Interview: NIS America’s Nao Zook on JRPGs, Localization and Their Upcoming Lineup!
A couple weeks ago NIS America had a press event in San Francisco where they unveiled their upcoming localization plans for various titles, including the PS3 exclusives Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland and Ar Tonelico Qoga (Ar Tonelico 3 in Japan). Since these titles are right up my alley, I got in touch with NISA’s Nao Zook about them. I also tossed a few questions her way about JRPGs in general, and the process of localizing them for a North American audience.
Hit the jump to check out the questions that were asked and the answers that we received. Pay close attention for some interesting tidbits!
DS: As a publisher that does a lot of localization for niche Japanese titles, what is the biggest challenge in bringing a game across the Pacific and what factors help you decide which ones to localize?
NZ: I don’t think we can just pick one thing as “the biggest challenge” when we bring Japanese titles to North America. However, selecting which titles to localize is one of the challenges we face. We have to first evaluate if the prospective title will appeal to North American audiences. Although NIS America is known for niche Japanese RPG titles, it doesn’t mean we just localize any titles released in Japan. We do evaluate the title and see if it will attract North American audiences. If we believe the title is good and appeals to our fans, then we look into the size of the text and discuss the time needed for localization.
Since we have to translate, edit, and record English voice-overs, the localization period is one of the big factors when deciding whether we will bring the title over or not. We do release titles with massive amounts of text, such as Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, the Ar tonelico series, etc. These titles have crazy amounts of text. So, we have to look at our yearly schedules when we have such big titles. On top of deciding which titles to localize, we have to consider not just our localization schedules, but the developer’s schedules as well. We localize Japanese titles, but we ask the developers to program for us. So their availability is an important factor as well. I could just go on and on about the challenges we face, but deciding which titles to localize and actually foreseeing the appeals and interests of our fans and prospective customers is very crucial.
DS: On the topic of localization, there always has been sort of a stigma surrounding English voice acting in Japanese titles. Typically the gamers who enjoy these titles feel that the English voices don’t do justice to the characters or properly translate the emotions and characterization from the original Japanese. What are your thoughts on this and how is this process viewed in regards to titles like Atelier Rorona or Ar Tonelico Qoga?
NZ: Our localization team has taken all the feedback and comments from fans and critics seriously. And they have been trying to improve their direction of English voice acting. Sakura Wars received very nice feedback for the English voice acting, and I believe that was a good sign of our improvement in English voice quality. It is always hard to beat the original Japanese voice acting, but I believe our voice acting quality has been getting better and better. I don’t mean we are perfect by any means, though. There is always room to improve, and we know that. This notion keeps us motivated to produce better quality products to our fans. One of the strengths our localization team holds is that they always try to find a way to strengthen and improve the quality of their work. For example, they take notes from what our fans and critics say about their work, and they will use those as their fuel when they go into voice recording! They just don’t do what they think is right. They know that our fans are the ones who really evaluate and support our products, so your feedback and suggestions are very important to them. I really admire the effort and heart they put into their work.
As for Ar Tonelico Qoga, the localization team knows they have a lot of expectations to fill. The team has worked on the previous Ar tonelico titles, so they are ready to take on this huge task!
DS: How do you feel about gamers, especially in Western regions, tending to shy away from more traditional Japanese-style RPGs this generation? Is it due to a lack of quality titles in the genre, shifting interest overall or something else?
NZ: Well, it is tough to say. There are still many Japanese-style RPG fans, and they are the ones supporting NIS America for so many years. Thank you! But I do understand what you mean though. I personally believe that the Western developers are making great titles that even Japanese-style RPGs fans cannot ignore. I think it is easier to shift from Japanese-style RPGs to the Western games than the other way around. And the gamers this generation have many more choices than before. I think Japanese RPG developers do make high quality games, I hope they will release Japanese RPGs that “wow!” the American audience! Oh, actually, the new Disgaea series will definitely “WOW” you guys!
DS: We’ve been aware for a little while that you would be bringing Atelier Rorona to North America this fall. Is there any content exclusive to the localized version that wasn’t in the original Japanese release?
NZ: The US version of Atelier Rorona will be the same as the Japanese version. However, we are keeping Japanese voice over on the North American version for our fans to enjoy both voice tracks!
DS: From what I understand, Atelier Rorona sets time limits on various story-related tasks. I’m always wary when something like this is included within an RPG, simply because I feel it will rush me through the game, making it a less enjoyable experience. Is there a way you can explain how this time limit feels within the context of the game as a whole? Is there enough time to really enjoy the experience or will I just be rushed from one plot point to the next?
NZ: I totally understand that you worry about time limits. But no need to worry about Atelier Rorona! You will have 90 days per assignment, and time only passes while you are traveling outside of town and while you are synthesizing. They also show how many days it would take to complete the assignment, so you can time your activities easily. It does eat up a lot of days in the dungeons, but you should have plenty of time for each assignment. So, even with the time limits, you should be able to fully enjoy the game.
DS: Roughly how many hours of play-time can we expect from Atelier Rorona?
NZ: You can easily play 30 – 40 hours with Atelier Rorona. It always depends on your gameplay style. If you like to go to everywhere and enjoy the alchemy (which I like to do) it will be much longer. Also, Atelier Rorona has multiple endings, so you can replay the game over and over again to get all of the endings if you’d like!
DS: You’ve announced a cool Atelier Rorona art book (I’m a sucker for art books) that will come boxed with certain editions of the game. Are there any pre-order bonuses or limited edition items planned for Ar Tonelico Qoga? (Please say yes!) 🙂
NZ: Well, nothing has been decided for Ar tonelico Qoga just yet. But I can say we are definitely thinking about doing something special for this title as well! We love art books and all kinds of goodies!
DS: One of the most intriguing (I guess that’s the word for it) aspects of Ar Tonelico Qoga is that the girls, or Reyvateils, get more powerful the less clothing they have on. Would you happen to have some insight into that design decision from the developers at Gust? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂
NZ: Great question! I would also love to know how they came up with this system! I think the development team at Gust has some playful minds. I will definitely ask them about this design choice. I hope they came up with this decision while having a big pool party.
DS: Disgaea 3 isn’t known for having on-par visuals with this generation’s games, especially considering that it was a game released on a powerful system like the PS3. Can fans look forward to a more visually appealing Disgaea 4? (HD output, higher resolution textures and models, etc.)
NZ: You can definitely expect some awesome graphic improvement in the new Disgaea series. I don’t have any information on the details of the graphics or how they used the powerful engine of PS3, but rumor has it that they look pretty darn good. After TGS, maybe we can do some other interviews regarding the new Disgaea series!?
(End of interview.)
If you guys enjoyed that, we have more coming down the line! We have some questions in with Gust, the developer behind Atelier Rorona and Ar Tonelico Qoga. We’ll be looking forward to seeing those answered in the coming days.
I’d like to thank Nao for taking the time to go in depth with these questions. I’m personally looking forward to all of NIS America’s upcoming titles – PSP and PSN games included.