Interview: Localising DRAGON QUEST VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
Sixteen years after it was originally released in Japan, DRAGON QUEST VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past has finally reached the shores of Europe and brings with it a brand new English language translation courtesy of UK-based localisation specialists Shloc Ltd. In an exclusive interview, Oli Chance of Shloc details the process involved in this mammoth undertaking and some of the creative choices needed to make DRAGON QUEST VII's stories stand out.
DRAGON QUEST VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
Travel to the past to save the present in DRAGON QUEST VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on Nintendo 3DS family systems. Find out more
Nintendo: Please could you tell us a little about Shloc Ltd and how you become involved in the localisation of DRAGON QUEST VII?
Oli Chance: Shloc essentially began when the three original members (myself, Mark and Geraint), who were working as freelance Japanese-to-English translators, decided we wanted to offer ourselves to clients as a team so that we could ensure that we would be working together to offer the best quality and most fun localisations possible.
Oli and Morgan have been working with Square Enix on the DRAGON QUEST series in various capacities since it got its big Western reboot with DRAGON QUEST VIII back in 2005. It was on that game that we got our first experience of a fully-featured, all-bells-and-whistles localisation job under the tutelage of Richard Mark Honeywood, and our experience there went a long way to laying the groundwork for how we do things now.
We’ve since been involved in the localisation of all the post-reboot DRAGON QUEST titles and quite a few of the spin-offs as well, handling the entire localisation for several of them, and contributing team members to the rest. Given our long history with the series, it’s very close to our hearts, and when we knew there was a plan to finally dust off DQVII and give it the remake treatment, we were honoured and excited to be asked to do it. And then we remembered how big it was...
Nintendo: How much work is involved in bringing a game like DRAGON QUEST VII to the west?
OC: As you might expect, the amount of work involved was pretty huge, but in order to keep quality as high as possible, we had to keep the teams as small as possible. There were four, and at times five, of us working on the Japanese to English localisation, and then once French, Italian, German and Spanish got involved a while later, it became a massive task both in terms of workload and logistics.
All in all, from start to finish, including familiarisation (playing the game to get to know it – no small task in this case), glossary creation (naming all the characters, places, monsters, items etc. etc.), translation/editing and QA, we were working pretty much flat out for just over a year.
One of the hardest things was to put enough time in the schedule for the editor of each language to see all the text, which in our experience is the only way to ensure consistency and quality throughout. You can throw a lot of translators at a job, but if there’s no one making sure they’re all working to spec and that quality is as high as it can be across the board, then things can easily go awry.
Nothing quite compares to DQVII. It’s one thing to contemplate taking on a job this size, and quite another to be four months in, knowing there are months left to go, and that if your pace falters, you could send the entire project off-schedule in five languages.
Without doubt the biggest challenge was keeping up such a heavy workload over such a long time, and making sure that quality didn’t suffer as a result. This is where having a team who know each other so well is essential – if we hadn’t been there to back each other up and give each other’s morale a kick when needed, I don’t think we could have done it.
Nintendo: We noticed this photo on the Shloc Ltd Twitter account. What's the story here?
OC: Ah, the Binders of Doom. That photo is of the shelves that hold the original Japanese scripts for the original version of DQVII. Apparently, they were something of a legend at the Enix offices, and looking at them, you can see why. If we’d been presented with those when we were first asked about being involved, we might just have run away screaming, but seeing them now we’re out the other side and have conquered them fills us with tear-jerking pride.
Nintendo: How would you say your localisation of DRAGON QUEST VII differs from the original US translation in 2001?
OC: There was a conscious decision made way back when DQVIII was localised to draw a line under the DQ games localised before that point (what I guess you’d call the Dragon Warrior-era titles), and to take a new approach for the ones that came thereafter, including the remakes of titles that had been localised previously.
As part of this new approach, the decision was made to localise the series from that point on into British rather than US English, to try and bring a variety of accents and dialects into play, and to generally try and reflect the humorous and often playful elements of the original Japanese games as faithfully as possible.
This didn’t mean that all the pre-existing stuff was jettisoned – we always try to leave in names, references and other tidbits for DW-era fans but on the whole it does mean that we tend to work completely based on the Japanese scripts, and only add DW nods and other such embellishments afterwards.
Obviously, there’s an element of risk in doing this, since there’s a huge fanbase for the series that has been around for a long, long time now, but the general rule is to change nothing for the sake of changing it, but only when doing so can be argued to be an improvement – and believe us when we say that those arguments are invariably passionate and... lengthy.
Nintendo: What would you say is the essence of the DRAGON QUEST brand from a writing perspective and how did you aim to preserve this in your localisation?
OC: From the point of view of writing, I think it’s characters that carry the series, and as such, the main aim is always to make the characters memorable, likable and unique. Given that the series has featured so many games with so many great characters, this becomes more and more of a challenge over time, but it’s a challenge we relish, and one which can often prove highly rewarding.
As long as we can keep the characters knowable and individual and lovable, the world hopefully stays bright and alive. In DQVII specifically, this meant going right down to the level of individual NPCs and making sure that any game-spanning characterisation or story they had was fun, engaging and above all consistent. This was a massive endeavour, but it was what was done in the original Japanese, so it’s absolutely something we have to make sure happens in the English in order to create a faithful localisation.
Nintendo: Likewise, what do you consider to be the qualities of DRAGON QUEST VII that were essential to keep in place for Fragments of the Forgotten Past?
OC: With this specific DRAGON QUEST—the biggest and most famously complex of them all—the key concern for us was to make such a massive, involved, multi-threaded story work as a coherent whole, and to keep things alive over such a long timeframe, as the Japanese does so skilfully.
There’s a grandeur to the original, and a sense of what you might call the golden age of JRPGs, where creators were really revelling in the possibilities of being able to tell stories on a hitherto unheard-of scale. We felt pretty keenly that the key to doing this right would lie in capturing that excitement and sense of endless possibility.
Whether we did or not is up to the player to judge, but hopefully at least some of the ‘There’s No Such Thing As Too Big’ feel that the original revelled in back when it was first released will come across.
Nintendo: Shloc’s British roots show through in some the localisation choices – particularly the island of Emberdale, which is influenced heavily by Yorkshire. What was the attraction of adding such colloquial touches?
OC: The British English usage and the inclusion of various accents and dialects has been a key feature of the series style since DQVIII, but with a world as big as DQVII’s, local characterisations also helped to provide variation in the huge number of regions you visit over the course of the game.
They also make the different regions feel different – not only (hopefully) to the player, but also to the writer. This can help add extra, albeit subtle, stylistic variations which help keep things fresh.
As such, they can be a very useful tool, but they do have to be used carefully – one risk is of overdoing it (especially in a text-only game) and alienating players as a result, but the other, bigger one is that the line between accuracy and insensitivity can sometimes be a tough one to tread. As such, we’re always very careful to write a style guide for each accent, and where possible to make sure we consult a genuine speaker of that language/dialect to make sure that things are staying within the bounds of acceptability.
The idea is never to poke fun at a given accent or dialect, but to enjoy what it can bring to our world, and how it can help us to tell the story in more ways than with just plain exposition. In the case of the people of Emberdale, the Yorkshire angle helped underline what was serious about their situation, but also gave us a way to add some lightness that was otherwise hard to bring to this oppressive, dark, volcanic region.
Nintendo: Of all the short stories in DRAGON QUEST VII, which were some of your favourites to localise?
OC: My personal favourite was the steampunk-tinged, stiff-upper-lipped, sometimes-bordering-on-Wodehousian melodrama of the Frobisher storyline. Once we hit on the name Thaddeus Goodwinding, I knew that one was going to be fun – though it couldn’t really fail to be, what with the tragic robot romance involved. The Days Of Our Lives-style love triangle of Greenthumb Gardens was also really fun. I guess I’m a sucker for the soap-opera-ey bits...
Nintendo: Anything else you’d like to add?
OC: I’m just hugely happy that our blood, sweat and tears have met with such positive responses. A time machine trip back to a year ago to assure myself of that would have been very helpful.
DRAGON QUEST VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is out now on Nintendo 3DS family systems. Order from the Nintendo Official UK Store and you'll also receive a DRAGON QUEST fan pack including an Akira Toriyama art poster and Slime window sticker!
Thanks to Shloc Ltd for taking part in this interview. To keep up to date with more of their work, follow them on Twitter.