Re-versioning on JRPGs can be a difficult and thankless process. Purists tend to be opposed to the very idea and make it clear from the start that they will use Japanese VO with subtitles, thank you very much.
While understandable, some nuances will inevitably get lost in translation, and I believe that a quality adaptation will bring forth at least as much as it takes away. Ni no Kuni is one of those.
The game had been very well received in Japan and started creating a buzz from the moment it was announced for the Western market. When the script and character bios arrived to be cast and recorded at Side, translation team SHLOC had already spent weeks working closely with developer Level-5 on how to best bring the universe to the English speaking world.
It was obvious straight away that a lot of thought and care had gone into the project and the team were very specific about what they wanted, from casting an actual child to play the main role of American boy Oliver to re-imagining Drippy with a Welsh brogue. Casting was going to be a challenge.
After hearing him be such a perfect Drippy in the game, it might come as a surprise to know that actor Steffan Rhodri had to go through the same audition process as the rest of the main cast.
There’s plenty of Welsh talent out there but from the moment he came in, it was clear to everyone present that we had found Drippy. As Side’s casting director on the project, I spent days sifting through actor CVs and showreels to select the best possible candidates.
We auditioned about 40 actors in just over a day for the main roles and put together many more actor clips and samples to showcase for the various other characters populating Ni no Kuni’s worlds.
However, following the first round of casting, we still hadn’t found our perfect Oliver. We’d seen plenty of talented young actors but the winning combination of an American boy capable of bringing the wide-eyed innocence and wonder of the character was proving elusive.
Recordings were already underway by the time we finally found Adam Wilson, an unassuming and polite 12 year old, much like the young hero, and the perfect counterpart for the Lord High Lord of the Fairies’ exuberance.
Maybe the biggest challenge was yet to come as the cast grew in an unexpected way. Side was to find and record a choir boy version of young Oliver to interpret the newly localised Pieces of a Broken Heart, the ending theme song originally sung by Mai Fujisawa.
I gathered samples from London and beyond looking for a young singer who would be able to bring both the technical skills and high level of emotions to the character. The talent we encountered was truly astounding, and in the end, young Archie Buchanan’s audition made the decision for us. The 13 year old chorister from Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal managed to convey both Oliver’s vulnerability and innocence in a moving and powerful performance.
The stage was set and the team assembled under voice director Mark Healy. Throughout the recordings, we endeavoured to stay true to the world created by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli and do our part in bringing the characters to a wider audience.
While it's true that there may be plenty that didn’t translate and that the experience is undoubtedly a different one to the Japanese source, as I watch Oliver meeting Old Father Oak, Drippy snarking at his side, I feel the English version is well worth some purists of its own.