tain amount of con­tro­ver­sy on­line about the poor lo­cal­iza­tion of the NA re­lease for Fire Emblem Fates from Nintendo. The EU re­lease of Bravely Second helped stir the pot far­ther, more from re­moval of sub-plot out­comes from the game, as well as items cut from the collector’s art book and edit­ed out­fits, than of the lo­cal­iza­tion of di­a­log. While it’s easy rail against the bad ex­am­ples, one thing I feel is im­por­tant is to fo­cus on ways to im­prove the situation.

Let’s lay a fact bare: no­body wants di­rect trans­la­tions when bring games over­seas. The fans don’t, and lo­cal­iz­ers them­selves don’t. So peo­ple can find com­mon ground in that lo­cal­iza­tion is need­ed in most cas­es to some de­gree if you are go­ing to bring a ti­tle to a dif­fer­ent re­gion. The ques­tions be­ing how much is re­quired to pre­serve in­tent and how much are you re­spect­ing the orig­i­nal property?

Personally, I don’t see the point in ex­treme­ly lit­er­al trans­la­tions, be­cause the sec­ond it goes from Japanese to English, it’s al­ready dif­fer­ent. Sorry, you changed it. If you chose to trans­late はい as Yes/Yeah/Okay/Right/Uh-huh or some­thing else en­tire­ly based on con­text, you’ve made a lo­cal­iza­tion choice. There’s just lit­tle point in do­ing a ma­chine trans­la­tion with no in­tent, be­cause it’s ac­tu­al­ly eas­i­er to lose in­tent that way. I know this from so…sooooo much ex­pe­ri­ence…” –  Hatsuu (XSEED Games)

Before get­ting into the meat of why I am here with you to­day, let’s get an­oth­er thing clear. Criticism of a ti­tle does not mean one is dis­re­gard­ing it. To the con­trary, peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about some­thing and want to sup­port a prod­uct or fran­chise are those who will nor­mal­ly ar­gue the most about it. Speaking from my ex­pe­ri­ence, I am more like­ly to ig­nore some­thing I ab­ject­ly dis­like, but will cri­tique some­thing that I like (or want to like), but think can be made bet­ter, for an hour straight.

The want to point this out comes from ob­serv­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­tween over­seas fans of Japanese games up­set about Fire Emblem Fates and their de­trac­tors en­gag­ing in dis­cus­sions on­line and in the #TorrentialDownpour tag on Twitter. There is this mis­un­der­stand­ing where crit­ics of the fans speak­ing up say they are call­ing for mass boy­cotts, when I have nev­er seen a call for a boy­cott from this group. The de­trac­tors are also tak­ing the sales num­bers for the NA re­lease of Fire Emblem Fates and rub­bing in the face of a boy­cott that nev­er existed.

Bottom line is that there is a seg­ment of the con­sumer base that is rais­ing con­cern about the qual­i­ty of a prod­uct, and that man­i­fests it­self in crit­i­cism. This does not mean that this seg­ment doesn’t want this prod­uct. Just cur­so­ry in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple in­ter­act­ing with the #TorrentialDownpour tag shows that peo­ple just want to point out what they see as poor choic­es, and let the de­vel­op­ers on both the lo­cal­iza­tion side and the Japanese side know that they feel their prod­uct is hav­ing a dis­ser­vice done to it.

With that said, the lo­cal­iza­tion scene is not en­tire­ly mired. When asked, fans were ea­ger to of­fer up good ex­am­ples, lo­cal­iza­tion com­pro­mis­es that made sense, and com­pa­nies that do it right in their eyes. People were also sur­pris­ing­ly on the same page when of­fer­ing their views, and there were a few things I heard more than a hand­ful of times.

Based on these in­ter­ac­tions, I want­ed to of­fer what came up most when fans de­scribed what they would like to see more of in the future.

More Transparency

Time and time again the top­ic of trans­paren­cy was touched on in talks the most. On a sur­face lev­el, this is a great thing for con­sumers, as they can make pur­chase de­ci­sions based on their abil­i­ty to be in­formed of the path a prod­uct will take be­fore it’s re­leased. No one wants to be sur­prised by a poor qual­i­ty game on launch in any scenario.

Below the sur­face, be­ing open and de­tailed about your lo­cal­iza­tion phi­los­o­phy can let fans un­der­stand why cer­tain choic­es are made. When dras­tic changes are cho­sen, less­en­ing the sur­prise of it can also lessen the anger made by some de­ci­sions. With this, I think there needs to be bet­ter an­swers than “be­cause it’s from Japan” or “be­cause it might make peo­ple uncomfortable.”

Being trans­par­ent about process­es also al­lows com­pa­nies to hear a plu­ral­i­ty of con­sumer views in­stead of mak­ing as­sump­tions based off pos­si­bly bi­ased me­dia sites and in­ter­nal gate­keep­ers. Even more con­nect­ed com­pa­nies may even choose to work with the com­mu­ni­ty on big­ger lo­cal­iza­tion choic­es. These are your con­sumers to love or let leave.

With the in­ter­net be­ing ubiq­ui­tous to most re­gions these days, com­pa­nies are shoot­ing them­selves in the foot if they are not us­ing it to in­ter­act with their au­di­ence. As shown with the gold stan­dard among fans, XSEED Games keeps up a blog that goes into de­tail about their projects. Combined with their so­cial me­dia pres­ence, their con­sumers seem to feel con­nect­ed and valued.

This should be mar­ket­ing 101, but I see com­pa­nies in a va­ri­ety of sec­tors miss this valu­able op­por­tu­ni­ty for en­gage­ment over and over.

Dedication to Original Intent

I swear I am not paid a dime for men­tion­ing XSEED so of­ten, they just come up on a reg­u­lar ba­sis when it comes to con­sumer trust and how open they are with their ded­i­ca­tion to pro­vid­ing qual­i­ty localizations.

When asked about achiev­ing a nu­anced lo­cal­iza­tion, XSEED Games lo­cal­iza­tion spe­cial­ist Tom Lipschultz said,

We start by ask­ing our­selves, what is the tone of the game? Is it a sil­ly game? A se­ri­ous game? Somewhere in be­tween? And how is that mood ex­pressed in the Japanese? Is it overt? Subtle?”

This plays into us­ing Fire Emblem Fates as an ex­am­ple. As a dis­claimer, I haven’t played a Fire Emblem game since Game Boy Advance. But I still know the tone of the game — be­ing a me­dieval type set­ting that brings in in­spi­ra­tions from var­i­ous mytholo­gies — just doesn’t lend it­self to things like calls to ran­dom in­ter­net ref­er­ences and quotes from cult movies only three peo­ple have seen.

Which just left me baf­fled when I start­ed see­ing screen­shots like this pop­ping up af­ter release:


This is just one ex­am­ple of a dras­ti­cal­ly al­tered tone in a spe­cif­ic lo­cal­iza­tion that some fans are vo­cal­ly call­ing out. While choic­es like this might lend it­self more some­thing like a Paper Mario or Pokémon game when it comes to tone, Treehouse seem­ing­ly choose to take the lo­cal­iza­tion in a di­rec­tion that as­sumed what their “tar­get de­mo­graph­ic” was.


A pat­tern I no­ticed while re­search­ing what I could of lo­cal­iza­tion hous­es that do well in keep­ing to the creator’s in­tent was that lo­cal­ized di­a­log was brought be­fore the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ers of­ten. XSEED men­tions this more than once in in­ter­views about their ap­proach, and folks like David Crislip from Capcom re­in­forces this ap­proach when talk­ing about work­ing with Kamiya on Okami.

It’s been ar­gued on­line that cre­ative writ­ing shouldn’t be ap­plied to lo­cal­iza­tions, but process of al­ter­ing a script from pure trans­la­tion into some­thing more or­gan­ic is it­self a cre­ative process. Not to say that a line shouldn’t be drawn. If you find your­self al­ter­ing the core per­son­al­i­ty of a char­ac­ter, or sac­ri­fic­ing ex­po­si­tion for meta-jokes, then you should pull a full stop.

I feel fans just want to know that lo­cal­iz­ers are work­ing with the orig­i­nal in­tent, and not against it. A qual­i­ty lo­cal­iza­tion should have play­ers of both ver­sions shar­ing the same plot beats and ex­pe­ri­ences while playing.

Quit assuming your audience are idiots that don’t want to learn about other cultures

Contrary to what most on­line dis­course may lead some to look like, most peo­ple are not id­iots. Most do not mind look­ing up a ref­er­ence they may not get. And not every­one wants their games from dif­fer­ent re­gions wrapped in com­fort­able Americentrism. Speaking pure­ly from the per­son­al, a lot of overt­ly Japanese games that I play and ani­me that I watch is en­joy­able part­ly be­cause I get to im­merse my­self in the sen­si­bil­i­ties of a part of the world dif­fer­ent from mine. Same to be said for me­dia I con­sume from any part of the world.

Atlus is known for keep­ing Japanese ref­er­ences in­tact if they will bet­ter keep with the orig­i­nal in­tent of the game. Speaking with the site, Atlus PR Manager John Hardin men­tions a cou­ple spe­cif­ic in­stances in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth.

God Is A Geek: Many games in Japan make use of a lot of ref­er­ences that won’t be too fa­mil­iar in the West. A good ex­am­ple is Persona Q’s 4th dun­geon, in­volv­ing strong men car­ry­ing an arc seen in festivals.


John Hardin: In the case of Persona Q we added a lot of di­a­logue that ex­plains some things. This let us be ac­cu­rate to the true tone of the game and get the mean­ing across.


God Is A Geek: Some words re­main un­changed, like Takoyaki in Persona Q. I had no idea what it was when I played the game un­til I looked it up.


John Hardin: It’s a mat­ter of taste. We try and stay close to the ori­gins. You prob­a­bly have seen the com­ic strip fea­tur­ing Phoenix Wright. The changes get more and more pro­nounced. There’s a frame show­ing him wear­ing a ki­mono and eat­ing sashi­mi, while the bub­ble says ‘Eat your ham­burg­er Apollo!’ or some­thing to that ex­tent. We want to avoid that. We don’t change things if we don’t need to. You can see Takoyaki in the vi­su­als so we didn’t want to make it so that Junpei would ask Rei about a ham­burg­er in­stead of Takoyaki.

This brings to mind an ar­gu­ment that de­trac­tors to peo­ple who are ques­tion­ing the qual­i­ty of some lo­cal­iza­tions bring up. To para­phrase Jeff Gerstmann, “Localizations have had is­sues for decades, so quit whin­ing and learn Japanese.”

Now this is start­ing to start­ing to get a bit di­vi­sive in tone, let’s roll back to what peo­ple are on the same page on. It’s not lo­cal­iza­tion as a process that is bad, and every­one from fans to the trans­la­tors agree. It’s a mat­ter of how close to tone and in­tent one wish­es to keep, and — ul­ti­mate­ly — what you think of your au­di­ence when you re­lease a lo­cal­iza­tion for them.

Telling peo­ple to shut up and just learn the orig­i­nal lan­guage for the con­tent they would like to con­sume, and that com­pa­nies would like to re­lease over­seas, is just a cop-out and an anti-consumer re­sponse. Especially when not every de­vice is un­locked region-wise just yet. Not to men­tion that learn­ing the base lan­guage of all the me­dia some con­sume would re­quire peo­ple learn mul­ti­ple lan­guages. The is­sue of lo­cal­iza­tions and trans­la­tion of me­dia for a glob­al mar­ket is not re­strict­ed to just Japanese to Western tran­si­tions. Most peo­ple do not have the time to learn an­oth­er lan­guage just to en­joy some movies or a video game, and if a prod­uct is be­ing lo­cal­ized for your re­gion then you should not be ex­pect­ed to learn an­oth­er lan­guage just to en­joy it.

We are in a glob­al mar­ket, with glob­al con­sumers want­i­ng to buy prod­ucts that com­pa­nies want to re­lease glob­al­ly. It is not over the line for con­sumers to voice out in sup­port of qual­i­ty and care when these re­gion­al tran­si­tions are made.

Options, Options, Options

People love op­tions. While not all projects will lend them­selves to of­fer­ing things like dual lan­guage op­tions and cut scene sub­ti­tles, ei­ther due to bud­get or oth­er con­straints, but where pos­si­ble choice should be em­braced. Developers do not have the space re­straints that they did in the past, so keep­ing the Japanese au­dio for text heavy games shouldn’t be much of an is­sue in that respect.

Fighting games have been ahead of the curve in this re­gard. It’s hard for me to think of a re­cent fight­ing game that doesn’t of­fer dual au­dio, and it’s some­thing I al­way en­joy hav­ing. There have been in­stances where hav­ing the Japanese au­dio over the English text lo­cal­iza­tion was a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, like when I found the won­der­ful world of Undub patch­es (patch­es that changed the English VO with the Japanese VO, and sub­ti­tled FMVs when need­ed) for Playstation 2 games. Playing Final Fantasy 10 un­dubbed was a much more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence than play­ing the vanil­la NA ver­sion. Having an op­tion like this built into lo­cal­ized games as a stan­dard would be a fan­tas­tic step.

Crowdsourced/Funded Localizations

This is more of a per­son­al idea and sug­ges­tion that I lay out to de­vel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers, though I am not the only one to ex­press in­ter­est in this idea.

Crowdfunding games is not some­thing new, but there has not been as much of a push to crowd­fund spe­cif­ic de­vel­op­ment costs like lo­cal­iza­tion. Reaching out to fans pas­sion­ate about a prod­uct for fund­ing on lo­cal­iza­tions seems like a no-brainer to me, as it opens up a prod­uct to a larg­er au­di­ence be­yond just those fund­ing the lo­cal­iza­tion. While hard data on lo­cal­iza­tion costs are sparse, just by us­ing log­ic we can as­sume that they are a frac­tion of the costs of de­vel­op­ing a game it­self. Handing off the costs of lo­cal­iza­tion to the folks who will then evan­ge­lize your prod­uct just sounds like smart business.

Localization costs can be fur­ther re­duced by crowd­sourc­ing cer­tain tasks. Think of a spe­cial­ized Amazon Turks, built for glob­al lo­cal­iza­tions. Never un­der­es­ti­mate the pas­sion of fans, or those look­ing to build skills in their cho­sen field. Being able to out­source things like QA, line trans­la­tions, in­ser­tion, etc, to peo­ple who will work for pen­nies on the dol­lar (or even free just for the joy of work­ing on a pas­sion project or to get their name in the cred­its). Now, you don’t want to out­source the whole of the lo­cal­iza­tion process, but I think uti­liz­ing the pow­er of the peo­ple us­ing a plat­form built specif­i­cal­ly for lo­cal­iz­ing video games for world con­sump­tion could be a pow­er­ful tool for edit­ing teams work­ing on video game localizations.

While I may not have hard ex­pe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing video games my­self, or work­ing for a larg­er com­pa­ny that does, there are cer­tain prac­tices that seem like com­mon sense. I don’t feel these sug­ges­tions are un­rea­son­able to of­fer. In fact, every­thing men­tioned here to­day is a prac­tice that is al­ready in use, or is be­ing con­sid­ered, by at least one organization.

At the end of the day, con­sumers just want to be re­as­sured that their pur­chase is go­ing to be one that rep­re­sents the best qual­i­ty pos­si­ble, and that the orig­i­nal source is not be­ing dis­re­spect­ed in its tran­si­tion for a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence. We don’t think that is too much to ask.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

Latest posts by Josh Bray (see all)

Scroll to top