Playing Final Fantasy X… in Italian! – Part 2

This is the second (and final) installment in the Final Fantasy X Italian series, as I’ve finished the game. Playing through the game is fun as well always, but it’s also very interesting to see how translators choose to get the meaning across of a work of fiction. In my opinion, fiction can be much harder to work with, especially if it’s of the fantasy genre. Fantasy invents entire worlds, languages, and hosts of new words to describe the universe. I qualify this with works such as The Lord of the Rings, which is the prime example of this situation, considering it has several whole languages translators have to deal with, as well as several cultures, which were concocted in English. The translators for The Lord of the Rings must have had their work cut out for them.

Anyway, the topic at hand is Final Fantasy X, a game from Square Enix, released in 2001, and re-released in HD on the PS3 in 2013. For the past week or so, I’ve been studying the game in Italian. The dub is in English, but subtitles and other game text are all in Italian. This makes for great study material, as you can accumulate vocabulary and immerse yourself in the language. You can read about my analysis of the first half of the game here, if you haven’t already. Now, let’s get started with Part 2!

The mode of address for authority figures and normal people is made very distinct.

I should have noted this in the first part of the game, but it is much more present in the second half, as the story much more heavily involves authorities and the government in the world of the game. In Italian, as in all Romance languages, there is a tu-vous distinction, or a distinction between a non-polite and polite form of address in the second person. Perhaps due to the pseudo-medieval context of the game, translators chose to include the third mode of address, reserved for authorities, particularly rulers and religious authorities, which is somewhat outdated in Italian in the real world. The central religious organization of the world of the game, the Church of Yevon, is run by four main figures, known as maesters. Lower on the social ladder are the summoners, who serve to protect the people under the Church’s control. Both of them are often addressed using the second person plural pronoun, voi. Though it is effectively the plural version of the pronoun tu, the non-polite second person pronoun, the use of voi toward a single person is a gesture of great respect, the second person version of the royal “we” in English. In the English version, this is not made apparent through the pronoun you, but rather addressing the figure in question as, “My lord/lady”, “Milord/milady”, “Lord/Lady summoner,” or “Your Grace”. This imparts the same effect as using voi, which is very interesting as a stylistic choice. Another nuance that has, perhaps unintentionally, been added to the game in translation, is the shift between tu (non-polite), lei (polite), and voi (royal “you”). For certain characters in different scenes, this can express intimacy or contempt. This is especially powerful for one of the characters who has unwaveringly followed the Church’s teachings, and once she is branded a traitor for doing her duty, she is shaken, and one of the antagonists who attempts to use her is one of the Church’s maesters. She noticeably shifts from addressing him with voi to using tu, which, under normal circumstances, would not only be rude, but is much more immediately indicative of her character development, from being polite and respectful to all superiors without question, to making decisions for herself. Since the game was originally in Japanese, this might also be more apparent about her in Japanese in a similar way, considering the much more complex system of formality, respect, and connotative pronouns than those in Western languages.

A very crucial detail to the story is completely left out until a point where it basically doesn’t matter!

This is less an analytical point, than it is, in my opinion, a mistake on the translators’ part. This detail (unavoidable spoilers here) concerns the objective of the summoners’ pilgrimages, which is to train to receive what is known as the Final Summoning. This is a supernatural power that allows the summoner to defeat the destructive force known as Sin. However, there is a catch: the act of doing so takes the summoner’s life in the process of the summoning. This calls into question as to whether this is even ethical or worth the effort, considering Sin reappears two years after it is defeated. Now, he translation in Italian does not articulate this at all. It simply states that the summoners will defeat Sin, and will die doing so. (“Sconfiggerà Sin.. ma anche lei morirà!“; that is the line from the game, almost verbatim.) For those of you who don’t know Italian, this line does not explain that the Final Summoning itself kills the summoner. In fact, it might actually imply that the summoner dies as a casualty of the battle against Sin!

This is repeated in the same manner over and over again, until a point much later in the game, where a person explains that the summoner will perform the Final Summoning, die, and Sin will be defeated temporarily. At this point in game, you’re about to fight the person responsible for granting the Final Summoning to the summoners, which completely eliminates it from the equation and as a plot device.

I suppose, if you’re an Italian speaker with some knowledge of English and you can understand most of what is said to you, this does not present a problem. However, what I feel is more likely, is that Italian speakers are depending more on the subtitles for information, rather than what is being spoken aloud. Not to mention that the Italian text that shows the fact explained above is somewhat “blink and you miss it”. This, I consider an egregious error.

The concept of an “unsent” has more than word used to translate it.

More explanation here: an “unsent” is a person who has not received a sending, a supernatural funeral of sorts, which was explained in Part 1. This ceremony is required to make sure that the souls are laid to rest in peace. If they do not receive this ceremony, they either become fiends due to their resentment of the living, or they become an “unsent”, which is effectively their body and mind (some simplification here) bound to the physical world by the sheer force of their will to stay alive and accomplish something they were not able to in life.

Now, the fact that this word has more than one translation is not an altogether bad thing, I think. Actually, it could be a good thing, since the word is a bit ambiguous or multi-faceted, whichever you think it is. Since an “unsent” is neither dead nor alive, and is still, in appearance, like any other person, it’s not exactly appropriate to translate it as spettro or fantasma (“specter” and “ghost” respectively). The words used to translate “unsent” are still debatable, however. Occasionally, in sentences where I might expect the translated word to be used, the word morto is used instead, which is just a dead person. Granted, this may not have been the intention, since the meaning of “dead person” is easily substituted for the same meaning in the sentences in question, in which case there’s no problem. The most consistently used word is non-trapassato, which is literally “non-passed-away” or “non-dead”. It’s just a negated form of trapassato, and in context, it implies a person who has been “sent”. Since the original Japanese used for the term is 死人/死者 (shibito/shibisha), which means “dead person/departed”, it’s probably the closest translation possible.

Despite my little qualms here and there with translation, it’s largely my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the game in a new way, and I still highly recommend this game in general. For language learners, changing the language of a game or a system is an invaluable tool to getting immersion practice, so I highly suggest that you do so at some point.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-post-series on Final Fantasy X. I’m considering doing this again for other games (in a different language, I suppose), among which I’m considering Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Please share this post on Facebook and Tumblr!

“Is Watching Foreign Language Movies a Waste of Time?” from Fluent in 3 Months – Response

I recently read through a post about foreign language films from Fluent in 3 Months (run by the legendary Benny Lewis; you can read it here). In this post, I’m going to address points made in the post, as well as discuss the worth of media in general as a foreign language tool. With that, here we go!

Movies/Media have to be studied actively. Passive watching is unproductive.

I’ve paraphrased it, but this is a very big point, and is true of most media in general, when you’re using it to learn another language. Even though I’ve watched Bollywood films for a good part of my life, why isn’t my Hindi-Urdu really good? That’s because I’m not paying attention to what the actors are actually saying. By focusing on subtitles, you’re tuning out anything you can possibly learn.

It’s a good idea to have the remote with you while you watch. You should find yourself pausing and rewinding a lot, to closely examine what they’re saying. If you’re watching something on YouTube, you can slow down the video so the speech is slower and easier to understand. Writing down the words will help immensely for remembering what you hear.

However, even though the post breaks down the method into, “Focus”, “Segmentation”, “Repetition”, “Engagement”, and “Subtitles”, I think one more thing should be added: “Searching”. In almost every movie, song, TV show, or whatever it is, there will be words or phrases that are repeated over and over again. Look for these! It will make your life so much easier when you can pick out what you have learned and what you haven’t.

I find the tip about trying to respond in the role of a character by pausing before the character answers really interesting. I’d never really considered it before, and it’s a great way of practicing synthesis, putting sentences together by yourself, rather than using set phrases.

Warning: the media method isn’t for everyone.

I’m sure that Benny Lewis is aware of this, but using media such as television and music is inadvisable for people who are starting out. This is especially true of music; languages such as Hindi-Urdu and Mandarin use vocabulary that is exclusively poetic, literary, or figurative. This isn’t helpful for a person who doesn’t already know a lot of basic vocabulary and grammar. You can read my views regarding this phenomenon in Bollywood cinema here.

Even for television, which is more likely to use mundane or everyday words, cannot be of use to a person who’s not familiar with the language at least at an intermediate level. For example, I wouldn’t recommend watching a Spanish telenovela when you don’t know all the tenses and moods in the language. For a language like Spanish, more complicated structures involving the subjunctive are commonplace in everyday speaking, and are essential to certain nuances that people wish to convey.

Currently, I’m studying the Italian text of a video game, Final Fantasy X (you can read Part 1 of the analysis here), and I have to pause through a 2-minute cutscene several times from time to time because there are words that I don’t understand. It also helps that I did the blog post, actually. But the point is that it doesn’t matter what media form it is, you you have to be able to understand 40% of the text/speech from the start (most of which is grammar and basic vocabulary), and the other 60% (more advanced/specific vocabulary) will come in time. I might be over/understating the the ratio, but it just goes to show that prior knowledge is necessary.

Pick a movie/form of media that you like.

I also have some reservations about using films that you know. Depending on the film, your target language’s dub either uses cultural contexts and expressions that are completely foreign to itself, even if they’re totally normal for you. This is a problem because it will present situations that the language isn’t built for. Unless the societies of two languages have a lot in common in other ways, it is unlikely that the dub of a film that was originally in another language can fully render all the intricacies of the original language. I’m not saying don’t watch the French dub of Disney movies to practice your French; just don’t depend on it as your sole source of foreign language media. Watch a film that was made in France/Canada for French speakers. As the original post points out, these authentic films will give you a glimpse into real cultural situations that the language was made for.

This is where we have conflicts over the question of fictional works. By which I mean, films/books such as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a prime example of an unhelpful text for learning a foreign language, at least at lower levels. The Lord of the Rings is highly literary in its style, and consists of fictional cultures and languages that may or may not have anything in common with real world ones. The point of this warning is for you to have some variety in what you learn from; venture from your comfort zone (media you’re familiar with and understand on a basic level anyway) into the depths of authentic, original foreign language material made for the people who speak that language. It’s not to say that reading The Lord of the Rings in Russian would be entirely unhelpful; it would be, but it would give you only insight into how a Russian native might perceive the Tolkien’s fictional universe, which is not unhelpful in and of itself.

My experience with Final Fantasy X in Italian is another example of this predicament. The universe of the game is not Italian, and so it doesn’t give me any insight into Italian culture, not much anyway. On the other hand, it does let me see how Italian translators choose to render fantasy, which is still a useful thing to know. I get my dose of Italian culture through what I read on occasion (Italo Calvino in Italian is pretty helpful), so I’d like to think I’m not deficient. You should have a healthy balance of both in order to understand a language.

I realize that might have been a lot to process, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll answer them as best and as quickly as I can!

Playing Final Fantasy X… in Italian! – Part 1

Recently, I changed my PS3’s display language to Italian, just for practice, as I rarely get opportunities to use the language anymore. When I loaded my copy of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, I discovered that the game’s text had changed to Italian as well! The dubbing was the same as in the English version, though. I decided to take advantage of this is as a learning experience. Since I’m playing this game for the umpteenth time, I know the script and the events of the game almost verbatim (I exaggerate, but I know the game very well). So far, I’m almost halfway through the game (just started the Thunder Plains, for those of you who are familiar with the game).

I’ve taken great care to note translations of text and character lines, comparing them with the original text (in English), as much as I can remember, and when there are cutscenes, the English dialogue helps me contextualize the words used in the text. I’m not sure whether the Italian text has been translated from English or from the original Japanese. Despite my experiences with Italian, many lines in the game are surprisingly concise, which is not what I expect it to do. Here, I’m going to note some interesting things I’ve found about the game in Italian. (I think it goes without saying, but SPOILERS AHEAD if you’re planning on playing the game; I’m trying as best as I can to not reveal too much about the story.)

  1. Much of the narration, as well as character’s lines in real time, are written in a somewhat literary manner, making extensive use of the passato remoto, a simple (as opposed to compound) form of the past tense, also known as the preterite. 

The use of this tense is to be expected in narration, as many of the events up until a certain point are told in retrospect, as a story, to the player. However, I was struck more by its use in the lines of characters in conversation, rather than through narration. For those of you unfamiliar with the Italian language, the passato remoto is an archaic tense, whose use is restricted almost entirely to literary and legal language. Some parts of Southern Italy use it as well. In modern Italian, the passato prossimo, also known as the present perfect, takes the passato remoto’s place. Currently, I’m guessing that the translators were going for an older style of speech in between modern times and pre-Industrial revolution, where the passato remoto is still in use, but the language is changing. The setting of the game is 1000 years after a highly mechanized and industrialized civilization is wiped out by a supernatural force, setting back the world’s people in technological advances, as they fear it will bring them destruction again. It might make sense that they would speak an older form of Italian, simply to reflect the setback. Then again, this is all speculation, as if it were me aiming for an older style of speaking, I might have changed the third person pronouns as well. Italian’s current (or rather most common) third person pronouns are lui and lei. The older forms, egli and ella are largely reserved to formal and literary contexts. In the game, these pronouns are not used, which would be odd, considering the use of the passato remoto, which is also formal and literary in usage.

(A side note on grammar/syntax: If you talk to some of the elderly NPCs (non-playable characters) in one of the rooms in Guadosalam, their Italian text is changed to reflect what is called the “old language of the Guado”, which simply changes the syntax of their sentences to something like OVS, putting adjectives before verbs and subjects at the end of sentences.)

2. The translations of various in-game terms for aspects of the universe can be odd or decidedly ordinary.

Examples include the following words: fayth, Sin, maester, pyreflies, sending and the Farplane. Let me explain a couple of things first about the universe. In the game, the world is plagued by a supernatural force called Sin, which, according to the priesthood, is the embodiment of people’s vanity, and is their punishment for using machines to wage war, destroying many things and killing many people in the process. The people depend on gifted individuals, summoners, to protect them from Sin’s wrath. These summoners embark on pilgrimages throughout the world to train themselves to receive what is called the Final Summoning, which allows them to defeat Sin, banishing it for two years at a time. The Final Summoning, as well as the lesser summonings that these summoners can perform, are enabled by spirits that reside in the temples of the land, called the fayth. The summoners pray to the fayth for their power and the ability to defeat Sin.

Now, in the game, the word fayth is an intentional “misspelling” of the word, and in the Italian version, it is called l’intercessore, or an “intercessor”. An intercessor is a person that prays on the behalf of others, or communicates with the Divine, as a mediator, to grant something to other people. In a way, this is what the fayth do, though it is the summoner who receive power from the fayth to combat Sin, not the other way around. Either way, this word has religious connotations, which fits into the context of the game, though I might argue it’s not entirely parallel in meaning.

Next up is the word Sin itself, which is left untranslated. The word “sin” is peccato in Italian, though the game is not using the word literally, and to be honest, I don’t really mind it.

Then we have the word, “maester”, which is one of four religious authorities who lead the people, and act in more or less governor-like capacity. The word chosen to translate it into Italian is maestro, which, truthfully, has a completely different meaning in Italian. A maestro is usually a teacher or other person who instructs in some way, such as conductor of an orchestra. I’m not sure the word is appropriate, as it lacks the religious connotations that, “maester” has, at least for how it is used in the game. Now, there’s not much you can do, considering that it’s not a real word in English, and they’ve done the best they can.

The next three words are related, so I’m going to do them in one paragraph. First is pyreflies, which are luminescent wisps that float around dead organisms, embodying their souls, sort of. They are called lunioli in the Italian text (unless I’ve misread the game text), which leads me to assume associations with the moon, which is not really what is going on with them. The pyreflies appear when someone or something dies, and they act on people’s memories and feelings to produce images of the dead. Left alone long enough, the spirits of the dead manifested as the pyreflies grow resentful of and angry at the living, their hatred turning them into monsters called fiends (mostri in the Italian text). In order to prevent this (it’s physically required as opposed to a superstition), a ritual called the sending is performed to grant them peace, laying their souls to rest. This ceremony’s Italian name is trapassato, which comes from the verb trapassare, one of whose meanings is, “to pass away”, or more formally, “to depart”. It carries the sentiment of the original word very well. My only qualm is that the verb is used transitively in the same way, though the actual word’s only transitive meaning is, “to pierce” or “to perforate”, which, to the native speaker unfamiliar with the game, and/or unable to understand English, would be exceedingly strange. Now, the sending sends the souls of the departed to a place called the Farplane, which is basically the hereafter or the afterlife, and is dubbed l’Oltremondo in the Italian text, which is literally “the world beyond”, which fits perfectly, in my opinion.

That’s all for this post, and I will be sure to write Part 2 of this as I get farther in the game, and I’m definitely going to be using my Final Fantasy games in other languages to learn more. I encourage you gamers out there to do so as well. I realize this was kind of long read, but I hope you found it interesting! Don’t forget to share this post!

The Plight of Localization in Video Games

Localization is a term that many JRPG fans are all too familiar with. Perhaps to the point of irritation. I count myself among the less intense fans of JRPGs, as the only series I actually follow actively is the Final Fantasy series. Among the more popular franchises are the Tales series, the Final Fantasy series, the Star Ocean series, and the Kingdom Hearts series. The more committed members of the fandoms are often critical of the English localizations of these games. And they rightly should be. Japanese is notorious for its very nuanced language and difficulty of translation to English, with its undertones to pronouns, non-distinguishing of present and future, and non-translatable words.

In the translation of various titles for English releases of these games, many meanings are inevitably lost. Some not so inevitably, such as in the infamous case of, “This guy are sick,” in Final Fantasy VII. When localizing, translators and directors both try their hardest to transfer as much of the meanings in the original Japanese version to the English version as possible. Many gamers who have played the original version and then the English version often complain about discrepancies. For example, in Final Fantasy X, Yuna’s final words to Tidus before he disappears are “I love you,” in the English version. However, in the Japanese version, she says, “Thank you.” These two sentiments are very different, and while it is definitely a fact that there are romantic feelings between the characters in the game anyway, what does this mean? Does this imply that there is a slightly, if not very, different relationship in the original story? My point here is that localization makes for a complicated case when trying to translate not only the words but also the story itself.

Another example is Final Fantasy VI, where the character Setzer says, “The Empire’s made me a rich man.” I haven’t played the game, and I’m paraphrasing from the article by Kotaku (linked here). Apparently, this was a mistranslation, evidenced in the improved GBA port, as the idiom translated actually meant the complete opposite in context: “The Empire’s been bad for business.” As the name of the article suggests, this one line changes the character’s motivations and place in the story completely.

Other difficulties lie in the voice acting. Japanese has a pitch accent, meaning that it does not inflect the pronunciation of words to imply tone, sarcasm, etc. At least, not the way English does. While a person speaking in English who is speaking fast, harshly, and loudly is easily identified as angry, this may not be the case in Japanese. This conflict between the two languages creates an interesting predicament: how are English voice actors supposed to play their characters correctly? While voice actors are told what a character is like and the character’s feelings about certain things in the story, it remains a daunting task to effectively reproduce the same effect as in the original Japanese version.

This was a little bit of a shorter piece, but I was really looking to write one about foreign language in relation to localization. Hope you found this interesting, and that you share this with your friends! Feel free to leave some comments as well!