Hi, everybody. This is Nick Doerr, script editor at NIS America, though I think some of you may know me better as NickyD: Siliconera comment spammer. It’s been a while since I’ve done an actual blog post like this… Pardon me if I seem rusty at the whole train of logic involving thinking up an idea and then using some keyboard thing to relay said idea to the masses. Let’s discuss some bits of Z.H.P.’s localization process, the NISA’s localization process in general, besides those the project coordinator, Eugene Chen (who you’ve all e-met), mentioned.
You’ve heard about the game’s story. You’ve read Siliconera’s playtest and possibly other websites’ reviews of the title. What about the men (and women!) behind the curtain? What goes on inside the minds of NISA translators and editors, and how do the games reflect these ruminations? Z.H.P. is a quirky title and Eugene mentioned his inspirations during his awesome translation. As I worked on the edits, I saw the title more as a juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, idealism and realism, the human condition and the human imagination, the… you get the idea. Or do you?
Silent protagonists initially were supposed to help players “fill the shoes” of the main character. Z.H.P. is different to me. The Unlosing Ranger acts as a medium for Etranger and Pirohiko to hash out what it means to be a hero and what it means to be human. Etranger, during my edits, naturally became the voice of the human condition, where heroic deeds and idealism are nice in concept, but feed nobody and are generally unappreciated by the modern masses. Pirohiko, on the other hand, is the source of endless optimism and an example of comic book-style chivalry. The two clashing so often, I felt, was an important aspect to focus on, so I tried to keep their text as differently worded as possible for their dialogue. It almost played out as the Unlosing Ranger’s inner conflict, with an idealistic angel on one shoulder and the realistic devil on the other. I thought it was pretty impactful, given the nature of some of the game’s subject matter.
Characterization is probably the most important part of localization and editing for me. Some say this forces a more liberal translation, but I disagree. In Japanese, there are so many ways to twist a single word or kanji to match a certain personality type. Other times, they add non-words like -desu to instill a certain characterization (-desu is usually polite, quiet, or subservient). These things don’t work in English. They just don’t! So, if two characters are saying “ウルサイ” (which roughly means “be quiet”), but one has a “ナ” (na) attached to the end, and the other has “デス” (desu)… you’re faced with Characterization Conundrum 101! The additions in Japanese are the characterization, but in English, you need different words or phrases to get the same effect. So you might end up with something like “Shaddap” for the former and “Please be silent” for the latter. It gives characters unique flavors instead of both saying “shut up!” and relying on voice talent to do all the characterization for you.
This brings me to my second point about characterization – voice recording! At NISA, we compile as much information as possible and play the game in Japanese (even me, who really can’t understand much!) to get a feel for the characters before starting to cast the roles. There are two methods in my mind when approaching voice recording: imitation and characterization. Imitating is done when you play back the original Japanese line for the actor or actress to mimic in terms of tone, inflection, emotion, intensity, and length. This is almost always done for battle lines or movies, but it depends on the coordinator as to whether or not it is done for every line in the game.
The characterization method relies on the edited script, the instilled personalities brought out by the edit, and the voice actors’ or actress’ instincts. The former method usually results in characters trying to sound like the Japanese counterparts, and the latter results, sometimes, in a completely different sound than the Japanese cast. In my mind, neither is wrong. It all depends how much you want to characterize the cast, which is why sometimes games appear to have more “liberal” translations than others. Characterization was the focus, instead of imitation.
Z.H.P. is the result of a more characterized localization, but with a catch. We wanted to capture a bit of the cheese found in Saturday morning cartoons, so certain types of characters were exaggerated to extremes. If you grew up in the 90’s and watched some of those shows in the morning, you’d know what kind of feel we’re going for. Stereotypes, comedy, and in the end, a moral lesson learned. I really enjoyed working on Z.H.P. and I hope if you play the game, you enjoy it as well. Perhaps next time we meet like this, I’ll talk about my next project, Hyperdimension Neptunia!