When Fan Translators Outdo A Commercial Product

By Ishaan . December 27, 2009 . 9:27am

http://www.siliconera.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/toi_az.jpg We’ve made passing mention of Absolute Zero’s Tales of Innocence translation before but never really bothered to go into details. It’s one of the many Tales fan-translation projects out there (Hearts is being covered by another group), and I’ve had my eye on it for about a year. The interesting thing about AZ’s project, though, is that it really does seem to be a cut above a rest.


For one thing, the team have refused to release work-in-progress patches for the game in the name of wanting to put out a great end product that people will be happy with. Now, while I can’t truthfully say that I’m a fan of this philosophy — sometimes, feedback from the community helps immensely; not to mention I want to play the game already — it does give one hope that when the patch finally does make its way online in 2010, it’ll be every bit worth the wait. But that’s not what makes this a great fan-translation.


No, that comes from the extremely thorough job they’re doing with this and all the additional tweaks they’re going out of their way to make, which they certainly didn’t have to. For starters, there’s the feature that allows you to turn subtitles on and off during any cutscene just by pressing the SELECT button. I don’t know many publishers that do that on the DS. Then there’s the fact that they actually went to the effort of refining the menus and the overall UI where the original was lacking, by adding additional stat information. They even fixed bugs that were in the original!


I also like that a lot of fan-translators actually go to the effort of keeping the public updated on their progress and giving them an inside look at the translation process. It keeps people interested in the product and sometimes, it also results in some positive collaboration, which usually makes for a more solid translation patch. It also helps one understand why certain decisions were made during the localization process and above all, it helps you understand that the translation team are human beings, just like the rest of us.


It’s too bad we don’t see more publishers taking a leaf out of the fan-translation community’s book. I really do think it could do them a lot of good.

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  • TyeTheCzar

    This kind of feat proves that sometimes smaller, more dedicated groups can do just as good a job or better than a big commerical company.

    • cowcow

      actually this just proves NamcoBandai is full of asshats

  • dv8shun

    It is very easy to make that assumption (The last line of the story). Localization teams, I imagine, cannot spending 2-3+ years just localizing one particular game. Business-wise, it would not make sense for the publishing company. Also don’t forget, Absolute Zero, compared to a publisher, doesn’t have to worry about spending on the physical media, advertising, salaries, etc. Absolute Zero has the luxury on spending as much time as they need to focus on only a few aspects of the normal localization process.

    I hope this isn’t construed as a knock on Absolute Zero. They’re doing a great job.

    • Vanilla

      I definitely agree with you that localization teams may be under pretty tight constraints, but groups like Absolute Zero are, too. They aren’t paid to do this, have lives and maybe even actual jobs, and not to mention they probably have cruder tools than hired teams. And while I’m not exactly sure how many people usually make up the average localization staff, there are only 3 people working on the ToI project.

      Not to mention, publishers like Atlus almost always manage to pull out stunning localizations. It’s no wonder people make the assumption Ishaan made when they see a poorly localized game.

      • I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “limited resources”…which isn’t quite the same thing as “tight constraints”. :)

        As for cruder tools…while they lack access to the original code, AZ has a frighteningly patient programmer who is willing to tear almost the entire game apart. That is one hell of an asset which localizers rarely—if ever—get.

        • Vanilla

          I see, thanks for explaining that to me. I knew AZ had one hell of a programmer, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant compared to others in the field.

    • I think people are misunderstanding what I’m getting at. It doesn’t take a whole lot of resources to write up a couple blog posts that talk about the intricacies of the localization process. It’s something a lot of enthusiast fans are interested in understanding and it would make a difference in the long run.

      The other point, as Vanilla and honorless pointed out, is that fan-translators don’t do this fulltime. They have lives and other jobs, and they don’t get paid to translate. Publishers also have access to a QA team and bug-testers and all of those “luxuries” that fan-translators don’t. :)

      • Pichi

        But would that sort of thing have the possibility of backfire? Like if many didn’t like a particular change or choice for words and such. Not sure if some of the bigger companies would go for that, but the smaller ones could. I think fans would be more understanding for them.

        I remember Atlus doing that sort of thing for Etrian Odyssey on that website. Told the struggles of the character limits, some character names, how some bugs were fixed, etc. I really liked that Atlus did that and learned more about what went into EO.

        • I think it would have more of a positive effect than negative, really. A lot of the time when people get angry about certain changes made during localization, it’s because they don’t understand why those decisions were made. Having a better understanding of the process always helps, I feel.

      • noxian

        however the point is they have the luxery of not necc. needing to make money from it. fan-translating by its nature as a hobby means they’re not really concerned with any particular gain.
        the publisher IS trying to do this for a living, they are trying to make money. which means limited budgets, limited release windows, and limited publishing unless you’re putting out something like Final Fantasy.
        if they spend years on a single title they’ll go exactly the way of Working Designs, and we can all see how well that works as a business model.

  • I couldn’t agree to you more… what some translation groups do is really amazing and some commercial publishers should take that as an example.

    I’m not much of a Tales fan, so I’m not really looking forward to that translation that much (I’ll surely take a look at it tho) but translations for games like Summon Night X and SaGa 2 are ones I’m anticipating alot. :)

  • Yeah, I think one needs to be lucid of the fact that translation groups can do such a good job because they have unlimited time and no pressure beyond unahppy fanboys on their message boards; they’re not trying to get the game out for a particular release date (not for fear of losing their jobs, anyway), they don’t have to worry about how expensive it’s going to be, etc. This isn’t their job, this is what they do in their spare time. I agree that they do it well, but I don’t think you can blame localization groups for not having the time/energy/etc. to do everything a fan-project can.

  • raymk

    I really appreciate what fan translators do for us we they don’t have to. Its the only reason i was able to beat fire emblem 4

  • Vanilla

    I’ve been following this project religiously since work began on it and I’ve always been awed by how much thought and consideration the team has put in for its audience (such as the flexibility of the menus, etc).

  • Ive been keeping an eye on this as well, im really expecting it

  • Hraesvelgr

    Not to rain on the parade of fan translators, as they’ve given those with little to no knowledge of Japanese many great games, but translations that go so far as fixing bugs and the like are few and far between. Sadly, most projects end up getting dropped before they even get too far in.

    While commercial companies could take a page from the book of groups like Absolute Zero, they don’t need to learn from the community as a whole. I would like to see Atlus take after Gemini/Tom’s release of Persona 2: Innocent Sin and not give us such a god awful localization for whatever future Persona games are made and released. I did, however, greatly prefer Atlus’ Persona PSP localization to the ones of P3 and P4, so maybe they’ll stick with it…

  • abasm

    I actually work as an editor for the Tales of Hearts translation team, and let me just say this: the work that Absolute Zero does absolutely astounds me. (In a positive way.) The team is very compact, meaning that much of the vision for the project is unified, but it also means more work for each individual member. From what I can see, throughhim does ALL of the translation and editing. Taking into account the IMMENSE amount of text in any JRPG, and the painfully limited space in which to fit it (in English,) his powers of concentration and focus have got to be superhuman.

    By contrast, we have one (maybe two) translator(s) and several editors, and that’s just for the text. The hacking, which is as good as Greek to me, is left to another extremely talented individual.

    • AZ certainly are amazing in that regard. It takes dedication to keep marching on when you’re spending so much time on something that you won’t get a cent out of. I’d like to compare it to scanlation, but frankly, game translations require a whole lot more effort.

      Oh, are you from Crimson Nocturnal then?

      • abasm

        Yep, I work as an editor there.

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