Yakuza fan site and forum Tojo Dojo (opens in new tab) recently shared translated portions of an interview (opens in new tab) with series producer Masayoshi Yokoyama where the developer revealed that the upcoming remake of Like a Dragon: Ishin! would only have Japanese voice acting with localized subtitles. Most of the series has held to this format, though the first game in the series on the PS2, as well as its most recent entry, Yakuza 7, both featured alternative English voice acting.
Yokoyama begins by describing how improved technology allowed the studio to alter facial animations to fit the different dubs of Yakuza 7, and also expressed that he believed English-speaking audiences generally prefer dubs to subtitled work.
That being said, Yokoyama noted that Yakuza 0, one of the most successful games in the series and the progenitor of its explosive success on PC, exclusively had Japanese voice acting. That ready success was not the only motivation for this decision: Yokoyama also noted that the unique dialect of Ishin’s pre-Meiji era setting could also present complications.
“The specialized vocabulary and the way people talked during the Bakumatsu era would make the lines incredibly long, so it just wouldn’t work.” Yokoyama stated, according to Tojo Dojo’s translation. “This time we’re doing subtitles.”
Yakuza 0 was certainly my entry point for the series, and for my own consumption I generally prefer subtitled foreign language media to dubs—with some exceptions. You won’t see me insisting on the original Polish for the Witcher games, for example.
I can also easily see a more archaic dialect of Japanese making it much more difficult to match up lip syncing and cutscene timing, as Yokoyama seems to allude to in the interview. Additionally, from a stylistic standpoint, I’d find Bakumatsu-era samurai speaking in neutral-accented English to be especially incongruous.
I’m sympathetic that this won’t be great for gamers with vision issues or possibly older, lower-resolution displays, but the move broadly makes sense. Yokoyama also doesn’t necessarily preclude dubs in future games—I’d still expect to see the feature in the next mainline game, Like a Dragon 8.