Before I had a chance to play Izuna, I sent over some questions to Nich Maragos over at Atlus. He’s behind the game’s localization process and before Izuna he played a part in localizing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. He shares some tips to get you started and later talks about how the localization process. One of the interesting points Nich brings up is that Izuna wasn’t as challenging to localize as other Atlus games, “we didn’t have as much of a problem on Izuna as on some games. I think you can attribute that to the way Japanese pop culture has soaked into our audience enough by now that they’ll be familiar with the setting.” Ninjas are everywhere.
Siliconera: What kind of game is Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja? It looks sort of like a Chunsoft dungeon crawling RPG.
Nich Maragos: Your ninja instincts have not failed you: this is a roguelike or "mysterious dungeon" type game, where the dungeons Izuna faces are randomly generated every time she enters. Enemy management and survival are the key things to occupy players in Izuna, since you’ll have to start from the beginning every time you exit a dungeon, and everything will be completely different than when you left.
How is the touch screen used in the game?
The entire game is played on the touch screen, but Izuna herself enforces a strict "No touching!" rule. The game didn’t need touch controls, and the developers didn’t force it in there. Combat and exploration are handled on the lower screen, while the map on the top screen acts as the HUD.
Since this is a dungeon RPG there’s going to be a lot of combat. How does Izuna bash monsters?
The actual act of combat is simple, in keeping with the DS’ mandate for accessibility: just press the A Button to attack the space in front of you. But slugging it out with monsters directly is a good way to have your HP sapped, which is where the game’s depth comes from. Izuna can use ninja talismans with various effects, as well as ninja tools like shuriken, kunai, and caltrops to thwart enemies from a distance.
Dungeon RPGs are typically more difficult with lots of leveling up. What’s the difficulty in Izuna like?
It starts off easy, letting people get used to the game, but gets pretty tough. Eventually level advantage becomes useless and bulldozing through the game is no longer an option. You’re going to have to power up your weapons and think about every step you make. Even then, there are some aspects of Izuna that are more forgiving compared to some other roguelikes, One such instance is the fact that though you lose all your money and health and have to start from the beginning of the dungeon, your level doesn’t reset. That being said, gamers looking for a challenge will find one here.
Probably the most noticeable feature in Izuna is that the game adds in humor. Is Atlus adding this in or was Izuna originally designed as a funny game?
A little of both… One of the odd things when working on Izuna was that a lot of the situations lent themselves to humor–like the premise of the unemployed ninjas, and the ridiculous curses that affect the townspeople–but the actual dialogue was pretty tame. So although we left a lot of the villagers’ lines more or less alone, we focused on making Izuna herself funnier. Since she’s involved in just about every conversation in the game, there were plenty of opportunities to do that.
What are some of the difficulties in localizing jokes in Japanese to English?
It’s usually something culture-specific. Izuna is set in a rural Japanese village during the feudal era, so there was a chance some things might not translate–though oddly enough, now that you mention it, we didn’t have as much of a problem on Izuna as on some games. I think you can attribute that to the way Japanese pop culture has soaked into our audience enough by now that they’ll be familiar with the setting. Aspects of the game that might have been difficult ten years ago, such as casting spells with small paper talismans, are easily understood now.
In the screenshots it looks like you can choose what Izuna says. Does this effect the game at all?
It’s rare that you won’t have the opportunity to talk to someone again, so the dialogue options are mostly there for fun. You can say whatever you want, and if you didn’t like the response, just try the other one. We tried to make every choice worth exploring.
When I first heard Izuna in the announcement she sounded kind of ditzy when she said "Ninjas are sooo yesterday". What kind of character is she?
Ditzy isn’t quite the word I’d use. Izuna isn’t dumb, or at least not in that way. She was a really fun character to write, because she’s full of herself in the way a modern teenager would be, but she slowly gains the skills to back it up. She’ll go after something she wants with everything she has, regardless of the consequences. No matter how arrogant or obnoxious she is, she eventually wins people’s respect, because her absolute persistence gets results.
Which is really a reflection of the way people should play the game: if you lose the first time, hang in there until you show ’em who’s boss!
Editors note: You’re going to have to hang on when you play Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. While she’s got shuriken throwing skills, Izuna doesn’t hold up well when she’s surrounded. You can’t just run in and start hacking away, you’ve got to put some thought into each step when a group of monsters appears. Also as Nich says Izuna’s isn’t dumb, she just sounded like that when I first heard about her. She’s actually a pretty cool character, something like an American teenage ninja.