Final Fantasy VII is known for having lots of translation problems, and fans sometimes ask me about one line in particular that involves the word “retard”:
The context of this line is this: the heroes have been running up countless stairs, Barret jokingly acts like he’s about to die, and Tifa gets angry at his joke.
|Japanese Version (basic translation)||English Translation|
|Barret: Marlene, Daddy wishes he could’ve seen you one last time…||Barret: Marlene, daddy wanted to see your face one more time…|
|Tifa: Whoa! Don’t say that, you’ll jinx us!||Tifa: Would you stop acting like a retard and climb!?|
As we can see, Tifa’s original line is about how Barret’s joke is bad luck. In the translation, her line was replaced with a sharp insult instead.
I’m fairly certain some of the re-released and ports have altered pieces of text here and there, but I’m not sure if this line was ever changed or not. If anyone knows, let me know!
For some more Final Fantasy VII-related translation articles, see here. Or, for other articles that look at insults in translation, see here!
There’s another (missable, IIRC) bit in Midgar within the first couple hours of the game where one NPC guard/officer calls another one the R-bomb. It was always pretty much the section that as an adult made me skeptical about the quality of the original PS1 translation.
It’s definitely far more noticeable when Tifa says it because it’s completely out of character. She’s supposed to be this kind, motherly, caring character, somebody who would never use words like this.
I think lots of people only thought Final Fantasy 7 had a good translation at the time because it had swearing, which added grittiness and realism compared to most other games at the time, and an editor who gave each character a distinct “voice”. The base translation is very sloppy and often incorrect or changed outright, as we see here. (Remember that this is the same translation that gave us “this guy are sick.”) I remember a lot of people were pondering the script and what this line could mean or what that line was referring to because it made no sense and they figured they’d understand when they grew up, only to find out it was a perfectly straightforward line in Japanese that got mangled by poor translation. Pretty sure the “zenogias”/Xenogears line was one of them.
To her defence, Tifa DID seem rather ticked off…
The “retard” line was in the Switch release so I think it’s safe to assume it’s in every official English script release.
“Tifa says it because it’s completely out of character. She’s supposed to be this kind, motherly, caring character, somebody who would never use words like this.”
That’s questionable, Tifa is shown to avoid conflict sure but I’d never say what she does is “motherly”. She’s prone to being superstitious (hence the jynx line) and doesn’t speak up when things get serious. It’s what drives her behavior towards Cloud, being more afraid for him with a protective superstitious fear that bad things happen if you think they’re real, pretend that everything is fine and hopefully it will be. In that light it’s sad that the “jynx” line was replaced as it does add to Tifa’s character. My guess is the translators thought it was too “Japanesey”, normally Western adults don’t talk abou jynxs in a serious way and see it as being childish so they decided to replace it with a line that convade the same infomation “Stop talking like that Barret!” but wanted to make it more “colourful” to fit with the serious tone they wanted to portray.
“(Remember that this is the same translation that gave us “this guy are sick.”)”
That typo was corrected in the PAL release which was released a few months later.
“Pretty sure the “zenogias”/Xenogears line was one of them.”
Zenogias happened because it’s written as ゼノ…ギアス…, not in a full word like the title. Most Americans would pronouce the word “Xeno” as ZEEno not like ゼノ/Zeno. Rendered in Katakana it’s ゼノギアス/Zenogiasu so it’s understandable they just translated what they saw, since Xenogears wouldn’t be released for over a year and there’s no way the localisasers would know about it or check it’s meaning with Square when it’s in a throwaway line that Cloud says when he is suppose to be mumbling incoherently. So the obvious assumption is it’s gibberish, which in the context of the game’s story it is. Regardless this line was corrected in later releases.
It always amuses me when people just assume a translation is “good” because there’s swearing.
Yeah, how RPGOne’s translation of Tales of Phantasia is great because of “Arche f**ks like a tiger,” when Klarth/Claus never said that in Japanese. It’s kinda like adding in memes/pop culture references in video games. While it is charming at first, it gets old fast.
Interestingly enough, nowadays there’s plenty of official translations/localizations that add a lot of memes and pop culture references. It’s like they’ve become the questionable fan translations of old.
I’d just take that as an element of the late 90’s. Back then, American marketing had a more extreme, edgy edge to it, and the then-unproven PlayStation at the time was sold as a console for more mature gamers, as opposed to Nintendo catering towards kids. So, the translation was punched up to make FF7 more appealing to its target audience of its time. And I guess it worked, since it launched JRPGs into the mainstream. It was the first console game in which I ever saw cursing, and honestly, I really enjoyed seeing people in a game talk like normal people I knew in real life. Keeping things squeaky clean and politically correct leaves an otherwise gritty script feeling stiff and alien.
Honestly, I like the line as-is over the basic translation Tomato provided. “You’ll jinx us!” doesn’t reflect at all the stress they’re incurring from running up sixty flights of stairs, into an extremely hostile environment, at a time shortly after they had blown up a Mako reactor, and countless people had just been killed. To worry about a silly superstition like jinxing because of something Barrett said would really make it seem like Tifa’s just not taking this at all seriously.
The line could have been better in both versions, but I prefer the original.
It being an element of the late 90’s also explains the use of that particular word, considering that use of it in that particular sense was a lot more normalized back then. It wasn’t until the controversy surrounding Tropic Thunder in 2008 that people started to realize that stigmatizing and mocking people with neurological conditions isn’t exactly a good idea.
Speaking as an autistic person, I’m not exactly a fan of the decision to include this kind of language regardless of those circumstances, but I also think it’s important to understand just how different social standards were in 1997 compared to more than 20 years later. As far as I know, there wasn’t a deliberate attempt to punch down, given your earlier points about the localizers trying to make the game seem more “adult” to appeal to older audiences, but it’s incredibly tone-deaf in hindsight.
Clyde, I’m curious about something. It was pointed out a long time ago that FFVII’s localization was done in-house by the original Japanese development team on Hironobu Sakaguchi’s insistence, and led by a man named Seth Luisi who directed fifty staff members in the translation process. Do you think that would account for the poor choice of words in many places? Using retard instead of bad luck seems like a case of trying to appeal to late 90s edgy teens in the U.S. when it was common to throw out insults like that and was a sign of “coolness” in those times. I can tell confirm my high school was full of those types.
We forget how recently the word “retarded” became something completely socially unacceptable.
I’m not even sure I’d say it’s completely socially unacceptable now. You would get a lot of flak for saying in in a highly public setting like a game localization, but it’s still used very casually when people don’t feel like there’s any real consequence for it, like poorly moderated workplaces. It’s still viewed as just casual speech by a lot of people.
The same is true for all slurs to some extent, but look at how the N-word is bleeped out on The Office while the R-word isn’t, even when both of the jokes are about it being an offensive slur that’s never supposed to be acceptable. Someone at some point felt that comedy was sufficient to give them carte blanche to say one word but not the other.
Sure, it can be used in jokes like that, though comparing it to the “n-word” isn’t totally fair because it seems even if most slurs aren’t censored, THAT still is, likely due to the historical baggage (slavery, lynching, continuous oppression). It’s very rare that I hear it uncensored when used by anyone who isn’t black.
Jude from Tales of Xillia had his name changed in the Euro release to “Jyde” because “jude” is the German word for “jew”
But that’s not offensive. It’s not a name but it isn’t offensive.
GERMANY. JEWS. Can’t make the connection?
Was it? I remember my dad yelled at me in the mid 1990s for saying it in a functional way (ie, not as an insult).
While I think trying to punch up a translation with slurs is a very unprofessional thing to do, considering this was made in the 90s, where not only was this kind of language far more socially tolerable but also game localization wasn’t always as professional as it is today, I don’t see it as that big of a deal. In general I try to cut old media up to about the early 2000s some slack with these kind of things, plus this is far from being one of the biggest problems with this game’s english script.
I know that saying stuff like “retard” so flippantly was way more common in the 90s, but man, does it make Tifa sound like she’s being a real jerk to her friend!
The translation issues and “90s-ness” of the original English is why I recommend that people looking to play the original game get it off of Steam or whatever and get the Reunion patch, which comes with a fan translation (I think that on it’s own it was jokingly called the “Beacause” project based off a spelling error from the original English version). I can’t say that it’s exactly accurate, as there are some sentences that seem a bit “expanded” from the Japanese but it’s definitely fixed translation issues from the OG English one and is altogether written in a way that sounds more natural and “professional”.
There are some interesting quirks though, like a few of the names which the translators consider the “correct” version. Most of them time, I agree with them (especially when it comes to enemy names where we got stuff like “Midgar Zolom” from “Midgarsormr”), but there are a few where they insist on going with the romanized version of the names that can only be found that way in the “Final Fantasy VII Official Establishment File”, which are of the sort of graphic text thing that Mato has mentioned doesn’t always count as “canon”. The names in question are “Yrena” for Elena (which just looks extremely unwieldy and I would probably romanize as “Irena” instead?), “Zeng” for Tseng, and “Leno” for Reno. However, I’m not sure that the names show up romanized like that in any other media so they might be jumping the gun based on this one occurrence.
yeah that was a problem with a lot of Sony-published Japanese RPGs (looking at you, Wild Arms… and Legend of Dragoon)
SaGa Frontier uses the same slur too, said by the turnip after Asellus escapes from the Labyrinth of Doors with him. I guess some Square translator at the time just liked the r slur, who knows
Ironically they were both published by Sony… Guess they tried too hard to be edgy in the 90s.
Nah it’s still in there, even in the newer ports on Switch and Xbox One
I’m Japanese and a longtimeish fan of your blog. I thought I’ve got fairly used to localised scripts getting drastically changed, be it downright mistranslation, translators having quite a bit of license, or occasional comedy golds. This one however… TBH it makes me genuinely uncomfortable especially when I had never imagined they did what they did to a game as iconic as FFVII which also happens to be a part of my childhood memory.
Sadly that’s a problem with a lot of Sony-published games in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Just look at the translations for SaGa Frontier, Wild Arms, Grandia, Legend of Dragoon, and Okage: Shadow King (aka Boku to Maō)
For anyone curious, the localization of FF7 Remake goes with something closer to the “you’ll jinx us” line. Barret voices regret at taking the stairway route, wishing that he’d gone in the front door so he might at least go out with guns blazing instead of dying of exhaustion like a chump and Cloud and Tifa tell him to stuff it because asking for trouble might bring it.
Lighten up, guys. The times were difference. People could laugh at it then and we can laugh at it now for a totally different reason. The fact that a mild insult during the 90’s now comes across like some butt on the internet is funny in its own right.
I wonder if the context led to that specific word choice — ‘retard’ literally means something like ‘slow’ or ‘delay,’ which is exactly what Barret is doing to their progress up the stairs by stopping (ignoring that the _actual_ pace is set by the player character).
Ironically the use of the word for the disabled (mentally ‘slow’) was not originally a slur, but an attempt to *avoid* insulting words like ‘idiot,’ ‘imbecile,’ ‘moron’ &c. Like most such attempts, simply using a different word merely resulted in the new word coming to be seen as offensive as well (cf the euphemism treadmill).