In his heart, The Big Ace Lawyer is an Anglophile game.
This statement may surprise people who have spent years wondering if the game would ever get an English localization. Since its initial release in 2015, this spin-off game for the ace lawyer franchise about Phoenix Wright’s Meiji-era ancestor has been rumored. Was the lack of official localization due to copyright issues around Sherlock Holmes, financial considerations, or because the game was much more difficult to translate than previous entries? Even after both Big Ace Lawyer the games finally got their long-awaited English release earlier this year in the form of The chronicles of the great ace lawyer, CAPCOM never gave a clear answer to this question.
Perhaps because of this vagueness, games have acquired an elusive aura over time. Because they were clearly set in older Japan, there was a sense that they had a heavier “Japanese identity” that would stand out from the main line. ace lawyer Games. According to some, they would not translate well, as the English localization of previous games had shifted the setting to Los Angeles. Attempt a similar tactic with The Big Ace Lawyer would require the plot itself to be rewritten, whereas leaving the setting as it originally was would introduce confusion for long-time players.
In practice, however, the commonly cited issues weren’t much of a problem. As Series Localization Director Janet Hsu Explain, earlier localizations did not write Japanese cultural references when relevant to the plot. The result is that these games presented a very “japanized” America, filled with references to yokai, karuta, rakugo, and other Japanese cultural mainstays. Even in the localized version’s alternate universe, it still makes sense that Phoenix Wright’s ancestor would be Japanese. The fact that The Big Ace Lawyer takes place several generations before the main series means it’s possible for players to fill in the gaps themselves.
As Hsu revealed, the team’s fundamental approach to localization hasn’t really changed for this title. As always, the text needed to be easy to read and enjoyable, without requiring players to pause to look for things. The overall plot and characterization would remain the same, but some jokes and puns would be rewritten to better suit an English-speaking audience. If some cultural knowledge was important in resolving a case, then its meaning was conveyed briefly through dialogue, without breaking the immersion. The specific solutions changed depending on the context, but everything was in service of a very clear goal: to make the core of the game as accessible as possible.
Thanks to all this hard work, it is now possible for English speakers to easily grasp what the writer Shu Takumi was trying to deal with The Big Ace Lawyerthe historical setting. The game may start you in a Japanese courtroom, but the action quickly moves to London. Many cases depend on historical details about the city: for example, there is a crime that takes place in an omnibus and another that takes place in a typical Victorian house. Ryunosuke Naruhodo represents an external view of culture, which means that the story can transparently explain all relevant minutiae. This game is a great excuse for Takumi to dabble in Victorian England and create new kinds of mysteries that couldn’t appear in a main game.
the early commercialization for the Japanese public, it is obvious that the London part is the main selling point – or rather, the ace lawyer face Sherlock Holmes (or Herlock Sholmes, as he is called in the English version). In The Big Ace Lawyerhe is a recurring supporting character, along with other familiar characters from the sherlock holmes stories. The “East Meets West” setup here allows for a refreshing take on Holmes as a lovable ditz who needs to have his erroneous deductions “corrected” by Ryunosuke. This manifests on a gameplay level with the “Dance of Deduction” segments and in the larger narrative, where he plays a strictly secondary role to Ryunosuke.
As a beloved and familiar literary figure around the world, Holmes acts as a kind of anchor to engage people who aren’t necessarily interested in world history. The Big Ace Lawyer is able to portray London as a fascinating otherworld through Ryunosuke’s perspective because he uses fiction to exaggerate his setting. For a modern Japanese, who would be far more familiar with Western culture than Ryunosuke or even his scholarly assistant Susato, just seeing London wouldn’t inspire the same feelings of culture shock. Therefore, the game uses Sherlock Holmes as an opportunity to slip in steampunk elements and other colorful and ahistorical details. It doesn’t go so far that the feeling of the period is lost, but it is what allows the player to see London with fresh eyes.
This brings me to the crux of this article, which is that The Big Ace Lawyer is a perfect game in translation. It’s not so much a game about Japan as a game that foreign England. What this means for the player experience is that it confronts you with different cultures, regardless of the language you play it in. You could say that the original game was, in its own way, a work of translation.
By telling a story about England through the perspective of “the Other”, The Big Ace Lawyer invites the player to reflect on their own country’s relationship with colonial England. After all, an English speaker is not necessarily a “Western”, and not all Western countries share the same cultural roots. The history of the British Empire, however, means that most countries have been influenced by it in one way or another – think of how the English language is considered a lingua franca. The Big Ace Lawyer is a story about England and Japan, but it could just as well have been about any culture that had an unequal relationship with England at the turn of the 20th century.
In other words, for any player with a basic awareness of England’s dominance at the time, Ryunosuke’s position is easy to understand. This is the only historical context the game assumes about you. The rest is explained through the game’s accessible and interactive storytelling. Takumi Remarks that he was careful to write the Japanese lines succinctly, so that a complete message is conveyed in the space of a single dialog box. This lively writing is retained in the translation as well, making it an ideal introduction to the historical relations between England and Japan for its Japanese and English-speaking players.
All of that is enough for me to consider it a great localization, but the writing charms can even be heightened for English speakers. The translation not only preserves Takumi’s writing style, it also adds extra flavor by depicting a colorful array of English dialects and accents. This is where localization takes its greatest liberties. For example, Magnus McGilded’s polite and cloying way of speaking in Japanese is delivered with a thick Irish dialect in English, while pickpocket Gina Lestrade’s brusque but feminine form of Japanese is turned into Cockney slang. Each character speaks in a way that stays true to their original characterizations while adding an extra layer to set them apart from the rest of the cast.
This attention to cultural detail extends to voice acting. On the dev Blog, Hsu wrote about how she insisted on using a British studio and casting Japanese-born actors for the Japanese characters. The performances of Mark Ota (Ryunosuke) and Rina Takasaki (Susato) once again add a layer of characterization that could not be portrayed in a Japanese-only game: Ryunosuke had the advantage of studying English at the university, so his accent is closer to an affluent British native, while as a self-taught learner who studied mostly with books at home, Susato has a sophisticated vocabulary but a thicker Japanese accent.
Much like the original Japanese text, ease of communication was a high priority when it came to representing different forms of English. According to Hsu, the localization team strove to use authentic but simplified word choices, aware that even other English speakers might struggle to understand older forms and regional variations of the language. This makes The Big Ace Lawyer a fascinating case of both interlingual (Japanese-English) and intralingual (English-English) localization.
In the modern world where the default assumption for English localization is to use American English and for video game dubs to be recorded in Los Angeles, it is very important to see non-American dialects represented in a way so complete in one location. You could say it wasn’t necessary to portray various forms of English to get the original characterizations across, but these creative decisions are entirely in line with the ethos behind Takumi’s writing: portraying the British Empire with fresh and approachable eyes.
Interestingly, a localization with this level of internal cohesion was made possible because it was produced in-house at CAPCOM, with strong communication between the English and Japanese teams. The Japanese side is obviously very proud of what the localization team has achieved. The development blog for The chronicles of the great ace lawyerwhich contains several articles on localization, is available in English and Japanese, and the addition of an English translation is actually one of the marketing points for the Japanese version of the collection. Japanese fans also appreciate the work. I appreciated the messages of this Japanese bloggerwho combed through the English text and commented on all the new English they learned along the way.
I highly recommend playing the English version of The Big Ace Lawyer– as a thoughtful engagement with Japanese text, filled with rich and dynamic English, it is a new artistic height for video game localization. This is a great opportunity for English speakers of all persuasions to look back on Victorian England and recognize it, not as a benchmark for human civilization, but as another country with all kinds of people living there.