Next week, Atlus USA will release Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers in North America. Soul Hackers is the one of the few major Shin Megami Tensei games that have never been released outside of Japan up until now. The game was originally developed for the Sega Saturn and then ported to the PSOne. Then, last year, Atlus ported it again, this time to the Nintendo 3DS, with voice-acting and other enhancements, and this is the version we’re getting.
Siliconera got in touch with Atlus USA to toss them a few questions about the game’s story and localization, as well as their recent reprints of the Raidou Kuzunoha games on PlayStation 2. You can read our interview with Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers’ localization team below.
Soul Hackers takes place in Amami City. What kind of a place is it?
Mike Meeker (Editor): Amami City was something of a small harbor town, but when it was made the headquarters of AlgonSoft it experienced a rapid technological upgrading. Every house and business was connected to the city’s new network as part of AlgonSoft’s demonstration for how a “city of tomorrow” would work. This impressed the government enough to grant AlgonSoft the license to carry out their network expansion ideas over the rest of Japan in the coming years.
Clayton S. Chan (Editor): If you’re ever in Amami City, definitely hit up Sawamura Thai. The chef’s pretty famous, and he’s got excellent knifemanship. Their lunch specials are excellent.
Rob Stone (QA Lead): Apparently Clay thinks he is a Yelper for video game restaurants now.
In the game, you’re part of a group of hackers called the “Spookies”. Tell us a little bit more about this group and what they’re up to.
Mike: Since Amami City’s a hotbed of computer network goodness, Spooky formed his little hacker crew there to capitalize on it. The individual members of Spookies (Six, Lunch, Yu-Ichi, and the player) aren’t bad guys; they’re more out to hack the network just for fun or harmless tricks. Spooky himself seems to have a grudge against AlgonSoft.
Clayton: I should also point out that all the “hackers” in this ragtag band of “cyberterrorists” don’t all hack. Lunch is more proficient with hardware, and Six is the guy to go to for military “hardware”. Yu-Ichi’s still young, and trying to earn his handle and find his way in life.
Like Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Soul Hackers is a first-person dungeon RPG. How would you say it’s different from Strange Journey, for people that have played that game?
Rob: Since Soul Hackers is a spin-off of the main [Shin Megami Tensei] games, the developers had a bit more freedom to play around with the mechanics of the game, and it shows in the final product. Dungeon design philosophy in this game has a much more “open” feeling than previous SMT dungeon crawlers. Magnetite, a sort of “demon currency” that is found in the Devil Summoner games, has to be managed tightly in order for you to succeed. Instead of having demons level up with you, they’ll gain loyalty, which powers up the demons attacks the higher it gets.
Loyalty is not gained in a linear fashion either, and there are many tricks that a clever player can use to raise it quickly that don’t require grinding. Due to the fickle personalities of your demons, composing a well-tuned team in Soul Hackers becomes tricky but rewarding in the end since the abilities of your demons are so powerful and cost-effective. Of course, there are still staple SMT mechanics like demon fusion, but Soul Hackers is definitely going to provide a fresh experience for veterans of the series.
How does the localization process typically work at Atlus USA? How far along into the development cycle are you informed that a game exists and sent a document or early code, so you can start to get a feel for it? I remember you once telling us that localization for Radiant Historia began about three months before its Japanese release.
Clayton: The basic answer to that question is that there’s no such thing as a “typical” localization process here. Every game is its own beast, even when that game is a remake.
Aside from the source material, did you look to any other sources for inspiration on how to handle the tone of Soul Hackers in English?
Mike: Being a fan of the Big Cyberpunk Authors (Stephenson, Gibson, Dick, Sterling), it was easy to pick up on the more noir-ish influences in Soul Hackers’ story. I wouldn’t say we shoveled more in, but where the game tries to be technical, we were able to work in some *cough* actual knowledge of computers to make the techno-speak less amateurish.
Clayton: To be fair, the majority of what I’d call “tone” is set by the original story. The editors or the translators would really have to go off the rails to change the game’s tone.
The name “Shin Megami Tensei” probably doesn’t do you guys any favours when it comes to securing distribution for these games in North America, or for building awareness. Have you ever considered changing it to a more English-friendly title in the U.S.?
Clayton: We like to think it adds degree of difficulty modifiers to our games, sort of like an Olympic diving competition. When we come up with a title like, “Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers”, a title which can’t even be neatly acronymized, (Acronymed? Acronmymated?) we like to imagine that each of our sales are worth triple points, and then we get up on a stand and award ourselves gold medals.
In all seriousness, we put a lot of thought into the titles for the games, and the points that you bring up have also been brought up before. In the end, much like the question you had about a “typical localization,” each title is ultimately tailored to what serves that particular game the best.
Will Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers come with a trailer for Shin Megami Tensei IV like the Japanese version of the game did?
The short answer is no, but the SMT trailer is released on Youtube so everyone can view it now.
Atlus is reprinting the Devil Summoner games for PS2. Is this because Soul Hackers is coming out? And why weren’t these titles released as PS2 Classics instead?
Well, with the release of Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, a lot of people became interested in/aware of the franchise who never had the chance to play the original Devil Summoner games on PS2. As is often the case with Atlus titles, these games were scarce in the market. It’s pretty rare to find them in used game bins, and private seller prices were astonishingly high. Thus, reprinting them was the only option available to fulfill the demand.
We first reprinted Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army using the original print materials from 2006. They were in storage for more than 6 years! Distributors that resell online or to small video games stores were happy, so much so that we ran a second (and maybe last) rebuild. We also reprinted a small quantity of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, which released in 2009 as a special set with Raiho plush. (The reprint was game-only.)
In terms of getting a PS2 Classics release, we hear that it’s a matter of getting the PS3’s emulator updated. This only happens a few times a year and it’s not yet compatible with the version of the PS2 software the Devil Summoner series was created with.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is slated for an April 16th release.