Victor Ireland of GAIJINWORKS Talks Localization, Summon Night 5, Punching Puppets, And More – Part One

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Since the 1990’s, GAIJINWORKS’ Victor Ireland has become known for localizing Japanese video games to North America. Late last year, I was lucky enough to interview Victor Ireland by Skype and ask him questions about his career, his philosophy behind localizing video games for a North American audience, what games are coming out for his company GAIJINWORKS, the role outside influences play in determining localization, and the full story behind the Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete pre-order bonus: the Ghaleon Punching Puppet.

In part one of a three part interview, Mr. Ireland weighs in on what ‘is’ localization, his philosophy on localizing video games, the effect that the original developing company or parent console company can have on a localization, and what effect fan translations and ROM patches have on choosing whether a game is localized for a North American audience.

In part two, Mr. Ireland gives us a look at GAIJINWORKS’ latest localized game, Summon Night 5, various advertising methods he has used in the past and present to get his games noticed in the marketplace, and about GAIJINWORKS’ relationship with Monkeypaw Games and about their joint next game, Class Of Heroes 3.

In part three, Mr. Ireland discusses with Operation Rainfall about the Lunar series and the Arc The Lad Collection, the digital rights to the Working Designs catalog, what lies in the future for GAIJINWORKS, and the history behind the Ghaleon Punching Puppet pre-order bonus.

You can find out more about GAIJINWORKS at their website and by following them on Twitter.

Also, Summon Night 5, the latest game to be localized by GAIJINWORKS, is out now on the PlayStation Network for digital download! You can find it for purchase for North America on the PlayStation Network here.


Interview by Quentin H. A special thank you to Scott MacDonald for help with vetting the questions and coordinating the interview. Also a special thank you to Chris Bieniek for assisting with my follow up questions, requests for photographs, and other assorted material. This interview took place on November 27, 2015.

Operation Rainfall: Alright, I am Quentin H. [of Operation Rainfall] and I am here with Victor Ireland of GAIJINWORKS. Thank you for meeting with me today.

Victor Ireland: Hey, thank you for having the interview.

OR: When I say the word “localization”, what does that mean to you and why?

VI: Well, I’ve kind of evolved on that because if you look at our older games, as a matter of fact up to fairly recently, they would always say ‘Translation Notes’ in the manual. Translation, Translation, Translation. But ‘Translation’ really to me is really more of a one-to-one where you’re trying to make a one-to-one exact translation of what the words are. But you’re sort of missing the intent by not understanding what was meant by those words in the original language. So, ‘localization’ for me is to understand the intent and re-write it so that the native player in English will get the same feeling that the Japanese player got.

OR: You once said in The Making Of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete documentary:

“Our philosophy of translation is different than virtually anybody else out there, because rather than do a literal translation, we try to do the translation, find the spirit of what was said, and write in that same spirit in English so it feels natural.”

What inspired this philosophy of translating dialogue, instead of just doing a strict translation like you said earlier?

VI: A TON of crappy translation.

OR: What do you mean by that?

VI: It did not flow. I think most RPG fans especially hate when you play a game and have no connection to the characters. “I don’t care about these people, I don’t care what they’re doing, I couldn’t care less if they die.” You have no connection to them because the words do not have any emotional resonance. And they might have in the Japanese, they might not have. There is some really bad writing in some Japanese games too. *laughter* But if there is good writing, and you do a straight translation, you’re going to miss the emotional component of it, and you won’t feel for the characters.

At that point, I was still calling [it] translation, but really, I didn’t know that it was just localization that we were doing. And so that’s a thing, what I try to shoot for is something that has an emotional resonance with the player so they really care about the character and in most of the RPGs we’ve done, that’s pretty successful. You do care about the characters you’re playing.

OR: Now you mentioned a “tipping point”. What was the tipping point for you to go from ‘translation’ to ‘localization’?

VI: It started really early on. Honestly, it really kind of started all the way back with Cadash on the TurboGrafx. [OR Note: This game was localized by Working Designs in 1991.] It started as more of a mischievous thing where I was like ‘Oh this script is really boring, let me put some funny stuff in here.’ So I would insert funny lines that really had nothing to do with what was going on. And that sort of evolved. I continued doing that, did more of it, and people generally liked it [because] they were seeing writing that they never saw in Japanese-localized or translated games, like ‘Holy crap, this is amazing’.

I remember when we did Cosmic Fantasy 2, one of the bosses named ‘Nova’ was mad. He came at you and in the translation I said ‘Nova is pissed’. For me, that was no big deal. ‘Nova is pissed, he’s mad, he’s angry.’ Holy crap, people went insane that there was ‘pissed’ in an RPG. They couldn’t believe it. So, like I said, it evolved. The peak of the ‘mischievous’ stuff was the ‘Clinton line’ [OR Note: An NPC in East Nota said the line “You’d call me Clinton and I’d be President.”] in Lunar [Eternal Blue Complete, PSX] that everybody gives me grief for.

If anybody points out that Working Designs [had] terrible translations, they always point out that and oftentimes they are people that have never played a Working Designs game. ‘Oh, that’s the reason they suck.’ And really, that was just one line but it was really infamous and it basically taught me ‘don’t put real world politics in a game, even if it is a joke.’ So, that was kind of the tipping point back towards a more balanced approach to localization. The anachronistic or pop-culture references are still there, but they are a lot more subtle now than they were in the TurboGrafx/Sega CD/maybe the beginning of the PlayStation [days].

” The Sega CD version [of Lunar] would definitely be different now. Not different, but the pop culture references were actual actors and TV shows and what not were called out in the text.

But nowadays, if I did the Sega CD one again, I would definitely tone [it] down.  It would be reference or catch phrase or something. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t, and it still makes sense. And that’s kind of the philosophy that I’ve gravitated towards. “

OR: How can you tell when a localization is well received or not?

VI: It’s really hard to tell because there are some people that really like it and some people that don’t. So basically, I just do it to where I enjoy it. Because when you’re doing these games, you’re localizing them, especially RPGs, you’re spending six months, a year, eighteen months, with these games. And if you still like it at the end, you did an okay job.

Like Lunar [on] Sega CD, we finished that, I never wanted to see that game again. I hated it so much because you have to play it over and over and over and over and over, and anything that was funny at the beginning was not funny at all at the end because you’ve seen everything. So that one took me a year, year-and-a-half, maybe two years of distance before I was like “Oh, that turned out okay. That was pretty good.” And now, of course, I was like “Yeah, that was great”, but that was like twenty-plus years later. So for me, if I’m satisfied with it at the end, I’m not completely sick of it, then it was probably an okay job.

More on Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Fan Translations, and Voice Acting on Page 2.

About Quentin H.

I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it. Do you want to do an interview? You can reach me at

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