Having now released three Ys games as part of the company's partnership with Falcom, it is now time to move on to the next project. RPGamer was lucky enough to wrangle Jess Chavez (Localization Lead), Tom Lipschultz (Localization Specialist), and Ken Berry (Director of Publishing) from XSEED Games together to talk about The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, the upcoming Falcom RPG for the PlayStation Portable.
Michael A Cunningham (RPGamer Editor-in-Chief): Greetings XSEED crew, we come to you today begging for more information about The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. This Falcom RPG from 2006 is now coming to North America after all this time. Please give us a rundown of what we should be expecting and what it is that makes TitS so special.
Jess Chavez (Text Monkey): ... Your glee in typing "TitS" is most obvious, sir. (I share it.)
Well, first: Salutations, RPGamers! It's our pleasure at XSEED to subject you to the massive adventure that is The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Thanks in advance for bearing with us through what is likely to be an equally massive interview with answers from myself, Tom (Wyrdwad), and Ken. Here is your rundown...
LoH: TitS (ha ha) is a PSP RPG known infamously for its... generous amount of text and the occasional case of in-game food poisoning. Its specialty is in length (50+ hours of core gameplay), breadth (an extremely detailed world stuffed full of NPCs, quests, talking cats and in-game newspapers), and Olivier Lenheim (wandering bard and pervert). As for what to expect, I'd say you can look forward to some serious bang for your buck. This is an RPG that will keep you entertained for a VERY long time.
MAC: All your TitS are belong to us??? Enough joking, did you create that subtitle on purpose or was it more an "oh crap" moment afterward?
Jess: Bit of both, actually. After much wrangling on the implied/philosophical meaning of the game title (as Sora no Kiseki has quite a number of ways of being translated) we finally settled on a throw down between "Road to the Sky" or "Trails in the Sky." Road to the Sky had a nice upward trajectory ring to it, while Trails in the Sky conveyed a reoccurring theme within the game of the ever-crisscrossing lives of people and how they affect one another. In the end it was the importance of the journey of discovery/growth through interacting with people that won out. Once we were all agreed and had confirmed with Japan that that was the title we wanted, someone went and pointed out in the weekly meeting that the acronym was... mildly suggestive. I believe we all shared a moment of silence then to ponder the implications (someone may have snickered) (that someone may have been me). In the end I believe we settled on congratulating ourselves for the marketing coup, because, as everybody knows, TitS sell.
MAC: When we last talked about Trails in the Sky, you mentioned it has "widely been regarded as one of the best RPGs around." Having gotten deep into the game, how true is that statement?
Tom Lipschultz (Translation Ninja): Well, it's pretty unquestionable that Trails in the Sky is widely regarded in Japan as one of the best RPGs of this console/handheld generation. Its success for Falcom is quite notable, to the point where Legend of Heroes has really become Falcom's flagship series now, superseding even Ys. But I think your question is more whether or not it lives up to that reputation, no?
As with any subjective statement like this, the answer will vary a great deal from person to person â amongst importers, most people seem to adore the game, while a select few (very vocal) others absolutely despise it. But if you're someone who loves a deep, involving story with a meticulous attention to detail and consistent, well-written characters, then yeah, you're going to absolutely flip for this game. Its reputation is well-earned.
I think the key here is the way Trails is presented. JRPGs have been getting a bad rap lately, often regarded as havens for storylines that make no sense and characters with questionable motivations. Legend of Heroes games, however, aren't like that â in these games, everything that happens is thoroughly and meticulously explained, every action is made with intent, and every single character (be it a major player or a mere NPC townsperson) is accounted for at all times. And in Trails in the Sky, this is taken much farther than it ever has been before. In this game, you really get a sense for how the world works â its governmental structure, its economy, etc.
It's hardcore. But if you're looking for a really meaty RPG you can lose yourself in, like a good book... then yeah, there's no doubt you'll be adding this to your favorite games list in the near future.
MAC: The main reason it's taken so long to come to North America is the huge volume of text required to localize. From start to finish, how long did the process take and what problems did you run into along the way?
: Start to finish, huh? Oh, the horror...
Well, initially we got the text sometime back in February(?), but as everyone at XSEED tends to juggle several projects at once, I didn't get a chance to really start devoting my full attention to it until April-ish. Around May we did some quick calculations and discovered, to our growing horror, that it wasn't humanly possible to get the text pushed through unless we took some drastic measures involving throwing my commute time (a delightful 3-3.5hr roundtrip venture a la the L.A. MTA) at the game. From then on I remained chained to a wobbly office chair in my apartment with a cold coffee mug clutched like a lifeline in one hand and a fat cat sprawled across my numb legs until December.
So, let's say, 2 months of dabbling with system text, 1 month of fierce determination, and 7 months of "oh-sh*t-oh-sh*t-oh-sh*t."
Aside from the sheer size of the game, TitS
presented other unique challenges. Tom will expand upon that.
: The Legend of Heroes
series, in general, contains THE most difficult Japanese I've ever encountered in my (relatively) long history of playing import RPGs. Playing these games without a kanji dictionary on hand generally means your fluency is as good or better than that of most native Japanese college students, and understanding every line of text typically means that you're intimately familiar with Japanese slang and colloquialisms, as well as accents and speech patterns from virtually every corner of the country, and from almost any time in history.
That's not ALWAYS the case, of course. I mean, there are plenty of very straight-forward conversations in these games â because honestly, who would want to read 1.5 million characters of archaic southern drawl using big sciencey words? But there are invariably enough difficult sections in any LoH
title that if your Japanese is NOT up to snuff, you're probably going to miss some VERY important details.
And as you might imagine, that makes life a lot harder for the people translating these games than it would for, say, an Ys
Jess asked me to find an example of this game at its most lingually insane, and after a bit of searching, I think I succeeded. So I'll leave you with this line â UNTRANSLATED â just to give you an idea of how hard the Japanese in these games can get. If you can translate this line without breaking a sweat, then congratulations... you're probably Japanese!
"The introduction of orbal technology to the manual industry increased production without leading to a consolidation of the workforce, and allowed outdated worker unions to commercialize and thereby erect a framework which supplied the market with a stable flow of diverse goods."
MAC: How hard was it to focus on giving the game the spark it needs with all the translating and editing that had to be done? Do you feel like you've succeeded with Trails?
Jess: It's definitely hard to give spark or a bit of personal touch when you're pressed for time. It's doubly hard when you have hundreds of extraneous NPCs all clamoring to make inane statements about the weather. However, my home is blessed with a rather large coffee maker, and I (mostly) found the energy to ensure that the text has all the humor, drama and sense of adventure that was present in the Japanese version.
Some of that text had to be cajoled, taunted and threatened into shape, while other bits minded their own business and said just fine what needed to be said. Hopefully, with the help of the translators, Ken (a conscripted QA squid that played and checked in-game text) and long-suffering Tom, I was able to cobble everything together all right and your experience will be one of unparalleled joy. Well, actually, as long as you just titter a bit about some of the more beloved lines in the game I'll be happy.
MAC: The average gamer might not know the real difference between XSEED's Trails in the Sky, which was developed completely by Falcom, and the older Legends of Heroes PSP titles that were merely second hand ports of Falcom games. Any more details you'd like to share about why those who didn't care for those should not be scared away from Trails, how accessible it is to newcomers, etc.?
: This is a great question, and one I was hoping you'd ask!
First, let's go over what's similar here. The Legend of Heroes
games, for the most part, are travel stories. They usually take place on one single continent, and involve two characters (who've known each other practically all of their lives) setting off to walk the entire length of the continent on foot, generally in search of someone. Along the way they meet a great many people, befriend lots of townsfolk, and save more than a few days, culminating in some epic finale that ensures their names will go down in history, and from which they will emerge as better human beings. The series title, "The Legend of Heroes," is actually quite apt, as the main characters of each game invariably end up becoming part of something much larger than themselves, cementing their names as folk heroes in their own time.
This is true of the previous Legend of Heroes
games on PSP, known as the "Gagharv Trilogy," and it's just as true of Trails in the Sky
. It's pretty much the Legend of Heroes
formula... and it works. They're epic stories of travel and growth, celebrating the versatility and tenacity of the human spirit.
The problem is, unlike the Ys
games â which typically contain just enough story to justify their amazing gameplay â the Legend of Heroes
games, you could say, contain just enough gameplay to justify their amazing stories. Most of your time in any LoH
title will be spent advancing story scenes and talking to townsfolk... which means you'd better have a DAMN GOOD LOCALIZATION, or the real meat of the game is pretty much spoiled.
Localization aside, though, the PSP Gagharv games were also quite heavily modified from their original Japanese PC versions. Believe it or not, the original games had battle systems that borrowed more than a little from the real-time strategy genre! Imagine a standard JRPG with random RTS battles, and you'll have some idea of how the Gagharv games originally played. The PSP versions completely retooled this battle system, and the end result was unabashedly generic, doing absolutely nothing to stand out from the pack.
Trails in the Sky
, on the other hand, has a completely new battle system that's actually quite deep and strategic. It's a big improvement over the original RTS system of the Gagharv games, and an even BIGGER improvement over the generic strategy battles of the PSP versions. Trails
is also much less linear, offering a bevy of side-quests and optional dungeons not just at the end of the game, but throughout its entire length. It's basically Falcom reinventing the wheel â or reinventing the Legend of Heroes
It strikes a nice balance between hardcore and accessible, and as long as you don't mind a game that's about 70% narrative and 30% action, I guarantee you'll be hooked. Heck, all of Japan is pretty hooked, so this game HAS to be doing SOMETHING right, no?
MAC: We have to wonder, with all the work going into localizing Trails in the Sky and other titles that Falcom also released on PC such as Ys: The Oath in Felghana, is there any plans to try and double dip by releasing these on PC?
Ken Berry (Evil Business Troll): That does seem like a logical choice, especially since Falcom fans that don't own a PSP have been asking for the PC releases. We would love to support the PC fans and the platform in general, so we will continue to discuss with Falcom on the possibility of making it happen sometime in the future.
MAC: I have to ask, what is the outlook for the completion of the series? The next PSP is just around the corner, and while it will play PSP games from PSN, Falcom wasn't able to get the second chapter of Sora no Kiseki on there because it was two UMDs. How worried should we be that we might only get a third of the series?
Ken: We got into the project with the full intention of publishing the entire trilogy, and we've even recorded the English voices for all three games together already. Those are some interesting challenges that you bring up as the UMD media that we need in order to publish the next one could be practically non-existent by the time it would be ready, but we've overcome challenges before with this project and will continue to do so in the future. When we first signed on the series, there was no rational reason to think that we could get the first game out by our original goal of March 2011, but somehow our team got it done.
MAC: There are other Falcom titles out there such as Brandish or Zwei!!? We don't see anything else on the upcoming list for XSEED, so we want to know what's around the corner. Any hints?
Ken: Falcom has such a great library of titles that have never been released in the US to draw from, we would frankly be happy with anything they let us work on. In terms of giving a hint on which title we may pursue next, well, I wouldn't want to wield too much influence over the rest of our team here by flaunting a title by name.
RPGamer would like to thank Jess, Tom, Ken, and the whole XSEED team for answering our questions about Trails in the Sky. Keep a lookout for The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, as it is scheduled to hit stores in March. For now, RPGamers can pick up Ys Seven, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and Ys I & II Chronicles to quench that Falcom hunger until you can get your hands on TitS.