Yessss. YESSSS. Give us more localisation articles, precious. We loves them, precious. Especially when they come from Janet Hsu, the localisation director at Capcom who's worked on the series since the beginning, crafting incredible puns and making sure that jokes still land in their new tongue.
In her latest blog, this time for PlayStation (because the upcoming Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is coming out on PS4), Hsu details even more about the difficulties, challenges, and good times that localisation brings, especially in a game so deeply entrenched in Japanese and British culture.
"My guiding philosophy for the localisation of this title was “Authentic, yet Accessible”," says Hsu of her approach to the two games. "Translating and localising for video games is a sort of art: a balancing act of faithfulness to the literal words of the original text and correctly conveying the intentions behind them in a way that the audience can connect with."
A lot of things have been said about localisation in the past, and there have even been a fair few controversies about whether or not localisation is "dumbing down" or censoring the source material by changing its cultural references to ones more easily understood or accepted by the new audience. Hsu's goal — "Authentic, yet Accessible" — means retaining as much of the cultural context as possible while not alienating players without a great deal of knowledge of Japanese history.
Hsu gives the example of a 1972 translation of Soseki Natsume's "I Am A Cat" — a Japanese author from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who features in the Great Ace Attorney — which translates the Japanese currency references into "penny" and "crowns", in keeping with the age of the original text. "To me, this is a case of favouring accessibility over authenticity," says Hsu, "which is certainly one way to assign weight to these two opposing elements. These sorts of balancing decisions are made all the time whenever a piece of work is translated, let alone localized."
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is not only set in Japan and Great Britain, but it's also set in the past — which made for a massive challenge for the localisation team. Hsu spoke to Polygon just last month about the team's choices in trying to depict an "authentic" old-timey vocabulary while keeping it "accessible" and not totally incomprehensible to modern readers.
One particularly tricky episode was the one that features Soseki Natsume himself, because so much of the text is based on Natsume's poems, his choice of words (in Japanese), and wordplay — arguably one of the most difficult things to translate in any language.
For the best understanding of why it was "a nightmare" to localise, you're best off reading Hsu's own words on the blog — we don't know enough about Japanese or poetry or the Meiji era or Natsume's work to even begin to explain — but the point is basically that wordplay is hard enough to localise without the additional complexities of trying to translate beautiful poetry and the culture from which Natsume's work arose.
As for the British elements of the plot and the dialogue, Hsu tended to defer to her colleagues: "From the outset, I’d told the translators that they could write as Britishly as they pleased, and I would be here to dial things like grammar and phrasings back as necessary to ensure accessibility to a wider international audience." This meant creating a "faux-Victorian" style of words and grammar, attempting to balance the "authenticity" and "accessibility". An example is given in this pretty creepy nursery rhyme, that's an old-timey version of "eeny meeny", apparently:
There's even a bunch of interesting tweaks that they made to the punctuation itself, if it's not already clear that localisation specialists are absolute heroes. Hsu had to grapple with the fonts themselves to get it working in the English version — "You do NOT want to know how many fonts I had to look through on that day in search of one tiny dash… *shudder*".
But that's enough about localisation for one day, although we could easily talk about this for hours. Make sure to check out the blog for all the juicy details, even if it is on the Blue Website Which We Dare Not Name.
What's your favourite example of localisation in the Ace Attorney series? Let us know in the comments!