Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Interview with XSEED Games - Corpse Party

I would like to start with a warm welcome to our friends at XSEED Games and thank them for talking with us here at Pocket Console. Enough with the pleasantries, let's jump right into Corpse Party.

Reading some forum discussion, it looks like this localization was almost a happy accident with Tom playing the demo on a whim, loving it and slowly spreading the love for the game through the rest of the staff like the zombie apocalypse. How hesitant or sceptical were people when first approached about this title?

Jimmy Soga (Product Manager, XSEED): Well, since Tom has nothing but good things to say about this title, let me answer this one. Frankly, we were very skeptical at first. Tom usually falls in love with "interesting" titles that would be nice to bring over, but would be a sales nightmare. However, as we all started to play Corpse Party, we were sucked in by its uniqueness. The gameplay, characters and story were much deeper than we expected. I'm not much of a horror gamer per se, but as horrible as the deaths were, I still wanted to keep playing for more. I was especially blown away by the binaural recording technique they used to create a 3D soundscape when wearing headphones, and felt it made a big difference in the gameplay. I think that's what really sold me.

I've seen Tom describe Corpse Party as an RPG without battles. Could you go into a little more detail about exactly what the gameplay entails?

Tom Lipschultz (Localization Lead, XSEED): Think of it kind of like a point-and-click adventure game, except instead of moving a mouse cursor around, you move your characters directly. Want to go through a door? Walk up to it and press the X button. Want to check a shelf, or examine a dead body? Walk up to it and press the X button. Kind of like the recent Telltale Back to the Future games, or the Konami title Shadow of Destiny (Shadow of Memories in Japan and PAL regions).

What's kind of unique about Corpse Party, though, is that your decisions determine exactly how the story progresses. Which may not sound very unique, but in Corpse Party, the mere act of choosing to enter a room, read a journal or examine a particular object can lead you on a path toward gruesome demise. You're almost always given fair warning that this will happen... but the game makes a point of preying on your morbid curiosity. Even if you know you're going to die, you still really, really want to read that journal, or enter that room, just to see how. It's quite insidious!

The scariest moments, though, are when you're being chased. It doesn't happen super-duper often, but when it does, it really gets your adrenaline pumping. Especially when your pursuer is right behind you and, suddenly, the floor in front of your feet falls away. If those scenes don't make you break a cold sweat, then I can't imagine what will!

Are there scenes or content that is having to be tamed down from the original Japanese? Anything questionable or that doesn't translate well?

Tom: We don't make it a habit to change things in our games, and this is no exception. Corpse Party features nearly unequalled brutality and gore, as well as some mild nudity and bizarrely disturbing fetishism, and every last bit of it is staying put for the English release of the game.

I mean, don't get me wrong, there's a LOT of questionable content in Corpse Party... but fortunately, it all translates just fine. Even the most hardened Japanese gamer would find the majority of these scenes just as questionable as anyone from the English-speaking world!

You've mentioned that there are many different ways to die in the game? Do these deaths play into the overall story (a la Heavy Rain) where a character dies and the game continues or are they just different ways to reach the end earlier?

Tom: It's sort of a mixture of the two, actually. Most of these death scenes lead to a "Wrong End" screen immediately after one or more of your characters' blood and guts have been used to redecorate the hallways, and that's that. But sometimes, after you make a wrong decision, horrible things will happen, and you'll know you screwed something up... but the game will continue anyway, occasionally for upwards of an hour or longer, before even more horrible things occur and finally trigger the "Wrong End" screen to appear.

What's really interesting, though, is that one of these "Wrong End" situations actually leads directly into the sequel, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows. It's kind of like Shadow Hearts in that regard, where a bad ending turns out to be canonical, while the good endings serve more as alternate conclusions to the story.

How deep are these characters? Is there a main protagonist or is it a group you jump between?

Tom: Interestingly enough, the Japanese version of the game really, really wants you to believe that Satoshi Mochida is the story's protagonist, repeating that statement both in the manual and in-game. But the fact is... he's not! You don't even get to play as him for a rather long time after you begin, and his role in the story is no more important than anyone else's. Corpse Party has no one particular protagonist – it stars an ensemble cast of nine characters (and a good dozen or so extremely important side characters), and I'd argue that anywhere between four and six of them deserve to share the "protagonist" label. Saying Satoshi is this game's protagonist is kind of like saying Terra is the protagonist of Final Fantasy VI... which is why the English version of Corpse Party no longer makes that claim.

As for the depth of the characters, I actually think that's one of the best parts of Corpse Party. These characters honestly feel like totally normal, unremarkable students (plus one teacher), riddled with problems and personality flaws and foibles and bad habits... but not a single one of them is an "everyman" or "everywoman." They're all very distinctive, all either likable or unlikable (or some mixture of the two), and all important to the story without being labeled as "the heroes who must save the land" or anything like that. They're weak and imperfect, but as a result, they're extremely identifiable, and you really find yourself developing emotional attachments to them. Their pain is your pain, and when they die, you'll find yourself either feeling legitimately upset, or – in some cases – disturbingly gleeful.

Granted, some of the characters don't get nearly as much screen time as others, but even the one-shot side characters are distinctive and relatable.

Is this the first game completely translated and edited in-house by XSEED? How has that been handling both duties?

Tom: No, XSEED's definitely done that plenty of times before. In fact, many of XSEED's most highly-regarded titles – games like Half-Minute Hero, Retro Game Challenge and Little King's Story – were fully translated and edited in-house.

I don't even think this is the first time XSEED has entrusted one single person to handle translation and editing alike – but it's probably only the second or third, as we definitely don't make a habit of that. It's a pretty big honor, though, either way... and to be quite honest, I had an absolute blast with it! ;)

But please, don't think this means Corpse Party's localization wasn't taken seriously by the rest of the company! I had plenty of help from my coworkers along the way, and the game's script still has a whole QA process to go through, so this is certainly not a one-man show. We take pride in our work here, and nothing's going to get published with our name on it until multiple eyes have checked it from top to bottom.

It's often been sited in interviews that certain games have been passed on for localization because "X game wasn't right for North America," so what makes Corpse Party different?

Jimmy: The gameplay, graphics and game setting were all indeed things that needed heavy consideration as to their appropriateness for the US market, but as Tom and I mentioned, the game is very deep, and once you play it you'll get totally engrossed. From a sales point of view, to be completely honest, we were able to justify bringing over this title due to the fact that it's going to be PSN only.

I imagine that you would have loved to release a full UMD version complete with special bonuses, but I completely understand the financials as to why this one had to be a digital download-only release. At least this way, Vita owners can still enjoy this one in the future. What are your thoughts on the future of digital-only releases? Are we going to see more "risky" titles thanks to this? Do you feel they harm the retail release front?

Tom: I used to be one of those people who said, "if it's digital-only, I'm not buying it!"... but recently, I realized that that's basically just depriving myself of fun and depriving companies I like of the money to keep on releasing the sorts of smaller titles I love playing. So I smacked myself around a little, bought a few PSN and Wiiware titles to make reparations, and have never looked back since!

So yeah, digital-only really is the way to go for a lot of these riskier titles, and I think we're definitely going to start seeing a lot more indie and small-time Japanese gems making their way to the western world as a result of the omnipresent availability of PSN, XBLA, Wiiware, DSiWare, etc. The lack of a box and manual is unfortunate, but the lack of the game itself, in English would be a far worse fate.

And no, I don't think it's going to harm the retail release front one bit. Bigger titles with more potential for profit will always get boxed releases, I believe, simply because they'll be visible to so many more people that way. Until the day comes when no one bothers leaving their houses anymore, and everyone does every last bit of their shopping online, I can't imagine packaged goods ever dying out.

I'm the resident PSP fanboy here, so I'm thrilled to have anything new on the PSP. Have you had any tough luck situations with attempts to localize other PSP titles? Maybe dealings that have fallen through for whatever reason (retailers refusing to stock, problems getting licensing, etc.)?

Tom: Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately, none of us can really go into any detail, both for the sake of our NDAs and because we don't want to burn any bridges. But if those obstacles weren't in our way, let me tell you, we'd have endless stories of licenses that fell through for the stupidest, most asinine of reasons – not just on the PSP, but on virtually every current platform! Games that we tried really, really hard to get, but just couldn't.

It's an unfortunate truth of the industry: You can't always get what you want. But sometimes...you get what you need!

With the PSP slowly fading in North America, it is getting more and more challenging to release games here. We're glad to see titles like Corpse Party and Grand Knights History get released. Are these likely to be part of the PSP's send off?

Tom: I hope not! I really love my PSP. My collection of games for it is pretty staggering – I believe I own over 80 games on UMD alone, to say nothing of all the PS1 classics and PSN downloads I've amassed over the years – but there are still sooooo many great PSP games stuck in Japan, and I'm hoping we'll eventually have the opportunity to bring every last one of them to the western world.

Either way, I think it's far too early to call Corpse Party or Grand Knights History part of the PSP's sendoff. It's still got a long life ahead of it, and a lot of potential for great releases.

One last question. Any hope for future 3DS or Vita titles? I know everyone's already clamoring for XSEED to pick up Ys Celceta: Sea of Trees for Vita, so I'm sure this isn't the first time you've been asked this.

Tom: We're definitely interested in both platforms, particularly the Vita. Really, we go wherever the winds take us... but you can pretty much count on seeing the XSEED logo on 3DS and Vita games in the future.

And that's all. Thanks again to Jimmy and Tom from XSEED Games for talking with us about Corpse Party, coming digitally to PSP's this fall.

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