Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies Localization: The Many Demands of an Ambitious Scenario Director

Oct 10, 2013 // Janet Hsu

See some of the crazier courtroom concepts that didn’t make the cut in our behind-the-scenes look at Dual Destinies’ journey to the West.

Hi everyone! This is Janet again, back with another installment of our behind-the-scenes look at Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies ! There’s less than a month to go until it’s out on October 24th, but in the meantime, here’s Scenario Director Mr. Takeshi Yamazaki to tell us a little about three of the main goals he and his team of talented writers set out to fulfill.

Hello, everyone! I’m the Scenario Director for AA: DD Takeshi Yamazaki. It sure is nostalgic to think back on when we first started brainstorming for this game, but I have to say, writing the story was a challenge in more ways than one: namely, it felt like I was constantly waging a war with my own wants and ambitions. Everyone on the team contributed a whole bunch of ideas on things they wanted to see, and naturally, I had things I wanted to incorporate as well, but how much could we realistically implement? How much weight should what I want carry when I make the final call? These were the questions I struggled with as we set out to write the story.

As with any creative endeavor, there are some ideas that should never, ever see the light of day again, so I’ll spare you the agony of having to read them. Instead, I’ll share a few of the less horribly embarrassing ones that didn’t make the cut as I discuss what I thought were the “must-have” elements for the scenario.

Demand #1: All three defense attorneys must have a story of their own!

There are three protagonists in this game: Phoenix Wright , Apollo Justice , and Athena Cykes .

Phoenix returns as the main protagonist, but I knew that just bringing him back wouldn’t be enough, so I gave him two subordinates, which is a first for him. So “Would he live up to being a good boss to his two promising young lawyers?” became the theme of his story.

And let’s not forget about the star of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Apollo himself. He plays a crucial role in this game as well. What sort of gripping drama could his bandages and that mysterious blue jacket signify, do you suppose?

Finally, this game is also about Athena Cykes, as she starts her career as a fledgling lawyer. With the help of her two mentors, what kind of defense style will she adopt and what will she fight for?

From the very beginning, I wanted all three lawyers to each have their own purpose and motives, and to have them play out throughout the game. Quite the ambitious demand, wouldn’t you say? But this is nothing compared to what I found in my notebook. At one point, I had written: “This is AA5*, so let’s have a squad of FIVE lawyers! They could be the ‘Mighty Pointing Phoenix Rangers’!” among other crazy ideas. Yeah… I may have been just a little overly ambitious. We really dodged a bullet there by shelving that idea…
*This game is the 5th main entry into the AA series, and is known as “Gyakuten Saiban 5” in Japan .

Demand #2: The new rival prosecutor must be super powerful and evil!

It’s always hard to come up with a suitable rival, but it was harder than usual this time because the new rival had to be just as, if not more unique and memorable than the prosecutors that came before him. In that sense, I came up with the idea that the prosecutor this time around, Simon Blackquill , would be a convicted felon, making him the series’ most black-hearted, and literally the most criminal prosecutor yet.

Blackquill is not only incredibly intelligent, but he is also a master of psychological manipulation – a skill he is not afraid to use on the judge or the people in the gallery. Being blessed with the gift of the silver tongue, he also can’t help but use it to cruelly toy with the defense. There were even times when I felt like I was doing nothing but writing myself into corner after corner; he was so good at what he did that it was difficult to see how our protagonists could ever defeat him.

I knew that I wanted Blackquill to be a very formidable opponent, so I brainstormed some different ways in which he could be just that. Looking back on my notes, I had a few amazing duds like:

-An IMMORTAL PROSECUTOR who is 200 years old!
-A SUPER-RICH PROSECUTOR who could buy off any and every witness!

So, um, yeah. I mean, either one of these guys sounds like they would be super-tough to beat, but they’re also not exactly Ace Attorney-like, are they…? Which is exactly why they were scrapped.

Demand #3: Unusual premises that pack a real punch! 

The first thing I think about when I sit down to write an episode is the setting and the case’s basic set-up. I try to create scenarios that will pique the player’s interest, riddles and puzzles that will appeal to their curiosity, and story developments that will keep them guessing. That’s why the first episode of this game opens with a courtroom bombing and the second episode is a murder committed by a Japanese mythical creature, or “yokai.”

Of course, coming up with ideas is easy. The hard part, or what I call the curse of having a cool set-up, is how in the world do we resolve the mystery?! Without spoiling anything, all I can say is I kind of placed our protagonists in the middle of some truly bizarre situations throughout the whole game (“Just kill me now!” became a mantra of mine). I’ll leave you to see what I mean, and hope you will enjoy the journey. As for some of the ideas that were rejected…

-The ethereal murder! The suspect remembers committing the crime, but there’s no body and no evidence that it ever took place!
Murder of a Doll! Why would anyone kill a doll?

As you can see, I had a lot of ideas that while impactful and interesting-sounding, were kind of unrealistic at best. After all, how can they hold a trial if there is no body, let alone any signs that a crime had taken place? And even if you could kill a doll, would that even count as a murder…?

After a whole lot of brainstorming, I ended up with a ton of ideas. When you play the game, I hope you’ll find that I included nothing but the best of the best – like a delectable buffet of mystery and mayhem. Sadly, however, there is such a thing as too much ambition, as I found out when I sat down to write the actual game dialogue. You could say that I was the cause of my own suffering, but I was determined to overcome this hurdle I had placed in front of myself, even though, by the end, it was a great weight off my shoulders just to finish putting everything down on paper.

The thing is… my ambitions didn’t stop there; it spread to every other aspect of the game. From the graphics and the sound to the game’s programming, I pushed every person in every section to their limit in order to bring the story to life. And each time I asked them to do something for me, I would try to do it as lightheartedly as possible by laughing and saying, “I’m begging you! Please just implement this for me! I’ll even let you punch me later!” Thankfully, everyone laughed along with me as they worked to create everything you see in the game. Unfortunately, I’ve kinda lost track of how many of these “One Free Slug” tickets I gave out, and while no one’s cashed theirs in yet, I’m beginning to fear the day when they do… which just might be at next week’s team party (we usually hold a party to celebrate the successful completion of a game). You don’t suppose that’s when everyone’s going to shoryuken me all at once, do you…? Nah… They wouldn’t be THAT mean, would they…? But if you don’t hear from me ever again, at least you’ll know what happened!

Guess I’d better wrap it up here. I hope to see you all again, if I make it out of the team party alive!

Thank you, Mr. Yamazaki, for sharing your thinking process with us! And don’t worry – we won’t gang up on you all at once; we’ll take our time and space it out now that the production phase is done… I kid, I kid!

But honestly, though, speaking of pushing us to our limits, I have to say, localizing a game like this is one heck of a balancing act. There are all sorts of games out there, but there’s nothing like a visual novel to really give your brain a workout. Unlike some games where continuity may not be as big of an issue, Ace Attorney games live and die by the localization team’s ability to keep things consistent. I’d like to share a few examples of what I mean by that.

Oftentimes, translators will take liberties in order to localize the story or the characters for the target audience, but I’ve run into more than a few instances where something that most people would consider to be super tiny came back in a major way in a future game. Therefore, my rule of thumb is to only localize out of necessity what won’t be understood by the general public, or for the sake of world building and giving the world of the localized version a sense of cohesion. While some localization experts would claim that that philosophy would put Ace Attorney’s localization a little on the conservative side, I like to think of it as avoiding the need to retcon something in the future/losing something in translation (and sometimes, there are technical limitations to consider, too!).

Take the example of ramen noodles versus hamburgers. At the time, ramen was not as well-known or as widely available in the West as it is now (remember, this was way back in 2005!), so hamburgers became the cheap fast-food of choice in the localized version. Little did we know that 3 games later, ramen noodles would be featured in the prominent way that it was. The same went for what the localized version calls “Samurai Dogs”, which in the Japanese version were little cake-like sweets called “manjū”. But nowadays, Japanese culture (especially food) is better known and more readily available in the West that it’s become more commonplace. Furthermore, thanks to the ability to look things up on the all-mighty internet, I find that many players today are better informed as well, so I’m constantly calibrating my standard to the times when determining what needs localizing and what doesn’t.

Another area that’s really tough to balance is the dialogue. Talk about a continuity nightmare! The need to stay in character may seem like a no-brainer, but this is something that’s easy to overlook. For example, when a joke in the Japanese version needs to be adapted, it’s easy to simply substitute it with a joke that you personally find funny, but what I ask the translators and editors (and myself) all the time is “Is this really a joke the CHARACTER would make? Is this something the CHARACTER would know?” But jokes are only the tip of the iceberg. Lines that are meant to be foreshadowing or little details that are meant to be clues as to how the crime was committed are sometimes nestled in puns or seemingly off-handed remarks, so it’s up to us to make sure the important facts are preserved perfectly so that you the player can solve the case. In localizing the puns and other Japanese jokes, we not only have to make sure that any references we make still makes complete sense and is appropriate in the context of the game so that a player who doesn’t get it can still enjoy the dialogue, but we also have to take care not to introduce something completely new. I mean, if we joke in one game that Phoenix is allergic to blueberries in the localized version, and then in the next game, the Japanese staff decides to build an entire case around Phoenix’s love of blueberries, that would make things a tad awkward… Just a tad. You know, nothing major.

Localizing backgrounds was less problematic in the past as those were 2D illustrations, but in this game, we ran into some technical limitations. Having everything rendered in 3D polygon models is awesome, but it also means you are locked into certain shapes because who knows what kinds of bugs may rear their ugly heads if we change them completely. This means that certain objects may or may not feel “right” – most notably, signs that feature vertical text, which is totally natural in Japanese, but less so in English. Hopefully, they won’t seem too out of place after all the massaging we did…

There are so many more examples that I would love to share, but I’m afraid I’m out of time for today. Join me again next time as I bring you the in-depth scoop on how the latest gameplay systems came into being!

Until then!

( Be sure sure to check out our previous Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies localization blogs on the secrets of character design and behind-the-scenes trivia . )