News poured in recently that the latest Atelier game, Atelier Lydie and Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings would not be receiving an English dub, in spite of all previous Atelier titles having one. This recent announcement has had many wondering why it took so long for this announcement, and also why the publisher Koei Tecmo didn’t decide to hold off until the next entry, which would be the start of a new trilogy, to axe the English dub. Most of all though, Atelier Lydie and Suelle has reignited an ongoing dialogue regarding the state of English dubs in games going forward.
First off, the Atelier series is only one series out of many. We also don’t know if this truly marks the end of dubs for the series, or if this is just something Koei Tecmo are trying out as a cost-saving measure. There’s plenty of opportunity for the consumer to voice their opinion in time for the next entry. It’s actually pretty commendable that a series like this has been consistently localized, and with English dubs ever time up until now. Atelier is probably not the highest selling series. I’d argue that it’s charming, and highly underrated, and it likely has its dedicated fan base, but it’s not exactly a AAA series.
Moreover Gust, the devs behind the game, and Koei Tecmo, the publisher have been releasing these games annually, with the latter working hard to localize them for other regions every year as well. Between this series and Hyperdimension Neptunia, it’s a wonder that it’s even possible for niche Japanese series with localizations and dubs to pull an Ubisoft. As far as I know the latter is still doing dubs too. Heck, Ubisoft recently stopped pulling an Ubisoft because they weren’t selling enough Assasin’s Creed games to justify the cost, and they ended up redeeming themselves with their latest entry.
It’s possible that there are more factors at play here than English dubs driving up the costs. I also confess I fell behind on both of these niche Japanese series years ago and decided I wouldn’t buy anymore until I can sort out my backlog…which hasn’t happened. I don’t buy Atelier games anymore and haven’t for a long time, but I have heard they’ve been suffering in quality lately, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. Apparently sales for the latest entry weren’t even great in Japan so it’s hard to say whether it will perform well here.
Anyways, examining one series won’t provide nearly enough data to look at the full picture. Perhaps it’s time to take more of a macro-level approach. Here is a list of new and upcoming PS4 games slated for 2018. If you would focus your attention on the Japanese games being released in the West, you’ll notice that for a while it seems that titles confirmed to be receiving dubs (whether they be dub-only and dual audio) and those confirmed to be subs only are roughly half-and-half. But, as you scroll through the list, you may notice something intriguing. It’s not long before the number of games receiving dubs actually starts to significantly outnumber those that aren’t.
Hold on, if a certain feature in games is dying off, this shouldn’t be possible. I might have a hypothesis that explains it though. I don’t actually think the number of games receiving dubs has decreased all that dramatically. Sure, we will soon have Lydie and Suelle to add to the list of sub-only titles as the first in its series to not have English audio in the localized release, much like Tales of Hearts R a few years ago. However, Tales of Hearts R did not mark the end of Tales of dubs, and the new Atelier game might not either. Plus, subs-only releases still don’t make up the majority of upcoming localizations.
Looking at upcoming releases and even releases over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend that might actually explain why it seems like fewer and fewer titles are getting redubbed, without that actually being the case (aside from the occasional outlier). There has actually been an increase in the number of overall localizations. Games that might otherwise have never been released here, have been made available to us.
Actually, up until a few years ago or maybe upwards of five years, entire genres were pretty much off-limits to us. Visual novels were pretty much guaranteed to be exclusive to Japan. Visual novels also have a ton of voice acting that even likely eclipse most RPGs. Some people compare visual novels to a season or two of an anime. That’s a lot of voice acting to record, especially if it were mandatory that all audio be redone in English.
Moreover, visual novels primarily appeal more to hardcore fans of Japanese media who largely prefer the original audio. I’m not saying there aren’t those who would prefer to have a dub even for the most out-there of anime-style titles, but it’s a lot more difficult to justify in this case. With JRPGs there often is a lot more crossover appeal with general RPG fans, so there are much higher odds of a good portion of the audience preferring dubs. Even then, some JRPGs are further up Otaku Avenue than others as they range from merely having a Japanese art style to being heavily steeped in Japanese culture and character tropes.
Heck, even something like Atelier is a hard sell to the mainstream gamer who’s obsessed with violence, explosions and gritty scenarios, not cute girls doing alchemy. That these games are constantly being rushed out isn’t doing the series any favours either. As much as I like this series, even I stopped following it ages ago, and I’m much more likely to check a game like that out than most. The point is, niche games can have a dedicated fan base, and they can do ok, but they certainly aren’t going to have Call of Duty sales figures. And, the further away from the mainstream a title gets, the less of a market there is for a redub.
In any case, dubs are expensive, and time consuming. Voice actors and other relevant staff have to be paid to make them happen. I don’t agree with the elitism of those who prefer subs and think all fans of games and other media should get along no matter what one’s preference may be. However, dubs are an expensive preference. If that’s your preference, supporting games that include them helps, and that includes financial support through sales. I’m not sure if audio usage can be tracked, but sales figures certainly can be. Generally speaking, the more a series sells, the more a company will be inclined to bend over backwards to provide desired features.
At the end of the day though, I don’t think English dubs are going to disappear anytime soon. If anything we should be glad that localizations are more commonplace than they were in the past. If the industry still operated like it did when dubs were practically mandatory in most cases, we may never have seen many titles outside of Japan period. It’s unlikely that dubs are the only factor to take into account, but having less rigid guidelines for localization in general makes the process at least slightly less difficult for prospective publishers and gives them more options on how to proceed.
As for the Atelier series, I think it has bigger problems on the horizon, if not in the present, than the publisher having a difficult time justifying an English dub.
What are your thoughts about the recent announcement for the upcoming Atelier game? Do you agree with my thoughts on the state of dubs in the current climate? As always, feel free to leave your comments below.