In late March 2016, oprainfall was invited to hang out at Idea Factory International’s Headquarters in Los Angeles, California. We took this chance to sit down with the translator Nobara Nakayama and editor Alex Valles who both most recently worked together on MegaTagmension: Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies. The team at Idea Factory International began their work with the Neptunia franchise on Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 1 for the PlayStation Vita and continued to localize every mainline and spin-off game developed. It’s safe to say that the dialogue found throughout the Neptunia series is full of memes and jokes made to resonate with retro gamers, anime otakus, and RPG fans alike. But fans are divided when it comes to how games are localized for the West; each side is just as vocal about how they feel a Japanese game’s text should be handled. Since Idea Factory International is taking on a comedic franchise with obscure references to gaming culture, we spoke to them about how they approach translating and localizing in MegaTagmension: Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies.
Do you find it difficult when taking the literal translation handed to you and making it make sense to Western gamers?
Alex – Difficult? Yes. It’s so nuanced, you know? There’s so many nuances in humor. My take on it would be that I would want the player to still have a hilarious reaction to whatever’s happening in the dialogue. I would want the player to laugh. How do I get there and how do I retain that same mood and environment that was originally intended in the Japanese script? So I guess translating it is just really hard to do sometimes.
Nobara – I would leave notes on the side saying things like “this is the intended joke and the feeling of that joke” and then Alex would take my notes and I would see him on the internet looking for an equivalent of that same feeling. There’s no way you could have a section that says “a Japanese comedian said this…” and that’s funny in Japan but it would not be funny in the states. It would become more like [a] Japanese culture 101 session, so that [means] Alex will have to do his research and find a situation that is similar. So I think the challenge of localizing is more on him and my challenge is how to figure out and dissect the intention of that joke.
There are instances when the Idea Factory International team will get on Skype and discuss whether or not some of these references or jokes will work. Nobara trusts Alex with the editing because she has found him to be in tune with the Neptunia fanbase and knows what they like. Nobara tells us that Alex is really good at, “Pulling off that fine balance of creativity and keeping that original tone.”
Do you ever get any type of criticism from gamers?
Alex – I’ve pretty much read all the comments, good and bad, out there. I think that it’s always good to be aware of where the games are landing in terms of how fans are feeling about it. So I have pretty thick skin to begin with because I came out of the music industry world where it’s also super cutthroat and you’re always being criticized for whatever you end up doing. Does bad criticism phase me? No, I think if anything it’s just funny a lot of the time. But usually there’s also nuggets of truth in those complaints that fans have and I do try to make those complaints constructive for how I approach whatever title I’m working on.
What’s it like to go from working on Neptunia games to working on more serious titles?
Alex – I’ve only worked on Neptunia stuff.
Nobara – I’ve worked on Zero Escape and what I can say is Uchi throws in a lot of comedy within the darkness. So I feel like it’s not that different from Nep since the jokes are pretty much the same. This could be because the people writing it are all similar in age so a lot of the perverted references are all based off of very similar pop-culture in Japan. It’s all pretty much the same for me because I try not to do much studying or comparing [the game to] other projects. I’ll get the script and I’ll read it and what my emotion is is probably what I’m supposed to be feeling for that project. The darker titles don’t affect me in terms of translating, but it could affect your work because you get invested in certain characters.
Some localization companies do take upon themselves to change the feel and tone of a game. Is it hard to avoid that when working on a game like MegaTagmension: Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies?
Alex – I feel like with Zombies, specifically, it was more difficult because the main enemy is taken from these Japanese blogs and there is no Western equivalent [for] that whole stealth marketing thing that was happening in Japan. Fuck that was crazy and that was the first question we brought up, so for that we just left it alone because it would be stupid to make up some Western version of that because it would be impossible. So I guess when the text is relying heavily on Japanese cultural references, maintaining the tone is probably what racks my brain the most. For Neptunia VII, I feel like there weren’t as many references like that so it was a lot easier to really like keep true to the text without me having to like go home and have nightmares about coming to work the next morning. So it depends on the title; sometimes it’ll be more difficult, I guess.
Nobara – Yea, I feel like if it is too Japanese culturally oriented we just leave it as is because you can’t find that equivalent. For the localized game version, consumers are used to having it maintain the Japanese in it anyways, like they half expect it. Then the reaction starts changing when you start being creative, you can’t make everybody happy, but that’s when we’re extra careful of making sure that the intention is still left with what ever Alex replaces it with.
Alex – Serving the story, for us, is always the most important part. Sometimes you might even need to change a name, but most of the time I don’t think we change names.
Nobara – Since I’ve been here I don’t think we’ve changed any names; maybe delete a space or add a space to read better, but that’s it.
Why is it so hard for characters to say ‘Neptunia’?
Nobara explains how the Japanese characters that spell out Neptunia are hard to say and that’s why characters usually stop at Nept.
Nobara – I think that’s one of those things that is lost in translation because for us it’s like, “oh, Neptune”.
Alex – And that existed for years.
Nobara – It’s a pretty big challage.
Alex – Yea, coming up with more nicknames [is the] hardest part.
[spoiler warning] The team laughs amongst themselves as they talk about how hard it was working on Trillion. Apparently, each girl has like 3 or 4 different nicknames for the main character. It’s brought up that ‘Nepsy’ is Neptunia’s newest nickname given to her by Uzume in Neptunia VII. They remember that in MegaTagmension: Blanc + Neptune vs Zombies there is a secret, dark past where Blanc and Noire are school idols (think Love Live!). The Japanese names for the girls translated to ‘Magical Blaren’ and ‘Magical Noiren’ so they decided to change them to ‘Magical Blancella’ and ‘Magical Noirina’.
There’s tons of spin-off titles featuring the cast of Neptunia but what type of Neptunia game would you guys like to see?
Nobara – You know, I am 100% on board with the 8-bit Neptunia that you see in the credits of the games.
Alex – I’ve been playing with the idea of an Umio kart game.
We go off topic to talk about Umio and how Nobara jumped on the team when they received the Umio plush. She asked, “what is this ugly fish?” and the entire team came to Umio’s defense. Nobara has since found love for Umio and they have grown close. The team insists that anyone with the Umio plush take pictures face-swapping with Umio on Snapchat.
So what are you guys playing other than Idea Factory games?
Alex – Since I started working here, I try to stay away from screens in my free time. I do play Halo since I’ve been playing since I was young.
So how do you feel about the way Idea Factory International translates and localizes the titles in the Neptunia series? Let us know in the comments below.
This is the first article in our ‘Week of Idea Factory International’. Stay tuned for more interviews, reviews and stories covering IFI and their released and upcoming games!