I like JRPGs. Between my weekly Final Fantasy IV episodes, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Xenoblade Chronicles X—which I’m still playing—and the recently released Tales of Berseria, I have quite the number of Japanese RPG titles to keep me entertainment.
But while I love the games and most of its tropes—except for the truly annoying ones—there is an aspect of them that I’ve grown to dislike over time and that is how the localisation teams translate words and concepts in ways that make them much more complicated than they should be, taking simple terms and translating them using strange terms that muddle their comprehension.
Translating games isn’t easy and doing so with Japanese games is even harder, as direct and literal translations aren’t an option, the translators having to transliterate the text as well, which means changing the sentences in ways that keep the meaning and spirit of the original but make them understandable for the foreign audience. This is especially difficult when you consider that many Japanese words stand for entire phrases or even concepts and imagery.
Localisation is hard in the best of times and a complete nightmare at worst—just look at what happened with XSEED’s localisation of Legend of the Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter. The original translator suffered from depression due to the job and attempted suicide. I am not making this crap up, it’s in one of the few well-put-together articles on Kotaku.
But even so, nowhere is it said that the localisation team should make things harder to understand by adding in terms that are nowhere to be found in the original script.
Let me give you a couple of examples, and I’ll use Tales of Zestiria and Berseria for this. In Tales of Zestiria, the Doushi, the main character, travels with four Tenzoku on their way to vanquish Kegare and defeat the Saika no Kenshu.
Most of those words don’t mean squat to you right now, so let’s go over them and see just how badly the localisation team did things.
- Doushi generally translates as Priest or Monk, yet the localisation uses the term Shepherd. As his roles is to guide people into a new future and save the world, we can let it slide.
- Tenzoku means Heavenly Tribe, localised as Seraphim, which are Angels. The Tenzoku are not angels, but they are spirits and can act as guardians. It makes understanding the lore a bit harder.
- Kegare means Uncleanliness yet it’s localised as Malevolence, for added dramatic effect, when the simpler and closer word Corruption would have done a much better job.
- Saika no Kenshu is the only term that works great. The direct translation would be Manifestation of Disaster and they localised it as Lord of Calamity. It defines the character’s purpose without losing the original meaning.
And let’s not even go into the whole Kamui thing, where they localised it as Armatization! Good thing they show you what it entails as they say the name, otherwise you end up scratching your head wondering just what in the hell they meant. No one minds a made up word, just use one that conveys the meaning easily.
Tales of Berseria continues this proud tradition by overcomplicating what could be one of the simplest terms ever to appear in a game.
The spirits that appear in Tales of Berseria are Seirei, a word that means “Sacred Spirit.” You could call them angels if you like and still be within the ballpark. But no, the localisation team behind Tales of Berseria decided that translating to English was too easy, so they used the word Malak—and Malakhim for plural—for these beings. In case you’ve never heard that word, it’s the Semitic word for Angel.
You call them Angels, and everyone under the sun will know what they are, grasp the concept instantly, even if there are differences in their portrayals. You call them Malak, and you’re screwing the pooch, big time, especially in a game where having a grasp of the terminology and lore is so important. Trust me, the writing isn’t stellar, don’t make it worse!
Even more baffling is when they re-translate terms that you can hear the Japanese voice actors say in English. To give you an example, in my latest binge-time with Tales of Berseria, I found myself in the tropical Southgand—there’s also Northgand and Midgand, because these guys don’t have much imagination—where a local guy mentions they’re a very happy people, so much so in fact people tend to call their home Smilegand, because of the pleasantness.
It’s a corny line, true, but it gets the point across…yet I don’t know what Eldritch abomination possessed the localisation team to take that simple word and turn it into “Shenanigand.” As much as I love the word Shenanigans, that localisation deserves jail time.
But Tales pales in comparison to a game I recently reviewed, Fate/Extella, where they can’t even keep the word MASTER translated properly, even when the characters use it themselves.
The second Saber character, the scantily clad Altera refers to the character as Master yet they translate is as Prisoner all the time. True, the character is more a prisoner than a Master, but for the love of the Fate lore, keep the terminology consistent, will you?
Caster uses the Japanese form of the word, which is Goshujin, translated as Husband, to refer to her emotional relationship with the character. While the translation is correct, it’s not the right one for the setting, where the alternate—and still corrects—translation to Master would have been much more correct.
But the worst comes with Nero, who refers to the character as Sosha, a word that means “Player,” as in part of a cast for a play. The way they Portray Nero, she’s obsessed with theatre and grand performances and the arts. I understand that naming the character “Player” would have been on the nose for the whole video game thing, but Performer works just as well, and not the “Praetor” they went with. Sure, Praetor is a Roman term but you can’t just throw in any Roman term because they have completely different meanings!
Xenoblade Chronicles X has a similar case, dealing with its giant robots, called Dolls in English but referred to as Skells in English, a word based on Exoskeleton and which, if changed to avoid having the robots sound too feminine, is a completely different issue.
The translation for the epically verbose Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC took ages, but even after all the issues, they kept their terminology intact and you know what, it’s spot on when compared to the Japanese, the biggest change in wording being the “Orbal Revolution” that takes place in the world of the games, something like the Industrial Revolution. The Japanese name for it is a term commonly used in Japanese history that means something akin to Power Revolution, which in Japan deals with Electricity.
By adding the “Orbal” bit and not using “Power” they tied the event closer to their setting, and considering you first hear of it when you’re already familiar with the Orbment terminology, it’s a term that is simple to understand, while the original would have been more difficult to comprehend.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE goes the extra mile by not translating a single freaking thing. They don’t have to, the Japanese script already has its entire terminology in English, which is quite common in both Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei titles.
That is localisation done right.
Have you ever witnessed crimes in localisation? Let me know in the comments!