Nick Doerr, developer of Undead Darlings, did a Q&A with NicheGamer’s readers about his past work as editor for the Hyperdimension Neptunia games with NIS America. The interview delves into why several decisions were made in regards to Hyperdimension Neptunia’s localization, and why they get made for localizations in general.
Why so many memes? I personally feel like the times in memes in official translations have sort of passed by compared to the days of the Ace Attorney games on DS, although I ain’t gonna lie, I did chuckle at some of them. But still, I do feel like the time for using them in retail releases has passed, as they sort of date the games’ humor.
I’m glad this is the first question listed, actually. Before I can answer the question itself, it gives me a good opportunity to talk briefly about the entire process that leads up to the “why” bit. While I’m not throwing anyone under the bus here, it’s probably for the best that I don’t name names—although it’s no mystery where I used to work, it’s often seen as better to be discreet when talking about how stuff worked on the inside while I was there.
The next few paragraphs talks about how Neptunia first came over; it’s not a complete account, just my own. Feel free to skip it and go on to the paragraph that starts with TL;DR if you’re not interested. I think it’s a fun story, though. Haven’t told it quite like this before.
So. Go back to sometime in 2010, when the very first game in the Neptunia series was being pitched to my then-employer. Games from the company pitching Neptunia were not viewed highly at the time, and after average to harsh reviews of previous titles (yes, reviews do carry weight with certain things within such companies), the default response was to pass on the game. I thought it looked like a novel idea, so I kept bugging the then-president to consider the title; he asked if I could show that there was a market for it.
I started posting about the game (after the Japanese announcement of its existence, of course) on the company forums and a lot of people joined in. It quickly became one of the most popular threads on the company forums… Next thing you know, the company decided to pursue the license and Neptunia made its way to the states. I’m NOT saying it was thanks to me, but I do feel like I lent a helping hand when the developer didn’t have a stateside presence of its own. Maybe my actions had no effect, but the fact remains that myself and many others wanted to see it come to the US—and it did.
Now then, the game is licensed. It’s time for the localization team to get together for a “kick-off meeting,” where the game’s genre, tone, mechanics, and characters are described. This meeting was often led by the producer of the US publisher. During this meeting, it was decided by everyone that the Neptunia game was a modern pop-culture title steeped in Internet lore and fanboyisms, due to its paper-thin console war allegory and based on the jokes and references in the Japanese script (which I can’t read). I have some links to share that support these conclusions in a bit.
Also during this meeting, depending on how on-the-ball the localization manager was, the team members working on the game would also be announced. For this game, the editor was chosen to be me because of my presence surrounding the game already (forums, championing its localization in the first place), and the translator was chosen to be one of the senior translators at the time. We began to work on the game shortly after, and since this was the first title, we had to talk about name localizations, the game title, and how to bring their personalities across between languages.
I had no idea why we couldn’t call the game Hyperdimension Neptune. There were fears of copyright claims and lawsuits (this was during the time when people were getting sued for using the word “Edge” in their games—one such game was sued at this publisher for it and was taken off shelves for quite some time), so we did what we had to do and settled on a new name using non-words. My internal effort was to keep it as close to the original name as possible, and changing an –e to –ia seemed to appease the upper management, so there that was.
This was also where we decided on Arfoire for the US name of Magiquone, Console Patron Unit (CPU), and kind of sets up where the next paragraph is going: the localization process where I worked was focused on “giving US gamers the same experience as JP gamers,” which is very different from a straight translation, or “giving US gamers the JP game in English.” That was the company process, and I was a part of it. Not the producer, not the manager, not the translator—an editor.
While I’m on it, the whole idea of CPU as Console Patron Unit was decided on because I was told that, in the original game, the kanji used to describe the girls as “hardware goddesses” was just that—it was both a technological term and a deification. So instead of using the direct “Hard Goddess” (heh), we settled on acronyms that exist in technology while giving them a more deified meaning. This trend, once established, has to carry through all of the titles for consistency within the company, which is why you see things like CFW (Criminals of the Free World) and DoS (Deity of Sin) crop up. Tonal consistency, I guess is what we called it.
TL;DR: That brings us to the part where text localization begins in earnest. First, you must understand that I am not a translator. The Japanese script is given to the translator, who turns it into English (kinda-sorta, depending on their fluency) and adds notes to help the editor when polishing their translation. Notes like “this is a pun having to do with the kanji used in her name and a fish” or “this is referencing a Pepsi commercial that aired in Japan during the 1980s” (yes, that was an actual note), or even “2ch meme.” So to answer your question of why there were so many memes: ask Japan.
Given that I’ve described our process to this point, keep in mind:
· The tone of the game had been decided as pop-culture, Internet geek, and console war
· The company process is to give US gamers the same experience as JP gamers
The second bit in particular is important here. Memes, when directly translated from one language to another, lose all meaning and, almost universally, the context in which they are used falls flat. So to give US gamers the same experience as JP gamers, we had to find memes that exist in the US and put them in the dialogue as close to where the original meme was brought up. Sometimes this resulted in heavy rewriting to get the joke to work, but that’s localization; if there’s a joke in Japanese, it needs a joke in English. A bad joke for a bad joke, a good joke for a good joke.
Don’t believe that Japan inundated their script with memes? Here’s a link to a JP wiki by Japanese gamers that was used as a reference point for the translator on Neptunia Victory: all you need to do on there is ctrl+f “2ch” and there are your Japanese memes that originated from that online message board. Other memes exist on that wiki, but they may have originated elsewhere; the 2ch search is the fastest way of showing that memes were used in the US because memes were used in Japan. Here’s a link to the original game’s wiki, also.
I agree that using memes in retail titles is dating. When you also consider that the time the game is received by the US staff and the time of the game’s release are nearly one year apart, the game is actually dated by the time it comes out. Not to mention when a game is re-released several years later with much the same script (hint hint). One major thing to keep in mind, not just with me, but with translation teams everywhere—we are not supposed to write ourselves, our opinions, or our feelings into the games we work on. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fail; everyone has done this to some degree, even if it’s as internalized as word choice or syntax.
There is no 1:1 translation because everyone has a different vocabulary or will piece sentences/ideas together differently. And because I’m not a translator, I have no idea how sincere or direct the translator’s translation is, either. My point is that I don’t like using references as humor and I’m trying to write more original content in my own game; there are movie and game references, but not as punchlines. When criticizing or critiquing the work others have done, try to keep in mind that they may personally agree with you, but they also have to do their job and have to do their best at it.
The full interview can be read on the Undead Darlings site and NicheGamer.