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Interview: Localizing Great Ace Attorney Chronicles for the West

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The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles localization

At long last, The Great Ace Attorney and The Great Ace Attorney 2 have made their way to the West in one collection: The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. Fans of the Ace Attorney series have been chomping at the bit for Capcom to localize these titles for some time, but bringing these titles over takes more than just simple translations of the original Japanese. To learn more about what goes into localizing a game, especially the localization of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Siliconera spoke to Localization Director Janet Hsu about this process.

Keri Honea, Siliconera: How do you approach localizing a game like The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles?

Janet Hsu, Capcom: I approach the localization of any Ace Attorney title from a variety of standpoints: as a game, as a story, and as a project, just to name a few. Since the story and the character dialogue is the heart of the gameplay, a lot of work goes into making sure that people can solve the puzzles that appear all throughout. So, understanding how the story is put together and what lines are foreshadowing what plot point or puzzle answer is the first step in an Ace Attorney game’s localization. Once I understand that, then I can add the characters’ personalities to that foundation, while taking care to never let a characterization overtake the structural purpose of each character’s lines. And as this is a project, I have to make sure I can do it all within the time and resources I’m given.

For The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, there were additional considerations and steps of course, including the need to research a lot more of the historical and cultural background information on which to base our translation. Another consideration was just how far the localization should go in preserving the “period feel” of the setting. There were also a lot of UI and graphical elements that needed upgrading and adapting due to the move from a smaller handheld to higher resolution platforms. The perfect example of these extra considerations is the Court Record subtitle system where, in an effort to preserve the flavor of the Meiji Japan setting, I asked the programmers to create a new UI system with which I could add subtitles to pieces of evidence instead of redoing the textures in English.

Did you have to change some of the Japanese nuances for the Western audience? Which one or two were most notable and how did you handle that?

Hsu: Generally, we didn’t change anything as the nuances that were originally there are what makes each element distinctly Japanese or British. But I can think of one clear example where we fine-tuned the phrasing in English to better bring out the intended nuance.

In one scene of the game, Susato talks with someone about a personal decision she’s made. Since many players from a Western audience may not have a thorough understanding of Japanese culture, I wanted to make absolutely sure that the impression we gave in the English version is not that she’s asking for permission or being overly deferential, but that she is following Japanese etiquette. She is prioritizing the group over herself as an individual so she’s informing the other parties of her decision, while making sure that it will be alright for them. She also leaves an out for them in case it isn’t, which is a common way for Japanese people to remain non-confrontational when making decisions together. I remember leaving notes for the translators and the voice actors for this scene so that we would get it just right.

great ace attorney chronicles localization

What was the hardest piece of dialogue to localize?

Hsu: This isn’t the hardest piece of dialogue, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I can say this example is an interesting one. In episode two of the second game, Ryunosuke and Susato have a fun little conversation about the snowman on Briar Road. In the Japanese version, it’s an art joke related to how something is “2 heads” or “3 heads” high, but this wasn’t going to translate very well or be very funny in the English version. It also relied on a player having clicked on Ryunosuke’s daruma and/or knowing what a daruma is. Making things even more difficult is the fact that British snowmen are not made out of three parts like American ones are; they are actually made of only two balls of snow – the same as Japanese snowmen. The translators and I re-wrote this to be more factually accurate and less dependent on linguistic knowledge while keeping it light-hearted and humorous, so I hope you’ll examine it for yourself when you get the chance.

How do you localize content while maintaining the feeling of the original?

Hsu: Maintaining the feel of the original comes down to an understanding of what the Japanese version was going for and then finding an equivalent in English, or its nearest approximation. In this game, the overall tone of the character dialogue is more grounded than previous games, and due to it being a period piece, no one is using slang or internet jargon. So, to keep that same feel, the English refrains from using slang and modern idioms as well. This is true even for characters like the East End pickpocket Gina Lestrade, who speaks with a blue-collar Cockney accent, and especially true for someone like Barok van Zieks, who will insult you in the poshest and most aristocratic way possible. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to know the characters and their motivations well for consistency and for adding in-character touches to their lines.

The next level above that is the tone of the conversation or the scene. For that, I think a localizer’s ability to empathize plays a large role in correctly capturing the nuances of each line and the flow of the scene overall. It’s very easy to translate something word for word, but the true mark of a translator’s skill is in their ability to convey the natural flow of a conversation and the underlying emotions of each character taking part in it. I had an experience once on a different project where there was a rather delicate scene that required the translation to keep the underlying uncomfortable and strained tension intact, but the initial translation changed it by throwing a joke in. Naturally, I rewrote that section, but it was interesting to see that for some people, it might even come down to their own feelings about a scene and their ability to process it and re-write it in the target language as it was originally intended.

Localizations, especially for visual novels, are often riddled with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. How does your team skirt these sorts of issues?

Hsu: Taking care of quality control issues starts at the ground level for a project like this. For The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, we’re extremely fortunate that the team at Plus Alpha Translations are incredibly attentive people, so the base translation and editing came back to me with very few errors to begin with. As I reviewed the translation between each round, I would also point out errors as I spotted them, so by the time we got to linguistic testing, we were mostly focused on correcting style inconsistency issues and adding extra polish.

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How did the localizations of the past Ace Attorney games influence The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles?

Hsu: My experience in localizing them is probably the only influential thing about the previous titles, to be honest. I always approach each game on its own terms without any preconceived notions of how it should be localized. So, for The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, I took a look at its story, its characters, and its puzzles, and the sum of those elements (among others) led me to the style we wound up with. As this game is a prequel, it really allowed me to let my creativity run wild during the brainstorming stage, and I took full advantage of this freedom to try something fresh and new in all areas of the localization.

I will say that localizing this title from scratch for current gen platforms is also another big factor in the new localization style, as the extra system memory allowed me to implement new features like the Court Record subtitle system, as well as ensure that returning features like the backlog would function more reliably (English has a ton more letters per sentence than Japanese, which means that keeping all those boxes of text in memory sucks up resources like a black hole sometimes!). Hardware envy is real when you wish you could do more but can’t due to limitations, haha!

While Ryunosuke is Japanese, cases in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles take place in London. How did the English setting influence the localization process?

Hsu: The setting itself didn’t have much of an impact on the localization process itself, per se, but it did influence my decision on who I would entrust this monumental task to. The Japanese version takes great care to make the London setting feel real, so instead of leaning on American ideas of a stereotypical England, I wanted to really celebrate the culture of the UK by using British translators. That’s when I turned to Plus Alpha, whose phenomenal past translation work filled my mind with the rich characterization possibilities they could bring to the world of The Great Ace Attorney.

You’ve been working on Ace Attorney localizations for years. How did that experience come in handy on The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles? Do you feel that helped with the process?

Hsu: With every title, I find that my experience helps in terms of logistics, but not much else, haha. You’d think that after all the games and ports I’ve worked on, I should be able to localize this series with my eyes closed. However, each title is so unique that they always present their own foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges, both technically and linguistically. After all, the Japanese development team is always coming up with new ways to evolve the series as well. But I have developed a sort of intuition about what sorts of tasks need to be done when, and what sorts of pitfalls to watch out for.

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Still, as I mentioned earlier, I approach this game from all sorts of angles now, which is very different from when I first started working on this series. Back then, I remember only seeing the game from the story and characterization angle. As I became more involved with the dev side of things, my curiosity took over and I began to dissect and learn how the games themselves were put together, leading me to understanding the scripting language we use. This came in handy since the scripting has gotten more and more complex with each game, to the point that when you play The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, you’ll notice that there is an insane level of detail in how text is presented, among other things. I also began to understand the game engine better, which allowed me to consider more options in how to localize certain things, such as how to make the title cards for each episode in this game not repeat the same text on two different layers while keeping the same presentation style as the Japanese.

If you could work on any future localization project from Capcom, why would it be Ace Attorney Investigations 2?

Hsu: Honestly, I haven’t had much time to think about much outside of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles lately. As of now, all my efforts are focused on sending Ryunosuke (my son!) off into the wider world.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is available for the PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC

Keri Honea
Keri has been a part of the video games industry as a writer and editor since 2004. Her video game backstory is long, convoluted, and better left unheard. When she’s not playing or writing about video games, she’s reading Warhammer 40k novels, teaching yoga, and making sure her kids don’t burn down the house.