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True Tales from Localization Hell

COVER STORY: Three veterans of video game translation recount their most harrowing projects.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

No Laughing Matter

USg: I did think of something I wanted to ask about Final Fantasy X, and it might hit a raw nerve with you—and I’m pretty sure you know what I’m going to ask you about.

AS: The laughing scene?

USg: Yes, yes. My theory has always been it was not a very good scene in Japanese to begin with.

AS: Absolutely. It is just as weird and stilted and out of place in the Japanese as it is in English. If anything, I feel like it could have been a lot worse in the English, but the actor did a really good job of making something happen there. You know, he actually had us laughing in the studio, when he did a laugh.

USg: So, when you were working on the script, would you have ever thought that scene would have gone down in infamy as one of the more standout moments of the game, perhaps not for the best reasons? Did it strike you as particularly odd or awkward?

AS: Oh, oh, yeah. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s a completely ridiculous scene. And it’s funny: I hadn’t ever really sat back and thought about... the emotional impact of this scene. It’s obviously the lead-up to the thing, "I want my journey to be full of laughter." It’s very melodramatic, but so much of Japanese drama is melodrama—I mean, I spend most of my time working on games... just trying to pull it back and make it more real, make it more realistic. So, you hit a scene like that and you’re like, "OK, here it’s impossible to make this realistic." So, what do you do, and, you’re limited in the range of things you can do by obviously what’s going on on-screen.

And, I think, I talked to [Final Fantasy X writer] Nojima-san about the scene, like, "What the fuck’s going on, dude, because this is very strange." And, "What should I tell the actor? What’s his motivation here? Because, it’s, you know, it’s a very unnatural scene." And, Nojima-san had basically put it in there because of this laughing, making yourself laugh, forced laughter, is a thing he had been doing, and he had been taking some acting classes. And it’s something that you do in acting classes.

It is what it is, you know. It’s kind of an awkward, funny scene in both languages. I don’t think, I think to the actors’ credit, it’s not worse in English. I think it’s just about the same level of awkwardness. So, that’s a successful localization right there.

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About the Author

Bob Mackey


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