Translation & Localisation in Games
One thing they never explained in my Theory and Practice of Translation MA, was that translation and localisation are two different things. In fact, the subject of localisation was never touched upon at all. Which in hindsight, was a missed opportunity for myself, the other students, and lecturers. How can you teach translation if you don’t cover localisation?
It wasn’t until I played the game ‘Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’ that I realized the importance of localisation, especially in video game translation.
Now, some companies leave the translation and localisation entirely to the translator. Other’s will have translators to work on the translation and writers (who often know no Japanese at all) to work on making it sound natural in English, the localisation. When you compare the translations of these two methods there are some obvious differences.
Games where only translators have worked on them tend to produce English versions which are closer to the Japanese in terms of wording, sentence structure, etc. But these games, I have found, had been difficult to understand (especially when they have long plots), as Japanese fiction leaves a lot of implied information whereas English speakers often prefer this information to be clear.
But games that have had English writers as well as translators tend not be as ‘close’ to the Japanese word for word, but it conveys the meaning better and, I think, is more enjoyable for the gamer.
Often the translator is too close to the original text to think about stepping away from it. Yet translators need to be trained to step away from the source, and produce entertaining localised translations.
Ni no Kuni’s Localisation Choices
Ni no Kuni is a Japanese role-play game developed by Level 5, a studio based in Fukuoka, Japan. When the game came to English speaking countries it was translated and localized by Shloc, a UK based localisation service. But the two worked very close together to get the perfect translation.
The international release had the options for the text and/or audio to play in Japanese or English. I played it with English text but Japanese audio, and this is when I noticed the choices made in the translation and localisation.
The language used in the original is one you would expect from a Japanese video game. Everyone speaks standardised Japanese, except for one race (the faeries) who has an Osaka accent.
The biggest different in the way people talked was the choice to change Osakan to Welsh. As someone from the UK this made for some wonderful dialogue, especially the scene where two faeries are doing comedy on stage. In Japan this is a very recognisable type of comedy called manzai and localising it into
English Welsh, was probably no easy task.
In fact a lot of this game had language based comedy and it was interesting to see how this translated over as comedy is heavily based in cultural context. In the end though I felt the localised English version had more comedy than the Japanese, mostly because of all the puns in the English language version that I don’t think an American localisation company would have been able to pull off as well.
A few examples of this was the choice of calling the cat king “your Meowjesty”, and a cow queen “Moojesty”. Others were mostly reflected in the location names such as “Goroneeru” which changed to “Ding Dong Dell”. And many instances where I was laughing out loud because of the terrible yet wonderful puns in dialogues that weren’t in the Japanese yet fit the tone of the game so well.
It’s clear that every choice made in the translation of this game was carefully made and discussed among a group of translators and the original Japanese developers. It certainly paid off creating a charming and amusing game which, if you speak Japanese and English, comes off as extra charming as you enjoy the best of both worlds.
Translating and localising a product of this quality is no easy task, certainly not for a single translator. I think all games should be localised like this, and I look forward to seeing what they do with Ni no Kuni II.