Ace Attorney (逆転裁判 Gyakuten Saiban) is a visual novel video game series created by Shu Takumi in 2001 and published by Capcom. The series revolves around the vicissitudes of various characters working as lawyers. In each game, in fact, the player impersonates an attorney that must defend their client from homicide accusations while trying to obtain a not guilty verdict. Let’s find out about the peculiarities of the series’ localization in this Ace Attorney case study.
A quirky investigative series
Ace Attorney is considered one of Capcom’s most prolific franchises, with more than 8 million copies sold in 2021. Its resounding success is undoubtedly due to the absurdity and hilarity of the situations shown, but also due to a rich cast of memorable characters with over the top personalities. Indeed, in spite of the subject matter, Ace Attorney‘s tone is anything but serious, given how it is meant to be a parody of the Japanese judicial system. Over the years the series became a part of Internet culture: it is highly likely that veterans of the web came across the well-known “Objection!” meme portraying the protagonist Phoenix Wright at least once.
The North-American localization
The first game in the series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, was released in Japan for Game Boy Advance in 2001, but it gained international notoriety with its Nintendo DS release in 2005. Many players in the West were introduced to the series through the US version, which became super popular thanks to its stellar localization. The team decided to set the story in the States (more specifically, in Los Angeles city), thus many changes were necessary.
A mix of cultures
Despite this, numerous Japanese cultural references are maintained over the course of the games, such as those concerning Maya Fey and Kurain village’s Channeling Technique. The resulting mix between American and Japanese elements led to an inside joke within the Ace Attorney fandom, according to which the series takes place in the fictitious state of Japanifornia. This is exemplified, for instance, by Maya’s recurring desire to go out and eat hamburgers every chance she gets, while being dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. Meanwhile, in the original, her obsession is all about ramen.
In the second part of this Ace Attorney case study we’ll find out how the names of some of the characters were localized. So come back here next week too!