Interview: Localizing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate For The West

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After a long wait, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will finally reach North America and Europe on February 13th. Having spent around 60 hours with the English-language version of the game so far, there’s a lot for us to talk about—overall presentation being one of them.


4 Ultimate is not only the most content-rich Monster Hunter to date, it’s also the most streamlined and informative, which should make it significantly easier for new players to get into, provided they’re willing to spend a little time with the game. Monster Hunter has always been built upon layers of complexity, and these have had a tendency to be off-putting to newcomers in the past. How do I use traps? What are decorations for? How do Skills work? These are some of the most common questions.


Instead of shying away from that complexity, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate embraces it even further, and includes tutorials and Help menus for virtually every facet of the game so that less experienced players can learn to embrace it, too. Any time you don’t understand something or simply forgot what a particular feature was for, chances are you’ll find what you were looking for in the help menu pertaining to that feature.


There’s a sense that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was specifically developed with newcomers in mind—including those in the West, where the series isn’t nearly as popular as it is in Japan—and Siliconera spoke with localization director Andrew Alfonso to ask just what sort of discussions took place behind the scenes to make the game this way.


You got to sit in on meetings with the dev team this time around, starting with the development of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. What was that like? What sort of things get discussed when coming up with ideas for a “G” version of the game?


Andrew Alfonso, Localization Director: Almost all of the meetings I had were about the western version of the game, so I don’t have any insider info about the development process, but aside from the usual progress updates, we also discussed the needs of western gamers and what we needed to do to address them. Some of the talks were about high-level stuff, such as the type of demo we should create (i.e. first part of the retail game vs. demo focused on beginners/multiplayer), and some were detailed, like if western gamers needed support during the early part of the game via more defense, items, etc.


These talks tend to start because someone sees something that needs addressing in the in-progress game, and that gets the ball rolling. As an example, we have a lot of tie-ins with other companies, so during these meetings I’d double check to make sure we were contractually okay to use them in the western version, and if not we’d have to find a solution to make sure the western version doesn’t miss out on content. Other times our colleagues at Capcom USA/Europe would pitch an idea to the Japanese producers, which would then get passed on to us for discussion.


Obviously, the dev team doesn’t always understand the way players in the West think, due to cultural differences, distance, and other factors. What kind of questions do they ask you or Capcom USA while discussing localization and Western-specific adjustments? I know there was a time Tsujimoto-san felt players in the West would be more aggressive in their playstyle, but discovered that wasn’t the case. Are there times you have to “bridge the gap” between the Japan team and the Western audience?


I think most of the time it’s the localization team, or someone from Capcom’s overseas branches reaching out to the Monster Hunter team, not because the Monster Hunter team doesn’t care—they care a lot, actually!—but we can see potential Western-specific issues/needs a lot faster because we’re Westerners. I guess you can say that the Monster Hunter team is the engine of a cruise ship, and the localization team is the navigator. The engine is going to do most of the heavy lifting, but we have to make sure we’ve plotted an efficient course and ensure the ship stays on course for its destination. Then if we spot a storm brewing, we have to talk to the captain (the producers and directors) and decide if we’re going to weather the storm or find a way around it.


One example of this was when we wanted to streamline the in-game tutorials by cutting out a certain question and reducing the overall volume (but cutting no content). We talked about the kind of user we had in the west compared to Japan and proposed how we’d handle the content, and we got a quick and easy “yes” from the team. Course corrected, and for the better!


Since everybody knew Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was going to be released in the West, what things did you or the devteam feel would need to be changed or adjusted for the Western release? Was anything considered and then not changed, for whatever reason?


One request from the Monster Hunter team was to change the font from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. We had a lot of feedback about that from Capcom’s overseas branches so we took a lot of time, gathered a lot of opinions and adopted a much better-looking font set, which we then modified further for better readability. From the localization team, there were a lot of UI-related changes requested, almost all of which got approved. I can’t think of one UI change that was rejected, actually!


Gameplay-wise we did a lot of stuff to accommodate new players without forcing advanced players to “opt-in”, so to speak. So we removed the extra defense boost that was present in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but in its place are things such as better tutorials for armor sets and skills, and more supply items during quests. Oh, and we added the option of skipping tutorials so beginners can learn the game at their leisure while advanced players can quickly advance through the game. As far as ideas that didn’t get accepted… we’re going to leave them on the backburner until an opportunity presents itself and try again! Maybe you’ll hear about them in the future?


Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has a lot more character dialogue than previous games. Did you come across any characters that were particularly hard to translate into English?


The most difficult characters to write are usually the ones that have a very obvious Japanese regional dialect. There’s one particular character in the village of Cathar that had a strong Kyushu/Kumamoto dialect that required some extra attention despite being a minor character. I’ll leave it to the fans to find out who it is!


We also had to rewrite all of the dialogue for the Street Cook Felyne because we initially wrote him with a German accent. The character is obviously Chinese in appearance, and does stuff like bowing before he cooks in his giant wok, but we were worried about potential backlash if we went too far and wrote something out of line. The sentiment was that Asian accents in character dialogue aren’t used too often, so it hasn’t been as widely accepted as your stereotypical British, French or German accent. Eventually we went back and rewrote the character with more of a Chinese/Asian speaking style but we tried to make it as subtle as possible so it doesn’t offend anyone. Luckily the character is a cat, so having it say “miao” instead of “meow” actually worked out quite nicely!


Since there’s so much dialogue in the game, how do you divide the workload up among the translators and editors? Who works on what, and how do you ensure consistency across the board in terms of characterization and equipment names and flavour text?


Every Monster Hunter game since Monster Hunter Tri has been a cooperative effort between our outsource partners and internal staff. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate uses pretty much the same staff as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate did for outsourcing, but our internal staff had many new faces, so I tasked them with working on minor NPC dialogue, some menu translations, and working on all of the flavor text that came from the previous games.


We had to ensure that the old translations from the PSP games were consistent in style with what we had established in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, so tasking them with this challenge helped ease them into how we have to handle a game the size of Monster Hunter without overloading them. The internal staff were also responsible for proofreading all of the work our outsource staff did to ensure consistency and quality, and I think they did a very good job… probably a better job than I could’ve done if I was in their situation!


The Guildmarm calls your character “Doodle”. Where did Doodle come from?


I personally had nothing to do with that little character quirk, but the translator who did said that in Japanese the character addresses you as “Hunter” politely, but that overlaps with other characters in English, so we changed her character slightly. If you pay attention to her (and you should, she’s awesome!) and what she does during the course of the game, why she uses “Doodle” should click with you sooner or later.

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Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.