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Final Fantasy's Producer Asks: What Makes a Good (or Bad) English Localization?

Yoshinori Kitase wants your feedback on how American gamers prefer their English-language RPGs.

Interview by Jeremy Parish, .

Over the weekend, I spoke to Final Fantasy producer Yoshinori Kitase and art director Yusuke Naora following the opening of the Final Fantasy X & X-2 art exhibition at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California. Since Kitase isn't working on any currently announced projects and Naora can't talk much about his work on Final Fantasy XV, it ended up being less an interview than an informal discussion.

One of the topics we discussed in the greatest depth was the matter of localization – something to which Kitase admits being something of an outsider. Understandably, while he's confident in the Japanese-language releases of his games, he feels a bit out of depth when it comes to foreign editions in what, for him, are non-native languages. Localization involves much more than simply translating dialogue, and the rules that apply to Japanese releases don't necessarily work in other countries. For instance, Kitase pointed to the trend of celebrity voices in Western games, such as Kiefer Sutherland in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls, as something would never fly overseas.

Things have definitely gotten better since the days of Final Fantasy VII, but could they be better?

"In Japan, fans actually complain if we use movie stars rather than their favorite voice actors," he said. Japan has a wholly unique fan culture that's grown up around voice actors, a phenomenon that doesn't exist in the West. Americans generally only know the names of a handful of dedicated voice actors, and generally when we talk about them at all it's to joke about the omnipresence of guys like Nolan North and Troy Baker.

And spoken dialogue is only a single facet of localization's challenges. Localized text, culturally sensitive concepts, and even something as mundane as the developer's choice of fonts can radically change a player's perception of a game, and often that perception falls short of the creators' intentions. (This holds true for translations into Japanese, too.) In light of criticism directed at the localizations of recent Final Fantasy games (ranging from the protagonist's affectless performance in Lightning Return's to the cheap-looking font in the iOS version of Final Fantasy VI), Kitase wants to know what American games expect from a localized Japanese game – and, more to the point, what gamers outside Japan feel makes a localization succeed or fail. He asked my opinion, but I'd like to put the question to you.

Good localization? Bad? Simply making the best of a bad situation?

And this wasn't simply a hypothetical musing on Kitase's part; the Final Fantasy team is actually taking notes. Kitase says he paid close attention to the responses USgamer's community (that's you) posted in the wake of our interview at last year's E3, regarding the prospect of demand for a turn-based Final Fantasy title on current-gen hardware. He's indicated that he'll also read and possibly even respond directly to comments here. In other words, this is your opportunity to share your thoughts directly with the franchise's producer, without having your opinions filtered through a poll or a community manager.

So, the question stands: What makes or breaks an RPG localization? Where have Final Fantasy localizations succeeded or fallen short in recent years? How could they be better? Share your thoughts here and help change the world for the better.

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  • Avatar for DoYouHas? #1 DoYouHas? 4 years ago
    I know this kinda nit pickey, but I was playing Metal Gear Solid 2 recently, so it jumps out at me. In English, while it happens sometimes, we grunt less in dialogue. I'm not totally sure how to localize that tendency better, but I thought I'd point it out so that smarter people than me might figure it out.
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  • Avatar for nichm #2 nichm 4 years ago
    More thought can be put into the practical side of localization. In the Japanese version of FFXIII, each role began with a distinct letter to make distinguishing them easy: Attacker, Defender, Enhancer, Healer, Jammer, and Ravager. In English, the names we got were very flavorful and interesting, but three of names began with S, making them more difficult to abbreviate. I'd like to see more consideration for this aspect of localization.
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  • Avatar for sdhero #3 sdhero 4 years ago
    I have to say the best localisations tend to worry less about trying to convey the exact language of a scene, and focus more on conveying the intent or feeling of a scene. This usually means substituting jokes or cultural ideas for something the player will recognize. Sometimes it means omitting a joke or reference where there's no reasonable substitute. I think a lot of Nintendo's games manage this pretty well, if you wanted a product to look closely at. The various Mario RPGs, for instance, do a very good job of being warm and funny by avoiding slavish devotion to the original script when translating written humor.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #4 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    A good localization example, in my opinion, was Final Fantasy XII. There was a lot of text, it was done with class. I personally don't appreciate localizations that have "swearing" just for the sake of swearing. A good localization, let alone good writing, uses each word intentionally to convey the meaning of the character. Too often I have felt that translators included language of a more crass nature...just because they could. I am not saying every game needs to be free of language that describes the appropriate conflict, but I am a huge fan of writers who make the effort to get their point across without resorting to possibly "crass" and unnecessary word choice. Everything in its appropriate context.
    Nintendo, as noted by SDHERO, does a great job. As wordy as the Mario RPG style games get...they are really brilliant in a lot of their language mechanisms.
    I feel that Square Enix is doing quite well lately, now that we are past the embarrassment of Final Fantasy VII. VIII wasn't near as annoying as VII. IX was laugh out loud hilarious at times. Was it perfect? Of course not, but it was very good. Ted Woolsey really did an awesome job on VI when it first came over as III. Chrono Trigger was also done quite well.
    For me, going back and playing old PS1 games, I cringe quite often at the translations. Probably because of the lack of maturity in the localization process. I think the 90's and even 80's in general suffered from this problem. Compare a 1980's Goonies PG film and 1990's Home Alone to todays current PG rated "kids shows" and the writing today, in my opinion is so much better, as well as much less...crass...in many ways.
    To sum it all up, if the writing has been done professionally/responsibly and with the intent of conveying the true character of the work it accompanies then I feel that is the heart of a great localization.
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  • Avatar for Alex12345 #5 Alex12345 4 years ago
    The most important facet of RPG localization for me is ensuring the humanity and personality of the characters in the game are maintained from Japanese to English. Oftentimes a very literal translation can result in leaden dialogue and empty characterization that really saps my motivation to progress through the story. The World Ends with You did a great job in making me believe its characters were actually hip Shibuya street kids, but it also gave them a lot of emotional nuance. In fact, one of the reasons I admire its localization so much is the it was able to carve out a three-dimensional human being from the overused emo amnesiac with spiky hair-archetype.Edited March 2014 by Alex12345
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  • Avatar for Macstorm #6 Macstorm 4 years ago
    What makes or breaks an RPG localization?

    - I want to say whether or not they actually happen *coughDragonQuestcough* but that's probably not the answer he's looking for here. But seriously, bring more over so that we can better answer this question. Dragon Quest, Type-0, the SaGa remakes...where are they?

    Where have Final Fantasy localizations succeeded or fallen short in recent years?

    - They succeeded with outstanding dialogue (written and spoken) in FFXII. The Ivalice world was portrayed perfectly. FFXIV has also been fantastic.

    While I don't want to bash the FFXIII games, I can't say that the localization really stood out there.

    How could they be better?

    - While I really like when localizations happen quickly, I'm fine with waiting if it means a better product in the long run. Fixes that took place in Bravely Default: For the Sequel ending up being in the localized version is the best example of how to do things right. I want the best product, even if I have to wait to get it.
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  • Avatar for Daryoon #7 Daryoon 4 years ago
    If you want a good translation, you want Alexander O Smith. His translations for Vagrant Story and FFXII were fantastic, and he's a track record with other games too (Phoenix Wright, for example).
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  • Avatar for TernBird #8 TernBird 4 years ago
    Don't worry about the words being used, just keep the tone intact. The best scripts were the ones that made sure that they were colorful and memorable (see: Ted Woolsey's work). The worst ones are the ones that try too hard to be "authentic" (see: every fan-scanlated manga out there). Get someone who is talented at writing in English, then make sure that they can perfectly capture the essence of a character/situation. Also: the ability to improvise is a must. Where would we be without Chrono Trigger characters named after musicians?
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  • Avatar for samuelhowitt #9 samuelhowitt 4 years ago
    Basically Keep true to the source material, but pretty much in terms of plot, characters and tone. The dialogue, specific names of things, can change. Basically the best localisations either take a dull game and make it interesting, or change things so that the original intention can come across in another language and culture. Alexander O. Smith, Richard Honeywood, and the people at 8-4 have worked on some fairly strong localisations, maybe look to their work for inspiration?
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #10 Y7748837 4 years ago
    Localizers need to be trusted. They need freedom to change things. I work with Japanese and English scripts for a living, and what I often find is that the closer you stick to the original Japanese script, the worse your English script reads in the end. Localizers need the freedom to rewrite the lines as much as necessary to make the new script entertaining, and enough support from the programmers and license holders to make the right choice when it comes to changes. I think Square's localizations have been top-notch since the late PS1 days (after the EA partnership) and other companies in the localization business haven't been able to keep up.

    What's more important than the script is how you portray your characters. Many Westerners are turned off by over-sexualized and/or childish characters. These types seem to still be the norm in Japan, so on that front they still have a long way to go.

    I think Square Enix's next endeavor should be to make characters that appeal more to Western tastes.Edited 2 times. Last edited March 2014 by Y7748837
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  • Avatar for brandengonzalez28 #11 brandengonzalez28 4 years ago
    For me I think the emotion, and intent behind the writing must be maintained. Not everything can be translated over perfectly, but the heart of what the scene is must carry over.

    Also an important point is voice acting. The voices need to sound authentic.Bad localizations tend to have over the top caricatures. The voice needs to be believable coming out of the mouth of the character. Voices that don't fit the characters in a believable way are distracting and take you out of the experience.

    Also subtle emotions are key to any good vocal performance. Square is famous for having stoic characters, but too often in the localization, the voice actor comes of as "emotionless" and "dull". Stoic characters are usually not truly emotionless, but they are guarding the emotions that they have within. The performance should subtly allow these emotions to be shown.

    I think a great example of a subtle stoic performance came from Steve Burton as Cloud in Kingdom Hearts 1.



    Steve's performance is guarded, but full of subtle emotions. There is plenty of inflection in his voice, but it stays restrained. THAT is an excellent way to handle a stoic character.

    I'm emphasizing stoic performances because I'm worried about Noctis. I WANT TO LOVE FFXV's voices! I'm not a fan of the FFXIII series and I feel Lightning was not well executed in Lightning Returns(she was boring and unlikable), but I love the team behind FFXV so I have hope for now...

    Regardless, I just want the characters to feel believable. If they are believable I can become invested in the story, and I think that's really important for any RPG.
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  • Avatar for timhuang99 #12 timhuang99 4 years ago
    Stop censoring stuff like what happened with Bravely Default.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #13 Y7748837 4 years ago
    Deleted March 2014 by Y7748837
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #14 SatelliteOfLove 4 years ago
    "If you want a good translation, you want Alexander O Smith. His translations for Vagrant Story and FFXII were fantastic, and he's a track record with other games too (Phoenix Wright, for example)."

    I can offer no better post than this. His and Kajiya's efforts are beyond top-notch. Kitase need look no further than what he already has.

    Also: fire Watanabe and demote Toriyama.
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  • Avatar for Syriol #15 Syriol 4 years ago
    For me the most cringeworthy part of localised JRPGs is the archetypes, especially the women. There's always the "perky high pitched" one and the "noble sacrificial lamb" who is portrayed at least vocally as weak and unassertive.

    The most recent example for me is Bravely Default. The Fairy and Agnes's voices are horrendous and so obviously not a "normal" voice. You can hear someone acting. I switched to Japanese voices (with which you can still hear the archetypical voice types but I don't understand the language so it's more like Zelda style jibberish than speech).

    I assume those archetypes are appreciated in Japan otherwise they'd have stopped by now but to be a truly good localistion the characters need to seem real, not like caricatures.
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  • Avatar for Yesshua #16 Yesshua 4 years ago
    Thank you very much for providing this platform to provide feedback on Japanese game localization! My specific notes are:

    1. Please keep the high pitched female voices to a minimum. Nobody talks like that. Nobody in our popular media talks like that. This goes double for tiny little mascot characters.

    2. The best localizations are consistent with the tone and contents of the game. Final Fantasy XII's distinctive old english text style fit with the story (focused on royal inheritance, imperialism, and a knight's honor). The World Ends With You's slang and fractured sentences really sold the adolescent characters and trendy setting. Both these Square Enix games had really unique localizations that wouldn't work in just any game - they're personalized. They're also two of the very best Square Enix localizations.

    3. The puns in Dragon Quest are fantastic. If those games are ever localized again, please specifically ensure that they continue to cram as many puns into the script as possible.

    Thank you much for your attention and interest in localizations!
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  • Avatar for ob1 #17 ob1 4 years ago
    The only bad localization is no localization at all. Dragon Quest anyone ?
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  • Avatar for Dr-Lame #18 Dr-Lame 4 years ago
    Square translations have certainly come a long way from the days of "You spoony Bard!" (though in fairness, that line is now a classic). For the most part, that's a good thing. However, I feel like the pendulum has swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Today's Square-Enix localizers are sometimes a bit too focused on proving their literary chops at the expense of a good translation.

    Take the Final Fantasy XIV translation as an example. I was initially impressed with the English version, but I gradually began to see a couple of problems with it.

    1) Character dialogue often uses written English structures instead of spoken English. This makes it harder to envision that the characters are actually talking to each other, and following the dialogue becomes a bit of a chore. Here's an example of the kind of language I'm referring to:

    Written:
    "Closed for nigh on 20 years, the mine is now home to all manner of beasts."

    Spoken:
    "The mine's been closed for nigh on 20 years, and now it's home to all manner of beasts."

    2) The English translation often contains unnaturally showy prose. Optimally, a translation should aim to sincerely communicate characters' thoughts and feelings in a natural manner. Not everything they say should sound nice. It should sound like talking, and talking is messy.

    While the points I've raised may seem like nit-picking, I think they're important to creating a good translation. Thank you for listening!
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  • Avatar for christopherhughes97 #19 christopherhughes97 4 years ago
    A lot of people have brought up Ivalice and The World Ends With You, and I think they both share this idea of "the setting has a voice". In those localisations, the characters expressed themselves in a way that gave the viewer a sense of their (the character's) place in that world and this kind of dialogue also helped define the setting for the viewer. That sort of writing works on two levels to draw the viewer more strongly into the narrative. Now, I do like FFXIII, but I think that this is an area it was weaker in. I would probably attribute that to not having as clearly defined of a setting.

    So, maybe make sure that the localization team has access to any supplemental materials or "setting bibles" that the art teams might have made up? Do the localization teams have a chance to talk to the art or concept people at several points during the localization? Obviously, I have no idea if these things are already being done, but they seem like simple extra steps that could help.

    Also, we all know that some games are, by their nature, not going to appeal to western audiences that aren't inherently interested in Japan-style stuff. If you go with the "shift the style subtly" approach to localization, it would be pretty easy to placate those die-hard fans with localization notes or something. Fans love feeling catered to.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #20 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    Man, storytelling. This is something I'm passionate about. Prepare for a bit of a rant...

    What makes a great localization to me is mostly down to two points. One, don't get all caught up in your own ass. And two, write REAL characters; don't just plug in some generic archetype from the "Big Book of Anime Cliches".

    1) If you're trying to build a world, than just use normal terminology for things that we all have established in media already. FFXIII was a jerk at this; all that crud they made up words for. It's class change, not paradigm shift. They're tanks, not "Sentinel" (or "Defender"). Could've used "Tribute" instead of "L'cie", or whatever. It is beyond aggravating trying to get into a story when it's literally fighting you the entire time. Don't mistake being weird & disruptive for being innovative & unique.

    It's especially heinous in fantasy games, because there's always the temptation apparently to abuse the apostrophe, which is asinine. That just makes everything hard to pronounce. Build a world with real words & natural language; invite people into your story. Don't build a wall and say, "Step One - Memorize all these terms."

    2) The other thing is when they decide to just plug in some well-worn anime archetype into a character design and call it a day. Any story is made a thousand times better when the characters have natural voices and interesting personalities. I don't need to hear YET ANOTHER example of the "hot blooded" youth or the "tsundere" bitchy chick, etc. Your yandere's and dandere's - there's a lot about stock anime character archetypes.

    It's really, really, overtly obvious when a character is saying things just because that's the role lazy storytellers strapped them with. Make interesting characters or remove them from the story. Give them unique voices; is this what the author (or any real person) would say, or is it what (insert anime character name here) would say?

    This past gen, seemingly every non-Square RPG has knocked this out of the park! Tales of Xillia, Ni No Kuni, Persona, Radiant Historia, Valkyria Chronicles, Eternal Sonata, Xenoblade, Last Story, Lost Odyssey... literally every JRPG I've played, except for Enchanted Arms, had much better & far more interesting characters than those in the Final Fantasy XIII series. Characters I was onboard with, who I wanted to go on this journey with.

    I mean, there ya go - just play other games, right? It's really easy to see when localization is done well -- heck, Square's done it with OTHER games. Nier had an excellent localization for instance. A game I'm pretty sure they didn't care about AT ALL. If you're honest with yourself, Mr. Kitase, you can see when other games do a good job here, and where modern FF falters.

    ...

    I also say, don't be afraid to skip the big budget cutscenes. Sometimes, less is more. I believe that's partly why Final Fantasy games on the PSX resonated with people worldwide - becauase they were simpler titles. Cutscenes were simpler; characters weren't fully realized. This forced the player to fill in the blanks & project something personal onto these characters. The game and the player's imagination met 50/50, and worked together to make this story work. So when we saw a more fully realized Cloud later in Advent Children - the version that Tetsuya Nomura really had in mind - we saw that Nomura just wanted a boring emo guy.

    People imagined much more there. Dragon Quest still manages to pull off this trick, because they don't waste production where you don't need it. Tell interesting stories (large scale AND more personal stuff) with strong, likeable characters; throw money and VFX at it later (if at all). Keep supporting smaller games, okay? Bravely Default & Dragon Quest may not sell as well as Final Fantasy games sometimes do, but they're doing a much better job telling stories at the moment. They're doing a better job of being good games.

    ...

    Btw, I like the idea of pushing voice actors instead of "real" actors. I mean, there's SOME of that here in the West. No doubt, it's small potatoes compared to how Japanese games do it. But there are people who pay attention when guys like Nolan North or Troy Baker sign up for a game; and fans were pretty upset by Keifer Sutherland dethroning the great David Hayter as the voice of Solid Snake. As time goes on, voice actors are getting their respect. I know I'm not the only one who's happy to hear Tara Strong or Jon DiMaggio or Rob Paulsen's voice coming out of my video game characters :DEdited March 2014 by Critical_Hit
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  • Avatar for wintrmute #21 wintrmute 4 years ago
    What makes a good localisation? The good folk at Plus Alpha! Pay attention SquareEnix: they've done amazing work for you on the Dragon Quest DS games. Witty dialogue, clever names for both items and monsters and regions and towns with clearly different and interesting ethnic backgrounds. Playing these games was a pure joy -- in large part because of the terrific localisations. Nothing but class all the way.

    Please hire these guys again. Hire them twice! Keep your fans happy and make Plus Alpha your number one go-to crew.Edited 5 times. Last edited March 2014 by wintrmute
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  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #22 SpoonyBardOL 4 years ago
    This is a difficult question to answer because it will be hard to get consensus (maybe not here, but certainly in the fanbase at large).

    I agree with sdhero and many others, the best localization doesn't concern itself with providing literal translations of the script at any given moment, and instead tries to convey the spirit of what's being said in a way that works for the intended audience.

    Nintendo tends to do great localizations (Other M notwithstanding), especially of its Mario RPGs, and the Dragon Quest DS games were wonderful as well (I happened to love the weird accents used in DQIV DS) so those are good places to start looking.

    There will always be people who nitpick and criticize a localization for not being 'faithful' when the localization team opts to use uses a different word or phrase than the original script used because it works better.

    These people are best ignored since they're not actually interested in preserving the integrity of their favorite media so much as they just can't let go of their romanticized vision of another culture.

    To use an example from Metroid Other M (not a Square game I know, but still an excellent example of how NOT to do localization), something like 'Calling me an outsider hurt me deeply.' will always work better in English than 'The word he so obviously chose, "outsider," pierced my heart'. While the second is a more literal translation of what was said in the original script, and is what Nintendo chose to use for some baffling reason, it is incredibly awkward. 'Pierced my heart' is not the type of thing English-speaking people tend to say. Even though we can comprehend what is being said the dialogue is so awkward and unnatural it becomes distracting.

    Localization is best done when it manages to convey the spirit and intent of the original script, and does so while feeling natural to the audience it's trying to talk to.
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  • Avatar for TheSL #23 TheSL 4 years ago
    The offline Final Fantasy groups need to just pay more attention to the online (XI / XIV) ones to see what a good localization looks like.Edited March 2014 by TheSL
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  • Avatar for Damman #24 Damman 4 years ago
    I find that a huge obstacle for localized Japanese games (especially those that are story and dialog heavy) is the way characters are portrayed. There are a lot of Japanese rpgs that will create a large cast of characters and assign each of them a personality based on a single anime trope (for example: Fire Emblem: Awakening and Valkyria Chronicles 2). Unfortunately, those kinds of one note characters do not work well in the US. I would much prefer that a localization team is given room to expand on the characters beyond the one or two personality quirks they're afforded.

    On another note, with regards to voice acting, there are certain Japanese character types that do not work well when spoken in English. I would say the worst is the small excitable girl with the loud, piercing, high-pitched voice. With all respect to faithfulness, hearing these characters in English is grating to the ears. It ought to be possible to keep the character's excitable nature, while bringing down the pitch and volume of their voice.

    Thanks for this opportunity and for making the games that you do. Despite whatever grievances about localization, I am still a Final Fantasy and Square Enix fan.
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  • A few of my favorite translations: Vagrant Story, Crimson Shroud, Fire Emblem Awakening, The Last Story, Mother 3 (fan translation), various works by Atlus, and most Nintendo titles actually. A great translation manages to capture the FEEL of the game, story, world, and characters. It's less worried about complete accuracy. I've always felt that Tom Slattery is somebody who can balance this well. His Final Fantasy GBA translations are really great.

    Worry about communicating who a character is and why I should care anything about them or their world first, then worry about accuracy. Also, when I say accuracy, I am NOT talking about spelling and grammar errors! Proof read your crap! One of the (MANY) reasons the Final Fantasy VI iOS "remake" came off as lazy is because it had spelling errors within the first few minutes of the game!

    When it comes to fonts, pick something that matches the game! If a game is pixelated and retro, pick a pixelated font! C'mon! If it's a remake, maybe even consider converting the original font. I also loved the generic DS fonts and the fonts that the PSOne Final Fantasy's used.

    Also, get voice actors that match the characters and can act well. Worry less about finding somebody famous and find somebody who belongs.Edited March 2014 by jordanstarkweather98
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #26 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    Alex O Smith.
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  • Avatar for Viewtifulzfo #27 Viewtifulzfo 4 years ago
    I've read all the comments here, and I'd say I agree with most of them.

    If I had to add one thing without (hopefully) repeating something, consistency is key in world building. If you're going to have people speak in a specific way, and further have the audience accept it, it needs to be there right in the beginning. Even if the language is intentionally awkward or unnatural, it may just be part of the game's world to speak in, say, strange inflections or formal English or whatever.

    Keep the spirit of the original work, but if the world's supposed to sound different, then make it sound different throughout - enough to take us English-speakers aback, but not enough to make it sound completely unintelligible. There's a balance between complete pandering and completely ignoring, and I hope Square-Enix can hit that balance more often.
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  • Avatar for vsKris #28 vsKris 4 years ago
    The best localizations have fun with the concepts rather than getting caught up on the minutia of linguistic details. My favourites have actually been the Ted Woolsey SNES ones that had to cut down on the original version's wordiness due to space limitations. Sometimes game scripts have a bad habit of over-explaining things when subtlety would work better.

    I think a bigger problem with the stories in recent years, particularly with the Final Fantasy series, is that in the pursuit of showing off high tech graphical prowess, the characters have been designed more and more realistically and with less of a cartoon or anime style in mind. This has made for some pretty FMVs... but has also created a weird vibe about the games where the stories come off as taking themselves too seriously. Not to mention, all attempts at comedy or wackiness (which has always been an FF mainstay) are just so contextually wrong that they fall really flat and come off as just weird or even unsettling. The chocobo lady from the article is a perfect example of this. If she were a super deformed character from one of the older games (or heck, even in the Bravely Default style or something from Dragon Quest), it wouldn't come off nearly as weird. And I think the fact that FFXIII's and XIII-2's stories were so much easier to swallow in that promo video done in the oldschool style really reinforces this idea.

    It seems like such a small thing but visual design really has a major effect on how I interpret a game's story and characters. When Final Fantasy does these realistic characters, the story needs to be serious and very grounded, like in Matsuno's games. But in order to do the pop-philosophy crazy sci-fi anachronistic melodrama thing that they do so well, the look and feel of the characters and world should be adjusted to suit that.

    Here's the thing, I never stopped liking goofy stories like the ones Final Fantasy has been peddling lately. I still find it within myself to enjoy the stories in the Tales of games and I loved the story in Radiant Historia despite knowing it's no great work of art. The difference with these games is how they present themselves, they know what they are and the different aspects of design are consistent about it. Final Fantasy, meanwhile, doesn't seem to know what it wants to be anymore.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #29 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    Thanks, everyone. These are great responses. We need to open the floor to you guys more often....
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  • Avatar for mganai #30 mganai 4 years ago
    Wow. Only a few hours in and I'm already late to the party!

    Intent is definitely everything, as are cultural idioms. For voice acting, get the person who can best capture the journey the character goes through. The localizer should also have input in the recording process (this doesn't always seem to be the case from what I've heard).
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  • Avatar for terrytorres64 #31 terrytorres64 4 years ago
    I find that in the past couple of years of Square Enix's output, the most fun and engaging writing usually occurs in optional (or at least non-plot-centric) scenes: party chats in Bravely Default, world map quips in Dissidia, and even radio chatter in The 3rd Birthday all tell me a lot about the essence of each character involved - about what their flaws are, what they care about, what dynamic they bring to the table. The best scenes have me thinking at the end, "I'm glad that people took care in designing and bringing life to this person."

    In these same games, engaging scenes are juxtaposed by other, much more boring scenes that usually exist for the purpose of progressing the plot and opening a way to the next dungeon, objective, content, etc. These are almost always the voiced-acted scenes, and they almost always do the opposite of what you think a voiced scene would do. They tend to desaturate colorful characters, make party members more homogenous, and propel the story for the sake of the plot, not for the characters.

    Bravely Default is a pretty good example. Party Chats often focus on a central idea that all the party members discuss, and they often disagree or offer alternate viewpoints to each other, usually resulting in a revelation or a punchline that makes the scene worthwhile. The times when they all act out their differences is when they work together best as an ensemble. Everyone has a purpose, a role to fill.

    But then consider most cut scenes that occur before or after boss fights. Everyone stands in a row. The boss says something disparaging. Someone refutes it. The rest of the party all agrees with the refutation. They fight, they win, they carry on. The party doesn't stop to disagree with each other, and rarely do they try to grapple with each other over conflicting ideologies. They speak as one voice - which negates the purpose of having a party to begin with.

    A common theme among the comments is that localizations shouldn't be so slavish to the original, that they should take care to translate the tone, not the words. I think that can only go so far. Honestly, I think localizations are getting better and better. I posit that it's the original scripts that have gotten worse.Edited 3 times. Last edited March 2014 by terrytorres64
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  • Avatar for Valvados #32 Valvados 4 years ago
    I have one answer Mr. Kitase: Alexander O. Smith. He is the man who localized Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and other Yasumi Matsuno games when he was with Square. These games have some of the best Japanese-to-English localizations of any games I have played. He adds flavorful dialogue and a smooth-flowing English cadence that other localizations simply do not have.

    Mr. Parish, being a fan of Yasumi Matsuno yourself (and, I assume, the localizations of his games), did you mention Alexander O. Smith at all to Kitase during your discussion with him? I'd be very curious to know!
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  • Avatar for terrytorres64 #33 terrytorres64 4 years ago
    @Critical_Hit This is what I wanted to say, but way better.
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  • Avatar for Gideon-Zhi #34 Gideon-Zhi 4 years ago
    A localization effort, if it's done well, should at the very least be completely invisible. Are some items or monster names abbreviated? Is the kerning on the font weird? Is the writing stilted or missing punctuation, and are there bits where a conversation progresses from Point A to Point F and seems to have missed Points B, C, D, and E in the process? Do the jokes not make any sense if you don't have cultural or linguistic context from the source language?

    These are all major flaws, and are all examples of things I've seen in officially localized games. FF4 Complete Collection has poor kerning, lowercase letters with descenders (g, p, y, etc) in Persona 2 Innocent Sin's font float a pixel or two above the ones that don't, Breath of Fire is notorious for having poor grammar and writing, there's some poor lipsyncing in Lightning Returns, and at least through FF6 (FF3 at the time) we were still seeing plenty of abbreviation in item and monster lists.

    Things have gotten better in recent years for a variety of reasons, but my absolute minimum bar standard for a localized title is one simple question: "If I didn't know that this came out in Japan first, could I tell that this was localized?" If the answer is "yes" then there's a problem.

    Beyond that you have technical excellence in font choice (FF13's subtitle font is very readable even on standard definition displays, and it's appropriately angular given the game's scifi leanings), in writing (Alexander Smith from Kajiya Productions has been mentioned a few times), in voice acting, and in presentation. Presentation is actually a super interesting point, and it involves things like translating visual elements of the game (logos and fancy menu items), picking appropriate fonts and making sure they render correctly, and rearranging interfaces so that you can fit more text without just making the font smaller. Presentation is something that almost everyone overlooks, and for good reason. To quote, "When you do things right, people won't be sure that you've done anything at all." It can be easy to talk up something like Vagrant Story for its outstanding writing or Phoenix Wright for its incredibly spot-on localization of an innumerable amount of puns, but it can be just as easy to overlook something like the artsy menu headers in Asura's Wrath or the stat screens in Persona 4 because they gel so well with the overall style of the game.
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  • Avatar for WorstClassic #35 WorstClassic 4 years ago
    Good localizations give the importing audience approximately the same feeling as the exporting audience (e.g. if to a Japanese ear "Enhancer" sounds arcane, its localized English name should sound about as arcane to an English ear. The problems this may have caused to FFXIII's interface aren't strictly a localization problem so much as an interface design problem.)

    Great localizations are ones that do that and help make the setting feel more real or alive. You can get away with more Japanese-flavored turns when the setting is very Japanese. The World Ends With You and Persona 4 prove that you can get away with asking me about my preferences in ramen (shio, apparently!) or when to use mirin if it bolsters the rest of the setting. There are also lots of games that prove you can have flowery or unusual turns of phrase in the writing. It can be used to give characters or the setting more personality if used consistently and carefully or creatively (Chrono Cross comes to mind as an interesting, if imperfect example).
    -

    When I think back on the times when I've noticed a localization for being bad (not merely incomplete, I feel almost inured to those at this point) it's been because some of the cultural assumptions I've formed about the setting have been casually violated. Not deliberately violated in a way that I recognize I am supposed to notice, but casually violated, without comment or apparent concern by the storyteller. The most common problem I've been having is characters being animated with unfamiliar body language. I imagine that the opening movies in Bravely Default don't read as unusual to a Japanese person, but the body language and idle motions of the characters reads as off or unnerving, because the style of the characters makes me think of Tolkein-esque European-set fantasy. Of course when a new installment of a series seems to rewrite the canon of the setting and characters for purposes I can't agree with (Yes, I am talking about Metroid: Other M here), it's much worse. But this is more advocating that robust setting and story bibles be used throughout the development process than it is localization specifically. However, just by keeping a consistent naming scheme across its games, the MegaTen series has done a lot to set itself apart and keep its world (almost) intelligible. I know lots of people get annoyed when they have to learn "agi" means "fire" but those same people seem to appreciate the sense of internal consistency it adds to the series, even if they don't pinpoint it as part of the cause on their own.

    Obviously, that sly criticism about how players are bad at identifying what they like or is important to them (especially when questioned directly!) apply to me as well.Edited 6 times. Last edited March 2014 by WorstClassic
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  • Avatar for rickcook98 #36 rickcook98 4 years ago
    I think mostly it's a question of subtlety. The localization of FFXIII was good - it translated the essence of scenes and for the most part wasn't just flat and boring. But it was very heavy on explanation and exposition, so that each character's motivations and thoughts were telegraphed and spoken outright. It made scenes like Lightning and Hope traveling together just painful to sit through as they exposited upon each other instead of growing naturally in their development. Sazh's character arc when he's traveling with Vanille - what should have been powerful and evocative - is cheapened when we're robbed of just experiencing his pain and loss and are instead subjected to a lot of talking.

    This is endemic to a lot of Japanese media, and to American media as well. It assumes the audience can't figure out this simple, obvious stuff on their own. They aren't trusted to come to the right conclusion, so all the good character and story development are shoved down our throats instead of developing naturally. It's like watching a show made for young kids versus a show made for teenagers, or adults. Especially as regards Final Fantasy, the core audience isn't the preteen/teenager anymore outside of Japan. The gamers that make up the core fanbase all grew up with the franchise, and they have matured while the franchise continues to stagnate. More recent attempts (FFXII) to tell a more mature, complex story were met with limited success for a variety of reasons, but I think Square Enix took the wrong lesson from its less-than-blockbuster reception: gamers wanted simple fantasy, not high fantasy. I think the inverse is true: we want more complex themes, less explanation.

    Final Fantasy VII and VIII were blockbusters, but they were clear departures from the simplistic stories of the SNES era prior. Final Fantasy X had at its core some pretty bad storytelling and dialogue, but the themes that the characters struggled with were complex. It went from "good vs. evil" in the days of Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI (with a hat tip to some of the characters in VI dealing with some interesting stuff, a clear precursor for things to come), to meditations on existence and belonging, explorations of identity, ethical and moral questions. Going forward from Final Fantasy XII, the trend has been to simplify, to explain, and that's not what we want.

    If the stories you tell in Japan require a lot of overt explanation, consider that localizations into English might be better served by altering the screenplay to better match not just the cultural aspects (changing jokes and references), but to reflect the growing maturity and intellect of the core Final Fantasy (and RPG) fan.
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  • Avatar for Gideon-Zhi #37 Gideon-Zhi 4 years ago
    @rickcook98 I'd argue that subtlety is important yes, but the issue you describe with FF13 ("heavy on explanation and exposition" etc) isn't a localization issue, it's an issue with the game's writing as a whole. In earlier generations where conversations between characters was purely text-based it's much easier to tweak the writing in a localization effort such that it meets or exceeds the quality bar set by its unlocalized forebear, but with something like FF13 you have to deal with dubbing and matching the way the characters act on-screen, and it becomes much harder to weed out the expository chaff.
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  • Avatar for terrytorres64 #38 terrytorres64 4 years ago
    @rickcook98 sup rick

    "They aren't trusted to come to the right conclusion, so all the good character and story development are shoved down our throats instead of developing naturally."

    Bravely Default again: there's a part where one character insists on helping this kid, and you realize that it must be because the kid reminds him of his brother, and you're like, "oh, damn."

    And then there's a scene where he's just like, "This kid reminds me of my brother," and you're like, "uh... yeah, no kidding."

    It's like, "looks like you guys don't need me to be involved, you've got this story figured out all on your own"
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #39 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Something else I'd like to see is a willingness to work with fan translators. Some of the quality of these (many of Gideon Zhi's projects, who posted earlier, the fan-translation of Mother 3, etc.) match those put out by professional translation firms. Not to mention it could bolster the Virtual Console quite a bit (I mean, who doesn't want to play Mother 3 in an official capacity, or experience Front Mission: Gun Hazard in English?)Edited March 2014 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for rickcook98 #40 rickcook98 4 years ago
    @Gideon Zhi

    I agree in essence with your reasoning, but my point (which I may not have stated outright) was that the localization in the world of complicated three-dimensional, high-definition gaming becomes less a direct correlation of how to deliver good text to a different language/culture, but how necessary it is to begin changing the core of the localization to better fit the new market. You don't have to change the entire game, but leaving out huge bits of exposition (and by extension the programmed cutscenes in which they occur) still delivers a similar, if not same, message: just more elegantly and without assuming the player can't figure it out on their own.
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  • Avatar for Gideon-Zhi #41 Gideon-Zhi 4 years ago
    @rickcook98 Ah, but then you have legions of fanboys screaming foul that you've butchered the game by removing content that was present in the original Japanese version.

    Not that I disagree, mind you! If a game's narrative would be better off without a cutscene or two, then by all means it should go. But I still see this less as a localization issue (to a point, though there may be some cultural things in play that would warrant such a thing) as it is an issue with the writing of the source material as a whole. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this point.
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  • Avatar for rickcook98 #42 rickcook98 4 years ago
    @Gideon Zhi
    You are correct, it's a problem with the source before it's a problem with the localization, I just think the localization can't be fixed unless they're willing to drastically alter the original source in most cases. I don't see an easy route forward, because as you suggested, someone somewhere is going to have a problem with it. Just personally, I want the best product regardless of whether you have to cut something or add something. I'm an adult, I don't need a video game talking down at me via explanation.
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  • Avatar for rickcook98 #43 rickcook98 4 years ago
    @terrytorres64 yo

    I haven't played Bravely Default, but hearing that makes me want to play it less. I just don't have the patience I used to when it comes to overt explanation in lieu of natural action or development, or overt explanation in support of established action or development.

    Your example is perfect, and it kinda infuriates me.
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  • Avatar for madapocket #44 madapocket 4 years ago
    I'm familiar with the original Japanese script regarding Hope and Bhunivelze in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and thought it was very interesting. I was very excited to see how it would be in the translated game, but when I got to that part, I was met with a translation that has reduced Hope Estheim's importance and connection to Bhunivelze, and is just plainly wrong sometimes.
    Some examples would be that it is heavily implied that the Hope in the Ark actually is Bhunivelze in his body from the beginning, and when Lightning confronts the god later in the game, it's never explained why Hope's body was turned younger, or why exactly him was chosen.
    I understand that Hope is one of the least liked characters among the English fans, and the localization team might have thought that players might have felt alienated if Hope's role had remained, but I don't think this was okay, because the story actually suffered from it. I can imagine that anyone who isn't aware of the original scene might be confused. I hope this doesn't happen again in any other Final Fantasy game.
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  • Avatar for WorstClassic #45 WorstClassic 4 years ago
    I think the real question Kitase wants to know is how can Square-Enix better tap into non-Japanese audiences. The answer involves (to my dismay)marketing. A great localization is not as key of a selling point as I want to believe it is. (Though, I would say that the best marketing campaigns deftly take advantage of the story bible. The more you can do to build your game world, the more real it can feel.)

    There have been lots of dicey localizations (by the way, "Spoony Bard" was actually one of the more interesting and apropos translation choices in the original Final Fantasy II(4) localization. Read more legends of localization!) that have sold like hotcakes. Final Fantasy 7 being a big example. Its localization was, at best, functional. The advantage it had was a solid, well aimed marketing push on a selling point that was (at the time) an inarguable strength. Don't get me wrong, I love to pieces the Final Fantasy III(6) ads featuring Mog, but they more told me that the game had come out, rather than enticing me to purchase and play it.

    I feel like Square accurately recognized that what propelled Final Fantasy 7 to international success was its FMV. But part of what's hurting Final Fantasy now is the pursuit of that vividness and visual spectacle to unjustifiable costs or, worse, self-defeating results (like putting off players for using body language they don't recognize).

    I don't want to discount the power of word of mouth or a great localization. But if the goal is to recapture the kind of ubiquity Square enjoyed after the release of FF7, an impressive localization isn't the only thing a new title will need to become a great hit.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #46 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Valvados I mentioned Alex Smith, yeah. Not just that he's a skilled localizer, but that the tone and content of his work matches the style of game (he works on a lot more than Matsuno games, and by no means do his other projects read like Ivalice games).
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  • Avatar for Kuja9001 #47 Kuja9001 4 years ago
    I like the Final Fantasy XIII series however I feel that the English versions of the games are miles away from the source material aka the Japanese versions when it comes to localization. The Eng versions makes everything confusing due to the changes.

    1. Important information located inside in datalog is often inconsistent, outright wrong, or lost in translation.

    2. Character motivations get changed when its localized like the Hope & Bhunivelze events, characters themselves are ruined like Final Fantasy VIII's Ultimecia.

    3. Keywords or important plot points get changed or replaced with made up words. In Final Fantasy XIII, the word "Kami" was changed into "The Maker" which confused a ton of fans.
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  • Avatar for Valvados #48 Valvados 4 years ago
    Deleted March 2014 by Valvados
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  • Avatar for Valvados #49 Valvados 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Yes, Smith's other work is also fantastic, I agree with you! Did Kitase say anything when you mentioned Alex Smith, like: "I recognize that name" or "I'll look into hiring him for our game localizations more"? I'd be very curious.
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  • Avatar for ajmrowland #50 ajmrowland 4 years ago
    @Kuja9001 Really? I think I've actually managed to piece them together, but it would be nice if you could direct me to a guide with all those changes.




    As for my suggestions, it's a short list.

    Wording(in the script) that is ordered naturally, unless intended to sound different.

    Voices that fit the characters and sound natural in conversation. Square is usually good at the former, but the latter seems to annoy people, even when dialogue is intentionally performed a certain way.


    stat and description changes for items in international/final mix versions should actually be correctly localized if/when those versions are released outside Japan. Square's HD collections don't seem to have done this properly
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  • Avatar for alexb #51 alexb 4 years ago
    Modern Square Enix translations are completely overwritten. They try too damn hard to punch up the writing and end up with tortured, faux-Elizabethan dialogue next to silly catch phrases and embarrassing, unnatural nonsense. They need to dial things back from the purple prose they've been inflicting on everything for the last seven or eight years. Their localizers mistake florid verbosity for good writing and it makes the games goddamn insufferable.

    Go back to natural, conversational dialogue and abandon overly ornate terminology and forced, obnoxious cartoon dialects, puns, and alliteration. Don't allow them to inject jokes where there weren't any in the original script. Quit letting the localization crew, who should feel invisible if they're doing their job correctly, try to prove how damn clever they are all the time by generating 500 pages of fan fiction grade drivel. Less is more.

    And the kids who like to down vote me whenever I say something mean about their sacred cows? Come at me, bros.
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  • Avatar for stephenpollard09 #52 stephenpollard09 4 years ago
    I agree with others that a word-for-word faithful translation isn't necessarily the best idea. Some Japanese words don't translate into English (i.e. Shinentai, used in Advent Children to describe the Silver-Haired Men, replaced with the word "Remnant" in English) and things like cultural references and diction don't always translate well.

    The big thing in current generations, though, is voice acting. I'm not sure how much control Kitase or others in Japan have over casting voice actors overseas, but some are horribly miscast. Not only that, but as others have noted, the voice acting doesn't feel natural.

    Two quick examples. First, when one character interrupts another mid-sentence, there's always a noticeable pause, as though the speaking character knows he or she is going to be cut off. That feels very unnatural. Also, take Cloud in Dissidia. It seems like he pauses every third or fourth word (more in the first than in 012), and it breaks any realism the voice acting would otherwise have (a real shame since Steve Burton is perfectly cast as Cloud). There's a lot of voice acting like that in the newer games. They can do better.
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  • Avatar for dusk-wolf11 #53 dusk-wolf11 4 years ago
    I'm not exactly for word-for-word translations. However, I think it is very important for the translators to keep the original message and its true meaning intact. They should take into account the nuances of the original script. If they don't, it could drastically change what is implied in the original dialogue. For e.g, I'll bring out a scene from FF XIII. In the English version of the game, Norah says "Moms are tough." That line sounded a bit cheesy to the English audience. But in French, she says, "A mother has to be strong" before picking up the gun from Snow. I personally thought that this line sounded more natural than "Moms are tough." I have no clue which of the translations is closer to the original script. But even if it did sound cheesy in the source language, I also believe it is a translator's responsibility to adapt the script for the West so that the foreign audience is not alienated by strange expressions or odd turns of phrases. Even if the story is originally written in Japanese, it should sound as if it was written in English.

    One small suggestion would be to have some translators work more closely with the Japanese writers and/or developers. It could improve the quality of the translations (or even the story and dialogue)and may even reduce the time it takes to localize the game. This way, the translators could communicate more easily with the writers, have more time to understand the story, find all the nuances and translate everything perfectly.

    That's not to say that the original script is good though. Many fans have criticized the story and writing of FF XIII. I think you should also listen to their complaints. But if the localization is not done properly, it could further enhance the confusion or issues that Western players have with the story and writing.

    Hope this helps!Edited 2 times. Last edited March 2014 by dusk-wolf11
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  • Avatar for Kuja9001 #54 Kuja9001 4 years ago
    @ajmrowland This link is for FFXIII- http://www.gamefaqs.com/ps3/928790-final-fantasy-xiii/faqs/63575

    This link is for Lightning Returns- http://dissasterrific.tumblr.com/post/76107520149/differences-between-both-versions-of-the-cutscene(It has major spoilers)
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  • Avatar for Blackcompany #55 Blackcompany 4 years ago
    I can tell you what makes a bad English localization:

    The dialogue from pretty much every FF game after 7, ever.
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  • Avatar for nipsen #56 nipsen 4 years ago
    Imo, either go all the way and create a "western" story and spin on the original script (see: Dragon Quest 8). Or else keep the indirect nuances and abstract way to tell the story that, well, makes most of us fans of Japanese writing in general. Even if that means having something completely off the wall as cliffhangers in cutscenes (see: Xenogears).

    The other thing I miss is having an option for listening to the original Japanese audio-track with subtitles. Like was pointed out, some of the actors are amazingly good - they do things to the play that can even make bad scripts turn out well. But there's a different culture involved in the first place that raises the level of the voice-acting in Japanese games that the 2-month localisation efforts don't achieve. Any amount of anime-shows have been completely ruined by even extremely engaged translation crews. So even though it's a sound idea to aim for having a great English, French, Spanish and Italian voice-over developed with the game from the beginning, and so on. It can really work against the title if it's not done extremely well. Good examples could be things like Naruto, Shigurui, Kurozuka, Kouga Ninpou Chou - the translation effort isn't bad. But it removes some of the amazing effort by the original voice-actors, as well as ends up falling flat when the script-writers have to prioritize lip-syncing over exposition - which they could avoid when just writing a good subtitle.

    Nausicaa probably is the best example of a successful translation. With Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman, the amazing effort by Mark Hamill.. this is watchable, because they respect at every point into the story that the original characters are developed to match the actors they chose, and the performances have been extremely well thought out. But.. the original voice-track is so much better, making even that effort perhaps just a placeholder for people who can't read English script. On top of that you have the script often being recorded on top of ambient noise and sound in the original that then will be toned down.

    Possibly a waste of time, then?

    Perhaps the effort would be better spent on writing a good script, in a familiar way for the writers, in the first place.

    Naruto really pops up as a great example of this. Talking to some of my favourite fansubbers, their approach also often is a pretty literal translation. Since the script lends itself to that, of course. But also since it's technically possible to keep the mood and all the references intact, even with good timing on the lines -- because these people are so familiar with the source-material. But also because, I was surprised to learn, translating pockets of Japanese script wasn't something they thought of as some arcane art. At one point, one of the translators didn't even understand the meaning of the actual dialogue. But because he kept the script consistent, you could read out the actual meaning of the lines anyway.

    So that's something to think about, perhaps. That we often tend to believe localizing has to involve a westernization of the script. While what that actually is taken to mean is that no single line should be delivered from any character without having a clear start and end. As if the audience can't deal with nuances and intelligent scriptwriting on the level of a Naruto-episode. You know, I think that's probably the biggest mistake translation efforts run into.

    And solving that by dumbing down the entire script, in Japanese and English, isn't really going to be a good way around that.
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