When we got our first hands-on time with Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale at E3 earlier this year, we were very impressed; this quietly charming little JRPG ended up being a highlight of the 3DS' lineup at the show, and we were eager to see more. Thankfully, at a preview event in San Francisco we were able to sit down with XSEED Localization Specialist (and PopoloCrois superfan) Thomas Lipschultz - who's heading up the translation of this upcoming crossover - to chat about PopoloCrois, localization, and fighting and farming in a fairytale world.
First off, could you introduce the game for our readers?
Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is actually a combination of two franchises. First, there's PopoloCrois, which originated as a manga that started in 1978, and was adapted into games, anime, novels and all kinds of things, and this game is a brand new story in the PopoloCrois series. It's completely original and introduces a lot of new characters, but it has a lot of the classic feel from the early titles as well. It's also combined with Story of Seasons, known as the Bokujō Monogatari series in Japan — the most popular farming sim there is. This is definitely more of a PopoloCrois game than a Story of Seasons game, but the Story of Seasons elements are game-spanning. I like to compare it to Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII; it's always there, but totally optional. It's actually a really great game-spanning mini-game, and you can really get addicted to it.
For someone who's never heard of PopoloCrois before, what would you say to get them on the bandwagon?
Well, the original PopoloCrois manga was written by the creator Yousuke Tamori because there just wasn't that much in the way of fantasy storybook manga at the time, so he decided "I'm going to fill that void", and he created this very simple but action-packed fantasy storybook world, and over time he filled it with more and more characters and ideas. It sort of became a sounding board for these concepts and stories that were very innocent and sweet. I always like to say that every PopoloCrois story is about overcoming failure. It's always about very innocent people trying something and having it just blow up in their faces, but rather than giving up, they just try and try again to make it right, and eventually they do — and in the process they make it better than ever. It's very inspirational, and they're just great feel good series. It also has this overarching romance between the main character, Prince Pietro, and the forest witch Narcia, and the two of them have absolutely my favourite romance in media. It's just so sweet and pure and wholesome, and this game is no different — the romantic scenes between them are so spot on, and it's really heartwarming.
This isn't your first brush with translating something in the PopoloCrois universe, is that right?
That's true - well before I was working in the game industry at all, I actually fan-translated some anime based on the PopoloCrois franchise, which wound up being one of the first things I ever did translation-wise. It's not something that I ever did officially, but it's definitely something that shaped me as a translator, so it's important to me personally, for sure.
If people are interested in jumping into some PopoloCrois media to get ready for this game — and don't mind some Japanese! — what would you recommend?
Honestly, I really like most PopoloCrois media — personally, I love the original PS1 trilogy. Both of the anime series are great too, and the manga - the art style's very '70s, but if you can get past that or enjoy it, it's actually a really cute, fun manga. It's very tongue-in-cheek, and actually introduces a few of the characters that show up in the 3DS game, like Gami Gami's sidekick, the Black Baron, who's never shown up in anything else PopoloCrois until this game.
Since there's only been one PopoloCrois game to appear in English so far [a PSP title from 2005], in localizing Return to PopoloCrois were you working with that in mind, or starting out fresh?
I actually was going for starting fresh. I think in general, this game was meant to be more of a fresh start for PopoloCrois. The creator's really been pushing the brand lately - he actually published a PopoloCrois prequel novel recently, and two light novels, as well as a trilogy of spinoff light novels called "Maya of the Golden Moon", and then this game as well. It seems like he's really trying to bring PopoloCrois back into the public consciousness, and I wanted to give it kind of a fresh start with this title as well. So in localization, we've gone for preserving the feel of the original Japanese, but also making it as natural and as close to the intent of the Japanese as possible in the English.
Has anything in particular stood out in terms of localization while working on Return to PopoloCrois?
Nothing's particularly stood out in terms of being too difficult, but there were certainly some challenges. There's a scene in the game, for instance, where you're trying to create this passphrase from seven coins scattered throughout the town that you have to find and put together to form a sentence. In the Japanese, it's actually just one letter per coin, and you're spelling out a word, but there was no way to do a seven letter word [in English] that matched the story, so instead we have each coin with a word on it, and you're forming a sentence. So that's how we got around that. That was probably the biggest challenge in the localization process, and I think it works really well - it definitely has the exact same idea as the Japanese.
Hearing about PopoloCrois as a series, it seems like the Story of Seasons elements would fit right in thematically. Could you talk about how Story of Seasons fits in, thematically and in terms of gameplay?
That's the thing — even though the Story of Seasons elements are kind of a game-spanning sidequest, they're very thematically relevant to the game. The story is that these creatures which we're calling Black Beasts have appeared, and the Black Beasts corrupt farmland to the point that nothing can grow in it again. And you've been sent to this other world called Galariland. They've already encountered the Black Beasts previously, so you're trying to learn from what they've learned and bring that knowledge back to PopoloCrois. But you end up getting stranded in Galariland, and have to settle on an abandoned farm and make a life for yourself there while you try to find a way back home.
In the process, you're also trying to save Galariland by purifying the ground, which you do by using fairy magic. There's a fairy you meet named Connie, and she uses her magic to shrink you down to the size of ants and send you in to the corrupted farmland, so you can scout out the dark forces that are in there and defeat them so crops can grow once more. That's how you revive the earth, which you can then plant crops in and farm to help stave off the famine in the game world. So you're sort of saving two worlds; Galariland, and then hopefully returning to PopoloCrois and using that knowledge to save PopoloCrois as well. In fact, Return to PopoloCrois was chosen as the title for the English version solely because that's your goal in the game: you're constantly working towards a means to return to PopoloCrois.
And mechanically, is the farming similar to last year's Story of Seasons'?
It's sort of like Story of Seasons 'Lite'. It's a little bit more forgiving than Story of Seasons. Crops don't really die in the game — if you stop watering them they stop growing, but if you then come back and water, they'll grow again. I've never actually had crops die on me, and it's similar with the animals as well; they don't ever die, they just get really angry with you if you stop feeding them, and they'll stop producing fur, milk, or eggs. So you definitely want to keep your animals fed, and keep your crops watered, but if you'd prefer to just focus on the RPG elements you can definitely put your farm to the side.
Is there one plot of land to farm, or several scattered around the world?
There is a central farm, but there are also four secondary farms. The first farm you get to farm on is the central one, but you'll unlock four additional season-themed farms as the story progresses, and each farm has its own unique set of crops that can grow there. So there are certain crops that will only grow in the spring-themed farm in the southeast, for example.
How do the dating/relationship mechanics transfer over from Story of Seasons?
Typically, Story of Seasons games will have eligible bachelors and bachelorettes that you'll woo, and then marry and have children with, but in Return to PopoloCrois, you're controlling Prince Pietro throughout the game, and he has a canon girlfriend in Narcia. He's not going to cheat on Narcia — that's just not in his nature! But there are girls throughout the game, maidens blessed by the goddess Galarila, the goddess of the land. If you can win their favour, help them solve their problems, and make them feel good about themselves, then you'll be able to share in their blessings a bit, and those blessings will help you out on your farm. Maybe your crops will grow faster, or you'll get more crops per yield, or be able to catch more bugs, or mine more ore from quarrying. So you'll get benefits for helping them out, and of course you'll make them happy too, which is a benefit all on its own! They're very sweet, well-developed characters, as all PopoloCrois characters are.
Could you tell us about the voice acting?
Currently we're shooting for dual audio. It's in the game already, but we don't have all the final signatures and paperwork in yet, so we can't officially say yes — but it's 90% right now. I've been joking that it's actually "trual" audio, since there are actually two Japanese language tracks. They're exactly the same for most characters, but for Pietro and Narcia, they recorded two separate tracks, with two actors for each character. They went with a more classic-styled, 90's era track for one of them, and a modern anime moé style for the other. So you get to pick which type of Japanese voice you'd prefer: something a little more in line with the classic feel of the game, or something a little more modern - or you get to choose English! Assuming we have the Japanese options in, of course, which it's looking like we will.
And is the English based off of one of those Japanese tracks over the other?
The English track is based off of the more classic style, and I think it turned out great. We can't reveal the actors' names or anything, but there's a character who joins your party, the Blue Wolf, and we actually got a pretty big-name actress to bark and growl and howl for the part! It was just a fantastic process in general, and a lot of fun, and I think the voices turned out great - I'm really looking forward to hearing what people think of them when they hear them in context.
What's the battle system like?
It's a mini-tactical battle system: you get to move around on a grid, and your attacks will have certain ranges. Some skills you'll fire out in a line, some will affect a radius around you or in front of you, and some will be a cone. It's actually very much akin to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, another game we're going to be releasing, but it's more simplistic, more straightforward, and a lot quicker as well. We're actually making it even quicker for the English version, by adding the ability to skip battle animations - that wasn't present in the Japanese version.
It's also a random encounter system, but a lot of Japanese players felt that the encounter rate was a little too high in the original version, so there's actually a slider in place now, where you can choose to play with 100%, 50%, or 25% of the normal encounter rate. There's also an additional 'King mode' for harder difficulty, which definitely adds to it a lot. In fact, I highly recommend playing on King difficulty with 25% encounter rate; I think for veteran RPG players that's probably the best difficulty to play on. It's not a very hard game, and it's definitely more of a casual, fun experience in that sense, but I think that added extra bit of challenge makes it more interesting.
That's great, so farming fans can have an easy go of the RPG side if they like, and JRPG vets can ramp things up to something more challenging as well.
Yeah, I really hope that Story of Seasons fans can go in knowing that it's more of a JRPG, but that it has a lot of meaningful Story of Seasons elements on top of it, and end up enjoying it in the end. I think fans of Rune Factory for example will really enjoy it - that's a similar style of game in a lot of ways. So I really hope that Rune Factory fans in particular will gravitate towards this, and I hope that JRPG fans will also gravitate towards it, and not dismiss it thinking it's just a farming sim. I know a lot of people did that with the Rune Factory games, and I think they're missing out if they do - those games were a lot of fun and there's so much more to them than farming, and it's exactly the same here. That's the message I want to send most of all!
We'd like to thank Tom for kindly taking the time to talk to us. Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is currently set for a Winter release in North America.