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A deeper look at the fumbles in Persona 5's localization, and the industry in general

Aug 24, 2012
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A localization and print editor by the name of Connor Krammer has put together a site looking at some of the issues with the game's translation. We previously had a thread here discussing some of these problems, but it was rather mud-slingy and often went into tangents about pronunciation and subtitling, which are separate issues. This is a much more focused and insightful look at not just the issues in the game, but also a fresh perspective on the localization industry.

Here's the link: http://www.personaproblems.com/ (There is an optional grey theme if the red is difficult to read. Click on "Toggle theme: Relaxed" in the first section)

It features specific examples (with both the English and Japanese text) with clear commentary on the problems.

But the point isn't just to nitpick the game's script, or to say that it's complete trash and you're garbage for enjoying it.

The point seems to be to shine a light on the localization and translation industry itself. What game localization is, why it matters, and how we got where we are today. I think it's worth a read for anyone interested in how games transfer from Japanese to English, even if you're not interested in picking holes in Persona 5's localization specifically.

He starts by laying out a lot of things clearly for people who may not be familiar with the industry.

What is translation?#1
I'll start with what translation is, and what translation is not.

Translation is:

Adapting text from one language to another
Ensuring that the adapted text is faithful to the creator's original intent
Conveying foreign concepts gracefully and without distortion
Allowing readers to enjoy the same experience in both languages
Translation is not:

A word-by-word conversion of language A to language B
Removing content that is difficult or controversial to readers
Leaving content untranslated because it is challenging to convey
Changing content to suit the translator's subjective preference
Localization is a broader process, and involves adapting content so it's more easily understood in different regions. This generally involves translation, and may involve other adjustments—such as converting between regional measurement systems or exchanging obscure pop culture references for ones appropriate for the target audience.1

Localization tends to be a much more controversial term because of how video game translation and consumer awareness of it have evolved over time. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, good localization will never violate the principles of translation listed above.

You can find more information on the topic under the ASK item ”What does good translation look like?"

1: The trick is to ensure that the reference is equally obscure both before and after, relative to the given audience. A common British reference might be literally impossible to understand for a Japanese reader, so a localizer will attempt to find a common ground that clicks with the target audience without culturally undermining the text. Localization is hard.

He also goes into a lot of the reasons that poor translations have such a strong hold over some people. It's not wrong for you to hold that opinion, per se, but it's actually possible to argue that it's disrespectful to the creators.

”I like that I can feel the Japanese behind the translation."

It's definitely great to get to experience the cultural aspect of a piece of foreign writing. However, that foreign nature should be expressed by the text's content, not by the text's awkwardness.

This goes back to creator intent. If the original creator were perfectly fluent in English, would they have made their writing intentionally awkward just so readers could feel how ”foreign" it is?

Probably not. And thus, neither should the translator.

As someone who is deeply interested in this industry, I'm glad to have this coming up as a real topic of discourse. I'm also really grateful that someone put it all together so nicely in a way that anyone in or out of the industry can easily read and appreciate.

Give it a look!
 
Aug 24, 2012
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Very interested in reading, but I haven't completed Persona 5 yet. Are there any spoilers that you know of, Spork?

None that I see. Most of the lines are presented out of context (meaning, the context is explained in general terms so as to avoid specifics), so while they may be from late-game, you wouldn't really be able to be spoiled by them. Some character names crop up, so you may learn of a character being involved in the investigation or some such in advance.
 

Crayons

Banned
Nov 27, 2009
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I have certainly read a lot on GAF critical of the translation but personally, I'm a fan of the translation and I don't have any complaints

Edit: then again, I speak Japanese so I guess it didnt feel unnatural to me
 

SolVanderlyn

Thanos acquires the fully powered Infinity Gauntlet in The Avengers: Infinity War, but loses when all the superheroes team up together to stop him.
Oct 14, 2012
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creditconcerto.blogspot.com
Outside of of the obvious lines like "He is a scum" (which are very rare) or the occasional slightly wonky wording, I didn't have any major gripes with the translation
 
Jul 20, 2009
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Outside of of the obvious lines like "He is a scum" (which are very rare) or the occasional slightly wonky wording, I didn't have any major gripes with the translation
There are a lot of great examples on the website though.


The localization obviously doesn't stand out if you've ever watched a c-tier anime before, but I'm glad a site like this exists that points out the relatively thankless job an editor has in elevating a localization into something more coherent.

One of my major qualms with Persona 5 was how overwrought and outright redundant and boring most of the dialogue was. Maybe some of that is inherent to the material, but more time to do another pass to bring out more personality could have worked wonders.
 

Dreamwriter

Member
Aug 23, 2006
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Very interested in reading, but I haven't completed Persona 5 yet. Are there any spoilers that you know of, Spork?
Yes, there are spoilers, in the damn header at the top flashing random phrases. If you don't read that, the first 7 pages or so are all from the beginning of the game (and the author tries to avoid actually spoiling much, too bad he couldn't resist that header).
 

DNAbro

Member
Nov 18, 2013
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That was a lot of work put into this research. Interesting. I could definitely feel some of the awkwardness in how things were presented but I mostly didn't notice.
 

FluxWaveZ

Member
Jul 24, 2012
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There's one voiced line in the very final scene of the game which is indicative of this, and took me out of that moment as a result. This isn't a constant issue throughout the game, but it's certainly recurring enough to be unfortunate, and a sign that there were some localization issues going on for sure.

It's especially bad when it makes a scene confusing, like that Sae example at the beginning of the game that makes it sound like "Older Detective" is psychic and knows she's about to receive a phone call. I wouldn't have even known what the hell he was talking about if it weren't for people pointing it out.

Nice site.
 

F0rneus

Tears in the rain
May 28, 2013
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But the point isn't just to nitpick the game's script, or to say that it's complete trash and you're garbage for enjoying it.

Not sure. Dude is on Twitter retweeting crazy shit like Persona 5 will damage perception of Japanese culture. I mean fucking hell.
 

Giolon

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Dec 5, 2008
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I can agree with points that the text should flow naturally like a native person speaking, but I don't agree with articles like that Kotaku one about how the fact that the game asks a question centered around esoteric Japanese writing and board game knowledge instead of changing it to a western-friendly question is so fucking off base it makes me upset people like that get a platform on major gaming websites.

No, I don't want that. I want the same questions they got in Japan. I want the exact same content. Don't whitewash/sanitize the material for other regions. Don't give me a cultural equivalent - I want the same thing, presented in a language I can understand, not equivalent content.

Yes, I know the author of this site addresses specifically not wanting to remove all traces of Japanese-ness, but this whole thing over P5 is getting pushed in that direction by people with big platforms, and I think it's wrong. Don't give me sushi and call it a hamburger. Give me all the obscure Japanese history and references (the same goes for games set in any other region). It's a good opportunity to learn something outside my own culture.

Even with that said, I don't have a big problem with most of the dialogue in P5. Some of it is awkward, but I've never found it unintelligible. It could have been made better for sure though.
 

Kurdel

Banned
Apr 10, 2010
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Yeah, anyone saying "the localisation is fantastic!" Are actually talking about the voice actors, because the localisation in this game is extremely uneven.
 

YankeeDonB

Member
Feb 24, 2015
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This is a a great site and very ably and thoroughly details the myriad problems in P5's translation. Do better next time Altus!

The site also made me realize I'd started assuming just generally bad writing in the original Japanese, when truly low par translation is the more parsimonious explanation.
 

Sir Ilpalazzo

Member
Nov 9, 2009
5,808
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Not sure. Dude is on Twitter retweeting crazy shit like Persona 5 will damage perception of Japanese culture. I mean fucking hell.

No, the tweet in question is actually pretty reasonable. It's mainly just addressing how a lot of people consume bad translations (like the one this topic is about) and take that to mean that awkward, clunky wordings like that are somehow necessary to carry the nuances of the Japanese language over to English. It's essentially just railing against the idea that literal, bone-dry translations are preferable to liberal ones.
 

PaulloDEC

Member
Sep 6, 2012
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I can agree with points that the text should flow naturally like a native person speaking, but I don't agree with articles like that Kotaku one about how the fact that the game asks a question centered around esoteric Japanese writing and board game knowledge instead of changing it to a western-friendly question is so fucking off base it makes me upset people like that get a platform on major gaming websites.

No, I don't want that. I want the same questions they got in Japan. I want the exact same content. Don't whitewash/sanitize the material for other regions. Don't give me a cultural equivalent - I want the same thing, presented in a language I can understand, not equivalent content.

Would changing the exam questions make any sense? It'd still be a Japanese school, only the questions would be inexplicably geared towards westerners.

Start doing that stuff and you're verging on:

 

Brakke

Banned
Jan 21, 2014
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Website is a mess, especially on mobile.

It's kinda funny to put together a thesis about precision in communication and then present it so poorly.
 

FluxWaveZ

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Jul 24, 2012
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Start doing that stuff and you're verging on:

If you're trying to use that comic in an earnest way, it's a poor argument, because the significant localization changes for the Ace Attorney series is part of its charm for many Western fans.
 

Brakke

Banned
Jan 21, 2014
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Would changing the exam questions make any sense? It'd still be a Japanese school, only the questions would be inexplicably geared towards westerners.

Start doing that stuff and you're verging on:

Ehh the exam part of the game is super dumb. If the game was teaching you the Japanese history and idioms then it'd be aight. But the quizzes just throw questions at you there's no chance you'd know. The game clearly expects some of those to be common knowledge, but they aren't. So don't ask about the American Revolution, but maybe ask about Admiral Perry, or something an American might've encountered.
 

Marmaladefire

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Aug 6, 2012
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I'm not saying P5 has the Best Localization Ever, but why is this the JRPG hill everyone is suddenly wanting to die on? Is it the amount of slice of life stuff? Because no one seemed this heavily invested in FFXV or Nier having flawless locaizations, nor did P3 or P4 set some sort of bar. The reason the localization is that way is pretty simple. Persona fans want awkwardly translated japanese sentence fragments because they get off on the idea that they're sifting through some Japanese cultural landmine that others just couldn't comprehend. Atlus JP execs are out of touch. The two form an insulated symbotic relationship and boom, weird ass translation baby is born.
 

Lunar15

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Jun 15, 2011
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A lot of the flaws I noticed wère in the beginning. Haven't had any issues in over 40 hours since.
 

FluxWaveZ

Member
Jul 24, 2012
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I'm not saying P5 has the Best Localization Ever, but why is this the JRPG hill everyone is suddenly wanting to die on? Is it the amount of slice of life stuff? Because no one seemed this heavily invested in FFXV or Nier having flawless locaizations, nor did P3 or P4 set some sort of bar. The reason the localization is that way is pretty simple. Persona fans want awkwardly translated japanese sentence fragments because they get off on the idea that they're sifting through some Japanese cultural landmine that others just couldn't comprehend. Atlus JP execs are out of touch.

...What.

No, Persona fans want well localized games, which they have been used to because previously localized Persona games have been great. Maybe this is what people are latching onto right now because P5 was an extremely anticipated game, backed by great localization from its predecessors. Maybe Nier and FFXV aren't being fixated on because they lack P5's issues.
 

nynt9

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Jun 7, 2013
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Ehh the exam part of the game is super dumb. If the game was teaching you the Japanese history and idioms then it'd be aight. But the quizzes just throw questions at you there's no chance you'd know. The game clearly expects some of those to be common knowledge, but they aren't. So don't ask about the American Revolution, but maybe ask about Admiral Perry, or something an American might've encountered.

I didn't grow up in America. I don't know who the fuck Admiral Perry is. Why is it supposed to be translated to pander to Americans? If you're going to change it from the original, make it something global so people from Europe or South America or Middle East can understand it too.
 

funkystudent

Member
Apr 3, 2010
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Did a bunch of important people leave Atlus US between Persona 4 and now?


Persona 4 is possibly the GOAT localisation. Even Catherine was up there too. In contrast Persona 5 feels like wonky in the ways a lot of Japanese releases feel when before it felt like Atlus was in a class of its own.
 

YianGaruga

Banned
Jun 1, 2009
25,236
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Germany
When the first thread about this popped up I thought the criticism was a bit overblown, but after playing a bit myself and seeing this site I have to agree.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if the reason for this was meddling of the Atlus/Sega JP side or them having the final call. A lot of the "mistakes" seem to result from trying to be extremely literal and not changing the writing in a way that makes sense in a localization.

Same with the streaming policies which make no sense for a western market. In the end I think Japan will hurt the success of the game in the west. It probably could have done even better without their dumb influence.

On a totally unrelated note man am I looking forward to Trails 3rd now
 

TheBryanJZX90

Member
May 4, 2012
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Unfortunately the website also lists a number of reasons why such critiques often fail to take hold among the fanbase. To me these are the biggest problems facing someone who wants well-written games:

1. Anime/JRPG fans have played so many shoddy translations that they are accustomed to the stock phrases and awkward sentence structure
2. Anime/JRPG fans enjoy being a part of a niche audience and feeling like they are being catered to by the creators, and have latched on to poor writing as a substitute for authenticity
3. Consumers of English adaptations are an international group with varying levels of English ability
4. Even looking at games made in English-speaking countries, quality writing has only recently become a focus in the AAA space. Gamers as a whole don't care as much about the words they read as the pixels they see.
 

PaulloDEC

Member
Sep 6, 2012
8,557
3
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If you're trying to use that comic in an earnest way, it's a poor argument, because the significant localization changes for the Ace Attorney series is part of its charm for many Western fans.

So you're saying that nonsensical localisation is fine because sometimes people enjoy it?

Ehh the exam part of the game is super dumb. If the game was teaching you the Japanese history and idioms then it'd be aight. But the quizzes just throw questions at you there's no chance you'd know. The game clearly expects some of those to be common knowledge, but they aren't. So don't ask about the American Revolution, but maybe ask about Admiral Perry, or something an American might've encountered.

I've actually found the exam questions to be pretty diverse as they are. I can remember answering a ton of questions that weren't pertaining to Japanese culture; maybe even the majority of them.
 

FHIZ

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Aug 23, 2007
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Near 60 hours in, if this is considered a bad translation, ya'll got some messed up standards.
 

YankeeDonB

Member
Feb 24, 2015
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...What.

No, Persona fans want well localized games, which they have been used to because previously localized Persona games have been great. Maybe this is what people are latching onto right now because P5 was an extremely anticipated game, backed by great localization from its predecessors. Maybe Nier and FFXV aren't being fixated on because they lack P5's issues.

Indeed, was going to say same thing. Line by line translation in both Nier and XV are solid.
 

Basileus777

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Aug 6, 2008
33,948
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I didn't grow up in America. I don't know who the fuck Admiral Perry is. Why is it supposed to be translated to pander to Americans? If you're going to change it from the original, make it something global so people from Europe or South America or Middle East can understand it too.

This is a funny response considering Admiral Perry plays an important role in Japanese history and is the sort of person that could very well have ended up being in a Persona exam.
 
Jul 3, 2008
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Localization is very difficult—especially if you consider a game whose text volume is as high a Persona 5's. I mean, I don't have exact figures, but a JRPG of that size, you're probably looking at a volume of 3 million words or so. Consider also that a decent translator would have a translation rate of 2500-3000 (let's go with the higher figure for easy math) per day, and mathematically, you're already looking at 1000 man-days of work, excluding other factors like creating terms glossaries and reference materials, as well as proofreading and editing, and this is assuming you're starting from a finished script in the first place, which never happens.

On top of all that, you also need someone editing for consistency, since no two translators will have the same writing style. It's tough!
 

HMD

Member
Sep 23, 2014
2,552
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305
That is some impressive dedicated work, only a game as good as Persona would inspire someone to create a nicely designed website to criticize the occasional badly translated line. As much as this website is criticizing the localization I think it's still a huge praise for the game itself.
 

nynt9

Member
Jun 7, 2013
10,852
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This is a funny response considering Admiral Perry plays an important role in Japanese history and is the sort of person that could very well have ended up being in a Persona exam.

Obviously I looked it up and I get that, but my point is that if you're going to de-Japanize it, don't Americanize it. Just keep it global.
 

Phu

Banned
Jun 17, 2014
3,340
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I didn't grow up in America. I don't know who the fuck Admiral Perry is. Why is it supposed to be translated to pander to Americans? If you're going to change it from the original, make it something global so people from Europe or South America or Middle East can understand it too.

To be fair, an Admiral Perry question is just as much a Japanese history thing as it is an American history thing.
 

FluxWaveZ

Member
Jul 24, 2012
38,083
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So you're saying that nonsensical localisation is fine because sometimes people enjoy it?

No, I'm saying that Ace Attorney is a series beloved by fans because of the personality and identity injected into it by its localization team's significant changes. Japanifornia has become a major part of its appeal.

Are you seriously saying that the English Ace Attorney series has "nonsensical localisation"? One of the best localized series out there?
 

Marmaladefire

Member
Aug 6, 2012
2,829
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0

...What.

No, Persona fans want well localized games, which they have been used to because previously localized Persona games have been great. Maybe this is what people are latching onto right now because P5 was an extremely anticipated game, backed by great localization from its predecessors. Maybe Nier and FFXV aren't being fixated on because they lack P5's issues.

Persona fans want well translated games, but they're also the first people to screech about something they perceive as not being exactly translated "ruining the game", or about how they would prefer not to get an english version at all, etc. P3 and 4 were..pretty much the same. Besides some strange typos and things which I kind of attribute to the sheer amount of dialogue in this game, it isn't much different than its predecessors. It's literally run of the mill Atlus quality, which is why I don't understand why everyone is so shocked. Didn't they not even get to start most of the localization until the game was finished? And then expected to churn out a localization of a 100 hour game? With Atlus asking for shit like the weird pronunciations of "Sa-KA-moto" on the Japanese end? It's not some great mystery as to the factors that led to this translation, not that it means they couldn't have done better work.
 

Basileus777

Member
Aug 6, 2008
33,948
1
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Obviously I looked it up and I get that, but my point is that if you're going to de-Japanize it, don't Americanize it. Just keep it global.

I think it's fine to keep the historical stuff Japanese, it's the kanji related questions that make absolutely no sense to try to adapt into English that come off as weirdly localized. Those questions should just be completely rewritten.
 

Mr. Wonderful

Member
Dec 29, 2007
6,073
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0
www.heretic-gamer.com
Did a bunch of important people leave Atlus US between Persona 4 and now?


Persona 4 is possibly the GOAT localisation. Even Catherine was up there too. In contrast Persona 5 feels like wonky in the ways a lot of Japanese releases feel when before it felt like Atlus was in a class of its own.

I can't figure out if Persona 4 was actually just better, or if I've lost my tolerance for poor translations/localizations. It doesn't bother me too much, to be honest. It's just that I know it could be better. I also really dislike Morgana's writing 40% of the time. I'm really hoping that there's a payoff on why he talks like he just hit adolescence.
 

Acid08

Banned
Feb 4, 2008
40,963
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Bay Area, Cali
Near 60 hours in, if this is considered a bad translation, ya'll got some messed up standards.

Stop being hyperbolic, almost no one is saying it's flat out bad. I love most of it but as a native English speaker I do notice more of the text-only lines than I'd like just not reading in a way that sounds natural. They just don't sound like sentences anyone who speaks English would say.

Thankfully the voiced stuff is mostly fantastic, the VAs did excellent work.