Rich Amtower, Tim O'Leary, and Alan Averill from NOA's very own Treehouse take the time to discuss the upcoming release of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.
PGC: Can you give us a little background on your roles at Treehouse? What titles have you worked on? How long have you been with Nintendo?
Rich Amtower, Associate Localization Producer: I've been with Nintendo for about five years, and I'm one of the Associate Localization Producers. Some of the titles I've worked on include all of the Fire Emblems, the Advance WARS series, Animal Crossing GC and DS along with Hamtaro, Mario Party, and Golden Sun.
Tim O'Leary, Associate Localization Producer: I've worked for Nintendo for six years and have worked on a variety of games including Dr. Mario & Puzzle League, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Advance WARS, Hamtaro, Animal Crossing, and the Fire Emblem series.
Alan Averill, Localization Writer: Well, I've just joined Treehouse about six months or so ago, so you could say I'm the "newbie". I've been with Nintendo for five years, and I've been involved with Nintendo Power, including writing some of their strategy guides. Some of the titles I've done work on: Advance WARS: Dual Strike, Mario Party 7, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing.
PGC: What was the most difficult challenge you faced in localizing Path of Radiance? How did you deal with said problem? I'm going to guess that it was the kanji, simply because Fire Emblem is loaded with it.
Tim: I'd definitely agree with you on that the language is the biggest issue. Japanese is difficult because of all the kanji, and to make sure we had the context correct we would be constantly be pulling over Japanese staff to read it and confirm my suspicion. I think that the overall biggest "challenge" with Fire Emblem is that the storyline is so rich and we're trying to bring the same texture and depth from the Japanese version into our localization. We don't want it to sound farcical and campy. We want to keep it serious, but also keep the humor, which is very prevalent in the Fire Emblem series.
Alan: To continue on with what Tim was saying, we wanted to keep the dialogue dramatic and meaningful without making it sound "dopey". It's a very fine line to walk in many ways. With movies and books you have an unlimited space to get the character's feelings into words. With games, you tend to be very limited in the amount of space you have to play with. Sometimes you only get twenty letters where you have to get the character's emotion across without just going "Wahhhh!!!" As well, you have time constraints to deal with as well. Fire Emblem is a very, very large game so we had to work hard to keep our sanity and our wits.
Rich: Everything that Alan and Tim have said is absolutely true. Another more subtle aspect that we as a team have had to deal with is that when you have a game with so many dialogue boxes you have to make every button press count. During the localization we were able to add extra space by adding extra text boxes, but if we're writing that many more lines it is going to take the player forever to get through them. We don't want the player to say "oh no, how long is this conversation going to go?" So this has been one of our secondary goals: it isn't just trying to conserve space to match the Japanese version button press for button press, but to keep that rich dialogue and still make it worthwhile for the player.
PGC: Is NoA and/or the localization team happy with the US sales performance of the Fire Emblem games? Better than they expected? Worse?
Tim: I honestly have no idea. We 're not business people, but it's of utmost importance for everyone to enjoy it. We want it to sell more because we love these games and want to keep localizing them for English-speaking players.
Rich: I know nothing about the numbers. It's about localization and the reason we do what we do is because we're really into the series. Alan has done the same for strategy guides. Then he started working on the GameCube title. We're more concerned with making sure that people really enjoy the game when they sit down and play it. We love to read and hear from people that they really loved the game. That means so much to us.
PGC: What's with the name changes? Most of them make sense (such as Eirik to Eirika) but some of them are a little jarring to fans who have followed the series well before its English premiere. (Knoll from Noel.)
Rich: We've been given a lot of... let's say "faith" from Intelligent Systems. They really care about how the game is received in America and want the absolute best possible reception. The first thing we talk about is the origins and meanings of the Japanese name. Our goal is to try and bring that intent over to our American audiences. For instance, let's take L'Arachel. Her name was meant to have an elegant "feel" to it. I find her character sublimely hilarious and I wanted to come up with a name that spoke of that and keep it similar to the Japanese. Now, her transliterated name sounds much more harsh to English-speaking ears than the development team wanted to convey, so it was clear something got lost along the way. Even though there are English spellings for the Japanese names, they are literally transliterations. When we talk to the development team we're getting the motivations and the original intent behind the meanings of the names and we try to convey that same spirit in English. We have followed it on the boards and other places, so we are sensitive to the issue. It's a bit of a "hot button" topic. We always do this with the permission of the development team, to make sure we are still true to the game's origins.
Tim: A good example is one of the character's names in the Japanese version was Ulysses. Now, in America, that immediately brings connotations of the famous civil war general Ulysses S. Grant, or the Roman name for the hero of Homer's Odyssey. So we went back and spoke with the development team regarding the origins and meaning of the name to them so we could keep that feeling that Intelligent Systems had when giving that character that specific name.
PGC: What changes, if any, are there between the Japanese and U.S. release of the game? Any plotlines altered, references dropped, etc.? Any improvements over the Japanese version?
Rich: We tried to keep everything we can in the story. It has to do with our relationship with Intelligent Systems and what they've intended for the story. We don't change any of the plot elements, we defend them! If anyone has a desire to change anything we'll charge the gates with our letter openers!! We care so passionately about these games it isn't funny. If there are any small references changed, it's only because it may have been something never before released in America, so very few players would know about it. After all, we've only had three games localized so far. We make sure what we get in the Japanese text stays in the English text. All of the references that Intelligent Systems wants to be seen, get seen. Sometimes though, we don't realize when something is important because we get the files in episodes as the game is still being developed in Japan. So we always ask the development team to give us a break down of the important things: like the Fire Emblem's role. What is it? What does it do? What is its involvement with the story? That kind of thing.
PGC: What about Maniac Mode? Has it remained untouched in the English version?
Tim: Ah, well it has been watered down for us. As you know, the first game was part of a two game series in Japan. The game we released was reworked for the American market to be a nice introduction to the series. In the same manner they said "well, in America they've had two previous games", and meanwhile in Japan, it's number nine. So we are still going to have three settings: Easy, Normal and Hard. Easy is a brand new mode. Normal is the same as the Japanese Normal, and Hard mode is somewhere between "Normal" and "Maniac" from the Japanese version.
Rich: The thing is that Intelligent Systems, while we were doing still doing debug over here, had also gotten quite a bit of feedback from Japanese gamers. Much of the changes had to do with both the feedback they were getting from not only us, but from the Japanese people who had already played the title. They care about where the game is going in the U.S., so when working on the English version they were taking consideration for just about everything: the voice acting, character names, and the difficulty as well.
Tim: The Fire Emblem team is so dedicated to bringing the series out in America! They are the only development team that actually took the time and travelled over here and asked what our testers thought. They really cared about the feedback that our test players were giving them. But they also had quite a bit of feedback from people in Japan that said "it's simply unplayable" on that level of difficulty. So all of this was taken into consideration while creating the English version.
PGC: With the delay of Zelda: Twilight Princess into next year, what kind of promotion is Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance going to get from NOA, since it is, by default GameCube's "biggest title"? Many of our readers (and die hard Fire Emblem addicts) thought this would be a great time to popularize the series. Many of them were hoping to have it packaged with a Zelda: Twilight Princess demo to help its sales.
Rich: Unfortunately, we're not in marketing and we aren't privy to what the marketing plans are. So we can't respond directly to that question. I do know that they're very supportive of this title. NoA wants this title to succeed.
PGC: What Japanese series would you like to see localized for the West next... assuming you had the power to do such things?
Rich: Ouendan. I'd love to see that game out over here. It's so very Japanese though. So much graphic text and manga driven, that I don't know how it would work over here.
Alan: That and dating sims. There is a terrible lack of high school dating simulators over here!
Tim: No specific titles, though I wouldn't mind seeing more games in the vein of Trace Memory. Things like text adventures and detective series. Nintendo has their own... I can't remember the name but she was a trophy you could win in Super Smash Bros.: Melee. (Editor's note: The series Tim is referring to is R&D1's very own "Detective Club" which had multiple releases on the Famicom and Super Famicom.)
Rich: Another SRPG I'd love to see over here is the Super Robot Wars series. I'd definitely love to see that some time.
PGC: For our final question: What is your favourite game in the series, and to add to that, what do you think the chances are that we might see older games (like the Famicom and Super Famicom Fire Emblem titles) available for download in English with the Revolution?
Alan: We don't know about older games that have never been localized and their potential as Revolution downloads. We'd love to do it but it's not our call. We just kind of watch the Big White Board and hope it'll come our way. As for my favorite Fire Emblem, while I don't want to sound like a marketer, it's definitely Path of Radiance. Some of it has to do with working on it. But the story is so deep and compelling -- and the thing that really attracts me is that I really like Ike's character. I like Ike! He's a very blue collar, hardworking guy. In Fire Emblem titles you're usually nobility- princes and lords and all that. It's easier for me to identify with Ike and for that reason I was really pulled into the game.
Rich: Well I've played some of the earlier games on the Famicom and Super Famicom and they're lots of fun too. But I'm really into Path of Radiance. All of us here wanted to see a story that's not revolved around someone of the noble class, and with Path of Radiance we got that! We had a lot of fun working with someone who never understood or bothered with politics and discovering this huge world. It's a different experience. All of our favorites really have to do with the writing though. It's a labor of love.
Tim: My favorites are also based on the story and how that evolves, rather than graphics or half-hour cinemas. I think that the basic gameplay is a huge testament to Intelligent Systems: they created the core gameplay so long ago -- that it's still here is awesome. Of course it gets tweaks here and there, but the fact that it has that basic accessibility shows how solid the gameplay is; even over the years it hasn't changed dramatically. That really is a testament to the development team and their talent.
As for my absolute favorite? It's a toss up between Path of Radiance or the first Fire Emblem released in English. Maybe that's because it was the first Fire Emblem that I got to play and localize. But Path of Radiance is right up there. We're working with a non-noble, hard scrapping guy who is doing his best to work his way up in life. The situations that happen in the game are not black and white. When the game starts you're given that choice. For instance, joining a princess's cause would be right and just. But that's not what the mercenaries are in it for. They have a heated debate. It isn't about right or wrong; it's about surviving and making money. The game takes itself seriously, and getting to watch the characters fight amongst each other, grow, change and develop is what draws you in. But both games are very near and dear.
PGC: Rich, Tim and Alan, I want to thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy days to answer these questions for our readers. Thank you for all the hard work you've put into Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, and we can't wait to hear what project you guys are going to be working on next!
Interview conducted by Zosha Arushan.