Our localizers and editors have plenty of work cut out for them. From the in-game text to VO scripts, they have a long and arduous wordsmithing journey for each new project. But there’s another wrinkle: sometimes marketing a game requires a title to be localized too, and that’s where we step in.
I’d liken getting to rename a game for the west to being able to choose your own name after you’ve finished school. There are tons of people who already know you by one name, but now that you get to make a new impression in college or the working world, you can start under a new identity. And it’s a really difficult process! I, personally, have spent more time trying to think of that perfect name for my protagonists* than some tests I’ve studied for.
That’s what happened to Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final.
It’s not often that it happens, but we wanted to come up with a name that would be easier for the western audience to understand the game’s epic nature. So when our counterparts in Japan greenlit the chance for us to do so, we had a blank slate and an awesome opportunity to put the creative minds at Atlus U.S.A. to work. But hoo boy, what a process it was…
It’s not the first time we’ve had to do so either. The Japanese name for Etrian Odyssey literally translates to “Labyrinth of the World Tree,” which doesn’t exactly have the same kind of appeal when you see it on the shelf in a store. We localized the name to Etrian Odyssey based on Etria, the setting of the original Nintendo DS game. I wasn’t actually with ATLUS at that time, so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of how that renaming meeting went, but given my experience with helping to come up with the name for the remake, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, I can only imagine.
With EOU:TMG, there again was some trouble because the Japanese title literally translates to “New Labyrinth of the World Tree,” which also lacks that je ne sais quoi. So we scheduled a meeting with a couple of people across Atlus U.S.A. – editors and translators, QA leads, production heads, and the group of us from marketing all get sequestered in a conference room with a whiteboard. Then it’s a whirlwind of suggestions, followed by some voting to narrow down the field. Then come the impassioned arguments for/against, and at the end of several hours’ worth of debate, we all agreed upon “Untold.” It conveyed the fact that the games would have a story portion to distinguish it from the DS originals, it had an air of mystery about it, and it just sounded good.
But while the Untold naming was relatively easy, we got thrown a few wrenches while trying to rename SMTIV: Final. Usually, the subtitle has to accomplish three things: make sense, sound good, and look good on the box. First, there was the issue of length. Because of the way the logo appears in the game, we couldn’t make the subtitle too long. So that cut out things like “In the Shadow of Mikado” and other compound titles. Then we had another design issue: To highlight the duality of the chaos/law aspects of the game, the Japanese designers turned the “A” in “Final” to a mash-up of a peace and anarchy symbol. It’s a cool juxtaposition and a simple yet striking little addition to the logo. But that means we had to make sure there was an “A” in the subtitle too. Sure, “A” is a common vowel, but it’s still a restriction.
So just to recap where we are at this point, we had to find a cool-sounding, impactful name that’s not too long and has to have an “A” in it. Oh, and we have to be cognizant of potential trademark infringements (so much for Shin Megami Tensei IV: End War), and it can’t be objectionable (“holy war” was shot down before the person suggesting it finished speaking). The only positive is that once you have all the constraints in place, it’s easier to start narrowing down the direction. There were numerous email threads, meetings, two whiteboards defaced with indelible marker, but we finally came to agreement and thus, the world will receive Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse later this year.
Fun fact! For about two weeks, we considered dropping the “IV” from the name (a la SMT: Nocturne) and “featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry” series was suggested no less than 8 times by as many individuals. Those jokers.
This upcoming summer is giving me 2013 vibes in that during that particular summer we got both Shin Megami Tensei IV and Dragon’s Crown. This summer we are getting both this game and Odin Sphere, only this time we’re getting the Vanillaware title before the SMT title.
Thank you for this pleasant surprise and I’m looking forward to seeing what else you have this E3.
It’s a pretty darn good year 😀
As another commenter mentioned, I too am concerned about Toki. I would hope you wouldn’t make a petty change to her character when you can leave things like the religious plot and demons like Mara in but this is basically the only thing that really sticks out at this point. If you could just confirm there will be no censorship of Toki it would put those interested at ease. This is clearly an M rated game yet stupid things happen these days that make me question just about everything at this point.
Just wondering, “what about Europe? Will we get the game any time soon or do we have to wait for a year?”
We don’t have any news for Europe, but there’s a reason why. We use publishing partners like NIS America, etc. to help get our games over to EU, but because that’s a licensing deal with them, it’s not our place to announce it when we do. So, are we working on getting that deal in place with whoever to get it released in Europe in (hopefully) a timely manner? Yes. But we don’t have anything concrete to say at this point, so that’s where we are.
Thanks for the reply, I guess that just means I have to wait and pray.
Would you translate all the articles about SMT4 written by Nobuyuki Shioda ?
It makes sense… for marketing. Like if you youtube SMTIV final you get the last boss of SMTIV and stuff. And Final maybe sounds like an improved version of IV.
I get why you’d do it. But from an artistic perspective, I have to say, I think the original title is still better, it’s true to the game.
As someone who has the Japanese version and will probably never touch the English version, I can’t say the game has much to do with apocalypses. Apocalypse sounds like a better title for SMT III Nocturne.
And it’s not like “Final” has a different meaning in Japanese. It’s just an English word. Not like “Idol” which is more like “Pop Star” or something. Final is just final. So you changed the name.
The real issue on peoples mind though is censorship stuff. Since Atlus played it already I assume you guys know what I mean if I mention Toki. Just Toki in general. Please keep her true to the original character.
I already beat the game but it’s such a good game, it should be left as it is even if people don’t agree. English players deserve the game uncensored imo.
“featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry”
I laughed hard. But is this a hint maybe??? :p
But seriously, good read. I always wanted to know more about localization, but the discussions and notes on it, were just never available to the public. Glad that the Atlus team are being open about it. It’s great for everyone overall.
I don’t mind the name change, but why is the logo so ugly?
To each their own?
There are always going to be the whiners that are probably too young to remember a time when we didn’t get a whole slew of games localized over to the west.
I actually was completely confused at first by the subtitle of “Final” when the game was announced. I’m a fan of the name change and I look forward to playing it.
I like the Apocalypse Now aesthetic. I think it’s a good change, and will stand out on shelves!
Apocalypse is a great new title! At first sight it sounds like a full sequel. I felt like Final could easily have been mistaken as a sort of Epilogue, à la FES.
Yeah, I think there was also the concern “Final” might be seen as a remake or ultimate version that included all the DLC or something.
I certainly appreciate the explanation. That is way more than we get from say Treehouse for example…
Personally, I don’t see the reason for changing the name in the first place though… You said “we wanted to come up with a name that would be easier for the western audience to understand the game’s epic nature”
Eh, whatever, does not seem like enough of an issue to go through the trouble tbh, I mean how much of a difference in sales could you possibly get by changing FInal to Apocalypse? But do not do localization, so you probably know something I don’t. And I don’t really crae one way or the other about that kind of a change.
Just please don’t go censoring and trying to Westernize the plot and references or even the character and location names. Atlus is typically good about it, so I am not so worried. But it gets very tiring to see all these JRPGs get localized into something that changes too much of the original in order to cater to Western audiences… I mean why do localizers think we are buying a JAPANESErpg? We don’t need you to change references or use different word choices, we understand what we are buying when we get a JRPG. Localizers need to understand gamer’s motivations for buying a JRPG when they do the localization. It is not to get a Western experience, it is to get a Japanese RPG.
Thanks for the explanation
Actually regarding the censoring, judging from the English trailer they actually removed the censoring that was present in the Japanese version meaning there should be nothing to worry about on that front at least. I am more worried over how Europe will fare this time.
Look, I understand where you’re coming from – a lot of flak came to my inbox when we announced that we were changing Dungeon Travelers 2. And I know there were recent concerns, but the fact of the matter is that direct translations wouldn’t make sense. Lots of fan translations for games are often very literal, and those can quickly lose coherence.
At Atlus U.S.A., we have a great team of localizers and production leads who judge what level of change needs to happen for every title. But there are some things that just have to be changed, period. It’s unavoidable. But that’s editing, which I think is different than the censorship I think you’re more concerned with.
We, as the fans, would like the localization to be faithful to the original version. Please don’t censor, change, or delete any content of the game. We have been hearing so much bad news about bad localizations recently…
All I’m going to say is that different companies localize differently, based on their own prerogatives, and that’s perfectly ok, because that’s their right.
At ATLUS, we consistently stay as faithful to the game’s original script as possible, and that’s no different with SMTIV: Apocalypse
You speak for yourself. Replace “We” with “I” please.
Like Hardin said, literal Japanese to English translations ALONE won’t make sense to a Western Audience for various reasons. I’ve assisted with fan translations for 7 games. I can say that. This is also why the narrative is usually altered: So that it will make sense to a western audience. The other thing companies like Atlus, Square-Enix and Capcom need to be mindful of when localizing a video game is not only making sure it can be understood but is culturally appropriate.
Let’s take the video game Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney (Capcom). In Japan his name is Ryuuchi Naruhodou. His English name is Phoenix Wright. According to the Japanese verson, the series takes place somewhere in Japan. In the American version, the series takes place in America. Franziska von Karma (Mei Karuma in Japan) hails from America in the Japanese version. In the English version, she’s from Germany. See what I mean about being culturally appropriate? This is just an obvious example where changing the narrative is necessary for “the little things” to change outside Japan.
Now let’s get to the “elephant” the vocal minority complain about whenever a new localization is announced: “Censorship”. Like it or not, there are things that can be done in Japan that can’t be done in the U.S. It just wouldn’t fly like it or not. Video Game companies are in the business of making money FIRST like it or not. They need to make sure they can pay everyone and keep the lights on, after all.
Making it understood is one thing, but your idea of culturally appropriate is nonsense. The idea that things need to be changed to America, or altered completely for Americans to get it is just ignorant.
Heck, to build off your example, the fact that they changed the location in Phoenix Wright to America caused a few problems when later games made it more and more obvious it takes place in japan. then you’ve written yourself in such a corner you have to make excuse upon excuse to explain these obviously Japanese events, spirits, ect. that relate directly to cases.
It’s like in early Pokemon, when they would constantly call the rice balls a “donut.” Even my five year old realized they weren’t donuts and would come to me asking what was wrong with them, and generally JRPG players are much older and more aware then a five year old. What’s wrong with asking to be treated like adults and not have our intelligence insulted with these kind of changes?
I mean, could you imagine if Atlus did what Capcom did with Phoenix Wright and claimed that SMT took place in New York? Or if Fallout got localized to say it happened in Tokyo? It’d be silly.
One to “Things that can be done in Japan but not America” do you mean things like Swimsuits and negative consequences for actions and choices? I mean, what will we do if someone sees a woman in a swimsuit or has an action result in something other then instant positive gratification? How will our culture ever survive?
“Oh well, that’s not culturally appropriate for America, so we had to cut it.”
That’s such a cop-out.
Did you know you can get away with ALOT under the ESRB, especially if your game is Mature Rated. You can even make a profit off it. I mean, look at Stick of Truth, that had visible graphic anal violation of a child and is still considered an amazing game.
The American gaming community is alot more mature and intelligent then people give them credit for and alot of the recent backlash has been because companies refuse to treat them as such.
Thankfully, Atlus has an amazing record of treating it’s fans well and respecting the properties it brings over.
Now, eat your Hamburgers, Apollo.
Alot of the worry is Treehouse’s fault. After the horrible localizations and gutting of Fire Emblem Fates and Bravely Second, people are naturally worried about the fate of any JRPG that crosses our shores, especially one like SMT. The most worries I’ve heard is over the ages and amorous nature of certain partners alongside the fact that you’re running around fighting various religions and ultimately killing God.
Don’t get me wrong, I generally love Atlus’ localizations. SMTIV was great, but fans are all worried it’ll get the treehouse treatment, have the deep story and characterization stripped and pumped full of memes and nonsense. We just want our fears to be assuaged abit that it’s not going to happen here which is a very reasonable in my opinion.
Let’s clear something up. Treehouse had zero involvement with the localization process here.
It was handled by several Atlus USA employees, all of whom I can see from my desk.
I never said Treehouse had any involvement with the localization at Atlus, please don’t put words in my mouth.
However it’s deeply true that because of them JRPG fans are worried about all their favorite franchises. Could you imagine if SMT IV Final got treated like Bravely Second, had all the choice and branching consequences removed because of that and almost half the game stripped away? We don’t want to see that happen, we don’t want stuff stripped out because someone on the internet took offense at something and complained in a blog that they didn’t like it. We don’t want memes and nonsense injected or swimsuits removed and the best way to let you guys know about that is to tell you.
Misread it then, my apologies. But it’s been asserted before elsewhere, and I wanted to make sure people understand that they aren’t involved. I haven’t confirmed it, but pretty sure Mara is still in SMTIV:Apocalypse so…
It’s not quite the same as a swimsuit, but you get where I’m going with this.
Nasami is right about people still being on edge after the Treehouse fiasco. As long as you treat it with the same level of respect you gave SMT IV, and I have no doubts that you are, no-one will be bothered by the name change come release. I plan on purchasing it from the eshop at the first possible opportunity myself.
“I could go on and on (and on!) about how there’s no such thing as a literal translation from Japanese. I think people who mindlessly chase down that ideal are holding themselves back from being good translators. […] That whole mindset—that Japanese has ‘correct’ translations into English and that localizers are people who mangle those perfect answers—is misguided.” – Bryan Gray former Square Enix employee.
I understand you have to change a few things here and there to make sense to Western audiences, but what I ask is not to remove content or alter the content to the point where its barely the same thing as it was originally. Another thing that a lot of Gamers are getting tired of is memes being added into the western release of Japanese games (which have been happening more and more frequently). It just screams that somebody couldn’t come up with a good joke or that someone was super lazy with localization. I don’t have too much to worry about for this game though, as mkohanek said, ATLUS is generally alright with localizations.
Re: the joke thing, I totally get it, but sometimes they’re so thoroughly entrenched in Japanese language that they have to be scrapped entirely.
It wasn’t a joke, but there was a puzzle in Persona Q based off of japanese characters, which would have made NO sense to people in the west unfamiliar with the language, so one of our former editors worked to come up with a completely new way to describe it. It’s tough though, takes time, creativity, etc.
I’d be cautious of speaking for all JRPG players. I personally prefer a strong localization over a stilted literal translation. Sure, there’s dumb stuff out there… if a game is set in Japan, don’t try to make it seem like it’s set in Dubuque, Iowa. But we all know Atlus doesn’t do that.
And why should anybody keep a title that sounds weird and artificial in English? Does it sound weird and artificial in Japanese? I’m assuming not. So instead why not try to get across the feel of the title in a way that will get English-speakers excited? I feel similarly about characters that use accents, affectations, and slang that don’t have strong English equivalents. That’s when it’s time for localizers to get creative and do their best to bring across that character’s personality in a way that is consistent and makes sense in English.
I love JRPGs for the stories, gameplay, and the many great characters they’ve given us through the years. And yes, when they’re set in Japan or heavily based on Japanese mythology, I enjoy learning new things about another culture. But I’m one of the many gamers who prefers localization to “literal” (actually impossible anyway) translation. There are a lot of us, even if we’re not as vocal on company message boards as some of the die-hard literalists. I appreciate the artistry and creativity behind a good localization, and Atlus is one of my favourite companies for that.
When Final was first announced (before we got to see the protagonist) there was some confusion about what exactly the game was. Lots of people assumed that the game could be some sort of enhanced version of the original, like was the case with Nocturne’s Maniax editions. “Final” (or similar words) is used often to mean “Final Version” in both English and Japanese, hence the unsureness at first. Of course once the protagonist was out it was clearly a sequel, but for a brief moment there was still confusion there.
Now you might think “well that won’t be a problem now, because every fan knows what Final is” except you’d be surprised how out of the loop on that stuff some fans could be. There was a lot of that with the recent Persona spin offs. A lot of people did not keep up on the Japanese news, so the English announcements were the first things they saw about them. I was surprised to see just how many people didn’t know Kanami’s deal when her English P4D trailer dropped but it was because none of them followed all the Japanese trailers and Japanese magazine articles like I had. In addition, plenty of people still have not played SMTIV and are just getting into it. This is the game I see very often paraded as a good place to start for newbies of the SMT franchise (because it was a lot of other people’s first SMT game), so people are still picking it up. Now if you’re someone who’s only heard about this game on the grapevine of course you wouldn’t know anything about Final. Even though the boxarts are very different, you’d have no reason to know that the guy on Final/Apocalypse’s box is a brand new character. For all you know, he could have appeared in the other game. And barely anyone reads the backs of boxes anymore… ergo you might assume that Final is in fact just a “Final version” rather than a sequel, buy it because of that and end up super confused when you start playing it. This doesn’t even bring up the fact that a lot of people still ask for video games as presents! Family or friends buying these games would be even less in the know (though still likely to make mistakes anyway but hey, may as well make it a bit easier).
So yeah, there’s just a few possible reasons for a name change!
As for your comments on the people who buy Japanese RPGs, but that is outright not true. There are plenty of people who are not familiar with Japanese and still play JRPGs. My brother’s understanding of Japanese culture is minimal and he doesn’t know the language at all, but we grew up on JRPGs so he still picks them up when he sees one at a store that catches his interest. There’s still plenty of people that do that but are not interested in the games because they’re “Japanese”. They just want to enjoy a good game. And let’s not forget all the young people where any JRPG could be their gateway to more JRPGs! They’re not going to start out knowing the stuff we do (I know I sure didn’t as a kid).
It’s not what localizers need to understand gamer’s motivations, because what you feel is their motivations is just not true. What you need to understand is what you want is actually just what a relatively small group of elitists want. Most people want a good enjoyable script that reads well, still has character and makes sense. I’m learning Japanese even and that’s what I want out of a professional translation. I have read some fan ones that change nothing and wanted to punch something because they were so terrible. Can’t stand them at all, I’d sooner just stumble my way through kanji and kana. Literal is not better. If you want a good example of where this was lambasted by gamers, look no further than the original translation of Oboro Muramasa, which was so infamously bad with how literal it was that a full retranslation for the vita release was deemed worth the investment (something that is rarely done).
There’s also the fact that this side of industry nearly died a few years back, when it was hard to get anything to come stateside (aside from Atlus titles). That’s a whole other can of worms though.
Just remember if it really makes you unhappy then there is always the option to import (this is harder in this case with the 3DS’ region locking but it’s doable if you’re willing to put the work in). The original will always be there. You may have to learn Japanese yourself (if you don’t already), which can be tough but is very rewarding in its own way. In the end though, this is still Atlus! Atlus has always had high quality translations. Have a little bit more faith.