Psycho Pass is a jolly awesome two-season anime (plus one film) and, in Japan, it’s also a multiple-ending visual novel with a unique story and three new characters. We’ll soon be able to find out whether the game’s any good or not for ourselves, as NIS America are preparing to release an English-language version into the wild in September.
The localisation editor for Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness, Matt Kanemori (MK) agreed to answer some questions that we threw at him, with help from Senior Associate Producer Alan Costa (AC). We didn’t even have to threaten either of them with a Dominator.
CG: What’s the process for localisation & translation, from the beginning where you have a 100% Japanese script?
MK: Once we receive a fully completed Japanese script, we like to create a word count list so we can see how much text we are working with. Depending on the game, localization and translation can take months, so we also use this list to monitor our pace, allowing us to manage our time more efficiently while working on multiple projects.
From there, a translator starts translating the text. (At this point, the translator would have already played the game to have a feel for the text—characters’ voice, world, mood, etc.) After the translation has been started, an English editor edits the text to make sure all text is grammatically correct and consistent. Translators and editors work in tandem to balance the intricacies of maintaining the overall meaning of the Japanese text while making sure it is conveyed and intelligible for the Western audience.
After the game’s script (story) is completed, we have our entire localization team read it out loud to assure everything sounds natural when read out loud, allowing the editor on the game to fine tune the script.
Once this is done, the English text (story, system, and graphic text) is sent to Japan to be implemented into the game.
After the implementation is done, we have testers check to make sure that the text is polished and ready to be published. (They check for spelling/grammar errors, text overflows, etc.)
CG: How many people would usually work on translating a game like this, and how long would you typically expect this to take?
MK: We try to limit every game to one translator and one editor in order to maintain continuity in the text. And, PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness was no different. However, for certain projects we have used multiple translators and editors in order to meet deadlines. (In these cases, our QA period is longer in order to maintain the text’s continuity.)
For this game, the translator and editor had roughly 2-3 months to localize the text, along with juggling other projects.
Ultimately, no matter how expansive the game is, deadlines never budge, so we burn the midnight oil and pour our blood, sweat, and tears into each game, hoping our fans will appreciate our efforts.
CG: Many people (including us) were pleasantly surprised at the announcement that Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness would get an English language version, as this didn’t seem likely. Given the huge number of Japanese visual novels, how do NIS America decide which to bring to the West?
AC: Our mission at NIS America is to bring quality Japanese entertainment products to people in the West.
To that end, we have a dedicated team at NIS America that is constantly in contact with our partners in Japan and is constantly scouring Japanese news sites for leads. Whenever there is a game we are interested in localizing, we approach the company who holds the license and begin negotiations. Concurrently, we get our hands on a build of the game so that we can evaluate it internally to get to know it well. Of course, we also pay attention to the Western market to gauge their interest in titles and franchises.
Ultimately, we are a business and we ourselves love games, so for any project that we undertake, we evaluate ourselves as to whether we can devote ourselves to it and whether we can be responsible for bringing products that our audience will appreciate.
CG: Do you often come across jokes or references that simply don’t work outside of Japan? What do you do when you hit something like that?
MK: The translator will translate the text in a way the editor will understand the meaning of the reference. From there, the editor will think of a way to properly maintain the message for the Western audience. Needless to say, communication between translators and editors is crucial.
CG: Once you have an English language script, do you tweak it for different regions (e.g. differences between British English and American English, and their differing slang)? Why?
MK: Interesting question… No, we do not.
Why, you ask? Attempting to do so will break the flow of the game that the editor has created for the game. Maintaining continuity is a very important aspect of localization.
CG: Have you had any dialogue with people who have worked on the Psycho Pass anime, or are you translating purely from a fan’s perspective?
MK: We have not had any direct dialogue with people who have worked on the Psycho Pass anime.
However, we chose staff members that were already fans of the franchise, and they made sure to maintain the feel of the anime by re-watching it multiple times and guaranteeing the game’s terminology was as consistent with the anime as possible.
CG: Has translating the existing game script proven tricky to balance with remaining consistent with the English anime scripts (in terms of characterisation, etc)?
MK: At times, yes. For example, we had to keep in mind that the anime’s terminology was the English localization of the Japanese anime script. So, the translator and editor really had to study the anime and communicate often. Needless to say, finding what certain terms were in English was tricky. But that did not prevent us from pinpointing what the accurate terms from the anime were for the game’s script. Fortunately, the anime is so enjoyable that I never grew tired of watching it.
On the other hand, it was also important to maintain the voice of each character from the anime. For example, in the anime, Enforcer Masaoka always refers to Inspector Tsunemori as “Missy.” And in the game, he uses the same Japanese word to refer to one of the new characters, Inspector Kugatachi. So, in order to maintain Enforcer Masaoka’s way of speaking, we decided to use “Doll” when he referred to Inspector Kugatachi, which players will understand once they become acquainted with this protagonist.
CG: How much input, if any, do the original writers have in the English script?
MK: Generally speaking, the original writers from Japan have no input in the English script, but they are very helpful if we have any questions or concerns regarding the script. All in all, we respect their work, and they trust ours.
CG: Does localisation ever give you the opportunity to improve upon the original script? How much freedom are you given generally; do you just have to stay true to the meaning of the text, or do you need to stick as closely as possible to the original sentences?
MK: For the most part, we are free to do whatever with the script. However, the direction we take with localization is to maintain the original Japanese text as much as possible. The way I look at it, we aren’t creators; we are merely messengers that try our best to give the Western audience the same experience as the Japanese audience.
CG: Every now and then, certain corners of the internet flare up when they perceive censorship in changes between a Japanese game script and the final English script. Why would changes like this be made? What is your policy on foreseeable points of contention?
MK: Perfect segue!
I totally understand why certain corners of the internet would flare up. I myself am a purist, and I prefer being as close to the original as possible. However, due to varying laws/customs all across the world, some things are less/more accepted depending on where you are.
As a child I remember reading a Dragon Ball comic where Goku’s bare crotch area was depicted, and in Japan this really isn’t a big deal. A few years later, I read an article where a non-Japanese parent took offense to the very same depiction of Goku’s crotch area. Something like this is way less accepted in the West, or in my case, the US.
CG: Videogame dialogue is usually incidental, and often skippable; but in cases like this, it is> the game. Presumably that results in a lot more pressure than you’d feel localising a more action-oriented title?
MK: That’s true, but every game we get the opportunity to localize is like a child that we help raise. And raising a child takes much passion, hard work, and dedication. This is the same approach we take with each game, and the localization of PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness was no different.
With that being said, yes, there was an additional factor of pressure localizing this game due to the fact that it had a pre-localized world from the Psycho Pass anime. But at the same time, using the anime as a style guide—terminology, tone, voice—helped us as well, providing us with more insight when working on the English script.
CG: Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness features a branching storyline and multiple endings. This must have caused logistical nightmares for the original game designers; has it thrown up any challenges in localisation?
MK: Actually, because we were aware this game featured a branching storyline and multiple endings, localizing this game was not as difficult as one would expect. Of course, there were hurdles to jump (chronology and consistency), but for the most part it was pretty smooth. The editor and translator were in constant communication, allowing them to figure out where endings occurred and when a new one began, and we utilized our QA period to see how certain scenes played out in-game to resolve anything that was too ambiguous during the localization of the script.
CG: What would you say are the most and least enjoyable aspects of the localisation task, both in general and in terms of an established franchise such as Psycho Pass?
MK: In general, the most enjoyable aspect of the localization process is the sense of accomplishment you feel after all the revision, long nights, and constant back-and-forth between translation and edit is finally finished. And by finished, I mean you feel like you gave the game’s script all the attention and hard work it deserved. At the same time, the least enjoyable aspect is everything that comes before it. Just kidding! Being aware that we are a bridge that connects Japanese video game culture to the West, it’s truly a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to localize these great games from Japan.
In terms of an established franchise like Psycho Pass, the most enjoyable part was being allowed to work on a project that was a part of the Psycho Pass world. It was truly an honor. And, well, the least enjoyable part was probably maintaining consistency with the anime. At least at first. Was it challenging? Of course. Since the anime came out before the game, it was imperative to maintain the anime’s essence throughout the game. But the more difficult something is, the more rewarding it can be, and that certainly was the case for this game.
CG: Obviously you can’t say much, but is there anything specific about this game you think people should be looking forward to?
MK: If you are a fan of Psycho Pass, you do not want to miss out on this game’s story.
If you’re not a fan, you do not want to miss out on this game’s story.
Regardless, please look forward to an all-new storyline and characters created solely for this game. You don’t need any context or background information from the anime to understand what will unfold.
After playing it, don’t forget to dive into the anime or vice versa!
Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness will be released September 16th for PS4, Vita, and PC.