How can a bad localization detract from an otherwise great game?

'This isn’t how people speak, it’s how people write dialogue.' Freelance translator Molly Lee explains how sloppy localization can do more than just mess up a few lines of in-game dialogue.
"It's hard to enjoy the story when you're distracted by the writing, even if you don't quite realize that's what's happening."

- Freelance translator Molly Lee explains how low-quality localization can distract players.

In a post written for Polygon, Lee discussed some common localization problems that she believes befell the English release of Persona 5 and talked about how those issues can do more than just mess up spoken lines. 

Her full breakdown highlights issues that game developers should be aware of when working on a project that requires translation or even when just writing lines of dialogue.

A good localization, Lee says, should “provide the best experience possible while maintaining a reasonably close approximation of the game the Japanese players enjoyed.” Part of this is ensuring that translated dialog flows smoothly and isn’t speckled with weird phrases or mistakes that distract players. 

But on a much larger scale, a good localization needs to use language choices to create dialogue that helps further define a character or even a world. For example, in her full Polygon piece Lee points out several instances where the character Morgana lost his personality to inconsistent translation. 

“In the Japanese version, Morgana was a competent leader with occasional moments of weakness," says Lee. "In English, Morgana's an unknown entity, both one-dimensional and depressingly forgettable.”

Part of the problem, Lee points out, could stem from the fact that Persona 5 brought in six translators and eight editors for the localization process. For reference, Yakuza 0 had two editors on staff while games like Bravely Default and 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors both only used one.

“If you put multiple translators on a game, you risk serious inconsistencies that must be edited into one congruent script,” explains Lee. ”Adding multiple editors on top of that means that you’re liable to compound the problem you were hoping to correct. With too many people working on the localization, the dialogue and characters get turned into mush.”

Lee’s full thoughts on the English version of Persona 5, complete with rough translation examples from the game and useful insight into the localization process, can be found over on Polygon.

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