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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Gaming Localisation: Think and Act Locally or Globally?

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Or...universally?

At the tail-end of 2019 I was asked by KoopaTV reader ShinyGirafarig (on our requests page that has so many comments that direct links to comments don't even work anymore—though writing comments themselves still work):
“When localizing games, should localizers change the location to help players feel more connected to the lore of the game as the Ace Attorney series did changing the location in Japan to California or should localizers keep countries of origins in game like how "The World Ends with You" kept its Japanese location which may allow foreign players to get more familiar with other cultures?” 

And for almost half a year I've been wondering why anyone would ask that question of KoopaTV, which is ran by people who don't even reside on Earth. I decided I'd finally attempt to answer the request, but with that disclaimer up front.

(By the way, even if I don't reside on Earth, there is cross-universe travel, and I dunno what she's talking about with games and stuff. I visited Phoenix Wright in California! In-person! Nothing to do with Japan.)

Earth-based game makers shouldn't make games based on Earth.

...That sentence is basically a word-palindrome, which should please ShinyGirafarig. It's also my view!

Neku Sakuraba Kingdom Hearts 3D Traverse Town introduction
See? Neku Sakuraba is doing sort of just fine in Traverse Town.
Which isn't based on Earth, unlike Shibuya in Tokyo.

Why can't everything end up being a “fantasy” (meaning non-Earth; obviously the Mushroom Kingdom is a real place to me and many other people, but not to an Earthling) place? It'd make things easier, wouldn't it?

Besides my own existence, here's a real example to consider: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward half-assed it there. There is the fictional, not-actually-on-Earth country of Urzikstan. Simultaneously, it interacts with the non-fictional, is-actually-on-Earth country of Russia. ...Or I guess Russia interacted with it and bombed a highway, which real-Russians were upset with because it was a very similar situation to a historical event where Russia definitely did not bomb a highway with the same name.

At the time, I wrote, “Infinity Ward should either choose between no fiction or all fiction, but doing this hybrid approach is the worst of every world.” But in this article I'm saying to screw the “no fiction.” And perhaps I should clarify that. Certainly, non-fiction games should exist. Games can be a key tool to inform (be it actual history or blatant propaganda) people of what has happened in history, and can allow for education and learning far better than other forms of media.

But I find “let's have it take place in Japan just to be cool” idea to be... lazy. Lazy writing and lazy world-building. Place that is suspiciously parallel to Japan? Sure. Literally Tokyo? Not a fan.

(So screw Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I'd rather have a game take place in Fódlan.)

That said, if the point of the game is that it takes place in Tokyo (The World Ends with You)... Then, yes, the setting should be Tokyo for players in both Japan and North America. (And everyone else, too.)

Neku Sakuraba Kingdom Hearts 3D guy in the black coat send me home Traverse Town
...Oh. He wants to go back to Tokyo.
(Which'd be somewhere else if another localiser was in charge.)
Well, Neku is a loser Player anyway.

If players can handle learning about fictional locations, they presumably are able to learn about and understand real-but-foreign locations, and fictionalised representations of real locations. For me, almost every game I play takes place in a setting that isn't my own, and I can adapt and handle that just fine. By the way, as far as I can tell, people who live in the United States but not California would find California as bizarre and foreign as Japan. Weird state, man.

Ludwig thinks he answered the request's question, though it's probably controversial to Earth-residing humans. So be it. In any case, what do you think about the question and Ludwig's response? What would YOUR response be? There's a comments section attached to this article, and you're welcome to comment on it! (And it's small enough that it won't behave in a glitchy manner.)


  1. I agree that if a game is supposed to take place in a real location, that shouldn't be changed in localization. It's caused all sorts of weirdness for Ace Attorney, and there's no need for it.

    However, I don't understand your distinction between Tokyo Mirage Sessions and The World Ends With You. Why is it okay for one of those to be set in a real-world city but not the other?

    1. Mmm, you misunderstood.
      It's more of...

      Fictional country (Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Kingdom Hearts) > Game in Earth country that keeps it in that Earth country across localisation (Tokyo Mirage Sessions and The World Ends With You) > Game in Earth country that changes the location on localisation

      There's no distinction, I just bullied Tokyo Mirage Sessions because I could compare it to a game in the same series that did it the way I like it more.

    2. Oh, I see... it sounded to me as though you were saying Tokyo Mirage Sessions is set in Tokyo just to be cool, while The World Ends With You is set in Tokyo for a reason.

    3. I don't know, I like both approaches. I love fantasy worlds, but there's something neat about seeing a real world location in a game, too, especially when it's a fantasy or horror game that plays on the idea of there being these fantastic elements alongside the real world setting.

      How do you feel about games set in a place that is very clearly based on a specific real-world place, but given a different name to fictionalize it slightly?

    4. “But I find “let's have it take place in Japan just to be cool” idea to be... lazy. Lazy writing and lazy world-building. Place that is suspiciously parallel to Japan? Sure. Literally Tokyo? Not a fan.” - Me

      See the suspiciously parallel part.

    5. Does "suspiciously parallel" include "literally Tokyo but with a different name"?

    6. Well, how literal is literally? <_<

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Yakuza is set in a fictional district of Tokyo called Kamurocho, but it's so clearly based on the real-life district Kabukicho that some fans who visit Kabukicho can get around without needing a map, because they know its layout from the games.

    9. Well, that would make me feel clever rather than pandered. So I'm fine with that.

    10. Then I still don't understand why you think games set in a particular city do it just to be cool. Does that also include historical games that use real historical settings?

    11. “Certainly, non-fiction games should exist. Games can be a key tool to inform (be it actual history or blatant propaganda) people of what has happened in history, and can allow for education and learning far better than other forms of media.”

      C'mon, I put enough thought into the article to pre-emptively answer those questions. <_<

    12. Then why do you think a game set in a modern-day city only picked that setting to be cool? I'm asking these questions because that part feels contradictory to the rest.

    13. Because they're taking a shortcut.
      It's basically the equivalent of making a licensed game based on a movie or something, except the developer doesn't pay for the licence. Rather than make your own worldbuilding, you're just taking the name of an existing place and being like, "Hey Japanophiles, this takes place in Tokyo! We know you love Tokyo!"

    14. As a writer, I'm baffled that you think setting a story in a real-world city is a shortcut to avoid worldbuilding. I tend to use fictional settings because developing my own worldbuilding is easier than doing all the necessary research to accurately portray a real, existing location.

      Also, I doubt they do it for "Japanophiles" considering the games we were talking about were games made by Japanese developers for a Japanese audience first and foremost. (Games by western developers set in Tokyo might play into that more, but that's the same argument people use to criticize western developers making games with anime-style graphics.)

      This is like saying if I wrote a horror story set in Pittsburgh, that would be a shortcut just to be cool, but if I wrote a horror story set in a nearly identical city called Rittzsburgh, that would be fine.

    15. Don't sell yourself short! I respect and place fictional worldbuilding over using the real existing location, and you should have that self-respect too. ♫
      Your first two paragraphs are slightly contradictory. The necessary research is a lot easier if you already live there.
      ...That said, there's totally varying levels of research. I mean, Bethesda apparently did enough with Fallout 76 in West Virginia that weird Bethesda fans were suddenly touristing the state. (Though I wouldn't consider it a 1:1 recreation.) Probably a different level than people playing a game and being able to navigate a real city.
      (Japanophiles can be Japanese people!)

      Rittzburgh sounds like it could be punny and amazing. There's potential there!

    16. Oh, I'm not putting it down at all. Fictional worldbuilding requires a ton of work.

      ...but so does accurately representing a real-life location. The team making The World Ends With You picked Shibuya (despite concerns that western audiences wouldn't like it) and took photos from rooftops in order to represent it accurately. In fact, there are fans who visit Shibuya to match up in-game locations with the real-world locations.

      Anyway, I just think all are equally valid and interesting settings, and as much as I love fantasy worlds, it's sometimes exciting to realize a game is set in an actual real place.

    17. Alright, go take the easy route and say they're all equally valid in their own way. >.>

      I'm sure the developers on the team would prefer the option involving taking field trips, though!


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