Tag Archives: NIS America

From the Archives: Layers Upon Layers

One interesting contrast between Western and Eastern role-playing games is the way they each handle their core “rulesets.”

Western RPGs tend to follow a model that is somewhat closer to tabletop role-playing, whereby all the rules are set out clearly in front of you from the outset. You generally spend the entire game applying these rules in different ways, gradually growing in effectiveness (usually through increased likelihood to succeed at various challenges) as you proceed.

This is perhaps a side-effect of the fact that Western RPGs have their roots very much in Dungeons & Dragons — in fact, many early Western RPGs quite simply were Dungeons & Dragons games — but even today with franchises like The Elder Scrolls, we see what are often some relatively straightforward rules being applied consistently throughout the entirety of a game.

Japanese role-playing games, on the other hand, play things a little bit differently.

This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2013 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been edited and republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.

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Some Thoughts on Localisation

Localisation is, it seems, a somewhat thorny issue these days — but it’s one worth discussing.

Before I begin today, I’d like to emphasise that by no means am I attempting to present a “definitive” opinion here. By its very nature, this is a topic that is highly subjective and a matter of opinion, and that means you may not agree with my views. And that is, of course, fine; all I’m attempting to do here is to highlight one possible perspective and provide some food for thought on a complex issue with no “right” answers.

Preamble over and done with, then; let’s talk about localisation, beginning with a little personal context that may go some distance towards explaining why I feel the way I do about all this.

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Megadimension Neptunia V-II: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

While dismissed by many mainstream critics as lightweight, disposable moe fluff, the Neptunia series actually has some of the sharpest, most on-point writing in the business.

Both strongly allegorical and satirical, the series as a whole has evolved its treatment of its narrative themes and characters from installment to installment, roughly in keeping with trends in the gaming business and longstanding concerns in the industry as a whole. Not only that, but it acknowledges and satirises trends in other aspects of popular media, too, particularly anime.

Part of this is down to the snappiness of the original Japanese writing and the characterisation therein — much of which you can pick up through the Japanese voice acting, even if you don’t speak much (or indeed any) Japanese — but a lot of credit must also be laid at the feet of the various localisation teams who have tackled the series over the years.

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Megadimension Neptunia V-II: Introduction

Since its original appearance in 2010, the Neptunia series has grown from a niche-interest RPG into one of developer Compile Heart’s biggest success stories.

This is a particularly remarkable achievement, given that the first installment in the series didn’t have a strong critical reception at all — while review score aggregation isn’t an exact science by any means, the fact that the first Hyperdimension Neptunia game sits at a not-so-proud score of 45 on Metacritic should make it fairly clear that this is not a game that the mainstream press liked. At all.

And yet here we are, six years later at the time of writing, celebrating the release of the seventh (or fourth, depending on how you want to look at it) installment in the mainline, canonical Neptunia series, and the tenth overall release to carry the Neptunia name in the West.

How did this happen? How did a series that started with a game almost universally panned by professional critics become one of the most recognisable Japanese franchises on the worldwide market?

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Criminal Girls: A Game About Trust

Criminal Girls, one of the more controversial Japanese titles to make it over to the West in recent years thanks to its semi-explicit depiction of BDSM-style “punishment” scenes, actually proved to be one of the more interesting games I’ve played for a while owing to its exploration of a concept we tend to take for granted: trust.

In most games, there’s an unspoken trust between the players and the on-screen characters. You trust them to do what you tell them and they, in turn, trust you to make the right decisions that won’t get them killed. The latter part in particular isn’t always made explicit because the player’s presence isn’t usually acknowledged, but in games where you’re not playing a self-insert protagonist, there’s a strong argument that it’s implied.

Criminal Girls is a little different, however. Not only do you, the player, have a participant role in the game — albeit not as a combatant in the game’s battle sequences — but you also have to spend a hefty amount of time convincing your party members to trust both you and each other. And it’s here that things get pretty interesting.

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Adventures in Akihabara

One of video gaming’s great strengths is the opportunity it affords us to truly, interactively immerse ourselves in other cultures.

We talked about this a little while back when we examined how Steins;Gate is positively dripping with the otaku culture of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, even going so far as to include an in-game glossary explaining and defining all the memes, urban legends and specialist jargon that crop up throughout the narration and dialogue.

Steins;Gate is far from an isolated example, however; Acquire’s Akiba’s Trip 2, localised for Western PS3, PS4 and Vita audiences as Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed, also provides you with the opportunity to live the life of an otaku in their spiritual home — and in a somewhat more interactive manner than Steins;Gate’s visual novel stylings.

Oh, and also there are vampires. Kind of.

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An Unavoidable Tragedy

We see a lot of comedy in games these days — it’s something which a number of creators in particular have proven themselves to be particularly good at — but not much in the way of tragedy.

Oh, sure, we have sad scenes that are designed to milk a few tears from those with less-than-stellar emotional constitutions (like me) but very few games that truly explore tragedy in the Shakespearean — or more accurately Aristotlean — sense. That is to say, very few games that have the balls to present a main character that is tragically flawed, makes mistakes and undergoes a significant reversal of fortune — either from good to bad, or bad to good.

The last place I expected to find an example of tragedy like this was in a game from Nippon Ichi Software, a company best-known for somewhat more light-hearted titles, but here we have The Witch and the Hundred Knight, a game that is a significant departure for the Disgaea developers in more ways than one.

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