Pretty much just don’t be Namco and you’ll be fine.
Tales of Xillia 2 is out! And as reasonably good as the localization seems in other regards (available now for your PS3!), I can’t help but groan at the recent continuing trend of absolutely miserable Arte naming. This will be another boring post where I rant obsessively about how Namco screws up yet another minor facet of our beloved series for all us hardcore nerd fans, etc., so if you aren’t interested, I would recommend leaving now as I won’t have anything else of interest to say. Still here? Good!
A Brief History of Arte
Let me start by recounting the series history as it pertains to Arte naming. The first Tales game to come out in English was the original Tales of Destiny for the PSX back in 1998. That game had some really goofy Arte names (e.g. Missile Sword for Majinken/Demon Fang) as well as names that have endured to this day (Tiger Blade for Kogahazan). I can’t recall which was the next game to be available to English speakers, the fantranslated Tales of Phantasia for the SFC/SNES or the officially localized Tales of Eternia (then called Destiny II, not to be confused with the forthcoming Destiny 2), but both used an entirely different Arte naming schema than the original Destiny — Phantasia because Destiny’s naming often made little sense, and Eternia because lol Namco. In case you’re not familiar, Eternia had gems like Demon Hammer for Tiger Blade and Sonic Blade for Demon Fang, and was also the first game in the series to use the word “Arte”, though it wasn’t adopted as the official series terminology for all characters’ special moves until Abyss.
The point is, this was an era when the names weren’t standardized and varied from game to game. When it first came out, Symphonia seemed no different — it ignored most of the previous Arte names to establish its own naming system. Fantranslations of the time (e.g. Phantasia PSX by Phantasian Productions as well as my own Narikiri Dungeon menu patches) pretty much just assumed they would change it again with the next game and either stuck with the romanized spellings of the Japanese Arte names (e.g. Majinken for Demon Fang) to avoid confusion among fans or translated the Japanese to form their own names, e.g., Demon Blade, Tiger Fang, and Lion’s Roar instead of Demon Fang, Tiger Blade, and Beast, respectively.
But then Legendia was released. Lo and behold, Legendia stuck with the Arte naming conventions established in Symphonia. And then later on, Abyss did too. What black magic was this? I hope I’m not giving too much credit where it’s not due, but this was the magical Peter Garza era — the time when Namco figured out that changing your names around every game willy-nilly is probably not a great idea if you want fans to be able to connect and share their experiences across entries in the series. Cless of Phantasian Productions also switched the Arte names used in his Phantasia fantranslation over to the official name set early in this era, as he realized that Namco essentially got its crap together and now knew what they were doing. Let’s keep in mind that Destiny and Destiny II (Eternia) were low-budget affairs, though still relatively well-localized, and they sold rather modestly. Symphonia, from what I recall, received significant localization support from Nintendo, who wanted a killer JRPG for their Gamecube, and a much higher quality localization with top voice actors. It sold very well and paved the way for high-end localizations of future titles.
To be fair, there were some issues, like Symphonia calling the combination of Tiger Blade and Lightning Blade Lightning Tiger Blade, even though the Japanese name of the Arte was actually totally different from its component Artes and referred to an Arte that Cress from Phantasia got early on. This became awkward when Phantasia GBA was released in the West and Cress learned Lightning Tiger Blade before learning Tiger Blade. But it was easy to see how that happened — a lack of foresight and/or series familiarity caused the Symphonia localization team to make a decision that seemed to make perfect sense at the time. It wasn’t a huge blunder. Radiant Mythology and Phantasia GBA had some questionable Arte names as well, but as they were budget/escort titles, it didn’t really count.
By and large, fantranslation teams as well as the Tales community embraced the new Arte naming schema. It represented a sort of core logic common to all games in the series, where you could pick up a Tales game and find something familiar even if each game has a different story, setting, and characters than the other games in the series. Fans brainstormed and came up with proposed Arte names for the Artes that hadn’t yet been christened by Namco that would mesh well with the existing system. The Absolute Zero fantranslation of Tales of Innocence is especially notable for doing this since it was actually completed and released to the public, but there was also much discussion by fans regarding what the Arte names should be in Destiny 2, Rebirth, Destiny R, Hearts, and Graces (before Graces f was announced for the West). I know this because I participated in every one of these discussions like the true Arteist I am.
But then something went wrong. The official Tales series forums (sometimes known as TOSF) sputtered several times before finally dying, fragmenting the fanbase as well as consigning much Arte discussion to the abyss of the internets. Xillia came out and it had some incomprehensible Arte naming decisions, which I already talked about. What we’ve seen of Hearts R is even worse. Symphonia had some questionable Arte naming decisions because the series wasn’t big yet and the localization team either wasn’t aware of Phantasia, didn’t think Phantasia would ever come out in English, or didn’t really have the time to consider the impact of its Arte naming decisions on every unreleased game in the series. What was Xillia’s excuse? It managed to muck up for no reason whatsoever a long-established Arte that had been consistent ever since Symphonia (Light Spear > Tornado Drive), it randomly changed Arte names that didn’t need changing (Round Edge > Shimmer Spin), and it managed to make awkward messes out of Arte names that would be used in the game’s direct sequel, which was already out in Japan and which Namco was probably already planning to localize! (Hello, Ludger and your water-element Tide Bullet Arc Fire.)
Which brings us to the main topic of conversation, Xillia 2. How did it fare?
Kangaroo Returns: Tales of Xillia 2(014)
Right from the start, Xillia 2 has Arte names that I can only describe as staggeringly incompetent. I’m sorry, whoever approved this, but it needs to be said. It’s not even the Japanese-to-English translation that was the problem here, though that is part of it… it’s just common sense. What kind of everyday JRPG hero starts with a move called TIME DISINTEGRATION? Like, seriously? Hey, guy dressed in a shirt and tie, let’s see if you’ve got what it takes to join our company. Oh, you know Azure Edge and TIME DISINTEGRATION? Alright then, drop off your resume and we’ll get back to you. Huh? I’m really not getting this. What Artes did the other applicants for the job know? Finality Deadend and World Destroyer?
But let’s talk about the translation aspect of this Arte. In Japanese, it was Nakishigure (鳴時雨), which means roughly “Crying-Rainshower”. If you’re any kind of astute in the Arte of Arte Naming, you’ll know that this sort of name tends to refer to the Sword Rain line of Artes — the original Arte was Cress’s Akisazame (秋沙雨), or “Autumn-Sand-Rain”, which became Sword Rain: Alpha. Sure enough, if you check previous Artes in the series, you’ll see that a previous Arte shares the final two kanji with our friend TIME DISINTEGRATION. That Arte is Lloyd’s Zankou Shigure (斬光時雨), or “Slice-Light-Rainshower”, which became Sword Rain: Beta. What does the Arte actually do? It’s a series of slashes that ends in a final slash, sort of like Sword Rain: Beta. So the obvious choice of translation would be something that refers to Sword Rains, maybe even Beta. Maybe Sword Rain: Lambda? Maybe Crying Rain? Falling Rain?
Oh, but this is if you interpret the final two kanji together! If you separate them out, you get a meaning of “Crying-Time-Rain”. Oh! Time! Yes, definitely sounds like we need to call it TIME DISINTEGRATION. I’m not sure if I can communicate in this space how disgusted I am with this. It’s a failure on all fronts. The translator somehow saw the “Time” kanji and thought it had to do with time. The editor (or is this still the translator?) decided that it should then be called TIME DISINTEGRATION, instead of Interminable Rain or something else that would make sense given “Crying-Time-Rain”. Where exactly did this notion of Disintegration come from? The quality assurance guys (did they actually play the game?) never raised an issue that a move that is just a bunch of slashes is called TIME DISINTEGRATION, nor that it seems inappropriate that this is a move you have from the start of the game when you are supposedly just an everyday normal guy, before you even get any fancy space-time powers. (Or maybe they did raise this issue but it was never addressed?) I could have come up with a better name for this Arte without seeing the kanji, the description, or the move in action. Hell, I could just jam popular Arte name keywords together. For example, off the top of my head… Fangstrike Megablast Storm. Perfect! I jest, but this is really how I imagine it went at Namco’s offices. Except worse. How exactly did this make it into the final release of the game?
But at least that Arte didn’t already have an English name. They had to wrangle a name out of them Japanese kanjis. Sure is tough to do that, right? Well, let’s see how they did on some other Artes! One of the characters’ High Ohgeez is named Cruel Gravity (クルーアル・グラヴィティ). You’ll note that the Japanese looks different — it’s not using the Chinese pictograph writing system. It’s literally Cruel Gravity, in English, written out phonetically using katakana. There’s no way to mess this up. So, drumroll, please… what it is called in the English localization? I don’t know!
What do you mean, I don’t know, you ask? Well, obviously the localization team didn’t, so how can I? It’s written as Malign Gravity, but the voice actors shout Malignant Gravity. Well, that’s just great. How did this happen? Once again, it’s an abject failure on everyone’s part. The number one rule of translation everyone learns is Don’t Translate Names Never Ever. Oh wait no, I’m not a blithering weeaboo — it’s Don’t Fix It If It Ain’t Broke. Your goal is to provide an experience commensurate with that of a native speaker of the original language — in this case, Japanese. This means that if it’s something the Japanese speaker would get but an English speaker wouldn’t, you have to translate it. If it’s not, then don’t touch it unless you have a good reason. The reason this is such a failure starts with the fact that a name change wasn’t needed in the first place. There is nothing Engrish or wrong about Cruel Gravity, so why change it? If you’re going to change it, you should have a good reason. From the name they chose, Malign Gravity, it’s obvious that they didn’t — it means basically the same thing and is not any less objectionable nor more accurate to the Arte effect. Further, malign is not often used as an adjective; it’s usually used as a verb. It sounds really awkward to name a move that a character is going to shout in such an awkward fashion. But don’t take my word for it — just look at the fact that the voice actors presumably also thought it was awkward as hell and changed it on the spot. Of course, either they forgot to tell the text guys to change the name to match, or the text guys didn’t bother to do it. And, naturally, the QA testers once again didn’t catch the error.
Do you see how this is a failure on so many levels? If it weren’t changed in the first place, there would be no mismatch. If it were changed to something non-dumb-sounding in the first place, the voice actors wouldn’t have had to change it on the fly, and there would be no mismatch. If the text guys made sure to make the change, there would be no mismatch. If the QA team caught the error, there would be no mismatch. But there was a mismatch, and it’s all over a change that was dumb and pointless in the first place. Why is Namco creating more inconsistencies rather than trying to reduce them? The effect may be slight, but it adds up. Don’t you think it gets awkward to have a conversation like, “Man, isn’t (spoilers)’s MA so cool… you know, Cruel Gravity?” “Oh, you mean Malign…gnant… Gravity? Is that what it was? Uhhh…” Whenever there’s a chance for players of the Japanese version (including importers!) and players of the Western versions to have an overlapping experience, shouldn’t you promote that instead of pointlessly squandering it?
Here it comes, you’re thinking. Kaji, how could this possibly get any worse, is what I’m sure you’re thinking. Naturally, it gets worse! At least Whatever Gravity was a new Arte not previously localized. At least Tornado Drive was only previously localized in Vesperia, which was several years prior… I mean, a couple years is a long time, right? At least they had to look it up and cross-check different characters’ Arte lists for that one — at least, if their translation memory software didn’t already contain it. Well, for my next example, I am going to present an Arte that they failed to correctly copy and paste from the previous game’s Arte list. And then they retranslated it incompetently. That, or they decided the previous name was no good and purposely retranslated it — again, incompetently.
That Arte is Jude’s Arcane Arte, Garou Houko (臥狼咆虎). In Xillia/Xillia 2, Arcane Artes are particularly powerful and rare, and most characters only have one or two total, which are also used to perform High Ohgeez. One could say that these Artes are more deserving of attention than most and are supposed to be more grand, almost as a character’s penultimate Arte. In Xillia, it was named Savage Roar. Jude does a couple flip kicks into the air and then punches the ground, sending a shockwave forwards. In Xillia 2, they saw fit to rename this Arte Recumbent Wolf. Once again, I am astounded by the incompetency on various levels. First of all, purely from an English standpoint, how is that supposed to sound penultimate? I could understand if it were a “lie in wait and then counter when the enemy’s guard is down” kind of move, but what exactly is Recumbent about flip kicks and a shockwave? Doesn’t Savage Roar fit that a lot better? Why change it? Well, okay, Kaji, you say, maybe they wanted to make the translation more accurate. Let’s examine that, shall we? The kanji mean “Recumbent-Wolf-Roar-Tiger”. Aha! So that’s where Recumbent Wolf comes from! Case closed!
Sure, if you suck. First of all, that ignores the other half of the kanji, which I’d say changes the meaning quite a bit. Looking at it from that perspective, Savage Roar really isn’t bad… I’d say pretty good, in fact. But second, you should look at what is between the lines. “Recumbent-Wolf” (臥狼, Garou) is really a reference to “Recumbent-Dragon” (臥龍, Garyuu), which refers to a hidden genius. Jude is a precocious young man who is already on his way to becoming a top medical researcher at the age of 15. I would say that’s pretty relevant. It’s also present in another of Jude’s Artes, Garyou Kuuha (臥龍空破), which was Dragon Shot. So what we should really be interpreting this as is “Genius-(Wolf)-Roar-Tiger”, or perhaps “Roar of the Savant Tiger”. Perhaps if they were interested in amending the original Arte name to make it more accurate, something like Acute Roar or Keen Roar might convey that meaning better. Instead, we have Recumbent Wolf, a name that neither matches the effect of the Arte, nor the real meaning of the kanji, nor what was used in the prequel to this very game. Bravo.
To quickly throw out a couple of other Arte name issues from this game: Chronos Collider (correct, but technically, it should be Chronos Blast to match Vesperia); Zetsuei (絶影) > Dark Projection (which sounds lame and is also not a projection of any kind); Matter Destruct[ion] > Form Destroyer (???); Shuukihou (集気砲) > Spirit Circulation instead of Center (Abyss) or Vital Flair (Graces f), though it’s true that it has slightly different kanji than the traditional version (集気法); Absolutedomination being shouted even faster than last time…
Am I supposed to praise this? Am I supposed to kowtow and say, “Be glad we’re getting the game at all!”, like so many of the fanbase who appear to be shameless enablers of this sort of subpar localization performance? I know this is only one small part of the game, but two things: One, it’s a part that most previous fantranslation projects have agonized over for quite a while and have managed to do a much better job on. It really hurts to see Namco pretty much just phone it in when the fans put a lot of thought and effort into it. And two, I think it speaks volumes about the localization process as a whole. One reason I’m highlighting Artes is that they’re easy to analyze because it’s easy to see the Japanese and English side by side without having access to the source files. It’s not so easy for the other aspects of the game, like menu text (e.g. item and Arte descriptions) or dialogue. It’s possible that the team is superb at delivering an excellent localization on these fronts but not for Artes, but is that really that likely? I’ll leave you with this armor description throughhim413 found in Xillia 2: “Reinforced around the chest to prevent having the wind knocked out of one.”
The wind knocked out of one, indeed. Step it up, Namco. I assume Hearts R is nearing completion and Zestiria is next on the list… cutting corners on the localization is only going to hurt you in the long run. Do it well and do it right. If that means leaving a bit of extra time in the schedule to let the team gel it all together, then you should probably do it. Idolmaster probably made enough money on the DLC to cover it, after all! Or if it’s because all the work is subcontracted out, you might need to make sure there’s a solid team inside Namco to handle all this consistency and QA stuff. Companies like Cup of Tea and 8-4 do fine work, but they don’t necessarily have the big picture, and in some cases they may not even be that excited about the game. In that case, you’ve got to be the ones to be excited. If Namco isn’t excited about Tales, why should prospective buyers be?
Thanks for reading yet another of my long-winded monologues, and keep an eye out for more Tales! Hopefully Hearts R and Zestiria will follow in the vein of Destiny R and not Phantasia GBA. I guess we’ll see.
EDIT: Here’s one more, which is either yet another poor showing, or actually really clever: Wild Combination (我威留怒・魂微音維紫苑, a phonetic kanji amalgamation/trainwreck that spells out Wairudo Konbineishion) becoming Sound and Fury. I’ve bolded two kanji; those are “Anger” and “Sound”, respectively. Presumably that is the inspiration for the name. They could have attempted to translate the kanji, which, if you interpret them through the filter of what the move actually does, very roughly suggest a meaning along the lines of “Authoritative Anger — Spirit Shard Garden”. But the Japanese players would know that the kanji are basically ignorable and only chosen to spell out Wild Combination. They’re only really there to lend a sense of Japaneseness to the move, since it’s Gaius. So it would make more sense to ignore the kanji and name the Arte based on its phonetic reading and given furigana, Wild Combination. This would mean naming it, well, Wild Combination, or maybe Wild Coalescence or Wombo Combo or something if they feel the original name is too awkward. In terms of translation/localization accuracy, doing that would have been a much better decision.
All of this is forgivable, though, if they knew what “Sound and Fury” was referring to and were trying to poke fun at Japanese Arte names and the idea of naming and shouting out your attacks in general. Sound and Fury essentially means a “silly and ultimately meaningless exercise” (see: Macbeth). I can certainly imagine the translation team seeing a bunch of these kanji trainwreck Artes, especially coming off of the base name of this Arte, Senkenzan’u Gaou Senretsukou (閃剣斬雨・駕王閃裂交), seeing another trainwreck, getting frustrated, and wanting to make fun of this quaint Japaneseism. Of course, given the previous examples, I can just as easily imagine the translation team seeing “Anger” and “Sound”, throwing their hands up in the air in frustration, and going, “Let’s call it Sound and Fury!” without any conscious idea of the meaning behind that phrase. In the former case, the Arte name is clever and fitting (if inaccurate), and in the latter, it’s just pathetic. It would be awesome to get confirmation on which one it is, but I don’t know if anyone from 8-4 will want to comment given my unrelenting bashing of their Artework, assuming they’re the ones working on it and not an internal team at Bamco. 😛 (It’s all in good fun!)
EDIT 2: (Arena cameo battle spoilers!) Oh, and can you make up your mind on whether ToP GBA is kosher or not? You used Distortion Blade from there, but not Dark Blade, instead opting for the wildly inaccurate Eternia name of Final Justice. And then, hilariously, you named Cress’s Kuukan Shouten’i, which was the badly-named Lunge in ToP GBA, Chaos Lunge, which is the name of an entirely different Arte (Ten’i Souhazan). Even though the Arte was also translated in Eternia with a much less stupid and therefore usable name, Eternal Slasher, in case you felt the admittedly understandable need to call it something other than just Lunge. Meanwhile, Stahn is rocking the Thunder Beast mistranslation from Radiant Mythology; it should have been Fiery Beast as it was in Symphonia and Graces f. Because, you know, nothing screams “thunder” like a giant fiery explosion.
What the hell is going on over there? Have you considered consulting with fans for handling series references like this? Between this and the cats it seems like you need a hand.