Favourite Game Translation

With the sweeping arrival of a bunch of new and great Japanese games this year, my mind has, naturally, come back to thinking about game translation and how interesting I find it. I won’t claim to be super knowledgeable about it, but it’s a fascinating exercise into the art of translation and game production, combining the logistical difficulties of overhauling a game’s language (which might involve changing a lot of the programming) with the dilemmas of different (and equally valid) approaches.

Given my fascination, I’d hope that other people in this community would also enjoy talking about it, so I’d love for folks to share their preferences. It’d be great if you could give examples and substantiate on why it’s your favourite (particularly interesting? Challenging? Just a lot of fun?). I do know that translation can be an, at times, controversial topic, so I would appreciate it if folks would stick to talking up good examples rather than tearing down those they’d disagree with. If you feel that you can add to another person’s post substantively, it costs nothing to be nice and recognise people’s preferences while making the point.

The most recent examples of great translations that I can think of is, of course, NieR: Automata (Japanese-to-English), which doesn’t feel like a translated game at all. Finding fun and accessible ways of translating a variety of different manners of speech while (hopefully) keeping the meaning intact is a hard task and 8-4 definitely pulled it off.

(P.S. As I only have a firm grasp of English, my knowledge is limited. If you have a great example using other languages, feel free to add, that would be absolutely enlightening!)

NieR: Automata is done very well yes. A lot of care obviously went into it. I think Breath of the Wild and Yakuza 0 are two more great examples recently. Translations that they clearly enjoyed doing and had fun with.

I don’t know much about translating Japanese games, though I do find possible cultural translations that have to be made very interesting. (Cultural translation is, in itself, a very interesting process and you would be surprised about how much academic theories there are about this concept.)

What I do know is that I have recently noticed that games made by Ubisoft and Nintendo - especially the latter - have been translated into my native language (Dutch). This is very interesting to me since the Dutch language zone doesn’t share the same cultural aspects of translation with many other European languages; English television shows in the Netherlands aren’t dubbed but subtitled, and especially younger people are inclined to read English books in their original form rather than the translation (of course this comes with an interest in the English language itself, so this isn’t true for everyone - translators would go broke if everyone refused to reach the Dutch translations!)

Anyway, what I wanted to say with this is that to play Assassin’s Creed with Dutch subtitles, a Dutch manual, and Dutch prompts is almost a bit of an uncanny valley to me because I am used to having to rely on the English version of everything. All these concepts also make it harder to look up tips and walkthroughs online, because I have to translate back from English to get the information I need for the game. And, well, sometimes it’s simply annoying on an aesthetic level because some translations of well-established gaming concepts such as ‘looting’ just don’t work that well in Dutch. (By the way, I think it is possible to revert the settings, but the one time I tried this the game ended up resetting these settings the next time I booted it up.)

That said, it does make me hopeful that perhaps I could one day work for a translation agency where they translate my favorite games.

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NieR Automata is very good, it must have been really hard to find a way to fit the english spoken songs in the same framework as the JP one.

Vagrant Story might be my favourite because it felt like an extension of the incredible directing. Speech bubbles in a cutscene with intricate camera movement means a lot of importance is put in what is said, and the game does deliver in jp->english.

FF12 also knocked me out by adding accents and dialects in the english translation. The JP text is dry, but the EN translation adds so many things to flesh out the world of Ivalice. All of it dictated by location and class, as well as some otherworldly creatures speaking in iambic. It was absolutely unnecessary, but it made the game even more enjoyable and kinda became the flag bearer of a stellar translation.