NIS America Blog – ZHP and the Human Condition?

By Nick Doerr - Script Writer . November 1, 2010 . 2:15pm

Hi, everybody. This is Nick Doerr, script editor at NIS America, though I think some of you may know me better as NickyD: Siliconera comment spammer. It’s been a while since I’ve done an actual blog post like this… Pardon me if I seem rusty at the whole train of logic involving thinking up an idea and then using some keyboard thing to relay said idea to the masses. Let’s discuss some bits of Z.H.P.’s localization process, the NISA’s localization process in general, besides those the project coordinator, Eugene Chen (who you’ve all e-met), mentioned.


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You’ve heard about the game’s story. You’ve read Siliconera’s playtest and possibly other websites’ reviews of the title. What about the men (and women!) behind the curtain? What goes on inside the minds of NISA translators and editors, and how do the games reflect these ruminations? Z.H.P. is a quirky title and Eugene mentioned his inspirations during his awesome translation. As I worked on the edits, I saw the title more as a juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, idealism and realism, the human condition and the human imagination, the… you get the idea. Or do you?


Silent protagonists initially were supposed to help players “fill the shoes” of the main character. Z.H.P. is different to me. The Unlosing Ranger acts as a medium for Etranger and Pirohiko to hash out what it means to be a hero and what it means to be human. Etranger, during my edits, naturally became the voice of the human condition, where heroic deeds and idealism are nice in concept, but feed nobody and are generally unappreciated by the modern masses. Pirohiko, on the other hand, is the source of endless optimism and an example of comic book-style chivalry. The two clashing so often, I felt, was an important aspect to focus on, so I tried to keep their text as differently worded as possible for their dialogue. It almost played out as the Unlosing Ranger’s inner conflict, with an idealistic angel on one shoulder and the realistic devil on the other. I thought it was pretty impactful, given the nature of some of the game’s subject matter.



Characterization is probably the most important part of localization and editing for me. Some say this forces a more liberal translation, but I disagree. In Japanese, there are so many ways to twist a single word or kanji to match a certain personality type. Other times, they add non-words like -desu to instill a certain characterization (-desu is usually polite, quiet, or subservient). These things don’t work in English. They just don’t! So, if two characters are saying “ウルサイ” (which roughly means “be quiet”), but one has a “ナ” (na) attached to the end, and the other has “デス” (desu)… you’re faced with Characterization Conundrum 101! The additions in Japanese are the characterization, but in English, you need different words or phrases to get the same effect. So you might end up with something like “Shaddap” for the former and “Please be silent” for the latter. It gives characters unique flavors instead of both saying “shut up!” and relying on voice talent to do all the characterization for you.


This brings me to my second point about characterization – voice recording! At NISA, we compile as much information as possible and play the game in Japanese (even me, who really can’t understand much!) to get a feel for the characters before starting to cast the roles. There are two methods in my mind when approaching voice recording: imitation and characterization. Imitating is done when you play back the original Japanese line for the actor or actress to mimic in terms of tone, inflection, emotion, intensity, and length. This is almost always done for battle lines or movies, but it depends on the coordinator as to whether or not it is done for every line in the game.



The characterization method relies on the edited script, the instilled personalities brought out by the edit, and the voice actors’ or actress’ instincts. The former method usually results in characters trying to sound like the Japanese counterparts, and the latter results, sometimes, in a completely different sound than the Japanese cast. In my mind, neither is wrong. It all depends how much you want to characterize the cast, which is why sometimes games appear to have more “liberal” translations than others. Characterization was the focus, instead of imitation.


Z.H.P. is the result of a more characterized localization, but with a catch. We wanted to capture a bit of the cheese found in Saturday morning cartoons, so certain types of characters were exaggerated to extremes. If you grew up in the 90’s and watched some of those shows in the morning, you’d know what kind of feel we’re going for. Stereotypes, comedy, and in the end, a moral lesson learned. I really enjoyed working on Z.H.P. and I hope if you play the game, you enjoy it as well. Perhaps next time we meet like this, I’ll talk about my next project, Hyperdimension Neptunia!


Written by
Nick Doerr
Script Editor

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  • Awesome read. Thanks a lot for the blog and I’m looking foward to read about Neptunia! Also localize Fate/Extra…

    • L[email protected] wok comment. that just made my day! XD
      as for the games i’m not playing this game because its a roguelike type of game and those kinds of games doesnt sit well with me.
      so,i will wait for ar tonelico qoga and disgaea4
      (might pass on neptune because its a game developed by idea factory )

  • Apollokids

    Hi Nick Doerr. Please in future games do aim for smart humour. The old womans name being “Chitti Wok” was dumb and low brow but is a small setback. American VA do not have to emulate japanese counterparts however they [japanese] do know how to play the role in part because it is more than a cartoon or game [to them]- its a role in a story. A part in a play and so reactions, intonations and the subtleties of their speak all conjure great emotion. However the voice acting [english] for this game was great and its wonderful to see the improvements that have been made from previous games [disgaea3]. Please for future reference, make characters sound closer to real people than fictional cartoon voices that are so far removed- we cringe at the sound(Mao- Disgaea3).

    *I think Mao Japanese VA was perfection*
    *I also love how Etranger says “people” in japanese*

    • Sure, every game undergoes a whole new evaluation and approach. Partially because the coordinator/editor combo are different, partially because the game itself is different.

      That was just what we settled on for a minor character with 12 or 13 lines. It’s nothing major, and every other race, class, and stereotype got some jabs over the course of the game. Such blunt humor isn’t really my favorite though, so your suggestion is kind of like preaching to the choir. Thanks for reading!

      • i always get goosebumbs when pirohiko start doing his speeches xD, oh, and i wonder, why leaving her name Etranger? is a really weird name O.o

        • The original was pronounced in French and meant “Stranger,” but neither of those really fit the tone of the game, so we went with E-tranger, since it kind of sounds like another “Ranger” and fit with the hero theme.

    • cmurph666

      I’m going to have to disagree with the very last comment.

      Mao’s voice was perfection!

      • You mean Vic …yeah the mad scientist sounded perfect

      • Draparde

        yeah same, i loved Mao’s voice! i tend to like the VAs for NISA games.

    • I disagree on Mao’s voice in Japanese being better than Vic’s nerdy inflections– English worked better all-out really for Disgaea 3! It’s my favorite game in terms of the voices, and it’s made the playthrough of it all the more enjoyable.

    • WHUUUUAAAT!? Laharl’s english voice is perfect!! Chitti Wok was just a “lol wtf” when i saw it, you shouldnt take it that deeply lol

    • nyoron

      I don’t like Vic anyway but it seemed to me like he was trying to channel Richard Horvitz’s Zim voice. Which just made me wish Horvitz had done Mao in the first place.

    • Excuse you?! Mao had an excellent English Voice! I do not cringe at his voice in D3 nor in Disgaea Infinite!

  • Oh awesome, I so can not wait for the Neptunia; it sounds and look fantastic.

    ZHP…Ill be starting really soon (Hopefully this weekend), I heard awesome things about the Voice Acting, so I am super stoked (especially to see the results of the process NickyD described).

  • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

    Thanks for the insight. I understand it’s difficulty to find to distinguish when imitation or characterization is needed for any line.

    I sometimes find it jarring to hear a somewhat mature voice coming out of a character whom I know would have a fragile pipsqueak voice that comes with the “desu” design. Yet I know often the pipsqueak voice just won’t work in English and would sound unnatural because it’s just not part of the culture! In the end you just have to have tasteful discretion.

    Good luck with your ongoing work!

  • Klaus00

    Why can’t they localise this to Europe , WHY?! DX

  • nyoron

    I’ve mentioned before how much I’ve disliked roguelikes that I’ve played in the past but I decided to give this one a shot since it was NIS. Glad I did because so far I love it! Either the ones I played before were really bad or it’s just that grindy Disgaea/NIS touch that does it for me. The script is, for the most part, funny and well written, so nice job with that. And thanks as always for retaining the Japanese voices and the Dengeki characters as well.

    Now then… when are you going to talk about Criminal Girls :D

    • Dont they need to announce it before it can be discussed?

      • nyoron

        Yes, talking about it would include making an announcement.

  • I’ve been loving this game so far! It’s very hard though, I’ll have to say. My character’s raised 404 levels and I still haven’t beaten the chapter 4 boss yet– though that’s mainly because I can’t seem to figure out how you use the lasers to get to him!

    I hope even more games come eventually. I keep getting sad knowing that there’s some that haven’t even reached our shores. :(

    • You have to reflect the lasers into the big mirror opposite to the boss. You’ll have to reposition a couple of the smaller mirrors in order to that though.

    • Exkaiser

      You can pick up the statues and the smaller mirrors. That might be what’s got you stuck.

      • … You could pick up the statues too? orz

        • Exkaiser

          Yep! Also, do you know the cardboard boxes in the Screaming Gears dungeon? You can pick those up and sneak around. Pretend you’re a real snake, like a cat or Raiden!

  • Draparde

    i bought this game a couple days ago. and i’m loving every second!

  • epiphaniesarefun

    I’m seriously loving the crap out of this game :) I also loved what you did with the human condition vs optimism in the etranger vs pirohiko counterplay. That’s beautiful to me as I work in an escalation department customer service for a large @ss company where optimism is sometimes hard to see or envision . Then I think of a snarky pirohiko line and I can smile all over again. Super thanks, Nick :)

  • JustaGenericUser

    Ohhhh man, I can’t wait to see your post about Neptunia.

    Oh, by the way, will NISA have a Q&A about Neptunia like there was with Trinity Universe?

  • You did a great job with ZHP and we really appreciate it! And I’m definitely looking forward to Neptunia. Another great blog entry!

  • Hmm. Which should I go for. ZHP or Atelier Rorona. I’m only going to buy one. I still don’t like NISA.

  • Code

    rar, I’d have more to say on the topic but I’m having a hard time peeling myself away from ZHP to talk about ZHP, it just arrived today >w<;;

  • I just got the game (and the sticker – it’s nearly as big as the case!).
    Thanks for keeping Boogiepop and friends in the game! Stuff like that makes me glad there are companies like you around that has me looking forward to what you’ll do next nearly every time!

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