A Peek at Japanese Grand Theft Auto Localizations

Robert sent in a question about the Grand Theft Auto series:

I’ve been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto 5 lately (as has everyone, right?). It got me thinking about the Japanese version of the series. I know the series has been released in Japan (at least, 3 and onward has, not sure about the first two), distributed by Capcom of all companies.

I kind of wonder how it’s been translated, because the Grand Theft Auto series is quintessentially American. There are dialects and customs at work that probably don’t translate well to…well anything outside North America, really. Especially when you get a character like Little Jacob in Grand Theft Auto 4 who speaks entirely in a weird pidgin English that even the developers can’t properly understand, or characters like CJ (in San Andreas) and Franklin (in GTA5) who speak almost entirely in slang, sound to Japanese audiences.

I’ll be honest – I’ve tried getting into the GTA series several times but it has yet to click with me, so I know very, very little about the games. So I asked Robert for some specific scenes… let’s take a look!

First up is a scene in GTA4 that involves a character named Little Jacob who speaks a very distinct style of English. For easy reference, here are the English and Japanese versions side-by-side:

Immediately it’s clear that the Japanese version of the game doesn’t seem to have a dub – instead it relies on subtitles. I suppose there could be a dub option in the game – does anyone know for sure? There’s so much voice acting in GTA games that I’d be shocked if this game had a dub, though.

Anyway, so how does the Japanese text compare with what’s being said in English? Here’s a peek!

English VersionJapanese Subtitles (basic translation)
Jacob: Ah bang ya in ya bloodclot Ya have fe come satta, me nah pusshole.Jacob: You bitch! How many times do I gotta tell you? It wasn’t me!
Elizabeta: Yeah? Fuck you, fucking reggae idiot bitch.Elizabeta: Oh, yeah? You idiot reggae asshole!
Jacob: Wha’ ya wan’ do? Ya wan’ bloodclot?! Coz ya nah even bambaclot read, ya know?!Jacob: You wanna fight? You wanna see blood? I’ll show you who’s boss, damn bitch!
Elizabeta: Stop speaking that gibberish.Elizabeta: Quit talking weird!
Jacob: Fat bumbaclot pussyhole gal, you know this?Jacob: You stubborn fatty!
Shot ya in ya bumbaclot…I oughta shoot you in the ass!
Elizabeta: Fuck you!Elizabeta: Shut up!
Jacob: ‘ey yo! Don’t touch this!Jacob: Hey, don’t touch me!
Niko: Hey, hey, hey. What’s wrong? What’s wrong?Niko: Hey, hey, hey! What happened?
Elizabeta: Jacob here… you know Jacob?Elizabeta: Jacob here… Do you know him?
Niko: Yes.Niko: Yeah.
Elizabeta: Jacob tells me it wasn’t him. But some people he introduced me to have ripped me off big time.Elizabeta: Jacob says he didn’t do it. But some guys he introduced me to backstabbed me…
And put the heat on me. I know they did. Or someone did.…and narked on me. It was definitely them. That, or…
Niko: Alright, alright, alright.
Jacob: Ah not my fault, ya know, rasta?Jacob: It wasn’t me!
Ah not my bloodclot fault.It wasn’t my fault!
Elizabeta: Well, not your fault…Elizabeta: It WAS your fault!
Jacob: ya nah come in’na me face!Jacob: Get away from me!
Elizabeta: Alright!Elizabeta: Fine!
You better hope Niko can make this right for you then.Elizabeta: Then let’s have Niko handle this.
Jacob: Or what?Jacob: And if he can’t?
Elizabeta: Or we’ve got a big fucking problem, rasta.Elizabeta: If he can’t then we’re in big trouble, rasta.
Niko, go do this fools job for him.Niko. Clean up this guy’s mess.
Niko: Yeah, I got it.Niko: Got it.
Jacob: Watch me and her.Jacob: Judge for us.
Niko: See you later.Niko: See you later.

The biggest thing of note is that the Japanese subtitles don’t have Little Jacob speaking in something nigh-unintelligible – it’s all perfectly-understandable stuff. The closest hint given that he’s speaking really strangely is Elizabeta’s line to stop speaking weirdly. Man, it’s actually a really strange feeling being able to understand the Japanese version more than the version written in my native language!

The Japanese version also leaves out the part where she was “ripped off big time”, although I’m guessing that fact is probably clear and assumed without needing to be said.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what Jacob’s last line means in either version of the game. Maybe it’s clear if you’ve already played the game or something, though.

It’s pretty normal for Japanese subtitles to not reflect different dialects and accents. I haven’t covered it much on this site, but I did briefly touch on the topic in this article about Metal Gear Rising and Guyanese English. It’s also common for Japanese subtitles to not subtitle things, which we looked at in the the Jill Sandwich comparison. That’s likely why one of Niko’s lines is unsubbed in the Japanese version of this scene.

On an unrelated side note, I’m actually kind of surprised at some of the odd punctuation and mistakes in these official English subtitles!

Anyway, next up is this scene from the start of GTA 5!

And here’s the text side-by-side:

English VersionJapanese Subtitles (basic translation)
Lamar: Wassup, can a loo come up in your crib?Lamar: So, you’re gonna let me crash here, right?
Franklin: Man, fuck you. I’ll see you at work.Franklin: Fuck that. I’ll see you later at work.
Lamar: Ah, nigga, don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful, nigga.Lamar: Hey, now, don’t be jealous of my charm.
Maybe if you got rid of that old yee-yee ass haircut you got you’d get some bitches on your dick.Maybe you could be a little more popular if you did something about that old and lame haircut of yours.
Oh, better yet, maybe Tanisha’ll call your dog-ass if she ever stop fuckin’ with that brain surgeon or lawyer she fucking with.No, better yet, you should get Tanisha to hook up with you. If she’s ever through with those brain surgeons and lawyers she’s fucking, that is.
Nigga…Y’know?
Franklin: What?Franklin: Say what!?

So it looks like “yee-yee ass haircut” became “old and lame hair cut” in the translation!

To be honest, the sort of English in this scene IS probably tough to fully convey in Japanese due to cultural differences, but the Japanese localizers did a pretty good job, I feel.

Still, just from this quick look we can see where things are lost in the translation and where other things are changed around a bit – this is actually how it is when Japanese games are translated into English too! Many things are lost in translation and changed in localization, so it’s always fun to take a look at those differences and see how gamers experience the same things slightly differently – that’s why this entire site exists, in fact :P

Anyway, thanks for the great question, Robert! And if anyone can provide more details about these scenes, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Also, if I could never really get into GTA3 or GTA4, will I like GTA5? I want to give the series a good try sometime, I feel like I’m really missing out. Let me know!

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41 comments

  1. This has nothing to do with GTA but…

    I literally just started playing Super Mario RPG for the first game and came to a weird line when you first meet Mallow. He says something like “you have more jump in you than a box of frogs.”

    I was wondering if you could let me know what the japanese version said at this part?

    Reply
    1. <マロ> えええ~! あなたがマリオさん!?
      知っていますよ! もちろん、ジャンプが
      とくいなことも。

      I can still barely read any of it, so I can’t help with translation. I can recognize the word “jump” (「ジャンプ」) in the text, so I think this is the right one. It appears immediately after Mario jumps in response to the lady Toad’s question of how he will deal with Bowser. However, I don’t see 「カエル」 (“frog”) in there, so I don’t think Mallow says the same thing that he does in the English script.

      Reply
  2. My face when people say a story can’t be translated because they’re so “quintessential” :/ (also my face when people call dialect “slang”).

    Reply
  3. I once went through an hour of Saints Row 2 to see what they did with the “speaks Japanese” captions (someone has already translated the dialog, but I was curious to see the original). They seem to have just blanked out the subtitles for this part, which is noticible because the box for the subtitles is still there, but empty.

    Reply
    1. Oh, yeah! I think someone sent me a screenshot of that (maybe it was you?) a while back. I know even less about Saints Row than GTA, so for now I’m keeping this tidbit in my brain until I have an interesting article to include it in :D

      Reply
      1. Only thing of interest I can think of note is the various text in the Professor Genki minigames in 3/4. It seems a bit “ripped from a dictionary by someone that didn’t actually know the language” to me (but I can’t really compose that well so I don’t really know).

        Here’s the only one I have a screencap for

        http://i.imgur.com/UbCHSSn.png

        The second game (the best) was apparently censored badly in the NTSC-J version (a few minigames and the ability to take a human shield, which is an important combat tactic and required in one mission, were apparently axed), but that’s all gameplay changes (and something I haven’t verified), not language based ones.

        Reply
      2. Oh as for context, it’s feedback on you launching something through a mid-air ring with telekinesis (4 is… weird), so “relating to stars/outer space” may be the intended meaning (or a double meaning is intended) of “stellar” here, but “恒星の” still doesn’t look right at all to me there (especially the inclusion of the particle).

        Reply
        1. I always figured the Japanese wasn’t quite accurate _on purpose_, because the whole thing is supposed to be a silly crazy parody humour type thing anyway. That, and it’s not too difficult for such a large team of developers to figure out the appropriate words to begin with.

          Reply
  4. See, the Japanese aren’t perfect. Damn sub purists thinking the language is “glorious and can translate everything perfectly”. I laugh at their stupidity and their inability to see past their fanboyism.

    Reply
    1. The reason a lot of purists think that Japanese voices are better – and thus, prefer subs – is that non-native speakers usually can’t tell when a line is delivered poorly.

      If you’re a big Transformers fan, you would know that the Japanese can suck at dubs just as hard as Americans.

      Reply
      1. @Gaffer Tape: You’d be surprised at how many different types of subtitle idiots there are out there.

        @Medaka444: Yes I know and sometimes it’s even worse than that. I despise them and their existence, always becoming that pink elephant in the room that ruins an otherwise good experience.

        “English sux, where r da subz!?” (Please just kill yourself if you post like this.)

        Oh god Japan’s horrid dub rape of Beast Wars never leaves my mind. They ruined everything the much better English version worked so hard to establish. They had such a weird attitude toward BW that I can’t understand.

        Reply
      2. This also happens in the opposite direction – for example Yu Suzuki supposedly preferred the English dub of Shenmue to the Japanese (it was even re-released in Japan with English audio as “US Shenmue”)

        Reply
      3. I know a decent amount of the language (more written than spoken though). I generally only bother changing from non-English VA if the English track is horrible (Not just for Japanese though: I played Gothic and The Witcher series with their original German and Polish VA tracks and know nothing of those languages).

        Skyrim comes to mind. It’s miles better than the original (what isn’t?), but it’s not good. The translation feels pretty wonky and it carries over to the VA: they somehow made the dialog MORE repetitive (a few similar phrases with the same meaning are translated to the same phrase) and translated some English expressions literally (most where a fictional thing is substituted in, but not always). Even aside from the translation, the VA has its own issues, like the decision to go with English pronunciations instead of approximations, forcing the actors to make a pause and change their pitch in the middle of a sentence (they drop this in the add-ons and just go with Dawnguardo and such, but that just means it clashes with the main game)

        I give props to whoever did Septimus though.

        Reply
      4. The opposite is true too, but to a much lesser extent – where a mediocre dub line might end up well-known/infamous enough that people feel it outshines the original, well-delivered line.

        Reply
    2. Yeah, while I like the Japanese language, it’s just as prone to shitty dubs as any other. Evidently their dub of Modern Warfare 2 (not sure WHY it’s dubbed, since I don’t think any of the other games in the series are) translates the line “Remember – no Russian” as something like “Remember – kill the Russians”.

      Reply
      1. IIRC Modern Warfare 2 was the first one to be dubbed. Said dub wasn’t very well recieved, though, from what I’ve heard, and starting with Black Ops they would release two versions: a subbed one a week or so after the US/EU, and a dubbed one a month later. They have the same boxart except for a label indicating what version it is.

        I guess that works.

        Reply
  5. I’m surprised Japan is even remotely interested in playing these games. But I guess they must be equally surprised that we want to play their Yakuza series so much, so it goes both ways.

    Reply
    1. There’s still a strong “Western games are bland and boring and all the same” sentiment in Japan, but it seems to have lightened a little over the years. There’s still a strong fanbase of Call of Duty, GTA, and stuff like that in Japan. I haven’t done much research into it, I wonder if it’s akin to us folks in the current JRPG niche outside of Japan.

      Reply
      1. JRPGs have (thankfully) gained a lot of ground in recent years, so I think it’s a bit stronger than their interest in our games.

        Reply
  6. You would think that there are Japanese dialects and speaking styles that equate into something like the original version that the translators could have used.

    Reply
    1. I was a bit disappointed that Bahamut Legoon’s fan translation did not bother translating a character’s “military” speech. I mean, it sounds rather easy to do; we have some well-defined stereotypes of how a soldier talks. I’m not entirely sure if this was Mato’s fault.

      Reply
      1. I haven’t played BL in like over a decade, but it’s possible I wasn’t a very good writer or that I felt it wasn’t necessary for whatever reason. I do recall putting a lot of thought into everyone’s speech patterns but since this was still my 100% amateur days it probably wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. I always, always think about my old projects and how I’d like to give them another try after like 12 years of professional experience.

        Reply
        1. I think it’s great you took on the task of translating BL at all, despite few people caring for its existence. I saw screenshots of it in an old GameFan magazine I used to have and loved the idea of focusing on dragons and their growth, but was sad when I learned there were no plans to bring it over.

          I find it funny we didn’t get Blood of Bahamut either. So if Bahamut is in a Final Fantasy game, it gets localized, but if his name is in the title and it’s not FF, we don’t get it.

          Reply
    2. Well, in normal translation there’s rarely a 1:1 correspondence to anything; when you add in regional dialects, racial dialects, and the like it makes things even less likely to have an equivalent in the target language/culture.

      The easiest way to explain it might be if you’re trying to draw a copy the Mona Lisa, except you only have a handful of crayons to do it with. You can sorta mimic the painting but you won’t get all the way to an exact duplicate.

      Reply
  7. “To be honest, I’m not really sure what Jacob’s last line means in either version of the game. Maybe it’s clear if you’ve already played the game or something, though.”

    I’m pretty sure Jacob is essentially just asking Niko to judge the situation fairly. Elizabeta asked Niko to “go do this fools job for him”, to which he agreed. So Jacob’s retort is an insistance that it wasn’t him, and that Niko should not be solely wary of Jacob, but Elizabeta too. I suppose the “and” in “watch me and her” should be stressed to make it clearer.

    That’s just my interpretation though.

    Reply
  8. If you want to play a GTA game, just get a Saint’s Row game. It’s the same gameplay, but with a lot more “kick” to it.

    Reply
  9. “Immediately it’s clear that the Japanese version of the game doesn’t seem to have a dub – instead it relies on subtitles. I suppose there could be a dub option in the game – does anyone know for sure? There’s so much voice acting in GTA games that I’d be shocked if this game had a dub, though.”

    I can’t say anything for sure either, but I want to note that the German versions of the GTA games always keep the original English voice acting and have only the subtitles are translated, too. I’d assume it’s the same for most if not all localizations of that series.

    Reply
    1. Yeah, the Spanish versions of the games still keep the English voices, even to this day. Same thing with pretty much every Rockstar game out there. Thankfully.

      Speaking of Rockstar, I wonder how the Japanese translations of some of their other games were. Some little things about the games, mostly to do with boxart and the like:

      -Grand Theft Auto: Strangely enough, the only pre-GTA3 title to come out there was the original, published there by Syscom, who would also publish other Rockstar/Take-Two games until Capcom started releasing them there. I’m guessing that, like the later ones, only the text got translated.

      -Smuggler’s Run: Only the first game came out there, under the name Crazy Bump’s: Kattobi Car Battle. Yes, they did use that apostrophe, it’s not a typo. The logo also got changed to a more goofy-looking one, and the budget re-release replaces the new cover of the original release to the original US/EU cover, which is really clashing.

      -Midnight Club: Only the first game and Los Angeles came out there, the latter published by Spike. While I’m guessing the translation wasn’t special, there is an interesting tidbit: the game’s logo was slightly altered for the Japanese releases, as the kanji on the game’s logo was removed, most likely to avoid any kind of possible legal issues with Kodansha, since it’s exactly like the Wangan Midnight logo.

      -Red Dead Revolver: This could be the most interesting one, since it was originally a Capcom project before they cancelled it, which Rockstar then revived with their own spin on it, as Capcom’s original version was apparently gonna be more of the “weird west” kind than the spaghetti western style of the final game. It’s funny when you consider that another “weird west” game, Darkwatch, ended up being published by Capcom, and then Red Dead Redemption got Undead Nightmare.

      -Bully/Bully: Scholarship Edition: Probably the same as with the others, although this one was localized by Bethesda, oddly enough.

      -Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: Localized by CyberFront rather than Capcom as with the others. Probably the same in terms of localization.

      Somewhat related, it’s interesting how, thus far, GTAV is one of the two Western-made games to get a perfect score on Famitsu, the other being Skyrim, while three other Rockstar titles (GTAIV, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire) got a near-perfect score. They must REALLY love those games there.

      Reply
  10. Seems like the most glaring change in the Japanese subtitles for GTAV was removing “nigga”. I’m assuming that that would be a hard thing to translate because of all the cultural connotations.

    The original version of that scene also seems more colorful, but to be fair maybe the Japanese is more interesting to read when it hasn’t been translated back into English.

    Reply

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