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the third mode of address, reserved for authorities, particularly rulers and religious authorities, which is somewhat outdated in Italian in the real world.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!

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!