Nintendo World Report presses the masterminds behind the new Ace Attorney game about the game’s new mechanics, gameplay balance, and the writing and localization processes. No objections.
The transcription of this interview has been edited for clarity. Videography by Jared Rosenberg.
During E3 2016 Nintendo World Report was fortunate enough to sit down with three of the masterminds behind Capcom’s upcoming Ace Attorney game for Nintendo 3DS, Mr. Motohide Eshiro, Mr. Takeshi Yamazaki, and Ms. Janet Hsu. Ms. Hsu did double duty during this interview, both translating for her colleagues and sharing her own experiences as the localization director for the game. All three worked on prior entries in the series, including Dual Destinies.
NWR: Hello, this is Michael Cole with Nintendo World Report, and I’m here with several members of the team for the new Ace Attorney game, Spirit of Justice. Could you please introduce yourselves and, briefly, your roles on the project?
Janet Hsu: He’s Mr. [Motohide] Eshiro. He’s the producer on Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice. And this is Mr. [Takeshi] Yamazaki. He’s the director of Spirit of Justice. And my name is Janet Hsu and I’m the localization director of Spirit of Justice.
NWR: Can you discuss a little bit about the general approach you take when creating an Ace Attorney game? Story arcs, and how you organize the different chapters of a game?
Takeshi Yamazaki: So the basic concept of the game, Ace Attorney, is interesting turnabouts. So before we get to the turnabouts, first we decide on how many episodes we want in this game. Then we’ll decide the content of each of these episodes, so for this episode we’ll decide we want it to be about X-Y-Z. With each episode, we have to decide: Is this interesting as a concept? Would this make for an interesting mystery, and is this going to actually be engaging enough for the player? Once we decide on a concept that we think is interesting enough, then we’ll start to outline and flesh out the story. And then, of course, because it’s got to have a lot of turnabouts, then we decide how we’re going to implement different tricks and how we’re going to keep changing the situation up on the player. That’s sort of the background that we use to build the scenario.
NWR: In Dual Destinies you introduced the mechanism of rotating heroes. I’m curious [as to] what opportunities that structure provide you as a development team when you’re writing the stories or shaking things up?
Motohide Eshiro: So you mentioned Dual Destinies, and in Dual Destinies there were three playable characters, but we still consider the main character—the protagonist—to be Phoenix in that game. Obviously Apollo and Athena had big roles in that game as well, but the main player we were focused on was Phoenix.
Takeshi Yamazaki: In terms of what you were asking about what we could do because we have these different playable characters…. One of the interesting things was that because they are different personalities and because they’re at different points in their professional careers… For example, Phoenix, he’s really mature, he’s this mentor now, he’s basically a super-lawyer, [so] we were able to give him a much more difficult task. He can go to this foreign country and try to do different things in this country, whereas Apollo is kind of still in his starting-out phase. He’s not completely a new guy, but he’s not really [at] that super level like Phoenix.
NWR: A journeyman.
Janet Hsu: Right, as an attorney.
Takeshi Yamazaki: So we can write a story where it’s more built around his growth as a lawyer. And then with Athena, she starts out in Ace Attorney 5 especially (Dual Destinies) as literally the newest person in the office. So we were able to give her her own unique storyline as well and have her start from that unique position of being the youngest person in the office and the newest person in the office.
NWR: This new game introduces the séance mechanic. How do you feel it is similar to or different from the other riffs on the cross-examination process from the other games?
Takeshi Yamazaki: In terms of how different it is, it’s completely different from cross-examinations we’ve had before. Before, there was somebody’s testimony and then you had to find a contradiction with a piece of evidence. This time, the basis of the divination séances is that the royal priestess, Rayfa, she calls the spirit of the dead to her and then she’s able to show what that person experienced, so it’s a vision of what that person experienced in the last moments of their life. In the game we represent that with footage that plays over time of what the victim experienced, and then Rayfa will take that vision and she’ll interpret it. In her interpretations, which we call insights, there is the possibility of mistakes or inconsistencies, things like that. One of the interesting things is [that] because the person’s dead you can’t press them. In regular cross-examinations you can press the witness [to get] more information. This time it’s up to you to really take a good look at the vision and see what the victim experienced—it’s not just the sight, it’s also sounds, it’s smells, it’s touch…all five sensations—and really pay attention, hone in on it. If you’re seeing letters getting bigger or smaller, maybe that means something. If you see where it’s positioned, that might mean something. It’s up to you as a player to figure out what the vision is actually trying to tell you, and then compare that with what Rayfa interprets it to mean. If you see a contradiction there then you can point it out and say, “Wait a minute, Rayfa, I think you’re a little bit off, this is what actually happened!”
NWR: I played the demo and one thing that struck me was that you really had to align two different things and line things up, and see if this makes sense with that. It makes you think a little differently from before.
Motohide Eshiro: As you said, it takes a lot of different types of thinking. But because also there’s so much going on—you have the video playing, and then you have the different insights—we’ve designed it so that the user interface is really easy to use and it’s forgiving for what you need it to do. For example, if you need to pause the video because you’re like, “This is way too much going on!” you can pause the video, that’s okay! And then you can take your time and look at the insights. Or you can even jump to different parts of the video because we have five different panels and we split the video into parts, and you can jump to each individual part whenever you’d like. It hopefully causes less stress for the player in that you can jump to any location or stop the video or start it whenever you would like.
NWR: The demo focused on, of course, the courtroom, but I wanted to ask a little bit about the exploration part of the game. In Dual Destinies, I felt, the focus was more on the story, and there was a little less on the exploration. And that’s good because you’re not going to get lost, but it’s also just a different focus than previous Ace Attorney games. What is your philosophy on the right amount of exploration in an Ace Attorney game?
Motohide Eshiro So for Dual Destinies we had thought about streamlining it in the sense that a lot of people like the court sections. So we were thinking, okay, let’s have the 3D examination areas where you investigate the crime scene and pick up the evidence and clues and stuff that you need, but let’s move it along so you can get to the real meat of the game. But after we released Dual Destinies we got a lot of feedback from a lot of fans saying, “We miss the investigations, we miss being getting to examine all the little things, reading all the character banter and stuff.” So with this game we went back and rethought about it decided we would implement all of these little places where you can examine again. In this game it’s like all the previous games where you can go through and click on all these little things and get all the amusing little dialogues from everyone. So the demo you played today, unfortunately, is only the court [scene], so you can’t see it for yourself, but when you play the main game, on the second episode onward, you’ll definitely be able to see all these different locations and get those little bits.
NWR: One of my favorite things about Ace Attorney is when you’re exploring, and even in the courtroom scenes, presenting evidence or pictures that aren’t really relevant but they’re funny responses. When in the development do you introduce those pieces, and is it a collaborative effort amongst the team?
Takeshi Yamazaki: Basically what we do is we write the main bulk of the story. So for each episode we write the skeleton and then the bulk around it, how the trick works, everything like that. Then we start focusing on the subtext, as we call it. So they’re the messages when you fail, or when you present something that seems kind of irrelevant, things like that. That’s when those get written. And usually in the dev tem, one of the rules [we] have for when [we] write Ace Attorney games is that if you’re going to write subtext, it either has to be something that gives new information to the player or has to be something really, really funny and interesting. It should never be something where the player feels, like, “I just wasted my time reading this text!” It has to be something where the player’s getting something from it. With that in mind we always go back and write really funny or interesting pieces of subdialogue.
Additionally, one of the big things with Ace Attorney is obviously the characters. Each character has very unique and very outrageous personalities. One of the important things is to really have a firm grip on the character, their personality, how they would react to things, and what words they would use and things like that. So before [we] even write these subdialogues [we’ll] make sure we understand these characters really well and develop. And then they’ll go through and be like, “If you fail here, what would this character say?” So a lot of this dialogue comes naturally because this is exactly what this character would say. It’s not forced or anything, it fits right with the character that’s already being presented, and it helps bring out that element of the character as well.
NWR: I’d like to talk a little about the localization process. [This game is coming out] only three months after the Japanese release in the west. Does the translation occur in parallel, and if so, is there any feedback between [Ms. Hsu] and the other members of the team as part of the localization?
Motohide Eshiro: As always we work really hard to release this game as fast as possible. People talk about digital only, but it’s one of the ways we release the game as fast as possible. In terms of releasing it as fast as possible, another thing that we do is we try to localize the game starting as soon as the Japanese scenario is done. As soon as they’re finished writing, we try to start the translation process. And obviously it’s not just translation, there’s still localization involved, there’s inserting all the programming, the scripting, so the characters are animated…. And so there’s all of these steps in between.
Janet Hsu: And so what we do is we start the translation and as we’re doing the translation, since I literally sit right next to them, I confer with them all the time to clarify is this what it really means, is this what the character should really be like…. I do a lot of that stuff back and forth with them as well. We try to get the localized version to be as close as possible as an experience to the Japanese version. So even though it’s localized and culturalized a little bit, the experience that an end user gets should be the same as the Japanese.
NWR: It seems like the Ace Attorney series can be very difficult to localize because sometimes there’s puns or dual meaning behind a word that is the crux of a case, even. How do you work together to make sure it works just as well in English as in Japanese?
(Ms. Hsu translates the question, and then Mr. Eshiro laughs and gestures back to Ms. Hsu)
Janet Hsu: Haha, okay, I’ll just answer this directly, then. As I was saying, I talk with the dev team and I say, “What is the point of this puzzle? What do you hope to get across with this?” Generally, I know right away what they’re trying to get across, but we do discuss things. Also, sometimes there’s restrictions. If I need to localize this, how much can I localize it? Do we have the resources to remake all of these graphics or things like that? There are always time and budget and those kinds of restrictions. There’s a lot of that kind of discussion, and, just, if they’re pun based or wordplay based, it takes a lot of thinking and reworking the dialogue a little bit. Or thinking about different puns that work in English but still get the point across. I don’t want to get spoiler-tastic but there’s some really, really hard ones in my career of Ace Attorney localizing where I was like, “Oh, I don’t know how to do this one but we’ll have to do it somehow!” (laughs)
NWR: Thank you very much for your time!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice was released earlier this month as an eShop exclusive in Japan, and is planned for a September 2016 release in North America and Europe. NWR would once again like to thank Ms. Hsu, Mr. Yamazaki, and Mr. Eshiro for their time, as well as everyone else at Capcom who made this interview possible.