Interview: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney translator Janet Hsu of Capcom

Localizing a sport to a selected area is rarely a straightforward process, and that goes double for a sport just like the upcoming The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, which takes place within the historic 19th century of Japan. Bringing a sport to the West that’s so drenched in Japanese historical past and so reliant on dialogue isn’t any simple feat. Keeping the references comprehensible for a Westerner would take double the analysis and much more translation work. This prequel spin-off of the Ace Attorney collection — initially launched in 2015 — was as soon as upon a time a Japanese-exclusive title, due to undisclosed localization points. Thanks to the expertise at Capcom, such because the localization director Janet Hsu, it’s lastly being introduced over to the West.

Janet Hsu has been on the localization staff of the Ace Attorney collection because the unique Phoenix Wright, and since then has gone to passionately work on every sequential sport. She’s additionally delivered her voice to the prosecutor Franziska von Karma within the English and French variations of the video games. She talked to Polygon about her expertise with translating the Japanese gaming expertise over to Western audiences.

Janet Hsu

Capcom worker Janet Hsu (pictured) has labored on localizations for all six mainline Phoenix Wright video games
Photo: Capcom

Polygon: What are the hurdles in localizing a sport collection that’s as full of Japanese tradition as Ace Attorney?

Janet Hsu: The greatest hurdle for me is ensuring that the puzzles and mysteries are solvable for a Western viewers. That’s all the time my first and largest concern at the beginning of every undertaking. Unlike much less interactive kinds of leisure like books and films, you’ll be able to’t end a sport that you may’t remedy. A quantity of the puzzles in Ace Attorney depend on Japanese wordplay or some nugget of frequent cultural data that will fully stump these not conversant in these traditions or conventions. So deciding find out how to localize one thing after which ensuring the choice doesn’t influence something main within the story or the collection’ established lore, together with carrying that localization by to the top persistently, might be the largest hurdle.

The attraction and humor of the collection as conveyed in every character’s persona and features is one other key factor, since what totally different cultures discover humorous is very subjective. However, there are methods to craft jokes that don’t contain any particular cultural data and even popular culture references. In The Great Ace Attorney, we primarily relied on the myriad of conditions Ryunosuke finds himself in and styled the sport’s humor round characteristically British dry witticisms, together with the same old absurdist and double-act comedy humor which might be the hallmarks of Ace Attorney, with a view to not make something really feel too anachronistic for the setting.

While the opposite Ace Attorney video games happen in additional fashionable occasions and should have simpler work-arounds on the subject of translating for an additional tradition, The Great Ace Attorney takes place partially in 19th century Japan. Has this added any new difficulties?

Back once I was engaged on the Japanese model of the second title, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve, I had dreamed of localizing the duology into Victorian British English, as I needed the sport to really feel like one thing of that period. To that finish, I’d collected a quantity of dictionaries from the late 19th century, particularly the OED from 1888 and a special Oxford dictionary from 1912. So maybe this was extra of a hurdle I created for myself. However, the Japanese is written in a kind of “faux-Meiji Era” type, so I felt it was my responsibility to at the very least carry an equally “faux-Victorian” taste to the English localization.

But it was robust to stay fully to interval phrases, as even phrases like “(to) backstab” had not come into frequent sufficient use to be included in dictionaries, whereas phrases like “(to) snitch” truly existed in British English again then in the best way we use it at present. American English phrases and slang have been additionally out, and it was eye-opening to see what number of phrases we use at present are American in origin or solely got here into use within the final 100 years. It was additionally laborious to resolve which phrases had modified in that means an excessive amount of to convey what we needed to say appropriately. After all, the English we used couldn’t be so incomprehensible or obscure that it required the participant to search for the phrase in a Victorian dictionary!

Herlock Sholmes from The Great Ace Attorney

Image: Capcom

Oddly sufficient, conveying British tradition to an American viewers was one other half of the entire localization puzzle. Aside from the same old confusion round “first floor” that means one thing completely totally different in British English versus American English, the unique Japanese dialogue incorporates so much of references and data pertaining to the late Victorian period (as many Japanese gamers would’ve been unfamiliar with such particulars themselves), and it was attention-grabbing that even the British translators and I needed to do the occasional bit of analysis to get our details straight. In some methods, this title is a celebration of each British and Japanese social and literary tradition on the flip of the 20th century, as represented by the inclusion of real-life writer Soseki Natsume, amongst others.

Speaking of Soseki, one of the problems the translators and I nervous about was ensuring that he got here throughout as lovable as his Japanese counterpart, since Western gamers wouldn’t have a pre-existing cultural attachment to the person. Even although the Soseki of The Great Ace Attorney is extra colourful than his real-life counterpart, Japanese gamers would at the very least know who he’s as a result of he’s required studying in school, and a few older folks even grew up seeing him day by day on their 1,000 yen payments. So there’s a stage of “built-in” fondness from the get-go that we didn’t need to work off of once we have been constructing a singular talking type for him in English.

What would you say was the biggest impediment in localizing the brand new sport?

“Authentic, yet accessible” was my mantra throughout this undertaking, and preserving to that was very laborious at occasions. However, it was additionally a big half of how I saved the textual content taking place the best monitor. Translating issues too authentically generally can result in the textual content turning into inaccessible in some circumstances. This applies not simply to Japanese cultural components, but in addition issues like utilizing extra obscure Victorian Era-words and even hardcore Britishisms that, whereas genuine, would’ve been fully complicated to folks unfamiliar with these phrases and phrases. So whereas we caught to pure British English dialogue writing, we by no means did it in a approach that will trigger a participant to get caught or make a puzzle unsolvable attributable to a cultural or grammatical misunderstanding.

A picture of a purse on a chair, to be presented as evidence in a case in The Great Ace Attorney

Image: Capcom

Authenticity additionally drove how I made a decision we might carry throughout the primary characters’ ideas and emotions. The story and perspective of The Great Ace Attorney is closely tied to the protagonist’s identification as a Japanese nationwide, so I felt it was essential to convey his and Susato’s immigrant expertise the place it appeared within the sport. Drawing alone experiences of being an immigrant, first to America after which to Japan, I assumed it important to maintain their reactions to every new discovery they made in Japanese. Anyone who’s travelled to a different nation can doubtless attest that it’s pure for folks to match new ideas, objects, and experiences with one thing extra acquainted. But how do you try this with out making the participant search for what every phrase means, or having Susato clarify to Ryunosuke one thing he ought to already know as a Japanese man? For instance, Ryunosuke refers to some passenger flying balloons as “temari” within the Japanese model, as that’s what their colourful designs and spherical form reminded him of. In this case, we determined to maintain “temari” however offered a definition by following the phrase up with “handball,” which is a standard follow in translated texts. In different conditions, we labored to ensure the Japanese object or idea may very well be understood by the encompassing character banter or simply the context alone.

Another large impediment has been the quantity of programming/scripting concerned with this explicit title. The Great Ace Attorney actually aimed to carry every character to life by animations and dynamic digicam work. This led to animation adjustments within the center of almost each line of dialogue in some locations. The sport’s visuals are additionally a departure from the mainline Ace Attorney video games in that there are connecting animations between every animation. Because we couldn’t change or rearrange the characters’ animations, we might first translate the sport as naturally as attainable after which alter the interpretation as needed, so that every animation might play out as they have been meant to with out inflicting any unintended bugs as a result of a line was too quick, for instance. In addition, the Japanese model was very fastidiously crafted to create a way of speech by a customized scripting language that may dictate an entire vary of components such because the show velocity of every line, when and for a way lengthy pauses within the textual content and sound results ought to final, and even the velocity at which animations ought to play for comedic impact. So re-creating that “being read aloud” really feel and ensuring the comedic timing was good within the English model as nicely was a monumental process.

And lastly, because of the ongoing pandemic, it was a small miracle we have been in a position to document an English dub in any respect. But every little thing fell into place one way or the other, and I’ve nothing however thanks and appreciation for everybody – particularly our amazingly proficient actors who labored so laborious to make it occur.

Characters in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Image: Capcom

Would you say that the elevated consciousness within the West of Japanese popular culture has made the localization course of simpler?

It’s a bit of a “yes and no” scenario, since Ace Attorney appeals to a fairly broad vary of gamers. While I imagine most gamers at present are extra conscious of Japanese popular culture than these from a decade in the past, it nonetheless breaks the move of the sport if one thing causes a participant to cease taking part in to go look it up. And conceptually, nobody must be anticipated to do analysis with a view to play this collection, so some of the extra obscure issues would nonetheless should be tailored or defined in-game, together with puzzles that depend on Japanese cultural conventions to resolve. So in the long run, the precise work of having to assume by every line of dialogue or puzzle factor and resolve if and the way a lot it must be localized stays comparatively unchanged.

I’ll say although, one factor a better familiarity with Japanese tradition did assist with is that it allowed us so as to add one other layer of depth to the localization by the use of honorifics like “-san” while not having to elucidate what it means. In The Great Ace Attorney, we determined to have Ryunosuke and Susato converse in Japanese to one another within the privateness of their workplace, however converse in English once they’re out and about in public. I felt strongly about this determination from the start. Drawing once more from my very own experiences in America and Japan, there’s a kind of unstated cultural norm whereby talking in a special language in a combined group can generally appear awkward at finest, and confrontational at worst – particularly with folks you don’t know. Given the time interval, I felt that Ryunosuke and Susato would nearly definitely expertise one thing comparable. So as fluent English audio system, I felt they’d make an effort to talk predominantly in English as soon as they’d arrived in London, however permit themselves to talk in Japanese in personal. The Japanese model of the sport doesn’t make this distinction, since it will be considerably awkward to do the identical factor and take significantly extra characters (and valuable on-screen actual property) to write down “Mister” in katakana than “-san”, however within the English model, we’ve gone with “-san” and “Mr.” and “Miss,” and so on. as a approach to distinguish when Ryunosuke and Susato are talking to one another in Japanese versus English.

One of the crime scenes in The Great Ace Attorney, depicting a chalk outline of a body on the floor

Image: Capcom

What was your response when the unique determination was made to maintain The Great Ace Attorney a Japanese-exclusive title?

Personally, I used to be saddened as a result of like each Ace Attorney sport, I needed to share this superb title with followers all over the world. However, I held on to the hope that sometime it is perhaps localized. Needless to say, I used to be so thrilled for everybody the night time The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was introduced that I couldn’t sleep a wink – I used to be too busy making an attempt to maintain up with all of the excited fan reactions!

Have older localization decisions for the collection, resembling altering the setting from Japan to Los Angeles, introduced points in different titles?

Not significantly. I don’t assume that altering the setting has actually created any points that wouldn’t have been current within the course of localizing an Ace Attorney sport. What I imply by that’s, even when we had saved the setting as Japan, the dialogue would nonetheless have required some localization adjustments because the humor would nonetheless should be conveyed, and the graphics would nonetheless have wanted modifications for folks to have the ability to remedy the circumstances.

In the second sport, Justice for All, I made the choice to maintain sure components Japanese which meant fewer localization adjustments have been required for the tips behind the mysteries. For instance, the karuta playing cards in Spirit of Justice clearly needed to be localized with a view to remedy the thriller, however the trick itself remains to be the identical – a dying message spelled out in playing cards with a twist. Furthermore, the construction of the mysteries themselves works on a collection of premises, none of which may very well be modified with out inflicting an entire re-write from the bottom up. So in phrases of the story itself, I don’t assume the localized setting has had that a lot of an influence. In reality, it helped make the localization much less awkward in some conditions whereas preserving the story. For instance, it will’ve been odd to elucidate what rakugo is to a solid of Japanese characters, however because the characters have been American, it grew to become a much more pure approach to ship that bit of cultural info to the participant. And that karuta trick definitely wouldn’t have labored if I couldn’t change sure issues…

Van Zieks in The Great Ace Attorney

Image: Capcom

I believe the 2 points the situation change does create, nonetheless, are the necessity to preserve an internally constant world with every subsequent title, and a better want for gamers to droop their disbelief. The latter situation is extra of a private one, as every participant decides for themselves in the event that they wish to settle for the in-game world as introduced. I do discover it attention-grabbing that some folks insist that the English localization is one way or the other much less “real” just because it’s Japanifornia, when the actual fact that the world of Ace Attorney consists of actual spirit mediums makes it an alternate universe to ours.

By the best way, the change in location didn’t influence The Great Ace Attorney in any respect, since this sport is about to this point again in time that there’s just a few generations in there that followers can fill with headcanons.

Ace Attorney is legendary for the pun-filled names of the characters, each within the Japanese and English variations. Do you all ever discover yourselves stumped when discovering punny names in translation?

Oh, on a regular basis. We undergo rounds and rounds of names collectively in search of the one which finest displays the unique Japanese in tone and really feel. But generally once we needed to get occurring the interpretation, we’d use a short lived title to start out after which hold working to give you one thing higher as we wrote. Still, we normally lock down the names we wish to go together with beforehand to keep away from having to do so much of re-writes.

Ryunosuke Naruhodo addresses the courtroom in The Great Ace Attorney

Image: Capcom

What is your favourite character title within the collection? Are there any you got here up with your self?

I’ve give you fairly just a few myself through the years. For The Great Ace Attorney, the translators and I labored on all of the names collectively. Bif and his little twin brother, Tchikin Strogenov, will all the time carry a smile to my face.

Do you are feeling that the best way you’ve all gone about localizing the Ace Attorney collection has helped the collection appeal to a broader viewers past these with Japanese video games, anime, and issues of the kind?

I do, for positive. I really feel that not requiring a participant to know a terrific deal concerning the nitty gritty of Japanese tradition helps a broader spectrum of folks get into the collection. As an instance, some folks have sure visible aesthetic preferences (anime-style isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, in any case). But generally, folks can set these preferences apart if one thing else concerning the sport catches their curiosity, resembling a relatable story or character. In that sense, I really feel the heavier localization might need allowed some of these gamers to concentrate on simply the thriller and detective work facets of the video games as they slowly acquired sucked into the world of Ace Attorney. From there, they is perhaps impressed to dive deeper into Japanese tradition normally.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles will probably be launched on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on July 27, 2021.

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