A reader named Eric L. sent in a question about a line in Tales of the Abyss:
In the game Tales of the Abyss, the character Mieu is discussing fonons (particles that correspond to light, dark, fire, water, earth, and wind; basically a technobabble-y explanation for elemental magic) and mentions the that the seventh variety (which corresponds to sound and is the basis for healing, among other things) was “just discovered.” This is incorrect; the seventh fonon had been known for hundreds of years at that point, it was just discovered more recently than the other six.
This is something pretty much everybody but the hero (long story) should know, so this is kind of a glaring mistake for Mieu to make. Did Mieu make this mistake in the original Japanese as well, or was this a mis-translation?
I haven’t played the game, but I was luckily able to find some Japanese and English videos of the scene in question. Here are the lines for comparison:
|Tales of the Abyss (PS2, Japanese)||Tales of the Abyss (PS2, English)|
|Japanese Version (basic translation)||English Version|
|Why, it’s the seventh fonon, of course. It possesses the attribute of sound and is the most recently discovered fonon.||You don’t know? It’s the seventh fonon. It’s the fonon of sound. It was just discovered.|
Eric says that by this point in the game, it’s been centuries since the seventh fonon was discovered, and that almost everyone should know this fact. The Japanese script says that it was 新しく発見された (atarashiku hakken sareta, "newly discovered"), but the translators or editors wrote this out as “it was just discovered”.
Normally “newly” and “just” end up meaning the same thing in situations like this, so you can usually translate 新しく (atarashiku) as either one without too much worry. But in this specific case, 新しく does suggest that the seventh fonon was simply discovered more recently than the original set of fonons, not that it was necessarily a super-recent thing. It’s a very tricky phrase and I can totally see why it wound up the way it did in English – I could see myself falling for this translation trap myself.
Still, why didn’t this ever get caught during the other parts of the localization process? The answer is that it’s common to hire multiple translators for large translation projects. This means that each translator will only have partial, up-close familiarity with the entire project. So whoever translated this particular line in Tales of the Abyss might not have known that the seventh fonon was discovered centuries ago.
The scary thing is that subtler mistakes like this are really hard to catch once they leave the translators’ hands. Typos and grammar mistakes are simple for anyone to spot, but unless you’re actively comparing the source text and translated text, it’s a lot harder to recognize translation mistakes. And localization editors and testers probably wouldn’t have the expertise for something like that anyway.
Because of all this, I’m sure there are lots of similar, under-the-surface translation mistakes in games out there that most players never notice. That’s what this site is all about, though! So if you know of any sneaky translation mistakes or have suspicions about any, let me know in the comments – they don’t necessarily need to be Japanese-to-English translations, either. I’d like to learn more about translation mistakes into other languages too!