Translating Japanese games for Western audiences = bad idea?

Not ALL video games should be dumbed-down for international audiences.

If you’re a video game company, for example, and you want to gain an international gaming audience for one of your particular titles, please attempt to do so intelligently.

No one told this to SEGA when the company tried to expand the reach of its Yakuza title.

Kotaku spoke with Demian Smith, a guy who was tasked with translating the dialogue from Japanese to English for the game’s English release.

As Smith recounted to Kotaku,

I recall one meeting concerning how to translate terms used in the hierarchy, like oyabun, wakaishu, chinpira, etc. Personally, I wanted to keep it all in Japanese, but SEGA insisted that it all had to be in English. I first I suggested, half jokingly, we use the mafia equivalents. They actually considered it for a while… Luckily, that got vetoed, and a straight-up translation of the ranks, like brother for aniki and henchman for kobun, was used. The end product, in my opinion, was generic and less authentic.

The Kotaku article, which includes a trailer for the Yakuza game for some background on the issue, notes that the “Americanizing” of the Yakuza game included voice work by actors Michael Madsen, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Mark Hamill (better known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films).

Consider the Yakuza case an instance of a video game company wanting a result but not really putting in enough effort to turn a profit. Clearly, SEGA wanted to reach an international audience for Yakuza, a game the company must have had high hopes for. The horribly-translated English version, though, bombed, probably due to gamers not appreciating the shoddy dub work by the translators.

What do you think about over dubbing video game dialogue for different audiences? Is there a way to do it admirably, or is Yakuza’s disaster just an example of why it doesn’t work?



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