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How Translation Killed Another Puzzle (originally posted 2009-01-30 on FortuneCity)

Ar tonelico II: Melody of Elemia. Great game, great music, thoroughly convoluted plot, and an engaging battle system. Unfortunately, it suffered even more in translation than most games do. Overall, the translation feels rushed, with some spelling inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, and more. Names suffered too, such as the "waath" (Hymmnos for "rebirth" or "renewal") in Luca's name, lost when someone decided to change the spelling to "Trulyworth" (while that interpretation is meaningful, it's not the only or even the primary one). Other names went through unnecessary modifications, too, like turning "Chroah" into an unpronounceable French-looking mess ("Croix" sounds like "croy" rather than "cro-ah", and I'm undecided on whether it makes it better or worse that the English voice actors actually say "croy"), and a number of I.P.D. names were completely changed for no apparent reason (the original spellings remain in Hymmnos, making this glaringly obvious for some with name lengths that aren't even close... though some of them don't match the Hymmnos even in the Japanese release). Apparently, it's even an overly-long line of text in one place that causes the game to freeze on the third guard round of a certain boss battle (hope you can inflict Massive Damage in a hurry!). The first game was by no means immune to translation gaffes (I particularly disapprove of turning "Mule" into "Mir" both for the pronunciation and because "Mule" is much more appropriate for several reasons including stubbornness—at least use something like "Myul"), but they're indisputably worse overall this time around.

This entry isn't about the translation in general, though. I wasn't going to write anything about it, since for the most part you can still understand what's going on, but I just had to vent about a certain event I just encountered. Fairly early in the game, Croix must make a decision... (minor spoiler, highlight to read)between protecting Luca or protecting Cloche, which then has a major impact on how the rest of the game plays out. The event I'm discussing happens in the next chapter on the Luca route.(end spoiler) One of the challenges you may encounter involves trying to select the "real" Luca out of a group of nine lookalikes, based only on what they say (there's also a Cloche version of this event). Or, to be more accurate, HOW they say it. Nuances of speaking style are typically lost in translation (since they simply don't translate!), but puzzles like this make it necessary for translators to be more creative and somehow find a way to make different styles more obvious, even if (and I wouldn't normally say this) they have to force the issue and make something up (outrageous accents, esoteric words, just as long as it's SOMETHING). How did the translators for this game do with this event? Well, you've probably guessed my answer already, but let's go into more depth anyway.

Fortunately for me, I was able to find a Japanese website that lists every one of these lines in the Japanese version of the game, as well as a wealth of other information about the game. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything similar for the English release, so I had to transcribe them myself, but that's easier than transcribing lines from a version I don't actually have, yes? Incidentally, the area is called "Love Flow" in case anyone's trying to Google it.

Let's start with the ones on the top left screen. These are overall the most obvious as wrong Lucas even in the English version:

"You insolent fool! Who do you think I am? I'm the royal maiden!" - originally 「無礼者!気安く話しかけるでないわ。余を誰と心得る。正当なる御子であるぞ!」

This one had better be obvious. It's a rather over-the-top impersonation of Cloche in both versions. The English loses the archaic tone, but is still obviously not Luca. So far, so good. And for those who care about such things, 余 (よ) is an archaic and haughty first person pronoun somewhat comparable to わたくし.

"Oh, my dog. Eat some Pippencuit over there." - originally 「あら、私の犬。貴方なんてぺぺんぺいでも食べてればいいのよ。」

Another no-brainer. This one's an obvious reference to (spoiler)Cloche's level 5 Cosmosphere(end spoiler) once you've seen it, or to an even more similar event (spoiler)on the Cloche route(end spoiler) that doesn't even happen if you're here). Not that Luca should have any way of knowing about either one...

"Yo Croix! Of course I'm the real one! You better choose me!" - originally 「おう、クロア!俺が本物に決まってるだろ!絶対選べよ!」

This one's less obvious in English, but it should still sound off. The Japanese is blatantly masculine, which is definitely NOT Luca.

Now for the top right screen, since the real one isn't there either:

"Hmph! Stop thinking so hard! Make a decision already!" - originally 「もう!そんなに悩むなんて、ぷーだよぷー!ちゃっちゃと決めてよ!」

I almost thought this might be the real one at first, but it's quite clearly not in the Japanese version. The whole line sounds like Cocona, but especially the ぷーだよぷー, which typically comes out as "boo!" in the English version. Why it didn't here is a mystery, not to mention poor handling.

"Please don't go! I'm sorry, I... I want to be with Croix." - originally 「行かないで!!ごめんなさい、私… 私…クロアと一緒にいたい…。」

Not Luca. She's never been this pleading or clingy. Actually, the Japanese wiki says this comes from the previous game, and (Ar tonelico 1 spoiler)if you change "Croix" to "Lyner", this is Shurelia's line after beating Mir/Mule the right way, if you've cleared Shurelia's Cosmosphere, leading into the decision between the Shurelia ending or the Aurica/Misha ending (depending on story path).(end spoiler)

Finally, here are the Lucas in the center screen:

"Meow, Croix. I'm the real one. Meow. Please pick me!" - originally 「にゃ、クロアにゃ。私が本物にゃ。是非私を選んでにゃ!」

Sounds like Soraneko/Skycat with all the random mewling. This one had better be obvious.

"Hey, Croix. I'm the real one! You understand?" - originally 「あ、クロアー。あたしが本物だよっ!わかってるよね?」

In the Japanese, too girlish (most obviously, Luca never calls herself あたし). In the English, arguably too pushy, but it's really not clear enough.

"Teehee! I'm the real one. You better not get it wrong..." - originally 「えへへへへっ!私が本物だよ。間違えたら承知しないんだからっ…。」

In the Japanese, the giggle is overly exaggerated (look at all those へs!), and the 承知しないんだからっ… at the end sounds rather off as well (offhand, I'd say it's either too Cloche-y if she's being serious or too flirtatious if she's joking around). The English has a good literal translation, but largely fails to capture the nuances, and needs to at least draw out the giggle.

"Teehee! I'm the real one! You won't get it wrong, will you?" - originally 「えへへ、私が本物だよっ!まさか、間違えたりしないよね?」

And here's the real one, but you'd never know it from the English. For starters, I can't remember her ever saying "Teehee!", and of course the rest just sounds too much like everything else. I had actually ruled this one out since it looks far too much like the other giggling line. But the Japanese works just fine. Cheerful without being overboard, confident but not bossy or arrogant, perhaps a little bit playful but not too much, and no un-Luca-ish quirks. After searching through the game text, I was able to find exactly and one other place where they had Luca say "Teehee!" In contrast, the えへへ in the Japanese text, basically a nervous or forced laugh and fairly distinctive besides, is something Luca does over thirty times in the main text of Phase 1 alone. The English version uses the more unremarkable "hehehe" in most cases, "hehe" occasionally, and once in a while something else like "haha". It's more of an "eheheh", and, more to the point, needs to be handled more consistently.

Anyway, like I said above, translators NEED to do SOMEthing with situations like these. Throw in a Southern drawl, a Western accent, some awkward phrasing, even some random French, anything! In this situation, the literal translation is far less important than being able to distinguish which one is "normal".

As I originally forgot to mention, this reminded me of a puzzle in Wild ARMs involving five "treasure chests" you can open or close and five corresponding bookshelves with messages to clue you in to whether each of the chests should be open or not. The trick is that the content of the messages is absolutely irrelevant except for one thing: whether it contains the word "open" or "closed". At least, that was how it worked in the Japanese version, or to be more precise, the kanji meaning open (開) or closed (閉). Three of the English ones work just fine, with lines like "Closed minds will lead Filgaia to its doom," but a fourth, "For a thousand years, people have torn apart the land, looking for the future they've lost," requires more effort (read "torn apart" as "torn open"), and the fifth, "The Elws have gone to another world...", leaves nothing to go on. That last one is "closed", incidentally. Probably the original line reads something like "closed themselves off in another land."

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