Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Interview with NIS America

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While the Danganronpa franchise has had a minor presence in the West thanks to fans taking it upon themselves to translate the series and most recently an anime of the first game was also released, the title has never seen an official release in the West. That all changed when NIS America announced that they were planning to bring the first game in the series’ enhanced Vita version, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, to North America in early 2014. We had a chance to ask NIS America some questions about the title and David Alanzo, the Marketing Coordinator, and Phoenix Spaulding, the localization editor for the game, took some time to answer them.

For those who may not be familiar with the Danganronpa series, can you tell us a little bit about the game to start off?

DA: Sure! Danganronpa is a visual novel game that has similar investigative gameplay to the Ace Attorney series, with a dash of 999 and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward storytelling thrown in. The basic premise is you’re an average kid who’s somehow managed to get into the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy in which everyone is the best at what they do – there’s the Ultimate Pop Sensation, Ultimate Baseball Star, and others. On your first day of school, you all are locked in by a black and white robotic bear calling himself Monokuma who tells you the only way out is to murder a classmate and get away with it. However, if the others find out who the murderer is, that person is sentenced to death. Your job is to investigate each case and unmask the killers during the class trial!

The localization announcement for Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc came right on the heels of the debut episode of Danganronpa: The Animation. Was this planned or just convenient timing?

DA: We actually got lucky with the timing of our announcement. It’s great to see how excited people are about the anime, which was inspired by the game.

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What led to the decision to only bring over the first half of the Danganronpa Vita remake instead of the full compilation all at once?

DA: As a publisher of mostly JRPGs and strategy RPGs, this type of game is new territory for us so we wanted to test the waters by seeing how well the first title would do. Judging from the reception it’s gotten so far, it looks like people are definitely excited about it, and we’d certainly be interested in publishing the second Danganronpa if given the opportunity.

Since this is the enhanced version of the original PSP game, besides visual upgrades are there any other new features included in this version of the game?

DA: On top of the updated visuals, Trigger Happy Havoc has included touchscreen functionality throughout the game, allowing for more interactive approaches to investigating and the trial mini-games. There is also a “new game plus” feature that is completely different from the main game, but I don’t want to give away too much about that…

A few of Spike Chunsoft’s games have been brought over to North America in the past, but Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the first title to receive an M rating by the ESRB. Is anything being cut or altered in the Western version of the title because of this?

DA: We wanted to keep true to the dark and almost hopeless atmosphere of the game, so we did not cut anything. All of the murderous cutscenes are intact, and we’ve tried to stick to the vernacular of high school – a world in which language is not always one of grace and poise.

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Along those lines, I’ve noticed that while Monokuma’s name has remained the same, a few minor alterations are already apparent in some of the assets released for the series, such as the students being called ‘Ultimate’ and Hifumi Yamada’s title change. Since Danganronpa has been given a fair amount of exposure in the West already through the anime, should fans expect a number of other alterations such as this?

PS: We always talk about our process as one of localization rather than translation. We work hard to express the spirit of the original Japanese, and sometimes approaching translations literally gets in the way of that. There are some fans who already have ideas about how things should be translated or phrased, thanks to fan translations, the anime, and other materials, but our choices are based on what we think best reflects the characters and setting within the context of the game itself. We didn’t refer to any materials other than the original Japanese text for our translation, and so it’s inevitable that our version might differ from others out there. Regardless, we think if players go into it with an open mind, they’ll be pleased with the final results.

There have been a lot of text heavy games from NIS America in the past, but since this game is more of a puzzle/visual novel, how does this compare to some of the past titles you’ve had to work on?

PS: Just like any other title, it had its ups and downs. One nice thing about it is that each chapter is (for the most part) pretty self-contained, so that once a case would resolve itself, there was some time where things were pretty straightforward and easy to deal with. On the flipside of that, since it is a mystery, the details of each case (and the overarching plot) are incredibly important, so a lot of time was spent making sure all those details were clear when they needed to be clear, and vague when they needed to be vague.

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Speaking of that, how does the localization process of a game such as this unfold?

PS: That’s really a whole other interview in and of itself, but the core process was the same as any other game. We start by playing through the game itself, getting a sense of the gameplay, presentation, visual style, and so on. From there we start translating and editing the script files and preparing for voice recording. Once we finish all that, we send everything to the developer in Japan, then they insert it all into the game and send us our first debug build. From there comes the long process of quality assurance, where we play through the game looking for whatever issues might pop up. In the case of Danganronpa, particular attention was paid to making sure the edited dialogue was giving the player the proper information at the right time, and not revealing too much or too little.

Currently Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is set to be released in North America on February 11, 2014 and in Europe on February 14, 2014. The game will be available both physically and digitally and a limited edition version of the title is still available through NIS America’s online store.

We’d like to say special thanks to NIS America and especially to David Alanzo and Phoenix Spaulding for taking the time to answer our questions and for this opportunity.

After playing games since a young age and getting into anime a bit later on its been time to write about a little bit of everything.

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