Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Localization Featured

DISCLAIMER: This interview contains spoilers for Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds.
EDITORS NOTE: This email interview was conducted near the end of August, hence the line “it’s now been three months since the game has been made available.” in one of the questions.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Localization Featured
This time we talk with Nobara Nakayama (Localization Manager) and Rain Gregorio (Localization Editor) about how they brought this colorful cast to the West.

Welcome back to another interview!

Yesterday, we published an interview with Ari Advincula who is Idea Factory International’s PR & Marketing Coordinator about the marketing effort that went into bringing Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds to the West. Today we now take a look at the other side of that effort by speaking with Nobara Nakayama (Localization Manager) and Rain Gregorio (Localization Editor) about what it takes to localize a title like Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds.

As I mentioned yesterday, localization is never easy but due to the fact that Hakuoki was previously published by Aksys Games in the US and Rising Star Games in the EU, there were other issues that could arise. One major one being that fans are already used to having the games localized and presented to them in that publisher’s style. In short, there’s an entirely different crew working on this title who has no previous history with it… or so you’d think.

Join me as we discuss what makes Hakuoki a fan favorite franchise, how familiar both Nobara and Rain are with the franchise, the feedback they’ve gotten from fans and critics alike, and what makes Chizuru a unique protagonist.

One quick thing, since this is an in-depth discussion, this interview does contain spoilers. As such, to quote IFI themselves:

Readers should play Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds to fully enjoy this interview.

If instead, you’d like a rundown of the game to know what you’re getting yourself into, check out our review of the game here, where I detail my own thoughts as a first time Hakuoki player.

That all said, please enjoy!

By: Benny Carrillo (Questions/Interviewer/Images), Quentin H. (Formatting and Layout)

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Logo

Operation Rainfall: Hakuoki is an Otome franchise that has quite a following in both Japan and the West. However, for those who may be delving into it for the first time, what exactly are Otome games and what is Hakuoki?

Rain Gregorio [Localization Editor]: Otome titles are considered somewhat niche in the West, but I believe that gives them an edge for potential storytelling in the realm of video games. Otome narratives often focus on women who find themselves courted by a series of bachelors, whom the players can choose between in order to shape the way the larger story unfolds. Instead of being confined into one shoehorned romance subplot, players can make active decisions that affect who they’d ideally fall in love with, and then behave accordingly to strengthen or derail that particular relationship.

Hakuoki is special in that it was one of the first Otome titles brought to the West, so its introduction has set the precedent as far as what fans can expect from the quality of its unique backstory and use of character development.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Chizuru
Meet Chizuru Yukimura, a young woman who heads to Kyoto to find her missing father and lives among the Shinsengumi. Also, note that she’s not afraid to put herself in harm’s way for others.

OR: As was previously mentioned, Hakuoki has quite a large following around the world. What are some of the similarities and differences between the Japanese and the Western fanbases?

Nobara Nakayama [Localization Manager]: I can for sure say that the Hakuoki fanbase is made up of very happy, positive, and loving individuals. I haven’t had a lot of experience with the Japanese fandom but the ones in the US are always so thankful and encouraging. Otome titles take VERY LONG in terms of translation/editing volume, so it’s always so rewarding when you meet a community of fans who just thank you for all the work you put into the game. Those are the moments I live for and the otome community never disappoints. I love gossiping with them over the best boys.

RG: We’re so grateful for the reception Hakuoki has had and sustained since its introduction. Worldwide Hakuoki fans definitely display their devotion and pride for their ikemen with aplomb, so both the Japanese and Western audiences can brag all day about who the better Shinsengumi man is. However, I think internet culture (i.e. blogs, Tumblr, and Twitter) is huge in developing devoted followings for each individual bachelor, all of whom have their own rabid fanbase. It’s funny and endearing all at once.

Hakuoki: Koyoto Winds | Beautiful Hijikata
Yep, Hijikata here has quite the pretty face, however, don’t think for a moment that makes him soft or anything. He’s the commander of the Shinsengumi for a reason.

OR: Previous entries in the Hakuoki franchise were published in the West by both Aksys Games in the US and Rising Star Games in the EU. Since Western fans would already have expectations regarding the franchise, what did IFI do so that Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds would be on par with the previous localizations, and did anyone in the office play those localizations either for fun or for reference?

NN:  I worked on the localization of Hakuoki since it was first localized back when I was at Aksys, so to say I know this game like the back of my hand is an understatement. From the get-go we were very conscious of fan expectations, so I had very long talks about the franchise with Rain. I reached out to the original editors of the game since we are still friends and we kind of had a talk on what they looked out for, what emotions they tried to portray just to be sure that the transition between the previous titles and Kyoto Winds would be smooth. I also remembered what the original files looked like, so I personally saw so much growth on the scenario! I kind of got emotional as I looked through these files. I’m sure the pressure was a lot harder on Rain but he was a champ…We both started reading romance novels to get the creativity going, but Rain is naturally a romantic guy, and I’m sure the fanbase will see that.

RG: What makes Hakuoki special is the relationship fans have established with their particular love interest, so it was especially important for us to maintain the tone of the overall narrative with what fans have become accustomed to. Maintaining relationships is as significant as the initial charm, as you know. Noba had introduced me to some of the previous versions, including Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, so that we could identify which scenes were fan favorites and crucial to the plot, and which could be improved for this new iteration.

“…the most appealing improvement to Kyoto Winds is giving Chizuru an opportunity to explore what’s happening in the rest of Japan prior to the Battle of Toba-Fushimi through these added story routes.”

OR: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds released on the Vita on May 15, 2017, in the US and May 19, 2017, in the EU, which means it’s now been three months since the game has been made available. Since critics and fans can have differing opinions, what kind of feedback have you heard from both sides, and how does IFI plan to implement that feedback in future titles?

NN: We listen to both sides’ opinions and we are taking measures to improve on areas where we could so the fanbase has an even better experience with the second half of this game. I can’t wait for you guys to get your hands on it. I literally just finished translating it before I started answering these interview questions and I have all the feels. Looking forward to hearing my otomes giving me their feedback on which scenes they loved the most.

RG: Three months after the game’s been released, I’ve heard a lot of fans celebrate the humorous trophy titles we put in the game. Noba told me that we could flex our creativity a bit when titling them, and we have so many inside jokes around the office about some of the bachelors that making puns out of their names for the trophies was almost second nature.

One takeaway for me has been hearing fans express disapproval with certain passages being interpreted one way when we’ve translated it another. Another was seamlessly integrating some of the new characters to feel like they were an organic part of the original cast’s world. Every title has its own set of challenges, particularly in the realm of localization, but there was certainly room in Kyoto Winds to improve the readability and imagery of the text. Our localization team spends a lot of time reviewing and sometimes performing table reads with our text to ensure its highest quality, so I think the next half of this Hakuoki series improves upon Kyoto Winds with sharper detail and more emotionally-wrought passages.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Going Easy
Nor have fans and critics gone easy on IFI it seems. However, just like I want to see Chizuru grow, I also want to see how IFI improves its localization.

OR: Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a remake of the first half of the original Hakuōki ~Shinsengumi Kitan~, with the second half being called Hakuōki Shinkai: Hana no Shō in Japan. How does Kyoto Winds improve upon the original, and is there a particular new element that IFI enjoyed?

NN: Just to clarify- Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is a localized version of  Hakuōki Shinkai: Kaze no Shō, which is the equivalent of the first half of Otomate’s Hakuōki ~Shinsengumi Kitan~(the first localized Hakuoki would be Hakuōki ~Shinsengumi Kitan~ Portable). The second half is called Hakuōki Shinkai: Hana no Shō in Japan.

I would say Kyoto Winds improvements would be the overall readability. a lot of “…” are filled in now so there are conversations here and there that explain what is going on more for each of the characters. It also has a total of 12 men you can now romance! I think we can all say this is the biggest improvement for the Hakuoki franchise. In the original where you only had Toshizo Hijikata, Souji Okita, Hajime Saito, Heisuke Toudou, Sanosuke Harada, and Chikage Kazama to romance. I truly enjoyed the introduction of Ryouma Sakamoto, Hachiro Iba, and Kazue Souma since you could see the Shinsengumi from an “outsider” perspective.

RG: Like Noba mentioned, the most appealing improvement to Kyoto Winds is giving Chizuru an opportunity to explore what’s happening in the rest of Japan prior to the Battle of Toba-Fushimi through these added story routes. The undercurrent of political strife was obviously present in the other games, but being able to witness it through Ryouma Sakamoto, who was a staunch advocate of allowing foreign influences to enter Japan during a period of isolationism, adds a different color to the bevy of romantic interests. Seeing that the characters can have a full range of emotions and reactions onscreen, and even speak Chizuru’s name, are features we were excited to unveil because it immerses the player more fully than some of the previous iterations.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Ryouma
Ryouma Sakamoto is one of the new bachelors for Kyoto Winds and as you can see he’s quite playful.

OR: While every game is its own unique challenge to localize, Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds adds the wrinkle of being set in 1860’s Japan. With that in mind, were there any particular challenges that arose when localizing Kyoto Winds?

NN: I would say the biggest challenge would be the dates since the Japanese weren’t using the Gregorian Calendar until the 5th year of the Meiji period. Previous versions of Hakuoki had always followed the Gregorian Calendar so that was always a challenge for me.

RG: Localizing dialects is always a challenge, especially in antiquated dialogue. As an editor, my focus is on shaping the emotional tone of the characters’ words to reflect the mood and dignity of their conversations, especially in the context of one happening in 1864, while also injecting some energy which the players can latch onto. Ultimately, the story is an adventure.

“Chizuru’s compelling development begins with a simple quest: solving the disappearance of her beloved father. Unlike some other Otome titles, we realize that Chizuru wields a curious and self-aware mind from the get-go.”

OR: Let’s talk a little bit about the various characters of Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds starting with the Shinsengumi. Who are they as a whole and is there a particular one among them that is a favorite among the IFI Staff?

NN: It’s always so hard to pick my favorite Shinsengumi members. I would say Hijikata, Harada, Saito, and Heisuke. If you forced me to choose one, I would say Harada since he seems to be a little bit of all things good.

RG: I think Sanosuke Harada and Ryouma Sakamoto were two of my favorites. There’s something charming about assertive swashbucklers smashing preconceptions of masculinity in 1860s Japan, as far as fantastical characters are concerned. Our office is pretty split on whom they’d consider the favorite, but Saito and Heisuke are certainly some of the most popular here!

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Saito
Saito is also one of the major fan favorites. Of course with scenes like this, how could you not find him adorable.

OR: One of the new additions to Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds is the inclusion of new routes that weren’t included in Hakuōki ~Shinsengumi Kitan~. Does the IFI staff have a favorite among these new routes that they’d recommend veterans of the original game explore?

NN: I would say Sakamoto is probably one of my favorite new additions! He introduces a concept that is totally the opposite of what the Shinsengumi men were trying to do. That means Chizuru is exposed to a new ideology she never even considered before.

RG: I’d always recommend Sakamoto, simply out of favoritism, but Iba and Souma also add a different dimension to the overall story; Iba is a noble and solemn swordsman with a deep connection to Chizuru, whose honor is tested by a poisonous betrayal. Kazue Souma, on the other hand, is a young, eager swordsman that rises through the ranks of the Shinsengumi under the tutelage of the original cast. These new characters allow us to ponder ‘What If’ scenarios by building meaningful relationships with people who influenced the fate of the country in other corners besides the five original romance interests.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Souma
Personally, I adored Souma and found his relationship with Chizuru to be refreshing. Plus he’s completely fooled by Chizuru being disguised as a boy when they first meet.

OR: Otome games are known having fleshed out and complex female protagonists. What makes Chizuru a unique protagonist among Otome heroines and why might people who don’t normally play Otome novels be interested in her story?

NN: Chizuru is unique because she is a demon with bad-ass skills but she chooses not to be violent. She may portray herself as a meek little girl that only serves tea and looks up at the sky when she’s under house arrest with the Shinsengumi, but eventually she finds her place within the Shinsengumi. She never gives up and earns the trust of the most intimidating men of the century by first offering to do chores and then even becoming the Shinsengumi’s medical aid. She is a well-grounded woman with a good heart. She showcases inner strength and sometimes puts these hot-headed men in their place when they’re being irrational. I would say this is another one of the improvements in Kyoto Winds and I hope that everyone playing this game, new or old users, would appreciate how Chizuru supported the Shinsengumi.

RG: Chizuru’s compelling development begins with a simple quest: solving the disappearance of her beloved father. Unlike some other Otome titles, we realize that Chizuru wields a curious and self-aware mind from the get-go. She is constantly forced to adapt to survive in the midst of these brash, murderous swordsmen while adhering to gender expectations of 1860s Japan. In a way, she serves as a proxy for the player to explore what living in this time period may have been like for a teenage girl, but as Noba mentioned, she possesses latent powers that aren’t revealed until the story progresses, which give her an edge compared to how other women of the age may have behaved. For the player, they are able to navigate and parse these various identities held by Chizuru along with choosing a love interest, which create endless opportunities for players to interpret and craft their own individual relationship with the story and its characters.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Selfless Devotion
The world could turn against her, cannonballs coming down all around, the castle be ablaze and Chizuru would still stand by these men and risk her life to help them. She’s just that good of a person.

So there you have it, two interviews with Idea Factory International over two days about Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds.

What did you as a reader find most surprising or interesting?

For myself, the fact that Nobara actually worked on the previous titles at Aksys Games, was something that really surprised me. Who could have guessed that someone would leave one company where they worked on a franchise only to move to another company and work on said franchise again. Also, I appreciate Rain’s candidness when it came to answering our question about feedback. Localization is never easy and an editor that willing to take criticism and grow from it is the kind of person you want working on your games. I’m quite curious to what kind of future Hakuoki and IFI will have together.

In closing, I’d like to thank Nobara and Rain for taking the time answer my questions and for being willing to be so open with us about Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. I’d also like to once again thank Ari for coordinating this effort and of course, thank Idea Factory International themselves for allowing us to conduct this interview.

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Yamazaki
It’s little moments like this that I really enjoy in Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds. Not just because it’s adorable, but because it’s a brief moment of peace for these characters in a turbulent time.

Be sure to follow Idea Factory International on all the places below:

Idea Factory International:

If you’re looking for more Hakuoki coverage, take a look at our review, which can be found here. Also be sure to follow Operation Rainfall as well using the links below:

Operation Rainfall:

Until next time everyone, take care!

Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds | Heisuke Showing Off
Heisuke I get that you’re trying to impress Chizuru there, but somehow I don’t think you can just walk that off. We’d better go get him an ice pack or something. See you later everyone!
Benny Carrillo
A gamer since the days of the NES, this professional otaku adores Mega Man, Super Robot Wars, Yuri, Visual Novels, the Slice of Life anime genre, and of course Hyperdimension Neptunia. His mission on oprainfall is to help deliver the news straight to you.