Translation and Localization: How Idea Factory International Finds a Balance

Monday, April 11th, 2016

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By


Idea Factory International

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.

Idea Factory International

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.

Idea Factory International

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.

Idea Factory International - Hyperdimension Neptunia Consoles Get Along

Why is it so hard for characters to say ‘Neptunia’?

[laughs]

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?

Nobara – I’ve been playing Puzzles and Dragons on my mobile for like 600 days and Monster Strike.

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!

 




  • deadeye

    I’m not much of a fan of the Neptunia games, but it’s always interesting to hear from localization teams and how they handle stuff that doesn’t translate well to English.

  • MusouTensei

    Effort and utmost respect for the original script, IFI is a role model for the industry <3

    • Alistair

      6 months is a long time, did you know the game was going to have slight edits (Censorship)? Did this interview artice brought it up?

      Did IFI as a whole in a update in they website mention it, all this questions thankfully we got censored gaming that expose the Lies, and staying silent makes them worse.

      Did any staff here on oprainfall knew it was censored. 13/14 hours ago censored gaming has posted a vid go check it out.

    • MusouTensei

      I don’t consider age changes as censorship, I wish that would have been the only change in Tokyo Mirage.

    • Alistair

      Nope moving the ages is censorship, also you skipped the part did you not know about changes, did IFI had issue a statement about the changes?

      No they did Not. and censored gaming caught IFI out simple as that.

      They lied, and stayed silent They’re must response to this expose of lies. Will another game by IFI be censored now because they broke that promise and if IFI dont response what then.

      Edit: Im annoy They’re lied, but Angry They’re didn’t told us.

    • Miqubi

      Seriously, let’s be honest nobody gives a damn about the ages, people just don’t want the lewd jokes/content removed, lynching IFI for the ages is borderline bonkers and stirring up an outrage about that is bonkers.

      Their “lies” were probably just them thinking nobody gave a damn just like nobody gives a damn about SK girls ages being removed from the game,

      If you wanna fight against censorship in games, be my guest, but trying to get people riled up for this will just make you look ridiculous and you won’t be taken seriously the next time you’ll complain about a legitimate issue (i.e. content being graphically altered, minigames removed etc)

      This is the same level of insanity as those who think everything is should be banned because it’s objectification/sexual assault/girls in games are minor etc.

    • Alistair

      Yup another one that thinks Im the only one that brought this up, this sites not the only one you know.

      Censored gaming got full of comments, that You would disagree with. IFI Lied and stay silent Won’t help them with the next title by people saying is this censored too.

      But you know im glad you easily please, some people Wouldn’t.

    • Miqubi

      No I know where this is coming from, I’m saying that geting riled up for it is bonkers, since it’s about the same thing as senran kagura removing the ages.

      This is outrage for the sake of outrage.

      Also stirring up shit about this against IFI, which so far has been pretty good will bite you in the ass later, you cannot expect to get results down the road when they’ll be needed if you attack the only people who are actually on your side and listen to your complaints.

    • Alistair

      Do not get me wrong, I understand I’m annoyed that it look like they broke the promise for whatever reason, maybe another policy change, but I’m more angry of not been told about said changes.

      Yes it’s so minor like senran but xseed did talk about “compromise” they either remove the ages or worse some content.

      I think compromise is a great way in the industry. Don’t you think so.

      But IFI compromise was not bothering releasing any game censor however minor. Besides I wrote to both of IFI & PEGI.

      I stick my neck out here I think they was a policy chance or something they not letting us Know.

      So it took 6 Months and no news is good news right, but till censored gaming vid proves otherwise. So you don’t think they broke the promise & changing ages to make them older is not censorship it is.

    • Miqubi

      It is the same thing as senran kagura, they probably didn’t even think people would care, because nobody cared about senran, their promise would be “broken” if they went and removed all that could be potentially lewd.

      Jeez, there was an oppai mousepad in the LE of MeiQ

      People are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    • Steve Baltimore

      I said this to them on Twitter as well, calling this censorship is pretty misleading. The girls do not have ages to be begin with so you cannot censor what is not there to start with. I would guess they put them up to freshmen and the other sisters to sophomores cause it would make more sense for them to all be in one school that way, but I don’t know for a fact.

      Again you cannot age up characters that have no ages to begin with.

  • Dgnfly

    I liked the neptunia games till they started shafting the japanese audio as DLC just for the sake off western audience even when there was enough space for it to be included they still shafted it as DLC.

    Eventually if they wanna stay in the business they better go for more newer I.P the spin-off are growing tiresome, kinda like how koei tecmo pumps their dynasty warriors series.

    • Alex Hakeshu Figueiredo

      But its a free DLC. Also Japan likes the same series being released through the eternity, so just sit and wait for more NepNep

    • Dgnfly

      then like i said to them do english as DLC audio also your not really getting my point if the disc has enough space there is no actual reason not to include it. also you do know that DLC has been known to disappear off ppls list and there is the fact that ps3/ps4 dlc list are incompatible so meaning all you DLC is nothing but Air!!! cause you won’t be able to use em anymore.

    • Verafice

      I can’t really empathise with your complaint, firstly the spinoffs greatly vary the gameplay once in a while (noire & action unleashed) so comparing to DW is unfair, secondly IF/CH are also working on new IPs regularly (Omega Quintet, Fairy Fencer F, Trillion, MonMon) The Neptunia series is just like their bread-and-butter. I think in this matter they might have a better balance between new IPs and established franchises than most other games companies these days.

    • Dgnfly

      MonMon was heavly censored for western release, omega quintet was godawful,fairy fencer was ok but what are they coming with the same game for ps4, trillion is the only really new one but is for psvita meaning not a massive audience unless its japan.

      Neptunia might be their Bread-and-butter but that’ll run dry at a certain point.

    • Steve Baltimore

      The Steam release of MonMon will be uncensored so at least we’re getting that.

    • Dgnfly

      I know but i’m not a Pc gamer so i could care less for that. and not a overly fan off digital i still like to actually own my games not lease em from a company that hosts it.

    • Steve Baltimore

      Yea, digital games can be problematic. Though it’s not realistic for some of these games to turn a profit released physically, so I see both sides of this.

    • Dgnfly

      That’s kinda why i feel the japanese audio as DLC is bullshit especialy when there is enough space on the disc. it kinda requires PSN the be online for that certain console of the time to acces it, and i doubt sony is gonna keep the ps4 servers running when they hit the next cycle at a certain point.

    • Steve Baltimore

      You can easily back this stuff up yourself on external media, and you can still redownload even PSP at this point, so until this is an issue I have no problem with it.

    • Dgnfly

      The question remains how long will they keep doing that before cost run to high for them. its not just that its also if you want a certain game that is no longer available that was only released digital. kinda like how you can’t get all Ps1 games digital but you can most likely always ind a physical copy.

      Also steam has a DRM system that lets you play your games 3 weeks offline before it requires you to log-in again. i’m not certain if its still in effect but i haven’t hear anything about being DRM free.

    • Steve Baltimore

      Guess we’ll have to wait and see, but so far this has not been an issue.

    • Alistair

      So stave did you knew this game was censored on the back what IFI had said, “we have no intention of releaseing games that need censored” And everyone went wow.

      Will 6 months later censored gaming wasn’t fooled like us that bought the game in may.

    • Landale

      Since Neptunia came out they’ve actually tried and are still trying several. Mugen Souls, Genkai Tokki (Monster Monpiece, Moero Chronicle, etc.), Sorcery Saga, Fairy Fencer F, Makai Ichiban Kan (Trillion, Death Under the Labyrinth), Omega Quintet, Black Rose Valkyrie, Mary Skelter, the various otome games they’ve got that I don’t really keep track of.
      Neptunia itself was part of them experimenting with new IPs as well back when their main thing was the Spectral series. Neptunia, Agarest, Trinity Universe, Cross Edge. So, if anything, they’re actually trying more new IPs now than they did after the decade of Spectral games being their big thing.

  • Mr0303

    It is great to hear how careful and dedicated the IFI team is to give us the closest possible translation and to find Western equivalences to the references in their games.

    I recently completed Trillion and the dialogue was one of the best things about it. Major kudos to the entire team. They have my support.

    P.S. I would totally play a Neptunia Kart racer.

  • Shimrra

    Personally I like the Neptunia games, it reminds me a lot of the all the quirky games that I use to play on the NES.

  • William Haderlie

    I’m a huge Nep fan, have the Platinum for every main title and also Producing Perfection, and so I’m really digging this interview. Ever since the first game I’ve wanted a pixel based SNES era rpg set with these characters. Every time I see that on those end credits it fills me with wistful thinking, and memories of Lufia (that is what it looks most similar to).

  • patyos

    Yeah I was wondering why it is so hard for characters to say Neptune as well

  • Ryuto Arisato

    I love this franchise since Mk 2. The jokes are easy to understand from both East and West perspective.
    I look forward to see 4 Goddess Online, 8 bit game and kart racer.

  • Choppinfoot

    Alex did a fantastic job as editor for Neptunia V-II, with a good balance between being faithful to the presentation of the characters and keeping the humour in tact across both a different language and culture. I’m looking forward to seeing how megatagmension is handled.

    Big kudos to IFI for their impressive turnaround.

  • Zero Beat

    Idea Factory International and Marvelous Europe/Xseed are the two best localization companies at the moment. I eagerly await the next Nep game and ordered Trillion a couple days ago.

  • An Tran

    I’m pretty sure everyone one in the fanbase wants an 8-bit Neptune game. Should be the cheapest game for them to make, so I really hope they can do it soon.
    Maybe do a multiplat with the 3DS (of course I’ll just get the superior Vita version) to try to expand their audience to the Nintendo crowd.
    Then again, the Nintendo fanbase is quite the nasty bunch when it comes to super niche game series and non-Nintendo games.

  • Mistel

    The Neptunia games past the first are all boob and panties with minimal plot, the battle system needed work in the first but it was good otherwise. Sorry but i’m not a pervy otaku just an otaku. Game developers target us thinking we are big pervs and Idea Factory is the worst by targeting otaku wallets through their crotches instead of their brains.