As you may already know, the Ace Attorney games originally take place in Japan but the localized version takes place in “Los Angeles,” however, there’s actually more to its development and localization than just that. Siliconera recently spoke with Capcom’s Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice localization director Janet Hsu, who shared more on how things work around the company
The Ace Attorney series has many international fans, but the original games are set in Japan. When creating cases does the development team think about how a case can be localized while it’s being designed? There have been some interesting explanations like Nine-Tales Vale being founded by Japanese immigrants in the United States.
Janet Hsu, Localization Director: While we are truly grateful for our many international fans, Ace Attorney is a series that’s created in Japan by Japanese developers. As such, there is little consideration given to the localized version when the team creates the cases. We use this approach so that the writers can focus on creating the most fun and interesting stories they can.
If the team were to constantly keep the localization in mind, it would serve as a distraction from their main task as they tried to deal with each localization issue as they arose, and even potentially make the story more bland and generic as they make compromises for the sake of the localized version. This is not to say I don’t get to review the content and give feedback on a “big-picture” level, it’s just that the localization is not the focus of the scenario writers’ work. Furthermore, as you mentioned, the Japanese version is set in Japan while the English version is set in America. From this point of divergence alone, the team and I have had to think of – and deal with – the two language versions as essentially two separate entities.
This is why every time an Ace Attorney game is localized, small tweaks are made here and there to the dialogue in order to keep the localized version internally consistent, a la the Nine-Tails Vale example you mentioned. But despite the setting and language change, the goal of the localized version is to convey the same experience to international players, and so to that end, I feel that it is the duty of the English version to preserve the spirit of the Japanese version over the literal text.
Of course, I can’t change the core aspects of each case, such as what tricks are used or the story’s plot, but unlike anime and manga where things can simply be annotated or subtitled (or where it’s not even necessary that a viewer can solve a particular puzzle), progressing through a deduction-based game requires that a player fully understands everything that is going on. So another important aspect of my work is to make sure that the knowledge that is necessary to solve a puzzle is properly conveyed to the player, and sometimes, that means that a piece of dialogue or an illustration needs to be localized in order to, for example, teach an international player something that requires little to no explanation because it’s common knowledge to a Japanese player, or to simply make a puzzle solvable in English.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice releases in North America and Europe on September 8, 2016 for Nintendo 3DS. Learn more about how the game goes beyond “Los Angeles” to a far east setting in Siliconera’s interview with producer Motohide Eshiro and scenario director Takeshi Yamazaki.