Found in Translation: Evolving Approaches for the Localization of Japanese Video Games
- In order to be able to track any possible changes in localization strategies, it had to be a saga that spanned over at least 10 years, as from the author’s professional experience as a game translator, there have been changes in the approach to the localization of Japanese games over this period of time.
- It had to be a saga of video games that is set in Japan or includes a significant amount of references to Japanese culture, in order to examine how such cultural markers had been dealt with for the release of the North American version.
- The video games had to contain a high amount of text, in order to be able to explore the translation and adaptation processes they underwent in detail, so games containing features of role playing games (RPGs) or visual novels were deemed most appropriate.
- The localization of at least some of the games in the saga had been discussed widely on the Internet by translators, editors, or producers of the localization team, as well as reviewed or discussed in specialized sites, blogs or players’ forums.
3. What Is Game Localization?
Culturalization is going a step further beyond localization as it takes a deeper look into a game’s fundamental assumptions and content choices, and then gauges their viability in both the broad, multicultural marketplace as well as in specific geographic locales. Localization helps gamers simply comprehend the game’s content (primarily through translation), but culturalization helps gamers to potentially engage with the game’s content at a much deeper, more meaningful level. Or conversely, culturalization ensures that gamers will not be disengaged from the game by a piece of content that is considered incongruent or even offensive.
- Box and docs: this refers to translating the packaging of the game and the accompanying documentation, such as the manual, health and safety warning, etc. It is done for games with little text, games which are not expected to sell many copies, or for territories with a good knowledge of the original language.
- Partial localization: this means translating the box and docs texts, as well as all the in-game text, but maintaining audio and cinematic assets in the language of the original game, not revoicing them, and only providing subtitles.
- Full localization: this implies translating all the game assets, including the revoicing into the target language. This is usually done for AAA titles with high budgets that are expected to do well in the territories they are localized for.
4. An Overview of Japanese Video Game Localization Practices
5. The Localization of Persona: Rethinking Localization Strategies to Meet Fans’ Expectations
By incorporating cultural differences rather than erasing them, imbuing the dialogue with enormous personality, and hiring actors that care about the characters they’re voicing, Atlus U.S.A. has helped bring the series to the top of the role-playing heap in the West
…the lengths the localization team goes through to make gripping, enjoyable dialog, translated from the original Japanese into English, while still maintaining the feel of the game and the thoughts the original developers wanted to convey
Learning to market a new franchise, especially a dark one like Persona, is not easy. Atlus’ missteps are not surprising, but the company took public feedback to heart and adjusted its localization approach. Instead of running from its niche appeal, Atlus embraced it(Wallace 2013).
6. The Localization of the Phoenix Wright Series: Creating a Hybrid Game World
[…] as a piece of entertainment, the stories in games are primarily concerned with the feelings and reactions, or the “emotional experience”, of the player in its original language, and therefore, any localization must strike a balance between what is “textually accurate” and what is what I call “emotionally accurate”(Tsu 2014).
The English localization of the Ace Attorney series managed to capture the spirit of the original, while also replacing the Japanese humor and references with content that would be understandable to an international audience. A change like this is necessary to the success of a text-heavy game and it’s why the Ace Attorney series has gained such an international following.
7. The Localization of the Yakuza Series: Introducing Dual Localization
When I took on the project, I reviewed the Yakuza franchise history in the West as well as the valuable feedback we received from our fans on Yakuza 3. Based on consultations with the Yakuza team in Japan, we decided to bring a more complete localization that was more faithful to the source material(Noguchi, cited in Fletcher 2011).
Essentially, we took a base translation and then pushed it out into two different directions for Japanese audio and English audio. The Japanese audio got our traditional “Yakuza” pass, listening intently to each line and crafting the dialogue to suit it. The English script was written for actors to perform it, with more of a focus on making sure it sounded like things people would actually say in English. Sometimes, the two versions are totally the same! Others, it’s totally different [...] the English is still a faithful localization of the story, and the Japanese subtitles were still crafted with all the considerations for a good read that always goes into a Yakuza title localization.
Conflicts of Interest
|Animal Crossing (Nintendo 2001–present)|
|Bayonetta (Platinum Games 2009)|
|Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei I (Atlus 1987)|
|Earthbound (Ape and Hal Laboratory 1994)|
|Final Fantasy series (Square Enix 1987–present)|
|Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft 1997)|
|Final Fantasy X (Square Enix 2001)|
|Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku 2019)|
|Judgment (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio 2018)|
|Metal Gear Solid (Konami 1998)|
|Revelations: Persona (Atlus 1996)|
|Persona series (Atlus 1996–present)|
|Persona 2: Innocent Sin (Atlus 1999)|
|Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (Atlus 2000).|
|Persona 3 (Atlus 2006)|
|Persona 4 (Atlus 2008)|
|Persona 5 (Atlus 2016)|
|Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (Atlus 2014)|
|Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Capcom 2001–present)|
|Pokémon (Game Freak 1999–present)|
|Punch Out! (Nintendo 1987)|
|Shadowverse (Cygames 2016)|
|Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (Atlus 2003)|
|Super Castlevania 4 (Konami 1991)|
|The Legend of Zelda series (Nintendo 1986–present)|
|Yakuza 3 (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio 2010)|
|Yakuza 4 (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio 2011)|
|Yakuza 0 (Atlus 2015)|
|Yakuza: Like a Dragon (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio 2020)|
|Yakuza series (SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku 2005–present)|
|Zero Wing (Toaplan 1989)|
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The Persona series is a spin-off of Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei franchise (1987–present). However, as the first game of the franchise to be localized into English was Revelations: Persona in 1996, the paper focuses on the Persona saga to obtain a clearer picture of how localization practices at Atlus have evolved over the years. In addition, as it is a smaller saga, it fits better with the scope of the paper.
The use of materials shared in online discussions for research is controversial because of its ethical dimensions, with an ongoing debate about whether informed consent should be requested from participants (see Kozinets 2006 or Bryman 2012). However, it has been argued that if the information is voluntarily and publicly available, and no personal details or sensitive information are used, it is accepted practice to use the information for documentary qualitative analysis without the need for informed consent (Hewson et al. 2003; Bryman 2012).
It is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a detailed analysis of the localization of these sagas, but interesting studies are provided about the Pokémon transmedia franchise by Iwabuchi (2004); Allison (2006); Hutchinson (2019) and Schleijpen (2019).
The localization practices of Square Enix, particularly in relation to the Final Fantasy saga, have received a significant amount of scholarly attention. See, for example, Consalvo (2006); Mangiron and O’Hagan (2006); Jayemanne (2009); Mangiron (2010), and O’Hagan and Mangiron (2013).
Due to the scope of the paper, it cannot engage with the issue of fan translation, also known as “rom-hacking” in the video game industry. For more information about fan translation of games and participatory culture, see Muñoz-Sánchez (2009); O’Hagan (2007, 2017) and O’Hagan and Mangiron (2013).
In the game, personas are the manifestation of the personality of the person who summons them to battle when they face some hardship.
See, for example, https://steamcommunity.com/app/787480/discussions/0/1840188800793121997/ or https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/939946-phoenix-wright-ace-attorney-dual-destinies/67725418?page=5. One of the players considers the localization of Phoenix Wright “the worst localization in video game history“ while another one affirms it is “probably the best localization of any game I’ve ever played!”.
See, for example, a Steam forum about this issue, where players discuss why they did not like the English dubbed version: https://steamcommunity.com/app/834530/discussions/0/1798529872637593856/.
See for example, the discussion by players at https://www.reddit.com/r/yakuzagames/comments/aystpo/about_localization_of_judgement/.
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Mangiron, C. Found in Translation: Evolving Approaches for the Localization of Japanese Video Games. Arts 2021, 10, 9. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010009
Mangiron C. Found in Translation: Evolving Approaches for the Localization of Japanese Video Games. Arts. 2021; 10(1):9. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010009Chicago/Turabian Style
Mangiron, Carme. 2021. "Found in Translation: Evolving Approaches for the Localization of Japanese Video Games" Arts 10, no. 1: 9. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010009