Unlicensed Visual Novel Hell

In Search of the Lost Future was a surprise hit for me. So much so that I wanted to check out what its visual novel counterpart was like and maybe explore some of the storylines that the anime adaptation hadn’t touched on. Released in 2010 as the one and only game by developer Trumple, In Search of the Lost Future was localized for various different regions. Just a shame that none of those regions speak English.

PHOTO: A scene in the infirmary where Sou stretches Kaori's face to get a comical reaction out of her.

Yes indeed. In spite of being popular enough to spawn a full-length TV anime adaptation, In Search of the Lost Future was ignored by localization companies. VNDB lists the game as being available in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian, none of which are languages that I can do anything at all with. Still, I wasn’t willing to abandon my effort just yet.

My first idea was to look into fan translations. When media companies fail to deliver a product, die-hard fans can often be relied upon to pick up the slack themselves. However, Trumple was not an established name in the industry and In Search of the Lost Future didn’t exactly spawn a franchise. Some fans started an effort to translate the novel, but updates died down as interest waned.

This is the fate of many fan efforts, regrettably. It takes a lot of time and effort to properly translate an entire novel. People are going to lose interest, either because the work gets tedious or because new series come out that capture their interests instead. Outside of larger series or shorter works, there’s just always an inherent risk that these loosely-organized fan groups may just fall apart.

PHOTO: Airi looking perplexed in the school courtyard

I was able to track down a Japanese copy of the game, though, and figured that the issue of making it readable could be fixed later. However, installing Japanese software is not exactly easy. Barbaric Western computers simply don’t know what to make of it, so installers freeze up or won’t start all. Even if you do get the installer to start up, all the Japanese text is replaced with computer garbage.

You can manually fix this by fiddling around with your locale settings and changing your registry, but I quickly found out that the easier solution is to download a locale emulator. Just set that to Japanese and everything should work out fine. Or, at least, fine so long as you can make sense of written Japanese.

PHOTO: Yui and Koari standing close to each other.

With the game installed and bootable, I finally had to figure out how to actually read any of it. I’d seen examples of screen translation software being used elsewhere, so I went looking for one of those.

The first hit I got was the Universal Game Translator by Codedojo. Sadly the installation process for this option is tedious to work through and I eventually hit a snag. UGT uses Google’s translation API, which means making a developer profile for yourself and having Google generate an apikey. However, if you want to activate the translation API, you also need a billing account linked to your developer profile. I don’t know the rate you are charged for using this feature and I didn’t want to find that out while translating an entire visual novel line-by-line.

My second option was Easy Screen OCR which claimed to work by capturing screenshots and extracting the text from it. This didn’t even work on the product’s own website, so I didn’t even have to bother with trying it on Japanese. What few other links remained all led to dodgy sites, so this was another dead end. In my desperation, the last thing I figured would be worth trying was just using the Google translate app on my phone.

And I kid you not… that worked.

PHOTO: Nagisa condescendingly treating the members of the judo club like animals.

It’s incredibly impractical and far from perfect, but it works out-of-the-box. Why pick up some improvised software that makes calls to Google’s API if you can just get it straight at the source?

The Google Translate app has a camera mode that translates almost on-the-fly. It does take a second or two for each line, but that is quick enough and allowed me read at a decent pace. I used this brief downtime to just enjoy the voice performances first, then read what was actually said afterwards.

The only problem is that—because Japanese is such a complicated language—the translations are only rudimentary. You’ll often see lines shift between two or three different interpretations because Google can’t make up its mind, all of which seem at least partly wrong. In particular, the app has a habit of translating characters’ names and spewing out the literal translation of them, which can lead to confusion.

PHOTO: Yui on the school rooftop

If you have the patience and determination for it though, then you can definitely read a visual novel like this. Listen to the dialogue to get a feel for the tone of the conversation, then make the most of what the app gives you. It doesn’t beat a fan translation or official release, but for unlicensed visual novels it’s the best you can probably do.

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