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Monday, January 18, 2021

Top 10 Localization Blunders in RPGs

10. Final Fantasy Tactics: The Elemental Gun Swap

The PS1 release of Final Fantasy Tactics definitely had some faults in its translation; in addition to unintentionally funny dialog at some rather inopportune moments, it also botched quite a few names - every instance of "Breath" somehow came out as "Bracelet", Almagest became Ulmaguest, and of course the monster called "Cougar" somehow got rendered as "Cuar".  But my personal favorite has to be two of the end-game elemental guns.  Namely, that the Blaze Gun shoots ice and the Glacier Gun shoots fire owing to a mixup.

Can't even blame that one on the translation; they just got careless when filling in the names!

9. Breath of Fire II: Lemme Grab my Fishing Lod

The original Breath of Fire's localization was handled by Square, and in particular one Ted Woolsey, who attained some notoriety among classic RPG fans for adding a lot of silly jokes and references in addition to handling translation duties.  Still, while this did result in some goofy dialog, he also showed his skills and handled the main story and scenarios rather well alongside the humor.  Breath of Fire 2, on the other hand, was translated in-house by Capcom, who made one of the most infamously bad localizations of all time; there are a lot of bizarre, nonsequitur lines and awkward hiccups, and the plot becomes all but impossible to follow by the end.  But probably the most infamous screen of all is this one: 

Yes, "lod" is technically a word, but it makes zero sense in this context, or in any other context in this game!

8. Wild Arms 2: The Illustrious Liz and Ard

Wild Arms 2 is another title with a notoriously spotty localization, with a lot of amazingly clunky dialog and unclear wording that obfuscates several upgrade mechanics (though the overall easy difficulty of the game negates the second point for the most part).  This also resulted in two other changes - portraying one of the characters in a gay relationship with his war buddy and implying incest in a scene toward the end (though the original dev team confirms that both of these were never intended to be there, and are just artifacts of the translation).  But of course, there are some scenes that stand above the rest in sheer absurdity. 

The slapstick comedy duo of Liz and Ard, who speak entirely in Japanese pop culture references that got completely misconstrued by the translation team and now sound more like aliens desperately trying to speak English.  Better still, your allies start doing the same merely by being in close proximity to them, resulting in a dungeon that's half an hour of confused nonsense.  These scenes are hilarious, but not for the reasons the Japanese writers intended them to be, and ultimately end up being the highlight of a mostly mediocre and forgettable game.

7. Grandia II: You Missed, Miss

A pretty recent one here.  On the Grandia HD Collection by GungHo Entertainment, when the language is set to German, they made a pretty funny mistake when translating "Miss" - as in, you swung at an enemy and didn't hit them.

They apparently didn't bother to check the context for the "Miss" graphic and instead used the German word for a young unmarried woman.

6. Phantasy Star: Confused Names and Pronouns

The Phantasy Star franchise is an undeniable classic in the genre, and still one of my favorites to this day, as it's probably the franchise most responsible for getting me into RPGs in general.  However, even as a young teen I knew something was a bit off with the translations.  One infamous example is Noah, who is referred to as "her" in one line of in-game dialog but "him" in the game's manual.  This resulted in quite a lot of debate among fans, though it was seemingly finally laid to rest when the 2003 GBA compilation had Noah uniformly referred to with male pronouns.

Japan: making puberty even more awkward since 1989

Of course, that wasn't the end of things.  The same character returns in the sequel, now calling himself "Lutz", to give that game's protagonists their final mission, and is referred to as such in IV as well.  However, another character ends up taking up the mantle of "the fifth generation Lutz", making it sound like more of a title than a name (though only in the western versions; in the Japanese versions, the character is only ever referred to as "Lutz").

All three of the planets in the series have inconsistent names too - Motavia is also called "Mota" (and "Motabia" on at least one occasion), Dezolis is also rendered as "Dezo" and "Dezoris", and Palma also gets rendered as "Palma" and "Parma".  All are more or less actually correct translations, but the problem was a lack of consistency between games; apparently each script was done by a different team and they didn't bother comparing notes with each other.

There's also this little oddity that will forever stick out in my mind:

To this day I still have no idea what a "Fiblira" is supposed to be. It's equippable by women and classed as armor, though, so...

5. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: Not "Error"

The second game in the long-running and perennially popular Legend of Zelda franchise, Zelda II remains a controversial entry among fans for its unusual design and some occasionally frustrating elements. Like many other games of the time, the quality of its translation was spotty and known to cause confusion. One of the best-known examples therein was a particular character:

This message baffled many gamers, leading them to think that it was an error in the game's code or a bad translation of "Errol", and it quickly became one of the game's most memorable and quoted moments.  Nintendo is very much aware of the meme, too; its been referenced in games like Super Paper Mario and Splatoon 2, and even the 404 page of their UK website once featured Error and his famous line. 

Ironically, though, this message was not the result of either a coding or translation goof.  In the Japanese version of the game his dialog is "オレノナハ エラー ダ..." (Ore no na wa Erā da, literally "My name is Error"), so the translation is correct, if not the most clearly phrased.  Slightly later in the game you encounter another character named "Bagu" who opens the path to Death Mountain.  Bagu's name is a mistranslation of "Bug", another type of coding problem.  So, this Error message wasn't an error message and the actual mistake wasn't a bug, but an error in the translation of Bug. 

4. Final Fantasy IV (SNES): Not the One About the Horny Troubadour

Everyone in the world knows the infamous line about the spoony bard (one of the few to be kept intact across all the later versions for its meme factor), but honestly, just about any other line in the SNES version is about as funny and awkwardly translated, so I'm still not sure why that one gets all the attention.

Also, contrary to popular belief, Final Fantasy IV's translation was not written by Ted Woolsey.  In fact, he was specifically instructed to avoid the mistakes made on this game's localization during his later projects at Square.  Sorry, haters!

3. Castlevania II: Simon's Endless Confusion

Castlevania II was the first game in the series to adapt it into a more open-ended format with a lot of RPG elements worked into the mix; however, it ended up being a relatively unpopular entry, and they wouldn't take another crack at the format until the Playstation era rolled around as a result.  There were a number of reasons for this, but probably the most prevalent is the game's awkward translation, which made solving most of the game's puzzles more guesswork than anything.  A particularly infamous example is this line: 

As a fan-translator points out, the original line isn't the most clearly phrased thing in the world either.  But they certainly could have done something to make the intent more clear.  Makes you wonder if the people who translated these games ever got a chance to actually play them, or if they were just flying blind every step of the way.

2. Paladin's Quest: Severe Namespace Limitations

A common problem in a lot of 8 and 16-bit RPGs was namespace; simply put, most of these games were only built with Japanese text formatting in mind, where a few symbols can effectively spell out a full name for something.  When such games get localized, though, rather than reformatting all the dialog boxes and fonts to fit, we usually got severely shortened names like "FIRE1" or "XXXX" or "ZAP!" or "MRBL3" instead of the proper names.  Paladin's Quest is perhaps the most egregious example of this I've ever seen:

Virtually every item and spell in the game has its name chopped down to fit in the 8-letter space provided, but rather than letting you easily distinguish them with icons or something, they went with... this.  Just to name a few more examples: 

  • Adult cl = Adult Clothes
  • Mid drs = Middle Dress
  • Anq ar = Antique Armor
  • Bmg = Boomerang
  • Pht cn = Photon Cannon
  • ATback = Attack Back
It's rare you see a JRPG with more technical shorthand than a Unix fanpage, but there it is.

1. Suikoden 2's Gibberish Text

Suikoden II is one of my favorites, as well as a strong candidate for one of the most overlooked RPGs of all time (maybe I'll do that list at a later date).  But as great as it is, even it fell pray to some carelessness on the translators' part.  There are numerous examples of this throughout, but the one that will always stand out in my mind is this:

This probably looks familiar to those who were around in the early days of emulation and unfinished fan translations; a sign that even though they'd done the work of converting the Japanese symbols over to an English font, they hadn't actually gotten around to editing the text to match.  That's exactly what's happened here, and worse, it's from a character who takes money from you for the privilege of a "clue" but just ends up spewing untranslated gibberish at you.  There are a few other instances of untranslated text (in minor character dialog and a couple of enemy names), but losing money and getting nothing of value in return is always a letdown in any context!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The 7th Saga

 A little-spoken-of cult classic for the SNES platform, The 7th Saga puts a few interesting twists on JRPG norms, giving the player some freedom of choice and slightly different story paths depending on which character they pick.  But does it prove to be a worthwhile RPG amongst the stiff competition the platform provides, or is it simply to be passed up in favor of more highly-regarded ones?

The Super Nintendo is a console with a lot of classic RPGs; little surprise there, as it was the platform where beloved companies like Square and Quintet and Quest really started to rise to worldwide prominence. The 7th Saga is one that's not too commonly talked about, but it has retained a bit of a cult following over the years - enough to get comprehensive shrines on several sites as well as a full-fledged guide on Strategywiki, at least. It's also from a relatively unknown company (the short-lived studio "Produce!", who also made Brain Lord, another low-key SNES title with a bit of a following), though it was published by Enix, which probably helped it attain its fanbase.

Upon playing the game, I can certainly see why it's a popular one, as it does some things that few other RPGs of the time attempted.  The player is given a choice of seven playable characters, each with varying abilities and equipment choices, and most are also of different races.  Kamil the knight is probably the most well-rounded character, getting the widest selection of equipment as well as all-around good stats, and a balance of offensive and defensive magic on top.  Others fit more into the typical RPG archetypes - Valsu the cleric gets mostly defensive magic but is rather weak physically, Esuna is similar but utilizes black magic instead, and Olvan is a dwarf with strong fighting abilities and a few white spells to complement them.  A few less common ones appear too - LUX is a tetsujin (literally "Iron Man"), a strong fighter with a few exclusive offensive spells, but has limited equipment choices and the lowest speed of any character.  Wilme is an alien with impressively high stats (save for magic) but gets no equipment at all until the late stages, and Lejes is a demon (!) with high attack power and a wide variety of offensive spells, but low defense and very limited armor, focusing almost entirely on offense.  It is a little ironic to see a character explicitly labeled as a "demon" in that era of Nintendo history (as they were intent on censoring anything explicitly religious), but they did alter his appearance from the Japanese version to make him slightly less reminiscent of stereotypical demons.  Though the overall story doesn't change, some characters do end up taking routes to destinations than others, so areas you visit with one protagonist may not be visitable with another (at least, not right away).

An interesting facet of this mechanic is that the other six characters you don't choose are also undertaking the same quest, and will interact with you several times throughout, usually in towns after major story events.  In many case they will simply give you a bit of dialog and little else, but they may also offer to join you (though you can only recruit one ally during the game, so it's best to choose someone that offsets your starting character's weaknesses).  Others may challenge you to a duel, which resulting in a rather tough one-on-one match scaled to your level, but you earn a hefty experience/gold reward if you win, so it's generally worth taking the risk early on (later., random encounters will be far easier to overcome and give roughly equal or greater XP).  However, anyone you choose to duel will become your rival for the rest of the game, so you shouldn't pick that option if you want to recruit them.  These interactions are semi-random, though as an NPC in one town helpfully points out, you can "reroll" the results by fighting a few random battles and returning until you get the interaction you want.  Two characters (randomly picked from anyone you don't have join) are traitors to the team and must be fought during the course of the story as well, and if the later of the two ends up being Valsu, the game becomes unwinnable - he gets a high-level that fully restores his HP AND MP, making him effectively invincible.

7th Saga is quite a good-looking RPG for its time, with a presentation oddly more reminiscent of the Phantasy Star games on the Sega Genesis in many respects.  Background tiles are surprisingly intricate and detailed, and enemy sprites are large and animated in battle (a stark contrast to the Final Fantasy series).  You even get to see your character take actions during battle - punching, blocking and casting spells, most of which have unique animations.  Another cool twist is that this actually utilizes the SNES's Mode-7 capabilities - when you get into a fight on the overworld, the camera will pan down to ground level and the enemies will appear in front of you, and the viewpoint will even rotate as you target different enemies on the field.  The mechanics themselves are relatively standard RPG fare (with the odd exception of doing more damage with your attacks if you spend the previous turn defending), but the impressive presentation helps set 7th Saga apart from its competition nonetheless.

The 7th Saga does have a few glaring flaws, though.  One that's quickly noticeable to long-time RPG players is that there is little balance between battle awards and enemy difficulty; tougher enemies generally don't give much more than weaker ones within the same area, or even in adjacent areas.  A prominent example comes early on the second continent, where enemies called Brains award high XP and are relatively easy to defeat.  In contrast, the next major area has exponentially harder enemies (appropriately named "Defeat") who inflict massive damage and a litany of debilitating status effects, but give only slightly more XP.  Needless to say, I found travelling back to the first town of that continent and grinding against Brains a much less frustrating endeavor than trying to stick it out against Defeats.  Enemies in dungeons also tend to be significantly weaker than those on the surrounding overworld, and seemingly mundane foes can drop very powerful items (the aforementioned Brains, despite being seen relatively early in the game, drop Recoveries, which are sold in no shops and fully restore HP and MP).  Late game the problem gets compounded further; normal enemies become exercises in sheer frustration (constantly healing and reviving one another and having absurdly high HP and Defense) while bosses are laughably easy in comparison. Abusing buffers and stocking up on restoration items becomes mandatory to survive. 

The difficulty balance is also another point of contention among the game's fans.  Put simply, the US version of the game is much harder than the original Japanese release, buffing up enemies and drastically nerfing the playable characters' stats and drastically reducing all experience earned, necessitating much more grinding.  Fights with the other seven champions are no easier than their Japanese counterparts, however, which can result in these battles being nearly impossible (or literally so, see above) as they scale with your main character's level.  At a certain point in the game you will also travel back in time, and enemies in the past are far, far beyond the level of enemies in the present; if you haven't leveled up enough by that point, you'll be unable to overcome even the weakest enemies here and your run is basically over.  This was a problem in the original Japanese version as well, but is definitely much more pronounced in the western release.  Essentially, you'll be doing much more grinding and save-rotating if you play that version.

That is a strange contrast to one of 7th Saga's other major features that would otherwise help to cut down on excessive combat and grinding.  At the start of the game you're given a "Crystal Ball", which has a number of features.  The one that's brought to your attention right away is pointing out the locations of the seven runes (the main objective of your quest), but it also comes into play on the overworld and in dungeons, showing enemies on the radar as moving white blips and giving you a chance to avoid them (to a point - they move quickly and constantly spawn so it's just a matter of time before you're caught, but nevertheless, you can sometimes use this to your advantage).  It also points out unopened treasure chests, too, which takes a lot of guesswork out of dungeon crawling - you can quickly determine whether a path will lead you to a treasure or it's just a dead end.

Despite its uneven difficulty, and some frustrating design hiccups, though, I found The 7th Saga to be an enjoyable experience.  Its concept of having multiple paths depending on your character choice was a pretty novel one for the time, and it had an impressive presentation for 1993 to boot.  I don't know if I'd quite label it a hidden gem, but it is a unique and interesting game that's worth a look.

Developer: Produce!
Publisher: Enix
Platform: SNES
Released: 1993
Recommended Version: N/A

Tags: JRPG, Fantasy, Prefab Characters, Turn_Based, Visible/Scripted Encounters, Multiple Story Paths, Extreme Difficulty, Save Only at Checkpoints, Short Campaign

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Horizon's Gate

An indie game described by several players as a combination of Uncharted Waters and Final Fantasy Tactics, crafted by a one-man dev team.   But does it live up to the lofty heights that description bestows, or does it promise the world and deliver a crayola-drawn map?

I didn't know about this one until recently, and even then it sounded too good to be true.  A game that combines elements of Final Fantasy Tactics and Koei's cult classic privateering sim Uncharted Waters into one game?  And it's all made by one guy?  Surely there was no way it could actually be good.  But, always on the hunt for good RPGs, I decided to grab it during the annual winter Steam sale and give it a go.

The game certainly makes its inspirations known from the very start, having a pixelated art style very much reminiscent of the 16-bit era of Final Fantasy games and some surprisingly epic music to match.  It also shows off the turn-based combat right away, letting you know that, unlike most indie turn-based strategy games, it's definitely not going to be an easy one - the AI relentlessly targets characters one-by-one until they're down and definitely isn't afraid to hit you with all manner of annoying status effects every step of the way.  Thankfully there doesn't seem to be such a thing as permadeath in this game and being KOed doesn't rob you of experience rewards afterward, but your maximum HP will temporarily be lowered each time you are (and will only be restored after venturing for several days).  It even has a few nice touches to its design that I also lauded in the otherwise bland Divinity: Original Sin, like having electrical attacks travel through water to damage anyone in it.

I was also surprised at how much the game made good on its promise of a Final Fantasy Tactics styled class system.  Each character you recruit starts with a generic class with a few basic abilities (Sailor), though as you gain experience and pay trainers you'll gradually unlock more classes, each with a handful of abilities, some passive skills (up to three of which can be equipped at a time).  Every 250 XP earned in a class will also grant a star, which can be used to improve a stat or proficiency with weapons or spell types.  There is effectively no limit on which classes any character can use, either, though they can only have abilities from two in use at a time - one primary and one secondary (though purchased stats and proficiencies will carry over to any class).  It does get to be quite a lot to manage late-game when you're running a good-sized fleet of characters and ships, but the amount of depth and customizability it affords is pretty staggering for an indie title.

Ship combat works on a similar principle, though as in the Uncharted Waters games, you do have to carefully move and position your ships each turn - you can only launch an attack after moving, and cannons must be placed at specific points on your ship, with your largest guns generally being broadside-only.  This can be somewhat twinky with ship-to-ship combat (if you have a faster ship you can generally stay just out of their range, peppering them with cannon fire while they can't do anything back to you), but the game also features all manner of sea creatures to give you grief as well, so it's not something you can solely rely on.  Some more fantastic elements creep into these too, like magical cannons that can create icebergs or "living ships" that regenerate health over time, which adds a nice twist.  Either side can also use boarding gear to leap into a timed battle with that ship's crew aboard their own ship, though interestingly, these skirmishes basically exist in a totally different time and place from the ship fights - if a boarding fight ends and you re-board that same ship later, the same units will still be there, in the same state you left them.

The game as a whole utilizes a simple mouse-and-keyboard interface similar to the later Ultimas, and exploration seemingly draws some elements from the later games in that series too - you can pick up and move objects with the mouse and double-click to interact and search felled enemies, and skills in battle can be activated through quick-keys or simply clicking icons on the HUD - all very smooth, requires basically no conscious thought once you've gotten used to it.  There is crafting in the game, necessary to get most of the best items, though it's considerably less intrusive than most games - usually just requiring you to combine a purchasable kit with various items you earn by defeating stronger enemies.

The Uncharted Waters style open-world element is a bit less well-thought-out, though.  Trading commodities - the ever-present staple of games like this - is present, though not nearly as deep as you'd think.  There's no virtual economy that booms or busts; instead, you simply buy resources, then take them to another port and sell for a profit, earning more money the further your destination is from the port they were purchased from.  While prices do fluctuate slightly, there's no real risk involved - as long as you buy something and sell it elsewhere, you'll turn a profit.  It's also a fairly inefficient way to earn money until you have a pretty sizable fleet - a guild in all the major ports holds an endless number of randomly-generated delivery or monster-clearing quests you can do, and all generally pay out much better than unscripted trading runs.  Even more silly, though are the cartography and research elements - essentially, you sign a contract with a a cartographer or researcher, then turn in your findings to them for a reward.  In the former's case, you simply explore the map and earn money, with higher payoffs coming as you uncover more of it.  Research is even sillier - virtually every object in the environment can be scanned (by presssing the L key) and your findings turned over to them for a profit.  Obviously, scanning one-of-a-kind objects (such as a certain gate you encounter during the tutorial) earns you more, but you still earn a decent amount for looking at mundane bins, pieces of armor, plants, trees, rugs, signs, and anything else in the environment.  On the upside, this does give you a hefty nest egg early in the game, but it's not particularly realistic by any stretch.  Managing your crew is pretty simple too - as long as you can pay their wages (rarely more than 1 coin a day) and keep morale up, you're good.  Especially you can just stop in at the pub at any given town and, for the price of a few gold per sailor, give them a pretty hefty morale boost (as well as raising their battle stats for a few days).

Despite those shortcomings, though, I found myself pleasantly surprised with Horizon's Gate.  It may not live up to its hype and deliver a full-fledged, in-depth sailing sim alongside its tactical RPG element, but it really shines at what it does well.  Combat and character management in the game is surprisingly deep and rewarding, there's a lot of side-areas to explore alongside the main story, and it's got an imaginative and interesting world to journey through.  Rarely since the heyday of Ultima have I felt a game sweep me away like this one did, letting me get truly immersed in its world without feeling restricted by its "video gamey" elements - character management is surprisingly painless and you rarely feel like you're being held hostage by your level of experience or having to farm items and money to progress.  It may not be the deepest game of its kind, but it's one of the most satisfying meldings of open-world exploration and RPG I've played in a good while.  I'm all for supporting talented indie developers, and if this one's concept sounds good to you, I can definitely say Horizon's Gate is worth your while.

Developer: Rad Codex
Publisher: Rad Codex
Platform: PC
Released: 2020
Recommended Version: N/A

Tags: Strategy RPG, Fantasy, Customizable Characters, Turn-based, Visible/Scripted Encounters, Collection-Fest, Crafting System, Adjustable Difficulty, Save Anywhere, Mid-Length Campaign, Great Music