Thursday, April 27, 2017

Persona 5 Puts the LOL in "Localization"

The latest game in Atlus' long-running Persona RPG series, Persona 5, was released recently. Plenty of reviews mention the stylish graphics, the eye-catching presentation and the entertaining in-game battles. What not many reviews mention is that the actual English dialogue in the game is, to put it politely, a hot mess.

This is especially surprising considering how much acclaim the localization and dialogue for Persona 4 received. Persona 5 boast 8 editors and 6 translators listed in the game's credits. So why is the dialogue so bad? Writing for Polygon, translator and Persona fan Molly Lee gives her best estimate:
Chances are high this localization was a rush job; a lot of the more egregiously bad lines read like an unedited first draft. It’s possible the localizers were doing everything in their power just to finish the scripts on time, and chewing on phrases and wording to make the script sound natural for English speakers takes time, and it’s possible they just didn’t have any.
The end result is that the localization ends up being worse than just bad... it's robotic. Nonsensical. Boring. As Lee explains, when it comes to localization, too many cooks spoil the soup:
The really good lines are overshadowed by the memory of the worst ones, and in a way, that actually makes it worse. The purpose of localization is to provide the best experience possible while maintaining a reasonably close approximation of the game the Japanese players enjoyed. But Persona 5’s localization is not that. Instead, it's amateurish, mechanical, and if it wasn't for the voice acting, it'd be almost entirely devoid of character voice. 
In fact, let's try a thought experiment. I'll provide some dialogue from the English version of the game, and you try to guess which main party members said them. Sound good? Okay, here we go: 
  • "He healed himself...? Is it because he ate those inside there?" 
  • "What kind of stupid phantom thief would use their real name!? I'm not down for that!" 
  • "Why do I—the one who was just watching—know more about it than you two!?" 
  • "I hope that she doesn't torment herself over this. When it comes down to it, women don't hesitate." 
  • "Uhh ... Anyway, it can't be helped if that's the case. Time for you to go to hell." 
  • "What nonsense that you used a mousetrap on me!"
Ready for the answers? 
All of those lines were said by Morgana.
From a story perspective, dialogue is supposed to clue the reader in as to each character's personality. So what kind of personality does Morgana have, exactly? Is Morgana relaxed enough to use curse words like "hell" and slang like "down for that"? Or is Morgana a bit of a tight-ass who uses stiff, dismissive language like "nonsense?”
If Atlus is going to ask us to invest $60 and dozens of hours of our time, then I think that they should at least take some pride in their releases.  Especially for a game that is so extremely dialog-heavy. Because really, who talks like this:

"At this rate, it's be pointless how much I contribute to this school."

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