This is an editorial about NIS America, and how they keep making awful decisions and mistakes in their localizations. In this editorial, I will account for many of their recent failures, and consider whether or not this once beloved publisher is ready to move forward.
How NIS America Has Failed Us, Part One: Sex and Translation
Let me preface this by saying that, even with all the problems I'm about to discuss, there's a part of me that's still thankful for NIS America's work. If it weren't for them, no non-Japanese-speaking person would be playing games like Ar tonelico II, and that would be a real shame. But when you're the only game in town in terms of localization, you owe it to your fanbase to get things right. Well, these days, NIS America is definitely not getting things right. It is the most recent of their games that I have played, so I'm going to give a number of examples specific to Ar tonelico II here, but the problems are not restricted to that game: it is merely the most recent example of a disturbing trend.
Have you seen the advertisements for Ar tonelico (first or second)? For the first game, they said "you never forget your first." For this one, the slogan is "always come back for seconds." Given that they work in an industry that's regularly criticized for the objectification of women, maybe NIS America should take a step back and consider the ethics of their ad campaigns. But really, this is just the start of the mess. Once you pop that game into your PlayStation 2, the suggestive nature just doesn't stop. In fact, if the script editors at NIS America these days had their way with it, what I just said now about inserting a disc into a system would be taken out of context, and into a sexual context. Oh, there I go again! They "had their way" with it, indeed.
Seriously, it's not hard to make sex jokes. But when you inundate the player, it becomes a bit too much. In the case of Ar tonelico II, the original Japanese script was far more subtle than the English version. It wasn't puritanical–it just showed more restraint than a ten-year-old. Seriously–not every long and/or pointy thing needs to be a guaranteed a phallic reference. Yes, we understand: girls have breasts. Tee hee. Gamers vary in the level to which we are comfortable with jokes about mature subject matter, but there comes a point where we all agree that enough is enough. When your game reaches that point in the road and just keeps going, that's no good.
Speaking of immaturity, it seems that NIS' proofreading (if any proofreading was done at all) is now performed by either a ten-year-old or someone with no mastery of the English language. Here's a pro tip, guys: "you're" and "your" are two different words! When you make that same, basic mistake over a dozen times in the first few hours of a game, how am I supposed to react?
In Ar tonelico II, there are full sections of the script that didn't get combed for proper grammatical use: chapters three and four of the Wackyhabara Panic section were skipped entirely, and exist only in a "rough" English. There are even instances in that game where the text is left entirely untranslated. The biggest offender occurs every time a Reyvateil joins Cloche's fan club, which happens dozens of times throughout the game. When this happens, "Cloche!" appears in Katakana on a black screen, in a text window! How could a QA Tester miss that? There's nothing else on the screen they could be paying attention to! It begs the question of whether there were any QA testers at all.
As bad as these problems are, I will admit that they're not as bad as what happened with Chaos Wars last summer. However, given both their size and the general notoriety that NIS America has gained as a "niche publisher," I would expect them to stand up and give us a high quality product.
How NIS America Has Failed Us, Part Two: Glitches
How it is that a publisher/localizer can manage to break elements of a game when all they should be doing is text and audio editing completely baffles me. It's one thing that they claimed to have DTS surround sound for Ar tonelico II's opening credits when they actually threw in the stereo-only audio for the opening cut scene. The series is known for having incredible audio, so that switch is extremely frustrating for the audiophiles (who are likely to be a big segment of Ar tonelico fans), but I can forgive them for that. I really can! It falls into the realm of an audio editing mistake, and is therefore something that falls into their "jurisdiction." But other glitches they're introducing into games that weren't there in the Japanese versions are just too much for me to swallow.
As I mention in my review, one of the final bosses in Ar tonelico II has an attack that's apparently so powerful that it freezes the game. The moment the bit of code runs to say "it's time to use this attack on the player," the game just stops. It happens every time, without fail, and he'll always use it on or before his third turn. Three turns or less to beat one one of the final bosses in a game? That's the kind of bug that makes for unpleasant meetings between controllers and walls.
And here comes the really cute part: NIS America refuses to acknowledge that this glitch is their fault! Even though it doesn't happen in the Japanese version. Of course, this refusal is strategic on their part: if they were to admit that it's a glitch, they'd have to do a disc swap recall at the very least. Doing something like that would guarantee a huge loss of profit, so they give the consumer a shifty answer as to the nature of the glitch, claim it's not their fault, and move on. Pardon my language, but what the hell is going on at NIS America that would make them think that's acceptable?
Ar tonelico II, in particular, is prone to freezing; and as I mentioned above, what really bothers me is that although some of these freezes have been witnessed in the original Japanese release, they seem to have multiplied like a virus in the American release. The mantra of "save early, save often" has never been more true than it is here, as the game sometimes randomly freezes while you're going through a menu or transitioning from a town to the world map.
As you can tell, I have a message for NIS America as a once-beloved publisher. As I mention in my review, if you can look past all the glaring errors in Ar tonelico II's localization, it is a fantastic game. Had the game gone through better localization and quality control, there's no question it would have received the prestigious "editor's choice" award. Localization should never be the thing that ruins a game's chances to win awards.
NIS America, please hear my plea. The issues with Rhapsody DS were enough to get my blood boiling: you cut content, then advertised that you were not cutting content on your web site, and to top it off, you injected another game-breaking bug into that game. That was not good, but I thought that you'd learn your lesson. Apparently, this wasn't the case. You do realize what's happening to you, right? There was another niche JRPG publisher that thrived during the days of the Sega CD and Sony PlayStation. It was a company with a dedicated fanbase–a company that released bonus soundtracks with their games, and who loved to "loosely" translate the scripts to the games. That company is now bankrupt, having published their last game nearly five years ago. There are varying explanations as to what pushed them over the edge, but they all boil down to this: it was quality control that killed them. They lost their credibility with the fans, and sales ultimately declined because they didn't fix the mistakes they continued to make over, and over, and over again. Granted, their mistake wasn't releasing buggy games: it was taking too long to fix them and thus delaying games ad nauseum.
You may not currently be guilty in the all same ways they were (your games have yet to see massive delays, for example), but you are still guilty, and you could still end up like them if you don't clean up your act now. I already hear stories of gamers, including some of those who were formerly your most ardent fans, who have chosen to boycott you because of these repeated incidents. If it happens again with a major release like Sakura Taisen V or Cross Edge, then all bets are off. Consider this your last chance when it comes to this reviewer, someone who has been a huge supporter of your company. And if you really want to impress us, start by reworking Ar tonelico II and giving out free copies of the "fixed" version to purchasers of the original title. Given the nature of a niche industry like this, winning back your disillusioned fans is worth the cost, don't you think?- Patrick Gann