Otome Debates: Localization

Hey Hey Heroes, Travelers, and Wandering NPCs, as promised, here’s the first official Otome Debates post! Going into 2018 I wanted to branch out a bit from just otome game reviews, by adding some editorial styled otome games related content. The idea is to produce informative content about otome games that both fans and non-fans of the genre can enjoy. So what should you expect from this and other Otome Debates posts?

This is a brand spankin’ new bi-weekly (Tuesdays) post series where I talk about a few of the “controversial” topics floating around the online otome community. I’ll be covering a wide range of topics within the scope of otome games and their connected media. You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with otome games or the online otome games community to enjoy these posts, since they will mostly offer a general overview of the topic with points from both sides.

Otome Debates: Introduction 

This week’s topic is one that has caused a lot of buzz in the online otome community. It’s a topic that has been at the center of some of the most heated Twitter battles… a topic that has divided the community for years… I wish I was joking, it seems like every time an English language version of an otome game is released in the West, the online otome games community implodes. Friend turn on friends, members of the #OtomeArmada immediately scramble to opposing sides and the rampant passive aggressive tweets begin to fly… But, what is “localization” and is it really worth all the fuss?

What is localization?!

Localization is the process by which content is adapted for an audience outside of it’s place of origin. Usually, when talking about localization, folks tend to focus solely on the translation of the medium, but there are a lot of factors that must be considered when adapting a game for sale in other locales, such as:

  • updating/altering art assets
  • creating new packaging, manuals, and guides
  • updating culturally sensitive/specific content for a new audience
  • updating hardware/software for use in the new target regions
  • recording new audio

Localization isn’t an exact science, and there have been times when fans of the original source material have found issue with some of the liberties taken when adapting certain media, but as a whole, localization isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it helps bring content to individuals outside of the original target audience, in a way that is still enjoyable to the new audience.

Viewpoint Breakdown: Quality vs. Quantity

In the otome community the crux of the localization debate boils down to access. Despite the upswing in otome games being marked towards Western audiences (ie. Hakuoki), otome games are still largely targeted at a Japanese audience. The number of commercial otome games available to Western audiences just barely scratches the surface of what is available to Japanese audiences. Of course developers and producers are taking notice of the growing demand for otome games in the West, with international offshoots cropping up here and there to fill the demand. However, even then we get two maybe three games a year (in a good year), while Japanese audiences get double or triple that amount in half the time. There is a noticeable gap in the number of games that are accessible to non-Japanese speaking audiences. Of course some fans have found a way around this by simply learning Japanese, either through self study or other means, but for many language learning isn’t exactly a viable option. So for the vast majority of fans we have to rely on localization teams to bring us the otome games we crave.

Localization helps make games accessible, a fact that many Western fans wholeheartedly stand behind. However, many of these localization teams are very small and don’t have nearly the same amount of resources as their parent companies. So, the quality of some localized games can be a bit hit or miss a fact that many fans of the original Japanese versions of these games feel is a disservice to the original source material. But, as I mentioned earlier, some of these changes are necessary when adapting a very stylized work such as an otome game, for sale in a different region.

To some these creative liberties are seen as distasteful and at times inconsistent with the spirit of the original game. Again, localization isn’t an exact science, some things have to be changed in order to not alienate the new target audience, but there is a balance that must be maintained and for some the very idea of localization is seen as an affront to those sensibilities (ie. the removal of honorifics, the changing of colloquial phrases, or the use of slang in place of local dialects). But, for audiences unfamiliar with the Japanese language these changes are inconsequential, when compared with the accessibility localization brings to the Western otome fandom.

Then of course, there are those that call out the quality of the translation, pointing out instances where the written dialogue does not sync up with the spoken dialogue. Again, this is a notion that is lost on most Western audiences as they don’t have a Japanese language basis to use for comparison. In those instances players must rely solely on the written text for their enjoyment, which can at times be pretty hit or miss (ie. typos, the use of dated slang/jargon, and the mistranslation of names). But, do these flaws really warrant such a huge backlash? Localization teams are small and lack the resources necessary to compete with their much more well endowed parent companies, so a few hiccups here and there are to be expected. But also, should these flaws be written off in favor of the greater good of simply having access to games that were once unobtainable to the greater community?

Honestly, that’s hard to answer, because overlooking quality for the sake of quantity only works to further alienate the very fans that rely on localization as a means of accessing otome games. Instead there is a fine line that must be met and for that it requires the collective support of both sides, those with a Japanese language background and those members of the Western otome community.

Personal Opinion

Right, so as a Western fan of otome games I am very much in favor of localization, however, that doesn’t mean I don’t want quality. Now, I’m not going to be anal about adaptation changes, because as I mentioned above, as an American (with minimal Japanese language skills) I just don’t have the basis for it and many of the cultural references go over my head. There are just some things that don’t translate well, because there is no Western variation so omitting or editing them is justified… in some instances.

Of course there are things that drive me mad, like the mistranslation of certain honorifics or inconsistent name usage, but that degree of error doesn’t amount to the level of mass hysteria that some people have taken to unleashing on the entire online community every time a new localization is announced. I get it, you want the games you love to be given their due, to be lovingly and painstakingly translated and quality checked…  and I don’t doubt that all localized games are, but when a localization team literally consists of seven people in a small office, things are going to slip through the cracks. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold developers accountable for their work, there’s just a right way to do it. Rather than dragging a company through the mud on Twitter or on Reddit, perhaps contact them directly with your concerns. Instead of telling people not to play a game, instead, say your piece and encourage them to try the game for themselves.

Honestly all of this infighting is more detrimental to the otome community than the individual Twitter tirades. There’s this hive mentality in the otome fandom that forces individuals to pick sides, when in reality we should come together as a collective to ensure the longevity of the fandom both in the West and elsewhere. At some point it stopped being about otome games and became more about being right. So, we take to our soap boxes and tweet until our fingers are numb, but what does it really change if we aren’t taking positive steps to preserve the games we love? NOT A GODDAMN THING!

Closing Statement: Is Localization a Bad Thing?

Both sides offer up valid points, things only cross the line when fans of both camps try to dissuade the other side from supporting localization altogether. Rather than offering up constructive criticisms of localized otome games, many have launched an all out crusade against localization, which in turn has led those in support of localization to retaliate in kind. Which in turn brings up the notion of privilege and elitism, those with the ability to understand Japanese and the ability to import original Japanese otome games can and will do so. But, it’s important to understand that localization isn’t necessarily targeted towards those individuals, it’s for those fans that are unable to import games or simply those who don’t speak/read Japanese. So, when the non-target audience takes it upon themselves to speak for the entirety of the fandom, that is where things get messy. Both sides have a lot to learn from one another and in a niche community like the otome fandom, it’s important to work together lest we lose sight of what’s really important… Otome Games.

But I want to hear from you guys, what do you think about localization? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Which side do you stand on? Vote in the poll below and/or weigh in in the comments section:

What do you think of the new post series? Think it’s a good idea? Do you have a topic suggestion? Wanna chat? Drop a line in the comments section (I promise, I don’t bite…much). As always THANK YOU FOR READING

19 thoughts on “Otome Debates: Localization

  1. I LOVE this article. This was very much needed in the community. I don’t think there is anything wrong with critiquing localizations but telling people to not support it is a little bit too much. This big divide between those who play original JPN otome and those who don’t just feels silly I mean we all want the same thing…The Bois™️

    1. Thank you for your kind words and for stopping by! 😁

      Exactly!!! All this pettiness is ridiculous and toxic, we all like otome games that should really be enough.

  2. Great discussion on localization Naja. I’m with you for quality over quantity. I don’t mind the slow trickle of localization as long as the translation is accurate and less mistakes are made. This really is a great segment, can’t wait to see more! 🙂

    1. Thanks Hazel Bell! 😀 Yeah, it’s a bit of a thin line and some folks take it to extremes, but as long as it’s constant and not in your face, I’m fine with it.

      Ah, I’m glad, these are a bit more formal than my reviews and stuff (I’m having grad school flashbacks), but if it gets the point across it’s all good. Aww shucks… I’ll do my best!

  3. Aksys has been asked many times to fix their errors, and the only response is “we can’t afford it” and they continue to release poor quality checked games. The number of people in the office is not an excuse, Bocchi Musume had outstanding quality and it was basically done by 2 people’s efforts of translation & editing. It’s also unfair that Aksys does their “male oriented games” in house while they continue to outsource otome games to cheap overseas 3rd party freelancing services. They don’t even check the game before publishing. They tell Outsource A to translate this game, send the script to Aksys and aksys sends it to final print without checking anything. They specifically said on twitter that they do not play their games before release.

    So while I do agree with the notion of not dragging companies through the mud, I also want to point out that attempts to get better quality releases has been made many times, and has been consistently ignored. Personally, I don’t care, I don’t buy their releases after norn9 because of their attitude towards quality – but my friends who don’t understand Japanese are constantly complaining about all the bugs/typos they are encountering while playing these games.

    Anyway just wanted to kinda clear up why we start “twitter wars”, the otome game community is small but poor quality releases and lack of proper marketing for these games is all on the localizer and publisher and they simply do not care because there’s probably not enough monetary gain from us.

    1. First, I want to thank you for taking the time to leave a response. However, my main objective was not to draw attention to “twitter wars” per se, but to the fact that we as a community are divided. Localization just happens to be one of the most prominent and pervasive of the issues that divide us. Your comment, while valid seems to be rather one sided, now whether that was your intent or not, I don’t know. As it stands, I tried my best to remain a s neutral as possible bringing up both sides of the argument, yet your comment does not acknowledge that fact. I did not specifically refer to any one entity or individual by name, however, you so graciously provided both by commenting here. Again this is the very finger pointing that I was hoping to avoid as it does nothing for the overall advancement of the otome community. Rather, it only serves to further alienate both sides from one another.

      As I stated, this stopped being about otome games long ago and became more of a ploy for dominance, again, by both sides. The main point of this article isn’t as you so eloquently put, to “clear up” the reason behind these so called “twitter wars”, but to understand that these types of one sided arguments are futile especially when the ones making them are not taking the time to listen to one another. You take fault with the localizers, yet, perhaps the fault lies with us for not coming together as a community to voice these complaints. Instead we take to our twitter accounts and private forums which only serves to fuel animosity between both parties.

      I also, would like to point out that again, while your opinion is valid, you may not be the target audience for localized games. Also your admittance of not supporting their releases, while again is your prerogative as a consumer, causes me concern as you are not directly consuming the very media you find fault with. I’m only going off what you have said in your comments, but the word of someone else does not supplant one’s own experiences, nor is it a firm foundation for basing one’s opinion of something. Rather than speaking on behalf of your associates, perhaps you might have them voice their opinions directly if they have not done so already.

      Finally, as to your remarks about technical aspects of localization, I will admit that I am not as well versed in that process as I’d like to be. Nor am I completely familiar with the actual sales data for Bocchi Musume, however there is a distinct difference in the content of that game and the types of otome games Aksys (since that was the company you chose to compare it to) put out. This is not a critique of the quality merely a matter of content, so to compare the two is something akin to apples and oranges. But, I will say that both localizations from Aksys and Bocchi Musume have their faults, both in the caliber of their translations and the quality of their content.

      Now, I will leave you with this: The message of my post was not to point out flaws or prove which side was right or wrong, so if that is your main takeaway, I am afraid you have completely missed out on what I was trying to do. I wrote this post to start up a discussion between both sides, this is a space to discuss and grow as a community not to continue the history of infighting.

      1. the only reason I bring up Aksys specifically is because I didn’t see these issues coming from Mangagamer or Iffy’s releases. They had bugs -> they fixed them. I played a few dogenzaka lab games on steam too and I haven’t seen the jarring problems on their (albeit crappy selection of games) releases either. So even if it sounds 1 sided – because well there’s only 1 localizer who’s got the problem honestly… lol

        > You take fault with the localizers, yet, perhaps the fault lies with us for not coming together as a community to voice these complaints.

        and I just specifically said in my comment many people have tried contacting them about the quality issues and have been IGNORED. And yes my friends, who bought the games, and complained about the quality directly to them have not received a response. Unfortunately my friends are unknown in the game community and so I provide a voice for them that’s all it is.

        Anyway I think you completely misunderstood my comment, I wasn’t trying to come off hostile (?) just making a point that we tried to tell Aksys to fix their QC issues -> they didn’t listen -> released more games with more QC issues. You said you wrote the post to start up a discussion between both sides – but I give you my side and you basically tell me it’s invalid so I guess I’ll end my commentary here heh.

  4. I’m not saying everyone but there are some people who are like OH well I don’t have to buy localization because I know Japanese. That’s great but not everyone does.

    1. This! So much this! It’s true! The JP players don’t lose out on ANYthing if localizers just completely stop coming out with localizations! There was a time when we had NOTHING! We to resort to listening and following the JP players who translated a few lines here and there. NOW we have a legitimate influx of titles coming towards us and LOOK their getting upset >.>;; wonder why… JP players don’t lose out on anything if we stop getting titles. Those that don’t know JP lose everything!

  5. Like the most voted option, I like localization, but I think there’re some issues that need to be solved, like translation for example.
    I play otoges in Japanese and in English too. I prefer, personally, to play them in Japanese bc I can have fun and, at the same time, read kanjis, learn some new vobabs/words and improve my listening skills.
    I played Hakuouki in English. And I bought Collar x Malice in English too. I know there’re some issues in this game like some typos and all, but even so I want to try playing it. I can forgive some typos 😛
    I think people who don’t speak Japanese can have fun with otoges too, right! ^^
    But even so, even if some fans accept the way it is, with bad writing, looots of typos, etc… I think the companies should release a quality game, with good translation.
    They do this with eroge, with games for boys. So why don’t do it for otoges as well?

    Sorry for my English, sometimes I want to say so many things that I make mistakes ^^”

  6. It just depends. When things aren’t clear to most audiences, use localization; if there’s an easy translation, just go with the original.

    Translation is a fine art, but don’t underestimate the audience. One that gets me is Norn9’s Koharu calling Sorata “Suzuhara” in the English version. You don’t have to be fluent or even dabble in Japanese to not know that she is clearly calling him by his given name. It’s hard to bring over Koharu’s very formal speech, but it drove me crazy to hear one thing and read another! (And, of course, it was inconsistent later.)

    But many issues could probably be addressed by not rushing a game. Announce a release date AFTER the game has been edited and proofread. All works face a deadline, but it shouldn’t be obvious to players as the order you translated routes where you can tell the quality just drops like a rock.

  7. I have to say localisation is a necessary evil. And I mean this in general. There are media all over the world, we’d never get if someone didn’t localise it, be it films, books, games or what not. We’d need to learn a lot of languages to understand all media we get. In fact, subtitles and dubs are also a sort of localisation, and while English speaking countries may not get as much of it, the rest of the world certainly does. But there are always issues to be found, regardless of media.

    I personally think that the main issue when it comes to otome games specifically is the quality of the localised games. While I’m in theory fine with for instance text not syncing with the voice acting, it’s fine IF the meaning stays the same. There have been times when the translator messed up and the meaning in English changes from the Japanese meaning, or changing it a lot. This, I find, often causes inconsistencies which in turn lessens enjoyment. This of course goes for times when there is no voice acting as well. The meaning should essentially not be changed.

    A much more interesting instance I’ve seen mentioned is of course also Koharu’s choice of what to call Sorata in Norn9, but I’m pretty sure you know I’ve covered this in my blog, so I’m not going to be lengthy on it. It’s in short, a very good example of bad localisation, since the audience shouldn’t notice the localisation. The point is to make the player feel as if the localisation is true to the original.

    That means, in games, that the voice acting also matters, even if one cannot understand the original script. The way an actor may say a line can entirely change the meaning of it, which needs to be considered when localising a game.

    But in the end, aside from the crappy mobile otome game translation, I haven’t encountered issues with works released by the majority of the companies. Aksys really needs to step it up. They are, in fact, lower the sales for all distributers with their issues of not listening to anyone when it comes to otome games. It’s like they think they’re running their own race. I think everyone – regardless of whether they can read Japanese or not – who play otome games which to support otome games, but underestimating the audience and ignoring their concerns and complaints is, bluntly put, a really shitty move.

    And I’m well aware I’m not part of the target audience as I can play the games in Japanese, but because I have that luxury I decided to commit myself to review the quality of the localisations with a few criteria in mind, including points I’ve mentioned above.

  8. Localization is important because as you mentioned, there are some things we just don’t have the cultural context for. However, as you mentioned as well, there ARE things that irk me from time to time which I think are unnecessary, like doge memes for example *glares at Norn9*, or switching in between calling someone “-san” then calling them “Mr.”… *also glares at Norn9*, or just general inconsistency in translation in different routes that suggest 1) there are multiple people working on multple things, and 2) they aren’t necessarily on the same page. However, I do think that companies and localizers do the best they can do with what’s given to them. From my understanding, localizers are often given text files to translate… and that’s it. No gameplay, no further context, just text files. What’s beautiful about otome games is that it’s more than a story that we can read. For these releases that are being heavily critiqued, we have voice actors to provide verbal context to the text, and we have CGs and sprites to provide visual context to what’s being spoken. Without that, some things are unfortunately lost in translation or completely lost and not translated at all (i.e. BAW soul touch scenes).
    In terms of Aksys, I think it’s important to note that they are a small company, and regarding patching, it’s apparently quite expensive to patch console ports compared to PC. The only IFI Vita release I’ve played so far is Kyoto Winds (I have Amnesia on Steam), and it’s not without it’s issues. There’s typos, mis-or just maybe strange-translations, liberties being taken which leads to some moments seemingly slightly OOC, etc. However, it seems the majority of the ire from the “Otome Armada” is pointed in Aksys’ direction, which I don’t think is fair. We aren’t dealing with one man vaping in his apartment and calling it a company, we’re dealing people who actually care enough to take a chance on such a niche community.
    And about that niche community, Eng otome players are a niche within a niche. Many people take the time to learn JP and when they’re unhappy with a localization they stick to their imports. I think that’s totally fine, because I feel like voting with your wallet is more impactful than screaming about things on twitter. What I don’t think is fine is that those very same people who vote “no” with their wallet try to influence the rest of the community to do the same. If you’re not going to play a game and experience it for yourself, then it’s hard to take your opinion on it seriously as you’ve opted out of being the target audience.

  9. I’m all for supporting otome game localization — IF the localization quality is good. I think that’s basically it. Saying that some people said that they don’t like otome games being localized (“because we can play in Japanese anyways~”) is probably just a misunderstanding, because anyone who would say that is outright greedy (or maybe there really are people like that. Not in the otoge community I know though).
    For one, I do love seeing otome games getting localized because that would mean more friends can get to play the games I like, and I can finally talk to them about it. So when a localization is bad to the point that it changes the meaning of important lines and parts in the game, of course I have to speak out and point it out because I want my friends to have the same experience as I did when I played the game. It’s not a case of trashtalking just any loc, it’s about wanting to have quality loc.
    Another thing to mention is that I do support localizations. I really hate it when some people misunderstand that just because you can read Japanese you don’t support localizations anymore. Of course if it’s a loc of a game you already played why bother spending money on it again? But if it’s a loc of something you haven’t played, you’ll get the option to play in English too. In my case, I pick up the English loc, provided that the localization is good. This has only happened once though, with Amnesia Memories, because this is one of the better otome game localizations released.
    All in all it really comes down to the localization quality. If the loc is good then there’ll be nothing to point out and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

  10. It’s one thing to translate and/or localize a piece of media, but what about the creators’ perspective? Translating/Localizing has never been THAT easy, yet we sometimes forget about the pain and process of creation. Put yourself in the creators’ shoes and see how much disservice companies, customers, and translators are doing by tearing your work(s) apart like that.

    As for the (certain) customers who complain or nitpick each and every detail, they’re subliminally telling us that they don’t want the said media to be localized/translated in the first place. These people claim to be aspiring translators, but I doubt they’ll be hired if they bring that attitude to the workplace (including their “dream job”). We’ll see about their hypocritical asses.

    (Apologies for a rather broad/generalizing opinion.)

    1. No worries! Thank you for taking the time to write a comment on this post! You’re right, there is a certain degree of care that has to go into adapting another person’s creation. Sadly, some companies are more worried about turning a profit than preserving the author’s vision.

      I agree with you 100% on folks who continually denounce localization without actually offering a solution for the things they see as issues.

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