428: Shibuya Scramble isn’t your average visual novel as it features a combination of text, live-action stills, and videos. Siliconera caught up with Spike Chunsoft Localization Director David Kracker to talk about the work involved in bringing the game Westward.
Siliconera: How would you explain 428: Shibuya Scramble?
David Kracker, Localization Director: The game is a mystery adventure set in real-life Shibuya with branching paths. The story follows five protagonists over a single day—an unassuming choice you make for one could spell disaster for another, so you have to untie the tangled narrative threads to get to the bottom of a kidnapping.
How did you learn about 428 and what about it amazed you?
David Kracker: 428 always had an air of mystery. Read a forum thread about hidden gems from Japan and someone will bring up 428 and its perfect review score from Famitsu, the gold standard of Japanese video game reviews. When I sat down to play it, I was floored by how ambitious it was! Visual novels typically recycle a limited number of background and character graphics, but each scene in 428 is unique—and beautifully shot. Having lived in Tokyo for 10 years, 428 showed me a side of the city I’d never seen.
428’s strength is its complex story. How did you along with Kajiya Productions approach localizing it? What was the toughest part?
David Kracker: The story opens with a police stakeout—kidnappers demand the sister of their victim to bring the ransom money to the Shibuya Scramble crosswalk. Why make the handoff at one of the busiest intersections in the world? Are the kidnappers trying to get caught? Or are they just messing with the police? And things only escalate from there.
428 has a strong voice and playing the Japanese, I could “hear” how the English version should sound. The original script reads more like a mystery novel than a light novel, if that makes sense. Kajiya Productions have experience with both books and video games so I knew they could bring out the best of both mediums.
Honestly, translating the text was a smooth process. Kajiya nailed the tone early on so the biggest challenge was working with the text files.. 428 was not so simple. It uses a number of font effects, pauses, and speed changes that are hard-coded into the text. So Kajiya had to work around these tags and make sure the right text strings received the right effect.
The results are unlike what you see in a typical visual novel. Pauses in dialog create rhythm; when a character shouts, their words fill the screen. Add in the sound design and camera effects and you end up with a very cool multimedia experience!
Which character’s story route is your favorite?
David Kracker: Each scenario has a different vibe: Kano, a rookie detective on the trail of a kidnapping, tries to play it cool but he’s hopelessly out of his league. Achi, a former gang leader, is pulled into the classic story of boy-meets-girl-meets-assassin-with-gun. Minorikawa, a hot-headed journalist, is on a high-octane mission to meet an impossible deadline. Tama’s scenario follows the misadventures of a part-timer stuck in a cat costume and her shady boss who deals dubious merch. And then there’s Osawa, a brilliant researcher stuck in a surrealistic comedy as his professional and personal life fall apart around him.
The obvious choice for favorite is Tama! Her situation is totally absurd but she plays it with a straight face which makes it even funnier. Really, the whole game has a subdued sense of humor that manages to be biting but not snarky. 428 isn’t afraid to be honest.
One feature players may not be aware of is there are secret screens to discover in the game. Do you have any tips to find these?
David Kracker: Don’t sweat it! Just go along for the ride. Once you clear the game, you’ll unlock the 428 Pop Quiz and answering that will give you clues as to where to look for other bonus content.
Collecting all the bad endings also unlocks content, so the post game becomes a twisted sort of puzzle—what choices must I make for something horrible happen to this person?
You mentioned before how bringing 428 to the West was one of your goals at Spike Chunsoft and you’re about to achieve it! Congratulations and could you tell us about how you championed the game?
David Kracker: Thanks! I actually joined the company to get our Steam business off the ground. At the time, we didn’t have a North American presence, so we had to rely on western publishers to release games outside of Japan. Self-publishing on Steam let us bring out the titles we wanted, not just the ones publishers wanted to license. 428 is the crown jewel of our back catalog, so to me it was an obvious choice.
I can’t take too much of the credit for getting the green light. Danganronpa did gangbusters on Steam so I was able to use that as leverage. “See? People love niche Japanese games! Numbers don’t lie!”
Now that 428 is on the horizon, what Spike Chunsoft game would you like to bring over next?
David Kracker: I think we’re overdue for a new Shiren the Wanderer, but that’s just one man’s opinion. Tell me, dear readers: What do you want to see localized?
428: Shibuya Scramble releases in North America on September 4, 2018 for PlayStation 4 and PC. It’ll release in Europe in September 2018.