Gotta Protectors has been something of a sleeper hit with North American 3DS owners thanks to its mixture of NES-style visuals, engaging gameplay and the involvement of Japanese company Ancient, perhaps best known as the home of the legendary composer Yuzo "Streets of Rage" Koshiro.
While the localisation was handled by 8-4, Ltd., the translation of this game was handled by a single person - Brian Gray. He's an industry veteran with credits for Kingdom Hearts and Fire Emblem to his name, and he recently spoke to Michibiku.com about the process:
I've been in game localization for about 14 years now. I started out as an in-house translator at Square Enix, then went freelance, which I've been doing for about 11 years or so. I've worked on something between 60 and 70 games now.
I first heard about Gotta Protectors — called Minna de Mamotte Knight [みんなでまもって騎士] in Japan — from a Japanese friend who talked me into playing through it with him. I think it was something of a cult hit here. Anyway, we started playing on a Saturday morning and basically just tore right through the game over the weekend. The co-op gameplay, the lighthearted story… everything felt just perfect.
So I started thinking, "Somebody should translate this. Why hasn't this been localized? I want to translate this." And then strangely, that same week 8-4 contacted me about doing it. It was really weird how that happened, but I was on board right away.
8-4 had their usual — awesome! — team looking over everything and handling the bulk of communication with Ancient, but the translation was entirely me.
Gray also mentions that Ancient wanted to the game to look and feel like an authentic NES titles, and that caused some issues when it came to localisation:
The game is written in hiragana [simpler Japanese characters], not kanji. Even for native Japanese, it's a little bit slower to pick through because you don't have the kanji for meaning. But someone at Ancient went through and rewrote the whole script in kanji, just for us. Their notes were great, too.
It was a nod to old games. Developers didn't include the whole kanji set in NES games because of memory limitations, so games were largely written in hiragana and katakana.
The game is designed to work within NES-era limits. That means the graphics are tiled. They're on a grid. In the Japanese game, all the dialogue is spaced out as text, blank row, text, blank row. But we quickly realized we wouldn't be able to fit the dialogue in the same space, so we asked Ancient if they could slide the rows around to make room for one more. But after talking it over, we decided keeping it true to the NES limits was better.
So we ended up putting the extra lines of English dialogue in between the existing rows of Japanese dialogue. (Where there were 2 rows in Japanese, we got 3. If they had 3 rows, we got 5.) Problem is, that meant there was no actual space between the letters. The tiles literally touch each other.
So I actually went back through the game and rewrote anything where a lowercase "g" or "y" was directly above a capital letter, for example. I'm not sure I caught them all, but that was a thing. (laughs) Honestly, it was a lot of fun. It's been years since I've had to come up with that kind of puzzly solution in localization work.
And yes, we're aware that we don't have a review for Gotta Protectors yet. We're working on it, honest.