Persona 5’s Cultural Differences Made Localization Very Challenging, Says Localizer
(Last Updated On: June 16, 2016)

Persona 5 was heavily delayed, being moved out of a summer window and shifted to February 14th, 2017. One of the things that had a lot of people curious about the delay is whether or not it was affected by the localization of the game. Well, whether or not localization affected the delay remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: it has been very challenging.

During the E3 show floor interviews the PlayStation brand had Justin Massongill from Sony Interactive Entertainment America interviewing people from various development studios about upcoming titles for PlayStation consoles. One of the people he managed to talk to was translator Mai Namba from Atlus’ localization team, who is currently working on Persona 5 for the PS3 and PS4.

Massongill had some very interesting questions for the translator, slowly trying to pry into how much of Persona 5 was being altered, changed, butchered, mangled, improved or tailored to suit the cultural differences of Western audiences.

Massongill pried Namba about the job of being a translator, which you can check out in the clip below.

For the hearing impaired, Massongill asked how challenging the job was in translating Persona 5, and Namba responded by saying…

“It actually is [very challenging] because the game is set in Tokyo. It’s Japan, so a lot of the jokes that are referenced, a lot of the news that are referenced – it’s based in Japan. When we’re localizing the game we have to keep in mind: How do we keep it true to the original Japanese game but also make it accessible to the American audience?

 

“So… there are jokes that are definitely not going to translate over from Japanese to English, so we have to tweak it a bit [and] make sure that we’re still getting the same idea across… but make it fun. So the localization process for a Persona game is definitely very, very challenging.”

Massongill wasn’t done with the inquisition into the localization process for Persona 5. He continued to drill Namba about her team’s task in bringing the game to life for English speaking audiences, asking about how the challenges of a large scale, story-driven game like Persona 5 ties into bringing the characters from one region to the next while also keeping them autochthonous.

According to Namba, she explained that there are always translators who play the game and then get familiar with all of the characters and story, and then those translators sit down with the rest of the team and then they attempt to flesh out the characters. Namba mentions that they go over mannerisms, how they talk, idiosyncrasies and things of that sort, calling it an “off and on” project.

Finally, Masongill asked if localization teams play through the entire game first before going through the translation and localization process or do they play it piecemeal and go from there. According to Namba…

“With a game as big as Persona 5, a lot of times the game is still in development [during localization], so we will get the assets from Japan and we will try to make use of that as much as possible; try to figure out all of the characters and work from there.

 

“If we’re lucky, we’ll get a full enough build that we can actually play through and get a full grasp of it, but that doesn’t necessarily happen all the time, unfortunately.”

The questions were interesting but the answers were very diplomatic. Following on the heels of previous controversies involving the localization methods – especially from Nintendo’s North American Treehouse – gamers have been extremely cautious about games getting translated and titles being ported from Japan to America and Europe.

Mostly it’s been the North American localization branches that have taken liberties with completely censoring storylines (i.e., like in the case of Blade & Soul) or removing character options (i.e., such as removing the chest slider in the character creation process of Xenoblade Chronicles X) or destroying the female anatomy due to some female body parts being considered perverse (i.e., such as removing the female pelvic bones in Tokya Mirage Sessions #FE).

So far there haven’t been any major reports about censorship happening in Persona 5, and it was nice to see someone from SIE trying to get to the bottom of whether or not Atlus’ localization team would be making any major changes to the title as it makes the transition from the East to the West. For right now it appears as if everything is fine and dandy in the Atlus camp when it comes to localizing Persona 5 for the PS3 and PS4.

You can look to get your hands on the game come Valentine’s Day on February 14th, 2017.


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Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

  • Ogion

    I hope it’s not something like this.

  • >Also make it accessible to the American audience

    FFS. Localizers still insist on putting their mark on foreign games.

    This shit really needs to stop. We want the game, not their revisionist fiction. That’s not their job, and especially not what they’re paid to do. This is vandalism, pure and simple.

    This why fansubbed/fan translated works are always superior.

  • Fear Me I Am Free

    They better not fuck this up.

  • Somehow, I don’t think it will be only the jokes they will have difficulty “localizing”.

    “So the localization process for a Persona game is definitely very, very challenging.”

    “keep it true to the original Japanese game but also make it accessible to the American audience”

    “Also make it accessible to the American audience”

    And I think we all know what that entails.

    Still have faith that it will turn out good, but I won’t hold my breath.

    It really has gotten to the point that I see the word “localization” being synonymous with censorship.

  • TT

    NoA, not to mention that stuff with NiSA and Aksys, has shattered alot of
    the faith I had in the process especially after the mess with Fire
    Emblem and even now with TMS.
    I want to believe Atlus isn’t going to screw it up, I do, but I’d like some kind of assurance that will be the case.

  • Ms_Fortune

    Bull fucking shit, Persona 3 and 4 had all the japanese holidays and patterns of japanese speech, this is pure horseshit.

    Now I’m worried this is gonna be another butchered mess.

  • C G Saturation

    Localization differences make purchasing Western games very unappealing, says me. I hope they didn’t try to shove in anti-ethics jabs again.

    Seriously though, I understand there are a lot of things that don’t translate to English well, if at all.

    A few examples I recall off-hand: in Yakuza 5, as Haruka, there’s a mini-game about “correct Japanese language” and another one where you have to sign for fans using the correct Chinese symbols for their names. I always wondered how that’d end up being localized. In Ib, the male character speaks using very feminine language. That’s completely lost in the English translations.

    As someone with decent knowledge of Japanese, I’m very glad to be able to understand most Japanese nuances and puns in the original source material. I wish everyone else could understand and enjoy them too.

    And of course, there’s always the issue that Western localization often doesn’t respect the source material, and Westerners often don’t take animated works seriously. They overdramatize to “compensate”, or think they don’t need to give a good performance because, being animated, it “must be aimed at kids”.

  • Dgnfly

    So another game getting westernized to appease the stupid, no wonder actually with ATLUS and its english bias agenda.

  • LurkerJK

    I would be happy if they just translated literally and left the original voice overs, Japanese seiyus always put an extra effort with their voices i can hear the emotion even if i dont understand it, western ones often sound just plain bored

    • scemar

      yeah that’s one of the big points of JP audio over dubs for me
      they are simply more over the top, more into it

      with subs the audio carries the emotions, the text carries the meaning

      but with a dub, you get the meaning, but sort of lose the emotions and a lot of the characterization of some characters is often lost too

      what’s the net benefit of a dub? not having to read, a minor convenience

  • scemar

    interesting subject, never a simple way of seeing things

    if something references or alludes to something that’s relatively well known to regular people in Tokyo but no one overseas would understand, I’m kind of ok with it being changed to something similar that people would actually understand

    not the case for something that’s so common in anime that a considerable part of the game’s audience would be accustomed to it by now

    that’s why for the most part I prefer how fansubs have dealt with these matters, because they actually know the sort of stuff the audience would understand, stuff that needs no cultural or linguistic processing for them to get it, vs stuff that would fly over people or they’d need to google

    tho that does beg the question, should a game with Tokyo popular culture be “localized” to people from a different part of Japan who would not get those references either?

    and Atlus still refusing to put in the JP audio is just pathetic at this point because everyone else is doing it, that’s lowkey one of the reasons I want Sega to just force them to put out PC ports already, because those could be easily undubbed