English As She is Spoke: Translation in Final Fantasy III/VI

I’m replaying through Final Fantasy III on the Super Nintendo (originally known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan), and noticed that the dialogue is much, much worse than I remember. Much of the blame lands squarely on the shoulders of a guy named Tom Woolsey, the translator for the American version of  Final Fantasy III, although there were clearly problems all along the line.

Some of the problems are simply due to technological limitations, such as only having enough room for a certain number of letters; other problems are due to untranslatable cultural differences between Japan and America, or to Nintendo of America’s own stringent guidelines, which demanded a heavily bowdlerized script. A skillful translator, given time, could have worked around these problems. Square, however, had neither to offer Final Fantasy, and so we are left with, well, this:

D'goh indeed.

Yeah...good point. Kefka just killed untold millions, and permanently rearranged the world, and all you have to say about him is that he is one shy of a six pack? That's like calling Hitler a little kooky, or making reference to that nutty guy Pol Pot.

Many of the concessions for the American audience are bizarre, such as this odd choice of an idiomatic phrase that isn’t particularly well known. Even worse, it’s a phrase that makes no sense in the context of this world. Are there six-packs of beer in Final Fantasy? Do people get wasted and ride chocobos around, screaming the Chocobo Theme song at the top of their lungs? Because I know I would.

Why do the residents of a fantasy town speak like extras from a 1940s film noir?

Worse than “outta” is the phrase “shuddap,” which pops up randomly throughout the game. “Shuddap?” It seems bizarrely inappropriate in the context of the world.

Gestahl is one of the big bads of the game. "Shriek!!! Just when we were within reach of a veritable bonanza...!" may be the least evil thing any non-John Travolta villain has ever said. I also question the use of the ellipses exclamation point combo: Does "...!" indicate a pause, and then further sudden surprise?

Subtlety is not one of the game's strong points. THE GAME IS NOT GOOD AT CONVEYING THINGS SUBTLY!!!

Excuse me Counselor Troi, are you getting any reading as to how Kefka is feeling? Hate, you say? Well then. I never would have guessed.

Kefka: A villain who feels strongly about certain things.

Typoz abownd.

In addition to the typo, this shows another thing about this game that irks me: sometimes dialogue appears in quotation marks, from no particular speaker at all. Couldn't they have just programmed the game to select one of the characters currently in your party to deliver the dialogue? It would simply be a matter of printing the name of a random character, followed by a colon. I'm pretty sure you can do that with computers.

One of the characters in your party, Cyan, talks in an archaic dialect...sometimes. People make references to Cyan saying thou more than he actually says thou.

Sometimes Cyan uses words like shan't and shall, but other times he uses words such as Hey. Just shuddap already, Cyan.

Just to be clear, although Cyan himself speaks as if he learned English from the King James Bible (most of the time, at least), his son apparently does not. Yippee!

This is a less a problem with translation than of purpose. Cid says this while sick. You are instructed to feed him fish until he feels better. This takes forever. Cid's statement perfectly matches up with what I was thinking while continually catching a fish, feeding it to Cid, and repeating ad nauseum. "I can't bear this any longer" indeed.

And finally, I leave you with this:

YO YO YO! WHAT UP???

KICK IT, HOMEY!

Curtis Retherford

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2 responses to “English As She is Spoke: Translation in Final Fantasy III/VI

  1. It was a huge improvement over the translation for FFII/IV, at least. 🙂 Maybe that’s why you remember it as better – standards were much lower back then.

    The GBA re-releases of IV through VI feature new translations – and they’re mostly improved, though there were a few bits I missed from VI’s old one. Such as when Kefka is asking Edgar to turn over Terra near the beginning, and Edgar responds “You see, there are more girls here than grains of sand out there. I can’t keep track of ’em all!” In the retranslation, the parallel structure is gone as he says “grains of sand in the desert.” It’s just less poetic. 🙂

    Overall, though, translations have gotten so much better over the years. In the retranslated Final Fantasy Tactics, I was actually able to follow the plot!

  2. Pingback: Re-Replaying Final Fantasy III/VI: Is Nostalgia As Good As I Remember It? « Multiplayer Singleplayer

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