Localizing Visual Novels: An Interview with MangaGamer

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

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OR: How involved are the original developers during the localization process? How does Japan view the Western Visual Novel market?

MG: It varies from developer to developer. Some are very laissez-faire, trusting us to handle the localization with minimal interaction while they focus on development for the domestic Japanese market; some are very protective of their titles and speak up or ask often about certain localization decisions and naming conventions or keep the programming entirely in-house; others are very proactive, providing guides to terms and themes that come up throughout games and quickly responding to queries or even developing new titles with the Western market in mind.

Initial impressions of the Western market also vary just as greatly. Some have poor impressions of it due to political events and habits fans used to follow before Visual Novels were more freely available; others are skeptical, seeing potential and wary of how their title may be received; others still may simply be neutral or disinterested but open to the potential rewards; and yet others may be extremely excited about the prospect, paying close attention to news feeds and using Google Translate just to try and read or respond to the reactions of English fans when the title releases.

It’s exciting for us to be able to work with all of these different types, and it’s always amazing to watch their growth and change as they interact with the Western market through us.

MangaGamer | Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning

Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning (2015)

OR: Is it particularly hard to market Visual Novels here in the West?

MG: There are definitely some unique challenges to it. Western stigmatism towards sexuality can make gaining positive press coverage a large hurdle for particular titles. Often times even Eroge focused more strongly on plot and development will get overlooked or turned down as a result of that discrimination. But this one of the reasons our recent gains with the uncensored releases of Kindred Spirits and Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning on Steam are such milestones for the medium and all gaming.

We’ve also faced a few other cultural challenges, but those have quickly improved over the years.

OR: Currently we’re seeing many older titles localized. Do you think that one day we’ll start to see titles getting released in the East and West simultaneously or at least closer together?

MG: I think that day is only a year or two away. For those unfamiliar with our partners, minori, we already have a daring project underway that hopes to achieve that: Supipara.

Supipara was a pet project minori had once hoped to develop for a Japan—an exciting, all-ages tale that built upon itself with each chapter released. The first two chapters (of 5 total planned) were released in Japan—to lukewarm reception. While fans and readers all enjoyed the title, the initial sales were insufficient and minori was forced to shelve their plans for it and focus on other titles to keep their doors open.

To them, the Western market has proven to be their chance to revive this project which couldn’t be done without us. Driven by the sales of their localized titles, funding for Supipara has already reached high enough for localization to begin, and we’re confident that when Chapter 1 goes on sale later this year on Steam, we’ll see it reach the goal for Chapter 2. After that, once the goal is reached for Chapter 3, minori will revive development of Supipara, and we’ll be working hand-in-hand with them to ensure that Chapter 3 is released in English here in the West—before it’s even released in Japan!

“No aspect of localization is ever easy…It takes skill, dedication, and an internal drive that keeps you going against the odds.”

OR: MangaGamer has run surveys in the past to ask its fans about what they’d like to see in the future. Have these been beneficial and what have you learned?

MG: Absolutely. Obviously, all the feedback we get from fans on the titles they desire most is a great asset towards making our licensing decisions.

In addition to that though, we’ve also learned a lot about the demographics of our audience and the community, as well as some information about their habits.

These have been very vital in influencing our decisions with regards to how we move forward.

OR: MangaGamer also runs a blog where you post updates, thoughts from testers, and even interviews. Has communicating with your fan base like this been successful?

MG: Most definitely. When we first started we valued the feedback we got from the community via our blog and forums, and that feedback is still vital to our success. There are a lot of people out there enjoying these games, so sharing how wonderful they are is great motivation for our entire team.

It can be very easy for many people to assume that translations just magically happen and appear on screen when the game goes live, so we take a lot of pride in being able to let our team show the world how much work and passion goes into each title we release. It lets fans see the human element involved in our world, and we feel it really helps build the strength of the community around these fantastic games.

MangaGamer | Supipara - Alice the Magical Conductor

Supipara – Alice the Magical Conductor (TBD)

OR: MangaGamer produces limited physical editions for some games, such as Otoboku and Princess Evangile. What goes into these decisions and how receptive have fans been?

MG: A lot of different factors come into play, from sales projections and customer demand to production costs, availability of assets, and more.

Thus far we’ve definitely seen great response to our Limited Edition releases. Fans really enjoy some of the extras we’re able to package with them, and we’re happy to provide them.

OR: What are some good Visual Novels for someone brand new to the genre who doesn’t want to quite delve into Eroge yet?

MG: Well, Go Go Nippon, which is available on Steam, was originally developed by OVERDRIVE specifically for Western audiences and to serve as an introduction to the genre. So that’s a good one for anyone interested in Japan.

If you’re more interested in action and superheroes, both Tokyo Babel and Cho Dengeki Stryker are excellent titles that will get you fired up.

Higurashi When They Cry is one of, if not the best starting point for fans of suspense and horror; eden* is a wonderful title for those who love a deep, touching story; Princess Evangile is extremely popular as a romantic comedy; and Ozmafia is a great fairy-tale romance with lots of pretty men to admire.

MangaGamer | Tokyo Babel

Tokyo Babel (2016)

OR: Finally, for passionate fans who want to find work localizing Visual Novels. Do you have any advice for them?

MG: Study hard, figure out what you want to do, and practice it. No aspect of localization is ever easy, be it translating to English, editing translations to improve their impact, reverse engineering game engines, recreating images, or even managing the process and marketing the products. It takes skill, dedication, and an internal drive that keeps you going against the odds.

Come back tomorrow for a second interview with MangaGamer where we talk all about localizing Eroge and Nukige, how sexuality is different in Japan versus the West, the triumph of Kindred Spirits on the Roof’s Steam release, and why the PC-98 was integral to the history of Visual Novels.

Thanks for reading and be sure to let us know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments below. Also be sure to let MangaGamer know your thoughts and follow them at their Twitter and thank you once again to MangaGamer for conducting this interview with us!

MangaGamer | Princess Evangile

Princess Evangile (2015)


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