Final Fantasy XII vets talk game localization

PAX 2009: Former Square Enix localizers Alexander Smith and Joseph Reeder present the challenges faced when translating Japanese dialogue.

Who Was There: Former Square Enix employees Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder share the process of game localization with the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo audience on the final day of the show.

Final Fantasy XII's characters may look English, but it sure isn't their native tongue.

What Did They Talk About: Smith and Reeder's presentation went over a laundry list of points they keep in mind as they tackle a localization project. Using Final Fantasy XII in most of their examples, they discussed what they do to create the best experience possible for English-speaking gamers.

One of their first key points was transparency because the writing in a game should never draw attention to itself. Smith pointed out the fact that Japanese game companies are now beginning to realize that good translators need to not only be fluent in both languages, but they also need to be strong writers in the target language.

Anyone who speaks more than one language will understand that humor can be difficult to translate because what is considered funny in one culture may not make sense in another. According to Smith, there can only be so many jokes about fermented soy beans, but he noted that the humor should stay and that he would sometimes have to step back to let the characters personalities shine through. He also pointed out that whenever he had the opportunity, he would consume as much pop culture as possible.

Cultures differ even among groups of gamers. What gamers expect from their interaction with non-player characters differs between the Japanese and Western audience. Reeder talked about how Japanese games don't try to cover up the fact that they're about to give the player useful information. An example he gave was the text, "Hey Vaan, this is a chocobo." Reeder and Smith would instead find a way to weave the important gameplay mechanics or instructions into the dialogue, without having it be jarring and interrupting the immersion.

Smith also noted that "translation should fulfill the potential of the target language." He went on to talk about how they had to rebuild the world of Final Fantasy XII and find something that would make sense to the American audience. Using accents was a way for them to immerse the player into the world of Ivalice, so the Imperials ended up adopting a British accent and the Resistance had an American one.

To pull off the accents, finding the right voice actors was also part of their job. They recruited several British stage actors to fulfill the roles of the judges in the game, as well as child actors to voice the younger characters. In Japan, it is common to have female actors instead of children play the role of the child, but Smith and Reeder agreed that while trained voice actors can be extremely good at what they do, they were happy with the decision to cast a young actor to voice the character Larsa in Final Fantasy XII.

Not only are the voice actors needed for their acting skills, but they also have to be able to time their spoken dialogue to the animation. It's common to watch cinematic sequences in games and notice that the lip movements are not synched with the translated dialogue. Smith and Reeder would spend days on a single scene, writing and rewriting dialogue so that it would fit the animation. Voice actors have to watch the video as it runs and time it while they deliver their lines. They went on to note that spoken text made up 7 percent of all the text in the game and took nine months to translate. The remaining 93 percent took another seven months.

Random Trivia: Wording for the bestiary in Final Fantasy XII was modeled after a Victorian handbook on medicinal herbs.

The Takeaway: It's clear that a lot of time and effort goes into localization, which can explain why there is usually a delay between the Japanese and North American release date for games. For those who are interested in getting into this segment of the industry, the panel's advice was to become proactive and seek out opportunities.

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127 comments
Meteora
Meteora

The English localization of Final Fantasy XII is simply marvelous. The bestiary entries in particular are very well written, I like how they took inspiration and influences from a Victorian handbook on medicinal herbs.

Please do the Internation version as well? Pretty plzzz

BrunoBRS
BrunoBRS

well at least we know why it takes so long for games like final fantasy to get localized... i mean, i knew they had a lot of work to do, but i never imagined it was that much... "good translators need to not only be fluent in both languages, but they also need to be strong writers in the target language." and should not try to censor the text, you spoony bard! :lol:

SyedMoeed
SyedMoeed

so what there saying is that language is a big problem.....well who cares i really enjoyed the game,the story was so long and the side quests were countless.....it was kinda fun playing it.

badiie05
badiie05

AAAHH so many memories of the final fantasy's haven't played it in a long time :P,

wahyudil
wahyudil

I will wait if this game come to PC like the last remnant ... I missed PS2 days ...

Raykuza
Raykuza

I loved how XII had a more mature style than some of the more ridiculous FFs. I think that the FF series is at its best when it's making games like Tactics, VIII, XI, and XII... And when it's not making silly ones like VII, IX, X, and... *shudder* X-2. (Even though IX was my favorite)

Fusion_Master
Fusion_Master

why isnt there a conjunction between se in japan and north america, so they can get voice actors to start redoing the voices as immediately as humanly possible? i am simply imagining they dont currently do something along the lines of this, seeing as we dont get the games for some 6 months later, sometimes longer. it doesnt seem like it would be too difficult to do

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

There is nothing worse than when dialog is translated from Japanese to English. It's painful to listen to... much too descriptive.. If your asking me if I want a glass of milk, you don't have to tell me that it comes from cows and that cows are mammals that have been raised on farms for 1000's of years... just ask me if I want milk.... It's almost like they treat everyone like they have a learning disability, or are 4 years old... I can't take it. They need to just write a separate script in English, and start with the English version and then translate it to Japanese.

Ruffin316
Ruffin316

Even so, this still doesn't explain why most voice actors sound like they're trying too hard to convey a certain emotion. Piccolo from DBZ is a great example; ever since the new voice actors for when they decided to air the rest of the Frieza saga, he's sounded like he was on the toilet. Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh! is another good one. I don't know what his deal is or what it's supposed to be, but he forever sounds like an evil dictator who's constantly trying - and failing - to take over the world. Still, this definitely explains the release gap in most foreign games.

OracleXIII
OracleXIII

the thing about the Japanese language is that it's not just grammar and vocabulary, there are thousands of language-specific nuances that simply cannot be translated into English, because they wouldn't make any sense.

skillz191
skillz191

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

StarvingPoet
StarvingPoet

What an interesting insight into this aspect of localization - and like the game or not, it really makes one appreciate the localization improvements that have come about over the years. Even within the PS2's life-cycle you can see a difference, simply compare the localizations between FF12 and Dark Cloud 1 to see the advancement of the philosophy.

02050muh
02050muh

whatever u all say... FFXII is one of the best game i've played on PS2!!!!!

PabloZ618
PabloZ618

Oh god... the game was so good!! And in my opinion they did an excellent work translating the game

NuKkU
NuKkU

Final Fantasy XII................god i hated that game and i love the final fantasy series heres hoping FFXIII doesnt turn out like boring FFXII

TheCrazed420
TheCrazed420

This is probably the best voiced FF ever. And yes, the facial animations were fantastic, a lot of times, they didnt speak and allowed the viewer to "get" the emotion of the characters through their facial expression alone, and it worked. Balthier & Fran's relationship was especially memorable.

brendameistar
brendameistar

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

system3142
system3142

Kasavin! GameSpot what happened to you...

frankfurter209
frankfurter209

I can't speak to FF12's translation but 7's was atrocious

Ranemoraken
Ranemoraken

I'm aware that others find ff12 derivative and boring, but the script was top notch. They used diction and language that was archaic but without breaking the harmony of understanding. The acting was above average, universally until near the end. If these two things had been mediocre, this adventure would be dismissable. Especially because of the peripheral involvement of our supposed leads - Vaan and Penelo.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

I don't know anything about FF 11 and 12, and from the sounds of things they aren't worth the time. I'm hooked on Dissidia, looking forward to 13 and am a HUGE fan of 7, so why can't they all be that good?

F_M_Z
F_M_Z

Worst characters ever for a final fantasy game =S

Mystearical
Mystearical

"Facial" expressions... LOLOLOLOLOL!!! This game was the most emotionless FF game (PS1 up) that I've played... good game? I guess... great nope! Worth the wait... nope

clearocean04
clearocean04

well they can say they did a good job with the va's and all that but i think everything was average. the only above average va was fran and cid the rest were either average or below average. there were alot of scenes where voice overs wern't needed couse the scene itself wasn't needed either. i think about 15 minutes of the game was spent on the inbetween scenes where this voice jsut goes on and on about nothing you care about inbetween chapters. i'd say this game was a little below kingdom hearts 2 quality wise. i've played games with much better voice acting story script. i trully hope they can get their act together and pull 13 off and make it a great game. cuz their company might buckle and collapse otherwise.

vlange
vlange

Y'all can talk as much crap about FFXII as you like - I was lukewarm on it myself because of the characters, like many others. That aside, however, the localization was top knotch. One of the best translations to English that has ever been done, and the guys who gave this interview deserve respect.

ThreeVo
ThreeVo

@Sircyrus The point is this.. Its not the merge that killed the quality, the timing of the merge is irrelivent. Pre S-E merge, we got one great Final fantasy game every year.. and between that, we as well receieved great first tier rpgs in the midst. Vagranat Story, Chrono Cross, Parasite Eve ect. Coincedentally, the S-E merge happend right at the rise of the next gen of gaming platforms. (give or take) Games are increasingly difficult to develop as technology advances, compared to ps1 era.. its almost impossible to fallow the same pattern that they did with the ps1 games. And square is not going to invest the amount of money and time that they have with XIII on a title that doesnt bear the FFname, especially for a next gen launch How many of those titles that you mentioned are for handhelds? even mobile phones, they are much safer and cheaper to produce. S-E merge has absolutley nothing to do with it, its just timing coincidence. Square and Enix finacially are one, yet ther porduction and developing habits are there own, it has been that way since the begining, this is just a result of more advanced handhelds capable of more output, and powerful home consoles requiring more effort and much more money. Your complaining about handheld titles? we havent even received a single first tier SE title for a next gen console yet, and you think square is on a steady decline?

arvbtx
arvbtx

@ Knutte79 Versus is going to be an action rpg (very similiar to KH being developed bt the same team).

slingshot_ylo
slingshot_ylo

FFXII was...okay, but I just had a hard time staying interested in it. The game's world was interesting but the dungeon exploration was tedious at times. You either loved or hated the different combat mechanics (vs previous FF's). Though they took a little getting used to, I liked them versus the old random battles. There was a little frustration and confusion at the outset, but it didn't take too long to adjust. The characters and story, however, just didn't grab me and pull me in. The voice acting and script were topnotch, but the characters just seemed so derivative of other FF's. Look at the similarities between Vaan and Tidus and from FFX (both in physical appearance and personality) for example. It just seems like it had been done before, and that goes for the story too. Let's see...fighting in the resistance against an evil "Empire"...where have I heard that before? (The Returners or AVALANCHE anyone?) Again, it was okay. However, there are better, more rewarding FF's out there IMHO.

AnelZukic
AnelZukic

First this wasn't a topic about FF XII neither about FF alltogether. The read was intresting, and to be honest I didn't know it takes about a 1 year to localize a big game :) and yes, FF XII is actually my second favorite FF, after FF VI ;)

Dualmask
Dualmask

FFXII wasn't my favorite. I was uninterested in the characters and the battle system (though the sequel, Revenant Wings, was pretty cool). I wasn't a fan of IX either, and I really don't like the CC series, but I loved most other FF titles to date, with VI, VIII and IV being my top three. Still, SE is my favorite third party developer and I always look forward to seeing what's coming next from them.

Knutte79
Knutte79

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

-Celeste-
-Celeste-

Square Enix doesn't "own" Star Ocean. Tri-Ace does. Square might have an agreement with Tri-Ace to publish it, but that is far from owning it. And while SE can't fail, it can evenually start falling down as people get tired of waiting 10 years for a game to come out. You forget that the powerhouse that had Final Fantasy almost went down after their movie venture. As JRPG's start to see a decline in the western world, it will be easier to see if SE can adapt.

lew_0911
lew_0911

I really liked the game. Except for Pharos. And Yiazmat. And damn Crystal Grande.

TruthOpinionSpk
TruthOpinionSpk

If XIII sucks, it is not the end of SquEnix, the world's premier RPG powerhouse. You forget, they own Kingdom Hearts, Star Ocean, Final Fantasy, and of those three there will always be rabid fans. SquEnix, as of late, is good with relating to angsty teenagers who are not understood by anybody, whose lives are, liek omg, so hard, and who think it's cool to look like a chick. SquEnix's answer to these teens? Ambiguously gay male protagonists who wear too many belts, parachute pants, and clown shoes. Oh, and all the characters must sport scenester weaves. INSTANT HIT.

2w-sephiroth
2w-sephiroth

Woah guys, i have played FF12 and really enjoyed it a lot. I was adicted to it like crack! I must say the only disapointment I had with this game is a little bit the story, the main character and how it ends. But they were so many things in this game that made me stick to it like glue. I am planning to play it again once I buy another PS2... mine broke and my PS3 in uncompatible.

bcole24242000
bcole24242000

FFXII was the worst of them all. I was bored out of my mind with this one. I couldn't relate to any of the characters. The story was about political intrigue, and it wasn't very intriguing in the least. The game was extremely easy. I would actually say of all the FFs this one needs to be remade with a better story and game mechanic. Good thing Square doesn't make the same game twice. I still love FF just hated FF 12.

Ashcroft00
Ashcroft00

I agree with you, leonheart_z. In my opinion, FF IX was one of the most underrated and underappreciated titles. After the flop that was FF VIII, I think Square realized that it had to get back to a formula that worked. Flying cars, etc. just wasn't what fans of FF were looking for. The characters in FF IX were entertaining and the story had more of the medieval theme that fans have enjoyed. Having played FF titles for the better part of 20 years now (I feel old just saying that), I think that FF IV and FF VI remain my favorite. I think I enjoyed RPG's more before the age of flashy graphics and impressive cut scenes. I liked the FF titles where Square focused on story depth and character development. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed a number of the more recent titles. I even enjoyed FF X more than I thought I would. In an odd way, I found blitzball to be an addictive "minigame." I agree that Square needs to get its "mojo" back. Crisis Core was disappointing and I find the Crystal Chronicles series too childish. The dialogue in the Crystal Chronicles series is like nails going down a chalkboard. Let's see how FF XIII looks when it comes out.

Juansolous
Juansolous

I like what Zidan400 said I feel that the series downhill also. As for FFXII I kinda like game, I'm just a RPG fan I love playing them. I sure Spuare has learned from the last few games and their competitors, if FFXIII sucks I may give up on it?

zidan4000
zidan4000

the best final fantasy games were on PS1 , FFX was great but not like the last ones,i think that FF series is going downhill since Sakaguchi stopped working with Square, he is the one that was giving final fantasy that special feeling, you get that feeling if you play Lost Odyssey on xbox360. despite that ,im still excited for ff13 because it looks like its going classic again with summoning powers and ATB gauge, gotta wait to see how the story will turn out to be , otherwise if FF13 flops its the end of Square Enix

Ryu_Ematsu
Ryu_Ematsu

Some of you are saying you don't like X because of it being made by Square Enix, but X was made before the merger. It came out a little while after Spirits Within and still couldn't help the company. For me, the gameplay in that one was weak, though I did like everything else. XII, I didn't like at all. Seems FF has been going down the drawn, though I do expect good things from Versus. Dissidia was good too. I prefer the Tales games though. More variety.

VengfulOne
VengfulOne

Didn't care about the characters too much. Story was bland. My least favorite FF.

leonheart_z
leonheart_z

@solidine, i totally agree with you...i really enjoyed final fantasy 9...way better than 10 and the later ones...played crisis core some months ago, and felt nothing...i just hope they get there mojo back ;)

randomfulness
randomfulness

hated that damn dungeon crawling near the end!

Hrestelan
Hrestelan

I always find interesting to know more of the process in making a game. Even if the game of choice is one I hardly care about. Never played FFXII, I couldn't stand the characters .

solidine
solidine

Never really played 12. It just didnt' grab me, and I didn't care for the combat. Personally, I haven't enjoyed an FF games since 9. Before that I loved them. They started gettign a little to long around 7, though I still managed to get through them, despite 8 getting on my nerves at times. X felt like a mishmash of ideas that weren't implemented properly, It didnt' help that I hated the world they were in, the boring, often underdeveloped characters, and teh rather bland music (there were a few tracks I did quite like). I haven't played an FF game since 10, aside from some of the spin offs, none of which wowed me.