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I pretty much knew the answer as soon as the question came out of my mouth, but I couldn't resist asking: Would Yakuza Kiwani have an English dub given that it's a remake of the original game? A game that famously included a (very bad) English voice track?
Atlus localization producer Scott Strichart confirmed my suspicions when he told me that there would indeed be no English voice track.
But then he went a little bit further. "It's not a money issue. We just see it as something different. We want to treat it as a foreign film experience."
That statement struck me because in the past it usually has been a money issue, especially for a series like Yakuza. It's insanely expensive to get together a cast of voice actors and pay them for their hours in the studio, particularly if you care about quality and really want to get it right.
Having a fully localized voice track is seen as a mark of legitimacy, though, which is why so many publishers go through the trouble to make it happen. But Yakuza has always been on a shoestring budget, seemingly precluding such an investment. With Yakuza 0 being a surprise hit, and Yakuza Kiwami returning the series to its roots, the time seemed ripe to take another shot at an English voice track. But apparently not.
Strichart continued, "The game is set in Japan, obviously, and it's steeped in Japanese culture. In the original we kept the honorifics and slang, so we were already keeping a lot of the original Japanese culture. So why change it to English?"
The obvious counter is that Persona is a series that is heavily steeped in Japanese culture, and has been known to use honorifics. In fact, Strichart was part of the team that localized Persona 4. So why give a hundred RPG an English voice track and not Yakuza?
"Yakuza is a different mentality," Strichart said. "It's a bit more mature, and it leans toward realistic dialogue and portrayals."
Of course you can point out all the fairly insane conversations that have filtered around social media, with series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu playing the stone-faced straight man. But as Strichart later pointed out, the mood whiplash between Yakuza's mafia politics and its more insane moments are part of its charm. It will be deadly serious one moment, and the next you'll be beating someone over the head with a bicycle.
Mostly, it strikes me how far Yakuza has come since its original, rather disastrous release on PS2 back in 2006. The only remnant from that initial, ill-advised attempt in Yakuza Kiwami is the name. Even the script is getting reworked by Atlus.
It's been a long road, but it seems that Yakuza has finally found its voice, even if that voice isn't necessarily in English.