Otaku USA Magazine
Let’s Hear It for the Ace Attorney Video Game Localizations!

Let's hear it for the Ace Attorney localizations!

A game series as full of puns, wordplay, and contradictions as Ace Attorney requires a solid localization. Fortunately for all of us, it does! And not just a serviceable one… one that actually preserves as much of the original meaning and mood as possible.

With more games on their way for us, we’re taking a look at why the English language releases of these games work for us. It seems like a simple enough answer, but there’s a lot at work in these games. What are your favorite things about them?


Punny Names of All Varieties

Apollo Justice

Anime and video games are full of meaningful names. The question becomes: do you change them to preserve the meaning, or leave them the same to stay faithful? In the case of Ace Attorney, it’s name changes left and right, with very few staying the same. But considering how meaningful all those names are, it’s a good thing.

Our hero, for example — Ryuichi Naruhodo — has a name that’s one part mythical creature inspired, one part courtroom drama. (“Naruhodo,” or “I see,” is commonly said by detectives in Japanese procedurals.) “Phoenix Wright” isn’t an exact one-to-one translation, but it’s impressively close. Minor characters have punnier names still, usually with the same general meaning as their originals. Winston Payne, for instance, and the ventriloquist and his dummy Ben and Trilo Quist. Not all of them are elegant… but that’s true in the original Japanese, too. It doesn’t have to be art, it just has to make us laugh.


Pop Culture References That Land

"In 1972, a crack clown unit was sent to prison by a circus court for a crime..."

Or, at the very least, don’t completely miss the landing.

One of the unspoken difficulties of localizing a game like Ace Attorney is the fact that it can be full of little pop culture references that might not fly in other countries. Tweaking these to be understandable, relevant, and not awkward can be difficult. After all, not every TV show or pop star has an exact match. But when the games do make the switch, it actually works out pretty well. This goes for dialogue styles, too… though that l33t speak in the first game really does date it…


Knowing What to Let Go

Ace Attorney Investigations

Shu Takumi originally created Ace Attorney with at least a partial intention of dunking on Japan’s legal system. With prosecutors who really could go 40+ years undefeated and defense attorneys frantic to do their job at all, much of what the games present isn’t fully fiction. While we’ve yet to see the world go fully this direction (despite having lived through the time period of the third game), some things seen in the game have happened. So how did the localization team address this?… they didn’t. Which is a choice you sometimes have to make.

The United States — and every country around the world — has its own issues in this regard. While it’s interesting to note what inspired the games, we don’t need knowledge of that inspiration to be able to play. That does, however, mean that each location where the game is localized has space to explore how the story relates to their own issues and experiences.

There’s more Ace Attorney on the way… are you ready?

Kara Dennison

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and presenter with bylines at Crunchyroll, Sci-Fi Magazine, Sartorial Geek, and many others. She is a contributor to the celebrated Black Archive line, with many other books, short stories, and critical works to her name.