From Gods and gender-specific robots, to the difference between a samurai and a ronin, learn dozens of little details you never knew about Ace Attorney from Capcom’s Director of Localization.
Hi everyone, Janet here again. I hope you enjoyed the chat with Mr. Fuse last time. If not, you can catch up here . (I highly recommend it as this entry will build on a few of the concepts discussed there.)
So, what’s on the plate this week? Well, this time I’ll be your host as we delve into the process of localizing Ace Attorney characters.
One of the big decisions that must first be made during any localization is the characters’ names. The translators and I usually go through a few rounds of brainstorming and then whittle away at the stinkers until we have a shortlist of gems before deciding on the final one that will make it into the game. It’s rare to strike gold on the first try, though sometimes, that happens, too. I’ll leave you to figure out the meanings and puns behind them (what fun would it be if I didn’t?), because beyond the things that can be researched, I’d like to give you a little insight into the factors that went into the final decisions.
Are you ready? IT’S TRIVIA TIME !
• Athena’s name continues the tradition of protagonists being named after a mythical creature or a powerful god.
Find out more about Athena Cykes here
• Athena’s last name is spelled “Cykes” with a “C” for two main reasons: 1) the more common spelling “Sykes” is too similar to Ema Skye’s last name and 2) the crescent shape of the letter C ties into her overall character design – from the crescent moon motif in the Mood Matrix icon and on her glove to the earring she likes to play with when she’s thinking.
• Widget is a “he” because that’s what his Japanese name implies. The “ta” in “Monita” (モニ太) is the character that is used in the name “Tarou” (太郎), which is often used as a way to create a generic-sounding little boy’s name out of a noun, similar to adding the word “boy” to make “Toaster Boy” or “Rifle Boy”. Incidentally, “Monita” is a Japanese pun on the English word “monitor”.
• Widget is named “Widget” because we wanted something that sounded small and cute, which is in line with the feel of the Japanese name in the way it uses the “ta” (太) character from “Tarou” for the final syllable instead of the usual katakana “ta” (タ).
• Simon’s name is not an overt pun because like all the other prosecutors before him, he has a name with a double-meaning that first and foremost describes him and is suited to his character overall.
• Simon’s last name is “Blackquill” partially because his character design features a samurai battle surcoat, or “jinbaori” (陣羽織). Jinbaori usually featured the family crests of the high-ranking samurai or official who wore them. Since Simon’s coat features a black and white feather, his name became “black” (the color) + “quill” (the feather, not the writing instrument that can be made from a quill feather).
• Simon’s last name is also a nod to John Blackthorne from the novel and TV series “Shogun” (*cricket chirping* …Boy do I feel old), and the historical figure John Blackthorne was based off of, William Adams. If you are familiar with either man, I’m sure you can already see the connection…
• Simon’s name is meant to sound like a Victorian villain to match his manner of speech and overall character in the localized version.
• Taka’s name is actually a holdover from a scrapped plot point… but if I told you what it was, I’d be forced to flashy-thing you. Let’s just pretend that Simon can’t name things to save his life.
Speaking of Prosecutor Blackquill, as Mr. Fuse discussed last time , Simon’s design and Japanese characterization draws heavily from Japanese history and culture, so I thought I’d take a little time to share with you how we went about localizing him into a character that retained as much of the original dev team’s intent as possible, but is hopefully more familiar to us Westerners.
The first thing was his name. A lot of people might balk at that and say, “Well, if he’s going to be so Japanese anyway, why not keep his Japanese name?” but in a sense, a player’s first point of contact with a character is their name and design. I believe that if a character’s name is too foreign and does not invoke a feeling of familiarity because it’s just a jumble of sounds to the player’s ears, it serves no purpose in most cases – especially in the case of the Ace Attorney series where a character’s name is an integral part of the overall package. Just to clarify, what I mean by “familiarity” is the unconscious associations and expectations you may have with a name, or the feelings you may experience based on the sound of the name itself, both of which are very much rooted in your native language and culture. Just as the Japanese scenario writers had certain images and feelings they wanted to convey to their audience through the Japanese names, so too, should the localized names.
Developed in tandem to his name was his manner of speech. In the Japanese version, Simon spoke in an old-fashioned style of speech that was very rough-sounding, though it wasn’t always necessarily rude, which is in line with what a Japanese player would expect a rōnin (but not a proper samurai) to sound like. The dilemma here was that the Japanese version relied on a set of cultural shorthand (namely, that of a rÅnin) in his character design, animations, and speech that simply doesn’t exist in Western culture to build his character. How, then, could he be rendered into something more accessible to a Western player? Remember that see-saw Mr. Fuse talked about in balancing the prosecutor and convicted felon sides of Blackquill? Yeah, that was exactly the same problem the translators and I had.
In the end, the prosecutor side of his character won out by just a hair, and we decided to go all-out Victorian English with Blackquill. Given his prim, Victorian-era dress (how many people went, “Huh???” at Mr. Fuse’s description of him as a “Meiji Restoration-era fighter”? Yup, that’s because his Victorian-era look holds a completely different set of cultural connotations for us Westerners), and high level of intelligence, we felt that it caused less cognitive dissonance than if we had gone the cussing delinquent route. We also couldn’t predict that the ESRB was going to rate this game as “M”, not that it would’ve really factored much into the final decision because hey, you can have well-spoken criminals, too! But that doesn’t mean we made him any less of a rude jerk, mind you, because that’s the wonderful thing about localization – you don’t have to stick to the original cultural shorthand as it’s understood by the Japanese audience since you, well… can’t without providing 10 pages of background notes, but you can preserve so much through word choice.
Simon at home
Take for example, his samurai/Japanese tendencies. Both Victorian-era English and Japanese can be quite verbose and poetic, so when Blackquill spouts sword metaphors, the two styles blended together very naturally. Also, you’ll notice that in the localization, we’ve labeled him a samurai instead of a rÅnin (which are technically a subset of samurai). This deliberate choice was made because samurai are simply more easily recognizable and readily understood by a Western audience than rÅnin, especially when some people don’t even see a difference between the two in the West.
Thus, Simon Blackquill began to take form as a well-spoken samurai from a bygone era convict prosecutor, who, while adapted for the West, is not that far at all in intent from the original rough-spoken rÅnin from a bygone era convict prosecutor named “Jin Yūgami”.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the thought process behind how Ace Attorney characters are localized. I’ll be back with more on a different topic next week.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies launches on October 24th exclusively in the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Click here for more of Janet’s localization insights, and for more official Ace Attorney news, media and information click here .