Opinion: On Persona 5 and Localization

When Persona 5 released last month it was positively received, but at the same time harshly criticized because of the game’s lackluster localization. Persona 5 was considered “too Japanese”, soaked in Japanese culture and riddled with literal Japanese translations and weird word choices. Is it really such a bad deal? 

I was surprised to learn about the backlash against Persona 5’s English localization. I didn’t think it would go down so bad for some because the game is so Japanese in every way. I’ve thought about the game’s localization after playing the game extensively, and I’ve summarized some of my thoughts below. I loved every moment of the game and I had no problems with the localization, sure I noticed some oddities and mistakes but this never distracted me too much from what was overall a great experience. More than that, playing the game with Japanese voices and English text was fascinating as a student of Japanese language because the script is (most of the time) really close to the Japanese source material, to the point where the English gets… well…

I loved it, because you feel the Japanese so strongly, but at the same time I understand why some players can get so worked up about it.

To the average player, the quality of translation is all the same because they usually don’t have knowledge of Japanese and can’t verify what’s being said. If the resulting phrase looks nice and sounds natural the localization will be regarded as good, regardless if it leaves out some details or completely changes how it was formulated in Japanese. I understand the principles of game localization and how it’s different from a direct translation, but I prefer a localization to stay as close to the Japanese source material as possible. I think it’s possible to do this in a way where the English sounds natural too.

Having a game stick as close to its Japanese script might sometimes result in phrases that sound unnatural in spoken English, but that’s perfectly fine. They are natural in Japanese and scriptwriters actually put plenty of work in how phrases are formulated. They’re not there at random. Every line in the Japanese script of Persona 5 is written with an intent to convey something, and we would take it and mold it into something else that closely resembles it to make it more natural? It’s the same as going to a McDonalds and seeing this delicious mouthwatering burger on an advertisement, ordering it and well… you know how it turns out. Sure, you have that burger with the taste and every ingredient that was advertised. That’s enough, is it?

Another thing we should take into account is that the localization team gets firm instructions by Atlus. They don’t just randomly translate. Maybe if Atlus said to do a very free translation and make it really natural to native English speakers, there might be no problems and discussions right now. Yet, that’s not what happened. This is only an assumption but maybe the localization team was directed to localize it this way. They certainly said that they tried to localize it as authentic to the source material as possible. Related to this, voice actress Erica Harlacher, who did the voice for Ann Takamaki has already said that she received explicit instructions from Atlus to pronounce the Japanese names in a broken English instead of the proper Japanese pronunciation, something which also got a lot of backlash from fans.

English, *insert swear word here* Do You Speak It?

Granted there’s some really bad word choices and weird phrases in Persona 5’s localization, but it never distracted me too much. Japanese also has some expressions which English simply doesn’t have, and they’re included in Persona 5 in a literal manner (like “Please take care of me”). While some people came up with better translations, others came up with phrases which just completely twist the source material. Sadly, the game’s localization is no stranger to this either as there are indeed a handful of complete translation errors, some of which are really baffling. (I have no idea how “いや、そういう訳じゃ…” translated as the exact opposite into “Uh, that’s exactly the case…” could’ve passed a QA check). Luckily the translation of the game as a whole isn’t flawed and there are plenty of great lines that mask some of these shortcomings. While some sites might have you believe the game’s translation is downright wrong, translation errors are few and far between and generally overshadowed by an enjoyable localized script.  I can only assume that, even after a delay, the translation team was on a tight deadline and had to rush things.

Someone went through the trouble of dedicating a site to this: personaproblems.com. The site outlines some of these issues and gives many examples as well as possible improvements. Some examples like the translation errors I agree with, but the site’s alternative translation of “scattered dialogue” is way too free and removes any work put into the Japanese script. Sadly sites like these as well as some articles on video gaming websites make it look as if the whole game has a flawed localization to the point where it’s unplayable. This isn’t the case, yet some have used this as a justification to go attacking or insulting the translators involved.

I always feel sorry for scriptwriters of Japanese games, because sometimes dialogue gets changed so much that characters get an entirely different personality after a localization. (looking at you Final Fantasy XV). Some details literally get lost in translation. You literally throw a lot of hard work out of the window. Japanese is different. Persona 5 is different. That should be celebrated, and not hidden away. In Persona 5 you can feel the Japanese script and sometimes it gives you a good look at how the Japanese language works. As a Japanology student, I love this and I’m glad the original work of the scriptwriter is elevated and not put into the shadows. Sure, I agree that it can be better in some areas, but completely changing the script for an approximate translation is out of the question for me, especially with a game this rooted in Japanese culture.

Let’s keep Japan Japanese

At the end of the day we’re playing a Japanese video game and we should respect and value all aspects of the game, even if we don’t like it, even if it’s “weird” to us, even if it’s “too Japanese”. Not everything should be geared or compared to us. Someone actually put a lot of time in creating and writing this and some smaller mistakes aside this was mostly conveyed in the right manner. The game is rooted in Japanese culture, and I’m glad nothing has been changed during localization. It’s a unique and accurate representation of Tokyo (for more on that, read Nick Summers’ “Persona 5 Took me Back to Tokyo”). That should be valued and respected, and not changed or degraded to suit another culture. It’s not about us. Let’s just appreciate this game as a window into Japan.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////

And yes, Igor’s localization is weird and riddled. but he is super shady character too have you seen his nose? He’s not supposed to make sense. // And no, the school quiz answers shouldn’t be changed to be more Western, it’s a Japanese game. Eat your hamburgers, Apollo. // And Atlus… this seriously didn’t have to happen but I love it.

I’ve written some impressions about Persona 5 on my game programming oriented blog, make sure to give it a read!

Read More

Persona 5 deserved better: a translator’s take on a subpar script https://www.polygon.com/2017/4/20/15356026/persona-5-translation-localization

On Persona 5 And Its Localization Controversy: Is It Really Such A Big Deal? https://www.apartment507.com/blogs/japan-gaming/on-persona-5-and-its-localization-controversy-is-it-really-such-a-big-deal

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Thanks for reading, Nick~

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