Let’s Investigate a Miserable Pile of Secrets!

The Castlevania series is infamous for its goofy translations and funny-sounding lines, and probably one of the most well-known is from the beginning of Symphony of the Night.

During the intro scene, Dracula and Richter have a short conversation, and at one point Dracula says:

What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.

This wacky line coupled with the hilarious voice acting quickly made this scene a fan favorite.

I got to thinking though – what does the Japanese text say? And how does the Japanese voice acting sound? So I picked up a copy of the Japanese game to find out!

Here’s a comparison of the two versions. I also quickly translated and subtitled the Japanese text for reference:

The first thing I notice is how much better and cooler the Japanese voice acting is. I think this is partly because the Japanese voice actors/director had more experience, but also simply because the scene was originally written with Japanese in mind. Actually, voice acting, dubs, and dub-versus-sub issues are something I deal with every day during my professional work, so there’s a lot more I could say on the subject. It’s probably better suited for a big post of its own someday, though.

Anyway, getting back to the dialogue, here’s a side-by-side comparison for easy reference:

Japanese VersionEnglish Version
Richter: Begone! This world is not yours to live in!Richter: Die monster. You don’t belong in this world!
Dracula: It is not by MY power that I am revived.Dracula: It was not by my hand that I am once again given flesh.
It is because of the greedy humans that I live once more.I was called here by humans who wish to pay me tribute.
Might is the one and only justice that exists, after all.
Richter: That’s nothing but your self-centered interpretation!Richter: Tribute!?!
Guided by common beliefs, people seek each other out, gather together, and move forward.You steal men’s souls and make them your slaves!
Dracula: However, is it not true that GREED has driven the humans’ development and that FAITH has led them?Dracula: Perhaps the same could be said of all religions…
Richter: Power alone cannot lead people.Richter: Your words are as empty as your soul!
Respect and a loving heart are what truly lead humanity!Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!
Dracula: Foolish drivel.Dracula: What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.
I will prove to you which of us is right… with death!But enough talk… Have at you!

A quick look shows that the “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.” line wasn’t really in the original text. In fact, the English text strays quite a bit from the Japanese version. The original text is actually extremely common, standard-sounding stuff in Japanese entertainment. But this hamfisted use of love, respect, faith, and togetherness comes across a bit cornier when put into English. It’s hard to explain, I guess it’s a cultural difference.

In any case, I’m guessing that the localizer picked up on this and tried to rephrase the text a little while trying to maintain the general point of the lines – that Dracula isn’t fit to lead humankind. The localizer’s good intentions sort of fell flat when it came to the voice acting, but then again this was the 90s, when serious localization and serious voice acting was just getting started.

I also feel like the localizer was hoping to give the scene a dash of that “ye olde” flavor to match the scene’s context, with things like “mankind ill needs” and “Have at you!” I think the intentions were good but might’ve only made the silly voice acting sound sillier.

Anyway, it sounds like some English remakes/ports have since redone this scene to be closer to the original text. I haven’t played them so I can’t comment on them, but because of how memorable this scene is I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of fans were disappointed that this text was changed. Was that the case? Or was it a welcomed change? Let me know!

All that said, I’m still curious to know how, “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets.” was originally conceived. It’s such a unique line that surely it was inspired by something…

UPDATE: It turns out the miserable pile of secrets quote is originally by the French writer André Malraux! Thanks to Aroduc and joeymartin64 for the info!


Symphony of the Night has always been really high on my to-do list, so someday, some year I hope to take a much closer look at it and do a full comparison project with it. There’s so much to the game though that it’ll probably end up being a huge, huge project 8O

If you have any suggestions for quick comparisons like this for any game at all, let me know in the comments or contact me!

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18 comments

  1. “What is man? A miserable little pile of secrets,” is actually a borrowed quote. It’s apparently from a fellow named André Malraux, and, being that he wrote it in 1967, it’s anachronistic as hell for a scene set in 1792.

    As for the PSP version, check out about a minute into this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLIQCrVUrZU

    I always figured it was closer to the original Japanese, but your translation here makes it seem like that’s not the case. There’s nothing about togetherness or love or anything, and faith is only offhandedly mentioned. In fact, it seems like more of a complete rewrite of the original English, hitting basically the same points with something closer to real-people talk.

    Perhaps the best go-to example of that is the way “Perhaps the same (stealing souls) could be said of all religions…” became “Freedom is always sacrificed to faith, good hunter.” It’s really quite nifty.

    Reply
    1. Sweet, thanks for the info!

      And wow, yeah, it really looks like the PSP version is not a retranslation but just a punched-up version of the original translation. Not that the original Japanese text was a great piece of literature itself, though :P

      Reply
  2. I have to say, I love the PS1 Symphony of the Night translation.
    The dub, as I understand it, was a rush job when SCEA surprised Konami at the last minute with a request for an english dub that they’d been assured they didn’t need through the entire localization process. So they recorded all the lines in a single weekend, and probably not in a proper recording studio(a lot of the clips have a strong hint of what I call “bathroom echo”). Even without that constraint it’s a remarkably credible dub, Richter’s propensity for overacting aside(and Dracula is SERIOUSLY channeling Star Trek’s Quark with the way he says “humans”).

    It’s a real shame that the internet adopted it as a massive joke and Konami’s ashamed of it.
    The edited script is bland, and the new dub lacks any real sense of energy, and comes across as bored. If you’re going to rewrite your game to stop the internet laughing at your terrible dub, don’t make the new dub worse.

    Reply
    1. Looks pretty good, much closer to the original and sounds nicely edited, or at least as much as is possible with such wacky original Japanese text.

      Reply
  3. I can’t get enough of Norio F. Wakamoto’s Dracula. Good lord, the man could make Pee Wee sound like a total badass. Shame he sounds like Dick Dastardly in the dub. But well, if SCEE did drop the bomb on Konami a tad late as Jistuce said, that’s pretty much what can be expected. Alucard didn’t sound too bad, at least.

    Reply
    1. Yeah, Wakamoto’s voice is awesome, I’m always excited whenever I work on something that he’s been in. If I could have three wishes one would probably to have his voice :P

      Reply
  4. Hey, Mato. I’ve sent you an email earlier, but I figured I’ll just post it her for everyone to read. I hope you look into the instruction manual for the original FDS version of SMB The Lost Levels, especially if the storyline is any different from the original (in terms of things not apparent in the actual game, anyway).

    Reply
  5. I’m not english speaker that’s why it was okay when played this game years ago but now my english has improved, I find it actually very funny :)

    Reply
  6. The original English translation of Symphony of the Night uses tons of quotes and references, in fact. There’s very few scenes where some famous bit of literature isn’t referenced. Most of the enemies and items got renamed to be references to various bits of common folklore and to Tolkien’s Silmarillion, too. It’s one of the most Woolseyized translations I’ve ever seen that didn’t come out of Working Designs.

    Reply
  7. I always loved the Dracula from the original English dub. As much as I love Norio Wakamoto, he just can’t compete with the scenery-chewing of his English counterpart. The completely over-the-top theatricality just feels so perfect for the character.

    I honestly never took issue with how the scene was written in general, it really only becomes humorous to me because the English voice for Richter has such tremendously wooden delivery of his lines. Sadly, Richter’s voice is more representative of the dub than Dracula – poor audio quality aside, the dub is also hampered by odd casting choices and lifeless line deliveries.

    Reply
    1. Too bad MercurySteam has no idea whatsoever about when to actually use them in the right context, that quote doesn’t fit the context of that cutscene in any way and the first game wasn’t any better with random references to Portal.

      Reply
  8. >The original text is actually extremely common stuff in Japanese entertainment and is meant to be taken completely seriously.
    No way, bro. It’s cheesy cartoon dialogue and it’s cheesy on purpose. While the English version isn’t really faithful it too is intentionally cheesy. In that way it is somehow appropriate.

    I think if you think either version of the dialogue was supposed to sound anything other than goofy cartoonish dialogue you’ve seriously missed the point. Castlevania has always been about corny cliches.

    Reply
    1. You’re totally right, I worded that poorly. I should’ve said that as far as Japanese entertainment writing goes, whether it’s manga or music or movies or games or whatever, this sort of writing is very standard, normal stuff. In that context, this scene is playing itself straight and ordinary.

      Indeed, when I try to read the English text without hearing the voices, it comes off as trying to achieve the same thing too.

      Reply
  9. I found some interesting details about SOTN’s voice acting. Check out this interview with Michiru Yamane, composer of Symphony of the Night:
    http://www.1up.com/features/catching-castlevania-composer-2

    She says:

    MY: When we first created the game, in fact, we were only planning to release it in Japan. We only had Japanese voices and all that. So we were able to complete and release the game, and then I took some time off. When I came back to the office, all of a sudden the company had already made the decision to translate it into English. So they had Japanese voice actors recording the English voices, without proper direction or anything. Even until now, people aren’t so sure about the quality of the English… [laughs] But then I’ll bet you’re already familiar with what I’m talking about.”

    1UP: [laughs] It’s considered a classic, but maybe not necessarily for the right reasons.

    MY: Yeah, I’m starting to remember… [laughs] Everybody already put their all into it, and they were finished. When the company came back and said, “We want an English version,” they were all like, “…really?” It seems like the company wanted it to come out really quickly, so they had to hurry. I remember going to an agency for Japanese voice actors and rushing through the whole job. Also, in addition to the voices for all the cinematics, we had to record battle voices and weapon names and things like that. I remember that being a very rushed process.

    1UP: When the Dracula X Chronicles came out for PSP, they re-recorded the voices, and people were actually disappointed, because they took away the originals. I guess people had really grown fond of them over time.

    MY: That’s very interesting…

    —-

    Interesting stuff. I’m surprised the composer was kept informed on all of those details with the voice acting!

    Reply

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