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