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A Yakuza fan is on a quest to translate the series’ rarest games

Sega’s Yakuza series is one that you’ve almost certainly heard of, whether you’ve dived into the world of Kiryu-Chan or not. This long-running action RPG series recently blew up in the West after years of being a mainly Japanese audience-focused title. For years, many English-speaking gamers were barely aware of the franchise’s existence. Now, as seen with the release of games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the series has become one of Sega’s global juggernauts.

That newfound popularity doesn’t mean that Western fans have gotten their hands on all there is to offer. There are two PSP Yakuza titles,  (Black Panther: Like a Dragon New Chapter) and Kurohyō 2: Ryū ga Gotoku Ashura Hen (Black Panther 2: Like a Dragon Ashura Chapter), that were both released in Japan exclusively, with no official English translation in sight.

That was the case until John “AugmentedSmoke” (who asked Digital Trends not to use his last name) and his team, Team K4L, began chasing the goal of translating these titles for Yakuza’s new audience. That’s not an easy task when it comes to video games, which are a complicated tangle of dialogue and assets.

“There is definitely an art to it, which I think a lot of people don’t realize,” John explained when I spoke to him about the project. He explained why he’s putting the work into the Yakuza spinoff and talked about his fan-localization journey and what’s next for the team.

What got you into working on fan translations?

I got into working on fan translations pretty much for the sole reason of giving my friends the experience to enjoy games that I had already fallen in love with, but yet was out of their reach due to a language barrier.

How long does a project like the current Kurohyou 2 one usually take?

This project started in February 2021 and just had its release recently on January 7, 2022. Usually, projects like this take a lot longer, but we’ve been lucky in that the talent and effort of our team has really sped up our progress.

Yakuza: Black Dragon main character, Tatsuya Ukyo, charging a punch.

What do translation projects like this mean to you? Do you think they’re important to game preservation?

Game preservation is extremely important to me and translation projects are definitely a big part of that. The fact that eventually people will be able to pick up this game at any time and enjoy it makes me extremely happy as it wasn’t exactly the bestselling game at its official Japanese release. Now, it has a second chance of people getting enjoyment from it.

Are there any difficulties you’ve encountered during the localization and translation process?

There are quite a lot of technical issues that you go through when trying to translate a game like this. I would almost describe it as having the game trying to work against you at some points. It’s definitely not as easy as just inserting the English text into the files and calling it a day. You have to take into account the art assets, technical limitations, and then all the difficult parts of translating Japanese into English, as some things just do not make sense in a direct translation.

There is definitely an art to it, which, I think, a lot of people don’t realize.

Tatsuya Ukyo, challenging a random man to visit a club.

What pulled you to start translating the Kurohyou games in the first place?

The fan patch for Kurohyou 1 (which was incomplete, but still great) was finally released and a lot of my friends played it and some of them absolutely loved it. Initially, I decided that I was going to just write a vague outline of the game’s plot, then it became me editing English subtitles into the cutscene via video editing, and finally it eventually snowballed until it turned into what it is now.

With the Yakuza series being bigger than ever in the West, did you see a lot of demand for some kind of localization around this game?

There has been more interest than I was ever expecting and Yakuza’s newfound Western popularity definitely has something to do with that, I believe. Regarding an official localization, I would absolutely love it and would even help Sega in whatever way possible to make it happen.

Tatsuya Ukyo waving at a woman.

Unfortunately, with it being a 10-year-old PSP game, I don’t feel hugely confident it’ll happen. But it would be a dream come true if it did.

Do you have any other projects that you’re looking to hit on the localization side of things after Kurohyou 2?

Our next project is definitely doing a complete Kurohyou 1 translation, including minigames and other side content. There are definitely other things we are discussing, but so far we’ve only properly decided on following up with Kurohyou 1. There will be more projects after that though for sure!

You can keep up with Team K4L and its ongoing/future projects on its official website and via Twitter.

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