And you thought Phantasia GBA was an embarrassing localization effort.
Okay, okay, I’m just kidding. Xillia’s localization seems pretty good overall. Several people seemed to dislike Meela Mathwell‘s somewhat unusual accent and possible lisp, but it kinda grew on me. That said, I’d like to highlight a couple specific points about the localization:
Thankfully, several Artes relevant to Hearts were in Xillia, mostly belonging to Agria and Gaius, and were localized with non-headache-inducing names. In particular, since Kasenrin/火旋輪 is now Burning Wheel, I can simply pretend that the tragedy that is Tales of Graces f’s cameo fight never happened, opting for Pyre Wheel over Crimson Disc for Guren Kourin/紅蓮皇輪. Another interesting one is Arc Fire, which is the localized name for Tide Bullet. This was originally one of Illia’s Artes, and it shows up in Hearts as Illia’s cameo summon Arte. It’s a water-elemental Arte that involves her shooting in a circle. In Xillia, Alvin’s version is fire-element for some reason, so I suppose it made sense to change the name away from something watery-sounding. It even kinda works for the water version, if you assume that “fire” refers to discharging guns and not to flames… which is good, because in Xillia 2, the Arte is water-element again–for Ludger, that is. Alvin’s is still fire-element. I hope they were aware of this…?
Unfortunately, much in the same vein as Arc Fire, they saw fit to totally mess with a ton of Arte names. Some of the changes were probably to reduce the Engrish factor of the original Japanese names, but others were kind of unnecessary (e.g., Round Edge > Shimmer Spin and Assault Dance > Whirling Assault). The problem with changing Arte names around willy-nilly is that it becomes awkward if those Artes are ever reused on a different character who may have a different weapon type, Arte animation, or theme, making the original name overspecific and awkward. For example, we can see this in Leia’s Sword Rain being called Staff Rain this time around, even though the name of the Arte is identical in Japanese (Chirisazame/散沙雨). This gets even worse when the bonus boss, who is supposed to be copying your party’s moves and weapons, has Sword Rain instead. (I guess because his initial form has a big sword and they didn’t realize the form that uses Chirisazame uses a staff?)
I can only assume they similarly thought Light Spear (Senkuu Reppa/閃空裂破) was too awkward for sword users, even though every Light Spear user thus far has used a sword, when they decided to rename it to Tornado Drive for Alvin. If you ask me, this is a totally unnecessary change that just makes the whole Arte naming system even more confusing. But okay, you want to change it now, after like six or so games that used it and/or had Artes that were derivatives of it, fine. Can you at least be consistent? Apparently Ivar’s version of Light Spear is… Light Spear. What? Why? Is the attack animation at least different? (Which is presumably the reason it was Spiral Attack for Reid and Spiral Destruction for Cress back in Eternia?)
My next nitpick is also kind of regarding Artes, yet kind of not. It actually has to do with the levels of effort involved in the dubbing and localization process. It will also contain very mild spoilers, so you may want to skip ahead to the next section if that is a concern for you.
As no doubt you are aware, we here at KAJITANI-EIZAN’s Patch Site sure love our High Ohgeez, or Mystic Artes, as they are less popularly called. Usually, these flashy, cinematic attacks are meant to showcase how totally awesome and/or badass a character is, with their careful choreography of action, special effects, and totally cool line delivery. Take Gaius, for example:
He is a king looking out for the interests of his people, and his Byaku Majin’ouken (闢・魔神王剣) is supposed to exemplify his authoritative power in all regards. My rather flowery interpretation of the meaning of the kanji would be something along the lines of, “the sword of the demon emperor who has had the rightful privilege of rule from the beginning of time”. And it’s totally badass. The guy leaps into the air and cuts an explosion in half, with you in it. And then he lands on the ground and clenches his fist in victory, savoring the knowledge that he has shown you your place, i.e., horizontal, with your face planted firmly in the ground.
What did they decide to call this awesome High Ohgee in English? Absolute Domination:
Did you see the problem? The name is just fine. The problem is the execution. Go back to the Japanese clip and note the timing of his voice. “BYAKU! … MAJIN’OUKEN!” He shouts the first part as he slices through, then lands before continuing with the rest, ending with the epic fist clench. Now look again at the English clip. At the same point in the animation as the Japanese version, he starts shouting, “ABSOLUTEDOMINATION!” And it’s too short. He’s basically done by the time he lands. What follows is an extremely awkward couple of seconds while he recovers from his landing and then proceeds to take his sweet time to silently clench his fist. What was supposed to be totally badass is now suddenly a headscratcher. What does he think he’s doing, standing there and posing?
If I wanted to be uncharitable, I would call this an example of US dubbing companies being lazy and incompetent. I’m pretty sure the real reason, though, is simply a lack of time and money. With a tight schedule and relatively low budget, everything has to be done in a totally disconnected fashion. For example, some guy translated the Arte name. Then some guy told the voice actor what to yell, and he did so. Then some guy had to replace the Japanese sound byte with the English one. All at different time points and without much time to go back, check it, and see if it can be improved in some small way. I’m pretty sure that if the English voice actor and the voice director were to see the High Ohgee, see what makes it tick, record an English version, see how the English version would look, on the spot, and re-record as needed to avoid awkwardness, this sort of thing wouldn’t have happened.
Now, I’m going to go really far out on a limb and guess at an additional potential problem source — a lack of support from the Japanese side. I don’t just mean time and money… I mean programming support and the provisioning of tools. How was the High Ohgee developed and voiced in Japan? Surely the voice actor saw the Arte in question and worked on his delivery so it would match the onscreen animation perfectly? They probably had to show the guy the animation, with his voice overlaid in real time, just as I described above. If they had a special program or debug function or whatever for that, shouldn’t they have offered it to the localization team? And it’s not just that… wouldn’t it be nice if the original programming team made sure to implement features that would be relevant for the Western localizations right from the start? For example, how about word wrap, a concept that doesn’t exist in Japanese or other East Asian languages yet is important in basically every Indo-European language? General interface design? I don’t know how many of you saw videos and screenshots of the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, but the battle GUI is horrendously ugly due to weird text/number size choices, huge swaths of blank space in UI elements with center-aligned text (likely due to Western/Japanese font differences), etc. I think this is due to a lack of consideration for the needs of the Western localization teams during the development process. I feel that if localization teams were to be contacted earlier in the process and their input taken into account, things would go a lot smoother on the localization front.
The above is basically pure guesswork, so please take it with a grain of salt. My apologies if I turn out to be totally wrong and Japanese development teams actually are very mindful of this already and offer tons of support to the localization teams. I just think it’s rather unlikely that this is the case, considering the fact that they didn’t redo the lip sync (go back and compare the two versions again!). It should be a REALLY simple thing to do if you have the tools… just run an analysis on the dubbed audio file and automatically adjust the character model’s lip flap to match. You know, like what they did for the Japanese dub.
Alternately, they could have just added around a second of padding to the beginning of his voice file to ensure that he starts yelling the name after he lands. That would avoid the name from ending too early and would at least partially, if not entirely, fix the lip sync issue. You can do that even without tons of Japanese dev team support or a re-recording session for the voice actor.
Well, Arte names and slightly muddy Arte name delivery and lip sync aren’t really huge issues. Here’s a huge issue:
This was one of the skits shown early, as a promo. I’m not sure if this is the reason why it got translated that way, because they didn’t have enough time to do the research before putting it out there, or whether they felt they had to go the extremely in-your-face route to make it funny. Either way, it’s not really a good precedent for how localization should be done. In the Japanese version, Teepo keeps talking about having a “baribo” body, which is a made-up word. It could be a contraction of “baribari” and “boubou”, in which case the implied meaning would actually be something along the lines of “strong and athletic, burning with passion”. Teepo is basically voicing Elize’s jealousy over Milla’s lithe figure. It makes sense that Jude doesn’t know what it is, because it isn’t a real word. In the English version, Jude, despite being some kind of overachieving, precocious MD/PhD student who is a total genius, not only has somehow never heard of the word “bazongas”, he can’t even infer from context that it is directly referring to boobs. This is rather out of character for him and rather unbelievable. If it were limited to this skit, that would be the end of it and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But no. The topic comes up again several times, with Milla being proud of her even more “baribo” body when she gets more muscle tone (while English Milla yells “yoked-out bazongas!” … and I guess it’s implied that bazongas are maybe referring to biceps and not breasts?? wat), and Elize even continuing to seek a “baribo” body in Xillia 2 (did no one tell the poor girl she’s yelling about boobs all the time at any point in the intervening year?). Given this context, I think “bazongas” gets wildly off the mark of the original meaning and intent of the original phrasing. First and foremost, it isn’t supposed to be a punchline about Jude’s naivete; it’s supposed to be a celebration of the female form. It’s about Elize’s desire for a beautiful female body, not Jude’s desire to know about bazongas. Call me KAJITANI-SARKEESIAN if you want, but I think that’s the sort of change that’s best avoided where possible. Also, you’re dreaming if you think any party member other than Milla is going to have enormous bazongas at any point in time… at least until Xillia 2! Wait, is that a spoiler?
I don’t want to draw too much attention to these small details, because as you can see, the rest of the skit was dubbed amazingly, especially Rowen, who sounds like he is really having fun with his role. But it’s still small details like these that are most vulnerable to getting lost due to imprecise translation or localization, so it’s important to point them out and keep them in mind. What could have been done about it? Some English-ish made-up word like “amazonculous” (amazing + ridiculous, with hints of “amazon”) might have worked. Who knows, maybe they even tried to make something like that work before deciding it was too awkward and opted in favor of bazongas. Maybe they didn’t. If they didn’t, it highlights the importance of making sure the localization team is intimately familiar with the source material before embarking on the arduous journey of turning it into an English product.
Speaking of which, I have good news for you! It seems that many of you are curious as to how the Tales of Hearts: Translator’s Cut project is going. As I’m sure you know, we here at KAJITANI-EIZAN’s Patch Site are not particularly motivated to share more such information than we feel like sharing, i.e., the progress bar on the right. However, I thought we should throw you guys a bone, so I consulted with my translator and talked about what would be all right to discuss. After some debate, we decided that, despite our pact of secrecy, we could pull away the veil a bit and release a tidbit of information: We’re done up through at least the second town! Yay!
Well, I hope you found that insightful. Please discuss and leave your comments below, and keep an eye out for news on Xillia 2!