Many translators, when hired for a job, will translate the text given to them. Depending on the type of text and the company, the level of how much a text will change from the original will vary.
I’ve discussed before how localizations for video games which directly translate don’t work as well as those that vary from the original Japanese. In Ni no Kuni and Final Fantasy XV the localizations reflect the original meaning without directly translating them. This creates fun localizations that don’t sound like they’ve been translated at all. Then there’s Final Fantasy XIV……
The localization of Final Fantasy XIV hasn’t just translated the original Japanese text in a very creative and entertaining manner; it has shaped the lore for the game itself.
Creating brand new content through localization might be un-thinkable to some. Why would you change the original? Is the original meaning even maintained? But when you hear the localization lead and co-writer for Final Fantasy XIV, Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, you begin to see just how genius his process and decisions have been.
Michael-Christopher Koji Fox began working with Square Enix on Final Fantasy XI as a support desk translator. His relationship with the development team was strong and was eventually asked to lead the localization for FFXIV.
He mentioned in an interview with GamerEscape how all the localizers for Square Enix (including the French and German teams) are given a lot of freedom in terms of working. So him and his team have the freedom to have a lot of fun with the translation, which is evident in the localization!
Shaping the Character of FFXIV
In the same 2013 interview with GamerEscape, Koji Fox discussed how the great thing about his job was that he could approach the game planners and ask them what kind of person each character in the game was. This helped him get a feel for their personality to use when localizing their dialogue. Much better than being given a document with just the script and nothing else to go off of!
This led to a wide variety in how people spoke with one another. Every person will speak slightly differently depending on where they were brought up, what their life was like, their racial ticks, etc. It’s very interesting reading the different dialogues between different cities and different classes. For example:
- Limsa Lominsa (port town, lots of seafarers): “I thank ye fer takin’ the time to ‘elp me out. Now, I’m sure yer busy, so I’ll come straight to the point. – Baderon
- Ul’dah (middle eastern style merchents city):”‘Tis plain to anyone with eyes that you don’t know your way around here. If I let you go wanderin’ off down the nearest dark alley, you’re certain to get mugged or worse, an’ I don’t want that on my conscience.” – Wymond
- Gridania (town in the woods): “Ahem. Pay that outburst no mind. He meant only to…counsel you.” – Mother Moiunne
It’s hard to see just from these three examples, but becomes much clearer when you play the game how each character’s voice reflects where they’ve been and what kind of person they are.
The Main Story
When you play the main storyline in English you get a real feel of a high-fantasy adventure where the main characters are using very flowery language you’d probably find in Lord of the Rings. But, as Koji discussed in another interview with Duel Shockers, they did not change the original story.
“When it comes to story we make sure to try to stick to the original Japanese… The most important part of our job is to make sure that players will have the same sort of emotional experience.” – Michael-Christopher Koji Fox Duel Shockers interview June 28, 2013.
Creating an emotive equivalence in the localization is evidentially incredibly important to Koji Fox and his team.
Shaping the Lore of FFXIV
In the Japanese version of 1.0 the quests were all very straight forward. “Craft 99 leather bags” or “kill this monster” for example. This was often because of the levequests and other side quests, which were simple and repeatable.
In the interview with GamerEscape Koji Fox explains how he wanted to make the English text more engaging for the English players. So he would create a story around even the smallest of side quests.
He explored questions like “WHY does this person need 99 bags?” and created small stories in the dialogue to explain questions like these to the player. This made the gaming experience a lot more interesting and added to the lore of the FFXIV universe.
Some of the biggest changes in localization aren’t even in the dialogue but in monster/people/place/item names and quest titles. In the interview with Duel Shockers Koji Fox explains how these localization choices aren’t made just by him and the English localization team; but as a collaboration between the English, German, French localizers and Japanese writers. The language and lore of the world is developed by all the localizers which has even led to changes in the source Japanese!
One element of the game that I highly enjoy in the localization are the cultural references they drop. These are in the game’s quest titles. They are clearly entirely different from the source Japanese because of the sheer number of western cultural references.
Some examples include: “It’s Not Lupus” for a quest where you kill a giant crab called Cancer (TV series House reference); “Moon in Rouge” (instead of Moulin Rouge) where you collect makeup for Keepers of the Moon; “Saw, Shank, and Redemption” (The Shawshank Redemption); “No Pain, No Grain” (No Pain, No Gain), etc. You can see a list of a number of these cultural references here.
In fact, Koji Fox is very infamous for not only shaping the lore and language through his localization, but adding to it. He’s even mentioned slipping his own son’s name into the game.
He has also gone beyond just adding to the lore and shaping it, but engaging with it. Since FFXIV’s release he has engaged with fans of the game through a forum he created all about the lore! He says he tends to go on the forum every day to see what fans have discovered about the world; their theories for certain characters or stories; and what they think of the localization.
The Genius behind the Localization of FFXIV
It’s clear that Koji Fox isn’t just a localizer. He’s a die-hard fan of Final Fantasy. His passion for the game permeates his work and is clear in the fact that he engages with other fans.
His localization has made the world of FFXIV come to life to international audiences. Even Japanese players have asked for more interesting quest titles!
The elaboration of lore and then providing a place for fans to discuss said lore and localization choices, is genius. As an MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV isn’t just a game that players sit and play. But a game that lets them interact with one another. Providing additional space to do this draws some players in even more.
There are over 10 million FFXIV players across the world, 7.5 million in the US and Europe! To achieve such an international success isn’t just thanks to the game’s great world, story, characters, quests, and challenges, but how the localization was (and still is) handled for such a huge game. If the localization hadn’t been conducted by so many creative people nor led by Koji Fox, I seriously doubt it would be as much of a worldwide hit as it is.
Localizing games isn’t that simple. As discussed previously their localizations could be done as simple translations almost direct from the Japanese. But this isn’t as enjoyable to the player.
For a game to really be successful you need fans working on the localization. People who can get just as excited and involved in the game and the people you’re planning on selling it to.
This is certainly easier when you work directly for a company like Square Enix. But I think it’s still possible when working in a separate company like Shloc for Ni no Kuni.
Whether you localize game or not, I feel it’s important to enjoy and have fun with creative localizations. To get involved and go beyond just the localizing. To become a real fan.