I know I’m beating a dead horse at this point, in the forest, where no one that matters is likely to be listening, but it still has to be said.
GameStop UK’s Youtube channel released a series of three trailers for Tales of Hearts R. These trailers reveal profound issues with the game’s localization that go beyond superficial matters like whether the main characters’ names make any sense or not. I’m sure I will rant endlessly about this so let me summarize the point for those of you who don’t feel like reading reams of text: Every step of this localization looks like it’s done in a total vacuum. I am 99% sure it goes like this:
– The subcontracted translator writes a script based solely on the Japanese text, without the context of the scene the text is in or the voicework that accompanies that text. The translator isn’t necessarily a good writer, but that’s okay because the editor will clean it up for him, so many of the sentences may sound like awkward Japaneseisms.
– The editor doesn’t know what the Japanese text was originally saying, doesn’t have the context of the scene, and hasn’t listened to the voicework, so it’s his job to take sometimes confusingly written half-Japanese sentences and rewrite them into relatively decent English. It’s possible that he didn’t even know that the game wouldn’t get a dub, and thus didn’t appropriately limit the extent of his rewriting.
– The quality assurance tester plays through the game and checks for weird or awkward translations and reports them to the translator/editor for review. He also notes any spots where some programming work might be required. Unfortunately, they forgot to hire this guy.
– The programming team hands the localization team tools to help streamline their workflow and implements the programming changes needed for the localized versions of the game. Unfortunately, Japan simply doesn’t care about supporting overseas localizations. Please, Mr. Baba, I like you and you’re a bro, but you have to get the Japanese side of the company more involved in this process.
– The Tales research specialist and/or localization director/producer, a guy who would be with Bandai Namco USA rather than with the subcontracted translation company, familiarizes himself with series conventions and terminology so that he can make sure that the games have a consistent use of terminology and general feel, resulting in the buildup of a coherent brand image. Unfortunately, after Peter Garza left, they don’t appear to have found anyone to take this role. Or at least, if they did, he wasn’t assigned to this project.
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to drop the ball. It’s like a game of telephone, where the original ideas on the Japanese end get progressively more mangled in the process of coming overseas. The result is a mess of a promotional campaign, starting with a rather goofy localization announcement, a hilariously/depressingly poorly subtitled promo trailer, and now some rather disappointing gameplay trailers. Without further ado, let’s get to these trailers:
– Hisui’s line before the fight is incredibly off in tone. He sounds pretty angry and determined in his voicework, but is cracking silly jokes and sounding flippant in the translated line. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if there were a dub, but given that there isn’t, it’s a huge deal when you can tell something is off about the translation without even having to know any Japanese. For reference, what he’s really saying is, roughly, “I’m gonna kick this damn earthworm’s ass and take back Kohaku’s Spirune!” Was it so difficult to write something along those lines? What is the need for completely changing the feel of the line? Did the editor even know that the game wouldn’t be dubbed when he wrote the line? How was this not caught during testing, especially if they went ahead and made a trailer out of the scene?
– There are no subtitles for the characters’ voicework in battle. I can understand if they didn’t want relatively unimportant lines like “Hoo! Hah! Eat this!” popping up onscreen all the time, but there is plot-important dialogue that takes place during battle. There are similarly no subtitles for the victory screen after battle, where more important dialogue happens. This is 2014; there’s no excuse for not adding subtitles for this stuff. Hell, they added subtitles for Tales of Symphonia Chronicles when it was entirely unnecessary (at least, for the English version)! They added subtitles for Tales of Phantasia GBA (the European version, anyway). Might I remind you that fan translations that have to reverse engineer parts of the game just to add extra functionality regularly add subtitles? Almost every released complete Tales fan translation to date has done so (Phantasia PSX, Phantasia PSX by a different group, Tempest, and Innocence), as did the Hearts project before it was put on hold in deference to the official localization.
– The script is apparently manually linebroken to only use 2/3 of the width of the text box. What happened? Did they change to a thinner font partway through? Do they think leaving 1/3 of the box blank for no reason is aesthetically pleasing? This is another headscratcher. Honestly, the Japanese developers need to just get their crap together and implement word wrap in all their games. I know it’s a foreign concept to the Japanese, but literally every Western language uses it, so you might as well implement it in your text display routines from the start so your game is localization-friendly from the get-go. I might again remind you that fan translations also implement this fairly often so that editing the script isn’t such a chore. It’s also very useful for when you dynamically expand strings at runtime using sprintf() so that you can linebreak text like “Your party has obtained the [Super Cool Plot Whatsit]!” in a natural manner, where the stuff in brackets is a variable (“Your party has obtained the %s!”). It is logically impossible to achieve this via hard linebreaking in your script.
– Some of the Arte names are absolutely atrocious. Some of these are due to a lack of consistency with series terminology, but some are just headscratchingly horrendous even in a vacuum. For example, take Hisui’s first Strike Arte, Ara Taka (荒鷹). The kanji essentially mean “Wild Hawk”. A glance at his Arte list will tell you that all his Artes have a bird theme. Why, then, is this Arte named Mosquito Hawk, a type of insect? The first kanji sure as hell doesn’t mean mosquito or have any connection to mosquitos. There is no prior Arte in the series that associates that kanji with the word “mosquito”. What the heck were you guys thinking? Another great example is one of Kohaku’s Artes, Guren Kourin (紅蓮皇輪). You might recognize this Arte because it is simply Hell Pyre performed with a baton. Appropriately, the name is similar too, as Hell Pyre was Guren Ken (紅蓮剣) in Japanese (compare the first two kanji). You might also recognize this Arte because I previously discussed the logic behind naming this exact Arte. Based on the naming conventions established in the recently released Tales of Xillia, Hell Wheel or Pyre Wheel or somesuch might be appropriate, but really, anything that reminds you of Hell Pyre would work fine. What did they call it? Scarlet Halo. What the? It’s not at all a bad translation of the kanji in a vacuum, but it’s not even trying to be consistent with established series terminology. Let’s not even get started on Raijinga (雷迅牙, “Thunder-Quick-Fang”), whose lightning isn’t blue, becoming Blue Jet (an obscure electrical phenomenon involving blue lightning), or Shunjinken (瞬迅拳), sister arte to Sonic Thrust (瞬迅剣) and Sonic Dog (瞬迅犬), becoming Flying Jab rather than something sensible like Sonic Fist/Jab/Punch. Let us be clear here: You cannot rely solely on translation memory software and names you pulled out of your behind to name Artes, at least not if you want to build a coherent naming scheme across your series. Sadly, it appears that that is exactly what they are doing.
– There isn’t much text to translate in battle outside of Arte names and the voicework they didn’t bother to subtitle, but there is some… and they managed yet again to mess it up!
No, that gauge is not to indicate that you are in the process of using an item; you use items and apply their effects almost instantly. It’s a gauge that tells you how much cooldown time you have before you are allowed to use another item. Writing “Using Item” is thereby inaccurate and misleading. Here’s what it looks like in Japanese, by the way:
I know Japanese-to-English translation isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I had always thought of English-to-English translation as being quite manageable. Obviously, I thought wrong. Has any of the staff working on this game ever played a Tales game before?
– This is a minor point compared to the others, but… there was a reason I chose the Calcedony spelling of the guy’s name. One, it’s more natural to pronounce than Chalcedony (no, there’s no ch sound at the beginning), and two, he is often called by his nickname, which is his name shortened to the first syllable: Cal/Chal. The problem is that there is already a character in the series whose name is shortened to Chal — Chaltier from Tales of Destiny (it’s pronounced differently — shal-tea-eh). This will probably only be an issue if Calcedony and Leon ever show up together in a future localized Radiant Mythology game or something, but if I were thinking about overall brand management, I would avoid such a situation wherever it’s easy to avoid and call the guy Calcedony so that the nicknames are spelled differently.
– Thank God they named her Lithia. I am vindicated, hurrah! Makes me wonder even harder why they reverted Amber and Jadeite, though. Also makes me wonder if they correctly named her sister Fluora, and whether they ignored the silly Incarros and Kreed Grafyte spellings from the artbook.
– Gall? What? Whatever, it doesn’t matter.
– Are they seriously abbreviating Arte names? They have THIS much space across the top of the screen:
And they have to abbreviate it as Lightning T.Blade? Really? Again, this is 2014… cannot the Japanese programming team spend a day or two providing the overseas localization teams with the support they need to avoid silly issues like this?
– Again, Beryl’s line was edited in a vacuum. Here she is screaming and freaking out like the uguu moeblob she is, and the English line sounds calm and sardonic. What? Even if there were an English dub, this still wouldn’t fly due to her comically panicked character animation. For reference, what she’s actually saying is, roughly, “AAAAAAYYIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! S-So high! This is way too scary for me, let alone Kohaku!” In this case, the meaning is on point, and I like the second sentence as-is. The problem is simply one of tone, where her lines should sound more excited and scared. For example, maybe replace the first line with “Eeek! Oh my god!”.
– Hisui’s line as well. “Wh-What’s happening?!” Umm… are you blind and/or deaf? You just heard Amethyst, who you met before and who you know is your rival in this event, taunt you from out of nowhere, and then an airship just pulled up. You know exactly what’s happening. “What the?!” would be more appropriate here.
– I’m not sure Amethyst’s hilarious lines are really coming across here. He has a really silly monologue, all in his ostentatious Westerner accent. The translation has the general meaning right, but the way in which it is presented is just really obnoxious, rather than obnoxious yet hilarious as (I think) it should be. A rough, somewhat stilted translation, switching his ludicrous Engrish to Spanish to give you an idea: “The ability to figure out loopholes in the rules… Intelligence! ADEMÁS! That which I trained beyond my limits by taking ample advantage of my fount of money and free time… Strength! And finally… what allowed me to arrive at the peak by airship just as my rivals were feeling the effects of fatigue… Timing! I, who possess all three, am surely the one most fit to be crowned with the title, REY DE LOS HÉROES!” Hisui then says, “What do you mean, hero? You’re just a cowardly kook!” The key point here is the flow. Hisui isn’t just insulting him in passing; he’s specifically drawing attention to the fact that bypassing the entire trial with an airship is cowardly and cheap. Amethyst responds with: “You don’t understand… To so boldly enact such a cowardly plan in fact takes an incredible amount of courage!” A sound effect accentuates the crux of his argument. It’s extremely silly, but it flows. The way the script in the trailer has it, his argument about him having an abundant amount of courage is completely non sequitur. Hisui says he’s dethroned, and then Amethyst says he has a lot of courage. ??? Okay, so? This kind of flow preservation is really important to have the dialogue make proper sense.
– Bamco pls:
Okay, enough, now I’m just nitpicking. You get the idea. I’m hopeful that these videos are preliminary and that they still plan to add in subtitles and do a testing/revision pass, but I somewhat doubt it. If they’re aiming for a holiday release, I’m guessing that it will go gold in a couple months, so they’re going to have to work really fast to fix this up. They chose these scenes to represent the progress on their product, so I think we can assume that the rest of the game is in a similar or worse state. Personally, I find it quite lacking. I really want to support this localization, I really do. Mr. Baba seems to have worked hard to make the argument to bring it overseas. Fun fact: I preordered Tales of Graces f even though I didn’t have a PS3 at the time (and still don’t). It’s still sitting on my shelf, brand new. I bought it because I wanted to express my support of the localization team’s efforts with my wallet, regardless of whether I end up playing it or not. I was planning to do the same with Tales of Hearts R when I first heard the announcement (and perhaps pick up a Vita or Vita TV to actually play it). Now, I’m not so sure.
Come on, Bamco. Get it together and convince me, and everyone else, that your product is worth my $40-$60.