Interview: Persona Localization Team
Bart Robson: The original PlayStation port of Persona featured some wild deviations from the Japanese original. How faithful is this new translation?
Aram Jabbari: We can’t speak for the previous localization, but we are very confident that the script in SMT: Persona for PSP is as accurate and faithful to the Japanese original as possible. The game is now properly set in Japan, the original Japanese character names are retained, and the dialogue is now much more natural and consistent with recent Atlus localizations, such as the critically-acclaimed SMT: Persona 4.
Bart Robson: What were some major challenges in this particular game’s translation?
Nich Maragos: Most of the challenges we usually face in localization were absent from this project, actually. Typically, two big problems an editor has are unfamiliarity with the on-screen context of dialogue and difficulty fitting things into the given character limit. But with Persona, I already knew the game very well from the PSX version, and the developer provided a thin but readable font that gave us free reign to be faithful to the original equipment, item, skill, and creature names.
The hardest part of this process actually came during QA, when our poor testers had to try and find every possible scrap of dialogue from every demon, when there are 9 playable characters who each have 4 distinct approaches. The spreadsheet I saw had something like 40,000 cells in it…
Scott Strichart: Just to put that into perspective, the file for the Basketball demon was over 10,000 lines, and that’s ONE demon. The negotiation text was such a large task, that it was my role on the project to edit strictly that. Nich was able to finish the entire story before I was able to finish all the demon text, so he jumped on at the end too.
Bart Robson: What’s the typical process for localizing a game?
Nich Maragos: The translators spend time playing the game, so they’re familiar with the in-game context I mentioned earlier. Once they’ve covered things pretty thoroughly, they begin working on text files that the developer provides. Translated files are passed on to me for editing, and if I have any questions (like “Where does this scene take place?” or “How far apart are these two characters standing?”) I consult the translators. We work until all the files are finished, and then the developer implements them into an English version of the game. Then our QA department hammers onto it for a while until we’re satisfied, and we submit the master version to the appropriate console manufacturer for approval and production.
Bart Robson: Was localizing Persona any different?
Nich Maragos: Not very much, our process doesn’t really change from game to game unless there are unique requirements or challenges based on the game or schedule, and really, we didn’t face any of that with SMT: Persona.
Bart Robson: What’s the most challenging part of localization?
Nich Maragos: On the editing side, probably coming up with distinct character voices. Not only are there certain types that show up again and again in RPGs, but it can be hard to really fully get into another persona, if you will, without having aspects of yourself leaking out.
On the translation side, a game like Persona often involves very peculiar dialects, particularly in the demons’ speech. It’s sometimes a slog for our translators to get through a file involving the Japanese equivalent of Old English.
Scott Strichart: Personally, I really like how the Old English demon turned out, so spend a lot of time talking to her, okay? For me, the most challenging parts were researching the various mythologies for the conversations where two demons from similar backgrounds (Loki and Fenrir, for instance) meet in battle. Working at Atlus, you get to know these mythologies pretty well, but even then, I worked with our translators to ensure they were accurate.
Bart Robson: What about the easiest part?
Nich Maragos: I’m going to answer a question you didn’t quite ask and say that my favorite part of editing is whenever a character breaks the mold with his or her own strong identity. People like Dahn in Devil Summoner 2 or Elly in Persona were a lot of fun to localize, and the easiest part of any job is when you’re enjoying yourself.
Scott Strichart: Coming onto this project right off the heels of Devil Survivor, I was already familiar with a number of the demons and the way they spoke, which made things easier. At first, it’s intimidating working on an SMT icon like Jack Frost; the little guy’s been around practically as long (or maybe longer…) than some of the employees here! But I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the past two projects, so we’re like buddies now, hee-ho.
Bart Robson: As far as graphics and sound go, how much has changed between the PS1 and PSP?
Aram Jabbari: Visually, the game is fully remastered to take advantage of the PSP’s widescreen display, with crisp art, slick new menus, gorgeous new CG cutscenes, and a redone overworld map that better fits the rest of the game’s aesthetic.
Aurally, the game has never sounded better. The game’s director and composer, Shoji Meguro, has completely redone the musical score, and true to his stellar track record on games like SMT: Persona 3 and 4, it is absolutely fantastic. We’re actually going to bundle every launch copy of the game with the full soundtrack—on 2 CDs—because we love to spoil our fans. The North American version of the PSP release includes fully-voiced CG cutscenes, something not available with the Japanese PSP release.
Bart Robson: Did the success of Persona 3 and Persona 4 have an effect on this translation? Any references fans should be on the lookout for?
Nich Maragos: There are a couple tongue-in-cheek callbacks to the original PSX script, but not many references to the PS2 Persona games. Although as far as the wider SMT series goes, players who delve into the Snow Queen Quest, which is fully intact in the PSP version, might meet a familiar face.
Scott Strichart: I made it a point to keep a particular throwback with the Yakuza demon. You’ll have no problem recognizing it if you find it.
Bart Robson: Was it always Atlus’ plan to bring Persona PSP overseas, or was it made later on in development?
Aram Jabbari: There are few SMT games that don’t make the trip over, especially in recent years, owing in large part to the fact that they are all so consistently excellent in quality and so ambitious in their reach. It was very likely from the get-go that SMT: Persona for PSP would come to North America.
Bart Robson: Is there anything coming up that Shin Megami Tensei and Persona fans should get excited about? We’ll give you candy…
Aram Jabbari: *takes candy* Mmm, candy, thank you.
Nich Maragos: Aram, you’ll spoil your dinner.
Aram Jabbari: Fear not, my hunger for humans is insatiable.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona will release for the PSP on September 22nd 2009.