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Yakuza: Like a Dragon Localization Interview with Scott Strichart

RPGamer recently had the chance to put some questions to Sega Localization Producer Scott Strichart about the upcoming western release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. The game provides some significant changes for the series, with Kazuma Kiryu handing over the protagonist reins to Ichiban Kasuga, who brings with him a turn-based combat system, complete with a four-person party and plenty of references to Dragon Quest. We discussed Scott’s work on the series as well as some of the approaches and elements that went into Yakuza: Like a Dragon localization.

RPGamer: What games did you localize prior to the Yakuza series?

Scott Strichart, Sega Localization Producer: I’ve been involved in a lot localization over the years, but I think the titles most people would know best are Persona 4, Radiant Historia, Ni no Kuni (in an advisory role), the GUILD series of titles also from Level 5 (minus Crimson Shroud), and then you’ve got some other gems that are near and dear to me, like Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns and 3D Dot Game Heroes. The list goes on… Haha.

RPGamer: What first attracted you to working on the Yakuza series?

SS: I initially… wasn’t very attracted to it, because I was under the same (incorrect) impression that a lot of people were in 2015, that the series was a dark, gritty, gang narrative that was violent for the sake of violence. How wrong could I be, right? It was only after my first day on the job and being handed Yakuza through Yakuza 5 and told to get through them before starting localization on Yakuza 0 that I saw the appeal — a rich world with rich characters that really wears its heart on its sleeve.

RPGamer: What was your first reaction when you heard Yakuza: Like a Dragon was going to be more of a turn-based RPG, compared to the action-oriented combat of previous games? Did it change the way you approached the localization?

SS: Personally, I’m all for the dev team finding ways to keep the series fresh. Not at all to say that I thought it was getting stale. I think it was a really bold choice and I’m proud of them for throwing themselves at the challenge. As you can see in my history up there, I’ve localized a lot of JRPGs, and it was neat to lean back into that experience and already know the pitfalls — i.e. if an enemy uses “Paralyze,” is the status ailment called “Paralysis” or “Paralyzed” and should it be capitalized, and all that fun stuff. Haha.

RPGamer: How much did the success of Judgment influence the localization choices for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, such as the dual English subtitles or deciding to go with an English VO option?

SS: A lot, actually. For Judgment, we could take a lot of risks because it was essentially a new IP. In other words, if we did something that ended up blowing up in our faces, we’d be able to pull back from it without doing any harm to the main line. So we threw the localization kitchen sink at it. Five text languages, dual subtitles, dual audio, and ultimately, it all went over really well, so it all stuck.

RPGamer: Which Yazuka title (either unreleased or released) would you love to see a “Kiwami”-style update happen for?

SS: People often wonder if RGG (Ryu ga Gotoku Studio) would ever do a Yakuza Kiwami 3 being that it’s now the oldest main line title to not receive that kind of update and it may be difficult for some people to transition from Yakuza Kiwami 2 to even the Yakuza 3 Remaster for the sheer gap in age. But personally! And purely personally… I would rather they do some of the games we never got a chance to bring to the West so there’d be a really good excuse to localize them for the first time. Like, there’s always someone who posts “Yakuza Black Panther WHEN” on social and I’m telling you, I’d be laughed out of the building if I proposed localizing a PSP game in 2020…

RPGamer: Did knowing for some people this would be their first Yakuza title change the way you approached the localization?

SS: Not really. We approach every game like we want as many people to play it as possible, whether it’s a sequel or a great entry point like this one.

RPGamer: What’s the most challenging part of Yakuza to localize to a western audience?

SS: Perhaps this is generic, but the sheer amount of text and the number of characters it requires is the real challenge. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a roughly 1.2 million Japanese character project that we technically localize a chunk of twice for the dual audio option with over 400 speaking characters. And then we put it out on five platforms. It’s a lot.

RPGamer: Are there any voice actors you were particularly excited to get to work with for Yakuza: Like a Dragon?

SS: I feel like if I mention one name, I’d end up having to namedrop the whole cast, because they’re all just that much of a pleasure to work with and some of the hardest working people in the business to boot. What I love the most though is getting to work with some of these folks across the two projects I’ve done because it feels like getting to hang out with old friends again.

RPGamer: How finely tuned is the balancing act between retaining a pure translation versus changing things up for a non-Japanese audience to relate to?

SS: That was quite literally what led me to take this crazy approach to subtitles where there is one set for the Japanese audio and one set for the English audio. You need to localize English audio like it’s going to be read out loud by a native English speaker, and the more you accommodate that, the more distant it gets from the JP audio, and that’s how “dubtitles” are born. By giving them both a unique subtitle track, the Japanese audio subtitles get the same love we’ve given Yakuza 0 through Judgment, and the English audio takes that and makes it sound as natural as possible without losing the inherent meaning. Ultimately, I think we achieve telling the same story two different ways, and that’ll be really evident in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

RPGamer: What would be your (completely unrealistic) dream crossover with Yakuza?

SS: The developers and Nagoshi-san have already kind of laughed it off as even a remote possibility, but… invite Kiryu and Majima to Smash, Nintendo.

RPGamer: What do you feel has been behind the Yakuza series’ resurgence, particularly in the west?

SS: Simply put, the quality of the games, and the fact that Sega started giving them the love and attention they deserve in the West. Yakuza 0 is still being found and loved more than three years after its Western release, and it’s the perfect gateway into all the rest of the games we’ve managed to get out there since. And they’re being treated right as they go to market — it’s not being advertised as a grimdark crime simulator, it’s being advertised for what it is, both a gritty crime drama and a wild romp through modern day Japan that only a team like RGG can deliver.

RPGamer: Sega has put extra effort into adding French, Italian, German, and Spanish subtitles recently, how much do you think this has benefited those titles? Is there much collaboration across the different language teams?

SS: We’ve seen fans from all over those regions come out in support of the game now that they can actually understand it, and that’s been really heartening. But we have to do better, too. French/Italian/German/Spanish is a bare minimum, and I hope to be able to support more languages soon. And yeah, there’s tons of collaboration. Those teams ask a lot of questions of us, sometimes making us double check our own work, even! We all just want to make sure it’s right.

RPGamer: Similarly, is there much direct communication/collaboration between the localization team and the developers in Japan?

SS: Totally. For as many questions as the FIGS team has for us, we have just as many for the dev team. It’s become a more and more open channel over the years, and we’re only able to do our jobs well because we have their full support.

RPGamer: Since Yakuza: Like a Dragon draws much inspiration from the Dragon Quest series, does the localization in any way draw inspiration from recent Dragon Quest localizations (plenty of puns, etc.)?

SS: Using puns for the “monster” names was our own way of giving Western players that nod. Their puncraft is truly master level, and we’ve done our best to marry the Yakuza styling of the enemies with the fun of Dragon Quest, resulting in what I hope is exactly what you’d expect.

RPGamer: What is the one thing you think players should know going into Yakuza: Like a Dragon regarding the localization?

SS: Only that we’ve done our utmost to both push the bar and ensure that the quality of the localization is to the standard you’ve come to expect of the series! We know a lot of players either waited until we could get it out in the West or will be picking it up a second time to get the full localization experience, and that’s truly an honor.

RPGamer would like to extend our deepest thanks to Scott and to Sega for taking the time to answer our questions, as well as to Fortyseven Communications for setting up the interview. Yakuza: Like a Dragon will launch on November 10, 2020, for Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, with the PlayStation 5 version set to release on March 2, 2021.

Credit: Yakuza: Like a Dragon Localization Interview with Scott Strichart