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Talking Point: The Trends and Inconsistencies of Localisation

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Predicting releases is getting tougher

Yesterday brought the news that Project X Zone is being localised and released in PAL regions and North America this summer. To many that would arguably be a surprise, as the title has endured a relative failure in Japan, culminating in a major price-cut. Yet recent years have taught us that predicting localisations can be a tricky business, so we thought we'd try and make some sense of it all — though exceptions will likely be plentiful — so that we can hopefully go into future hopes with our eyes wide open.

Project X Zone, as our introduction suggested, was a title that had already been written off by some gamers in the West. Its disappointing performance in Japan, combined with continuing silence from the publisher and the likelihood of substantial translation being required, made it seem increasingly unlikely. Yet here we are, and perhaps those of us that had given into despondency had overlooked a key point — franchise power. We even have a recent example that demonstrates how important branding can be to a localisation decision, with the arrival of Pokémon Conquest on DS last year. Known as Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition in Japan, the branding was simple — remove the reference to a little-known Japanese franchise and target 'mon fans. This tactic isn't always taken in re-naming titles, as Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars on Wii showed us.

The common thread with those two releases, and now Project X Zone (described as a "working title" in Namco Bandai's press release), is that they're titles with big-name publishers and characters/franchises familiar to Western audiences. This upcoming mash-up combines characters from the rosters of SEGA, Capcom and Namco Bandai — also co-developed by Monolith Soft, which bodes well — which means that there'll be plenty of familiar faces for Western gamers. That's part of the reason that its original unveiling in Japan attracted a lot of attention, because it combined enough craziness with familiar icons to draw in RPG fans, while also targeting those comfortable with franchises such as Mega Man, Street Fighter and Resident Evil.

With that in mind, perhaps the localisation isn't a major surprise, while Namco Bandai will hope that gamers in the West will be tempted to pick it up during the traditionally quiet summer months and give the title a much needed boost. This emphasis on franchises perhaps helps to explain why, when it comes to other projects from big players, there's greater resistance or delay to localisation. The process of applying translations and arranging regional distribution and marketing has costs, and it seems to be the case that larger companies are less willing to undertake major releases for Japanese titles. Some, such as Capcom with the release of Monster Hunter Tri on Wii and the upcoming Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U and 3DS, take hesitant steps, releasing titles well after Japan to test the waters of mainstream success. The latest entry wasn't confirmed for the West until it had been out in its original form for nearly a year in Japan, with no assurances that Monster Hunter 4 will follow suit.

We then have the examples of the Operation Rainfall trilogy, which showed that big companies such as Nintendo think hard before committing to localisations. While the big N brought all three of these releases to Europe, only Xenoblade Chronicles was published by Nintendo of America, possibly as the English translations and voice work had already been done with British actors. XSEED published The Last Story, which became its most successful title and is belatedly bringing Pandora's Tower to the region this Spring. We also have a relatively high profile example with Bravely Default: Flying Fairy on 3DS, with publisher Square Enix staying resolutely quiet on whether it'll make it outside of Japan. It may enjoy the same fate as Project X Zone, but it suffers from one clear issue — it's not an established IP.

This perhaps explains their troubled paths to the West, either through delays or no release at all. XSEED's role, however, brings us to an important part of any localisation hopes; they often rest in the hands of well known publishers, including Atlus in North America and Rising Star Games in Europe. To give some examples, Atlus has previously and is planning to publish games such as Radiant Historia, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers; for its part Rising Star Games has delivered games to Europe such as Little King's Story, No More Heroes and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. There are other publishers of a similar size that also specialise in releasing titles that may, otherwise, have struggled to be published by one of the industry's major players.

The key for publishers such as these is that they can take a chance on titles due to lower overall expectations. Typically these releases have modest or minimal advertising, with a reliance on word of mouth, sometimes attractive promotions and extras, as well as a sustainable amount of stock. These games are often widely available but in small volumes, and in some cases are easiest found online. For the most part these are also titles from lesser known — we'll say niche — IPs and development studios. With a smaller scale business plan these publishers have stayed in business for a number of years, catering to a specific audience that would seem too small to those such as Nintendo and Capcom, but is nevertheless big enough to sustain a market.

The good times may continue for those of us with a desire for more Japanese-developed games, with the recent move of XSEED releasing Unchained Blades as a download-only game on the North American eShop, while Code of Princess looks set to be download-only in Europe. We've already written about the potential role of download-only retail releases on the eShop.

So, can we reliably make certain assumptions about what games are likely to be localised and those that won't — major publishers reliant on recognisable IPs and shying away from smaller brands, while smaller publishers step in for lesser known titles or franchises? It's never that simple, and we've only mentioned a few examples out of many; exceptions remain that will continually frustrate, irritate and defy logic.

Let's take Ni no Kuni: The Jet-Black Mage from Level-5 on DS, the kind of in-depth and lushly presented RPG that had some Western gamers foaming at the mouth in anticipation back in 2008. Yet it never came, while Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch recently arrived in the West on PS3. The major issue, as given by Level-5, was that the accompanying 352-page Magic Master book — a vital part of the game — would be expensive to translate and then the game would cost more to be bundled with a copy. The PS3 title, with its own book, works around this with a digital version in the game. An argument made on Destructoid — there's some strong language in the article — is that the same approach should be made to localise the DS game, bypassing potential space issues by releasing on the larger capacity 3DS platform. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked was a remastered DS title on 3DS, so why not do the same with this DS Ni No Kuni release?

Unfortunately, no matter how much we try, logic won't always apply. Lost Planet is a home console franchise released in the West, yet last we heard 3DS spin-off E.X. Troopers isn't planned for localisation by Capcom. We can make educated guesses based on the Western franchises in a game, or the scale of developers and publishers that may bring niche titles to market, but surprises do still frustrate. If some trends help us to avoid too much disappointment, however, then hopefully that's a good thing.

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User Comments (42)

Pogocoop

#2

Pogocoop said:

I saw Devil Survivor , I posted. I love that game.

But on topic, That was a great read :)

Sean_Aaron

#3

Sean_Aaron said:

No kidding Hokori. There's plenty of Japanese and Chinese developed software in the App Store and not all of it is translated. Just put up a buyer beware warning and a tickbox to cover yourself and let those of us who are willing to take a chance on an import title in the eShop carry on.

cornishlee

#4

cornishlee said:

@Hokori; @Sean_Aaron
That would seem a logical move as digital distribution marches apace. I think it probably overlooks one important aspect though: regional distribution deals. Whilst it may be technically possible for Nintendo to offer import titles in the eShop with a language warning it runs counter to current distribution models, whereby the world is divided into regions (NA, Europe & Aus, etc.).

In other words, the means to make this happen exist but not yet the will.

Nintendojuenger

#5

Nintendojuenger said:

The problem of the Wii era wasn’t the little number of not localised Japanese retail games in the west. Instead of this the numerousness absence of western niche games in Japan. A question of the perspective!

DerpSandwich

#6

DerpSandwich said:

I don't think there's any logic. No, scratch that. They use a logic that is illogical. They localize weird, obscure games, often of questionable quality, and they hold the best games from us. The games that would clearly be the most profitable; THOSE are the ones that they just don't want us to have. There are exceptions, but that seems to be the way of it to me.

AntiGuy

#7

AntiGuy said:

Look at Chris and Jill surrounded by all those big eyed over the top anime characters, so out of place.. including Frank. Also, why is Capcom so keen on using Chris and Jill in every single crossover!? Leon and Claire are far more interesting and memorable.

ueI

#8

ueI said:

While few Japanese games are traditionally published in Europe, they get dubs of many anime shows that don't exist in the U.S. Can someone explain why this is the case? I would have expected similar localization trends despite the different forms of media.

Dizzard

#10

Dizzard said:

I hope to see Fantasy Life, Bravely Default, Ace Attorney VS Professor Layton, Ace Attorney 5 and Youkai Watch come to Europe.

I'm incredibly suspicious of the Shin Megami Tensei series, sometimes I think I'll be dead before they bring their games to Europe.

Not exactly a modest list but these are the currently japan only games I'm interested in coming over here.

TheLilK98

#12

TheLilK98 said:

To put it bluntly, Japanese devs are pricks. They save all the good stuff for themselves, then decide, "oh, the West wouldn't like that" So then they crap out some "Western Style" BS and then when no one wants to buy said turd and the next good title comes out they're all "well our western style game didn't sell so there's no way this will" and they don't bring it over. To sum it all up, they're just a bunch of stereotipical idiots.

Makkiez

#13

Makkiez said:

i wish Europe get's more games like the US and japan because those are the best games in my opinion.

AugustusOxy

#15

AugustusOxy said:

There are all sorts of reasons why this stuff happens.

Mainly boils down to what idiot decides what gets brought over here and what doesn't. Bandai Namco is terrible about this. They bring over garbage like Knights Contract but none of their heavy hitters in Japan. DIgimon World Re:Digitize was the most successful Bandai Namco game of 2012 and held the 3rd most sold copies of a game on a handheld in japan for a week straight before falling into 7th place, still insane numbers. It did great, actually promoted some sales of PSPs and yet... it'll probably not come over here.

The entire concept is brutally disgusting and what drives them is several parts ignorance and fear of taking a risk and a few parts racism. I truly believe that.

gojiguy

#16

gojiguy said:

Brand recognizability and brand power along with a big name made me think that Dynasty Warriors Vs. would make it over here. A "proper" Dynasty Warriors game makes its first appearance on a Nintendo console and adds in Samus Aran and Link? Seemed like a shoe-in for here.

Nope. Not happening.

ueI

#17

ueI said:

@TheLilK98 I know! While my view is not nearly as bleak as yours, I often get nervous when games I don't like are localized for the reason you describe.

Windy

#19

Windy said:

It's all a smokescreen. They Know what's coming and when it's coming. Don't let them fool ya. Xenoblade was a classic case of holding out till the time was right. believe me they have a plan. If they didn't they wouldn't be in business. The timing is perfect for Pandora's Tower and here it comes

Windy

#21

Windy said:

@TheLilK98 Haha now i'm not a fortune teller and I don't have the inside track. I will say this. Bravely Default and Ace Attorney will make it. Watch and see. They seem pretty intent on not bringing Ex Troopers which looks really freakin awesome

rhoobarb
mookysam

#25

mookysam said:

The download only route isn't ideal but at least it gives gamers the opportunity to play titles that otherwise wouldn't be released. I've noticed this with a few titles on the PSN such as Persona 1 on the PSP (which got a retail release in NA) and Tokyo Jungle on the PS3, and it's recently happened with the 3DS, too.

Many of the best Japanese games are now released primarily on handhelds. In the past if something I really wanted wasn't released in Europe (but was in NA) I could always take solice in the fact that I could buy an American copy from an import site and it would play on my DS or PSP without issue.

The 3DS, alas, is region locked. See where I'm going with this...

Oh, and Atlus really need a European publishing arm.

AVahne

#26

AVahne said:

Do an import section like Korea's doing and put up Project Mirai, I'd buy it immediately.

Shanksta

#27

Shanksta said:

I'm just glad that we (US) are getting Pandora's Tower. There are some other games that I would like, but I won't complain since the UK misses a lot more than us.

Tsuchinoko

#28

Tsuchinoko said:

I just want to state again that that price cut that was referenced was not a universal thing. One chain store had a surplus and was selling them off at a really low price, but it was a temporary thing. Most stores here in Japan are selling Project X Zone at a much higher price, that being the normal price most games are getting several months after their release.

Bankai

#29

Bankai said:

"Unfortunately, no matter how much we try, logic won't always apply."

Based on many of the comments in this story; the unfortunate would be that logic would suggest that we, the consumers, don't assume we know more about the business of localising games than they, the guys with datacentres filled with numbers, research and other such data to help figure out whether a game is financially viable to localise, publish, market, support and distribute or not.

That's logic.

Chunky_Droid

#30

Chunky_Droid said:

"was that the accompanying 352-page Magic Master book — a vital part of the game — would be expensive to translate"

Cheesemeister would have done it for a low price ;)

Chunky_Droid

#31

Chunky_Droid said:

@Bankai: From what I gather, looking at the franchises involved in Project X Zone, a lot of them are more popular in the West than Japan, perhaps it would have been better had they released it in the West, shown its success to those in Japan, then released it there soon afterwards?

Araknie

#32

Araknie said:

Ni No Kuni for PS3 in Italy sucks in terms of dubbing, voice actor are the worst in that title.
Plus this argument is missing an important part: Physical Support. Some game in USA are in stores and Europe only in DD, i will never get them on consoles.

I have a console because it's not a PC because i can have collection of things. Console is not a term used like that for nothing...

Tsuchinoko

#33

Tsuchinoko said:

@Araknie I have Ni no Kuni for the DS. I can vouch for that game. The story, music and voice acting are sublime. I do wish though that it had been made for the 3DS though. It already feels a little dated playing it on my 3DS, but even so, its an absolute joy to play, and yes, I did cry at the beginning.

Shirma_Akayaku

#34

Shirma_Akayaku said:

Okay, I don't understand completely.
So it's coming to the U.S.? and is it going to have English voice actors?

Tsuchinoko

#36

Tsuchinoko said:

@Chunky_Droid I'm not trying to call you out or anything, but isn't it a bit presumptuous to think you know what franchises are more popular in the west versus Japan? Its a totally different culture with different taste, but I would think its impossible to try and assume whats popular and whats not.

Like I tried to state before, there wasn't this huge universal price cut on the game, and actually the game sold really well in its first few weeks of release, even being in the top 5 ranking. What Project X Zone was a victim of was bad word of mouth, as well as being released right before a bunch of huge games came out. Many copies of this game were being sold at used game shops really soon after release. I saw them pretty much within the first 3-4 days.

Makkiez

#38

Makkiez said:

@TheLilK98 I'm not saying that you don't i just say that the US get's there hands on more games than EU witch is a fact since more and more people saying the same thing. Like i sayt before not saying you guys don't get crap games because you will but it's not as much as people from the EU. i still wonder why touch....

Windy

#40

Windy said:

@Makkiez I am currently boycotting any future games from Nicalis until you guys get a release of Cave Story. No kidding. I think its rediculous Europe doesnt have Cave Story yet

amjh

#41

amjh said:

I think Nintendo should encourage and support game developers, financially if needed, in bringing games to global audience. I'm sure the profits would surpass any losses from failures by a decent margin..

Windy

#42

Windy said:

@amjh I think your right. Plus it might encourage some people to get into the business and possibly make a career of it

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