One of the greatest strengths of the resurgent Yakuza series is that it doesn’t bother to include English as an audio language. Without respect to budget, to time, or to effort, the choice to make people listen to the game in Japanese is the choice to make people listen to Yakuza the way it was meant to be heard. I won’t claim that the cast is the most talented ever or that they’re speaking some exalted tongue, this is just the way Yakuza was meant to be.
More games should be like that. By making foreigners play the game it its original language we access a part of the game otherwise closed off to us. You can just sort of tell when a foreign actor is nailing their lines even if you don’t speak the language. In a game like Yakuza that means really hearing the big, bombastic beats and the rising crescendos of the Japanese. In a game like Breath of the Wild it simply means a higher quality vocal performance than English speakers were first given.
As the games industry grows and expands we’re bound to see more instances of locality being a barrier. Of course the people who write subtitles have to make decisions and choices, difficult ones, but a game recast for English audiences is doubly translated. First, the script must be rewritten in English and next the game must be redirected in English. While not intrinsically bad, a new director will always have their own priorities and influences, thus, changing what we hear on top of the priorities and influences of those translating the script.
“Subs not dubs” is a well-worn refrain throughout corners of the internet that value things like anime and art cinema.
“Subs not dubs” is a well-worn refrain throughout corners of the internet that value things like anime and art cinema. It’s certainly different watching a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in Mandarin as opposed to English. It’s just as different watching Dark or Casa de Papel without their native tongues.
This isn’t to say that that all English dubbing casts are inferior or that we should never dub again. There are plenty of voice actors who have done excellent work in dubbing performances. There are even bilingual actors who dub themselves. Instead, this is an opportunity to celebrate the hometown teams that pour their souls into the performances often to never be heard beyond the shores of their countries.
Almost two years ago I wrote about the then growing practice of gating the game’s native language behind pre-orders as a bonus. Then I said I didn’t mind that additional languages might be available separately in an online store as add-on content. I was wrong. We should be able to play foreign games in their native language out of the box from day one.
It’s a small thing, but powerful and noticeable. For Yakuza, I can’t really even imagine what the English would sound like except to indulge the games worst impulses as portraying certain people as folksy or brutish based on their place of birth. For other games, shows, or movies, being brought kicking and screaming into vernacular has meant the reconstruction of a plotline or a character.
So do yourself and original voice acting teams across the world a favor and flip that sucker into its native language and get to reading. Some of those subtitles go by fast.