Interview: NIS America on Mugen Souls Z
posted on 05.16.14 at 08:00 AM EST by (@Rednal29)
We talk to localization script editor Phoenix Spaulding.

Mugen Souls Z

One of my most anticipated releases of the year is coming out soon, so I sat down with Phoenix Spaulding, a script editor at NIS America, to talk about their upcoming title Mugen Souls Z. Now, this is a franchise that’s sparked a lot of controversy and rumors, so let’s take a look at what really happened and how the fanbase has responded.

Could you briefly introduce the story and gameplay of Mugen Souls Z for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the series?

Spaulding: Sure! Mugen Souls Z is the sequel to Mugen Souls, a goofy, over-the-top strategy RPG. In Mugen Souls Z, you pick up where the first game left off, with undisputed god Chou-Chou and her band of crazy allies onboard their spaceship known as G-Castle. As they travel through the cosmos, they stumble upon 12 beautiful worlds, and Chou-Chou decides that she deserves to own them all. But before she can get too far, Syrma, the ultimate god, shows up and starts causing trouble. So Chou-Chou is forced to team up with Syrma and travel to each world, subduing the other ultimate god that lives there before they can move on to the next area.

For the gameplay, the player will travel to each world and travel around an open field, where you will see enemies roaming the land. If and when you want to jump into a battle, you can run up to one and smack them to initiate a fight. Each battle plays out in a turn-based, open-terrain system. Each character has a certain free-moving range, and a certain attack range which changes based on your weapon and the skill selected. There are tons of different attacks, skills, weapons, subsystems, space battles, creatable characters, dungeons, and crazy bosses, so suffice it to say, you’ll stay busy.

During your live stream of Mugen Souls Z, you mentioned that you’d talked with the various ratings boards (the ESRB, etc.) about some of the objectionable content in the game – namely, the bathing mini-game that both you and Compile Heart ultimately felt it was best to remove for the Western release. The response from the ratings boards, which was that the game would likely get an AO rating, was clearly a major factor in your decision to go ahead with those changes. Do you normally talk to ratings boards and get information about content before submitting a game, or was this actually somewhat unusual for you?

It’s actually a pretty unusual step for us. While a lot of our games contain scenes or elements that you could consider risqué (among other descriptions), it’s rare that a game has something that may actually push it to such a high level. Normally, we don’t worry too much about whether a game will get a “T” versus an “E,” or an “M” versus a “T.” So in those cases we submit as usual without editing for content and follow the rating board’s ruling. It’s only in extreme situations where we would feel the need to get a clear idea of the potential risks beforehand (with this game being one such rare example).

I should also note that it wasn’t solely due to the ESRB’s feedback. We also reached out to the other rating boards across the West – PEGI, OFLC, USK – and based our final decision on feedback from every region.

Whether you agree or disagree with the decision to edit the game, I think the fact that this scene (pictured) is still in the Western release of Mugen Souls Z says a lot about what it takes to make companies want to remove things.

Mugen Souls Z

Another thing you mentioned during the live stream was that games sometimes have character limits for text – and so sometimes you literally cannot fit the best translation of a given line of dialogue into the game. When that happens, is it more common for you to say something else that conveys a similar idea, or do you prefer to completely change it?

In those situations, we try to boil down the core essence of whatever that line is trying to express, and do our best to make sure that idea comes across. Often this means the line doesn’t have as much personality and might read a little functional or awkward, but the most important thing is for that information to be conveyed. Sometimes this takes the form of significantly changing the wording itself to get the idea across better, or removing characterization or humor elements so that the more fundamental idea can come through.

For many serious players, one of the best new features of Mugen Souls Z is the fact that custom peons now have a number of voice options in English – something that was missing from the first game. When we spoke about Danganronpa, we found out that your company usually has a pretty set amount of resources to spend on voice-work, so… considering how many characters are in this game, how did you manage to free up enough of those resources to add these peon voices in?

In general, it really comes down to how the voiced dialogue gets split up. In the case of Mugen Souls Z, we knew we wouldn’t be able to voice everything, so we had to look at what sections could be reduced, what sections could be eliminated, and what sections absolutely had to stay. Once we decided which scenes were core to the story, we totaled up the lines and saw that on average, each actor would have a little bit of extra time for their recording sessions. It wasn’t necessarily enough to add a bunch of additional scenes, but as it turned out, it was enough to fit in some of the random peon voices we weren’t able to do last time. So we basically packed as many of those voices into the last parts of the recording sessions for each actor that we could.

The over-the-top personalities of pretty much everyone in this game seems to fit in well with your company’s style. Which of the new characters was the favorite at your office?

Strangely enough, a lot of people actually like Nao because unlike a lot of the other characters, she’s not especially weird or over-the-top. Her total normal-ness lets her make funny comments and observations about all the crazy stuff going on, so she’s really easy to relate to.

Let’s talk a bit about the battle system. Mugen Souls Z has one of the most complex battle systems I’ve ever seen – and mastering it is pretty much a requirement if you want to get up to truly absurd levels of power. Do you have any tips for new players?

Like you said, it can get pretty complicated. The best advice I can give is just to start simple and not worry too much about getting into the crazier stuff right away. Sure, you can transfer abilities and level up skills and line up Captivates and Blast Offs and Damage Carnivals and all this other crazy stuff, but just start off focusing on basic attacks, understanding the crystal system, and getting a feel for that. Then once you’re confident in the meat and potatoes, you can start adding the carrots and ice cream and…I think I lost control of that metaphor.

Do you have a message for our readers about the game before we head out?

Hopefully everyone gives it a chance! It really does have something for anyone and everyone who’s an RPG fan. All the gameplay has been tweaked and improved from the first game, and there’s so much to do, you definitely won’t be bored. Check it out, and I hope you enjoy! Thanks!

Mugen Souls Z will launch for PlayStation 3 on May 20 in North America and May 23 in Europe.

  • Nice interview, As someone who play JP ver I only have one thing to say: Its way better than the first game. bath minigame or not don’t let that stop you from playing a videogame.

  • ( `Д´)ノ)`ν゜)

    Can’t believe they’re censoring it again after the fiasco with the first game. Either bring it over unaltered or don’t bother with it at all. They deserve all the shitty sales they get with this game again.

    • Manny Being Manny

      Fortunately many fans like myself would rather have the game censored then not at all so they listened to us.

  • Maria Garcia

    i will never buy this game in the west.Thanks nis america for your crappy work

  • MrKappa

    I steer away from games like this when NISA gets their mitts on it because they usually like to just do whatever the hell they like with the translation.
    I understand localization all too well but I don’t like it when some guy thinks it is his job to try and “improve” the original script.

    And though I didn’t see the live stream I would of liked to hear more about this text limit matter.

    • Rednal

      The short version is that there’s a limit to the amount of text characters that can be put into certain places – so they can’t actually fit a straight translation (or a very close approximation) into the dialogue boxes. When that happens, they’re not changing things because they want to so much as they literally have to. Personally, I’m hoping advancements in technology remove that limitation in the future, since it would probably be easier on everyone.

    • PrinceHeir

      Agree.

      I really don’t understand why these localization companies try to change things up instead sticking to the original work.

      There is no “improving” the original script, because the original script wasn’t YOURS to begin with.

      As for the long text, they could always add more bubble text after the sentence, but since they’re not really an actual developer(just locallization company just like other US based companies of JPN companies like Atlus US, Namco US, Konami US etc) it’ll probably be too much work for them.

      In any case, shame about the censored edits. But just buy what you want and if people don’t like it, then they’ll probably won’t buy it.

      • DyLaN

        Let think it like this: Will people understand Japanese 2ch memes better over the English internet memes?

        And then there the cultural stuff and I don’t think including *T/N is available either.

  • Tenshigami

    Thank you for being the only one that sounds like you’ve actually read the article.

    They actually went up to the various ratings boards BEFORE censoring this time and found out if they didn’t it WOULD in fact get an AO, which for a console video game release is effectively a death sentence.

    They heard the voices of those against censorship, and actually bothered to look into whether they could get away with not censoring. They couldn’t. People really should buy this game and any further whining should be directed at the ratings boards at this point.

    • Elvick

      BUT THEY CENSORED IT BECAUSE THEY LIKE TO RUIN OUR GAMES AND TO SPITE THEIR FANS…

      The haters are tedious. NISA wouldn’t censor something just for the sake of it. Not sure why people think that. Hyperbolic nonsense.

      It’s like they forget that games need to get rated.

      • Leon_Tekashi

        I’m gonna say it now, but this story is most likely what happened with Monster Monpiece as well. Sometimes, censorship can’t be avoided, even if they tried really hard…

        • Elvick

          Probably true. I mean, if the publishers are willing to tackle that kind of game to begin with… I’m pretty sure they don’t personally have an issue with what’s in the game. Especially when it’ll still include some stuff many in the west still would view as “inappropriate” (to put it lightly).

          So the only thing that would affect the game is the rating systems the western countries use. You can’t sell an AO game, and I’d be curious if Sony (or MS/Nintendo) would even allow it to be licensed if it were rated that. Seems like it’d be a PR mess to allow an AO game on your system.

          Even if it’s not a “porn game” in reality. Didn’t stop the media from acting like Mass Effect was a sex sim at a time. And that was rated ‘M’.

          It’s a shame, but it’s the reality that we live in.

        • kurbstar

          one of the big men from Xseed came out and said that none of those cards would of had to be censored under his watch

          many of the people who make up IFI came from NISA, so lying and moral crusading is part of their makeup

  • MGDays

    I’ve gotta hand it to NISA, localizing the sequel is a grand show of loyalty to the fans of the first game… All 10 of them.

    • Elvick

      That was unnecessary.

  • Ladius

    I liked the first Mugen Souls and I look forward to the sequel, it doesn’t hurt that it seems to be an improvement over the first game.

    I’m happy NISA managed to find the resources to localize Z despite the first MS’ apparently underwhelming sales (at least as far as the LE is concerned, maybe things were a bit better considering the regular and digital releases).

    • Rednal

      According to the live stream, the sales of the first game were actually fairly good – the idea that it sold “poorly” seems to be more consumer perspective than anything else.

  • BUG

    I thought NISA did pretty good with translations of the first Mugen Souls, they might be talking about some other game when they mentioned changing up the script to match the text limit. They were pretty close to the JP version probably because all the characters in the first game had simple personalities and it didn’t have many cultural references.

    Agreed on peons having English voices is one of the greatest features for serious players and I think it’s also true that Nao is a lot of people’s favorite character because of her normalness compared to the rest.

  • Elvick

    Looking forward to it.

    Great interview as usual. Really enjoy these.

    • Rednal

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! ^^

  • Akimitsu

    I can’t believe people are still making a fuss over the content that was cut, since it looks like the game would get an AO rating, meaning it wouldn’t get released at all. Yeah, censorship sucks, but there are standards in the world and each region has a cultural idea that what is and isn’t right.

    I believe the Hot Spring aspect is still in the game, but the mini-game was removed, so it’s not like the temporary stat buff aspect was completely taken out. I, for one, am happy we are getting these kinds of games, as without companies like NISA, XSEED and the like, we probably would never get a chance at all.

    I may have never played the first game, but I am having a blast playing Mugen Souls Z so far.

    • http://ryuz4ki57inenglish.wordpress.com/ Thomas FROEHLICHER

      Does AO means forbidden to the market?

      • Anime10121

        For a console game, yes.

      • Sevyne

        It kind of does, yes. Getting an AO is basically sending your game out to die.

      • Akimitsu

        I don’t believe Sony would allow the game to be released if it had an AO rating.

      • http://www.psvitadirect.com/ Kurisu Makise

        Brick and mortar stores won’t stock an AO game and I don’t even know if PSN will let you distribute an AO game digitally. Though I imagine even if Sony did let an AO game go through via PSN, there’d be cries that it’s not physical and thus no buy. Can never win it seems.

  • Gustavo

    Screw this censored game, NISA cowards.

    • Ladius

      Pardon me, but have you read the interview? It really doesn’t make sense to insult them, considering they’ve tried to gauge the rating boards’ reactions before making the final decision about the cut contents.

      Obviously you’re free to boycott or avoid anything you want according to your own beliefs, but acting like they censored the game for no reasons or just to annoy their fanbase while ignoring the information they’ve provided is a different thing.

      • Gustavo

        Sorry, I don’t believe in PR lies. They did not submit the game uncensored, so this AO crap is just an excuse.

        • Ladius

          Why should they lie in the first place? They know censorship causes lots of backlash from part of their audience, and If they thought they could avoid an AO rating there would be no reason to cut contents in the first place. According to the interview they got in touch with rating boards and they only acted after receiving their feedback.

          Again, it’s perfectly fine to skip the game if the cut contents make it unworthy in your eyes, but ignoring the information they provided and thinking they are lying without any data to back up that stance makes little sense. You can be against censorship without insulting NISA or assuming they’re lying us.

          • Gustavo

            Because they made a huge mistake. The censoring in Mugen Souls was made only to get a T rating. They thought this Disgaea rip-off could get better sales that way, but the whole thing backfired. So, let’s make the rating boards a scape goat and try to save face.

            Why do you think they never localized Criminal Girls? It’s only fear, plain and simple.

            • Ladius

              It’s entirely possible the cut contents were enough to make the game a candidate for AO even if it would be rated T or M without them, especially considering how those contents concerned a single minigame in both games. The only ones who know the details about MSZ are NISA and the rating boards, and they say they did get in touch before deciding to cut those contents.

              Again, they had every reason to do so since contacting ESRB and the other boards beforehand would avoid creating pointless controversies if the game ended up not needing any cut and, at the same time, would avoid them the cost of a full submission if it ended up needing some cuts and a resubmission to avoid being rated AO.

              Since you continue to claim they’re lying us in order to make the rating boards scapegoats, what information do you have to prove they decided by themselves without contacing said boards? Using MS’s rating or the lack of localization for a completely different game doesn’t really prove anything against the information NISA has given us regarding the reason for the censorship of MS and MSZ or NISA’s dealings with rating boards.

              • Gustavo

                And what proof do you have that they even contacted the ESRB besides their word? You can choose to believe them, I don’t.

                • Rednal

                  Well, I suppose I could just write to the ESRB themselves and ask whether or not it happened… Interviewing them might be a fun change of pace. ^^

                • http://twitter.com/kazumalynx Zero

                  I’m letting the comments you posted stay, I just want to let you know they read very troll like.

                  • Gustavo

                    Thanks. I’m not trolling, that’s really my opinion. And I don’t hate NISA either, only what they done with this series.

                  • Hikari Langley

                    Gustavo has a point, we don’t know if NISA is just lying about the whole censorship issue, and clearly didn’t decide it on their own morals and beliefs.

                    Looking at the Atelier Rorona issue, they clearly do have a base for censoring unnecessary materials.

                    If you don’t know what they did in Rorona. It’s that they aged everyone up for whatever reason and had to “badass” the case up. Because it “totally” attracted pedophilia.

                    • kurbstar

                      wouldn’t be the first time NISA lied. They lied when it came to the Ar Tonelico 2 game-breaking bug, and they are most likely lying about this also, judging by similar material that has passed by the ESRB with zero problem.

                      And now we are beginning to see where NISA has completely failed….PR. Outside of their community composed of loyalists, NISA has little to no trust on the outside thanks to shoddy quality control and low standards.

                      There are quite a few who bite their tongue and put up with NISA just because there are no other options for some games. I would love to see NISA bite the bullet if their projects would be offloaded to other companies, and I am not ashamed to admit that

          • kurbstar

            >Why should they lie in the first place?

            why wouldn’t they, if it gets some people to shut up? It’s not like we can fact-check their statements for authenticity.

        • Sevyne
  • Fernando Garcia

    I think I’ll pass.

  • http://ryuz4ki57inenglish.wordpress.com/ Thomas FROEHLICHER

    If all the coffin scenes are in then it’s ok more or less. Still hurts to pay full price for less content than the original. Now I think about it, they removed the bath mini-game, but are the corresponding illustrations still unlockable in the gallery mode or have they been axed in the process?

    • BUG

      There’s no minigame and it’s associated CGs so that means those CGs can’t be unlocked either.

  • Sevyne

    Well, I can’t hold the censorship against them much this time. They did make an effort.

  • Chestnut Bowl

    I chose to import this instead. It’s a big improvement to the original game. Even if you missed out on the first game, I recommend playing Z… though, if you’re like me when it comes to “editing”, I also recommend you import if you can read or blissfully ignore the language.

    • British_Otaku

      I never got into Mugen Souls mostly as I prefer gaming on portables (though I feel even stronger about censorship), but I do have a PS3.

      I do hear that Mugen Souls Z is a massive improvement but want to know how “good” it is in general, I can probably get past any perverted content but probably won’t stick around for something without good mechanics.
      It sounds more similar to Disgaea than Fire Emblem (I do prefer a sense of risk but Disgaea’s zany nature is plenty fun as well). Does the game have notable amounts of DLC locked from the player?