The number of current-gen releases is dying out, but there are a few PS2 games coming down the pipe yet that I've got my eye on. One is Yakuza, an extremely by-the-numbers Japanese mob story told through a city-roaming street brawler game. On one hand, I'm delighted that it managed to make it over to the States in the first place, since it's so tightly tied to Japanese culture in every respect. The game takes place in Japan, all the names are kept Japanese, the structure and customs of the Japanese mafia are central to the game, and pretty dense to keep straight, what with untranslated terms like "oyabun" being tossed around freely. Like many great yakuza epics, such as, say, Kinji Fukusaku's "Yakuza Papers," the character dynamics and relationships between the various yakuza families are almost too dense and complex to ably track, to the point that the game, humorously enough, includes a chart accessible from the start menu to remind you who's the oyabun of which family, and what that family's relationship is to every other family, and so forth.

Which brings me to my point. This game is very Japanese in every respect. I'm impressed that Sega believes there's an American audience for this kind of enterprise, culturally inaccessible as it may be on some level. Which is what disappoints me, annoys me, actually, about their decision to dub the entire game over with English language voice actors. I played the demo of Yakuza this week, which still had all the Japanese voices in (as well as a disclaimer stating that the full game will feature all-English voices.) The Japanese cast was simply terrific, and I couldn't think of a game where the native Japanese voices could possibly be more appropriate. It made me really disgusted to picture the same game, but with Eliza Dushku and Michael Madsen awkward Japanese pronunciation popping up between lines of a rewritten English script.

What bothers me about it is how inappropriate the decision seems. I expect the idea was to help broaden the appeal of the game by removing the need for subtitles (Sega states in the interview above that they wanted to include the Japanese voice track as well, but didn't have room on the disc.) But this game is one that defies broad appeal by its very nature. It's integrally foreign in every regard, from the setting to the plot to the character's names; to deny the game its original foreign voice fundamentally opposes the experience the game is built on. It's doubtful that an English voice cast, even with known Hollywood names attached, will draw in players who wouldn't be interested in the game otherwise; who asks about subtitles when they're buying a game?

When a publisher decides to bring a game like Yakuza overseas, I wish they would just pony up and go 100%. This is a game that's going to appeal to a niche of players who either love Japanese culture or are looking for something out of the norm; why diminish the total experience in the interest of drawing in a non-existent middleground of consumers? Disappointing.

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