Video game localization is a balancing act of preserving the original language’s meaning while also making sure it’s understandable for a wider audience. In one unusual example, Sega’s localizers faced a tricky situation trying to localize an NPC who already spoke English for the Western version of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Yakuza is full of minigames and side-quests, many of which have little to do with the gang-related activities implied by the franchise’s name, and Like a Dragon is no exception. One such mission involves a foreigner asking Japanese main character Ichiban Kasuga for directions in English. But rather than changing the language the NPC speaks in the English dub to something non-English, the localizers decided to have a little fun with the player.
“So, part one is taking him and ramping up a little bit of that ‘American man in foreign country,’” Sega of America localization producer Scott Strichart explained as he showed Ichiban breaking the fourth wall during a recent Xbox broadcast. “That little turn to the camera and acknowledgement that this is English-on-English, you don’t get that in the Japanese version. We specifically created that whole animation for the English version.”
For reference, this is how the Like a Dragon scene plays out if the game’s language is set to Japanese. The man asking Ichiban for directions is more polite, and there’s no winking nod to the player:
“This is one of those things that when it came around on the screen, people were gathering around my desk like, ‘How are you going to do this?’” Strichart said.
“It’s very rare that the localization team gets access to the ability to actually change the way the game works to make it work better with an English localization,” Sega of America director of production Sam Mullen added.
While the changes made to the NPC’s voiceover are funny—the “speaking slowly so a non-English speaker understands me” microaggression is way too common in real life—I don’t know if the rest of the joke lands very well. But just like the battle menu changes we reported back in August, this is a cool example of how Sega’s localization team is going beyond simply translating Yakuza: Like a Dragon into English for the Western release.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon lands on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on November 10, with a PlayStation 5 launch scheduled for March 2, 2021. Saves on the current PlayStation will not transfer to the new one.