Picture this: It’s the Anime boom of the 90s. You’re a naive company owner who actually believe that eroge would ever achieve anything amounting to mainstream success in the English Markets… or maybe you just wanted a slice of that sweet anime pie $$$. Whatever the reasons are, you want to bring a Japanese import over.
But you have an ace in your sleeve: instead of being delegated third-tier games by no name companies, you actually manage to get into contact with, at that time, one of the best eroge creators in Japan: elf, famed for making classics such as Yu-No and Wordsworth. They’re willing to license you an entree in their best-selling RPG series, Dragon Knight. You’ve got it made! Time to watch all the money roll in…
But trouble strikes! First, you realized that you can’t actually use the name Dragon Knight, some other company is holding on to it for some reason! Second, you also realize that you’ve just been given a game that’s a direct sequel and set in the same continuity as 2 other games… games that your target audience have never played, being in a foreign language and long before internet piracy was made accessible to the common man. What’s a man (or woman) to do?
The solution: Screw everything! (No, not in that ways, you perverts.) The script? Toss it out of the window! Just type whatever you want in those text boxes! Change character personalities, plot events, anything goes!
This method would eventually be known as the Working Designs style of game localizations. (*Ba-dum-tish!*)
The localization was done by the now defunct MegaTech who published other much less relevant and more obscure games like Metal & Lace or Cobra Mission. Knights of Xentar is the only game that received this treatment as far as I know which kind of makes it stand out in the list.
In theory, I suppose that other than removing baggage from previous games, the changes were meant to make the game more appealing to the Western market. In practice, it’s safe to say that the people who are buying the AD&D Goldbox games, Wizardry and Ultima probably aren’t picking this game off the shelves.
The main character is probably a good representation of what the changes of the game is like.
Takeru (JP version) is the archetypical eroge hero of his time: a simple but kind-hearted soul who’s content with a warm bed to sleep in and hot food to eat every day. His response to seeing a naked girl is probably something along the lines of “Ah… Alice-san! What are you doing? It must be cold being dressed like that! Please put on some clothes quickly! I’ll lend you my cloak if you need it!”
Desmond (EN version) is a COOL BRO DUDE who loves to get drunk and have tons of casual sex, like totally DUDE! It’s too bad he wasn’t especially blessed in the lower departments, HAHA, isn’t that HILARIOUS guys?
Essentially, the entire game is rewritten as a complete farce and parody of itself. I guess maybe I should be offended because of the utter disrespect towards the source material but honestly I don’t really care because it’s not really a series I’m invested in.
At bare minimum I suppose it’s actually really amusing at points, especially the meta-humour when the translators break the 4th wall to speak to the player directly, though the humour is also extremely juvenile overall. Still, if you’re going to change so much anyway why not change something that no one would care about because the base material is so bland? You know, like Lunar.
This wasn’t the first of many strange decisions that Megatech would make. Knights of Xentar came in two versions: NR-13 and NR-18. The former has many scenes removed or redrawn to cover up nudity or suggestive content (such as drawing swimwear onto naked bodies). This was only done with the English PC version of Knights of Xentar: the original Japanese version on the PC had no such option.
The NC 13 version was the one sold through physical retail. In order to receive the NR-18 version, you would have to mail the company directly for the upgrade patch. Keep in mind that this was in an era where the internet wasn’t as commonplace as it is now – downloading patches for games was a huge trouble back then and not just a speed bump like it is today.
It’s an odd decision. The NR-13 is tame compared to most other things that I’ve seen, but it’s still too risque (and sometimes rather weird) for prudish people to play. On the other hand, the NR-18 still isn’t super raunchy either for people who would play game solely for said reasons.
Adding to the confusion, there were 2 more versions of the game! Knights of Xentar came in the more common “floppy disk” version and an upgraded “CD-Rom” version featuring full dubbed voice acting, the latter is considered to be an extremely rare find nowadays. Don’t feel left out though: considering the state of videogame dubbing in the 90s, it probably sounded terrible anyway.
I suppose I should talk a little about the actual game rather than the localization… well, it’s not that great.
Battles in the game are a real-time affair, but you don’t really have any control over your characters. You simply watch both your characters and the enemies attack each other until one party dies. You have options to change their “AI”… well less AI and more “damage/defense output ratio” and once in a while you’ll need to use an item such as a potion to prevent death. When the magic using character Luna joins the party, you can also cast some generic elemental attack spells but it really isn’t very tactical at all.
I guess in its defense, it’s an RPG made in 1991 and it still beat Final Fantasy 13 in the auto-battling department by 20 years (*ba-dump-tish*)!
As an interesting sidenote, the PC-Engine port of the game changes the battle system into a first-person Dragon Quest-like affair. While I never played that version personally, I think the odds of it being an improvement is kind of slim. The PC-Engine port also censors the adult scenes in this game, but they’re vastly less lazy about doing so: some CGs receive completely new compositions to further remove suggestiveness that are still too blunt compared to the PC NC-13 version.
Outside of battle, the game is your typical top-down perspective RPG where you walk around, talk to townspeople and open treasure chests. Serviceable, I suppose.
While the plot isn’t really anything to be excited about, the game does attempt to play around with some of the trope and conventions of the genre. One of the most memorable scenes from the game would be the opening:
Our hero has just returned to town when he gets ambushed, stripped of all his weapons/armors and then left for dead. Saved by an old man, he has to walk through the town naked (which grants a -20 to diplomacy rolls: NPCs will snark or refuse to allow you to patronize their shops) until he finds the bandits in a bar, where he proceeds to beat them up using only his bare hands and the power of having been the protagonist of 2 games. However, the bandits have already sold his stuff and in his attempts to retrieve them, he falls into a trap and is reverted to level 1, forcing him to retrain himself to accomplish his mission.
It’s a pretty detailed attempt to explain exactly why you have to restart from the beginning in RPG sequels. Most of them apparently expect you to believe that apparently the main character must have been really slacking off and eating McDonalds every day of his life to return to level 1, I suppose. Or maybe something stupid like being entirely blown up and having to be cloned.
The fact that MegaTech is non-existent as of today should probably clue you in on how well this game did commercially. Elf isn’t exactly in tip top condition either, having suffered the “brain drain” common throughout the Japanese videogame industry where talented people die or leave the industry leaving no one to fill their gaps, and having to subsidize purely on rereleasing Windows compatible versions of their older games.
This is probably the first Game Spotlight that I’m doing not because I think the game is any good, but because I think it’s a really interesting time capsule of the 90s, where evidently: “anything goes!”
With the advent of the internet, no company would be able to get away with this style of localization anymore: backlash from outspoken fans would probably tear them apart.
And the remaining companies of eroge translation have now settled firmly into targeting niche audiences: leaving in honorifics, Japanese slang terms like “Moe” and otherwise leaving in such cross-cultural references. If you’re playing one of these games, they reason, you’re probably already familiar with the genre enough that we don’t have to explain what an “Onii-chan” is.
Still, it’s nice to reminiscence about a time when you actually felt that maybe, just maybe one day, these games might actually had stood a chance in the market and appealed to the common nerd… um, common person. IT COULDA BEEN A CONTENDAA!
Final Footnote: Ironically, if both companies had waited a little longer, the sequel to this game, Dragon Knight 4, had a more “standalone” plot (taking place 15 years in the future with the main character’s son), interesting Strategy RPG gameplay similar to Fire Emblem and a plot twist that is still well-remembered amongst the eroge community today. I suppose there was still a high chance it would have been a commercial failure but it would probably have meant that the actions taken with this game would not have happened. Oh well.
(All images from Mobygames. Sorry, I was too lazy to take my own screenshots)