The SaGa series has been experiencing something of a revival outside of Japan. We’ve gone from no longer seeing new entries to Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 coming to multiple platforms and the best version of SaGa Scarlet Grace heading westward. To help better understand what went into bringing this game to life, Siliconera spoke with 8-4 Associate Producer Graeme Howard and Executive Director John Ricciardi about SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, its localization, and 8-4 itself.
Siliconera: How long has 8-4 been working on SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions? How does that compare to other localization projects, and what unique challenges did this one present?
Graeme Howard: Our involvement on this project began in mid-2018 and continued for just over one year, which is about standard for a game of the scope. Between the four main characters and the sheer volume of events that occur across the world, it was roughly the same amount of work as translating four modestly sized RPGs! The greatest challenge in its localization was born of the game’s inherently nonlinear structure that allows players to engage in events across the world more or less at their own pleasure, which required we put lots of thought into ensuring everything makes sense no matter where a player might currently be in their journey.
The SaGa series has recently begun to find a larger audience outside Japan, thanks to the Romancing SaGa localizations. How did this affect your localization of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions?
Howard: Within Japan, one big reason for the series’ popularity is the terrific writing of series creator Akitoshi Kawazu. Outside Japan, its notoriety is tied more to its avant-garde and experimental game mechanics, and one of our goals with the localization of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions was to help more people discover the unique mixture of drama and dry wit that makes titles in the series so enjoyable to read.
The four playable characters in SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions each hail from different regions. How did you capture the feel of each place with the localization?
Howard: As this title places less focus on towns and more on interactions between characters, you’ll find that much of what makes each locale unique travels with the character that you select as your protagonist. Fans of the series often look forward to playing through multiple times as different characters, and we wanted to ensure that each protagonist’s adventure would have its own distinct flavor. Leonard, a rough-and-tumble farm boy with a strong sense of justice from the frontier, will have a very different take on events than the curt, yet forthright, and steadfast Balmaint, after all.
Which character’s storyline have you found the most challenging to translate? Why?
Howard: Of the four, Urpina’s quest is interesting in that it has so many possible outcomes that end with Urpina being a very different character than who she set out as. We invested a lot of time thinking about how best to portray this sometimes happy-go-lucky, sometimes deeply authoritative young woman such that any possible transition she could make feels natural for her.
SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is a nonlinear game, with players able to experience events in different order depending on their actions. How did you approach the localization, knowing everyone might not have all the same background information?
Howard: Individual quests tend to be neatly self-contained, so there was no real issue regarding localizing it such that players would be able to see them through to their completion. In terms of communicating narrative, however, things get a bit more complicated. Rather than a story that presents information to you along a straight line, this title presents background information to the player in the form of metaphorical puzzle pieces. Just one piece is difficult to decipher on its own, but as players continue to explore the world, engaging in events and visiting towns to speak to villagers and listen to the minstrel’s ballads, they will develop a more concrete understanding of the world these characters inhabit. Keeping these disparate yet intrinsically connected bits of lore consistent throughout the game was a rewarding challenge!
Did any prior titles you’ve localized have any kind of effect on SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions?
Howard: We try to approach each game based on its own unique needs and merits, so honestly, nothing in particular comes to mind.
Of the SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions events you can talk about, which one did you enjoy working on the most and why?
Howard: In a region of the game called Provincia Gradion, there is an event where the player stumbles across an abandoned baby. They then travel about the province searching for its parents, and there is just something about this baby that makes everyone you encounter behave in the most bizarre ways, leading to lots of very humorous interactions. It’s not every day you get to write baby talk, either!
8-4 was first founded back in 2005. How has the studio and its localization process changed in the last 14 years?
John Ricciardi: Well, the industry has matured quite a bit since 2005, especially with regard to localization know-how and practices, so in recent years, we’ve been able to do our jobs with far fewer technical and logistical hiccups than in the early days. Which is nice! (Also, a lot of localization work takes place inside spreadsheets, and after nearly 15 years of this stuff, our Microsoft Excel skills are now officially god-tier.) But at the end of the day, our core values are the same now as they were on day one – we really just want to give every game we work on as much love as we can given each project’s unique scope, budget, schedule, and so on. Our hope has always been that players can sit down with a game we’ve localized and enjoy the writing from beginning to end without ever having to have that awkward record-scratch moment you sometimes get when you realize that a game you’re playing (or book you’re reading, or whatever) has been translated from another language.
The studio itself remains relatively small by comparison (some would say "boutique"), but we do have heated toilet seats now, so there’s that! Baby steps, you know?
SaGa Scarlet Graces: Ambitions is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, and mobile devices.