This is part of my “Final Fantasy VI: Five Script Blitz” project, an ongoing series in which I compare four translations of Final Fantasy VI with the original Japanese script. For project details and my translation notes from Day 1, see here.
This segment of the game features a whole bunch of memorable scenes from Final Fantasy VI – you got the Kefka craziness, General Leo’s debut, Cyan’s introduction, the Phantom Train, Cyan losing his family, and more. Naturally, our list of translation notes wound up really long this time around.
I’ve listed some of the translation highlights from this section of the game below, but as always, I cover so much more during the actual stream. So if you want to see me nitpick things line by line, check out this day’s video above.
In the Japanese version of this line, this soldier says, “Apparently he (Kefka) is plotting to kick General Leo out of our army/battalion and make himself general.”
This is significantly different from the Super NES translation, because it indicates that Kefka is actively scheming in order to take over. I hadn’t put it together before, but this seems to explain why General Leo conveniently receives a message to return to the Empire, after which Kefka immediately takes charge and kills an entire kingdom of people. Until now, I had always assumed that everything during this scene happened at precisely the right time by sheer coincidence.
We can also see that the fan translation alters the original line in precisely the same way the Super NES translation does.
There’s an honorable samurai named “Cayenne” in Final Fantasy VI, but due to name length restrictions this name was shortened to “Cyan” in the Super NES translation. As a result, I think many English-speaking players pronounce his name “sigh-ann”, like the color “cyan”. In Japanese, though, the first letter in his name is meant to be pronounced like a “K” and not an “S”.
Anyway, in Japanese, Cyan speaks in a very heavy, samurai-esque style of Japanese. No one in real life talks this way, so unless you’re accustomed to the quirks of this speech style, it looks like a bunch of nonsense. It’d be like if you asked a Japanese kid who’s just started studying English to translate Shakespeare quotes.
As a result of this unusual speech style, both the fan translation and the machine translation tend to struggle whenever Cyan speaks throughout the game. They aren’t bad in the screenshot above, but I thought I’d mention it ahead of time, before we start digging into more of Cyan’s lines later on.
As we can see, Cyan’s introduction in Japanese is quite a bit longer than the Super NES translation, and looks kind of complicated in general. The Japanese version sounds kind of clunky in a literal, word-for-word translation, though – it’s something like: “A warrior of a foreign land who has pledged loyalty to his lord and wields his sword for the sake of the kingdom. A man with the courage to not even fear death if it’s for the sake of what he believes in.”
The Super NES translation sort of pushes Cyan’s Japanese introduction to the side comes up with something mostly new. The GBA translation is a mix between the Japanese version and the SNES translation, and the fan translation tries to stick closer to the Japanese text but stumbles in a few places. And the trickier-than-normal writing causes Google to stumble a bit more than usual as well.
Until now, I had never really considered Doma to be some far off, somewhat exotic land. I guess that’s because it wasn’t really represented that way in the Super NES translation’s text.
Sabin challenges Kefka to a fight. Kefka quickly tries to run away, so Sabin yells, “Wait!”. In response, Kefka says in the Super NES translation:
“Wait,” he says…… Do I look like a waiter?
This is a pretty popular quote from the SNES translation, which is why it appears as-is in the GBA translation too. The actual Japanese line is closer to:
As if there’s anyone who actually waits after being told to wait!
The fan translation clearly didn’t stick to the original Japanese script here, however. Instead, it too pulls from the Super NES translation but changes it ever so slightly for some reason. I have no idea what happened to Google here.
Kefka runs away from the battle. After Sabin catches up again, Kefka says in the Super NES translation: “Ha, ha, ha! …What a toad!”.
If I hadn’t checked the Japanese version side-by-side like this, I never would’ve realized that this translation is completely wrong. Instead of saying “ha ha ha”, Kefka is actually out of breath here from running, and is making a panting or wheezing sort of sound.
As I’ve pointed out in the streams so far, the simple Japanese sound “ha” – and some of its variations – have a surprising number of meanings depending on the context. In this case, it appears the Super NES translator didn’t have the full context when translating this line.
This “gasping is mistaken for laughing” mistake isn’t an isolated incident, though. A related example that immediately comes to mind is from EarthBound – in the English version, the item delivery guy will call you on the phone and make weird laughing sounds if he can’t reach your location. But in Japanese, he’s actually out of breath after running all over the place trying to find you.
|MOTHER 2 has elongated 'hā' sounds indicating labored breathing||EarthBound has a representation of labored breathing that's more associated with laughing|
The Super NES translation also has Kefka say “What a toad!”. In Japanese, this line is simply something like, “Geez, you’re a persistent guy!”. He says this because Sabin won’t stop chasing him.
Out of all the translations, it looks like only the GBA script properly handles this entirely line.
As Kefka poisons the water around Doma Castle, he roughly says in Japanese, “Heehee… I bet an orchestra of hundreds of screams will sound wonderful. Hee hee…”
The GBA translation stays close to the Super NES translation but not exactly. The fan translation sort of misses the point – he just sounds generically evil here, but the line is supposed to sound more like that of a psychopath. Besides that, the translation is incorrect anyway. I feel like the translator recognized some of the key words but didn’t fully grasp the grammar that connected them.
Also, in Japanese, I feel that Kefka is looking forward to learning what it sounds like, while in most of the translations it sounds more like he’s already familiar with the sound.
Cyan’s wife and son are known as “Mina” and “Shun” in Japanese. In the Super NES translation, these names changed to “Elayne” and “Owain”.
I’m not really sure why the names were changed, but I think the “Mina” and “Shun” names are meant to give off a “people in this exotic land have different-sounding names” vibe. The names are very Japanese-sounding, and since Cyan is called a samurai in some official materials, it all fits. But when I think about it, a samurai called “Cayenne” doesn’t really fit as well. Weird.
I’m not sure where the “Elayne” and “Owain” names come from and what thought process was behind the name change, though. The names sound vaguely familiar from my high school English classes, and after a quick Google search it seems like they might be a reference to the King Arthur legends:
I barely remember the details of the legends though, so maybe I’m just grasping at straws here.
In any case, the GBA translation retains these new names. The fan translation goes with the name “Shyun” for the son. This isn’t a typo, though, it’s just an alternate way of spelling “Shun” – see my article about common problems writing Japanese words in English for some more (and entertaining!) info.
Given that “Shyun” isn’t how most Western learners of Japanese would spell the name, I’m guessing that the fan translator found a Japanese guide or some sort of secondary material that included the “Shyun” spelling in it.
Cyan goes berserk and can only think of destroying the Imperial troops out of revenge. At one point, Cyan jumps into a suit of Magitek Armor. Shortly after, he runs over numerous Imperial soldiers at high speed. In the Super NES translation, he yells, “We can’t stop now!” as he plows through a bunch of soldiers.
I always thought Cyan shouted this line because he was really angry and out for revenge. But it turns out it’s a mistranslation – in Japanese, he actually shouts, “I cannot stop it!” in his unique samurai speech style. So when Cyan runs through the enemy soldiers, it’s not because he’s super angry, but because he doesn’t know how to pilot the Magitek Armor.
This also fits perfectly with Cyan’s aversion to machines. In fact, this scene is apparently where that machine-related ineptitude first appears. Until now, I had never connected any of these things, so I’m glad I finally looked at the translation and original script side by side like this.
Eventually, Sabin and Cyan team up and try to find a way back to Narshe. Doing so requires them to pass through a spooky forest, though.
In Japanese, the forest is called the 迷いの森 (mayoi no mori), which can be translated in dozens of different ways. It’s actually a really common name in Japanese entertainment – the Zelda series calls it the “Lost Woods”, Super Mario World calls it the “Forest of Illusion”, and the Pokémon series calls it the “Lostlorn Forest”, “Wandering Woods”, and “Bewilder Forest”.
The Super NES translation of Final Fantasy VI goes with a unique solution for this tricky name: “Phantom Forest”. Although the forest does have a sort of Zelda-style Lost Woods maze-iness to it, the forest is filled with ghosts and it eventually leads to a ghost train, so the SNES translator chose a forest name that uses this paranormal theme.
Sabin and Cyan find a strange train in the forest. Sabin suggests there might be survivors from Doma Castle nearby. It’s a very basic line that has nothing tricky in it at all, but the fan translation makes multiple Japanese 101-level mistakes and gets it completely wrong.
This guy in the back of the Phantom Train explains what the train is and how it works. I guess I never paid it much attention before, but he’s called the “Impresario” in the Super NES translation… which is kind of weird. I always thought the “Impresario” was the guy at the opera house later in the game. In fact, I think that’s the only time I’ve ever encountered the word “Impresario” in my life. So it’s surprising to see the name here too. What gives?
In the Japanese version, he’s labeled as “Conductor”, as in the kind that works on a bus or train. My theory is that the guy at the opera house was also translated as “Conductor” for a while, in the “music conductor” sense. But for some reason, the SNES translator decided to change the opera house “Conductor” to “Impresario” late in the translation process. He quickly went through his translated script and changed every instance of “Conductor” to the new name, but didn’t realize at the time that the word appeared in an unrelated part of the game too. And so now this Phantom Train guy has the same “Impresario” name.
As we can see, every other translation of the game gets this guy’s job title correct – even the machine translation.
Some of the ghosts on the Phantom Train act as ordinary shop merchants. In Japanese, these ghosts speak with a very heavy Osaka dialect. Merchants in Japanese entertainment often use this dialect – even the shop guy in the Zelda 1 uses it.
Setting this Japanese dialect aside, these ghosts literally say something like: “Hey, you there, need any items? I’ll sell them cheap for you!”
As we can see, none of the translations try to force an English dialect into the text. At the same time, the machine translation struggles to handle the ghosts’ dialect, which is understandable. The fan translation clearly struggles too.
Whenever a western Japanese dialect comes up like this, many translators immediately turn to accents/dialects from the American South – it’s almost like a cookie cutter, go-to translation choice. Here we see that the official translators looked past that easy choice and focused on the more important part of the ghosts’ speech pattern: that they’re merchants. We can see how the Super NES translation tries to convey the way a salesman might talk, but the GBA version does it much better – it sounds like something you’d hear on a stereotypical TV commercial for a local business or something.
Basically, this is all to say that: 1. dialects can be tough to translate if you’re not already at a high level of Japanese competency; and 2. dialects have multiple layers to them, and localizing a Japanese dialect into an English dialect is rarely straightforward.
The party runs outside after some weird spooky stuff happens. A line of text appears, and in the Super NES translation it says: “Ha, ha ha… What ever did you think you were doing?”
There are multiple mistranslations here. First, it sounds like someone is laughing, but they’re not – they’re out of breath. This is exactly like the Kefka laughing/panting line we saw above. Someone mistook the “hā hā” gasping for breath sound for the English “ha ha” laughing sound.
Next, in Japanese, the second line is more like “What in the world was that about?” or “What the heck was that?”.
Given this, we can see that only the GBA translation gets this line right. The SNES translation, the fan translation, and the machine translation all fail in their own ways.
There’s a special area of the train where you can eat ghost food. In Japanese, the food eating part is represented simply with something like, “Munch, munch, munch.”
To spice things up a bit, the Super NES translator used three sound effect words instead of one: “Gobble… snarf… snap…” This has become a memorable quote among fans.
The GBA translation leaves the iconic translation mostly the same, but changes the final sound effect word to “slurp”, which is more evocative of eating than “snap”.
The fan translation does something interesting, and the machine translation gets confused. Coincidentally, the eating sound effect word used in Japanese, モグ (mogu), is also how Mog’s name is spelled in Japanese, hence the Mog references in the machine version.
The party encounters a weird swordsman on the train. He’s first identified as “Ziegfried” in the Super NES translation, but then his name changes to “Siegfried” out of nowhere. Everything about this character and what he says always felt “off” when I played the game back in the 1990s, but I never quite knew why. It felt like something was missing.
The GBA translation fixes many of these problems and makes Siegfried sound more like he does in Japanese. The fan translation gets things wrong left and right, and I can’t help but wonder if my special program thing messed up the machine translation stuff here – it feels like it might’ve displayed the wrong lines here. I’ll need to double-check and see what’s up.
Anyway, I’m still not 100% sure what the deal is with this guy, but things make a little more sense in the Japanese version of the game at least. Maybe things will make more sense as we learn more about him in this playthrough.
After being defeated, Siegfried says in Japanese, “But the treasure is mine!”. He then takes the treasure and runs away. The fan translation handles the “I” in this line (and previously in this scene) in a very odd way, though. Here’s the quick explanation:
There’s a zillion different ways to say “I” or “me” in Japanese. There’s a rude, informal, masculine version of “I/me” in Japanese called ore. Tough guys, rude guys, and guys in close company tend to use ore. The Japanese language also has name suffixes: the most famous one is -san, but there’s also -sama. Putting -sama at the end of a person’s name is really polite and deferential – it’s basically putting that person on a pedestal.
So in Japanese entertainment, really rude/tough villains who also have a huge ego often combine ore and -sama to create a new pronoun: ore-sama. This pronoun is super common in anime, manga, games, movies, etc. For example, Wario uses ore-sama to refer to himself, and your rival in the early Pokémon games uses ore-sama too.
Normally, translators handle ore-sama by rephrasing things, like “I, the great Wario”. I guess the fan translators thought ore-sama was unique to Final Fantasy VI or that it’s a really important word that can’t be translated into English, because it’s translated as “Mr. Me” in the fan translation. I… never, ever imagined I’d see this basic term handled as “Mr. Me”. Every time I think about it I can only say “wow”.
They say that expert fencers, martial artists, etc. have the hardest trouble predicting what amateurs will do, because you never know what kind of random nonsense they might try. That’s exactly the same deal here – I never would’ve expected anyone to translate ore-sama this way. Indeed, even in translation, the amateur is formidably unpredictable!
I am impressed, though – it takes a lot of courage and conviction to stick to something that clearly sounds so strange in translation. If there’s one strong thread I continually feel throughout the fan translation, it’s passion.
Just before Siegfried exits, he says in Japanese, “Adios amigo!”. He literally says it in Spanish like that. It gives Siegfried even more of a lighthearted impression.
The Super NES translation changes this to “Ta ta, cretins!”, but the GBA translation changes it to “Au revoir, my friends!” to bring back the idea of mixing languages together to sound cheeky. The fan translation keeps the line in Spanish, and the machine translation keeps it in Spanish too.
Since Siegfried is talking to multiple people, I assume “adios amigos” is more grammatically correct, in which case the fan translation actually fixes the oversight in the original script.
Sabin and Cyan head toward a place called 獣ヶ原 (kemonogahara), which translates as something like “Beast Plains”. This was renamed the “Veldt” in the Super NES translation and was retained in the GBA translation.
I always had an inkling that the word “veldt” had something to do with the plains in Africa, and a quick online search shows that to be the case. The word “veld/veldt” refers to the wide-open landscapes in southern Africa.
This “Veldt” thing is another case of a video game translation teaching a bunch of people about the real world. I actually prefer “Veldt” myself, as it sounds less on-the-nose than “Beast Plains” and thus sounds more memorable for me somehow.