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The Trials and Tribulations of Localizing Sega's Lost Judgment

Voice actor Greg Chun and Localization Producer Scott Strichart talk about the challenges and victories of localization.

When Judgment released in 2018, a lot of long-time fans of RGG Studio were surprised that the western localization had an English dub for the first time since the 2005 PlayStation 2 release of Yakuza. The Judgment dub let the spinoff series try and expand a bit to players who were turned off by the Japanese language track and subtitles, but that endeavor required actually nailing the English voiceover. When it came to casting a voice for the game’s protagonist, Takayuki Yagami, voice actor Greg Chun was a natural fit.

Greg has been a prolific voice actor (and Twitch streamer) for years, though gaming fans might know him best in his roles as Adam in Nier Automata or Ike in Super Smash Bros. After Judgment, he immediately hopped back into the RGG Studio saddle with Nanba, Ichiban’s best friend in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. With Lost Judgement just a few weeks away, Greg is stepping back into the role of Yagami once again and we got a chance to talk with him about it.

Not only that, but Sega Localization Producer Scott Strichart also joined us to talk about working with Greg, localizing these games from their Japanese script, and trying to balance the tone of these games in a way that sounds good out loud.

It’s very rare to have both localizers and voice actors in the same room. Can you guys start by telling me how do you work together on a project like Judgment or Lost Judgment? Like, where does it start? Are there already voice actors? Do you start working with them from the actual translation phase?

That’s kind of a Scott question.

Yeah, so we obviously don’t need to get actors in at the translation phase. First, we get the text in the script. That’s sort of the the ramp up to the voice recording phase, getting that script ready, because the actors don’t need to be involved until we have that script in working shape for them. And then it’s always a mad rush to have that script ready. I think actors like Greg can see when scripts come in and they feel half-finished and hopefully he never has that impression of our of our work.

Never, absolutely not.

What was your familiarity with the series before you came into Judgment? Were there any things as you were coming in that you absolutely had to do?

You know, I didn’t have a ton of familiarity [with Yakuza] when I was cast. I actually had heard of the Yakuza games when I got when I brought it in for Judgment, but I didn’t know just what a massive animal it was, so I was pretty much coming in flying blind. I remember the first session I had, it was super weird. I was driving on the way to a [PCB Productions] and I actually made a video of myself. I don’t know if I still have it, but I was like, I have this feeling that this is kind of a big deal. I don’t know why. But I had never really had a lead role in a game before and certainly not in a triple-A title. So I was sort of thinking from the audition and stuff…it seems like this is the guy, right?

So I come in and I meet Scott and Dan [Sunstrum, lead translator at Sega of America]. And Keith [Arum, CEO and President of PCB Productions] is there, obviously, and they show me just the splash screen of Yagami and his blue smoke and him walking in slow motion with a shadow on his face. I’m like, okay, it’s on now.

So I was super amped, but you know what? The only thing that I kind of heard of the Yakuza series is that it gets a little silly sometimes, and I love that, I love games that have that, that walk that line, and I don’t think any franchise does it better than [Yakuza] as far as having real heart and then just turning on a dime into being absolutely absurd. It’s kind of why I feel like the game is such a rich experience.

But to answer your question in a very long way: no, I wasn’t really wasn’t familiar with the franchise before I started.

When you’re writing these scripts and translating these massive, essentially, J-Drama movies, do you have a voice actor in mind? Is there a voice in your head where you go “Okay, yeah, this person would be perfect?”

This happens sometimes. And when that happens, it’s gold, because you can almost write to their voice, you can be think, I know who I want to play this, they’re absolutely going to love this part and you do it. Obviously, when we were writing for Judgment, there’s almost none of that because I had been out of the [voiceover] scene for years. Coming back into it. I had no idea who the main players were, so we tapped into some legacy talent like Crispin Freeman and Steve Blum, obviously, who were legends in the field because we wanted that kind of royalty cast. For a lot of these main parts, we were getting getting new talent on board like Greg, and over time, we’ve grown to the point where I can almost literally write in Greg’s voice and think “Greg’s gonna love this line.”

I wish I could spoil one line for Lost Judgment, but I’m not going to — Scott knows what my favorite line from it is.

Judgment was the first English dubbed Yakuza game since the first one. Was that a thing, Greg, that you knew about ? And if so, did you feel any added pressure that you really have to nail this one?

When I sat and thought about it — because I did hear that — and when I hear stuff like that, initially I do feel some pressure. But I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to working under pressure over the years, especially as a musician, like when you’re writing music for commercials, it’s nothing but pressure because the schedule is so fast and furious. A lot of times you’re trying to overcome a bit of a “lost in translation” phenomenon where the people who are giving you direction on music don’t really know music a whole lot, so you get a lot of vague, strange direction and you just have to make it happen.

It was more of a cerebral thing, where I was kind of like, “Oh, that’s gonna be interesting, a lot of eyes are going to be on this.”

But fortunately, Yagami was such a natural fit for me personally and emotionally that, once I got in the booth and we were working with Scott and Dan and Keith, I really didn’t feel many nerves about it at all. I think one of the main reasons that we had such a great rapport, if Scott was this jerk who just like frowned the whole session, and just was like, you do a take, and he’d says “Huh, nice choice I guess” or “I’m sorry, you’re an actor?”…instead, we had such a great vibe in there and it put me at such ease. I was really free to be myself, we would joke around and stuff, but we’d also work hard and stay on task. So I think all of that contributed to me really not being nervous about Yagami at all, just really, really enjoying the process of recording him.

In Japan, Yagami’s actor Takuya Kimura is very famous, like one of the draws of the game is that actor. Did you enter into the role doing research into them when you got the role?

Not really. I knew he was a big deal, but I felt like it was probably a mistake for me to start looking into him and getting things in my head because it’s very much like singing — if you if you want to become a singer and an artist, and you look towards other artists and try and emulate them and just be them, you’re never going to develop your own voice and it shows it shows that you’re trying to be a Mariah Carey, it shows that you’re trying to be this and that. I really wanted to go into it blind and just let Yagami resonate with me. And obviously let Scott and the guys kind of guide me, but I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions about it. I had the luxury of not having any preconceived notions about it from any standpoint and I wanted to keep it that way.

We actually do play every Japanese line prior to having Greg his English read, so he hears the entire game in Japanese and is able to kind of take what Kimura does as a light baseboard and spring off of that in the direction that he needs to go to make it sound right in English. So, yeah, to support Greg’s point, we do want him to be English Yagami, which is not necessarily Takuya Kimura.

What goes in to creating the character after the initial Japanese script is written? What kind of context do the voice actors get for who the character is intended to be?

Well, for Scott to respond to the writing part, as far as the acting part goes, I just rely on Scott and Keith and Dan, just the whole team, to guide me and give me the context and to be the gatekeepers as to what gets through and what doesn’t. I have instincts and hopefully, because we were so in sync, we were on the same page. But if there was something that deviates or needs to be adjusted and stuff, you really need to put your trust in your director and your creatives because they’re the ones who have the whole picture in their head, there’s absolutely no way you can get the whole picture in your head — unless they’re gonna pay me session rates to play through the game, which I’d be happy to do. You really don’t have that to aid you in the process, so it really is relying on the creative team.

On our side, we do attempt of course to play the game and know exactly what’s going into a scene, exactly where the characters are, what they’re doing, who they’re talking to. But last year, it was an interesting situation, because this is the first time we’ve ever done [simultaneous ship across different regions]. So the game was literally being built, as we’re going into VO so we obviously had 80% of it in our heads and an understanding of it, but there were some scenes where we’re like “We think you’re at a door. But it turns out, you’re at an intercom.”

So just like little things like that the developers hadn’t finished that we were doing in tandem with them. And you know, the requirement to be in communication with devs just gets that much more intense and hard. It’s intense.

Greg, after you were Yagami in Judgment, you went on to Yakuza: Like A Dragon to play Nanba. How different was Namba from Yagami? How were you trying to approach that character differently?

Oh, it’s written into the character, he’s completely different, because he’s a grump. He’s just sort of like guttural and it’s almost as if he’s sort of like one of those…well, I guess I’m getting to that age  where you wake up and you’re just in pain all day. That’s sort of like how I felt about Nanba. And it’s interesting, because Yagami has his history of being a disgraced fallen lawyer, but that isn’t kind of what’s focused on during the game, right? You’re just doing the private detective thing. For Nanba, his story of his fall from grace really comes out during the game. I think Nanba played himself for me through just the arc that he went through, so we started off in a certain place, and then I was able to be taken along for the ride as with and to Nanba unfolded.

So I’ll go ahead and say you’re the expert in being Yagami and being Nanba. If the two fought, who do you think would win?

Oh, I mean, I want to say that Yagami would beat the ever-loving crap out of Nanba. But then there’s  the Pigeon Storm, and there are these completely superhuman phenomena that take place. I think in the end, I’d have to go with Nanba, honestly. He just would not know what to do. Like Pigeon Swarm kind of trumps most hand-to-hand combat, I would say.

I mean, the bad breath alone.

Oh, that was a fun one to record for sure, that breath attack.

Actually, that was that’s one of my questions. What is your favorite line from like, all the RGG [Ryu Ga Gotoku] studio stuff you’ve done? Do you have one line that’s gonna sticks in your head?

Okay, for Judgment, it is definitely — can I talk about the ending at this point?

[Minor Ending Spoilers for Judgment Upcoming]

The ending, yeah.

Yeah, it’s my final line of the game where, you know, we’ve gone through the whole thing, this complete trial of solving the case, no pun intended. And the phone rings while we’re just sort of chilling there, and this lady is calling about how her cat is lost, like, I don’t know if it’s up in the tree or has gone missing or whatever. And I’m in, like let’s take the case and Kaito was like “Are you kidding? Come on.” Then as I’m excited about this and about to walk out the door. I said to Kaito “This is our first case in a while. Now let’s go find that lady’s cat.”

We had such a great time recording that line because I think the first time I recorded it, we all just burst out laughing. And it was just sort of like, yeah, that’s gonna be the one.

That’s the last line in the game. I can’t believe this read came around on me. He’s like, “Oh, I kind of understand what it’s doing. It’s like reestablishing Yagami and his feel for his detective work. This joy he has in it, rather than being a lawyer, you know?”

And like, everyone just came around on that line just being like, wow, this is this is an epic way to end the game. This is perfect.

[End Judgment Ending Spoilers]

Yeah, yeah. For Nanba, I think I have two favorite moments, one actually didn’t make it into the game. When he’s searching for the coin underneath the vending machine at the beginning and finds a bottlecap. Scott, what do he end up saying, like, “Shit” or something? I can’t remember what it was. But the first thing I offered the guys was he grabs the cap and he goes, “What the shit?”

That sequence was actually longer in the original script. But I think at the end of the day, it played out so funny still. I think it was like a “when God closes a door, he also closes a window” kind of thing.

But by far my favorite moment in Like a Dragon was when Ichiban talks about his dream of being a hero. I burst out laughing and kind of mocking him, but then I felt kind of bad about it. So this was, again, one of those things where it was the first instinct that I had, and we all just were on board with it. He sort of laughing really hard and then it kind of dies down and he feels a little bit guilty about it. The way that he sort of stumbles off was just, I thought it was fun and a lot of fun to do.

Is it hard to switch modes between dramatic and comedic like that? Especially with these games that bounce between the two a lot.

No, absolutely not, because that’s how I’m in real life. Like, something could be going on that’s really awful. But then if something funny occurs to me, I want to throw it out there and it kind of relieves the tension. I mean, sometimes it does fall flat and when it does, super awkward. But you know, that’s kind of how I live, so I didn’t find that to be out of reach at all.

All the all the lines where Yagami gets an answer wrong, we don’t necessarily tell Greg that the line is going in that direction. So we say “Present this line with confidence, please.”

And he’s reading the line like, “Oh, that wasn’t, that wasn’t the right one.” It was just so hilarious to watch him derail in real life as the character is also supposed to be derailing.

It’s great. I think that’s my favorite thing about recording Yagami in particular — actually, there’s a scene in Judgment where Keith Silverstein’s character [Satoshi Shioya] is there. I fumble on one of those things where I’m like, “Ah, that’s, that’s not what I meant to show you,” when I show a picture. And Hamura was like, “What the hell is that to have to do with anything?” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, sorry, I didn’t mean to show you that.”

And Keith goes, “What the hell you’re doing, dummy?!” And so this was such a fun line for me that I actually captured the audio and I’m using it on my twitch stream, to basically allow the users if I’m failing in the game, which I do often, to play this at me. That’s just one of those fun things.

When casting for these games, Scott, do you find people who are adept at switching styles from serious to silly?

Casting for these games is really difficult because you do need an actor with a lot of range. I don’t think we necessarily look for people who can go silly, it’s more the drama that we need. Because I think silly is a little easier, in my opinion. I think a lot of actors are by nature kind of silly, that they love that kind of stuff. So it’s a matter of casting for the drama and then allowing them to kind of break the chains for the for the silly part.

So Greg, Lost Judgment is obviously finished recording. How did you decide you were going to grow Yagami’s character after the trials and tribulations of the first game?

Well I feel like the sequel sets it up so nice. In one of the first scenes at the very beginning, Kaito and myself and the girl, the client, are sitting in a van. It’s this mundane kind of detective work thing, sort of like the lawyer equivalent of personal injury. And we’re sitting there and we’re obviously bored out of our skulls and Kaito starts complaining that he’s bored, and I’m just in another zone. So I think the game kind of teed me up to really be in that Yagami mindset where, yeah, I love being a detective, but some cases are real bummer and super boring. That was my jumping off point where all the context was kind of established for me.

From that point, the game was just so different story-wise, that I think it was easy to take it off in a fresh direction because the story took off in a fresh direction. So I wasn’t constantly plagued by this need to make it fresh or make it different because just the situations I was in you’ll see in the game, it’s already different. I just had to keep living the character in those new environments and that was sufficient for me.

Do you have a favorite Yakuza series song, like a karaoke track or any music from the game?

I mean, it has to be Bakamitai is no question. You know, I’ve heard some of the other ones and they’re great, they’re totally great. But you understand this one has a very, very personal connection for me, I even actually put out a Japanese version on Twitter of me singing it. That was something that I felt like, I don’t know, I just felt like it was one of the things I had to do. So I wrote to Scott and said, “Do you mind if I recorded Japanese version? Put it out there?” He just like, do it, I don’t care. So yeah, some of the fans who were able to see it we’e pretty psyched about it.

You do have a musical background. Let’s say RGG Studio goes completely nuts and lets you make a Yakuza musical. Which characters would you personally put in that? Would you want to help produce that?

Oh, absolutely, are you kidding? That would be incredible. I do get to work on occasion as a vocal producer for some video game theme songs and stuff and it’s so it’s so wonderful to be able to exercise that side of my brain in this world where my career has gone this direction. This career and this work and the Judgment series are my true loves and the thought of getting to marry my musical sensibilities to that and work in that capacity is pretty amazing. So yeah, let’s make it happen, Scott.

Right, we’re on it.

As far as characters, I mean, obviously [Mafuyu Fujii] and I would have to have a love duet which would be amazing; Kaito and I would have to have sort of like that bro song kind of like The Other Side from The Greatest Showman. And in Lost Judgment, actually [Todd Haberkorn playing Jin Kuwana] and I could have a pretty cool and serious duet to close out the game. I love the ending of Lost Judgment. To me, it’s like moody and tragic and just like one of those really bittersweet kind of moments that makes your heart ache and it really it lands so hard for me at the end of Lost Judgment. I’m super excited for fans to play it.

Are there aspects to Nanba and Yagami that you’re looking forward to growing in the future?

Yeah, absolutely. Yagami has already gone through kind of a gamut of emotions, so I but I think there’s always more there. I think in Lost Judgment, we see his — Scott correct me if I’m wrong or if you don’t think this — but I feel like we see his anger really level up in the in the second one, where his sort of passion and anger comes out with this with this new storyline. I feel like there’s even more to explore there where he could really lose it. He gets pretty hot but he keeps it together and I wonder if he’s going to go further with that.

I also wonder if there’s going to be real, in a Mass Effect 2 kind of way, going to be a love affair. Even the girlfriend events in Judgment are the kind of silly I’m not referring to, I wonder if there’s ever going to be any real sincere relationship. That can be super interesting.

As far as Nanba goes, I mean, I want to see him just really overcome his circumstances. Obviously he’s been in the shitter for a long time for one reason or another, I’d like to see Nanba as, who knows, a CEO of a company and be in a position where you really get to see his journey and how his circumstances dictate what become his priorities and his demeanor and the way he relates to people. I think that would be super interesting. Nanba Confections or Nanba Pharmaceutical, maybe!

Greg, you you already are in Super Smash Brothers. You voice Ike in that game, canonically one of the strongest characters in that game physically. How many of your other characters would it take to take down Ike?

Ooh, I don’t know. He does that thing with a sword with all the lightning and I again, I feel like Nanba may be the best bet still. In Smash maps, they can fall off really easily, so if the pigeons wipe Ike off one of those platforms, he’s not getting back. And even if he tries to do that midair jump to get back on, there’s still pigeons just  raging above them. His weakness is recovery, so he has no prayer against the pigeon. So yeah, Nanba will kick anybody’s ass.

Lost Judgment releases on September 24 on PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X.

About the Author

Imran Khan

Imran is Fanbyte's News Editor and owns too many gaming t-shirts.