Is Soul Blazer’s Prison Philosophical or Something?

A reader named Jason sent in a question about Soul Blazer for the Super NES:

At one point in Soul Blazer, the angel protagonist starts talking to a mushroom during World 4. Just your every day activities here in early 90s gaming. The mushroom’s response always baffled me, take a look:

Oh how I love games that read like this! I've also learned it's fun to try to do voice acting for crazy writing like this! Give it a try!Oh how I love games that read like this! I've also learned it's fun to try to do voice acting for crazy writing like this! Give it a try!

“There are no actual bad people”? None anywhere at all? A broad statement on morality, Mr. Fungus? My first guess was that he was saying the prison is empty, but it’s not: Soul Blazer’s gimmick is that you restore the towns one person and structure at a time, back to the way they were before. Once you’re done, the prison isn’t just occupied, it’s packed.

Later you learn the King locked everyone in there for false reasons. I have a feeling the dialog is talking about that, but if that’s the case the localization team may have gotten a little too subtle. Nor can I figure out how the mushroom reasoned that since there are no bad people, it’s not technically a prison. In English, at least, it’s absolutely a prison, even if it’s empty!

Here’s the original text:

Oh no the pics had a strange resolution so they scaled down uglily! Yes I just made uglily an actual word

The Soul Blazer trilogy’s fond of making statements about human nature, so if one of them came from a semi-sentient Mario powerup, that’s not out of step, but I can’t help but feel something more practical got lost in localization. What do you think?

I haven’t played this game but I have seen full Let’s Plays of it and I mostly remember that it’s an amazing specimen of weird, weird English. So much so that I’d love to do a detailed analysis of it someday or someyear, but for now let’s just take a look at this one line. Also, many thanks for providing screenshots in both languages already – that saves me so much time!

Okay, so here’s the text side-by-side:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Up ahead is a prison.There is a prison over there.
There are no bad guys here, though, so maybe it’d be more accurate to call it a “punishment room”?Well… there are no actual bad people. I guess it is just a punishment room.

So it looks like the English translation is pretty close to the Japanese, just phrased a little strangely – just enough to make some players go, “Huh?” I think the missing “here” in the official translation might be what causes it; it changes the specific reference of “no bad guys/villains in this specific area” to the broader, more philosophical idea of “no bad guys in all of existence”.

Given the context that Jason’s outlined above, I feel that another term might be better than “punishment room” too, but I can’t think of it off the top of my head. “Time-out room” maybe? Nah, that sounds kind of lame, but there’s gotta be a better term along those lines to show how it’s not an actual prison for bad guys but more of a place where the king threw people he didn’t like. If anyone reading this has any good ideas, please share in the comments!

Anyway, although it’s not a huge, important line or anything, I hope this helps shed a little light on just one of the many strange lines in Soul Blazer!

26 Comments
  1. I have a feeling Soul Blazer is a very strange game. Quite an interesting bit of text, though.

    Also, I thought I was the only guy that voice acted his games to himself on occasion.

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    1. All three games in the Soul Blazer trilogy were very strange honestly. I loved Illusion of Gaia, don’t get me wrong, but even it was trying to make some kind of statement about existentialism.

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      1. Personally, I thought Soul Blazer was the best of them; I really enjoyed the world rebuilding mechanic. But you’re not wrong: they are all very odd games.

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        1. Indeed, very odd. Sometimes I’d like to know what was going through the developer’s mind when these games were written out.

          I wish I’d played Soul Blazer. And I really wish they’d release Terranigma here too. Illusion of Gaia was the only one of the Soul Trilogy (or should I say Quartet since Granstream Saga was technically related to the three games despite a lot of longtime fans fervently disagree) I played.

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          1. It’s probable that the action RPGs are related to Actraiser too, since Actraiser probably takes place in the same world as Soul Blazer too (the “Master” in Actraiser is probably the same “Master” that appears in Soul Blazer).

            I don’t think Actraiser shares the same sort of themes about existentialism, though, which sort of makes sense considering the genre.

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            1. Actraiser was very interesting from what I heard, and I was surprised to hear that it wasn’t completely censored the way you would think it would have considering the nonsensical anti-religious imagery policy at the time.

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  2. “Holding cell”? “Detention center”?

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    1. Dungeon springs to mind, but again doesn’t have the right nuance.

      “Political prison” is apparently accurate, but it’s just ugh.

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      1. It’s perfectly fine, it’s how it would be reported on a TV news show or the like, but I’m not quite sure how a mutant fungus would phrase it in the future though. πŸ™‚

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  3. “…it’s fun to try to do voice acting for crazy writing like this! Give it a try!”

    You’re tempting me, Mato.

    How big is the mushroom compared to the protagonist?

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  4. I don’t understand how you guys are interpreting it this way. Stripped from its contest “there are no bad guys” sounds like a philosophical statement, but in its context he is unmistakably talking about the prison cell. “Looks like a prison” ” “there are no actual bad guys, so I guess it’s this instead” is how it is meant to be read. Where is there room
    for confusion?

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  5. Is this narration (or, I suppose, dialogue presenting over a scene where the speakers don’t appear) or is the dialogue box covering the characters?

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  6. “Discipline Chamber” maybe? I don’t know, punishment room really doesn’t sound that bad compared to the alternatives

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  7. I get the feeling the bosses were made a little stronger in the western versions.
    The first boss’ room layout was definitely changed to make it a little harder.

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  8. “Later you learn the King locked everyone in there for false reasons”.

    I think this is the key. As I understand it:

    “there are no actual bad people” = Only innocent people were arrested.

    “I guess it is just a punishment room” = It’s not an actual prision, since there aren’t actual criminals there.

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    1. Sounds more like a torture chamber.

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  9. The king would call it a prison. Everyone else worried about the king listening in would also call it a prison.

    It sounds to me like a place where the king is putting all of his dissidents in order to brainwash them into liking him. In this way, it is sort of a place where one is psychologically conditioned. A place where Stockholm Syndrome is the intended outcome, rather than just a place where law-breakers are kept from society writ-large.

    All of this considered, I would call it a detention center or an internment camp. More cynically, I’d call it a rehabilitation room if I were a supporter of the king speaking frankly with a trusted confidant. Either way, I think the point does get across in the translation.

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  10. Ah man, random, but great post. I loved Soul Blazer when I was a kid. Every few years I need to go back and play the ROM. Maybe it’s time to try it in Japanese!

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  11. I think the most succinct synonym for “punishment area” would be “stockade”. That specifically refers to a form of military prison, usually for temporary holding and interrogation before transfer to a more suitable facility (or release). In the US in particular, stockades are seen as “places of brief incarceration for petty crimes”. Pretty fitting given the context.

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    1. Are you the skyrender who made the fantranalation of final fantasy 6?

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      1. Sure am! That was a long time ago, of course, and I’ve learned a lot since then. That said, it was a very educational experience.

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  12. After so many days, I’m starting to wonder if there are no more ideas for localization queries left. So I would like to ask about Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

    In Star Hill, an enemy called “Pulsar” has the Japanese name of γ€Œγƒ«γƒ”γƒΌγ€, which sounds like Hyrule’s currency. The enemy itself looks like a cluster of green crystals forming the shape of an 8-pointed star with red eyes in the middle.

    Is the Japanese name just a coincidence, or is it a real reference to the Legend of Zelda series?

    Here is the Pulsar’s Psychopath thoughts in both languages:

    PULSAR: I’m a mini-pulsar.
    ルピー: γͺγγ£γŸγ‚‰γ€γ†γ‚“γ•γ‚“γ‚€γ—γ‚‡γ†γ§γ€€γŠγ—γŠγγ‚ˆοΌ

    Reply
    1. Wow, that’s a big difference. “Rupee” in Japanese appears to be thinking “If you hit me, I’ll disappear and you’ll get punished!” Seeing as they use self-destruct attacks if attacked, that makes a lot of sense and is far more useful than the US version’s “hint”.

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  13. Seems like the questions Mato is getting aren’t as exciting as before :/ (and it’s not like he has actually time to read all of them). I’d expect something more dealing with cultural differences…

    For example, the doll chanting in Terranigma (Kagome Kagome) and the… interesting to say the least translation choices.
    Why are Japanese re-releases of classics getting censored (FF6 torture scene, Tengai Makyou 2/4, Mother 2 GBA…)
    With the major console manufacturers having been always adamantly against adult-only content allowed on their consoles, what happened with Sega Saturn and Sony PSP (UMD) suddenly accepting soft-core porno/lolicon, and what was the public reaction?
    Besides Japan’s involvement in WW2 and outright porn, what other taboos are present?
    Any widely beloved character game/licensed game out there, or they just lump it all together as shovelware?

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    1. I can at least shed some light on the FF6A torture scene censorship! Back around the time of the release of FF6 for Advance, there was a huge backlash towards torture in Japan. I believe (but I can’t remember for sure any longer; it’s been over 8 years now!) that it was spurned on by the kidnapping, torture, and eventual murder of a Japanese woman around that time. A very similar story is what led Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be renamed to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the UK (there was an attack with Japanese weapons in the late 80s in that country that was widely publicized, which led to huge backlash against anything involving shurikens and nunchaku in particular).

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  14. Since that games serie is inclined to be philosophal, maybe it’s a cryptical nod to dharmic faiths and believes, as Buddhism, the wheel of reincarnation and the fact everyone can reform and become perfected, even demons… we are all in the same deal…

    Reply

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