Interview: Atlus Talks Translating Shin Megami Tensei: Persona for PSP

Gamasutra sits down with the Atlus staffers behind the PlayStation Portable localization of the original Persona RPG, discussing its new translation, re-introduced side quest, cultural specifics, and more.
[Gamasutra sits down with the Atlus staffers behind the PlayStation Portable localization of the original Persona RPG, discussing its new translation, re-introduced side quest, cultural specifics, and more.] When Atlus first introduced Megami Ibunroku Persona to English-language audiences back in 1996, the game received various modifications intended to appeal to game players outside of Japan. Revelations: Persona for the Playstation featured new portraits to make the protagonists look more reminiscent of American TV shows, along with Westernized character names. A lot has changed in the priorities of game localizations since the mid-'90s, as demonstrated by Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, which is being released both digitally and on UMD for the Playstation Portable console. Not only have portraits and character names remained the same as in the Japanese version, an entire side quest that was removed from the Playstation localization, the notoriously difficult Snow Queen episode, has been retained. Here to relate their various experiences localizing the title for its upcoming English-language release are Atlus USA's Yu Namba, Nich Maragos, and Scott Strichart. In this interview on the subject of translating the portable role-playing title, they observe what flaws from the previous translation needed to be corrected and which quirks were brought along for old times' sake. To offer an indication of your backgrounds at Atlus, can you tell us which titles in the Shin Megami Tensei series have you worked on previously and how would you describe your role on this title for the PSP? Yu Namba, project lead: I’ve worked on all the SMT titles since Persona 2, minus DemiKids and Devil Summoner 2. Besides my role as the project lead of SMT: Persona, I translated the majority of the Snow Queen event text. Nich Maragos, editor: I’ve worked on both the Raidou Kuzunoha games, Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES, Persona 4, and Devil Survivor. On Persona PSP, I edited the event dialogue and NPC dialogue, and later pitched in a little on the mountain of demon negotiation dialogue. Scott Strichart, editor: My previous SMT work includes Persona 4 and Devil Survivor. My role on both Devil Survivor and Persona 1 has been to edit the metric ton of demon negotiation text involved in the game. This was such an involved process that translator James Kuroki and I still were not done with these files by the time Nich had completed the main storyline. How have you gone about finding actors for the game's cinematic cutscenes? YN: We put a great deal of time into the process of selecting voice actors, and in this case we endeavored to select different actors than in the other more recent Atlus games. The English translation of Persona for the Playstation might be described as a noble effort, but short of perfect. There are some funkily translated lines that seem to have stuck with people though, for instance "Mark danced crazy." Have you retained any of these lines, simply for the sake of tradition? NM: I don’t see how any man with blood in his veins could localize Persona 1 at this point and not have Mark dance crazy. There’s one other specific allusion we retained in the storyline parts, although it’s not quite as offensive as it used to be. SS: I was actually asked to play the original Playstation version before the project began for reference, and I encountered a line spoken by the Yakuza demon that I screen-capped for the express purpose of retaining it. That line stands out like a sore thumb, so I’m sure you’ll recognize it if you find it. I guess it could be considered homage to how far our company’s localizations have come in the past decade. When Revelations: Persona was released, a number of modifications were made to character names and portraits to make it seem like the story was set outside of Japan. Have all of these changes been restored for the PSP title? SS: All the portraits, names, and places have been reverted. Nich and I worked to keep the text as Japanese as it was originally intended to be. Over the course of the series' localization history, the name of the game's antagonist has gone from Guido Sardenia in Revelations: Persona to Guido Kandori in Persona 2. Other parts of the Japanese-language script, such as the name of the school "St. Hermelin," might pose challenges to situating the game in a particular geographical setting. How have you dealt with these issues on the new title? NM: There was some discussion at the start of the project about whether to maintain ties where we could to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment’s script, but in the end we decided to wipe the slate clean. All the characters have their proper names, including Takahisa Kandori. This process started a little bit in Persona 3’s localization: Eternal Punishment referred to Nanjo as “Nate Nanjo” as a sort of compromise while still remaining faithful to Persona 1 by referring to his company as the Trinity Corporation. But in Persona 3, they simply went with the Nanjo Group rather than Trinity, and we’re taking that approach further with Persona PSP. As for St. Hermelin, that was actually faithful to the original even back on the PSX, and remains so for the PSP script. Several other location names have been corrected, though, to better flag up the Hindu motif running through a lot of the story. Were there many instances where you needed to depart from the Japanese-language script? SS: Sometimes Japanese games have cultural references in their text that don’t always translate to North American shores very well. For instance, when “Mark dances crazy,” many of the demons insult him by comparing his dance to a traditional Japanese loach scooping dance. Unless you’re steeped in Japanese culture, you aren’t going to know what the heck that is, or why it’s an insult. In these situations, we have to keep the spirit of the line, but make the insult make sense to a player in this region. This is where we get to flex our creativity a little. YN: There was a character who spoke like a Japanese 80’s pop star. I did my best to keep the “outdated celebrity” speech style, but it was impossible to do a straight translation. Yukino, a character introduced in the original Persona, figures prominently in the story of Persona 2. Did your knowledge of the character's behavior in the later installment of the series at all influence how you went about translating her dialog for this game? YN: Yukino is a very dependable girl, although hot-blooded and sometimes scary. When I translated her lines, I tried to make her sound like a younger, less mature version of Yukino in Persona 2. In more recent installments of the Persona series, the line between what might be called reality and fantasy has been fairly clearly drawn. There is the reality of the high school drama taking place in Gekkoukan or Inaba, and then there is the supernatural element of the Dark Hour or the Midnight Channel. Do you feel it detracts from the storyline of Persona for the lines between reality and fantasy to be less clearly drawn, or does it have its own narrative advantages? NM: I’m not sure the difference is as clear-cut as you describe it. In Persona 3 and Persona 4, the supernatural elements still have a dramatic effect on the “everyday lives” of the characters. In Persona 3, as the cast learns about the problem of the Shadows, one by one they leave their everyday lives to move into the dorm, where they form a sort of new family based on their common cause. Meanwhile, Persona 4 starts with the Midnight Channel claiming the life of someone Yosuke cares a great deal about, and its characters also struggle with integrating their battle with normal life. Used either way, the sudden appearance of the supernatural into a normal world sets up a mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the game. Setting aside the supernatural elements to their own special location doesn’t radically alter that setup for the story. How would you describe the Snow Queen quest, perhaps the greatest departure from the structure of Revelations: Persona? YN: Each and every one of us has bad things about ourselves. Some see them as weaknesses and are tormented by them, while others act as if there was nothing wrong about them. Whether we overcome our weaknesses or realize that we were wrong, we must move on and better ourselves. But sometimes, we just can’t do it on our own... To me, that’s what the Snow Queen scenario is about. Game content-wise, it’s very challenging. I think it’ll be difficult to finish if you’ve never played the main (SEBEC) portion of Persona before. I suggest that you become familiar with the game—fusion, demon conversation, battle system, etc. -- before entering the Snow Queen’s castle. Aram Jabbari, manager of PR and sales: We consider Shin Megami Tensei; Persona, the first chapter in the Persona series, to be a very special game. We’re very excited to be able to deliver a completely relocalized and extensively enhanced version of the game to our fans. To show our appreciation for their years of support, and again, in acknowledgment of just how important a game this is for us, we’re making every retail launch copy a special Collector’s Edition. The game’s full soundtrack, composed by Shoji Meguro and spanning two CDs, is included at no additional cost. This is the definitive version of the game, and the perfect opportunity for long-time fans and newcomers alike to experience the beginning of Persona.

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