There's something about old English that gets RPG localizations going. Maybe it's the often medieval settings, or all the swords, or the fact that it's actually impossible to cast magic without sounding like a Ren Faire reject (seriously, try it sometime), but any game with a high fantasy air to it going to be scripted like an episode of Game of Thrones. What's interesting though is that this localization choice has been around almost since video game localization started. It's a thread that runs through Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and dozens of other RPGs from pretty much every era of gaming. And every time it's served a very specific purpose. What's really weird is that it never served the same purpose each time. It's a not-so-unique stylistic choice with a real variety of uniquely weird choices.

Thou art confused as to why this omniscient narrator speaks such!

Thou art confused as to why this omniscient narrator speaks such!

Probably the first game that went full-on Arthurian in America was Dragon Warrior (nee Quest). In Japan, Dragon Quest was one of the early Famicom days to break one million copies. Thing is, since the Famicom was so popular, and there were so few games to buy, pretty much every game sold a million copies. But then Dragon Quest 2 happened, and by the time of Dragon Quest 3, we were getting rumours in Nintendo Power that the Japanese national guard was deployed at game stores to keep kids from buying the game on a school day. So Nintendo was pretty keen on making it the same kind of sensation here as it was at home. 

The problem was, Dragon Quest wasn't the grassroots success a lot of people sold it as. Part of that series' huge success can be attributed to the fact that it had promo art from Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama. The Toriyama connection then got Dragon Quest comics into Shonen Jump, the suer-popular children's comics magazine that serialized Dragon Ball at the time, which in turn kept Dragon Quest on the brain for the millions of kids still looking for decent Famicom games. Toriyama wasn't the only talent that drummed up continued interest in the series either, composer Koichi Sugiyama was relatively popular for his work on anime like Gatchaman and Cyborg 009, and designer Yuji Horii was a writer known for his regular video games column in Shonen Jump, as well as his script for the Portopia Serial Murder Case, a beloved Japanese computer adventure game. Horii's writing was known for being charming and clever, and his games were always designed with the belief that no game should ever be too challenging for the ordinary player. Adventure games and RPGs weren't necessarily reflex based games, the skills required were purely mental, and could eventually be brute forced with enough patience. 

If that kid turns around, Goku can actually sue.

If that kid turns around, Goku can actually sue.

That last bit was what Nintendo was banking on when it brought Dragon Quest over as Dragon Warrior, and gave it away for free with subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Dragon Quest worked for all ages, with gameplay simple enough for a kid, and dialogue charming enough to engage adults. But a literal translation of Horii's writing would have sapped the game of all its character, so the localizers elected to recast the game in faux-Shakespearean "thee"s and "thou"s. It was a way to keep the game cute and clever, without having to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire script- an efficiency measure, but one that stuck around in RPGs for a very long time.

Dragon Quest 2 and 3 held on to the old English style for a few more years within the Dragon Quest series, but 4 dropped it due to the more global nature of the plot and characters. Though, DQIV's DS port had an accent-filled localization, complete with completely incomprehensible Scottish accents for some of the cast. But that wasn't RPG localizers last chance to put Horii's dialogue in a time machine. Chrono Trigger's Frog speaks in the absolute most imprenetrable old English I've ever seen in a game. "Mayhaps a hidden door lurks night?" he croaks. "Let us search the environs." Meanwhile, the Japanese version opts for the much more reasonable "Yes, there's a secret passage somewhere in this room."

Just in case you didn't believe me...

Just in case you didn't believe me...

In fact, the choice to make Frog a cartoonish Shakespearean buffoon is super weird in light of his attitude in the Japanese version. Japanese Frog is a more boisterous knight, with a propensity to call enemy leader Magus a bastard, and a zeal for beating up monsters. As far as I can tell, the choice was to keep him more in line with Western expectations of what a medieval knight should sound like, though the DS port toned down his "hast"s and "dost"s considerable. Around the same time, Chrono Trigger's translator Ted Woolsley also worked on Final Fantasy 6, where he gave Cyan, the technologically-inept knight a more Shakespearean bent, though not nearly to the extent of Frog. In fact, Cyan's Japanese was similarly archaic, though more in line with how samurai and ninja would have spoken.

So, sometimes it's a character thing. Other times though, it's a space thing. Etrian Odyssey II doesn't feature too many archaicisms, but it does refer to almost every shield in the game as an aspis, which technically isn't old English, but we'll accept ancient Greek for our purposes because it never comes up. Etrian Odyssey limits weapon names to 10 characters, including spaces. In Japanese, ten characters might as well be a sentence, but in English, it barely gets across two words. The word "shield" plus the space before it eats up seven characters, leaving only three to describe what kind of shield it is. Meanwhile "aspis" is only six characters with the space, leaving a roomy whole four letters for an adjective. Archaic speech patterns might not always be known for their efficiency, but sometimes out-of-use words are just what a smart localization needs.

Pretty sure this paragraph counts as the airing of grievances, but I'm tapping out when we hit the feats of strength.

Pretty sure this paragraph counts as the airing of grievances, but I'm tapping out when we hit the feats of strength.

Sometimes though it's just weird and crazy annoying. In what the localizers say was an attempt to evoke the high fantasy grandeur of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, Capcom's Dragon's Dogma is packed to the rafters with strange, out-of-use, and archaic terminology. For example, the fire sell is called "Ingle", an older English word for a fireplace, while the ice spell, "Frazil" is named after a needle-like ice formation. It can get confusing, especially when characters heap on the archaic grammar, but it allows for some clever workarounds. Since your character can be male or female, characters address you as "Ser", a gender neutral version of sir and lady that, while not necessarily an old word, definitely looks and sounds like one. Iit fits in seamlessly with the localization and cuts back on voice acting work without raising any more eyebrows than the rest of the script.

Any excuse to post FF12 concept art is a good excuse.

Any excuse to post FF12 concept art is a good excuse.

In a similar sense, the Ivalice series of Final Fantasy games use old English to set the tone of the world. It's a little different than Dragon Quest's attempts to inject some much needed character into boring RPG text though. The Ivalice games span hundreds of thousands of years in the timeline of a fictional world, and the specific choices made in localization over the years really reflects that. Final Fantasy XII is chronologically the first game in the Ivalice timeline, but takes place during the world's golden age. There's a distinct olde English flavour to everything, but it's more Victorian than Elizabethan, in fact, the game's bestiary text was styled after a Victorian handbook on medicinal herbs. One of the cleverer localization choices made by Ivalice series translator Alexander O. Smith, as well as frequent partner Joseph Reeder, was to recast the antagonistic empire's characters as British, and have the friendly rebels speak in American accents. Sure, it's not exactly what the Japanese writers had in mind, but it very quickly gets across the idea that the rebels are on your side, and the empire isn't. 

Lotta cur talk in this game actually.

Lotta cur talk in this game actually.

Meanwhile, it was a calculated difference from Smith. he also translated the chronologically final game in the Ivalcie series, Vagrant Story, which still has that archaic flavour, but is distinctly more modern in places. "All because of this religious freedom! Too much freedom, too many gods. Let those cultist cur-dogs run loose, and they will bite you. Gods! While our Parliament cowers..." is a lot more readable to a modern audience than Shakespeare. In between there's also the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games, which Smith worked on, but those have a much more modern take, most likely because they were aimed at younger audience who might not have been able to pick up on the purple prose. Put together with Square Enix's updated translation of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP (the middle game in the Ivalice series) and the changing speech patterns give a really strong sense that there's one world grounding all these stories, but it's shifting, ever so slightly.

Basically, old English isn't quite the cheap and easy localization tool that Dragon Warrior would lead you to believe. It's a shorthand for the middle ages, sure, but it can also build a world, set a mood, save some space, or even just make a frog sound like he stepped out of someone's horrible Shakespeare fanfic. Truly the finest use of language.

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