Like a Dragon: Ishin is one of several spin-offs in the Yakuza (or Like a Dragon) series. However, what makes this entry so unique is that it takes place in the 1800s and features prominent historical figures of that time period. We had the opportunity to sit down with the Like a Dragon: Ishin! localization team members Senior Localization Producer Marilyn Lee, Editor Jason Gallop, Editor Josh Malone, Translator Shun Fukuda, and Translator Tom Bayles to ask them how they managed to tackle this historical drama, and what advice they would give to aspiring editors and translators.
Kazuma Hashimoto, Siliconera: What were some challenges when localizing Like a Dragon: Ishin, given it takes place in the 1800’s were there any colloquialisms or language unique to that time period that you wanted to make sure came across clearly in the text?
Marilyn Lee: One of the highest priorities of the localization team was to ensure we keep the characterization and tone of the Yakuza series characters but also bring in elements of Edo period Japan into their dialogue. The dialects for Kyo and Tosa were a certainly a challenge. Multiple meetings were had before the team finally decided on the direction to take. Another topic that often came up during the process was what term to localize and what to keep in romanization form as we wanted to keep as much flavor of that time period as we could.
Like a Dragon: Ishin has an incredible amount of external information available in an in-game glossary players can pull up during conversations with characters. Was translating this information particularly hard on the team, given the sheer volume of dialogue and text in Yakuza/Like a Dragon Games?
Lee: The glossary, memoirs, and new substories were joint efforts between Japan and the localization teams and went through extensive review and revisions. Fortunately, we have multiple members on the team that are familiar with Japanese history and culture that helped greatly in the localization of this content to make sure they would be helpful and interesting to read for the audiences.
What was one of the most interesting sub-stories the team localized?
Jason Gallop: Due to the nature of Ishin, many of the substories rely on period-specific cul-de-sacs which are edifying to research but challenging to explain concisely. The writers at RGG Studio love using side quests to explore and parody specific Japanese trends, and it’s clear to see the fun they had applying that same technique to Japanese history.
The string of “Ee Ja Nai Ka” substories are a great example. People will almost always stumble onto it early and we only have a couple of sentences to convey and contextualize the historical phenomenon on display. It bears all the hallmarks of the best RGG substories — it’s topical, earnest, and very funny. If the localization is successful, it should invite the player in on the initial joke and keep them emotionally aligned with Ryoma as he grows from wariness to acceptance over the course of the storyline. Then, by the time the English-speaking player sees the racing chicken named “Egg Ja Nai Ka,” hopefully, they’ll laugh with the same cathartic recognition a Japanese player would.
Were there any jokes that were hard to translate due to the language itself, or due to the time period in which Like a Dragon: Ishin takes place?
Tom Bayles: Jokes often resist easy direct translation, and more so as they get briefer and punnier. One highlight of the team’s effort was, you guessed it, brief puns. To see them, you’re going to have to head down to the chicken races and have a look at the contestants’ names.
In Japanese, the chicken names are a mixture of puns that translate well with little to no qualification, references that require context or explanation, and a few charming euphonic nicknames. The “easy” ones naturally wind up closer to the Japanese; for any that require further explanation, the conversation becomes how best to nod to the original while maintaining the game’s tone and sensibility. (And stay within character limits!) Humor being a key part of RGG’s sensibility, there’s a decent amount of leeway here, as the ultimate goal is to create an experience for the player that is genuinely funny in English. Each of these plucky monikers is therefore a little balancing act between the semantics of the Japanese, the funniest chicken-relevant thing you can think of that builds off it, and how you might leverage the game’s tone, setting, or unique patois to heap on extra delight wherever possible. This is how something like “Moto-hiyoko,” literally “once a chick,” becomes “Hell Unshelled,” or “Kachin-kōchin” slides right into “Ka-ching Cochin.”
Worth mentioning that for all that to be successful, it involves not just thoughtful translation and editing, but a robust, ongoing conversation among the loc team. Clarity is crucial in understanding when to take the cue to be funny, and how exactly to do it. A conversation like this also helps everyone hit on “aha” moments together — if a room of dedicated, conscientious professionals is feeling your chicken pun, that’s probably a good sign!
As a new translation team coming to the Like a Dragon series, were there any difficulties retaining key character voices, or was there some kind of compendium the team could reference in relation to how characters speak? What did we do to make sure the tone is correct?
Josh Malone: We did start out with a basic guide compiled from previous iterations of the series, but it was the daily conversation amongst the team that kept us all informed and on the same page about the major and minor details. Thankfully, most of our team either played through or worked directly on earlier Yakuza games, so the voices weren’t a hassle to rein in. Equally helpful, in fact instrumental, was the scene-by-scene availability of the previous version of Ishin — visual and audio reference work wonders for what a localization team can achieve.
As for tone, we understood Ishin as an adaptation of Bakumatsu-era history made to fit the Like a Dragon mold. It’s part murder mystery, part national conspiracy, and part sake-drinking, karaoke-singing, swords-out-guns-blazing madness. In other words, it’s what you’d expect from a Yakuza title, but with 19th century Kyoto in all its beauty and turbulence taking center stage. With that in mind, we endeavored to preserve the characters as they appeared in previous installments, in hopes of creating the feeling that “the cast from Yakuza” was acting out the roles of stylized historical figures. That way, those of us who are new to the complexities and jargon of the time period would have something familiar to latch onto — plus, this was largely the approach the original Japanese script took as well.
Gallop: There’s always something to be said for how far love and knowledge of a property can take you. I’d spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours with these characters long before getting the chance to work on them myself. Coming into Ishin with a profound respect for the conventions already established by the localization team, as well as a personal sense of how both the main cast and the word itself speak, it was relatively easy to jump right in.
Trusting in the knowledge of the senior translators and editors is also vital. Early in the project, the lead editors would often flag my Ryoma as sounding out-of-character for Kiryu — either I’d written him too esoterically in off-the-cuff speech or allowed his voice to be warped by the comedy of a substory. Embrace feedback and keep all of it handily shelved somewhere in mind going forward.
For those looking to enter the field of translation and localization, is there any advice you’d give to new, budding translators?
Shun Fukuda: For aspiring translators, the first thing to try is to put yourself in scenarios where you’ll start utilizing the source language. Immerse yourself and get an idea on some of the nuances from native, everyday use of the languages you hope to translate. Sometimes it can turn into a bit of trial-by-fire, but this is some of the best ways to learn and hone your skills. The other piece of advice is to have passion. If you aren’t consuming the media that involves the languages, do so! And if you already are, keep it going. Keep watching, playing, and reading. Make sure you’re enjoying that media and want to transfer that love to another language. You want your work to be a labor of love. That’s why it’s important to have passion.
Malone: For editors, another important role in our localization process, know your craft: a working knowledge of the source language and strong creative writing skills are a localizer’s fundamentals. Understand tone, intent, and conversational flow. Develop an eye for when things are weird — that’s when it’s time for translators and editors to talk. Know your product: if you’re working on a series, scour every corner of the previous work, learn to emulate its style, and find ways to bring your own talent to the table. If you’re working on something new, create a style guide and hash out the creative vision, ideally with a team, so that each decision works in concert to realize it. Lastly, know yourself: your ability to produce language is directly correlated to your experiences in life and what you can imagine in detail. Listen to how people talk in a variety of mediums, as well as in your personal interactions. You’ll be surprised how much magic is pulled from what you thought was buried away in your head.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is available for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.