Atlus USA On What It Was Like To Localize The First Shin Megami Tensei

By Spencer . March 21, 2014 . 5:30pm

22 years after its original release, Atlus USA finally brought Shin Megami Tensei 1 to the west this week. The game is available for iOS devices, and Siliconera caught up with translator Mai Namba and editor Nich Maragos to ask for a little insight into the game’s localization, and what it was like compared to translating Shin Megami Tensei IV.


How did the localization project get started? What prompted Atlus USA to localize the very first game in the series?


Nich Maragos (Editor): As you may or may not know, Atlus Japan produces a fair number of mobile games relating to the Megaten franchise, like Persona 3 Social and SMT: Devil Hunter Zero. We’ve had a passing interest in bringing some of those over, but it didn’t seem like the right time until we had the chance to do this classic that people had been requesting for a long time. By the time the Megaten franchise took off in the US, we’d missed the boat on the PSX and GBA rereleases, but this was a perfect opportunity to finally fill in one of the gaps in the series.


Mai Namba (Translator): The start of the localization project was relatively slow at first, since extracting the files from the iOS version of the SMT1 ROM took some tinkering with, so the SMT1 team started by doing what we usually do: playing the game. After hours of actually playing the game and figuring out what kind of conversational text and system messages there were, we were given the program text to put our English translations into and from there, it was like any other project we’ve worked on.


Translated text went to our editors, the edited text would be checked over by the translators so that nothing got lost in translation, and then the completed text was sent back to be programmed back into the game.


How did localizing SMT1 compare to localizing SMTIV?


NM: It was very different. SMTIV is a big story filled with lots of conversation and a fair amount of melodrama, whereas the original game’s cutscenes are more like short, sharp shocks. The plot is no less twisty and the machinations of the various characters no less involved, but everything is a lot shorter and to the point.


The most interesting thing about localizing SMT1 for me was that we’ve been unintentionally laying the groundwork for it since my first project with the company. Specific terms and lines from several more recent games that were all meant as callbacks to the original ended up influencing our localization of the original, to accurately preserve those callbacks.


We call it the “Great Cataclysm” because that’s what it was referred to as in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, and a few of the lines sprinkled throughout the Void Quest dungeon in Persona 4 were quotes from the start of this game, so those got used verbatim too. Those who’ve gone through SMTIV will find a lot of the terms from that game re-used for our SMT1 script as well.


Was it a challenge to go through the old source code? Were there text limitations you had to tackle as often seen with vintage games?


NM: Going through the old code was a real trip. Usually, the stuff we work on was finalized two to six months before we get to it, but on this project, the date stamps on the files we received were over ten years ago.


As for text limitations, I would’ve been nervous about working on the actual SNES version of the game, where memory limits were notoriously strict, but it wasn’t too bad. Granted, our hard limit of 4 lines of 28 characters each was tighter than we’re used to (and even that had to be cut back in places where it would cause problems with sprite flicker!) but we had the ability to add windows as needed, so it all worked out.


MN: Atlus definitely has a distinct way of coding text that has remained over the many years, so it was quite easy to pinpoint out the different codes used for new windows, color coding, and whatnot. As for text limitations, that was definitely a challenge. Since SMTIV was mentioned in the above question, I’ll use that for comparison. Because SMTIV is a more recent game, we had the freedom of choosing a font that was much thinner and smaller, yet still easy to read.


This allowed for more text to be able to be displayed per text window. Unfortunately for SMT1, we couldn’t change the font that was being used in the game. The developers were able to come up with a thinner font than the double-byte text used in Japanese, but that still limited us to how much text we could fit in each window. The only saving grace to this was that unlike SMTIV, we were allowed to add in new windows where we needed more space to convey the message across to the players.




It’s cool that Atlus USA is revisiting their classic library. Will there be a chance to bring SMTII out for iOS?


MN: It would be awesome if we get the chance to work on bringing SMTII as well, but there are no plans for the moment.*


*PR Manager’s Note: This was all Mai. I didn’t coach her at all or tell her to say this, nor edit it in. I’m so proud.


SMTi is available now on iOS devices. You can read our playtest of the game here.

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  • Souffrir



    • Hound

      “if..” is available on iOS in Japan. So maybe we’ll see it if SMT1 & 2 (later on) sell well on iOS or any other port they release in English.

      But instead of Megaten 1, wouldn’t you rather want Atlus Japan to make an enhanced port of Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei?

  • Now if it would only come out on a platform that’s actually meant for playing games. :P

    EDIT: And by “games” I mean “things that aren’t Flappy Bird.”

    • Strain42

      To be fair, an iOS device is just as “meant for playing games” as a PC is, and nobody considers a PC to be an inferior gaming device.

    • Ty Austin

      Not sure if your comment was in jest, but the main reason I bought an iPhone over Android was to play games. iOS has been getting most of the good stuff, and the stuff it shares with Android, runs way better on iOS anyways. I’m not sure why people bash Apple when companies like Samsung are no better (and release the same types of phones anyways.)

      • Strain42

        I just bought an iPod Touch for such purposes (all the perks of an iphone without being a phone) and yeah, I use it just for gaming. I don’t even have any music on it. I think my only non-game app is Netflix (which I also have on my 3DS, Wii, and PS3…) so yeah, to me it’s just as much a gaming device as any other gaming device I own. Heck it’s currently more of a gaming device than my Vita…which is currently a paperweight.

        If I ever get a smart phone though it probably will be an Android just so I can have both. I know the numbers aren’t nearly as high, but I’m pretty sure Android does have some games that aren’t on the iOS market.

        With games like Nihilumbra, the Squids series, Adventure Bar Story, Knights of Pen and Paper and now…well…Shin Megami Tensei, it really does baffle me how often I see people act like iOS devices can’t act as solid gaming devices.

        • SolRevr

          I think people react that way to mobile devices because the only control method is a touchscreen. I’ve played Final Fantasy some on my phone and the touchscreen D-Pad is just clunky and feels “off”. Games like that feel shoehorned onto those devices.

          A game like Plants Vs. Zombies however feels great on a mobile device because of the nature of the game mechanics. It works better than the original PC version played with a mouse.

          Having both a 3DS and a Vita I basically never touch phone gaming these days. Mobile gaming just leaves me with a feeling of mediocrity every time I dive into it.

  • Teddy

    Really cool the way they retroactively made the callbacks fit. I hope they don’t shy away from SMT2 despite its contents. I think the western gaming scene is mature enough to handle it at this point.

    • Zeik56

      I really really doubt the content of SMT2 would give them any reason to shy away from a localization these days. If they were to pass in doing it there are tons of more likely reasons than that.

    • Wait what

      Given that they didn’t shy away from Nocturne or SMT IV, I doubt they’d shy away from SMT II. Sure, SMT II is a bit more direct and intense in how far you actually go in the game itself, but I think they’ve proven that they aren’t afraid to go there.

  • Strain42

    An interesting article, and I like that they took time to keep callbacks to the other games (especially the Raidou one, and I can’t go to the Cathedral without hearing Mido’s voice reading the line lol)

    I know they say there are no plans, but I really really hope they end up bringing over SMTII and if… as well.

    I’ve already put SMTI into a special Shin Megami Tensei folder on my iPod. I need to fill it with the other games :P

    • revenent hell

      I want your iPod

  • I wish someone will translate the original smt novels… since I heard the ending is quite…. unexpected

    • Strain42

      I wanna say there was a fan translation of at least the first one. I’m not sure if it was actually finished, but I remember reading the first few chapters online. Sorry, I don’t have a source on this. It was a while ago.

      • Yeah. I know there is a fan translation, but it isn’t complete… T_T

        • Spikeboy

          Do you know how many parts/chapters the original novel had? I know two fan translations, one with 7 parts and one with 5 parts, but I’m not sure if either of them are complete.

          • Exkaiser

            The first book, Reincarnation of the Goddess, is five parts.

            The second book, Warrior of Demon City, is seven parts.

            They’re both finished, it’s just the third book that isn’t translated.

        • Dragard Kaos

          Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei 1 and 2 have been fan-translated, but the third one has not.

    • revenent hell

      If you could buy the novel (s) or get access to them by some means and give them to any random scanlator im sure they would be willing to translate the last one for you though I have no idea of the fee they might charge but its worth a try at least if you really, really, really want to read the last one.
      You could even go to a fan group and see if the members would be willing to donate to the cause……. Just some ideas nothing more.

  • AuraGuyChris

    I see that the translation process can be a-


  • Ethan_Twain

    The PR manager’s note at the end of this was absolute gold.

    I’m a little bummed that this is an iOS release, but not because of some holier than thou scorn for the mobile space. It’s just that I have android rather than iOS. For the last couple years keeping up with Nintendo handhelds has kept me in a good spot for SMT releases, this is the first game in a LONG time to go to a platforms I can’t follow to.

    • doubleO7

      There is an Android version, but it wasn’t localized for some reason…

    • revenent hell

      Same here as I just posted above a handheld version would be awesome but doubtful to happen but at least on android most fans could get it….. I don’t really get why they chose not to release it on android as well….I have to admit this is one game id be willing to buy like crack if I could.

  • Firion Hope

    Id love for some of those obscure mobile games to get localized, Ive been wanting to play Aegis: The First mission for a long long time now

    • Jormangund

      You could just get Persona 3: FES since it has both Episode You and Episode Aigis along with some various in-game goodies and stuff. It’s on PSN for around 10$, in the PS2 Classics section.

    • Jormangund

      ….and I don’t see the connection between Episode Aigis and the mobile MegaTen games.

      • Strain42

        I’m sure they meant Aigis: The First Mission which was a prequel to Persona 3 that takes place with Aigis on the island where she was built. That was released for mobile devices.

        • Kaetsu

          That story is pretty much explained in Arena…sort of.

          • Strain42

            Labrys’ story is, but they didn’t go much into Aigis’. The First Mission actually has her interacting with Yukari’s Dad and stuff. It looks interesting.

        • Firion Hope

          Yes thats what i meant, I put the wrong title, dumb me

      • Ricardo C

        absolutely nothing

  • s07195

    Oh, Strid- Xbox 360? Dang. >.>
    Interesting article~

  • Tom

    I don’t mean to look ungrateful but what keeps them from localizing Valkyria Chronicles 3? I don’t want to hack my PSP to be able to play the fan translation. Atlus, please! Release it in the US at least so I can import it to Europa!

    • doubleO7

      Probably because its a PSP game, and a rather large one at that.

      Now, if it were to get a Vita port that would be a different story.

      • Tom

        If it were to come out on Vita that would be a system seller to me. Or Type-0 whichever comes first.

  • persona_yuji

    OH, a secret giveaway? That’s cool! WELL WELL! Strider! for the…360…
    Curse my luck…
    On topic here…It’s great that they were able to finally translate SMT 1 and I hope that one day they may go the extra mile and translate the PS1 version and release it on PSN, or who knows, the original SNES version to the Virtual Console.
    But that’s all wishfull thinking.

  • CozyAndWarm

    So when will it come to anything except iOS?

    • doubleO7

      Whenever Atlus Japan decides to actually put it on any other current hardware besides iOS.

      • Xed51

        Atlus Japan already released smt1&2 on google play store japan actually, smtif is the only iOs exclusive

    • Nogib

      You’d think/hope that Atlus realizes that Android holds 78% of the global smartphone market.

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    how about 3DS/vita Ports of the PS1 remakes ,….wishful thinking

    Strider! for the 360?… :/ oh fooy

  • Wish it were released for 3DS or Wii U VC :C

  • revenent hell

    As a lot have said I would have been all over this if it was on a handheld but I think it would have been nice to do iOS and Android devices at a minimum………..At least then predominantly most people who are fans could get access to it without having to switch cell phones or buy an iPad, granted im amongst the rare few who have no need of an iPad as of yet and most probably have one,But still it opens doors and all.

    And before someone comes in stating how good it is they can afford expensive things and not be “poor” crap I would like to mention I can afford “i”products I just have no need of them and don’t plan to buy one just for a cell phone game sorry. Im to realistic to waste money quite like that yet.

  • Kishnabe

    Wanted to get a Iphone but did not bother. This is a littlee frustrating….I have played every English SMT/Persona game… this one will evade me.

  • Ferofax

    Her name is… My Number.
    Also, it’d be better if “hoking” was emphasized as “Hawking”, in case people didn’t get the reference to Stephen (SPOILER: He’s also in SMTIV).

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