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Localization, bastardization, and the fine line between both.


The world of fiction in entertainment is a strange one indeed. Where do unique ideas come from, if such exist to begin with? Can a writer's vision be realized when writing with a team? Is this vision apparent to those consuming said entertainment? And more importantly, can this vision be preserved in localization? Ideally, the writers would supervise localization attempts to make sure the product doesn't lose anything when brought over, but you can't really expect creatives to master a vast number of languages and spend additional time doing supervision work instead of creating.

Gaming has changed a lot from the NES' broken translations to modern games, but one thing remains the same: The desire to bring a game to audiences all around the world. So what's the best approach to making sure a product adapts around the world without losing what made it special? I don't pretend to have the answer, but here are some thoughts on the matter regardless.

Adding flavor to the mix

Not all languages are born equal. While Japanese is not easy to learn, for example, its sentence structure is very basic. As such, translating word for word can lead to rather dry or unnatural dialogue. In order to make characters more memorable, it's a good idea to change the structure of sentences or add a couple idioms to help the text flow better while keeping the general idea intact. That's perfectly fine, and expected.

I used to write quotes from this game all the time when I was a kid, without realizing how much I must have looked like an edgy piece of shit

You might want to go further than that to make the dialogue really stand out. You might accentuate the quirkiness of characters in their dialogue by the words they choose and how they speak, even if doing so might stray away from the author's intent. One such example is Ted Woolsey's infamous changes in Final Fantasy VI, completely making up key phrases like "son of a submariner" for Kefka (fitting his quirky behavior) or "call me a treasure hunter" for Locke (he disliked being called a thief in the original). And while that goes a long way towards making key moments stand out, it's also a fine line to thread. The character could end up being interpreted completely different than the original version.

Pop culture killed the video star

Memes, am I right? Can't live with them, can't live without them. Wish I could say I hate them, but I'd just look like a massive hypocrite until I remove my AESTHETIC blog banner. 

But seriously, pop culture references in video games are a tricky matter. While they might appeal to a certain demographic, they can also make a game feel dated much more quickly.

This reference feels older than the ruins.

So yeah, I just don't think popular internet references like this, "my body is ready" or "over 9000" should find their way into works of fiction, especially when references weren't in the original script. It gets touchier when the game is based off real life, in which case being a memelord or visiting meme-ridden websites can be part of the original script. There are multiple ways to follow the original vision there. For that authentic Japan feel, you might keep the Japanese pop culture references with explanations, like Steins;Gate did, and risk alienating a part of the audience. Another option is to replace the references by our own, which conserves the tone but could make a couple of hardcore fans mad. Can't win every battle, though the former will probably stand the test of time better thanks to the descriptions.

Change for change's sake?

Despite the possible benefits of changing script during localization, it's also very risky. Sometimes the existence of changes is very noticeable... In some cases, like Phoenix Wright taking place in the US despite it having "noodle shops" and "medium villages" all over the place, it's jarring yet funny and charming at the same time. Other times, it can be seen obnoxious, condescending or even kind of insulting to the reader/watcher/player.

Do they think we're not good enough for the original version?

Being French Canadian, I can give you two examples of localization going very, very wrong in an attempt to appeal to "my culture". Tintin's "Colocs en Stock" and Mario Galaxy. Both attempted to write out dialogue for the characters in a very specific dialect called "joual", which is similar to old French pronunciation. Little bit of history, "joual" comes from a mispronounciation of "cheval", or horse. This dialect basically consists of mispronounced French with some poorly conjugated verbs and duplicated pronouns thrown in. Orally, this can make characters sound like they're poor working class citizen, perfect for plays that take place in the real world for example. In Tintin's world travel adventures or Mario's fantasy trip through space, the characters speaking in joual makes as much sense as Toads speaking like they came out of a N.W.A. album. Written joual is also painful to read, being the equivalent of an entire script being written with typos everywhere on purpose. It's also a very dumb thing to show in a game for all ages since it might teach children to misspell, but that's a story for another time.

With Tintin's story, the original version "Coke en Stock" is still readily available so at least you could always switch to something that's actually readable. You were stuck with the terrible localization changes with Mario Galaxy, unless you switched to another language. By trying to "fit in" with a culture instead of sticking to the original material, those who worked on these localization made fools of themselves and more than a couple people of said culture angry.

The article's in French but you get the idea

Indeed, those responsible for localization have a great power put in their hands, the power to reshape the way an entire demographic will interpret a piece of entertainment. Thus, I think it's really important for the localization team to respect the original work, and try to respect the author's vision.

it was at that point when i was distracted by stevens hot ass

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About TheBlondeBassone of us since 11:32 PM on 12.03.2015

Fr͞e͝n̡c͜h C͞a͠n̵a͝d̀ian game̶r̸ th͏at ̷h͡as t͏ra̕ņscen͡d́e̶d ̨humąn f̷lȩşh.̵
̀C͘urr҉ęnt̀ gen ͘s̵yste҉m̡s̡ us̶ed̕:͢ ͞PS4, ̛Şw̨it҉c͡h,̵ 3͡DS̴,̵ ͏Vi͠tà,͢ ̵P͝C.
Now͏ á real d́eal͠ ҉em͞p͢l͝ơy͏ed̷ sof̕t̀w̛a̶r̸e̕ ̴e̶ng̵iņeer͞!