I’ve written extensively about Final Fantasy IV and its many different translations, and I’ve always wanted to give Final Fantasy VI the same treatment.
I’m only familiar with the original Super NES translation, so to get up to speed I’d need to play the same game multiple times and do a whole bunch of organization and comparison work afterward. That’d amount to several hundred hours of work… so I devised a way to see the text in all the games at the same time while just playing one game:
Over the next month or two I’ll be streaming this five-way Final Fantasy VI comparison live.
- Where: my Twitch channel
- Stream Schedule: every Friday starting at 2:00 PM Pacific Time (I use the days in between to write up my long articles about my findings) – follow me on Twitter or on Twitch to get notified when a stream starts
After each stream, I plan to archive the video on YouTube and then update this article with my newest findings.
Although this sounds like some heavy-duty serious stuff, I actually just really missed playing Final Fantasy VI and decided to play it again and finally look at the different translations all at the same time. So this project is mostly about having fun while learning new things at the same time. I hope you’ll have fun and learn new things too!
Q: How are you automatically displaying each game’s text while playing one game?
A: I’m using some custom software I started developing last year. The simple explanation is that I glued a Super NES emulator to a web browser, so the game can talk to the browser and the browser can talk to the game. The text that appears is actually just ordinary HTML, so I can do cool extra things like this:
Q: Are you going to release your custom software?
A: Yes, I intend to. The problem is that it’s far from what I’d consider complete, it’s very user unfriendly, I can’t guarantee it’ll work for everyone who tries to run it, I don’t want to offer eternal support for it, and I’m not really familiar with open source license stuff, and since I use a lot of open source stuff for this project it makes things messier I assume.
I’m not a very good programmer and I’m amazed I was even able to get this working at all, so a Mac version isn’t really possible, at least for me.
Q: Why all the different fonts?
A: Originally I had wanted to use the actual font used in each game, but I realized that that wasn’t doable. I could’ve changed them all back to use the same font, but a handy trick to translation checking/editing/proofreading is to put things into different fonts. This helps keep your brain from zoning out upon seeing walls of text and helps things jump out more easily.
Q: Which fan translation are you looking at?
A: I’m looking specifically at the most famous one – RPGOne’s Final Fantasy VI re-translation from 10 or 15 years ago. It’s also sometimes called the SkyRender version, based on the translator’s online name.
Note that I’m looking at the fan translation not to crap all over it – it’s already notorious for being full of issues, and SkyRender has learned a ton about translation and localization since those days. Instead, I hope to look at some of the translation issues to explain what’s going on in the original source text, why it was so problematic in the first place, and how translators-in-training can improve by avoiding those same problems/tendencies.
This was my first large-scale test of my custom software, so I was worried it might crash or run too slowly while streaming. Luckily everything worked wonderfully, minus a few hiccups. I still need to do quite a bit of programming, but I’ll tackle that little by little as I can.
Since I’m essentially playing five different versions of the game at the same time and analyzing every line of text, I had expected things to go slowly. Things indeed went slowly, so there was a constant inner struggle of “should I skim stuff and move faster or should I take my time and not miss anything?”. Hopefully as we progress I’ll discover what works best and get into a nice groove.
I’ve summarized a lot of my findings from Day 1 below, but note that I actually covered much more during the live stream – these are just some of the highlights. If you like what you see below and crave more, definitely check out the video archive.
The ancient war is called the 魔大戦, with the 魔 (ma, definition details) leaning toward the “magic” meaning.
The official translations go with “War of the Magi” as a result, but the fan translation uses the “demon/devil” meaning of 魔 and perplexingly calls it the “Great Demon Wars” instead.
In my experience, amateur translators do tend to translate every 魔 as “demon/devil”, so this didn’t come as a surprise here.
Also, the Japanese script uses two words for “magic”: 魔法 (mahō) and 魔導 (madō). The question of how they’re different came up a lot during the stream, but it was hard to explain them as their nuances aren’t set in stone and can vary from author to author and work to work. But I did some checking around after the stream and it seems that in general mahō refers to magic more in the sense of a natural phenomenon, while this particular madō (there’s more than one – the other is 魔道 and has its own nuances) is more connected to magic in the sense of something that you’d study or seek out. It gets a little confusing seeing both terms thrown around in the Japanese script with no clear distinction at the moment, but I think the game’s logic will start to solidify as we continue.
The official translations don’t usually make a distinction between the mahō and madō and simply use “magic” for both. In some cases, when the need for a clear distinction is needed, they’ll use the word “MagiTek” for madō.
The fan translation took clear care to keep the two words separate – mahō is usually “Magic” and madō seems to be “Majick”. I’ve noticed one or two times where this separation was handled inconsistently.
The Japanese text doesn’t indicate who’s speaking, but the English translations add a name in. In at least one instance the SNES and GBA translations attribute the same line to a different person in this scene.
Espers are called 幻獣 (genjū) in Japanese. The SNES version calls them “Espers”, and the GBA translation retains that choice. For some reason I thought the GBA translation would’ve called them “eidolons”, but I guess not. The fan translation focuses on the individual kanji characters in the name to reach the term “phantom beast”.
Incidentally, the English word “esper” is commonly used in Japanese to refer people with ESP abilities – they’re “ESPers”, in other words.
In the Japanese script, it’s clear that three different guards are shouting here, but the SNES translation combines them all into a single line attributed to a single guard. The GBA translation does the same thing.
Also, the word 娘 (musume) is usually translated as “daughter” but in many situations it’s also just used to mean “girl”. As a result, Google talks a lot about daughters during the game’s intro.
The last line here translates as something like “Even if I try to explain, I doubt they’ll listen to me.”
Japanese sentences tend to leave out subjects, verbs, etc., and it’s assumed that you can fill in the blanks when info goes unstated. So Japanese-to-English translators need to be mind readers, basically.
In this case, translators had difficulty figuring out who’s talking about who, so only the GBA translation gets it right. The fan translation took a wild stab in the dark and missed – my hunch is that the translator didn’t fully understand the grammar at the time.
The Japanese script uses the word 裏 (ura), which usually means “rear”, “reverse”, or “behind here”. In some situations (but not this one) it can mean “secret”, which is why the fan translation talks about a “hidden mine”, even though it’s clearly not a secret to the Narshe guards.
In Japanese, this enemy’s attack is called “Spanner”. The words “spanner” and “wrench” mean slightly different things in different countries, even among different English speaking countries.
In Japanese, a “spanner” generally refers to this the fixed-size, open-ended tool. A “wrench” in Japanese refers more to what we’d maybe call a “monkey wrench” in America.
Basically, this is all to show how being a translator leads you to learn about a wide variety of topics you’d probably never study otherwise. I’ve learned about Chinese astronomy, particle physics, World War II guns, Japanese MMOs, Japanese sex scandals, and so many other random things over the years. If you’re a translator, let me know what kind of crazy things you’ve had to learn about too!
The fan translation famously spells “Kefka” as “Cefca”. I’m not sure why SkyRender made this choice, but I assume it was because he saw it written as “Cefca” in Japanese strategy guides back then. It’s important to note that Japanese merchandise can be helpful for choosing how to spell names in English, but merchandise and secondary materials should never be trusted 100%. I vaguely recall that the official GBA translation pokes fun at this “Cefca” fan translation choice later on.
In English, we say you “wash your hands of ___” when you’re cutting ties with something/going legit. There’s a very similar phrase in Japanese, but you instead say that you “wash your feet of ___”. This idiom is why Google talks about feet for some reason.
Oddly, the SNES and GBA lines don’t convey this same question about Locke going legit. It’s also clear that the fan translator didn’t understand the idiom, but saw the character for “foot” in the line and added something about being quick-footed to fill in the gaps. I remember this feeling and tactic very well from my very earliest amateur days too.
In Locke’s Japanese text, he makes a “tch tch” sound that sometimes called “tutting” in English I think?
In any case, he makes this sound because he’s correcting the old man’s wrong statement in that sassy way that involves wagging your finger. This is why he actually wags his finger after the line too.
All the translations drop this “tch tch” sound though, so the minor connection between the dialogue and character animation isn’t as obvious.
This whole scene came as a surprise to me – the SNES translation gets everything completely wrong – and it’s genuinely serious and important plot information. The fan translation makes many other mistakes of its own and gets a lot wrong. Only the GBA translation gets it all right.
Basically, the SNES translation says that imperial soldiers are currently pursuing Terra, that Narshe is no match for the empire, and that they need to find and meet up with the Returners if Narshe is to stand a chance.
In Japanese, it’s actually the city guards who are chasing Terra, Narshe is capable of standing up to the empire (hence the entire intro and the scenes yet to come), and this guy already is a member of the Returners – he’s just having a hard time convincing the Narshe people to team up with the Returners.
There are many more issues here than what I’ve listed, so if you’re interested, I’d suggest checking out the video for Day 1 for more.
Moogles are called モーグリ (mōguri) in Japanese. The name could be written out as Mohgli, Moguri, and a dozen different things. They were renamed “Moogles” outside of Japan at some point – I think maybe it first appeared in Final Fantasy Adventure? Anyway, the fan translation calls them “Moglies”, which is in line with the original Japanese word.
The SNES translation adds in a whole extra window’s-worth of text to help the player remember that this cave is here. This text is absent in the Japanese text and in every other translation. I wonder who suggested adding this and why specifically it was added…
This guy in front of the Beginners’ House had some unimportant text about the outside world removed in the SNES translation.
Ethers were renamed Tinctures for the SNES translation. The GBA translation has leaned pretty heavily on the SNES translation so far, but this item name was changed back to “Ether” to match modern Final Fantasy translation terminology.
Relics are simply called “accessories” in the Japanese version of the game. I always assumed “Relics” was used so that it could fit on the main menu screen without weird text abbreviations. I kind of prefer “relics” though, it makes them sound cooler and more in line with all the cool mysterious stuff they do.
This guy explains what a bunch of different relics do. The fan translation accidentally leaves out the part about the Dragoon Boots.
Google translated “Oh… Sorry!” as “Oopshui.” which is a wonderful, newly invented word that we should all embrace.
The Google translation has been surprisingly understandable so far, but sometimes it suddenly loses its mind.
The word 魔導士 (madōshi) is used throughout the Japanese script. It’s a common word in Japanese entertainment and basically refers to a person who uses madō, with the possible implication of that magic being used for battle, but not necessarily. As such, it’s common to see it translated as “wizard”, “mage”, “sorcerer”, and the like in Japanese games, manga, etc.
It looks like the SNES translator wasn’t really familiar with the word though, so it gets handled quite inconsistently throughout the game. Here it’s translated as “Mage Knight”, which isn’t too far off from the original word, but then we never, ever see the term “Mage Knight” again in the SNES script. The GBA script seems to fix this specific problem by tying the word back into the “War of the Magi” name.
The fan translation, because it tries to keep mahō and madō separate, goes with the “Majick Warrior” term.
The SNES translation omits a line here about how Edgar will even hit on old women and little girls.
One NPC in the castle mentions a “high priestess”, but then you never actually find a high priestess in the SNES translation. That’s because she’s identified as “Matron” when you talk to her. In other words, this high priestess and this matron lady are one and the same. I think most fans figure it out pretty quickly but I still see confusion about this from time to time.
Also, in Japanese, there’s a different word for an older brother and a younger brother – there’s not really a good, single word for “brother” like we have in English. This means you can immediately glean extra details about how siblings relate to each other when reading or listening to Japanese. In this case, Sabin is identified as Edgar’s younger brother, which is a tiny detail that only the fan translation keeps intact. Even Google drops the extra info.
Now that I think about it, this is absolutely something I should’ve included in my article about common problems in English-to-Japanese game translation – since we don’t always specify who’s younger or older in English, Japanese translators sometimes just have to use a Japanese word for “sibling” or take a random guess at who’s older and who’s younger and pray for good luck.
Sabin is now a squirrel that jumped out of a castle. I’d play that game.
Oh yeah, and he’s known as “Mash” in the fan translation, because his Japanese name is マッシュ (masshu). Some fans wonder if his name is supposed to be “Matthew” instead, but I don’t know much about official FF6 Japanese name romanization choices. It’s definitely plausible – after all, it’s like one of a dozen different ways of spelling “Matthew” in Japanese katakana. Here’s an example of it in the real world, in fact.
The SNES translation says that the Empire has taken over three cities, but in Japanese it’s more like “three nations”. Every other translation keeps this detail intact. Defeating three nations/countries/kingdoms sure sounds much more threatening than three cities, so this is an odd translation choice.
In Japanese, this guy literally says “Edgar-sama”. Google decided to leave the name suffix untranslated… but at the same time it dropped the deferential “-sama” down to a meager “-san”. What’s going on in that algorithm of yours, Google? Is this AI why YouTube algorithms are so crazy?
The madōshi term from earlier is back, and this time it’s being applied to Kefka. Going by the SNES translation so far, that means Kefka is a “Mage Knight”, which certainly feels off. But as I mentioned, the SNES translation handles the term in a messy, inconsistent way, and in this case the word is dropped entirely. Since this is the one first times we’re meeting Kefka, knowing that he has rare, magical abilities is certainly very important info to have!
In the GBA translation, the word becomes “mage” here, the fan translation keeps it as “Majick Warrior”, and Google goes with “magician”.
In Japanese, Kefka says here, “It’s none of your business. More importantly, is she here?”
In the SNES translation, this line was changed almost entirely. I actually feel like this new line is a marked improvement over the dry original. Apparently the GBA translator felt the same way, as the exact same line is used there too.
I’ve heard rumors that Kefka is more popular outside of Japan, supposedly because the localization process added to his personality. I never really looked into it myself, but tiny little lines like this, added up over time, could definitely give him a distinct impression.
In Japanese, Edgar literally says “there are more girls here than there are stars”. The SNES translation changes this in a way that better fits the situation, the location, and Edgar’s spoony, hopeless romantic personality, all at the same time. I really like this line, and I can see why it was left in the GBA translation.
I surprised everyone when I left the castle with just Edgar by himself. As a game translator and programmer, it’s almost second instinct to try to break games by doing weird stuff that nobody would think to do. It’s how you find the really rare text that most people will miss – and it’s this rare text that’s most likely to have problems. This instinct has backfired on me in some past stream projects though!
Anyway, if you try to go to South Figaro via the cave, a guard blocks the way. His second line in Japanese says, “But I cannot let you through at the moment.” In the SNES translation, this was changed to “it’s closed now due to construction”. I almost didn’t pay it attention, but then I realized that it’s pretty weird to say a cave is under construction, especially when no construction work has gone on in the cave. Basically, the SNES translation changed this line in a weird way for no real reason. Or maybe it’s a leftover from a pre-final Japanese script? I dunno.
In any case, all the other translations reflect the original Japanese line. Just the SNES one has mystery construction.
This engine room guy speaks with a Japanese dialect that’s associated with the Osaka area. I get a sorta “working man” vibe from it, but then again I’m not a native speaker so dialects are always difficult to explain and describe. Imagine being a non-native English speaker trying to explain the significance of Bronx accents or Appalachian dialects to other non-native English speakers!
The SNES translation gets this line wrong – the guy is saying that the engine is under maintenance.
I guess I never noticed before, but the SNES translation has a typo here – “potatos” instead of “potatoes”. I was reminded of Dan Quayle’s infamous misspelling, but then I got asked who Dan Quayle was and somehow felt so very old.
In Japanese, Locke says something like “I don’t like those guys one bit.” In the SNES translation, he instead just talks about one person – presumably Kefka, and mentions that he seems legitimately insane.
The GBA translation doesn’t really mention anyone, and the fan translation mistakenly uses the singular form instead of the plural form.
In Japanese, Edgar says he’s either going to talk with “the ministers” or “the minister and the others”. In other words, he’s going to confer with multiple people. In a surprise upset, only Google gets this detail right.
Also, Edgar’s last line is a way of saying that he has to go now. It’s literally an apology (“I’m going to do a rudeness.”) which is why the fan translation has him literally apologizing, but functionally it’s an ordinary parting phrase, kind of like “See you later.”
I never realized it before, but this line in the SNES translation really seems like a reference to Beavis and Butthead:
In this line, Kefka speaks about Edgar in a sarcastic way in each script, but the Japanese version also has him using an overly reverential Japanese speech style that enhances that sarcasm even more. The GBA translation is definitely the closest in this extra regard.
I noticed that the GBA translation uses the phrase “Yahoo!” here. Normally it wouldn’t stand out, but Nintendo actually changed every instance of “YAHOO!” in Link’s Awakening to “Hello!” and “Yippee!” before releasing it on the Virtual Console. So if this GBA port ever gets a re-release or a Virtual Console-style release, I wonder if they’ll decide to change this “Yahoo!” too. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess!
I’ve noted in many articles that modern Final Fantasy translations sometimes use “flowery” language to give the scripts more of a high-fantasy vibe than earlier translations. This usually results in text that’s longer and fancier-sounding than the original Japanese text… but here we see just the opposite. The original Japanese line talks about diving into a great golden ocean and how the castle has a gallant appearance. The SNES and GBA translations both condense things down into plain-sounding lines.
Back in the 1990s, Nintendo prohibited references to killing. That’s why Kefka yells “GET THEM!” in the SNES translation but says “KILL THEM!” in every other translation, including Google’s translation.
This “loaded for bear” line is one I see mentioned as a weird, confusing example of a “Woolseyism“. Ted Woolsey actually briefly touched on it in this old interview. I never had an issue with the line, so I was surprised to learn that it caused confusion back in the day.
At this point I stopped to discuss Japanese ellipsis usage and how it tends to get handled by professionals and by amateurs. I actually wrote about this topic in more detail here, so it’s just easier to link to that article than restate it all here.
Here’s one of the most iconic lines in the game: “son of submariner”. I wrote about this topic in one of my very first articles a long time ago – you can check it out here. This is another good example of how the SNES translation adds to Kefka’s character/memorability and how the GBA translation tries to pay respect to the classic original translation while doing things in its own way at the same time.
Here we see that Google is now calling the genjū “eidolons”. Modern Final Fantasy localizations use the word “eidolon” for these magical beasts that you can summon in battle, so this is a surprising find. Since Google Translate is an AI that grows and learns, I wonder if somehow it read a bunch of Final Fantasy stuff to learn that “genjū = eidolon”. Oh, I so hope that it learned this from some weird fanfics or something.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, the GBA translation seems to use the old “Esper” term rather than the modern “eidolon” choice. So, in a weird twist, Google is actually handling this term closer to a modern, official translation than the actual, official translation!
Edgar explains the group’s plan to a soldier. In Japanese, he also mentions that they intend to turn north past South Figaro to make their way to the Returners’ headquarters. This detail was left out of the SNES translation entirely, so if you played very slowly or were still trying to soak in all the new information you were just given in the past 30 minutes, you’d probably be wondering, “Wait, where am I going again? Why am I supposed to go through this mountain pass to the north again?” once you got to South Figaro.