It’s easy to forget in 2022, now that it feels like we get a new or remastered Yakuza game every six months, that for a very long time the series was MIA from Western shores, in large part down to the disastrous decisions made by Sega for the original game’s release back in 2006.
The whole point of the Yakuza series is that it’s Japanese as hell, from the convenience stores to the overwrought voice-acting, but for the series’ debut in North America and Europe Sega made the bizarre decision to essentially tilt the entire experience on its axis via its localisation.
Voice actors like Michael Madsen, Mark Hamill and Eliza Dushku were brought in (at the expense of the Japanse audio track, which was cut entirely), the script’s tone was altered to be a bit more street and the whole vibe of the game’s marketing was very Grand Theft Auto-meets-Goodfellas, all of which did the actual game—which as we now know is actually an hours-long soap opera broken up by throwing bikes into dude’s faces—a huge disservice.
It didn’t do nearly as well in the West as it did in Japan, and when Yakuza 2 met a similar fate (despite avoiding most of those issues, like keeping its Japanese audio) it seemed for a long time—while spin-offs and Yakuza 3 saw huge success in their home market but were never released overseas—that the West had blown it, and Yakuza would be lost to us forever.
Thankfully that hasn’t been the case, and the decision to more faithfully localise the titles has paid off. Even those first two Yakuza games, so originally divisive in the West, have been remade and re-released with tremendous success. But for some, looking back at the original 2006 release of the game on PS2, that’s still not enough.
And so now we’ve got Sylwahan’s Yakuza Restored Project, which as the name suggests is looking to take the original PlayStation 2 game—which you could easily argue as the original is the superior way to consume it—and fix it. Not in terms of its overall visuals or gameplay, we already got that with Kiwami, but in terms of undoing the damage that the original localisation brief did to the game’s intended experience (I’d like to make clear here that it’s the orders from the top to make Yakuza more gangster are to blame here, not the work of individual actors or localisation staff).
“I started my Yakuza journey with the PS2 original”, Sylwahan says, “and that’s the one I fell in love with, janky localization and all. But even if that one has reached endearing/meme status after 15+ years, I would have liked something that was less ‘out there’, so that was my goal.
So they’ve set about making changes like removing the PS2 game’s English dub and replacing it with the original Japanese audio track (there isn’t room for both, an issue the official release also suffered from), tidying up a bunch of visual markers like chapter title cards and moving the subtitle position so that it’s easier to read.
The main work, though, comes in the form of the game’s subtitles. Yakuza has around 20,000 lines of dialogue, and this project has edited “around 50%” of them, doing everything from “removing excessive vulgarity” to restoring original character names to little grammatical changes like ensuring the “consistent use of honorifics”.
Here’s a trailer showing the changes in action:
The project will hopefully be out later this week.