Fans of niche games localized in the west from Japan are no stranger to who XSEED is. The publisher has been working hard for years to localize some of the most Japanese text heavy games, a venture that most publishers would pass on.
During GDC 2017, DualShockers had a chance to sit down with XSEED’s Executive Vice President Ken Berry to reflect on the publisher’s 2016, and what they have planned for 2017. Additionally, we get a chance to learn a bit more about Ken Berry and how he came to be in the game industry.
Azario Lopez: First off, how do you feel about ranking in the top five of MetaCritics top publishers of 2016?
Ken Berry: Someone did point that out to us before, but I don’t know if we are really qualified to be in that. All the other publishers were such big publishers. We really are just a publisher riding on the coattails of talented developers from Japan. So if we’re getting high scores than that’s more of a reflection of the developers. The only thing we’re working on is getting those games out into English.
AL: Well congratulations!
KB: Yea we were just as shocked as anybody else to see that.
AL: What originally got you into the games industry?
KB: Straight out of school I was working at a Japanese import/export firm for three years and I decided that it was for me, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I signed on with a job placement firm and they were begging me to take this interview in Irvine, CA. Living an hour away in LA at the time, I thought, “Man, that is just so far away”.
The firm then talked me into it by telling me how much fun I’d have and that my daily duties will consist of talking to Sony, but she never told me the name of company. I caved and drove down to the interview and it ended up being Square Soft.
I grew up playing video games, but it was mainly at the arcade in Japan. To be honest, I didn’t even know what Final Fantasy was since I wasn’t a very big console player at the time. Apparently, the guy that interviewed me at the time liked the idea that I didn’t know what Final Fantasy was and they ended up hiring me as the Production Coordinator.
At the time I think I was 25 years old, the reason I took the job was because going in there, all around me, in the offices there were toys and posters. I had come from a very sanitary old school Japanese sales office where everyone was in their 50’s and 60’s and everything was dead quiet.
Did that experience pave the way for getting you used to the colorful and unique world that are Japanese video games?
KB: I think so yea, that was just a great environment to work in. At the time we were technically called Square EA because it was a joint partnership between Square Soft and EA for their marketing distribution arm in the US. It was a small team and very cool. I don’t think I could go back to a totally business oriented type of office.
As we go further into 2017, what would you say that you learned in 2016 that you might bring with you into this new year of releases?
KB: We did have a couple of initiatives last year where we wanted to bring on more digital titles, especially indie games. Games such as Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity on PS4 didn’t quite live up to expectations, but that could be a reflection to something that we did. I would say that PC titles like Xanadu Next that we put out also didn’t live up expectations.
I’m wondering if perhaps we didn’t give the full support and lead up to the game’s release that it needed. Traditionally, when we announce titles months in advance it’s for the retail push and they can set up pre-orders. With digital titles we thought, “Well you don’t need that long lead time so how about just a very short intense press release cycle period 4 weeks before launch?” I’m not sure if that was the best strategy for Xanadu Next which was a game that really didn’t find its audience.
However, on the plus side of last year we did release Corpse Party on the 3DS with figurines. That’s the one thing that people have been asking about for a long time and that one did work out very well. Maybe we’ll work out more extravagant LE packages in the future.
AL: Speaking of PC releases, does the Senran Kagura series perform well on the PC platform?
KB: Yes, Senran kagura: Shinovi Versus has done extremely well. We’ve recently announced that Senran Kagura: Estival Versus will also be coming out on March 17. Some other titles did above expectations on PC such as Nitro+ Blasters and Akiba’s Trip, they definitely found a great audience on PC.
AL: XSEED is known for the quality of their localization publishing games that often have a large amount of text. Is there a standard in the office that the localization team has to meet to accomplish this?
KB: I think the team pretty much sets those standards themselves. We have a very dedicated group of localization people that are always holding their own meetings on naming conventions or how to be consistent across all titles we put out regardless of who the producer may be..
That is more of a reflection of the localization team because they are all die hard gamers. They also play games published by competitors of ours to take notes on localization practices they did right, but also comment on things they don’t agree with made by other localization teams because they want to be the best.
In a recent interview you stated that you might be looking into the Otome visual novel genre as a possible project for XSEED, is this still on your mind?
KB: Yes, it’s actually something that we’ve been looking into for a couple years. It’s never quite panned with the exact titles we are looking into, but now I think we are fairly close to announcing something soon.
With Marvelous in Japan providing plenty of games to choose from, some games end up going under the radar like Uppers. Do you by chance plan to return to the possibility of Uppers, or is the Vita exclusivity something that isn’t feasible for XSEED?
I mean I do think that we can always go back and check out some of Marvelous’s older IPs that maybe we have passed on before or didn’t get a chance to publish. However, a lot of the time when you do that you need to consider bringing it to another platform which would usually be PC making the most sense.
Would you be willing to give an update on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd’s localization?
KB: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd is actually pretty far along and the text has been edited and being proofed. It’s just the programming side that we are continuing to work on. I don’t have any kind of exact time frame just yet, but it is definitely making great progress. We definitely keep our in house programmer, Sara, very busy with various projects like updating our PC games and working on some unannounced projects that we might reveal soon.
AL: Recently, Marvelous shared their financial statement and they mentioned the Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash will be coming west, is this something you’re working on?
KB: [laughs] They put that in there, did they? Often times we get pretty far along with a game before making any formal announcements. Usually when a company announces a title their retail strategy is already determined in whether they are going to sell it as a stand alone game or limited edition. Let’s just say that something along those lines could be delaying any announcements from us.
Is it difficult to interact with fans when they want a game and as a company you have to pass on it?
KB: It’s tough to explain the details of why somethings not coming, but usually we will tell somebody if we know something isn’t. As hard as the truth is to hear, I think that fans would prefer to know that it’s not coming for sure. Whether it be via our FaceBook page or someone’s email we will say that we aren’t looking into that title. So you know, it’s tough, but they usually write back saying something like, “Thank you for giving me such a clear response”.
Can we expect to hear any announcements from XSEED soon?
KB: Yes absolutely, we do have slew of PC announcements that we will be making very shortly that may be a combination of ports and IP that haven’t been released. Keep an eye out for that.