Last week, the creators of an unofficial English translation for the role-playing game Final Fantasy Type-0 announced that they were taking down the patch and all blog posts associated with it.
"Unfortunately I'm forced to remove my posts and pages related to the popular Final Fantasy Type-0 fan translation project," wrote the project lead, who goes by the handle SkyBladeCloud. "That's right, [publisher Square Enix] thinks that threats and false accusations are the way to treat its biggest fans."
For many gamers and media outlets across the web, the narrative became simple: big bad corporation comes out of nowhere to step on hardworking fans. But the story of Final Fantasy Type-0's fan translation — which I've been following for months now — is far more nuanced, full of drama both external and internal. Square Enix has been engaged in conversations with the fan translation team for quite some time now, according to team members. And not everyone on the team is happy with how the patch was released — or how this story seems to be ending.
Final Fantasy Type-0, a PSP spinoff in Square's ubiquitous series, was first announced at E3 in 2006. When it finally came out in Japan during the fall of 2011, the PSP was on its last legs in North America, and though Square had been preparing to release the game in English, they changed those plans for business reasons, according to people familiar with the project. By 2012, Square had shelved a near-complete localisation that included an English script and voice recording work, various people have told me, speaking anonymously because they were not authorised to talk about the game.
But Square never talked about those plans publicly, leaving western Final Fantasy fans in dismay as they wondered whether they'd ever get to play Type-0. So when SkyBladeCloud and his team of translators and programmers announced in mid-2012 that they were working on a patch for the game, people were thrilled. If Square Enix wasn't going to release the game in English, well, hey, at least we could all still play it.
Over the next two years, Square stayed silent about the fate of Type-0 in the west. Though Square's executives would occasionally drop vague hints about the game in interviews, there was no concrete news, and the few times I did ask Square about the game, they sent over non-answers like "we have nothing to announce at this time." Meanwhile, the fan translation team kept plugging away, and at the time, project lead SkyBladeCloud said he wasn't concerned about legal repercussions.
"I'm not worried since I live in Spain and different laws apply," Sky told me in an email earlier this year.
In March, the team announced that work was almost complete on the translation patch, and they had a final release date: August 8, 2014, almost three years after Type-0 came out in Japan. Not long after that announcement, Square Enix representatives reached out to the fan translation team, warning them that the company intended to protect its copyrights, and asking the team if they'd like to talk further about mutual solutions that would leave both parties happy.
The Square representative asked Sky to sign an NDA, and they talked extensively over the next few weeks, though Sky could not tell me anything about those conversations or even acknowledge that they had happened. It's my understanding that from Square Enix's end, the conversations were friendly and casual, and representatives for the publisher saw legal action as a last resort.
Meanwhile, other members of the translation team — who say they have spent a combined thousands of hours on the Type-0 project — speculated that Square was reaching out because they had a big announcement to make. They talked about how they would proceed if Square did announce a western release of Type-0 — and they discussed the possibility of not releasing the patch at all, to avoid potentially hurting sales if the game did come here.
Soon that would all go out the window. In early June, Sky suddenly announced that they were releasing two months early, and that the patch would be available on Sunday, June 8 — the day before E3. The patch was immediately popular, Sky said — he estimates that it got 100,000 downloads in four days — and fans were ecstatic to finally get to play Type-0 in English.
But the rest of the team wasn't happy about this. Some of the writers felt like the patch shouldn't have been released yet — they needed more time for edits, polish, and bug squashing.
"The patch was far from ready and we still had some videos to translate and some more text to proofread," said Adam, one of the team's writers. "We also hadn't fully played through the game after all of our updates. Sky was the one who pushed for the August release date even though most of us felt like it was unrealistic."
Here's an excerpt from one Skype conversation among the team:
[6/7/2014 12:50:13 PM] Adam: Sky just tweeted for everyone to expect a release today or tomorrow though
[6/7/2014 1:21:24 PM] Core: Sky, the rest of the team agreed to wait until after E3. Why are you tweeting about releasing the patch?
[6/7/2014 2:46:14 PM] Merkabah: Yeah, that's extremely not cool
[6/7/2014 2:46:38 PM] Merkabah: kind of feel like you're just using all of our hard work to try to stick it to SE
[6/7/2014 2:49:35 PM] Merkabah: I figured this was a team effort, especially since I've been putting in 12-hour days for the last two weeks that maybe my opinion would have some sort of bearing on how all of my work ends up being used
[6/7/2014 3:09:05 PM] Hakurou (TJ): well this is interesting
"Then Sky didn't log onto Skype, answer emails, or answer tweets from us until about 8pm," Adam said. "After that Core, Merkabah, and I gave Sky a piece of our minds. Sky accused us of holding the translation hostage and that he thought it was 'good enough' back in February. He really had low expectations."
"Most of us, however, are pretty big Final Fantasy fans and had high expectations for the quality of the translation," Adam said.
In the coming days and weeks, this decision would fracture the group, and members of the fan translation project have described a rift between them and Sky that led to a number of angry conversations and even some team members quitting.
"I went ahead and released it without the consent of the whole team," Sky told me a few weeks ago, when I asked what had happened. "I'm not proud of that, but I think it was the right thing to do in that situation, to release it, to let the fans have what we were working on before the official announcement."
On Tuesday, June 10, Square dropped a bombshell of their own: Type-0 would be coming west, not for handheld systems but as a high-definition remake for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. (A consequent Vita announcement flub left a bad taste in some fans' mouths, and led many of them back toward the fan translation patch.)
The sequence of events has led some gamers to speculate that Sky found out about Square's announcement and released the patch to preempt them, but Sky says it was just a guess. In fact, he believes that Square's announcement was actually just a reaction to them releasing the unofficial patch.
"I had no information about any E3 announcement," he told me. "Note that it wasn't an actual E3 announcement, but a press release. This, added to the fact that the trailer had no actual game footage (or music, for that matter), and [the Vita announcement mix-up], makes me think this was something completely improvised."
It's unclear just how much Sky knew before E3 — neither he nor Square Enix would talk at all about their conversations — but the timing was certainly strange, no matter who was reacting to whom.
Within the next few weeks, Square Enix started sending legal requests to Sky, and they eventually asked him to take down the patch, which he did. He has also removed all blog posts connected to the Type-0 translation, other than the one that's currently up:
You know I normally use blog posts for relevant information only, such as project announcements or releases. However, I'm sorry this time it will be a little bit different:
Unfortunately I'm forced to remove my posts and pages related to the popular Final Fantasy Type-0 fan translation project. That's right, certain game company thinks that threats and false accusations are the way to treat its biggest fans. For the time being I can't answer questions related to this matter, but I'll write a more comprehensive post about all this once I get the chance.
I hope you understand, and as always I appreciate your support (that I might need more that ever in the near future). Thank you very much:
A representative for Square Enix declined to comment on this story.