Final Fantasy IV Translation Comparison: Tower of Bab-il

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The heroes head to the underground Tower of Babil in an attempt to steal back all of Golbez’s crystals.

A Towering Variety

The Tower of Babil’s name has been surprisingly difficult for translators over the years.

Some background info: the Tower of Babil is a giant, ancient, and mysterious tower in Final Fantasy IV that’s rooted deep underground and stretches far aboveground, into the sky. As such, it’s relatively clear that the name is meant to allude to the Tower of Babel that’s referenced in the Bible and elsewhere.

There’s a problem, though – in Japanese translations of the Bible, “Babel” is usually written as バベル (baberu), but the tower goes by a slightly different name in every Japanese version of Final Fantasy IV: バブイル (babuiru). This babuiru name can be spelled in English in many different ways, such as “Babuiru”, “Babuil”, “Babuir”, and so on. This spelling uncertainty meant that translators had to pick a name and hope it was what was intended.

In the original Super NES English translation, the tower was called the “Tower of Bab-il”:

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Incidentally, an official Japanese guide also uses the “Bab-il” spelling. It was published one month before the English translation was released, though, so it’s hard to say if the guide simply pulled from the English translation or the other way around.

Next, when the game was re-translated for the PlayStation, the name transformed into “Tower of Babil”:

PlayStation translation

A few years later, the tower was renamed to the “Babel Tower” in the Game Boy Advance translation:

GBA translation

A few years after that, the tower went back to being the “Tower of Babil” in the DS translation:

DS translation

And after that, the tower remained the “Tower of Babil” in the PSP translation.

PSP translation

So which name is correct? Again, it’s hard to say, but from what I’ve read from Japanese sources, the name バブイル (babuiru) is actually taken from the Assyro-Babylonian myth of a giant tower, and that the name means “Gate of the Gods”. It sounds like the Biblical story about the Tower of Babel was likely based on this ancient myth, but I’m not an expert in Biblical history or ancient mythology, so I make no claims about its veracity. Still, this sort of thing crops up often whenever I’m translating ancient and foreign religious names from Japanese to English, so it makes some sense to me.

Personally, I kind of like how unusual the original translation’s “Bab-il” choice looks, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just continue to call it “Babil” in my analyses.

Visual Tricks

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As we’ve already seen, the tower areas are slightly tricky to navigate in the original Final Fantasy IV – certain areas are covered with foreground tiles that look like impassable walls but aren’t actually obstacles. In the example above, we see how the designers purposely used these fake walls to hide things from players. These fake obstacles were removed from the Easy Type and English releases to help players traverse the towers.

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Similarly, we’ve already seen how the tower treasure chests were redesigned to stand out more in the Easy Type and English releases.

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And, just like in the Tower of Zot, the animated glowing orbs were replaced with static orbs in the Easy Type and English versions.

Changing Hands

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A few treasure chests in the tower had their contents changed from the original Final Fantasy IV:

Location:Final Fantasy IVFinal Fantasy IV Easy TypeFinal Fantasy II
4th FloorAntarctic WindRevive MedicineLife
5th FloorArctic Wind2000 Gil2000 GP

By this point in the game, the Arctic and Antarctic Wind items are probably not very useful anymore. Then again, a Life potion and 2000 GP aren’t especially useful at this point either.

Easy with the Items

As seen before, item names with an English-language flair in the original version were rephrased to use Japanese terms for the Easy Type release. This was done to ensure that Japanese players with limited English knowledge – particularly younger players – could fully understand the implications of each item name.

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In the example above, a sword found in the Tower of Babil is called the アイスブランド (aisu burando), which is basically how you’d pronounce the English phrase “Ice Brand” in Japanese. The name was entirely changed to こおりのけん (kōri no ken, "ice sword") for the Easy Type release. Yet, we see that the name in the English release is identical to the name in the original Japanese release. This is another indication that the English release isn’t based on the Easy Type version, as is often claimed on some fan sites. Instead, I believe both were developed in parallel rather than sequentially.

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Similarly, the キラーボウ (kirā bō, "killer bow") item from the original release was renamed the ひっさつのゆみ (hissatsu no yumi, "sure-kill bow") for the Easy Type release. It was renamed entirely to be the “Archer Bow” in the English release, most likely because of Nintendo’s old rules against references to violence and killing.

Doctor What?

The heroes encounter a mad scientist in the tower. In Japanese, his name is ルゲイエ, which is pretty unusual and can be written in English a dozen different ways, including “Lugeie” and “Rugeie”. Despite this unusual name, he’s known as “Lugae” in every English release of Final Fantasy IV. This unusual name consistency across 20+ years of Final Fantasy IV translations is surprising, so I always wondered if he was named after someone or something.

Incidentally, when Lugae transforms, his name remains as “Lugae” in the games, but it seems the developers referred to him as “Lugaeborg” before the game was released. The name appeared in an early official strategy guide, and it even appears in the character’s official concept art.

Early concept art for "Lugaeborg"
I’m waiting for my copy of the early Final Fantasy IV guide that mentions “Lugaeborg” – when it arrives I’ll post a scan of the part in question here.

This “Lugaeborg” name has led some Japanese fans to surmise that the name originally comes from Gáe Bulg with the “le” article preceding it. I don’t know if the theory is correct or not, but I feel it’s within the realm of possibility. Translating names between Japanese and English is usually pretty messy to begin with, so when you introduce another language into the mix (especially an ancient one), those already-messy naming patterns go out the window.

Getting Burned

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Dr. Lugae feels insulted when the heroes talk down to him. Part of his response was shortened quite a bit in translation:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
Keee! Don’t you dare you mock me! Although I didn’t get to be one of the Four Heavenly Kings, I, Lugae, am known as Lord Golbeza’s “brain”!Don’t take me lightly or you’ll get burned!

The shortened text was likely due to memory restraints, but I actually like how short and snappy the English version is. Unfortunately, it drops some of the character’s background information that actually sounds intriguing to me as a fan. It’s a shame we don’t really learn much more about him than what’s said during this scene.

In any case, the Easy Type version of the game also features a text difference. The original Japanese script uses the English word “brain”, but the Easy Type script instead uses the Japanese word for “brain”. This was done to make the intended meaning clearer for Easy Type players.

Terrifying Transformation

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The ensuing fight with Lugae actually consists of two separate battles. First, he commands his hulky robot to attack the party. His dialogue here is marginally different in translation due to text length limitations.

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Doctor: Okay! Show them your power!Dr.: Beat them up!
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Similarly, his next line was also shortened and simplified in the Super NES release:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
How dare you! Now you will learn what true terror is!I’ll show you my real strength!
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At this point, Lugae transforms into a horrific skeleton-like creature. His pre-transformation dialogue is a little more threatening in Japanese, but I do like the simple, confident-sounding line in the translation.

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
Now I’ll show you true horror!Now… the real fight!

These differences are all very minor, but if you string each line together, he does sound more menacing – and motivated – in Japanese.

Forgetting Keys

Lugae drops a key item after he’s defeated. In Japanese, it’s called “Lugae’s Key”. In the Super NES translation, it’s simply called the “Tower Key”. The name difference is due to text space limitations, so it isn’t too surprising to see here.

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What is surprising, though, is what happens if you refuse to accept the key. In the Japanese releases, an error message pops up with text along the lines of “Hey, you’ve left an important item behind.”

The English translation also generates an error message – but the message was left untranslated. As a result, the error message is a bunch of meaningless nonsense. Perhaps by sheer luck, the garbled message includes a key icon, which is probably enough for players to surmise what the message is about. This is a perfect example of how rarely seen video game text can sometimes slip through the localization process.

Incidentally, I’ve documented a few other examples of untranslated text that lurks in video game. Check out my article here!

Canonical Cannon(s)

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The bad guys are using the Tower of Babil to bombard the dwarves, so the heroes try to stop the bombardment while inside the tower. In Japanese, the cannon is simply called the “Giant Cannon” (“giant” as in “huge”, not the race/species or the robot later in the game). In English, it’s given a more unique name: the “Super Cannon”.

When the heroes enter the cannon room, however, there are three bad guys operating some sort of machinery or panels. This, plus the fact that the Japanese language doesn’t automatically differentiate between singular and plural nouns, suggests that there might actually be more than one cannon. As far as I know, it’s never made clear how many cannons there actually are, so it’s possible that “Super Cannon” should be “Super Cannons”.

I’ll keep an eye out for details about the number of cannons when I look through some of the Final Fantasy IV guides I’m importing. If I find any new info, I’ll update it here.

Troublemaker Trio

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When the heroes enter the cannon room, three lines of enemy dialogue pop up. In Japanese, the punctuation makes it immediately clear that three different characters are speaking. In the English release, that fact isn’t nearly as clear.

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Cecil responds when he sees the bad guys in the cannon room. In Japanese, he says something along the lines of “Oh, no!”, “Not good!”, or “Crap!”. Basically, it’s an emphatic phrase of undesirable surprise. In the English translation, his shock transformed into the meek-sounding “Oh…” This minor difference falls in line with other translation choices we’ve seen so far in the game.

Behind Closed Doors

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The bad guys wreck the cannon’s controls and cause it to overload. Yang kicks everyone out of the room and sacrifices himself to save them from the explosion. In reponse to being kicked out of the room, Cecil shouts at Yang:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
Cecil: Yang!Cecil: Yang!! Open the door!!

It’s a minor change, but it’s surprising to see that text was added to the translation after seeing text getting cut left and right throughout the game so far. Even the use of extra exclamation marks is a little out of character with the rest of the game’s translation. Perhaps this scene was given a little extra editing work than most of the other parts of the script.

Incidentally, I’ve heard rumors that in some version of the game you can warp back into the cannon room after this scene. I tried it myself with the original Super Famicom game, the Easy Type game, and the Super NES English translation, but it didn’t work. It’s possible that one or more of these releases had multiple bugfix releases, though, so there’s a chance the rumor is still true. If anyone has any more info, please let me know!

Threat by Idiom

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Just as the heroes leave the tower, Golbez’s voice booms from out of nowhere. He taunts the heroes and then attempts to kill them once and for all.

His taunt in Japanese is a variation of an idiom that doesn’t work well in a literal translation: oni no inu ma ni inochi no sentaku ("Refreshing your life while the devil is away"). Functionally, however, it’s similar to an idiom we have in English about cats and mice. With that in mind, here’s what this particular scene looks like in Japanese and English:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
When the cat’s away, the mice will play, I see.This is all for play, kids.
Playtime is over… I now bid you farewell.……Farewell…!

This Japanese idiom was consistently replaced with the cat-and-mice English idiom in every English translation of the game after the Super NES release. It’s rare when idioms between two languages have strong counterparts, so it’s cool to see how well this one fits this situation.

Day Saver

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The heroes plummet to their doom… until Cid saves them with his airship at the last second. Cid asks the team where Yang is, but the party members are too distraught to answer with complete sentences. Unfortunately, incomplete Japanese sentences don’t translate well into English, so the phrasing feels a bit unnatural in the Super NES release.

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
Cid: ? Where’s Yang?Cid: Where’s Yang?
Rosa: Well, you see…Rosa: He…
Cecil: He stopped the giant cannon and…Cecil: To destroy the Super Cannon…

It’s just a minor detail, but it’s an example of what happens when an incomplete sentence is translated literally into English. So if you’re ever playing a translated game and see unusually worded incomplete sentences, this might be the cause.

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The conversation continues aboard the airship:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Translation
Rydia: *sniffle*…Rydia: Poor Yang…
Cid: Who’s this gal?Cid: Who’s this girl?
Cecil: A survivor of Mist… Rydia.Cecil: Rydia… The Caller of Mist.

Here, we see two main points of interest:

  • Rydia’s sniffle onomatopoeia was replaced with actual dialogue.
  • Cecil calls her a “Caller” rather than a “survivor”. By calling her a survivor of Mist and lingering on the phrase with an ellipsis, the game’s writers show that Cecil still feels great remorse for what he did in Mist at the start of the game. That clear remorse is missing in the English script, however.

Immediately after this, the Red Wings start to pursue the heroes’ airship. In Japanese, Cid responds with a “Tch!” sound that doesn’t really have a clear counterpart in English. Different translators translate this sound in different ways – many just leave it as “Tch”, in fact. Some translators might even replace it with an English swear word that’s appropriate to the situation and character.

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In the Super NES English translation of this scene, however, Cid says “shucks”, which is a choice I don’t think I’ve seen before. It also seems uncharacteristic of the majority of the game’s translation, which leads me to wonder if it might’ve been revised by a native English speaker at some point. Or maybe it was even a harsher word at one point and was toned down to “shucks”. Whatever the case, while I never really paid it attention before, the word immediately stands out whenever I see it now.

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Cid offers to sacrifice himself to let the heroes escape. Rosa responds to this in Japanese by saying, “Not you too, Cid!” She’s referencing the fact that Yang just died protecting them and can’t bear to have Cid do the same. In English, she simply says, “Oh, Cid…” which dilutes the intended emotion.

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These differences so far have been relatively minor, but then we hit a pretty obvious change: it’s very clear in the Japanese scene that Cid is ready to kill himself to help the heroes escape, but the English version adds a line to change this entirely. In the Super NES release, he says, “But I guess I’ll stay here a while.” This change not only removes the unstated reference of suicide, it also spoils the fact that Cid actually survives his suicide bomb and meets the heroes later in the story.

This extra English line reminds me so much of how children’s entertainment avoided this sort of thing in the 90s. Here’s a quick example from Dragon Ball Z, which adds the line “Look, I can see their parachutes! They’re okay.” into the background after a bunch of helicopters get blown up:

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After Cid decides to sacrifice himself, Rydia responds in Japanese by saying ojīchan ("old man, grandpa"). To this, he replies, “At least call me ojichan ("middle-aged man, uncle")!”

In the Super NES translation, Rydia shouts, “Come on!” and Cid replies with, “Be good, Rydia!”

Later translations change the lines in other ways. The PlayStation translation drops the “old man” reference but reintroduces the “uncle” part:

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As expected, the Game Boy Advance translation is basically the same as the PlayStation translation but with a few tweaks:

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And similarly just as expected, the PSP translation is basically the same as the GBA translation, but with a few new changes of its own:

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The DS translation changes things entirely while keeping Cid’s lighthearted response intact:

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After Cid blows himself up with a bomb while plummeting to the ground, the heroes react to what just happened.

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Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Rydia: Why is everyone…Rydia: Why!?
Cain: They’re all in such a damn hurry to die!Kain: It’s too dangerous!

Rydia’s reaction in Japanese is in reference to multiple people sacrificing themselves, but her reaction in English arguably seems more in response to Cid’s sacrifice only. The harsh language and the mention of death were left out of the translated scene as well.

Fan Fun

For fun, here’s how the fan translation handles a variety of lines from this tiny slice of the game’s story.

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