The famous “You spoony bard!” quote from the first Final Fantasy IV English translation comes up all the time in my articles, so I thought it’d be nice to give it its own dedicated article.
Basically, there’s a scene a few hours into the game in which an old man attacks a prince disguised as a bard. In the original Super NES translation of the scene, the old man yells, “You spoony bard!”. This quote became famous over time and has appeared in every official Final Fantasy IV translation and re-release since.
So why is this quote such a big deal? I hear this a lot from Japanese gamers and occasionally from younger English-speaking gamers. You could probably write an entire book on the phenomenon (I won’t), but it’s a combination of a few things:
- Console gamers were accustomed to a certain type of writing in Japanese-to-English game translation at the time, and this suddenly veers from that.
- Similarly, this game’s English translation had already established a certain level and style of writing by this scene, and this line suddenly goes in a different direction.
- But the biggest factor of all is that nobody uses “spoony” in everyday English, and most of the target audience had probably never even heard of the word before at the time – I know I hadn’t, at least. So although it makes perfect sense to us and sounds normal after hearing it for so many years, back then the word “spoony” probably came across as meaning “spoon-like” for many players. Other players probably thought it was a typo or a translation mistake.
For these reasons, ”You spoony bard!” is/was often considered a bad translation – but it’s not a translation at all. It’s a completely made-up line that doesn’t exist in the original game.
Actually, if you’ve played Final Fantasy VI before, you know that scene where Gau jumps around and laughs at Cyan’s use of “thou” over and over? This “spoony bard” thing is a lot like that – most of Final Fantasy IV’s Super NES translation used a standard style of speech, so suddenly seeing this weird phrase made fans jump around and repeat “spoony bard” over and over too.
Anyway, if the Japanese text doesn’t mention anything about spoony bards, why did the line get changed during the translation? I’ve been analyzing all the Final Fantasy IV scripts for years now, and I feel there were two main causes behind the line change:
- It’s clear that the script was translated by a Japanese speaker who lacked the ability to write in fluent English. But there are also small chunks of text throughout the script that were clearly revised and edited to sound better. This was later confirmed by another translator:
They had a person who spoke some English and she did her best with Final Fantasy II, which was her game. I didn’t have a chance to work on that game. When I talked to the guys that that hired me, the senior VP and then the finance guy, they basically had spent some 24 hour blocks of time late into the evenings, trying to rewrite the text as best they could without ever having played the game. They found so many issues with the screen text when they started reading it, they figured they should take a shot at it. So it was a mess.
- The battle dialogue window is very limited in size, so a lot of battle text had to get rephrased or rewritten anyway.
If you’re curious about the nitty-gritty translation details of this scene, see my full write-up here.
Some Final Fantasy translators enjoy the “spoony bard” quote enough to insert references to it into other Final Fantasy game translations. At the same time, some game developers paid homage to the famous “spoony bard” quote by referencing it in their own games. The result: lots of “spoony bards” in all sorts of games!
Note that this whole “spoony bard” joke isn’t a thing in Japan, so pretty much every reference you see in a Japanese-to-English translation has been added into the script. In the Trinity Universe scene above, for example, the character actually asks in Japanese: “Like, can you shoot black holes from your mouth, summon meteors, or teleport and stuff?”
As an entertainment translator, I’m always keenly aware that every translation choice I make might accidentally transform into a legendary quote or a terrible meme. I think this “spoony bard” quote was my first introduction to this idea that a single translated line can live on for years – and now for almost three decades.
I’d like to keep an eye on how the “spoony bard” line gets used in other officially published works, so if you ever see it in other games, movies, books, etc., let me know. I’d like to update this article from time to time as new references are discovered!
If you liked this article and want to read more about the different Final Fantasy IV translations, I wrote a big overview of each one here. Or if you're more into Final Fantasy VI, I've written about its many translations here!