VERY MELON

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On Localization (Harmony of the Translation)

with 5 comments

I was pretty much raised by this game. This probably explains a lot of things, the least of which being my taste in game localization.

To quote someone quoting someone else (thanks to Colony Drop’s twitter for the link):

“’Translations are like wives: the faithful ones are not beautiful, and the beautiful ones are not faithful.’”

Truth! As illustrated above (just pretend like I have a translated screen of the original Japanese for comparison), Lunar: Silver Star Story‘s English translation by Working Designs included converting a whole village from a quiet home of normal “Welcome, adventurer!” NPCs to a veritable breeding ground of hillbillies with exaggerated American South accents. And it was good. Though the primary goal of localization is indeed to covey the same feeling of the original to a different audience, in this case, the change had almost nothing to do with preserving that feeling; in fact, I assume that it was just added to enhance the entertainment value of the game for the new audience. Some might not appreciate this, but I think that where translators find it appropriate do this in a game, they should. There’s no harm in it as long as the change doesn’t affect the original producer’s vision. (In the Lunar: SSS‘s’ cases, though WD’s translation was often witty or even downright immature–jokes about IUDs come to mind–the humor never encroached on the main story or turned the plot into a comedy. That’s what the Boat Song was for, after all.)

Anyways, I could seriously just post Lunar screens from now on, and the quality of this blog’s posts would skyrocket (from 0 to 11). On that note (and again quoting someone quoting someone else):

‘… XSeed was still weighing its options regarding the translation in LUNAR’s upcoming PSP port. After a complex series of coin tosses and white board drawings, the company has decided to forge onward with its own script rather than use the one Working Designs did for the game’s PlayStation release. In related news, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony will be released in Japan this November, and some vague time in 2010 in North America. This writer hopes the line, “All dreams are real unless you dream they’re not,” is axed from Luna’s song. Fuck that line.’

– (great active NeoGaf thread on the matter quoting RPGLand)

Working Designs translation or no, I’m still excited for Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star, if a little nervous–yes, because of the new translation (and who is handling it). The last/first non-WD Lunar game to be translated, Lunar Legend (a GBA remake), is not a great comparison and it’s probably unreasonable to compare it to its 32-bit cousins, but we all know how that turned out. (Thanks, Ubisoft.)

tl; dr Lunar is awesome and raised my personal bar for game localization so high that few have ever come close to matching it, and it wouldn’t have been so good had WD not strayed so far from its original run-of-the-mill JRPG script. Don’t f this up like you did half of the PSP’s library, XSEED. This is my childhood we’re talking about here.

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Written by mellytan

2009/11/29 at 09:45

Posted in language, videogames

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5 Responses

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  1. Interesting commentary – I had a Sega CD when Lunar: The Silver Star came out. It was a game I saw in the stores occasionally, but at CDN$100+ it was way out of my affordability as a nerdy 15 year old 😉 I picked up Ground Zero: Texas instead, because it came on 2 cd’s!

    Translations of japanese games are notoriously difficult, and I think the person who makes the wife/translation metaphor was being cute, but not altogether true to real translations. See my interview with Marc Laidlaw (who translated the entirety of Policenauts PS1) for instance – there is an absolute possibility of doing a faithful translation *and* having a thing of beauty in the end. http://www.4colorrebellion.com/archives/2009/11/20/policenauts-the-secret-ingredient-is-love/

    The trick is that the original content has to be good. When there isn’t a stable base to work from, a translation quickly falls apart by either becoming slavishly literal or becoming totally imaginary and unfaithful. Marc Laidlaw and the Policenauts translation team seemed to find the right game, and took the time to do the right translation.

    Chris Lepine

    2009/11/29 at 16:59

    • Thanks for the response! (After playing SSSC, I actually bought a Sega Genesis+CD off eBay just to play TSS in 5th grade. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was a huge, huge Lunar fan back then. A Lunar fansite, the Shrine to Ghaleon, and its forum were even my first internet experiences ever. ;])

      “There is an absolute possibility of doing a faithful translation *and* having a thing of beauty in the end.”

      Definitely–and such a translation may likely be the most beautiful one of all. That’s a great interview; fan translations fascinate me to no end not only because I am intensely envious of those who can pull them off, but also because by and large they tend to be surprisingly good (or straight-up mindblowing, in the case of Policenauts, Persona IS, Mother 3, etc). It’s always interesting to see what the amazing fans behind the works have to say about the process. From your interview:

      “There is no way to convey in Japanese that Gates is speaking British English, except for maybe using British katakana loan words, and even then not all Japanese will be familiar with those words. They will know from the content of the game that he is English, but for an English version of the game players are going to expect him to speak like someone from England. Salvatore, a New Yorker of Italian descent, is another example. This is one way in which you can try to add the same sort of variety in English that’s there in Japanese.”

      This really reminds me of games like Vagrant Story, FFXII, and FFT: War of the Lions; there is so much you can do to spice up the English version in a way that can enhance the overall experience of the game.

      (And on the subject of Policenauts, though I’m not much of Kojima fan at all, I really, really need to get around to playing it. I can’t resist a well-localized game, after all. :])

      mellytan

      2009/11/30 at 09:22

  2. ‘Translators’ deal with not just replicating the language, but also interpreting cultural implications. This is especially an issue nowadays with the advent of voice-acting, for example, how do you translate the numerous Japanese 方言 into English?

    They just adapt it to Western-archetypes; for the life of me I can’t find the link that showed the creative license that the Final Fantasy XII localization team took, but you can see a trend. Those that belong to Archadia had a tinge of British; those from Dalmasca had an American-accent; finally those from Rozarria had a Spanish European-accent. Since the majority of Japanese 方言 and 表現 is difficult to localize, we just fall on those that are pre-existing in English for convenience.

    So I kinda equate WD as doing the same thing; taking a bit of creative license to color the Lunar world slightly.
    But I dunno…I’m pretty sure that XSeed will do a lukewarm job of making the new Lunar game…their track-record speaks in ample volume for gayifying a series…Valhalla Knights, Wild Arms anyone?

    Shinaki

    2009/11/29 at 19:25

    • (Shinakiiiiii久しぶりっ)

      Truth. It’s always interesting/excruciating to see how translators handle honorifics, characters screeching “oneeeeechaaan!!” etc. I tend to frown on translations that retain the samas and oniichans and like it when translators stick to using conventions that all English speakers can relate to (using an older sibling’s name rather than “older brother” if possible, for example), but it may be a matter of personal taste.

      Actually, I think I know what article or site you’re talking about. Although I didn’t like FFXII plot or characters much at all (I believe we’ve had this conversation, complete with Vaan-bashing), I can’t get over how awesome the script was. Like Vagrant Story, it’s a stand-out example of the importance of good writing and a well-used creative license in localization.

      And considering the fact that Lunar, as an overall feel-good animu RPG, is already pretty fruity as JRPGs come, I don’t think I’m worried about them making it any more so. (Wait, so should I avoid Wild Arms XF? :O)

      mellytan

      2009/11/30 at 09:36

      • (こちらこそ ;P )
        That seems true, but if the translator assumes that the audience is weaboo enough to understand a few basic words then it should make an overall better translation. Even Japanese titles have implications that are difficult to translate, oh like あにき. There’s just a backstory that would have to be explained as to its’ cultural implications which would be difficult to do in one blerp.

        Yeah I know we’ve discussed the epic fail of Vaan a few times…but I think I know why you like the world of Ivalice, just like why I liked the worlds of Berserk and Claymore.

        Mmm, can’t comment on XF…never played it; I personally didn’t like the direction they took with Wild Arms 4-5…it just became more-and-more animuu for my tastes ~_~

        Shinaki

        2009/11/30 at 20:19


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