Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: A More Legible Lacrimosa of Dana

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana launched in western territories on PS4 and Vita last month (with the PC version still coming after a delay) to good reviews from critics and the general gaming audience alike. The game continues the newer Ys gameplay style established by developer Falcom in Ys Seven and Ys: Memories of Celceta, in having series protagonist Adol Christin travel around with a party of three characters instead of going solo. A select group of old school fans prefer the adventures of Adol going alone and would rather have a game that focuses on players controlling one character, but the newer titles are nonetheless enjoyable for most who enjoy action/RPGs.

The release was handled fine, with purchasers of first-print copies receiving a small soundtrack and artbook as a bonus; but the actual work on the game from NIS America could have been handled better. Shortly before launch, those who played preview copies or tried the game out at demo kiosks at various conventions noticed that its translation seemed subpar, and posted numerous examples on social media. Among them, a monster was referred to as the “Merciless Shivering Vase,” a location was awkwardly translated as the “Archeozoic Big Hole,” and a character was referred to as “it.” Parts of the text read like they were sloppily machine translated, far from what a professional localization should be.

At the time, people took NISA at their word that the demo wasn’t indicative of the final product, but the release version kept the errors and contained several more. NISA has provided plenty of localizations in the past, and went a while without making any serious missteps — the last big one being Ar Tonelico 2 on PlayStation 2. But this represented a surprising step back for them.

Fortunately, they agreed. NISA posted a letter from company president Takuro Yamashita, who apologized for the quality of the localization and claimed it didn’t meet anyone’s standards for what it should have been. He confirmed that an internal investigation to determine how this went wrong is underway. More remarkably, a new translator and editor is reviewing the localization to pinpoint the numerous grammatical errors, sentence structure issues, and mistranslations, and they plan to redo some voice work if necessary. The changes will be patched into the PS4 and Vita versions by the end of November, while the PC version will launch with the redone localization.

This is an unexpected and unprecedented step for any company. Plenty of badly-translated Japanese games have been officially released in western territories, but while comparatively minor grammatical issues have been silently fixed in patches, this is the first time a company has gone above and beyond. It doesn’t happen because translating text is a very time-consuming process, and redoing parts of this game’s localization will require resources that could be applied to other projects. Since NISA also won’t be charging for the upgraded localization, they’ll take a financial loss over this unless the game is selling far more than anticipated. That, or they’re not paying the editor working on it, and I’d hate to think they were that heartless.

It’s pleasant to think NISA is doing this out of a commitment to their fans, but another more cynical reason could be at play. Word of the localization made its way to the Japanese blogosphere, where the questionable translation choices and fan reception were discussed. It wouldn’t be difficult for Falcom employees to happen upon those and become concerned about handing NISA future projects. Upon hearing about this, NISA made the decision to fix up the localization, or risk losing out on future money-making opportunities. This is a business, after all.

I don’t want to be too cynical here, because it’s tough to complain when the final result will benefit everyone involved. There’s a better chance of localization fixes happening when one company picks up a game from a partner instead of their parent organization. The chances of a move this significant happening would have been lower if it was a game from Nippon Ichi Software of Japan, since there’s little chance that their own parent company will stop giving them titles. In NISA’s case, having to fix Ys VIII is embarrassing for them, perhaps enough that they’ll make sure this never happens again with any future localization.

Despite NISA redoing this title’s localization, I’d still like to see XSeed pick up Falcom’s titles in the future, because they handled them well in the past. They’ve been swamped with other projects like The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel titles and Trails in the Sky — The 3rd lately, not to mention they also handle most of Marvelous’ titles thanks to being a subsidiary of them. But their titles should be handled with care if NISA gets them, which we’ll find out for sure when the update arrives next month.

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