Let’s face it: Kiryu is a freakin’ LEGEND. Not only is he a badass guy who strikes fear in the hearts of pretty much everyone when he gets serious, but he’s also a very wholesome dad who teaches his kids at the Sunshine orphanage very valuable lessons, and does anything he can to protect them. That being said, there’s no one quite like Yakuza series newcomer, Ichiban Kasuga. With Yakuza: Like a Dragon being released on the PS5 today, new players will get to meet our dear darling dork, as the world of Yakuza expands more and more.
I had the amazing chance to chat with Yakuza series senior localization producer Scott Strichart about localizing this latest entry to the series, and of course, about our dear Kasuga as well!
How did you get involved with localization?
It was the summer of 2007, and after discovering the US office of ATLUS was just down the freeway from me, I applied there as both a localization editor and a QA Tester. I got the QA job. But, after a stint in the QA department, I passed the editing test, and I’ve been working my way in and around the Japanese games space ever since.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon seems like the largest Yakuza game so far. How did you approach the localization for it compared to the other games in the series?
Funnily enough, while it may be one of the longest games in terms of hours to beat, it’s not the largest by a longshot. That honor goes to Yakuza 5. But the approach we take for Yakuza game localizations is a pretty known quantity now, and all that changes is how big and who the team is. Of course, this one had a new battle system, a new cast, and a new city, so a lot of the standbys we relied on had to be done from scratch.
Aside from the English school scene, were there any specifically unique sequences you felt were challenging to localize?
So, early on in the game there’s discussion about an anti-yakuza law enacted called the “Kamurocho 3K Plan.” This was interesting because in Japanese it’s, “kuwasenai” (don’t let them eat), “kasegasenai” (don’t let them earn), and “kyojuu sasenai” (don’t let them reside). I struggled with this for a long time because it clearly had to be three things that started with the letter “k” in English too, or it wouldn’t be a 3K plan… So I landed on using the word “keep” to unify it. The English ended up being “keep them hungry, keep them poor, and keep them out.”
Ichiban’s name was also problematic at times, because the Japanese could make it pun off “number one” and “best” in ways the English just can’t. But we still found ways around this. For instance, in the dub, when Kasuga is in first in Dragon Kart, he shouts “Say my name!” which people probably think of as just a taunt, but if you know his name means “first” it has that little extra meaning to it.
How was localizing Kasuga in comparison to Kiryu? In my limited time with the game, I really felt like I could see a clear difference between them.
Yeah, there’s a stark and intentional contrast, despite the similarities in their backstories. You come out of that prologue and right into Ichiban’s life as a lowborn street thug in a branch yakuza family, and you compare Ichiban’s first moments on screen chasing a porn peddler to Kiryu’s, standing over Dojima’s dead body, and that contrast becomes really clear. Localizing Kasuga allowed for a little more levity, because we had to capture his heart, his naivety, and his “big dumbass energy” which I absolutely say as a compliment.
So the action menu spells SEGA after that tweet about it. You all seem like you really wanted to listen to the fans on this game. Are there any other secrets we might expect?
Haha, sometimes the fans (or in this case, other localization professionals) see the forest through the trees when we can’t, and that SEGA menu thing was just the right call all around. I’m happy we were able to make that happen. But while I’ve quickly learned you can’t please everyone, respect and appreciation for the fans who got this series here is a driving factor in every decision I make. Going back to as many of the original actors from 2006 Yakuza that we could get for the dub was another fan-oriented decision, though I admit it’s also because casting anyone to play Kazuma Kiryu in English was incredibly daunting.
The location of Like a Dragon is also new; were there any issues in trying to localize Yokohama to players?
You know what we really struggled with was which streets/areas to keep in English and which ones to localize. I kinda left this to the translators for the most part, but you’ll notice a bigger mix of English and Japanese street names in Yokohama than you’ve got in Kamurocho, which is primarily Japanese, outside of like, Theater Square. We were careful about capturing that from the real city.
Kasuga is far more emotive than Kiryu, in a lot of ways. His party, too, is very expressive, compared to the stoic casts in previous games. How did that change your localization?
For subtitles, we rely more heavily on the Japanese voice performance than the emotiveness of the character, and actually, because we had to do the localization prior to hearing the Japanese performance, which ended up causing me to have to go back through Ichiban’s dialog in particular to add a lot more exclamation points. The subtitles sounded really flat for a while there, which wasn’t matching Kazuhiro Nakaya’s energetic performance.
Meanwhile in a dub, since we were talking control of the jaw in the big movies anyway, we paid a ton of attention to the eyes. Ichiban’s eyes are very expressive, and that gave us a lot of insight into the reads we wanted from his English actor, Kaiji Tang.
Something I really loved about my time with Like a Dragon were Saeko and Eri. I have to admit that women didn’t always get a big role in Yakuza games, and Saeko in particular seems like an integral heart to this iteration. How did you approach localizing her character?
You’re right, she’s an integral part of the party, and it was important to capture what she was in the Japanese – a leading female who could hang just as tough as the boys, while still (literally) weaponizing her femininity with make-up and handbags. She’s classier than your initial three party members too, which makes her a little bit of a fish out of water at times, but those are the moments I loved the most, because she doesn’t ever doubt that she’s right where she needs to be.
Do you have a favorite Like a Dragon minigame or event? I got pretty addicted to the can collecting and business one!
Can Quest is great of course, but I love the sheep slapping movie theatre minigame. Those movies are so ridiculous, and slapping sheep while avoiding chickens to stay awake during a boring movie is just peak Yakuza.
How did the RPG influence change the localization process? Both in terms of how the game plays, but also the way that theme bleeds into the tone of the game?
Being an RPG just kind of exponentially multiplied the localization in a lot of ways, because suddenly there’s status elements, text strings and voice barks for when they are applied, persist, and cured, way more weapons, armor, and items, and instead of having just one character to worry about all that with, it’s seven. Yeah it’s tough, but me and most of the team cut our teeth on RPGs, so this was just a return to form, and in many ways, gave us room to flex that on the game’s deep love and appreciation for all things “RPG.”
Were there any issues with Kasuga directly referencing Dragon Quest so often?
We basically mirrored what the Japanese version did on that, because that was all worked out with the IP holders in Japan. But I was personally thrilled to see it, because I’d actually worked on the Dragon Quest series in a marketing capacity prior to joining SEGA. I have the utmost respect for the franchise and I recognize that much of the RPG landscape wouldn’t be what it is today without it.
Homelessness is obviously a serious issue, and Like a Dragon seems to be very sympathetic to the homeless of Japan. Were there any challenges in localizing the homeless characters? I really enjoyed the soup kitchen storyline for how it didn’t patronize the homeless characters.
As the team at RGG puts it, the Yakuza series is very much a “human drama” which means first and foremost, the characters have to be treated like humans. The series has always had a spotlight on the people who live in “the gray zones” of society – homeless, night life entertainers, dive bars, gangs… And like you say, you can’t tell their stories if you’re patronizing them.
Very important question: Who is your favorite summon? You can avoid spoilers if you want!
Oh man how do you pick just one… Nancy is great, Mr. Masochist is amazing… But perhaps a career highlight was the moment we made accomplished and venerated voice actors Erica Lindbeck and Patrick Seitz lend their incredible voices to a kink nurse indulging an adult man in a diaper throwing a tantrum. I have thanked them already but if they’re reading this…. Thank you again.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to folks now that the game is available on the PS5?
I hope everyone’s enjoying it, really. That’s the best we can ask for.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is now available on the Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, Windows 10, Steam, and PlayStation 4 & PlayStation 5. If you already got Like a Dragon for the PS4 and you’re planning to get a PS5 soon, you can get a free upgrade to the PS5 version.
Many thanks to Scott Strichart for taking the time to chat about this wonderful game, and thanks to SEGA for making this interview possible! Keep up with what SEGA is up to by following them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
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Until next time!
Have you played Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Who’s your favorite dork, and why is it Ichiban? Let me know down in the comments!