Persona 5: Phantoms of Translation
April 20, 2017 9:00 AM   Subscribe

"[Persona 5] falls incredibly short of the standard it should be held to. A video game is a professional work, no different from any other form of media. Yet no other form of media would ever get away with the number of errors found in Persona 5's English script."

Connor Krammer has written a lengthy, interactive, copiously-documented single-site essay regarding the translation and localization problems in Atlus's long-awaited blockbuster JRPG, Persona 5. Molly Lee at Polygon agrees with him.
posted by Sokka shot first (63 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
For a critic working in the broader space of usability, Mr Krammer certainly spent a lot of graphic design effort making his "single-site essay" induce eyestrain in two different user-configurable ways.
posted by rokusan at 9:06 AM on April 20 [18 favorites]


It's a shame we can't talk about the Persona games with some other framing than "the translation sucks". They are unique and very interesting games.
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


It's a shame we can't talk about the Persona games with some other framing than "the translation sucks". They are unique and very interesting games.

I dunno, I have seen far more effusive praise, anticipation and hype for Persona 5 as a unique and very interesting game - pretty much non-stop since E3 2016 - than discussion of the translation.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 9:24 AM on April 20 [12 favorites]


I'm playing through it now. It's my first Persona game, and I'm really enjoying it. The translation doesn't bother me one bit. For the most part it's perfectly fine, especially conversations among the protagonists. The occasional awkward translation doesn't take away from the enjoyment; it seems part of the charm (I recognize that this is an argument the author acknowledges and dismisses, but I stand by it). I mean, the game as a whole will have a different feel for someone who grew up in Japanese culture than your typical American; I consider the dialog just another aspect of that.

That said, the interrogation scenes in particular have a bizarrely amusing quality to the awkward dialogue; but again, I find it charming. YMMV.
posted by Roommate at 9:45 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Because you can get away with it. Some people don't care about the story and will just skip the dialog. I recall Mass Effect 3 had an Action Mode, where it would choose the dialog options for you so you could get to the action faster. I was at a friend's house when he was playing for the first time and he chose that mode. I had to convince him to start again because the dialog is half the fucking game. He just wanted to hurry up and shoot aliens.

Also in 99% of games the story just doesn't matter, it's just glued on as an afterthought. Like Need For Speed will have some moronic set-up to explain why you're undercover to sting an underground street racing gang full of sexy babes and buff dudes. It's total bullshit and adds nothing to the game. Nobody plays Need For Speed for the story.

Also The Sims has the worst translations. I can't understand a single word.
posted by adept256 at 9:54 AM on April 20 [10 favorites]


I've only experienced the beginning of the game so far, and already had a few "wait what?" moments myself. Reading the other translation examples Krammer provided definitely made me wince.

I don't know if it's too much of a cultural difference or what, but this was the first Persona game I wanted to try (for the amazing UI and VFX) and I just can't get into it. JRPGs might not be my jam. Damn it's pretty though.
posted by erratic meatsack at 9:57 AM on April 20


There are probably tons of reasons why this isn't feasible based on rights and disclosure agreements and such, but it always seems to me that bad translations could be fixed through giving a couple of interested-gamers-who-were-also-English-majors the first draft of the translation to play through for free with a promise of the final version too. (Not that people shouldn't be paid for this work, which is my preferred fix.)

(Note: I am a game-loving English-major who took 2 years of Japanese so my idea of how many people out there who would be interested is probably very skewed.)


I recall Mass Effect 3 had an Action Mode, where it would choose the dialog options for you so you could get to the action faster. . I was at a friend's house when he was playing for the first time and he chose that mode. I had to convince him to start again because the dialog is half the fucking game. He just wanted to hurry up and shoot aliens.


oh my god, the shooting is the worst part, except for the driving.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:58 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


(But biotic warpsploding your way through Mass Effect was pretty damn fun, action wise.)
posted by kmz at 10:00 AM on April 20


I think I would hate the game if it used the article's alternate translation.
posted by ethansr at 10:01 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I utterly despise the layout of that essay, but I understand the point. Persona 4 is one of the all-time favorites of the Diagonalize househould, but 5 has fallen flat in a lot of ways. I'm not even fluent in Japanese, but I'm familiar enough with the language to recognize where a lot of the weirdness originates, and it bugs me enough to notice. I can only imagine it sends professional translators completely up the wall. Guyagonalize has been very patient with my kibitzing from the sidelines.

Honestly, as bad as the translation has been, the awkward voice direction has irritated me more. There have also been a number of egregiously bizarre "Americanizations" of Japanese names, and I just don't understand why you would go out of your way to mispronounce things.

But if we're really going to complain about the "standards" of AAA games, I'd rather moan about FFXV. The best translation in the world could not have helped the steaming pile of garbage that passed for a story by the end.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:07 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


It's a shame we can't talk about the Persona games with some other framing than "the translation sucks". They are unique and very interesting games.

I was surprised there hadn't been a post about them already. I played Persona 4, whose localization mostly sparkled. I think that's part of why (some) people are so disappointed—Atlus's track record with this stuff is typically very good.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:09 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Weird translations have lives of their own in the memesphere. All your gibberish are belong to us.

When BioWare's distributor, Infogrames, translated Neverwinter Nights into Chinese, they went all literal on "she kicked me in the teeth." Hilarity ensued, and Granny Toothkicker became a legend, and later a fan character in her own right.
posted by runcifex at 10:12 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


It's a shame we can't talk about the Persona games with some other framing than "the translation sucks". They are unique and very interesting games.

Persona 5 was my first foray into a translated game (as far as I know). I set aside Andromeda, which I have been generally happy with despite some flaws, because so many of my friends heaped buckets of enthusiasm and praise on P5 in the days after its release. I was told it gave me a high school sim, a dating sim, and a superhero-style game all rolled into one, with lots of dialogue options and sandboxy stuff and rich background activity and hey bonus, a talking cat. This all sounded like it was written for me specifically. I bought it.

What I wasn't prepared for was continual themes of abuse, attempted suicide, rapey themes (I mean nobody ever literally says rape or shows rape so are we allowed to call it rape?), along with plenty of the usual sexism that usually throws my friends right out of every game. And here's the thing: any of this would be fine if it was handled with sensitivity, but all I got was a ton of hamfisted writing. I stopped playing somewhere around the time I had most of the "team" assembled, because I do not trust this game to handle those themes well. Not after everything I've seen so far.

Oh and your initial sidekick dude is the single dumbest and most annoying companion I've ever seen in a video game. He could have Thor-level powers and I'd still want him to just stay home.

So I've blown the money on this game, invested quite a few hours in it, seen all my friends go gaga, and I just... don't get it? They keep telling me "Yeah, that's an anime trope" or "Yeah, the translations aren't great," but they'd be fucking furious if any other studio gave them the problematic story elements P5 offers. So why does P5 get let off that hook? At some point, "Bad translation" just doesn't excuse things.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:13 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


scaryblackdeath: "What I wasn't prepared for was continual themes of abuse, attempted suicide, rapey themes (I mean nobody ever literally says rape or shows rape so are we allowed to call it rape?), along with plenty of the usual sexism that usually throws my friends right out of every game."

Uuuuugh... I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering some of the character art? I might just need to end the game where I left off.
posted by erratic meatsack at 10:21 AM on April 20


What I wasn't prepared for was continual themes of abuse, attempted suicide, rapey themes (I mean nobody ever literally says rape or shows rape so are we allowed to call it rape?), along with plenty of the usual sexism that usually throws my friends right out of every game.

Yeah, I've been watching a couple of people stream the game and at this point they're continuing the game pretty much for the sake of discussing and documenting why this is not cool.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:24 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I can deal with mature themes, but the sexism definitely throws me off. The way the other party members talk to and gawk at Ann... it really grates. And the way the series deals with gay issues as shameful jokes is really bad. I haven't encountered very much gay content (about halfway) but it's treatment was a bad mark on Persona 4, which is otherwise my favourite game of all time and which I honestly credit with making me a better person.

It's rough, and I think there is enough good in P4 to make it amazing, and enough good here to make it good, but it definitely chafes more as time goes by. And I definitely agree that the translation is not sparkling, with P4 I really grew to know and love the characters, but even with most of their social links nearing completion I could barely tell you what drives Ann or Ryuji or Makoto the way I can still identify with basically every member of the P4 cast.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:27 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


The baseline for any translation is this: readers of the translation should receive the same experience as readers of the original, as if the original creators had written it natively in both languages.

Nope! Unless you're defining "the same experience" as "a description of the same events" (which given how literal my peeps can be, that's probably what he means) this is almost entirely impossible. All translations are adaptations of the original at best.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:29 AM on April 20


There's a lot of hella problematic, in the parlanace of our times, in the game. I'm pretty sure some of that is just in there obliviously, intended by har-har-wacky-funny even, which is frankly worse. The party member you pick up as part of the whole second main dungeon events is introduced as a creepy stalker, for instance, one which you're supposed to sympathize with. One of the NPC "confidants" (that a big part of the game design is about strengthening relationship with in order to reinforce magical oomph) involves an anime maid service that's just embarrassing at every level. And to say nothing of the fact that of course the first female (ferengi-feeemales.jpg) party member you get of course sees her true superhero self as a sexy catgirl suit.

All that stuff is just painfully adolescent, and not in the way a game about adolescents should be, and yep, mostly is unmentioned in the various glowing praise it gets in the usual enthusiast press and circles. I wouldn't blame anyone for ejecting quite early on; I came real close to it with aforementioned creepy stalker blackmailer guy.

Also the translation's clunky, yep.

The maddening thing is that there really is a fine, call it "gameform" underneath all that. The calendar system provides a weight behind every choice that's lacking in most crpgs, the battle system means pretty much every fight is one the player has to pay attention to, juggling risk-reward and resource management especially in earlier dungeons, etc.
posted by Drastic at 10:29 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


sexy catgirl suit

UGH YEAH I forgot about that because the second I found out it was available I downloaded the free school/leisure outfit costume pack, so I could at least have her dressed in something semi appropriate. Plus it means my MC is fighting all the dungeons in pyjamas and bare feet now, which I find adorable.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:31 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Interesting content obscured by a terrible UI. Everything about it is bad. People are praising the design on Twitter and I want to scream
posted by airmail at 10:34 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


The P5 translation has genuine problems, but the alt-translations suggested in this article are at least as awkward and tone-deaf as anything in the game.

Also, if you are bothered by P5's treatment of female characters - and boy, there's plenty to be bothered by - don't let that stop you from checking out P4. It's not perfect, but the characters are all delightful and none of the girls are constantly sexualized in the dumb fanservicey way that Ann is.
posted by waffleriot at 10:35 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Would anyone here have a Let's Play recommendation of P4 done by a Not-Terrible-Youtube-Person?
posted by erratic meatsack at 10:40 AM on April 20


I've heard lots of good things about the Endurance Run of P4 by Giant Bomb, but I've never actually watched it myself since its length is so daunting. Jeff and Vinny aren't terrible people, but I honestly don't know how well handled it is, especially since it's from 2011.
posted by kmz at 10:46 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I'm almost done with Persona 5 -- I have basically one last boss fight ahead of me -- and of all the things to dislike about this game—as above, gross sexism and homophobia—honestly the translation didn't even register. Good grief. This feel the nitpickiest of nitpicky to me.
posted by Andrhia at 10:47 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I should add: the sexism is gross early on, but it tones down over the course of the game a LOT. The worst is almost all stacked at the beginning of the game. It never becomes a marvel of feminist thought, but it gets less worse. And it's never as throw-the-DS-at-the-wall bad as eg. Bravely Default was.
posted by Andrhia at 10:50 AM on April 20


Yeah, I hadn't caught on to the homophobia yet, either because I'm just not savvy enough to notice it if it's a contextual you-recognize-it-if-you-know-anime thing, or more likely I hadn't gotten to the point of introducing a queer character's queerness so it wasn't yet a theme where I left off. At least one queer friend had raised that note, though, and was super unhappy about it. I was kinda dreading that before I got to the point where I was just too turned off by all the problems I had already seen.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:54 AM on April 20


The fact that a game is able to score 9/10 and 10/10 on most review sites with a possible tagline of "the sexism gets less worse" isn't great.
posted by erratic meatsack at 10:55 AM on April 20 [13 favorites]


Honestly, Japan as a whole kinda sucks at feminism. The sexism and homophobia you find in everyday Japanese media is incredibly upsetting. I'd like to believe it plays a part in their low birthrate, because who the hell wants to procreate with a bunch of sexist, bigoted jerks?
posted by Diagonalize at 11:20 AM on April 20


Ah, you see erratic meatsack, it's ok because of "Anime Tropes."
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:22 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I'd like to believe it plays a part in their low birthrate, because who the hell wants to procreate with a bunch of sexist, bigoted jerks?

That's why countries with the strongest feminist record have the highest birthrates, and people generally just didn't procreate very much for the last few thousand years until like 50 years ago. Why must feminism curse us with overpopulation?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:25 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Love the game anyway, but there are definitely more than a few things in it that merit extreme side-eye. I'm a bit past halfway through, I think.

There are plenty of noticeable problems with the translation of the "were the translators fluent in English?" variety, but eh, it's readable enough for me.

I can accept "it's super fun if you like these games enough to ignore these specific crappy parts, which definitely suck, and it's OK if you aren't up for that" as a reasonable sort of review.

My biggest complaints are the Mementos theme, which is way too short and repetitive, and the Velvet Room music has long since worn out its welcome for me, what with spending hours and hours fusing in P4G and P3P (these are the versions to play, for anyone who's interested in doing so.)
posted by asperity at 11:33 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Anyway, isn't it just a general principle of nature that video game localizations and voice-acting run from mediocre to bad with a few stellar or terrible standouts? We seem to have accepted this fact in the 8-bit era (and the 32-bit era when voices really became a thing) and have just resigned ourselves to it.

If anyone is interested in video game localization, Legends of Localization is an excellent source for in-depth stories behind the localization of many of your favorites.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:36 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


The fact that a game is able to score 9/10 and 10/10 on most review sites with a possible tagline of "the sexism gets less worse" isn't great.

Yeah, I'm increasingly frustrated that numerical scores are the norm for game reviews. Like, my feelings on Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Game design and art direction: fantastic! Sexism: not as bad as it sometimes is in the series, but still bothersome! All of that's worth discussing, but squashing it all down onto a single numerical axis obscures things at best, and I think the focus on scores exacerbates the issues of gamer tribalism. It's hard to have good critical discourse when the starting point of discussion gets taken as A Personal Insult To Someone's Favorite Thing.
posted by NMcCoy at 11:38 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


> Would anyone here have a Let's Play recommendation of P4 done by a Not-Terrible-Youtube-Person?

Don't know of any video LPs aside from the aforementioned Endurance Run but Really Pants' SSLP of Golden is pretty good.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:40 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Also, obligatory link to the excellent hiimdaisy comic dub (do not watch if you care about SPOILERS and haven't played P4 yet).
posted by Bangaioh at 11:44 AM on April 20


I've been sitting on this for the entire thread because this is the P5 thread, not the HZD thread, buuuuuuuuuut I gotta let it out: if you have a PS4 and want a game with amazing handling of female characters please go play Horizon: Zero Dawn.

It features a kickass, thoroughly well-written female protagonist (who wears normal, functional, non-boob-windowed armor and doesn't have a romance plot!), has several of the best-written female side-characters in any big-label game I've played in recent memory, and passes the Bechdel test by the ~two hour mark (of a 40-60 hour game). Also it's just all in all an amazing game, period.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:09 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


I will fully agree with what Itaxpica says above, but I have a bucket of complaints there amid what is left unsaid (although I'm not quite at "amazing overall"). Gorgeous game and great gameplay, though.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:14 PM on April 20


Yup! I've completed HZD twice and need some DLC content to be shot directly through my veins at this point.
posted by erratic meatsack at 12:16 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I can't get to Krammer's article because the network here at work blocks newly-registered sites, but the Polygon article...
Here's the thing: “it can't be helped” isn't natural English, and a competent localizer has a bevy of better options to sub in. “Shikata ga nai” is a verbal shrug of the shoulders; anything from “Looks like we don’t have a choice” to “Fine, I give up” would suffice.
Yes, you have a bevy of options. But... I can learn myself to read nuance into people saying "it can't be helped" in different contexts. If you pick different ways of saying it every time, you're imposing a lot of interpretation onto the language for me, and you'd better be damned sure you know what you're doing when you do that. Yuri on Ice was a wonderful show but the Crunchyroll subtitles insisted on translating one particular phrase that verged on Arc Words differently every single time it was used. I think more variety here could be done well, but if they were going to cheap out on the whole thing, this isn't the first thing I'd complain about. I'd rather have fairly repetitive but more literal translation than more elaborate but erratic localization. Really good localization is fine, but it's not always that good.
posted by Sequence at 12:26 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


> Yeah, I'm increasingly frustrated that numerical scores are the norm for game reviews.

Not to derail, but reviews from Waypoint (Vice's videogame department that is quite good) and Eurogamer don't use numerical or graded review method (though Eurogamer uses a "don't recommend/recommend/strongly recommend" system). Same for the PC-exclusive Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
posted by Tevin at 12:40 PM on April 20


For a critic working in the broader space of usability, Mr Krammer certainly spent a lot of graphic design effort making his "single-site essay" induce eyestrain in two different user-configurable ways.

But he pretty much nails the look and feel of P5's in-game menus, dialogue, and phone chat. It's probably not the greatest for an essay, but it really works in the game.

Also, Morgana is so much better than Teddie.
posted by xedrik at 12:42 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Re: sexualization and treatment of female characters. I think one of the reasons Persona 5 gets away with this more than other games is because, generally speaking, the characters are much more fully drawn than in other games, and so Ann is never JUST "sexy girl in ridiculous catsuit," but also someone with other personality traits, problems, hopes and dreams.

This is even more true of previous games in the series (Persona 5 has less characterization built into the main story, whereas Persona 4 for example is very much about each of the main party members confronting their own inner demons), but it's also built into the game's structure through the confidant system, where you're encouraged to hang out with people on a regular basis and find out more about them in order to fuse better personas of specific arcanas and to reap in-game benefits and abilities. And because the game is generally much better with its many other female characters, it's easier to write off Ann as a really misguided character exercise on Atlus's part.

At the same time, though, it's almost worse that Ann's a three-dimensional character that by and large isn't trying to be sexual; it makes all the instances where it's imposed on her that much more egregious. And because many of the reasons for this sexualization seem to boil down to "eh that's what anime is nowadays," it feels thoughtless on top of everything else.

Re: localization. I'm in the camp that says the best localization is one that gives the same general impression as a native reader/player experiencing the original text in the native language--or to put it another way, the best English localization should read as if it was a normal English text to fluent English readers, as opposed to an obviously Japanese text being translated for an English reader.

Obviously there are places where this breaks down; for example, the Japanese use of honorifics and the various forms of address when referring to how close your friends and acquaintances are doesn't really have an English equivalent. But generally, I agree with the article, especially when it comes to intentional use of awkward grammar and stock phrases to more closely mimic the effect of the original Japanese. Whether the alternate translations the author provides are better or worse is up for debate; personally I thought they flowed better, and that's important to me.

That said, I didn't find the localization quality to be a major barrier to enjoying the game. Part of it is that I've seen much, much worse, and so have formed a certain amount of resistance to awkward translations.
posted by chrominance at 12:51 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


"It can't be helped" is certainly more formal English, and not something I would have an average sort of person say in a story, but it is idiomatic English. Odd.
posted by praemunire at 1:00 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


I am also on Team HZD Is Freaking Incredible. And also I would say "It can't be helped" in some contexts, it is perfectly cromulent English.

On problematic content in foreign media: I consume a pretty fair chunk of Asian media -- Bollywood films, Chinese and Korean drama, JRPGs. And I struggle with how to react to or think about sexism, homophobia, and racism found in non-Western media, because it's definitely there, but the social norms that created those media aren't my norms, and something-something colonialism and the white gaze? Like: maybe I don't have the authority to complain about how a sageuk is portraying someone from Great Yuan, or comment on tropes dealing with arranged marriages in a Hindi film. I don't want to be any equivalent of That White Feminist telling women never to wear hijab because oppression.

But there definitely ARE problematic elements by my standards, and sometimes they're showstoppers for me. See also: Bravely Default. But the rest of the time, I just don't have a systematic framework for thinking about it, and it bothers me.
posted by Andrhia at 1:13 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


"It can't be helped"

For sure.
posted by comealongpole at 2:01 PM on April 20


Professional translator weighing in! I haven't played P5 myself, though I've seen footage, and… yeah. Clunky awkwardness that hews a little too close to literal translations (which are very rarely "more accurate" — in Clyde Mandelin's second Legends of Localization book he has a great example of the danger of literal translations using "I'm gonna punch your lights out" as a source phrase, then "translating" it into a literal English phrase like "I'm going to break your lights with my fist," and localizing it into something more natural like "I hope you've got a glass ready because I brought punch!") and just general lack of awareness of what's going on in context seem to be major pitfalls they've fallen into. The shogi piece bit is just WTF badly handled, for instance.

Admittedly, I get grumpy at the literalness of Breath of the Wild's translation at times, if only because I'm familiar with Japanese clichés like "blessed with [natural feature]" that show up in the English script. Although that at least doesn't contain actual unambiguous errors, and occasionally the localization team got to have fun with seal puns or dye puns or clever names.

Ultimately, it's not unfair to complain that the translation on Persona 5 was pretty bad, especially because of how unnatural the English sounds ("it can't be helped" instead of something like "I guess that's just how it is") but also because of just straight-up glaring errors ("please take care of me" for お世話になります) that their team should be embarrassed to have committed to words, much less shipped.

And obviously it goes without saying that WOW Japan has issues with sexism and homophobia, and by all accounts P5 is kind of an embarrassment given that P4 handled that sort of stuff less awfully? Though, again, haven't played through them myself.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:57 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I haven't played P5 yet (mostly because I don't have a PS4) and this isn't exactly making me regret this, which is a damn shame because I love the Megami Tensei and Persona games. As for the translation issue, the thing that's actually most mind-boggling to me is that there was literally a side-quest in P4 where the entire point was that literal translations make things awkward and terrible and should be avoided.
posted by ultranos at 3:07 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


uggghhhh this writeup was doing okay for a while but then they dragged out the "青 means both blue and green" chestnut which hasn't been true for like a hundred years unless you're talking about old, old words that have obviously been grandfathered in to modern vocabulary

uggggghhhhhhhhhh come on dude
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:07 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


And obviously it goes without saying that WOW Japan has issues with sexism and homophobia, and by all accounts P5 is kind of an embarrassment given that P4 handled that sort of stuff less awfully? Though, again, haven't played through them myself.

I don't know that it's super embarrassing (though maybe, again, it's because I've seen way worse, which should not excuse the unfortunate material in P5) but yes, Persona 4 is much better in the sexism and especially homophobia departments.
posted by chrominance at 3:23 PM on April 20


uggghhhh this writeup was doing okay for a while but then they dragged out the "青 means both blue and green" chestnut which hasn't been true for like a hundred years unless you're talking about old, old words that have obviously been grandfathered in to modern vocabulary
DoctorFedora

What color on a Japanese stoplight means go?
posted by Sangermaine at 4:30 PM on April 20


Yes yes, they use the modern word for"blue" for traffic lights, but that's the most modern context you'll see it used that way in (and traffic lights are… pretty old).

You learn a few exceptions (traffic lights and unripe fruit, mainly) but everywhere else, it's as straightforward as any other language that distinguishes between blue and green in modern Japanese.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:59 PM on April 20


Still playing through P5, I think I'm about halfway through the game; I've opted to use the Japanese audio track for now alongside the English subtitles. These translation problems can be problematic for me from the perspective of someone who's practicing the language in terms of listening to and understanding spoken Japanese, in that I don't know whether something is a really good translation or not, and am trying to align whatever's flashed on screen to what I've heard. I do notice a lot of cases where the spoken audio is not a literal translation of what's onscreen, but attribute that to the translators' leeway to interpret the idea how they want.

In any case, with the English translation, there's enough to get by in terms of understanding the gist of the story. It goes by in a blur afterwards, moreso if you keep dying and re-loading and don't want to go through a chunk of dialogue again and again.
posted by FarOutFreak at 8:51 PM on April 20


I don't get the complaint that "It can't be helped" is not natural English. It's probably more common in British English than American, and probably a bit less common now than it used to be, but I use it from time to time (I think I inherited from my mother).

I've seen this specific complaint about Persona 5 multiple times and it shits me. It's one thing to say, "It can't be helped" is not a great translation from the Japanese, but it's another to say "It can't be helped" is not an English idiom. It is.

(All of the other complaints about the translation seem fair, though.)
posted by robcorr at 9:17 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Translation is difficult, especially translation from Japanese, and given constrained finances/schedules, most efforts will fall short in one way or another. I personally don't think basic context errors or overly literal set phrase renderings are acceptable, but it is remarkable how little such errors detract from communicating the overall plot. If we lived in a perfect world, every translation project would have a well-edited translation that came close to capturing the essence of the original, down to characterization and cadence, but we are not so lucky.
posted by Standard Orange at 9:27 PM on April 20


P5 is different from the prior titles as you end up fighting less of a vague abstract enemy but actually terrible humans with their own messed up problems. It's much darker from the intro videos would suggest compared to say, P4 which was a mystery hunting game. I mean, MC of P5 has a criminal record which results in everyone in the society ostracizing him despite being a normal HS student 90% of the time. Also, the entire "We hate adults/cops" theme is one of the major influences on how people in power don't care how much they hurt vulnerable members.

For newcomers P4: G on Vita is the best version of P4 but at the same time a lot of the themes haven't aged well see: Yosuke and Kanji's interactions. So far P5 Got Better after Yusuke's weird intro to the game but I've only made it to the 4th palace. Also, I agree Ann's costume is quite terrible but you can switch into casual clothes via Free DLC or buy any of the numerous DLC packs out SOON.

Yes, overall TL is very awkward but I'm happy we were able to get a dual-audio option which is very rare for Persona titles. The most I can hope for is that they will consider a FeMC for future Persona titles or maybe not.

btw: Morgana is a huge improvement over Teddy and his unbearable puns.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 5:43 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Veering off topic a bit, the translation for NieR: Automata seems excellent. Mentioning it because it's another popular Japanese story game right now. I mean I don't know Japanese at all, nor JRPGs very well, but I played NieR through intensely and never thought "huh this translation is awkward". Great voice acting in English. The game itself was pretty foreign to me, full of those "anime tropes" (murder androids wearing French maid costumes and high heels) and some bizarro existentialism and storytelling. But it all came together in an interesting experience for me.
posted by Nelson at 7:26 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Everything I've read about P5 screams "work" to me.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:43 AM on April 21


I've seen this specific complaint about Persona 5 multiple times and it shits me. It's one thing to say, "It can't be helped" is not a great translation from the Japanese, but it's another to say "It can't be helped" is not an English idiom. It is.

I don't recall the specific instances where the phrase gets used, but there have been a number of instances where party members would say something that technically is correct English, but isn't something I'd expect a teenager to say. "It can't be helped" falls into that category for me. It's less a correctness issue and more a style one.
posted by chrominance at 8:07 AM on April 21


I'm just happy the P5 localization avoids adding an apostrophe to every word that ends in the letter "s". In that respect, it's less obnoxious than most of the Anglophone internet.
posted by asperity at 1:56 PM on April 21


Nier: A was handled by 8-4, an outside company for localization, compared to Atlus who lost their head translator and handled in-house with a much longer game length along with numerous delays (coming WINTER 2014 to Spring 2017).
posted by chrono_rabbit at 2:17 PM on April 21


If I recall correctly, the translators/editors who made Atlus' PS2 games have such wonderful scripts don't work there anymore. So, mystery solved.

I thought this would be about the game's thematic failures. The "new" Persona series really loves to evoke some fascinating and complex topics (suicide, urban ennui, misogyny and gender roles, gayness and toxic masculinity, transness) but typically fails entirely to engage with them on any level. In fact, they have a bad habit of bringing up a fraught topic, then denying that they ever brought it up at all. Suicide imagery in Persona 3? No clue what you're talking about. You think Kanji's gay? And Naoto's trans? How on earth did you ever get that impression? What? Anne's complicated relationship with male gaze? Whatever is a "male gaze?"

And so on. It's tiring as all hell, because these are generally pretty good games, and Atlus have a history of being remarkably smart, compassionate and progressive on social issues - Digital Devil Saga features both an intersex character and a nonbinary character, and while I could pick a couple nits, they're both portrayed positively, respectfully and sorta awesomely; that was in 2002. The "new" (they've been a cogent team for about a decade now, I guess) Persona team seem to want to launch off that good reputation without doing any of the work.

But then I'm an Old who got on the Megaten train with Persona 2, so I prefer these games to be weird, stylish and borderline opaque, and don't even get me started on how the Western fandom shifted from marginalized girls to internet Nazis.
posted by byanyothername at 3:15 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I think it's because the older SMT games are much different from modern Persona titles beyond the art style and they won't return to them unless you mean the SMTIV games. The more mainstream Persona series due to popularity means less risky decisions will be considered since they're owned by Sega now.

I don't mind because it means they're going to keep developing interesting games even if it means it won't be as controversial in the past. It's a bit similar to how JRPG games all follow certain goals regardless of the company but then again I'm biased since I like JRPGS over another genre.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 5:00 PM on April 21


Even SMTIV is a lot more "anime" and a lot more invested in "lore" than I want. Atlus' reacquisition into Index into Sega is likely going to mean a similar fate as Enix's getting Squaresoft's IPs; lots more low/mid-end spinoffs and tie-ins and "continuity" with some interesting games here and there amidst the kruft. I love JRPGs, too, and I'm glad the genre's undergoing a bit of a resurgence on consoles and PC, but I'm still a bit worried about its long/medium-term survival.

Anyway, I popped back in because I just realized something. Persona 3 loves throwing around its memento moris and imagery of death and mortality without ever actually saying anything on any of that...

...except in the undoubtedly accidental meta sense that, whenever you consider replaying Persona 3, you remember that it took you like 90 hours the first time and oh jesus i'm gonna die
posted by byanyothername at 10:05 PM on April 21


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