Hey, guys,

This is Brittany, Production Coordinator at XSEED. You might remember me from one of my past blogs regarding the Trails series—not as an editor, but as a staunch supporter from the shadows. Or a rabid, downright unbearable fan, as the actual editors for Trails in the Sky FC, SC, and Trails of Cold Steel might say.

There was a point in Cold Steel’s localization—say, a month or so before voice recording—where the editors at the time realized they wouldn’t be able to finish editing the game and work on 10,000 lines of audio at the same time. Maybe if they chose not to sleep, which I suppose is acceptable, but the company as a whole thought better of that. It was the first time anyone on the team had worked on a game with so many voiced lines, and they were plenty focused on polishing the text in the game before they realized that recording was around the corner. Having plenty of experience working with voiceover (one whole time in the booth for Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven) and a convenient opening in my schedule, I went right to work. We had our E3 2015 early build of Cold Steel sitting around with the raw English translation, so I spent every night after work playing to make sure I had context, then spent much of the day organizing voice files for our recording studio’s convenience.

Now, Lord of Magna had around 1,600 voice files, and they didn’t really require anything special; filters like echoes weren’t required, and “hard limit” audio files—files that are required to be within the exact same time as the Japanese audio—were only the grunts and cries from battles, so it was fairly easy. Trails of Cold Steel? Not so easy.

Before we even get to the point of sorting out voice files, who said what, and all that jazz, I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone: this is Trails. It’s seven games so far, every game connects within two and a half-ish years, and characters from three, four, five games ago love to randomly show up and say their piece. There were close to 60~ characters to record, some big and some small, for Cold Steel, and we had to consider who we already worked with for the 30~ characters throughout the original Trails in the Skygames before my time…or even if those actors were capable of reprising their roles after doing a dozen battle grunts or so five years back.

I also had to consider who was in Cold Steel II, even though we weren’t recording right away (which characters would be returning? Could we justify bringing back some actors if they had fewer lines in the sequel?). Some characters were just prevalent enough throughout the series to deserve their own unique voice even if they were saying 30 lines that could be recorded in 15 minutes in one game. Others, we couldn’t be sure if they were going to ever make a major impact in the series at all.

To keep track of everything for myself and the recording studio, I made a giant list of every character who’s ever been voiced in the series (even the games we don’t have the rights to), their chances of returning, and listed my “dream actors” or actors already cast. This made figuring out who to cast a lot easier, since now the studio could think ahead of time about who would be around for the potential long haul if the series remains successful in the West.

excelsheet

<Soooo many numbers>

After that, it was time to figure out just which files had special filters and which files had a hard limit. Both of these were as time-consuming as one might expect, as no “master list” detailing which files had what was available to us. Much of the first week spent with the voices was simply me listening to each and every line from 9 AM to whenever I couldn’t take it anymore and went home (6-8 PM). Every time I heard a battle echo, a voice booming through a megaphone of some sort, or any one of the dozens of random sounds that clearly needed to be added post-processing, I had to pause, make a marking next to the audio filename (e8v16301, e8v16302, e8v16303, etc.), note what type of filter it was, then copy that file into a folder dedicated to that specific filter. Really, there was no other way to do this. It took days.

As a huge voice acting fanatic, I can assure you, even the biggest fans will find this process monotonous as all hell.

voice_acting

Hard limits were both easy in some ways and a complete nightmare in others. As a general rule for dubbing all games (other publishers will certainly feel me on this), all battle lines have hard limits. Battle actions are so swift and precise that the only way to replicate the same feel for each action in the Japanese is to play each Japanese battle line for the English voice actor so that they can mimic the intensity of the original line. Giving them a script with nothing but “Haaah!” or “*emote*” just doesn’t cut it. Cold Steel had about a couple hundred battle lines on average for major characters and anywhere ranging from a dozen to a hundred lines for minor ones, which is simple enough to sort out, but it adds a lot of time to the recording process. Other things we kept within limits were things like random commentary on the scenery while running around on the field or quips in the menu after cooking something.

Even if that’s time consuming, that doesn’t sound so hard, right?

Ha ha ha! Not so, dear friends! What if I told you there were hard limits that randomly appeared in cutscenes throughout the game, and there was no way to tell this from any sheet or audio file? In the end, the only way to find these was to watch every single cutscene in the game and note which text boxes happened to not have a button prompt in the corner. Having no button in the corner was our only indication that the line proceeded automatically and therefore needed to be timed. That’s where the first real nightmare came in.

And the BEST part about that was, sometimes lines with hard limits DID have a little button in the corner. We couldn’t even tell until after we recorded them! Oh, the joys of localization.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone for this process. In fact, most of that part was handled by our lead translator for Trails of Cold Steel. While I organized files and marked filters, he spent about a week translating during the day and watching cutscenes he recorded from the Japanese version while playing the game himself (“Just for fun,” he said, and yet they turned out to be an invaluable reference) at night, marking every instance of a text box that just happened to be missing a button in the lower right-hand corner. Like I said, we discovered during QA that a few story lines with hard limits actually DID have a button in the corner, but Falcom was thankfully willing to reprogram those lines so that you could actually hear Rean fully shout, “Instructor!” instead of making you hear him pitifully cry, “Inst–!”

Being obsessed with context, I also spent a good chunk of my time writing notes for nearly every line for the voice actor’s reference. You’d be shocked to realize that there are a million ways to voice something as simple as “Yes!”, and while the acting may be spot on, the wrong delivery could result in a scene feeling somewhat…off in the final English product. I’d like to stress that that’s not the actor’s fault but the fault of the localization team coming in unprepared, so please don’t blame the actors for that sort of thing. Those kinds of lines will always slip through once in a while in any language—especially with 10,000 lines, because even WITH notes, you’re not going to memorize everything ever—but I did my damnedest to make sure the actors knew their characters by bringing in art books I’d personally bought off of Falcom’s website, describing the context as we went along, and so on.

Recording involved usually waking up around 5-6 AM, driving to work to pick up Cold Steel’s lead editor, Nick, driving an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic, settling in between 9-10 AM, doing recording sessions until 6-7 PM, driving back through traffic once again, then staying in the office until 2-4 AM writing notes for each and every character, oftentimes playing back cutscenes line by line for a character so I could make sure I saw their expression in context. I would have done so sooner to make this easier on me, but like said, my role in the project was fairly sudden. The process lasted about four weeks, and in the end, my notes usually looked something like this:

notes1

<Seems normal Enough>

Or like this when I was especially sleep deprived:

notes2

<I apologize to all the voice actors we worked with>

Admittedly, by the time this process was over, I’d seen all the cutscenes dozens upon dozens of times. When I was too tired to write notes for some of the smaller roles (Princess Alfin, for example, has around 100 lines in the first game), I gave as detailed an analysis of the character as I could before letting the actor take the reins, and I gave them context where needed. A lot of scenes had crossover as well, so our director was able to give out context for some of the actors we recorded later without even asking me. This especially came in handy when poor lil’ me would get so stressed and tired during some sessions, my stomach felt like it was in knots. Luckily, the actors themselves were never a source of stress, as each and every one of them was a joy to work with.

Sometimes, lines had such hard limits that the English translation needed to be cut down on the fly. This is extremely common with battle lines, and it became so common with Cold Steel that my nightly routine started including listening to all the battle lines and reading out loud whether someone could possibly say the English while staying within the same time limit as the Japanese before suggesting alternatives.

My favorite instance of this by far is from one of Rean’s crafts, Flame Impact (滅). Initially, we had it translated as its name, but we discovered during recording that the Japanese voice file lasted .10 seconds. Yes, that is literally a tenth of a second. After the entire studio laughed awkwardly, we opted for the only thing that was humanly possible in English, an emote reminiscent of a sword slash. Generously, Cold Steel II has the same attack at .14 seconds. We’ll strive to make an even gruntier slash sound for all of you English-speaking folks the next time around.

sharon_and_rean

Even after recording is done, the journey isn’t over. All 10,000+ files are cut, awkward noises like tongue clicks are removed, filters are added, and then all of them are delivered to us. It’s then time to spend another week or so listening to each and every file, marking the receipt of a file, making sure the content matches the filename, making sure it was edited properly (and amazingly, there were very few files that had problems), and maybe even asking the studio if another read for a line is available because sometimes you realize you messed up directing a line or two. After reorganizing them into the exact format the developer had them to begin with (in this case, it was every single voice file in the game in one giant folder) and running another comparison for sanity’s sake, it’s time to send them off to be inserted in the game.

One amazing scare from a mismatched filename included two battle “victory quotes” from Jusis. In Cold Steel, if you finish a battle with a partner, they’ll have a unique victory quote. While QAing the game with Jusis and Alisa paired, I suddenly heard this:

e8v09047 – Jusis: Heh. That’s no surprise.
e8v02047 – Alisa: Underestimate me and I’ll keep surprising you.

After screaming internally at a victory quote that made no sense even though I’d gone as far as to watch every single possible victory combination in the game for context (74 combinations!), I went right to work figuring out how this happened. It wasn’t uncommon for victory quotes to be shortened during recording to fit within limits, so I worried that we somehow cut a line and caused a mistranslation in the process. Thankfully, the solution was easy. It turned out Jusis’ files e8v09046 and e8v09047 were switched, and I’d only missed it while checking the files because, well, I was checking 10k files in a row and that stuff can happen. Jusis’ line was actually supposed to be paired together with another character, Elliot, and not Alisa. Basically, things in the game were like this:

e8v09047 – Jusis: Heh. That’s no surprise.
e8v02047 – Alisa: Underestimate me and I’ll keep surprising you.
&
e8v07048 – Elliot: Whew… We did it.
e8v09046 – Jusis: Heh. I’m impressed that you kept up.

When they should’ve been like this:

e8v09046 – Jusis: Heh. I’m impressed that you kept up.
e8v02047 – Alisa: Underestimate me and I’ll keep surprising you.
&
e8v07048 – Elliot: Whew… We did it.
e8v09047 – Jusis: Heh. That’s no surprise.

Crisis averted. We’re not always so lucky, but we dodged a bullet this time.

casualrean_and_alisa

Anyway, there’s more to it, but that’s a snippet of what it’s like to record a game. Sometimes. Most of the time, it’s not quite that hellish. It’s a lot of work, and only a small, small part of the localization process as a whole, though. I know we surely can’t compare to the likes of voice acting monsters like Persona or theTales series just yet, but it gave me an entirely new appreciation for just how much their respective localization teams must work for a quality product time and time again. I’d like to be able to reach their standards of quality, and now that I’ve got this project under my belt, I’m much more prepared for what to do during Cold Steel II’s 11,000~ lines early next year. In fact, I’ve gotten most of this stuff out of the way already to avoid such a hectic, last-minute scramble, so hooray for that.

If it’s not obvious enough from past blogs or even my personal accounts, the Trails series means a lot to me, and I don’t want to give it any less than my very best. Thanks for sticking around.

–          Brittany

P.S. Don’t forget: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel launches December 22nd! Grab the standard edition or the Lionheart Edition. You can find links at: http://www.trailsofcoldsteel.com/
tocs_preorder