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Soul Hackers Interview: Translating a SMT classic

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Atlus is known for giving gamers unique experiences and games that may not have normally been released outside of Japan. They’ve had us covered for years and the recent release of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Soul Hackers only proves they’re still on the job. This is the first time this particular SMT spin-off has been seen outside of Japan, as the original 1997 Saturn incarnation remained trapped in the country. It’s aged pretty well.

When a game like this comes up, you want to learn more. Which is why GamerTell pitched some questions to the Atlus team about Soul Hackers. Clayton Chan, Mike Meeker and Sammy Matsushima provided answers about what it was like to work on the revitalized, 16 year old game.

GamerTell: Is it less restrictive to work on a port of a game like Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Soul Hackers, since it was never released in English? Or is it harder since fans have higher expectations?

Clayton Chan: Fans of SMT/Persona are pretty rabid. Just take a look at any announcement we make for a non-SMT/Persona game on Facebook, and you’ll find more than a few of them demanding more of SMT and Persona.

That being said, most of them are pretty in touch with what’s coming out of Japan, so there’s not really this huge amount of unreasonable expectations, most of them are just expecting the thing they know is already coming.

So, as far as expectations go, I have to say that regular localizations or ports give us more of a safety net, as opposed to say, when I’m producing a game made from the ground up like Rock of Ages or Zeno Clash 2. When the North American release is the first time the player encounters a game, that period of familiarization isn’t there, and poses a different set of challenges.

Mike Meeker: Our fans are always looking forward to getting that next Atlus fix, and so they’re ravenous for information. Anyway, to answer the question, we don’t usually let previous releases restrict our current work. Take P3P, or P4Golden: the re-releases had additional content, sure, but we were allowed to go back through the older text and make some small tweaks where necessary, or where we felt that we could have done just a little better in retrospect. With a game like Soul Hackers, which we’ve never had the opportunity to localize before, we treated it like a new game. Our localization mantra is “intent first, wording second,” so I in no way feel that we did any part of the game a disservice, despite its original age.

smt devil summoners soul hackers
GamerTell: About how long were you working, translating Soul Hackers?

Meeker: Well, the initial translation/editing took us a little over a month. That’s just the text, though, and that’s just the part where I’m “on” Soul Hackers. as opposed to the parts where I’m officially assigned to some other game and get pulled back onto the project because something needs to be written (like answering interview questions *cough*). If you’re asking for a full schedule of how long everything, from the signature on the contract to the game magically coalescing from the ether onto store shelves, took… Maybe eight months? And then there’s the other question, of how long was I working… We worked long hours, and I’ll leave it at that.

GamerTell: Players jump into Soul Hackers without really knowing much about the hero and Hitomi’s relationship. How did you imply their status and closeness through dialogue?

Chan: Oh, it wasn’t dialogue. We mostly just made inappropriate gestures—Oh, you mean in-game dialogue. Given that the main character is a silent protagonist, he’s not going to really express his feelings for much of anything, but the interplay between Hitomi and Nemissa in certain situations will allow a picture to be painted of what both characters’ motivations are.

Meeker: Much of their relationship is stated by other characters. Hitomi’s not going to come out and say “you are my boyfriend” in an obvious ploy to set up backstory, so it’s up to other characters to point out how close the two are.

GamerTell: Nemissa refers to herself in the third person. Does she do this in the Japanese version of the game, or did you put that in for the localization to hint at her otherworldly origins?

Chan: She does this in the Japanese version of the game. There are enough ways for the player to tell the two of them apart.

GamerTell: What kind of translating and editing tricks did you employ to really show the differences in personality between Hitomi and Nemissa?

Chan: For our first trick, we had two different actresses play them. As you pointed out in the previous question, Nemissa refers to herself in third person quite a bit, and she has different colored hair when she’s doing the talking. Hitomi’s also more even-keel, while Nemissa wears her heart on her sleeve more.

Meeker: Nemissa has a much larger independent streak, and she’ll shoot her mouth off more than the level-headed Hitomi ever would. Nemissa also gets a ghostly reverb whenever she’s talking, in case you’re not looking at your 3DS for whatever reason. Oh, and she’s played by a completely different actress.

GamerTell: Did Atlus’ previous Shin Megami Tensei series’ releases influence the translation of Soul Hackers in any way, aside from determining the names of some demons?

Meeker: There was no drive to take the Soul Hackers script and “make it more SMT-like,” if that’s what you’re asking. The original writers knew what they were doing when they wrote it.

smt devil summoners soul hackers
GamerTell: While the tone of Soul Hackers is mainly serious, did you try to throw in any original in-jokes or asides for Atlus faithful fans to catch?

Chan: Even though Soul Hackers may have been “mostly” serious, there are always moments of levity in SMT games. I mean, just look at Carol J, and tell me that guy’s meant to be taken completely seriously. There are a number of places where it made sense to include something humorous, and we made use of those opportunities. If you want to look for something, dig through the part of the game that was my own personal editing hell for this project (and probably the testers’ debugging hell), and try negotiating with demons when you haven’t gotten the translation software installed. I had to hand-type all that output garbage. You may unearth some interesting stuff in there.

Meeker: I’ve got one or two little quirks that I like to sneak into inconsequential places in the games I’ve worked on, but I can’t really remember if they made it in, given the space constraints. There aren’t places where we find something dull and add a joke just to break things up, save those interminable demon conversations, where the “weird” response is supposed to be something to make you smile; it’s more the case that a situation will already call for a joke and we’ll write something original instead of trying to manhandle an ill-fitting Japanese joke into the English text.

Oh, wait. There was one bit that I liked: When Yu-Ichi, Six, and Lunch are arguing about Yu-Ichi’s hacker name, and we had to make up some fake names that Yu-Ichi would discard for being too ridiculous. There’s a bit of 4th-wall leaning that wasn’t in the original, but I thought was funny.

Thanks for talking to us! I hope your readership enjoys Soul Hackers and all our other titles.
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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner – Soul Hackers is immediately available both in-stores and on the 3DS eShop. Either way, it’s $39.99. Stop by GamerTell tomorrow to read our thoughts on the game!

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