Did Soul Hackers 2’s Localization Take an L?

Soul Hackers 2 follows the story of Ringo, a fragment of a singularity given a humanoid form and individuality to match. Though she uneasily takes to selfhood—given the conflict between it and singularity—she cuts an imposing figure, solving any problem that comes her way with overwhelming power. Being the protagonist of a Megami Tensei game, she of course has the leverage of a coterie of gods and demons to help achieve her goals.

Her origin might lead you to assume her personality would be cold and robotic, but, in fact, she’s more of a “too-cool-for-school” kind of girl, accomplishing her missions with a style and ease that the player can’t help but be enamored with. Her Japanese text gives the impression of a girl who’s over it, while the slightly-punched-up English text gives the impression of a girl who’s so totally over it. Overall, it’s a difference of degrees, from what I’ve played so far (admittedly, not much more than what this article covers, at least in Japanese).

But one line of dialogue has stuck out to players as something that couldn’t possibly match the Japanese text. Following the tutorial, the game’s first “real” fight is against R.S.: a self-proclaimed “rhyme soldier” and “dope MC”. His rhyming threats are an unmistakable parody of western rappers/hip-hop artists, but he somehow fails to come off as much of a threat. After soundly defeating R.S., we witness this exchange between him and Soul Hackers 2‘s leading lady:

I’ve seen a lot of discussion around this particular line, and I won’t lie; I, too, was immediately suspicious of just how punched up it might be. The only way to answer this is by comparing it to the original Japanese text, so I did just that. R.S. definitely steals the spotlight for this encounter, so let’s take a full look at both scenes he appears in, starting with his introduction:

Note: The scene features not only Ringo and R.S., but also Ringo's new teammate Arrow, and a freshly-deceased character named Milady.
JapaneseOfficial EnglishDirect Translation
Arrow rounds the corner and sees Milady’s corpse.
R.S. notices Ringo and Arrow, and assumes an offensive posture.
Looks like… we need a change of plan.
This… isn’t peaceful, huh?
Yo, man! Yo yo, Arrow’s here!
Except… you ain’t no ghost.
Yo, man!
Yo yo! Arrow-chaan!
Hoow’re you alive?
Am I trippin’, man? My boys told me you were straight-up dead.
If they cut your mic, stay off the stage, man.
No good no goood, a guy who dies once shouuld be totally gone.
You should know something like that’s not dope at aall.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it
wasn’t this clown. Who’s he?
Somehow, a guy who seems yabai in various senses of the word appeared, but…… who?
A spotlight shines on R.S.
YO! They call me Rhyme Soldier, R to the S!
It ain’t hyperbole, ’cause I can kill on the beat.
Representin’ the Phantom Socie-ty!
Yo! I’m Rhyme Soldier R.S.!
Rising roar! Shout of joy!
Represent Phantom Society!
The spotlight fades, Ringo scratches her cheek.
A golden strand floats out of Milady’s corpse.
That’s it! That’s the Covenant!
Uh oh! The covenant is—!
No way!
Ringo and Arrow approach the corpse, but R.S. stands in their path.
Whoa, whoa… Step off, homie.
Yo yo, this ain’t gettin’ handed over!
Phantom’s gonna need all those Covenants. Only way
we can rain some hell down on the whole world.
We’re goin’ live!
We Phantoms will gather the Covenants and force hell onto this world! It’s done for!
Ya boy R.S., he’s at the head of the pack!
The posers come at me and they don’t COME BACK!
I drop that bass, like an earthquake!
I’m sick of waiting my turn! Let’s go, I’ll beat you black and blue quickly!
The hard-hitting R.S.! Awaking an earthquake!
……You Know?
R.S. summons Bicorn.
You throw hands with me, you made your LAST MISTAKE!
Let’s go.
Wack MCs get buried here!
……You know?
Here we go…
Gimme a break…….
Careful, Ringo. That swagger’s not a front. He’s tough!
Be careful, Ringo!
He’s hard to take seriously, but he’s definitely strong!

Clearly, a direct translation is not really capturing what’s going on in this scene. Let’s try to cover the tricky lines without getting too sidetracked. As far as the “This… isn’t peaceful” line goes, it’s pretty much equivalent to “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” We also see Ringo describe R.S. as 色んな意味でヤバそうな奴 (iron’na imi de yabasouna yatsu), or “a guy who seems yabai in various senses of the word”. If you know the word yabai, you probably know it as equivalent to “dangerous”. In actuality, it has several definitions, but few are particularly good! Yabai can also mean “crazy”/“unstable” as well as “awful”/“terrible”. It can even mean “cool” in a slang-y way. For those reasons, I think “bad” would’ve played into R.S.’ hip-hop aesthetic.

At the beginning of the fight, we see that the localization attempted to play up how threatening R.S. seems. By contrast, the Japanese dialogue has Ringo exasperated with his schtick, and Arrow has to assure her that even though he seems like a joke, his strength is nothing to sneeze at. This is an interesting reversal of the norm with the localization, which usually portrays Ringo as even more aloof than in the Japanese text. Using the “bad” wordplay above would’ve probably preserved the tone a little closer.

Beyond that, I also found it noteworthy that R.S. doesn’t make any reference to being “told” that Arrow has died. Instead, he simply says that if you die, you should stay dead. In the localization, it sounds like he had room to doubt Arrow actually died in the first place, but no such doubt exists in Japanese.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the meat of this conversation: R.S.’s manner of speech. If you don’t know Japanese, it’s hard to get this sense just from the text, but his speaking has a rhythm to it. Particularly noteworthy is that much of his speech rhymes. Japanese songs tend not to place too much focus on rhyming, since, well, there’s basically a 1-in-5 chance of rhyming any given word in Japanese. It’s generally not that impressive! Still, when evoking English rap, it’s a must.

Also a must: ostentatious hand gestures.

Looking at the Japanese text, it’s also obvious that R.S. includes a whole lot of English, particularly rap-appropriate fillers like “yo yo”, “dope”, and “you know”. Naturally, this doesn’t have quite the same effect in English, but the localization team did preserve the “yo”s and “dope”, which do convey the right tone. Strangely, they omitted “wack”, despite it perfectly rhyming with the text around it. Initially, I chalked up some of the awkwardness to wanting to retain the English where possible, but this and a later omission make that seem like it wasn’t of particular concern.

Finally, it’s worth noting that his speech contains masculine threats, like かます (kamasu), which evokes a sense of defeating someone using one’s mouth. Often, this implies biting, but in R.S.’s case, we can safely assume he also means with his words.

With that, the fight begins, and we get a few more lines of dialogue from R.S. before he meets his maker:

JapaneseOfficial EnglishDirect Translation
DopeなMC! R.S.! Yeah!
They call me R.S., ’cause I’m the dope MC.
All my boys makin’ noise in the C-O-M-P.
So let’s make this body count a 1-2-3!
Dope MC! R.S.! Yeah!
Working hard with demons to get stronger!
In the blink of an eye, you’ll be a meat daruma!
After defeating Bicorn
お前らは……散る! Yeah!
Got the skills for the kills ’cause they’re gen-u-ine.
Get what you get when you stomp the landmine.
Yeah, I’m the payoff and you’re the punchline!
A quick kill with captivating skill!
With a farting punchline,
you guy’s’ll be dispersed! Yeah!
After defeating R.S.
I’m spittin’ gold bars and your talk is…cheaper…
I’m the R.S. and I don’t fear no…reaper…
Teeth-gnashingly difficult but easy!
R.S…….still……can cheat Death…….
「You Know?」
I’m no reaper, but I can send you to hell.
So face the music, R.S., and take the L.
Even if you can cheat Death, you can’t cheat me.
“You know?”
R.S. collapses.

In Japanese, R.S.’s opening threat is to turn Ringo & co. into “a meat daruma.” Daruma are strange, red Japanese dolls with no arms or legs (seen here as they appear in Ōkami), so this is basically a colorful way of saying he’s gonna tear them apart.

Once Bicorn is defeated, he talks about the party being “dispersed”, “with a farting punchline”, a bit of wordplay based on the word 放つ (hanatsu) meaning both “to let loose” and “to fart”, along with “let loose”‘s relationship to 散る (chiru, to scatter/to disperse). Essentially, killing you guys will be about as easy as farting for R.S.

As for R.S.’s signature attack moves, I’d say they had their tone utterly annihilated by the localization. In Japanese, his default attack is ビーストフィスト (Bīsuto Fisuto, Beast Fist), whereas the English version is Beastly Fist. This retained the literal meaning of the line in the same way localizing it as Wolf Fang Fist would have, but doesn’t really fit the “dope MC”‘s style in any way.

Maybe they should’ve taken a leaf out of AeonGenesis’ book and gone for “Pissed Fist”.

Similarly, R.S.’s world-shattering ワードハザード (Wādo Hazādo, Word Hazard) also loses its rhyme with its possibly-memetic localization of Danger Zone. In this case, a literal translation would’ve preserved the tone better. As far as I’m aware, no other enemies in the game share these skills with R.S., making the localizations pretty baffling.

Finally, we’ve made it to Ringo’s “take the L” quip. As shown above, rather than wholly adopting R.S.’s manner of speech, Ringo merely throws back the final line of his introduction at him: “You Know?” She also twists his words around as he proclaims he’ll cheat death: “Even if you can cheat death, you can’t cheat me.” It’s very strange to me that the localization team chose to add the memetic “take the L” rhyme here, when they didn’t preserve a few of the rhymes that actually existed. Even stranger, the reference to “cheating death” translates perfectly into English.

You may be thinking that perhaps 死神 (shinigami, death god) may be a broader term in Japanese, based on its use in works like Bleach and Death Note, but in actuality, it’s most closely associated with a given mythology’s specific personification of death. The only reason I can think of to avoid translating it as “Death” or “the Grim Reaper” is to avoid confusion with the entities in other SMT games that bear its likeness. Still, I think “cheating death”, uncapitalized, would still have gotten the message across cleanly. Besides, “You can cheat death, but you can’t cheat me” just sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Otherwise, they may have just wanted to include the “take the L” meme, much like they included this NeoGAF meme in Persona 4.

To be perfectly honest, the overall localization of this scene feels very unfocused. Perhaps different parts of this fight were assigned to different people? It would explain many of the inconsistencies. I think this scene definitely necessitated a lot of rewriting due to some of the wordplay, but quite a lot of it would’ve carried the same tone in English.

Do you think the changes to Ringo and R.S. worked out? Or, do you know another scene that changed like this in localization? Feel free to let me know in the comment section below! Also, if you enjoyed the article, perhaps you’ll enjoy this other Soul Hackers 2 article about references encoded on the shipping containers in this very area. For another line-by-line analysis of a hard-to-localize scene, this article about XenogearsStar Trek reference might also interest you.

Lastly, if you enjoyed the article, it would help me out if you shared it with friends and followed me on Twitter. In addition to posting new articles as soon as they go up, I also tweet smaller localization trivia not worthy of a full-length article. This week, I talked about the mayonnaise on the table in Soul Hackers 2‘s pizza-eating scene, as well as how Amy from Sonic the Hedgehog has the wrong name.

One comment

  1. Looking at the transcript, it seems like the “take the L” line was an attempt at rapping back, just like how the Japanese version had her repeating his rap phrase?

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