Nov 10, 2010

Tampering with Perfection

Recently I was delighted to find a copy of "Silhouette Mirage" at the local game shop. I hadn't heard too much about the game, but I knew that it was not only a Treasure game, but it was also in some ways the spiritual precursor to Ikagura, having introduced a similar light/dark battle mechanic. Normally I don't buy games that rely heavily on 2D sprites for the PlayStation, especially if they're available on the Saturn...but in this case, I decided to make an exception. I even bought the game with the full knowledge that Working Designs were in charge of the localization. I thought to myself, "How bad could this be? I know they fuck up all of their translations and the dubbing is horrible, but I'm willing to deal with that if it means I get to play a fun game from Treasure." Oh, how woefully naive I was.

When I started playing this title it I was frustrated by the bizarre systems behind the powerups and odd gameplay mechanics. It didn't feel fun and organic, like most Treasure games. The basic concept was great, but progressing through the stages felt unusually tedious. So, I opened the instructions and came across a special message from Working Designs, where they detailed the many "improvements" they made to the game. I'll just let you read from the instruction booklet, and allow you to bathe in their self congratulatory smugness.

Horrified and generally alarmed by this, I hopped online to see just how much had changed from the original version. Did these additions just increase the difficulty? Perhaps they weren't that big of a deal? Sadly, as I read the reviews, it became all too clear that they had completely broken the game.

Gamespot plainly states in their review that "what was once a perfectly fun game is now an unrewarding chore overwrought with tedium."
"The need to drain enemies of their spirit energy is new to the US version and is the single greatest flaw in the game. Not only does this force you to constantly ration firepower, it also weakens your weapons as you fire them. As a result, a weapon will oftentimes not be there when you need it most. Compounding this problem is the inflated cost of weapons. The US version significantly ups the price of the game's weapons, forcing you to beat each and every enemy if you want a half-decent arsenal. As a result, the price for using weapons other than the boring one you start with is precipitously high and will cause some players to opt in favor of simply not buying weapons for most of the game. Additionally, if you want to succeed in the game, expect to spend lots of time tediously robbing and draining every enemy before you kill it."
The always excellent Hardcore Gaming 101 had an equally unforgiving review.
"Ultimately, however, the changes do more harm than good. Most of the weapons drain way too much power to be useful. It also pretty much forces you to drain every enemy before killing them, and potentially you can expend more energy than you replenish. It also forces you to use the weakest weapons in most cases, since that usually expends the least amount of Spirit. Quite simply, the game is already complicated enough trying to deal with the different classes - keeping track of ammo conservation just isn't fun.

Furthermore, Working Designs upped the difficulty by increasing the damage inflicted by enemies, as well as making all of the items in the shops more expensive. The latter solves nothing - having to stop and cash bash enemies to be able afford upgraded weapons and health replenishments was already somewhat tedious in the Japanese release, but this just makes everything worse."

I expected the horrible, grating dubbed voices. I even expected the translation to have virtually no connections to the original story. However, I was willing to deal with those issues in order to enjoy fun 2D platformer with beautiful sprites. What I never expected was that they would attempt to tamper with perfection. I never thought a localizer would get so fucking delusional that they would fundamentally alter the gameplay on a finished title. It's astonishing to me....that this group of translators suddenly decided they were not only on equal footing with Treasure, but that they KNEW BETTER than them, and could improve on their efforts. Working Designs, you are not a game studio. If you were, you'd be releasing original content instead of just pissing all over someone elses games and proudly proclaiming it an improvement.

Listen. When something is licensed and brought to the US, it is already finished. It is a completed work. Done. The creators, the team that put huge amounts of hard work into generating this product, have finished working on it and it's now in your hands. Your job is simply to translate it, that's it. You don't get to add things that you would like to see, because you aren't part of the original team. You aren't a writer. You aren't an animator. You aren't creative. You happen to know several languages. That's it.

I mean, it sure is a good thing Working Designs was able to come along and make this game "more challenging and/or enjoyable"! In the Japanese version, players "merely" got to play a game designed by a real studio, but they sure fixed that!

Thank you Working Designs, for taking a finished game by Treasure, and tampering with it juuuuust enough to render it completely unplayable. Hey, why would we all assume Treasure, fucking TREASURE, knows how to make a good game? I mean, it's not like they're a legendary studio with countless hits to their name. It's not like they are renowned for creating gorgeous titles with flawless, finely tuned gameplay that have been captivating players for years. It's not like their games aren't highly sought after, even 15 years after being released. It's not like you didn't ACKNOWLEDGE this in the same instruction manual where you so blatantly proclaim what you fixed. You actually quote Masato Maegawa, the President of Treasure at the time, as saying, "I cannot rank which title is No.1, No.2...this is because I love all my titles in various reasons. Like parents cannot rank own children because they love all their kids."

Do you understand, Working Designs, that by altering this game, you've effectively performed unauthorized surgery on one of Masoto's children? You just went in and tinkered around until you were able to step back with a satisfied grin on your face, declaring that, "Well, this kid was okay before, but Americans like big tits, so we gave him a boob job. Also, he wasn't tall enough, so we just extended those legs by a few inches. Sure, he's too frail to walk on his own without crutches and his center of gravity is way off now, but he's TALLER with BOOBS. We made him BETTER. Man, we are, like, unfathomably awesome in ways the word will just never understand."

I haven't even mentioned the lack of backgrounds and differences in sprite animations. This, at least, I can't fully blame on Working Designs. The PlayStation can't handle 2D like the Saturn can, so I expected a few downgrades. Still...the highway stage feels painfully empty without the doesn't directly affect the game but it really hurts the overall "art" aspect of the title, especially if you're a nerd like me that loves to ogle sprite based games. (The images below were taken from the Hardcore Gaming 101 review.)

As much as I wanted to play and enjoy this game, It looks like I'll be permashelving it.

I should also mention that this kind of editing actually happens all too often in the world of anime dubbing. Some of the most offensive examples are from the two Evangelion films, "Death and Rebirth" and "End of Evangelion." Amanda Winn Lee, a voice actress, was somehow given the role of ADR director and put in charge of the English language dub for both movies. She proceeded to make a myriad of changes and edits to not only the dialogue, but also the soundtrack itself.

Pivotal scenes were altered because she felt they needed to be "improved." Lines of dialogue were added where there were none and some lines were altered to "lighten the mood". Rewrites of several pivotal lines completely changed the meaning and intent of certain scenes. Incredibly, she even added sound effects to certain scenes. Once again, we see the incredible arrogance of someone who feels they have the right, nay, the DUTY to improve upon the the completed collective hard work of skilled artists. Evangelion is an absolute masterpiece, but due to the overblown ego of a few people, the dialogue was altered and everyone who chose to watch it in English experienced a flawed version of the film. Some of the gory details can be found here, along with a critique of her astonishingly disrespectful commentary track, where she gleefully gloats about the changes and alterations that she decided these films needed.

To sum this all up, I will simply leave you with these wise words from anime blogger Evirus:
"The translator, and a dub, should serve to simply address the language barrier, not transform or hijack someone else's original work. The violation is no less obscene than an arrogant high school drama teacher re-writing Shakespeare to "improve" it. Even in theater, where contrasting interpretations are encouraged, the original text cannot be re-written—only cut for length. With film, any differing interpretations should be found only in the impressions of the audience, not in the "vision" of some hack."