Aksys is one of the companies spearheading the whole “otome armada” effort outside Japan. The company routinely localizes and publishes Otomate’s otome visual novels, with 2020 efforts like Code: Realize Future Blessing and Collar x Malice Unlimited already available. Its next two projects are Piofiore: Fated Memories and Cafe Enchante, and Siliconera caught up with Engrish Localization Founder Nobuaki Taguchi, Aksys Production Manager Asuka Yamataki, and Aksys Localization Specialist Alvin Lo to learn more about both games.
Jenni Lada, Siliconera: Both Piofiore and Cafe Enchante are entirely new to the west. What is it like to approach a localization in these sorts of situations?
Nobuaki Taguchi, Engrish Localization: The general approach towards localizing titles at its core, doesn’t change much. We first familiarize ourselves with the game, then discuss within the localization team on the basics, such as confirming personalities and the world setting.
What does make a difference in terms of approach is when the game features something distinct that sets it apart from other games. For example, for Piofiore, it is partially based on real-world settings, so we conducted research on the areas, genealogy, events, and incidents to ensure that the localization is actually coherent to what the game is trying to portray.
Are there any particular challenges that come with it, especially since there are no anime adaptations either?
Taguchi: Getting to know the game by physically playing like normal players (so not using debug functions) is definitely the best way to orient ourselves in preparing for localization. When available, we also check game design documents and presentation decks for reference.
However, because orientation is rarely considered when setting up schedules, the challenge is trying to educate ourselves about the game while starting the localization process. This staggering of schedule is a universal issue which is rarely attended to, but we’ve learned how to approach it to the best extent possible, so the impact, at least for us, is kept to a minimum.
Piofiore gets into some rather adult situations, due to the nature of there being multiple gangs engaged in illegal activity involved. How has this affected the localization process?
Taguchi: From the onset, we realized the game would touch on adult themes, so the first step was to determine whether there are issues in terms of the audience we would be reaching out to with the game. We decided that our audience would be mature enough to enjoy the story, so the next step was to ensure that we wouldn’t “water down” the content for the sake of censorship.
Did you find certain Piofiore love interests more difficult to localize, due to the nature of their professions and their personalities? (I seem to recall some of the characters being a bit… untoward toward the heroine.)
Taguchi: Without going into spoilers, Yang in particular was very challenging, especially due to his general nature and personality. On the other hand, his stance is very clear, so there was little to worry about in terms of how he should be localized. If anything, I find it very difficult to localize characters that lack any distinct personality, and fortunately for Piofiore, I can assure you that everyone, even the side characters, have a lot of personality and flair that you want from in a story.
In addition to dealing with criminal enterprises, Piofiore is a period piece. How did that influence the localization? Did that make some parts easier, due to the Italian references?
Taguchi: We noticed early on that the story is themed from real-world settings and events, so we did our research to ensure that the references are properly made. Once we finished the initial draft, we went back into the story and checked to make sure we did pick up all the references, so the review process was a lot more intense than most other games.
As for the Italian references, most were based on subjects that are widely known, but we did additional research and reached out to native Italian speakers to confirm the validity of what we were looking at.
Was there one Piofiore route that you found more interesting to localize than the others? Why?
Taguchi: My personal favorite has to be Nicola’s route. Again, I don’t want to spoil the fun, but you can best enjoy his route by first going through the other routes. This applies to every route, but players will notice that even some of the side characters show a personality difference depending on the route and choices made, and Nicola’s one is very distinct in that regard. Hence, I found it interesting from a localization standpoint and as a player to go through Nicola’s route.
Is there any sort of Aksys or Otomate game you’d recommend before jumping into Piofiore to set the stage?
Taguchi: Piofiore can be enjoyed as-is without any prior knowledge, but if you want to really appreciate these types of games, going in with some visual novel games under your belt, or even reading novels and books will help enhance your experience with the game.
I personally played most of the otome games from Aksys (such as the Psychedelica series, and Period Cube), but even before then I used to read those “choose your own adventure” paperbacks, and I think that made me appreciate these types of games even more.
Cafe Enchante is heavily steeped in all sorts of mythology, due to the nature of the bachelors. Did this mean any extra work researching on your part? Or did this also help with the process?
Taguchi: We did our research on the lore behind the characters and setting, but familiarization with the game and research is the foundation for all of our localization, so it wasn’t extra work per se. However, we did find that the Japanese version took some liberties with the lore and they created their own fantasy setting, so we made sure that we applied what lore we knew, and then ensured that the localization is authentic to the Japanese game.
Since some of the bachelors’ folklore and mythology are more nuanced, did you find it required a bit more elaboration or explanation during the preparation process?
Taguchi: It was a bit of a challenge trying to set up some of the characterizations and basics. Beyond the lore was a story that went deep into the characters’ personalities, so we needed to make sure that we focused on the characters rather than their lore. The story also deviates from the themed lore and takes a different interpretation, so it took some time to get the team to understand not just the characters, but also the story’s lore to ensure that the game was properly localized.
Otomate has released a number of otomes with supernatural elements, which Aksys has in turn localized. How does this compare and what do you think helps make Cafe Enchante stand out?
Alvin Lo, Aksys: While it’s true that many of our otome games feature supernatural elements, the degree of just how much “supernatural” content in each title varies.
Usually the world itself would have to accommodate the supernatural setting, like the European steampunk setting for Code: Realize, and the fictional town of Burlone in Italy for Piofiore. Both titles utilize a fictional setting to allow a believable, coherent flow for the story where the supernatural exists.
Cafe Enchante is different from these in that you get quite literally the “best of both worlds.” There’s a strange sense of satisfaction you get in observing the Demon Lord being a coffee connoisseur, and also watching the world-to-world culture clash as the protagonist trades philosophical and logical quips with a fallen angel—and while this type of genre (Isekai) isn’t exactly new, Cafe Enchante fortifies it with some strong storytelling.
The end result is the entire package ranging from supernatural silliness to touching moments, and Cafe Enchante will have the players experiencing the full spectrum of emotions.
Taguchi: I personally believe that Aksys’ legacy in localizing otome games, among other game genres, has given the company an edge in ensuring that these types of games are given the best treatment possible when brought over to the West. It isn’t only Cafe Enchante or Piofiore—you can assume and expect that Aksys’ experience and knowledge base will always be applied toward all Aksys releases.
While we all know, deep down, that Canus Espada is the "best" Cafe Enchante bachelor, which route did you find the most entertaining or unexpected?
Taguchi: I can assure you that everyone is “best” bachelor, but if you wanted my personal take, my favorite would have to be Il. His route takes an interesting perspective into a subject that would spark quite a discussion, so from a sheer storytelling perspective, his route will prove interesting, if not captivating.
The Cafe Enchante heroine is in a situation that a lot of people might find themselves in at the start of the game. That is, she had a bad, stressful job. How does she come across in the localization and what do you think makes her stand out?
Taguchi: The Heroine apparently had one heck of a horrible job before, and it’s something we can personally understand. In fact, looking back at other otome game, she may be the closest you will ever find to someone in real-life–a person stressed over their job, and finding themselves working in a new field, growing into the newfound profession with the help of the people around you. Many people can feel for her position, and that makes her stand out as someone relatable and a bit more down-to-earth, save the fantasy going on around her.
Have you noticed a difference in Otomate game "styles" with more recent games, like Cafe Enchante and Piofiore, compared to older games like Hakuoki and Code: Realize?
Taguchi: The general style hasn’t changed much, but what I do find interesting is that the stories are a lot deeper and more intense than before. The stories are constructed in a way that you see different sides to characters depending on the route you take. This is especially so for Piofiore. Hence, I feel like the Otomate games have taken a step up with how they are delivering their stories.
Asuka Yamataki, Aksys: I’ve noticed the overall tone has been shifting a little bit in that otome games used to be something girly with butterflies and sparkles and something males might find just for otome’s literally, but lately as seen in the Collar x Malice series as well as Piofiore: Fated Memories, the story is more deep and dark even with a hint of the sinister.
While I understand this is a Sophie’s choice situation, which of these otomes would you pick if you could only choose one to play?
Taguchi: In all honesty, that would be Piofiore. Maybe it’s because we just finished the localization, but as mentioned earlier, Otomate has taken a step up to their storytelling, and it’s quite apparent in Piofiore. Mind you, I prefer stories that hinge from real-world settings, so I think that gave Piofiore an edge in terms of what my pick would be.
Lo: I have a soft spot for the “restaurant from another world” sub-genre. Seeing what a cultural exchange with a supernatural existence would be like is fun, and Cafe Enchante has the strong storytelling to boot. Both titles were great, but for me, Cafe Enchante is my pick. I’ve played both already though so fortunately I don’t have to pick!
Yamataki: Among the newer releases and upcoming games, I’d say my personal favorite is Piofiore: Fated Memories for sure if you like your otome games scandalous and intense! Also, my all time favorite is Sweet Fuse: By Your Side–if you still own a PSP.
Piofiore: Fated Memories will come to the Switch in North America on October 8, 2020. Cafe Enchante will launch on the Switch in North America in November 2020.