Reviews - Updated on April 12, 2022

“Is it really so difficult to add at least Russian subtitles?” some users ask in the comments under articles about Persona or Yakuza. Surely the localizers from Atlus would have laughed at such a statement of the question, because only the translation into English takes the team about a year. Recently, the process has accelerated: Yakuza 0 was released outside of Japan after twenty months, Yakuza Kiwami – after a year and a half, Yakuza 6 took a month less, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 will see the whole world in nine months. But the deadlines depend not only on the experience of the translators, but also on the volume of the text – the modern parts are much larger than the remakes of the first ones.Difficulties and features of exemplary Yakuza localization

Some words were left untouched, explaining their meaning during downloads.

Other culture

The difficulties that localizers face when translating Yakuza lie on the surface. This is not a fantasy RPG with familiar dragons and swords – Yakuza is set in Japanese cities. The Kamurocho district, where the protagonist Kazuma Kiryu constantly finds himself, is an almost exact copy of Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho district. And in the sixth part, we find ourselves in Onomichi, a city in Hiroshima Prefecture. Japan has a completely different culture, different traditions and other features, and therefore a simple translation is not enough here – many elements must be adapted, made understandable to a resident of any country. But even here problems can arise …

The localizers of Yakuza, although they try not to make mistakes, do not ignore the wishes of the fans and make adjustments to their future work. In Yakuza Kiwami, the protagonist’s name was aniki, which was changed to “sir” in the English version. Even those who know Japanese a little were indignant, since the meaning of such an appeal is different. Aniki is translated as “big brother”, and among the members of the yakuza, this word expresses respect for those who have a higher hierarchical level. In Yakuza 6, aniki appears in hundreds of lines, so Atlus decided to leave it in place. And for those who do not understand the meaning of the word, we added a hint on the loading screen.

It is these little things that make up the long and painstaking process of localization. It is necessary to make the player feel like a Japanese in a Japanese city, but at the same time understand every detail. Serious conversations should remain serious, and the comedic episodes, of which the series is full, should be uplifting. If a joke cannot be adequately translated, for example, due to the use of a play on words, the localization team tries to make a replacement – not to lose its main idea, but to pick up something similar in English. For example, a joke about safe sects appeared in Yakuza 0. In general, the “zero” part became one of the most difficult for the team – in the original version, the text consists of 1.8 million characters, while in most JRPGs there are about 1.2 million of them.

Laborious process

Localizers get the script in Japanese and divide it into several parts so that the same people are involved in specific episodes. For example, the side quests associated with Majima in Yakuza 0 were given to one group of people, all of whose members knew everything about this hero and were aware of the events taking place with him. If difficulties arise, certain fragments are sent to the editors, whose task is to make the text as clear as possible to the Western player. This applies to lines that are directly translated from Japanese, but are clear only to the translator, as he saw the original version. He consults with the editor and clarifies whether there is a need to somehow reformulate the phrase. The reason that all the dialogues in Yakuza seem so alive is the constant contact with each other of the various localization process participants, who are trying to make the text more interesting.

At the same time, the presence of a large staff (and third-party outsourced assistants) means the appearance of errors and inaccuracies. Some group of people write the word with a capital letter, and another with a small letter. Some people use the word jeez instead of geez. To avoid this, Atlus has daily meetings where these details are discussed and each team member talks about the problems they have and asks questions about these little things.

That is, first the text gets to the translators, then it is proofread by the editors, and after that it is checked by the producer. In the sixth part, a new editor appeared, in which Kiryu turned out to be much more brutal in the second half of the game than in the first. And the producer had to change about 80% of the lines, although he should not do this. But perfectionism took over – after all, he knows the hero much better than a beginner, who only by the middle of the storyline was able to understand the nature of the character.

Translators also have to consult with screenwriters from time to time. There are cases when a word has several meanings, but it is difficult to understand what exactly the authors wanted to say. It is not always possible to reach them, and taking into account the deadlines, sometimes there is no way to delay. But if the answer is still received, it greatly simplifies the work.

Difficulties and features of exemplary Yakuza localization

Those for whom English is not their native language will find it more difficult to read such subtitles. But you get used to them quickly.

Devil and details

However, translating text for a Western audience is far from all that is the responsibility of localizers. In English and Japanese, the same phrase can consist of a very different number of words, and therefore you need to take into account the “timings” and the tone with which the hero pronounces the phrase. The task became much more difficult in Yakuza 6, as it was the first game in the series where absolutely everything was voiced. Previously, the team could cheat a little – in the side quests, neither the secondary characters nor Kiryu uttered a word. Therefore, the player was free to skip phrases immediately after reading, and the translators did not have to think about whether he would have time to read the text before the end of the cue. In the sixth part, everything changed.

Another difficulty in translating Yakuza 6 was related to the poems that Kiryu finds while walking around Onomichi. If you simply retell a Japanese verse in English, it will lose all depth, its rhythm will disappear. Japanese poets are famous for their ability to describe the beauty of landscapes using a minimum number of words, which is why three lines of haiku are so popular with them. And a direct translation would be able to tell about this or that phenomenon or event as brightly and colorfully as in the original, but at the same time the narration would not be so elegant and would lose its artistic value. Therefore, by writing out the fully translated lines, the team tried to shrink the text and make it no less poetic than in the Japanese version.

Atlus also draws attention to the presence of characters in different dialects. And instead of looking for identical accents in the English language, translators convey the manner of speaking of the inhabitants of Japanese areas, allowing players to better understand how one region differs from another in this regard. Localizers call Hiroshima a “sleepy city” – its inhabitants are far from being as active and modern as Tokyo residents. And this can be traced in every phrase they uttered – if it is difficult to perceive it by ear, subtitles make the task easier. A similar approach is applied to the translation of Chinese people who do not speak Japanese well. Therefore, errors can be seen in localized subtitles, and these are not mistakes of the editors.

Speaking of adaptation, we must not forget about the need to add some elements that the Japanese audience needs less than the American and European ones. In Yakuza 6, there is an episode where the player has to calm a crying child several times by moving the gamepad in different directions. And in the original, Kiryu pronounces the prompts in a voice without any subtitles – at the bottom of the screen, where they are usually located, they placed the interface and a description of the controls. Therefore, Atlus still decided to add subtitles in English, but moved them to the right so as not to block anything. Well, I already mentioned the loading screens above, and with their help you can find out not only the meaning of the word aniki, but also other interesting information.

Difficulties and features of exemplary Yakuza localization

Japanese characters in the verses were not erased – they remain visible behind the translated lines.

***

Localizing any game is a long and often thankless job. But translating such large-scale projects like Yakuza from Japanese turns out to be much more difficult than many people realize. This is not just a rewriting of thousands of Japanese phrases in English letters – this is an adaptation, the creation of a version that is understandable to the Western player. And what is described in the article is far from everything that Atlus does, but much of it gives an idea of ​​​​the difficulties that arise in the translation process. Will French, German and Russian versions of new games in the series appear in the future? Unlikely. Final Fantasy XV, Ni no Kuni II, Tales of Berseria – all of these JRPGs have unrealistic environments, so their fantasy worlds are accessible to everyone. But “Yakuza” must be explained, at the same time without depriving it of incomparable charm and charm, and it is almost impossible to do it on time in many languages.

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