Yakuza: Like a Dragon is headed to Western players on November 10, 2020. We asked the series’ longtime localization producer, Scott Strichart, about the process of bringing the game to English-speaking audiences and what fans should expect from the game’s big changes.
Graham Russell, Siliconera: You and the localization team have been around for a lot of these games at this point. What’s changed about your approach from when you joined the Yakuza family to now? Are there choices you’ve made for Like a Dragon that you wouldn’t have done a few years ago?
Scott Strichart, localization producer: My professional growth has been directly tied to the growth of the series in a lot of ways. On Yakuza 0, a single platform, single language subtitle game, I was an associate producer handling its production and acting as the primary text editor. Now here we are, six — I didn’t handle the remasters or this would be nine — games later with Like a Dragon, and I’m a senior producer handling a title that’s five languages, dual audio, dual sub, and five platforms, and I’m not supposed to be in the text at all. The only reason I am is because I refuse to let it go. (laughs) The work and effort it takes to manage all this has changed a lot, and I’ve had to adapt, which has been difficult but also very rewarding.
We appreciate you talking with us, but we know you’re not the only one working on Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s localization. Want to tell us more about your crew and their contributions?
Strichart: Thank you for the opportunity to shout out to my team! I’d be remiss to not mention lead translator Dan Sunstrum, who was my right hand and my rock on Yakuza 6, Judgment, and Like a Dragon. Then I’ve got additional translators Shun Fukuda and Ryan Sugo, with editors Stephanie Spoleti, Jacob Onofrio, Josh Malone, and John Moralis, who came in late for some clutch focused help. My team changes each title, but all of these folks were stellar and it wouldn’t be possible without them.
With full English voice acting joining the series, you and the team have opted to tailor the script twice to better suit each option. How much more work is that, exactly? What techniques do you use to make that manageable?
Strichart: I insisted on this for Judgment because I think most games gravitate to English as the default language, which often does the Japanese a disservice. Even a non-native speaker can tell when sentences get switched around, when words are added, and when sentiment is changed. You end up with “dubtitles,” which have always had a negative connotation. But the [Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio] titles are the inverse, where the default language is Japanese, so dubtitles would be pretty disrespectful to the core audience, I think.
For Judgment, it took me and the RGG team a while to sort all the technicalities out, so we’d already been writing the English voice script. Then we had to go back through that to figure out where it had strayed too far from the translation and pull it back down.
For Like a Dragon, we were prepared for this from the start. Dan translated it, and then Stephanie and I took that into a voice script while I took to the Japanese audio subtitles personally, because I don’t actually get more staff to accommodate what is still viewed as a little crazy internally. (laughs) As a result, the two scripts are more different than they were for Judgment. Entire scenes tell the same story in two ways, because that’s translation for you — no two people will do it the same way.
That said, this really organic process began to happen. Using our tools, we could see each other’s passes in real time. We were able to take some of the voice script’s lines to the Japanese subs if they felt more natural, and the voice script could be pulled back down toward the subs if it went off the rails, so there is still some level of consistency.
Sorry for the long response, but this stuff is my jam.
How has the pandemic affected your work on Like a Dragon? What was the biggest challenge?
Strichart: The first day of Los Angeles’ “safer at home” orders, or “the lockdown,” was my last day of recording for the English audio for the game. When the sound recording is finished, it falls to me and my team to lay out every scene’s sound files in the dev environment and adjust for motion and timing. So my kitchen table became a development station, with three PCs, a console, two monitors, a lot of peripherals, and an SNES Mini to keep me sane. Not sure it worked. (laughs)
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a shift for the series, not just in genre but also in protagonist and core cast of characters. Was there an effort to reinforce that in localization by making these characters feel and sound different? How challenging was it to preserve those elements from the original Japanese script?
Strichart: It’s been tough over my last two games having to throw out all that familiar character ground we’d learned and adjust for entirely new casts. But the RGG team are masters of character, and it’s easy to follow their lead as a localization team. We do have to figure out speech patterns, formality versus casualness, all that stuff, and it can be tough to keep it consistent across multiple translators and editors. I ask my team to overcommunicate, throw out lines for critique, and discuss characterization choices openly. Ultimately, I end up going back through as much of it as I can to make sure it’s consistent, too.
One of Ichiban Kasuga’s defining traits is his unusually direct approach to conversation. This is something that has an obvious, entrenched meaning in Japanese language and culture, but it feels like it would be hard to localize. What sorts of things did you do to make this work in English?
Strichart: You’re absolutely right to point out Ichiban’s directness, and if that was the only thing about him, it might be difficult to communicate in English. But he also has a natural charisma that draws people to him. So while you’d think people would be turned off by this direct, blunt approach, a lot of characters are actually really drawn to it, and that’s not such a foreign concept in the West. Sure, he’s blunt, but he’s honest! Friendly! Approachable! People like people like that.
In your self-styled role as the Yakuza series’ localization “patriarch,” you’ve done a lot of research and work on the world and its history. How do you bring that knowledge into what’s essentially a soft reboot for the franchise? Were there times when you had to weigh the value of fan-pleasing references against the goal of making the new game a fresh jumping-in point?
Strichart: We generally follow the dev team’s lead on this, because they know best about when they want to wink and nod to the longtime fans, and they certainly do it throughout this one. It’s not unheard of for us to do our own, but I’d like to think it’s pretty subtle when we do. Or if it’s not, that it was worth it.
You’ve localized lots of RPGs and lots of Yakuza games. Is there something different about localizing a game that’s both at once?
Strichart: Haha, it feels pretty homey, actually. I love the way Like a Dragon applies the “real world” to classic JRPG tropes, creating this really unique blend of classic and fresh. For instance, the jobs don’t one-to-one match your average JRPG expectations. You can’t just say okay, give me the warrior-healer-mage-thief cocktail. You have to figure out what each job is going to do, and I think you’ll find them refreshingly unique.
Like a Dragon takes every opportunity it can to reference and lampoon RPG tropes. How much of this was in the original Japanese version? What was it like to localize that sort of thing, and how much of it did you need to adapt to make sense to Western audiences?
Strichart: The majority of it comes from the Japanese version! But for every JRPG reference that’s just… really obscure in the West, we found ways to make others. Our pun-filled enemy and skill names, the honk-honk…
What’s your favorite bit of wordplay in this one?
Strichart: Well I have lots! But I was just thinking about the enemy names, and there’s this big buff pirate enemy with a trident and he’s called… Pier Reviewer. It’s so stupid, but I laugh every time I see him, so mission accomplished there, team. The Nancy the Crawfish summon being called “Crustacean Damnation” is also good.
Thanks to Scott for taking the time to talk to us! This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Yakuza: Like a Dragon releases November 10, 2020 on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. A PlayStation 5 release will follow on March 2, 2021. For more on the game, check out our preview, and check back for our full review!