Recently, Fruitbat Factory launched a KickStarter to localize Studio Beat’s visual novel Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation. The game follows main protagonist Marisugawa Arue, who is described as being a manga lover in delicate health. During the story, Arue drops out of school due to her health, and ends up signing up for a room sharing program in order to get a job.
DualShockers had the opportunity to talk with president and project lead of Fruitbat Factory Jakke Elonen about localizing games in the west, Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation’s KickStarter, and the future of the publisher.
Azario Lopez: What goes into Fruitbat Factory’s process of choosing which games to localize in the west, and what was it about Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation that made the team want to work on the project?
Jakke Elonen: The gaming industry is very diverse in Japan and there’s not really any easy way to make sure you don’t miss an interesting title. That’s why tips are always welcome. Most of our titles are chosen simply through legwork, though – a lot of it. We visit Comiket, Tokyo Game Show and other gaming events, as well as game stores, and get copies of potentially interesting looking games we haven’t seen before. Sometimes we get recommendations from game circles we already work with.
The next step is that we play through those games, and if they have some quality to them that catches our interest, we do more research into the title and producer, and if we like what we see, contact the developer.
In this regard, Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation is no different. We hadn’t seen any talk about it when we acquired a copy at Comiket, but when we checked out the game in person, we were very impressed with what we saw – art, voice acting, story, everything clicked. We began talks with Studio Beast immediately.
AL: What was the main purpose of bringing Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation to KickStarter?
JE: Two main reasons: visibility and sales on one hand, and the potential for further improvements on the other.
More specifically, we evaluate our release strategy separately for every title. While we have been publishing games for years already, we have only recently been able to expand into visual novels, which are fairly expensive games to localize due to the amount of text. Sadly, it’s pretty hard to get visibility with the number of new releases coming through, and PC sales through traditional outlets have been slow – perhaps even diminishing. Based on what we hear from other publishers. this seems to be the norm rather than the exception at the moment. We have to wrestle with some tough questions, like should we localize a game that seems good and deserving of attention, even if we can’t confidently predict we’ll break even from it?
Kickstarter is a pretty logical venue to try to balance the risk, and we’ve seen that it has developed a significant visual novel fandom in recent years. Our Kickstarter campaign’s goal isn’t meant to cover the localization expenses, but it will supplement regular sales, and allows us to help the developer do things they maybe weren’t able to do for the original Japanese release due to budget or time constraints. Also, Chuusotsu’s art is very energetic and colorful, so we felt it would make a good first impression to potential backers without us being forced to push major spoilers into their face to catch their interest.
This is our first campaign and we will be evaluating whether the benefits of running it outweigh the time and effort it takes to run to a degree where it might be a viable supplement for future releases too. To not put too fine a point on it, the success of the campaign may play a large part in our decision to publish more visual novels on PC in the future.
Regarding the second purpose I mentioned, Kickstarter lets us give the fans a chance to directly fund additional improvements to the game, which it would be hard to invest into making otherwise. I’m referring mostly to the stretch goals that can fund entire new features, but this also applies to physical merchandise – producing it beforehand would be a big investment and it’d be difficult to gauge numbers and interest. Kickstarter allows us to produce it exactly to meet the demand, and ship it all at once instead of minding a warehouse and being tied to handling physical shipments around the year.
AL: What are your thoughts on the western visual novel community? Have you seen an increase in fans over the years?
JE: Certainly, we feel this is the case. Visual novels are still a niche, but it’s a much bigger niche than 10, 5, or even 2 years ago, with some titles breaking into mainstream both in terms of coverage and people playing them. Unfortunately, just like with any other genre, the success of AAA titles doesn’t automatically spill over to smaller productions. Still, it’s heartening to see more people enjoying visual novels now, and I personally enjoy watching people Stream and comment on them.
AL: Depending on the western reception, is there a chance that Fruitbat Factory will continue working with Studio Beast and localize past or upcoming games from them?
JE: This is something we’ve discussed both internally and with Studio Beast. As you say, it depends on the western reception, but it’s definitely on the table.
AL: What is the localization process like at Fruitbat Factory?
JE: To be entirely honest, it’s still sometimes a bit chaotic. We are a small team and we generally do all of the localization (including programming), mastering and publishing ourselves, to allow the original developer to work on new projects instead.
We try our best to schedule different parts of our projects in a way that keeps all our personnel productive. We try to keep a single main translator on each project for highest consistency, and when our in-house translators have their schedule full, we often employ trusted freelance translators for this purpose. This gives us flexibility for projects of varying length. Translation itself isn’t by far the biggest timesink in many of our projects, as we approach every release with a critical eye and aim to make them as good as they can be. This may include reworking some of the GUI, adding support for additional peripherals and Steam features, possibly improving the resolution of a game, and so on. Simply fine tuning a game’s fonts can sometimes take days. Out of our regular 6-man staff, 2 are localization programmers.
For individual projects, the process isn’t usually that exciting – we first examine the resources, set up necessary framework for working on the game, and decide on the main goals of the project. If we’re going to make major updates to the game for the English release, we try to decide on them before actually commencing work to avoid complications later.
Ozhan, our graphics lead, sorts through all of the game’s graphics, and adds the ones that need to be localized into our internal system for translating and subsequently editing into English. Meanwhile the translator commences their work, and the editor (often myself) works in tandem with them, going through the translation as it’s prepared. At this point, not much else happens, as translation can take several months.
Once both text and graphics begin to line up, we prepare an alpha build to see the results in-game and work out any technical issues that stand in the way. Once the game is working the way we want it to, we release it to our testers. Good QA is essential for successful releases, and we’ve been scouting more testers recently to better handle our increased number of releases.
The rest is mostly a series of rather mundane and often highly technical publishing tasks.
AL: There are two KickStarter stretch goals for extra CG content, would these also be implemented into the Japanese version of the game? And would they be significant to the game’s story?
JE: This is a really cool part of the campaign for us! When we discussed it with Studio Beast, they were very excited about the idea of being able to add new event CGs, as they had envisioned a large number of those already when working on the game, that they simply weren’t able to add due to time constraints. I’ve been told that a single event CG can take a whole week to create in the quality that we see in Chuusotsu. Whatever they have in mind, I’m certain that additional graphics will add considerable extra flavor to the story.
As for adding the CGs to the Japanese version, we will be publishing a dual language release that includes a Japanese language option, so any new content will of course be accessible in that as well.
AL: Out of Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation’s main cast, who is your favorite and why?
JE: Arara – she’s smug, chuuni and pink. What’s not to like? The voice actress is great and she has a very interesting speech pattern that I think we’ll be able to do some fun things with – the dialogue you see in the gameplay demo video we put out is far from final and I believe her style of speech will shape up to be even more unique by the time the release rolls around.
AL: How does Fruitbat Factory feel about bringing visual novels to consoles and handhelds like the PlayStation Vita or perhaps the Nintendo Switch in the future?
JE: We have one console release already that many would classify a visual novel – Eiyuu Senki – The World Conquest on PlayStation 3. Consoles in general are something we’re looking at as a potentially pretty interesting venue at the moment, and we’d like to release more games on them, whether it be on traditional consoles or handhelds. I’ve seen some publishers consider Vita a dead platform for new releases, which is understandable just looking at the number of sold consoles, but I wouldn’t rule it out specifically for visual novels, as I think they’re a genre especially suited for a device like Vita.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to backers and potential fans of Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation?
JE: If you’d like to support the creation and localization of niche Japanese games, please take a moment to consider supporting the campaign either directly, or simply by letting your friends know about it. Releasing games like this is only possible with your support.
Let’s do philosophy!