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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!

But hey, I'll take the Engrishy translation, screwups and all, over the amazingly awful PSP script:

The whole game reads like some twelve-year-old trying really hard to sound like Shakespeare and failing miserably  Nobody talks like this, or ever did.  Ever.  Anywhere.

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 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!