Ar tonelico III: Sekai Shuuen no Hikigane wa Shoujo no Uta ga Hajiku, or Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel as it has been renamed for its US release, will probably be one of NIS America's most scrutinized localization projects. The previous game, Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, had various localization issues and a game-freezing bug which kept many away from what some consider to be one the last great PS2 titles to be released in the US. The game was well-liked by those who actually gave it a chance, but it did not receive the recognition it deserved and might have gained had its localization been handled a little better. This time around, localization coordinator and translator Ryuta Sato will be overseeing things. His more recent efforts, Sakura Wars and Trinity Universe, were very well received, so the third and final game in the Ar tonelico series should be in good hands.
Last week NIS America held its annual press event where it announced the Spring 2011 release for Ar tonelico Qoga. Ryuta was available for an interview, so OXG took the opportunity to talk to him about Qoga's localization. Here is what he had to say -
First of all, what do you do at NIS America and what have you previously worked on?
I'm the translator and coordinator for Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, and I've previously worked on Cross Edge, the My Lord series - My Lord 1 and 2 - and I also worked on Disgaea. I didn't quite translate [Disgaea] - I just did the coordination part. For Cross Edge and My Lord I did translation and coordination. I also worked on Sakura Wars and Trinity Universe.
For Sakura Wars and Trinity Universe, what did you work on?
I did the text translation and coordination - I controlled the schedule and contacted the Japanese developers, licensers. And I also directed the QA team and directed and supervised the voice recording.
Did you have anything to do with the first or second Ar tonelico?
I did a partial translation for Ar tonelico. Ar tonelico II was done by multiple translators, and I was one of them. But I did not do the coordination part. I also supervised the voice recordings for Ar tonelico II.
Do you know whether or not we're going to be getting both English and Japanese voice tracks for Ar tonelico III?
You are getting the full Japanese voiceover.
Is there going to be an English one?
Yes, but I'm pretty sure we're going to have to cut down some of the lines because of memory issues and other reasons. But you're going to get both languages, and the full Japanese voiceover.
If you do have to cut portions out of the English track, how will you decide what stays and what goes?
We are currently working on that process. I have a draft, but it looks like it's still too big, so I'm going to further cut down some of the lines. We haven't quite decided, but I'm sure that we're going to carefully decide which lines to voice. Especially important scenes to the story and smarky, goofy, or bonus scenes and stuff like that - those [are more likely to be] voiced.
Do you know if there are going to be any name changes?
We actually got a lot of complaints and criticism about not using Hymmnos names or original names and stuff like that, so one of the changes we made for this title is to keep as many names as possible as-is. I even learned the Hymmnos language, so it's going to be a lot more accurate to the original.
How about the characters that are returning from the previous games? Do you know what you're going to do about their names?
In general, we're going to keep them as they were in Ar tonelico II. Some will be changed, and some of them will be kept as-is.
In the past, when you changed the names, how did you come up with the new ones?
The scriptwriter does it. He [makes] changes when he thinks something is better-sounding in English. It's kind of hard to keep the balance between originality and what is natural in English. When the scriptwriter thinks it's better to [use] a natural-sounding name, he chooses that one instead of the original name. Sometimes, Japanese games have very, very weird names, right? But this time, we're going to try our best to keep the best balance.
Do you know if there's going to be any censorship?
First of all, if you think Ar tonelico is dirty, that's because you've got something on your mind. It's totally innocent. It's not supposed to be dirty or provocative. You know, the presenter said it's provocative, right? I think it's his perception. For me, it's totally innocent. But I do understand what you're talking about. The only thing I can say is - "you'll get everything that is in the Japanese version, and even more." So, to answer your question, we can get away with it. It's not supposed to be dirty or anything - it shouldn't be an issue in the first place. I think it's gonna get, most likely, a Teen or Mature [rating].
So you're not going to change anything to get a lower rating?
We're not going to compromise. We're gonna chose the game itself rather than the rating, but most likely it's going to get a Teen or Mature, maybe...
Have you figured out which voice actors and actresses you are going to use?
No, we are still working on a voice script. And after that, we're going to send the voice script to a voice-recording studio and we're going to have a thorough discussion. From our previous titles, we learned a lesson - we need a thorough discussion over casting. So, we're going to have the best actor or actress for each role.
Are any of the previous voice actors or actresses coming back?
Of course. The returning characters will be voiced by the same actors and actresses unless, of course, we have some issues. But I don't think that's going to happen.
Do you know anything about the debug menu that was in the Japanese version?
Oh yeah, the one that was kept in... We'll make sure to fix [that].
So you're going to remove it?
We're going to remove it. If you wanted to cheat in that game, then I'm sorry, it won't be there.
What if fans want it kept in?
I doubt many people will want it. Do you?
I know people are asking about it.
We're gonna remove everything. There are a couple other flaws found in the Japanese version. We'll make sure to fix every single one of them.
Can you explain the new title?
Here's the story behind it - first we wanted to go with Ar tonelico III, but our present president, Akenaga - he suggested that "Ar tonelico III" may lose [gamers who] haven't played the previous games. So, for them, we wanted to use something other than III. So instead of III, we decided to use the word qoga. Qoga is actually in the Hymmnos language. It means "end," or "final," "finale," or something like that. So that's why we used it. And it seems like Bandi/Namco and Gust liked it, so we decided to go with it.
Let's talk about the Hymmnos language. You said you learned it. What do you mean? Can I like go down to some local bookstore in Japan and pick up a dictionary?
I haven't encountered any store - it wasn't on Amazon.com. I couldn't get it, but there are a lot of Japanese websites. I think they were made by fans or Gust's people. There's an online dictionary, so every time I encountered a Hymmnos word in the Japanese text, I looked up the word and made sure to know the meaning of it. That's how I learned it.
How far are you guys with the localization?
Right now, we're working on the voiced part of the script. We worked on the system part and we're done with that. So now we're working on the most important part of the story. And after that, we're going to the side stories.
So... Is there a lot of pressure to deliver on this title in particular?
Oh yes. Especially after Ar tonelico II, because it wasn't received very well. So our first priority on this project is to not make that happen again. We're going to have to make it as flawless as possible. And, of course, we'll make sure that the users will get everything they expect from it. We feel a lot of pressure. Its very challenging, but I'm very excited at the same time.
[note: This is where the main interview ended. I still had a few minutes to burn, so I came up with the following randomish questions on the fly.]
Tell us why you gave Gemini her country accent in Sakura Wars.
Her [story is that] she's from a very rural area of Texas, and she has a complex about being a hick. She wanted to be sophisticated, so I figured that she [would probably have] a heavy country accent.
I asked Nao if she can give me the names of the voice actors and actresses that were used for Sakura Wars. Is there a reason why she couldn't give me a list?
[note: While I was given the answer to this question, I was asked not to reveal it. Let's just say that there's a very good reason for this.]
Some are asking why Prinny and Etna sound odd in NISA's recent releases. For Prinny in particular, they're saying that he sounds way different from what they remembered.
There's a misconception right there. Actually, that is the original voice of Prinny. Those people who think that we have the wrong voice actress have the wrong idea. It's actually the right actress - the original voice actress.
For both Prinny and Etna?
I think Etna's actress was always the same. I'm not sure about the first one because I wasn't at NISA at the time, but that's what I heard.
And the same goes for Disgaea Infinite?
Yes. Oh - I heard that [Etna's] voice actress was sick at the time, and that's why she sounded a little different. But, we did hire the same voice actress.