While not quite exactly fluent yet, I have a lot of experience under my belt translating mangas from japanese to english. A combination of solid N3 grammar, dictionary use as well as common sense and help from some friends once in a while allowed me to do quite decently in that regard.
However, I’ve been offered a more unique (and certainly more challenging) project : to translate an english RPG Maker game into japanese.
That’s quite a lot of new things to learn! And a lot of things I’d like to ask your opinion on…
Obviously, the matter of keigo/sonkeigo is barely relevant when translating from japanese ot english. But when you do the opposite, what are the typical circumstances where you use one or another?
For example, generic messages such as : “You picked up a flower.” Would a typical game use casual or polite japanese? Same goes for item description or ability explanation…
I realize I’ll have to play a lot of JP RPGmaker games to get an idea myself but I’d still like to hear your opnion.
Made up words or expression such as monster names, attack names… Let’s take the example of “Beheader Pig”. A pig that beheads people. What kind of translation would be the more japanesey? Some made up compound like 首切豚 or something more like 撥ねり豚 (nominal verb+noun) …
Attack names such as “Fast Cut”. Would it make more sense to translate literally a la 早い切り(hayaikiri) or with compounds 早切 (sousetsu).
Any other idiosyncracy you could think of…
Thanks for reading. I’d really love to hear about the experience and feedback of people who similarly had to translate from english to japanese, especially videogames.
The main part about translation in any medium is to know a lot about that medium in both languages. I remember a Tofugu podcast with someone who did translation on several Square Enix games, and one of the things they mentioned is to basically know how RPG games in both English and Japanese are, what the tropes are, basically, what the players in both languages expect from such a game. What I’d try to do in your position is to basically look at a lot of RPG games in both languages (bonus if you can get both versions of a game to see how other people handled localization). Can’t tell you anything specific, since I don’t have experience in that domain. Maybe other people can contribute more.
That’s sound advice. I’ve played a lot of RPGmaker games in my life (a lot of 18+ ones, I must confess) but I’ve never paid much attention to the details of the interface, the narration and all… I will have to do as you say.
Ah, thank you very much! I bet this will be very helpful!
The game I’m going to translate is pretty low on dialogue and fantasy elements, thankfully. It’s kind of an atmospheric dungeon crawler, with “show, do’nt tell” storytelling a la dark souls.
The most challenging part will be the few lore books there are and the dialogue that exists.
…However it seems most of those issues stem from the translators not knowing or having played the game in question and thus misinterpreting the characters or context.
Kinda reminds me of how some translations of TES4:Oblivion had “scale” (the measurement tool) translated into scale as in snake scale.
Since I’m very familiar with the game in question, my risk of fucking up are much disminished. That’s a relief!
Glad you liked it! this guy Tomato did the translation for Mother 3, and he had the sort of problems that you’re probably going to have. I guess it’s more of a question of matching the tone with the content, than to find the one right translation ?
Off the top of my head, I think games and computer interfaces in general tend to use polite forms for interface messages, but there are probably lots of exceptions out there. I know Link’s Awakening uses lots of really casual and quirky messages for getting items, for example.
Depends on the tone you’re going for, probably. I think in that case, 早い切り sounds like something a simple game for kids like Pokemon would use, and 早切 sounds a bit more like a fancy martial arts move. I think in FF6, all of Cayenne’s fancy samurai sword abilities used kanji names like that, for example.
Remember that representing the English term in katakana is also a very common option; Final Fantasy games are pretty full of such names. ビーヘーダピッグ or ファストカット would fit right in.
I gathered that from the localization guy’s articles, too… And that’s something I hadn’t really suspected, so I’m glad I’m learning of it.
What would you say are the “limits” towards using english words? Is it really alright considering that the vast majority of japanese people wouldn’t known what “Beheader” means at first?
Can’t really speak for what Japanese people expect or appreciate. Just going by the example of the FF games, though, monster names seem to be all over the place—straightforward English words, kanji compounds, random Western mythological references, and completely made-up names. For monsters, you can probably recognize them and hit them just fine even if you don’t know the source of the name.
Ability names might need to be a little more comprehensible, since you need to recognize roughly what it does from the name fairly quickly.
If there’s something important to the plot that has an “exotic” English name, they’ll usually give a quick explanation of what it means in basic Japanese when they introduce it, I think.
Your best plan would probably be to play/watch a couple of classic JRPGs in Japanese, just to get a sense of what some of the patterns are. The Japanese equivalent of a “Let’s Play” video is 「実況プレイ」, which is a phrase I really need to learn so I don’t have to keep looking it up.
A quick reference for FF6 that I found is this site, which collects the Japanese and English names for a lot of the game’s data.