How Pokémon Conquest Was Localized For North America

By Ishaan . October 5, 2012 . 11:30am

Pokémon Black/White 2 will be released this Sunday in North America, and mark a significant change for the series in that they’re direct story sequels to existing games, rather than a completely different setting or a third upgraded version along the lines of Pokémon Emerald or Pokémon Platinum.

 

Black/White 2 aren’t the only change we’ve seen to Pokémon of late, though. Earlier in the year, Nintendo released Pokémon Conquest, a surprising but well-executed crossover between the Pokémon series and Tecmo Koei’s strategy RPG series, Nobunaga’s Ambition.

 

We asked Seth McMahill, Assistant Manager of Product Marketing at Nintendo, what it was like, having to localize such an obviously “Japanese” game for the American Pokémon market. Was it a difficult process?

 

Staying true to the original

 

“You know, it wasn’t actually so bad,” McMahill replied. “Localization is handled by The Pokémon Company International. They’re based in Bellevue, right by our Nintendo headquarters in Redmond, so my team worked very closely with their localization team on it, and a lot of the initial discussion was: What words do we use? Do we use ‘warlords’? Do we keep the names Japanese?”

 

“In the end, we decided to keep it as true to the developers’ wishes as possible. That’s one of the big things about localization. You always want to respect the developers’ wish, but at the same time, make it feel like it was developed in America. However, this one was a little different.”

 

Different how? For starters, Pokémon Conquest has a much more “Asian” look to it than Pokémon games usually do. When you have characters dressed up in samurai armour, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to try and pass them off as something else.

 

“It was decided to keep it true to how it is. Let’s give the warlords the actual names they have,” McMahill recalled. “It would sound weird if it was ‘Bob’ or something like that. In that stance, it was kept very much the same. Other than that, it’s your standard fight. Pokémon moves which have been around forever, Pokémon names which have been around forever, and things like that. You know, really not so much during it, but pre-localization, there was a lot of discussion because we’ve never done anything like this before.”

 

A new way to play Pokémon

 

By “pre-localization,” McMahill is referring to when Nintendo began to lay out marketing and promotional plans for Pokémon Conquest. Turn-based strategy RPGs are a niche genre in the west, and naturally, Pokémon Conquest needed to sell more than any of those games typically do.

 

“With Pokémon Conquest, the audience base for that kind of game—players of Final Fantasy Tactics and things like that—is pretty small,” McMahill admitted. “It’s not a very big group of people. In Japan, it’s much bigger. The biggest challenge for Pokémon Conquest was: How do we tell people about this game? How do we explain what this game is?”

 

“We don’t want to say, ‘It’s a turn-based strategy game!’ Unless you’re a fan of Civ 5 or something like that, you’re not gonna get it. And to a 12-year-old, it’s just going to be like, ‘Whaaat?’ So, we came up with the idea of ‘A new way to play Pokémon’. That’s what it was. That’s really what appealed to everybody at the company. And to the public, it was a new way to experience these characters.”


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  • キロ

    I like reading about these localization processes, I hope one day I am able to do something like that too ^^ I think they did a good job with advertising it in a foreign country when I looked at the various ads linked to me by friends!

  • SirRichard

    You never hear many stories about or from Nintendo’s localisation staff, and while for a lot of their stuff there’s not much to say, when it comes to wordier or just plain bigger games they tend to be some of the best around.

    Always interesting to hear perspectives about localisation, and I still need to pick Conquest up, myself.

    • Kirbysuperstar2

      I’d love to hear about Nintendo Treehouse localisations some time. They do some great work.

  • Marcelo Gouvea

    “Different how? For starters, Pokémon Conquest has a much more “Asian” look to it than Pokémon games usually do. When you have characters dressed up in samurai armour, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to try and pass them off as something else.”

    I wish the people at Capcom read this when they localized the first Sengoku Basara…

    • Hraesvelgr

      The first Sengoku Basara’s localization was the result of Japan thinking the game would be less popular if they kept the Japanese historical references in it. Blame Japan for that one, not any non-Japanese staff.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GFQYYWFUR2SBFLKIITVECS5NAI Erik

    >It was decided to keep it true to how it is. Let’s give the warlords the actual names they have
    …the hell would you even decide otherwise? It’s like calling “George Washington” - “Jim Washer”, “Albert Einstein” – “Super Scientist” and “Benjamin Franklin” – “Electric John”: You dont. Why would you change history?

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      It’s funny you should mention that! Here’s a part of the interview that I edited out because it didn’t really add anything. But since it’s been brought up, people might get a laugh out of it. 

      We asked basically the same question: Were they ever considering doing something different?

      Seth McMahill: “That was actually one of the discussions. It was used as a reason not to change the names. These guys are all based off of historical figures, or inspired by them. And so, one of the things we brought up was, ‘What are we going to name them? George Washington?’ It just doesn’t work, you know?”

      “General Lee or whatever. So that was one of the reasons for us to keep them the same way, because what are we going to change it to? Oh, here comes Patton, you know?”

      • Gigawings

        I think it’s mostly all about respect. I was quite young when my dad gave me Sam Kok and Sun Tzu books. Even when I’m not Chinese but I was taught to respect good characters who gave us good life lessons. So in the end I always respect someone else’s history. It will be ridiculous if they start altering names for the sake of “Localization.”

      • Gigawings

        I think it’s mostly all about respect. I was quite young when my dad gave me Sam Kok and Sun Tzu books. Even when I’m not Chinese but I was taught to respect good characters who gave us good life lessons. So in the end I always respect someone else’s history. It will be ridiculous if they start altering names for the sake of “Localization.”

  • General Bison

    “We asked Seth McMahill, Assistant Manager of Product Marketing at Nintendo, what it was like, having to localize such an obviously “Japanese” game for the American Pokémon market. Was it a difficult process?”
    Why would this be a problem? This isn’t the 40s.

  • Suicunesol

    Yes, I also think this wouldn’t have been difficult to market in America culture-wise. Every kid knows (should know) what a Japanese samurai or ninja is and how cool they are. They should already have widespread appeal. At the very least, images of curved swords should conjure up feelings of badassery.

    As for the names… really, a young kid who doesn’t know Japanese at all probably would not know what a Japanese name looks like. A name like Hidetoyo Toyotama might as well be a nonsensical fantasy name like Zidane Tribal or Sephiroth.

  • Gigawings

    ” Let’s give the warlords the actual names they have,” McMahill recalled.”

    I think that’s mandatory. First of all this is still related to Japanese history. Do you like it when a Bullrun game ported to Asia and Custer and other general names are changed into Seijiro or Liu Bei? or do you like it if General Lafayette or Abraham Lincoln changed to General Oda or Hideyoshi Hashiba? Of course not. This is all about respect toward others history and culture.

    This is why I despise those idiots who alter One Piece and Pokemon English adaptation so much. It’s ****in ONIGIRI! NOT DONUT!

    • General Bison

      OH GOD, THE “DONUT”!

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