How Fans Translated The Great Ace Attorney When Capcom Couldn’t
Translation status overruled.
By Michael Koczwara
Imagine translating 32,000 boxes of Japanese text, each box consisting of 15 or so words filled with nuanced dialogue and cultural references specific to a country other than your own. It’s a grueling task only the most dedicated would endure, and that’s exactly the spirit behind the Scarlet Study team, a group of enthusiastic online fans who did what Capcom couldn’t: translate the entirety of Dai Gyakuten Saiban, a standalone game in the Ace Attorney series, oftentimes dubbed The Great Ace Attorney. Despite being a fully fledged Ace Attorney game complete with expressive animations and fleshed out cases on par with the mainline entries, Dai Gyakuten Saiban never saw release outside of Japan. Its 2015 release on the Nintendo 3DS came and went with no statement from Capcom on an official localization. Months became years, and it was clear the standalone Ace Attorney game would never reach Western eyes.
However, Ace Attorney fans are a passionate bunch so it was no surprise when a team was formed to fully translate the game to English. “We were certain there would be no official localization,” explained Uwabami, an administrator on the team. “The first hints that there would be no official localization came to light and people quickly developed the first tools to work with the files in the game.” Fan Translators International, an online group focused on the technical aspects of translating, were particularly pivotal in reverse engineering the game to allow translators to modify the text. Some of the 30 or so Scarlet Study team members flocked from other translation projects including the two most recent Fire Emblem 3DS games and Ace Attorney Investigations 2 on the Nintendo DS. “Getting the right people for the job is difficult, especially for volunteer work,” deduces Uwabami. While the technical side of the project was tough to tackle, the actual translating brought its own set of hurdles. Masterofmemes, another administrator, talked about the challenges of staying true to the original text. “I’d say we kinda straddle the line between ‘direct’ translation and ‘eat your hamburgers, Apollo.’ [A meme poking fun at the official localization of the main series and its heavy inclusion of Japanese themes despite its Los Angeles setting] While we want the original writing to shine as much as possible, we also try to read into the nuances a little bit and make them work in English.” “Of course, there is the occasional roundabout Japanese term or phrase that is a little difficult to make sound natural in English, but that’s just an issue with translation in general,” says Rahky, the team leader over at Scarlet Study. “One example might be Souseki [character in fourth case] himself, once he gets into character his language gets much more complicated in Japanese once he realizes he’s amongst native speakers. In particular… he spouts out some excited nonsense that were mostly ‘yojijukugo’ in Japanese, four-character phrases or proverbs that tend to carry a cultural meaning more readily understood by Japanese speakers but that doesn’t really exist in English. That kind of stuff is weird to figure out sometimes, but sometimes discussing that stuff is half the fun.” Dai Gyakuten Saiban is a special case in that it tells a story set in 19th century Japan where the influx of Western influences in the Japanese courtroom is a consistent story element and theme. This story doesn’t follow Phoenix Wright but instead Naruhodo Ryunosuke, another upcoming defense attorney dealing with the clashing of the Japanese and British legal systems. “Cultural differences already come up often in the game, usually in the form of jokes or Ryuu’s observations, so the path was pretty much already set for us,” explains Masterofmemes. “When it comes to language, the game does a sort of ‘translator goggles’ sort of thing in which the player always receives the dialogue in a certain language, and it may or may not be perfectly clear what language is actually being spoken in-universe.” Jezail is an English research exchange student studying in Japan that Masterofmemes says is “special because, even though Ryuu and Asougi both know a decent amount of English, she uses the fancier Queen’s English in some cases so even they can’t understand it.” For the final episode, two British translators joined the team, providing an additional perspective. “They really made the game pop,” says Masterofmemes. “All the tiny little differences between American and British English really help the dialogue stand out.” To add to the localization troubles, several characters in Dai Gyakuten Saiban derive from the Sherlock Holmes universe, including familiar names like Holmes, Watson, Garrideb, and other characters from recently released works, many of which present murky copyright problems outside of Japan. Speaking from Capcom’s perspective, Masterofmemes says “there’s the danger of potential lawsuits from the Doyle Estate, who will occasionally try to chase copyright violations on characters from certain Sherlock Holmes stories. Since the whole fan translation thing is already in a legal gray area, this wasn’t really a consideration at all.” Capcom has never made an official statement on the localization decision of Dai Gyakuten Saiban but the team has their own ideas as to why. “Considering mainline Ace Attorney is already digital-only in the West, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t be super on-board with spending time and money localizing something that could flop,” says Masterofmemes. “The Great Ace Attorney doesn’t localize quite as cleanly as the main series, as the relationship between Britain and Japan in particular is so important. Capcom could certainly do some intense rewriting and make some logical leaps to make it work out, but it only adds to the high effort for what they expect could still be a low reward.” “We did not have any interaction of any kind with Capcom and as far as we know, this is also true for the Ace Attorney Investigations 2 translation team,” Uwabami explains. “We are pretty sure they are aware of us though.”
A playthrough of Dai Gyakuten Saiban on YouTube featuring English subtitles translated by a different team of two fans was taken down by Capcom in June of 2017. A few weeks later, the videos were back online after the creators filed a counterclaim for “fair use and educational use.” The Scarlet Study team sees the patch as benefit to both fans and Capcom alike. “It would be awesome if we really did influence them positively in some way,” hopes Uwabami. “A whole new audience is buying the game because of the patch, which we’d like to think is both helpful to Capcom financially and an indicator of the series’ popularity outside of Japan.” The project was finally completed in April of this year with two patches available, one for the 3DS and one for the Android release. A guide is set up on the Scarlet Study website detailing how to legally purchase Dai Gyakuten Saiban and apply the translation patch. “We have not and will not attempt to help anyone obtain the game illegally in any way,” the team clarifies. “Even though we figure Capcom probably knows about this project, we’re hoping that they view it positively and choose to look the other way.” As the Scarlet Study group continues to work on translating Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2, another Japan-only game from 2017, the team reminisced on some of their favorite moments from the past three years. “My favorite moment was probably either the simultaneous episode 3 and 4 release, which really cemented the fact that we’re doing it, or just seeing people’s reactions to the game and the translation,” Masterofmemes recalls. “It’s nice when someone gets a giggle out of some awful pun or joke I’ve made.” “I’m primarily a translator so just getting to translate a game I love into English is a blast for me,” says Rahky. “I think it’s something well worth being proud of.” Michael Koczwara is a freelance writer who urges Ace Attorney fans to give this a go. Follow him on Twitter and YouTube.