Due to popular demand, I will explain exactly what Namco should have done to make this localization not be terrible! It’s really simple:
When in doubt, If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, leave it the hell alone until you do. If you take this one adage to Kor, you can get far in life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Namco got the message.
The prologue movie subtitles they revealed back in April were so bad that I figured some random Japanese or European staff member who didn’t know English very well did them really quick for a convention or somesuch. They even photoshopped one of the lines when they reused the footage during an E3 interview. Imagine my shock when those exact subtitles, including the photoshopped change, made it into the final release! It’s especially jarring when you see this scene sandwiched between two rather well-done, rhyming stanzas of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.
But here’s the part I want to focus on. While the subtitles were bad all throughout, the worst line by far was:
Japanese Translation: “I’ve found you.”
The phrase “like moths to the flame” has a very specific meaning. It suggests that Hisui and Kohaku are attracted to Incarose in some self-destructive, compelling way, like moths are attracted to a flame — either they wanted to meet her for some reason, or she set out bait of some sort that they fell for, and now they are in trouble due to their own actions. This is not the case. They are simply running away and she is simply chasing them. So this is a nonsensical choice of phrasing that is wholly inapplicable to the situation. It’s like if at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, as the Imperial Star Destroyer is chasing the Rebel ship, Darth Vader were to intone, “Yes… we’ve captured the Rebel ship with the stolen blueprints… Like moths to the flame.” Just no. Even though they were in doubt (they either didn’t know the meaning of the English phrase or didn’t know the context of why Incarose is chasing them) and It Wasn’t Broke (nothing overtly wrong with “I’ve found you”), they failed to Don’t Fix It anyway, which is why it turned out so poorly.
The same thing applies to basically everything else that’s seriously wrong with the localization. This is going to be really long, so I’ll split the sections by character, and if you don’t care you can just Quick Jump to the end.
If Kor wasn’t originally obnoxious and annoying, don’t make him that! He’s supposed to be a naive country kid with a Kor of gold, not some annoying Californian high schooler. This is literally a huge theme of the plot and story of the game, and they even changed his name for that very reason, so changing that aspect of his character is really not a good idea (to say the least). Let’s just jump right in:
The worst part is that this catchphrase comes up over and over throughout the game, and so he says this obnoxious take on the catchphrase over and over. Also, this is one of many lines to come where they simply cut some of the dialogue out because it doesn’t all fit into the textbox… since they’re not even trying to use the right half of the box. I’ve underlined the part that’s been cut out. And keep an eye on how much of the full textbox width is (not) used in all the screenshots to follow.
Yes, a poet indeed. Way to pat yourself on the back for your magnum opus that will surely be passed down through the ages! And unlike the original, he doesn’t even show that he’s joking in the localized version. It sounds like he’s legitimately impressed with himself, which is doubly obnoxious when you consider how vapid his localized poem is.
But that isn’t even bad compared to this next one:
Oh, Kor, you cad, suggesting that she should have stayed unconscious so you could lock lips while she’s passed out. This is our naive, inherently nice hero with the heart of gold that Fights with His Heart. It’s particularly funny because Hisui later accuses him of exactly this, and he vehemently denies it. I guess he’s a liar in the localized version, too.
There’s actually a bit of an excuse for this one, because they were trying to localize away the fact that Hisui got mad because of some Japanese culture stuff (Kor was just calling Kohaku by name without any honorifics or anything). It’s just that they did it really incompetently by changing the wrong line. Kor sounds like he’s trying to sound suspicious on purpose for no reason. They should have left Kor’s line alone because It Ain’t Broke and just changed Hisui’s line. Speaking of which, Hisui’s line doesn’t make any sense; it sounds as if they originally had Kor’s line be something else but forgot to change Hisui’s to match. Something like “Oh, I know all about what you were planning once you guided her there! I’m on to you, kid!” would have worked much better.
Now let’s watch him randomly be obnoxious to old friends of his Grampa, too!
This one’s another failed localization. The blond guy in the chair, the High Priest Labrodor Akerman, says he recognizes Kor’s Soma and asks if he’s related to Sydan. Kor says his line, then the Crystal Knight behind him yells at him for speaking to the High Priest with such a lack of decorum (calling him “old man”/”uncle”/”mister”). I guess they thought the Crystal Knight’s outburst wouldn’t make sense with a straight translation for Kor’s original line, so they had Kor randomly become obnoxious and refuse to answer someone who seems to have known his beloved Grampa, which is extremely out of character for him. The worst part is that his original line would have worked fine with the preceding and following lines staying exactly as they are, with the Crystal Knight being mad that he called the High Priest “old man”, so this is yet another case where they stupidly Fixed what Ain’t Broke.
Overall, the localization really does a good job of making Kor out to be dumb, annoying, and obnoxious when he’s supposed to be dumb, naive, and full of Heart. We’re not off to a great start, here.
If Kohaku didn’t originally talk like a haughty princess, don’t have her do that! There’s no reason for her to be rude and dismissive when the whole reason she’s there is to look for Sydan/Zektz and seek his help:
Nor for her to use a random stiff, formal speech pattern:
“Rapscallion” also comes to mind. Where did she pick up this speech pattern, anyway? She sure as hell didn’t learn that from Hisui, nor from her villagers that all speak in some weird Scottish/Dwarvish accent. I guess maybe from Lithia, but if she doesn’t talk the same way Lithia talks in the Japanese version, why should she in English?
If Hisui wasn’t originally a hyperviolent sociopath, don’t turn him into one! Because that’s just wrong.
Kor mentions they have to cut through the forest to get to the Soma Shrine, so…
Kohaku scolds him and says Kor’s doing them a favor, so he should ask nicely:
So a case of Hisui just being slightly rude turns into a case of him using overt threats of violence to try to get Kor to do him a favor, even after his dear sister reminds him that he’s doing them a favor. Way to accurately portray his characterization!
Then a couple minutes later, during a very tense scene:
So, the witch that’s been chasing them showed up and blasted both Kohaku and Sydan. It’s really pretty bad; Sydan ends up dying of his wounds (zomg spoilers!) and Kohaku is totally out of it. They somehow just barely escaped with Sydan and Kohaku on their backs. And now Hisui is cracking stupid jokes? Like, I get that some people sometimes crack jokes to try to deal with the stress of the situation, but this joke really isn’t fitting. While admittedly hilarious, it’s not at all appropriate for the scene and makes Hisui look pretty nuts.
Later, Kor tries to fix Kohaku up because he’s the only one who can, something goes wrong, and Hisui is pissed. But then Kohaku finally wakes up for the first time since Incarose blasted her! And Hisui says this:
You can really hear the emotion in the voice acting. He’s a caring big brother who was so distraught over his little sister getting rekt, and now that she’s seemingly better he’s awash with relief. He really cares deeply about his little sister.
… Or maybe not so much, in the localization, since even this emotional moment has to include a threat of (fatal) physical harm to our protagonist. He might not have intended to follow through with it, but the point is that instead of thinking only about his sister in this moment, he’s also thinking about how he’s gonna kill that dumbass who dared to try to help her.
But then when he realizes something is wrong with her and asks Kor in a REALLY threatening voice:
This would be one of the few times that the localization would be justified in making Hisui make violent threats, but the one they chose here is so comical that I have no idea what they were thinking. Could there possibly be a less fitting choice of threat? Why didn’t they just leave the threat implied (aka Don’t Fix It) if they couldn’t come up with one that wasn’t outright laughable?
Maybe the shock of realizing his sister is all messed up made Hisui a more friendly guy? Kor and Hisui discuss Incarose, and Kor promises he’ll get his revenge on her for both Grampa and Kohaku. Then Hisui chimes in with:
In case you didn’t get the context, in the Japanese, he was half-joking that since Kor and Incarose both messed Kohaku up, they should both kill each other in order to properly avenge Kohaku. Note Kor’s change in body language as he realizes what Hisui is saying. In the localization, they changed it to Hisui bonding with Kor and agreeing that they should work together to take Incarose down. I honestly don’t know here if they simply wildly mistranslated this, or if they purposely changed it. The former would be incompetent (“aiuchi” is a very specific word that’s hard to misinterpret) and the latter would be utterly insane, seeing as how Hisui has been changed to being super aggressive all this time and now in this instance has suddenly been changed to being friendly when he actually IS supposed to be aggressive.
But I guess his newfound niceness is short-lived:
I can’t believe I have to explain why this is bad, but some people really didn’t get it, so I’m going to try to carefully explain here just how absolutely horrible this choice of translation is. Let us review. Kor’s grandfather, Sydan, just died about a day ago trying to save the three of them. Sydan is the respected hero guy that Kohaku was trying to find so that they could ask his help in fighting off the witch Incarose. Hisui clearly respected him, he is grateful that Sydan told them how Kohaku could be restored to normal, and he even helped Kor bury him after he died. He knows Kor is still feeling the loss. So to say “who died and made you boss” one day later is incredibly, stupendously, outrageously insensitive.
I have literally seen people argue that this line is okay because it’s not meant to be taken literally, it’s just a commonly used figure of speech, and Hisui wasn’t specifically referring to Sydan. Yes, thank you for your astute insights. I know that already. You’re still wrong. The fact is that the literal meaning of the line is still important to consider when it comes to things like reminding people of traumatic events that JUST HAPPENED RIGHT NOW. The fact that Sydan literally died and made Kor boss (he literally told him to take the Soma and help the girl) makes it inappropriate to casually remark, “who died and made you boss”, because it rudely brings the event to the forefront and disrespects both Sydan and Kor. The fact that Hisui flippantly makes such a remark makes him out to be pretty sociopathic, really. This sort of drastic change to the impact of a line is unacceptable in the localization process.
And in case you think it’s okay that Hisui says that because he’s still in the heat of anger after the whole Kohaku thing, that’s not a justification either. First, even if he was, that’s not something for the localization to add in on its own. They’re trying to bring you the Japanese scenario, in English, not write a new scenario. Second, he’s not, at least not in that moment, based on his other dialogue. Third, the localization makes him say the same thing later in the game:
Is he still so irrationally angry hours and hours of playtime later, after they’ve more or less made up? I hope that clarifies the issue with this line for everyone. If you still don’t understand why it’s a horrible line, please go up and read it again.
Finally, if you think he only makes violent threats to Kor, nope, seems like he does it to everyone:
So, the somewhat overprotective big brother has turned into a guy who is excessively sociopathic and violent. This is our secondary protagonist, people. What a great characterization for a feel-good game about Fighting with Your Heart!
If Beryl didn’t originally mix up her words every other line, don’t have her do that!
Originally, she occasionally mixed up words or idioms, and usually Kor or Hisui made fun of her for it when it happened. But that was relatively infrequent. Now, I guess they’ve decided her thing is to do this every other sentence, even with really simple phrases like “turns ugly”. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty cute when she does it with harder or less common words or phrases (“Lies! Falsehoods! Mendicity!”)… but when she messes up such simple words, you have to wonder if she doesn’t have a serious speech disability. That’s not an impression your localization should create, unless the original Japanese script created that same impression (it didn’t).
I could show like a billion other screens of lines where she didn’t originally have a speech problem in the Japanese but did in the localization, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Also, don’t fail English-to-English translation and then fail to fix it in QA for 6 months!
In case you somehow need an explanation, in Tales games, with rare exceptions, you use items instantly and then have a cooldown timer before you are allowed to use another item. That meter there therefore does not indicate that you are “using” an item and “Using Item” is thus inaccurate and misleading. In itself, it’s not an enormous issue, but it speaks volumes about just how uninformed the localization staff were about the game they were localizing. Which you saw plenty of examples of above already; this one just sticks out as being an example where they could have literally left it as it was in Japanese without ANY translation at all and been fine, and yet they still screwed it up. AND, unlike most of the above examples, it’s an example of something that could have EASILY been caught in QA by basically anyone… yet it somehow made it through QA. Was there QA?
Also, if you’re going to randomly change half the characters’ names for basically no reason, at least pick less terrible names to change them to!
“Ultra Marine”? Really? Shouldn’t you have at least made that one word, if you’re creating a reference to ultramarine? As it is, he sounds like he’s straight out of Call of Duty. Why change it, anyway? Surely changing one mineral reference to another isn’t really necessary? I guess it’s to be expected, since they went ahead and mostly unnecessarily changed Shing Meteoryte/Kor Meteor, Donna/Kardia, Zektz/Sydan, Écaille/Coral, Sango/Aqua, Obb/Aubert, Siddi/Cinnabar, Ann/Annaberg, Pearl/Perl (???), Scheela/Sapphire, and probably others, too. I would like to especially point out that Aqua’s original name, Sango, actually MEANS Coral, so it’s really ??? that they called Écaille (French for “scale”) that instead. I guess they thought they were being cute since Ultra Marine and Aqua (Marine?) are father and daughter, but just ugh. Does that mean his first name is actually “Ultra”? Seriously?
(Before you think I’m just hating every change they make, there are several name changes/translations that actually hit the mark: Lithia, Ines Lorenzen, Pyrox, Tourmaline, Cassiter, Alexandre, Smithson, and Amethyst. These are great; the problem is all those other ones.)
Most of these things I’m pointing out have one thing in common — they could have simply Not Fixed It because It Wasn’t Broke and it would have been fine. Instead, they went well out of their way to make a miserable trainwreck out of it. In other words, I’m not panning the localization for a lack of basic translation or writing ability — in fact, those are at a pretty good level! I’m panning it for piss-poor direction and heavy, completely unnecessary overzealous editing without any proper QA to balance it out that display a profound lack of sound judgment on the editor/director’s part. And no, this is not standard practice for a localization; all localizations change stuff and/or flub some translations, but this one stands out, at least among big-name JRPG titles, in terms of the sheer scope and staggering enormity of the lack of wisdom displayed in some of the changes. Any single one of these wouldn’t be that huge a deal by itself, but when there are so many such examples everywhere, the sum total isn’t pretty. It’s a shame, because except for the glaring errors every couple lines, it’s really otherwise decently-written.
You might have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned my favorite topic, Artes, yet. This is not because they didn’t have some incomprehensible Arte naming decisions that make Xillia 2’s debacle look like a masterpiece, but because unlike Xillia 2, there is so much wrong with the core localization that relatively minor details like Arte names that I was happy to spend an entire huge post discussing last time barely warrant a mention. If I spend my post nitpicking tiny details, like I did for Xillia and Xillia 2, that probably means all is mostly well. If I spend my post ranting about how it’s flawed in basically every way, you guys should probably be worried about the quality of this and future titles.