One of the most infamous instances of goofy-sounding English in an old NES game is from Final Fantasy I.
It happens near the very start of the game – when you go to save the princess, a bad guy named Garland says some angry stuff and then finishes with:
I, Garland, will knock you all down!!
Oh, no! I feel so threatened!
So a common question I run into is, “What does he actually say in the Japanese version?” Let’s take a look:
|Final Fantasy (Famicom)||Final Fantasy (NES)|
|Japanese text||My example translation||Official NES Translation|
|この ガーランドが けちらしてくれよう！||I, Garland, shall vanquish you!||I, Garland, will knock you all down!!|
Technically, the word used in Japanese is 蹴散らす (kechirasu), which super-ultra-literally (as in you really shouldn’t take it at face-value) is to “kick and scatter about”. In contexts like this, it usually means something like “to devastatingly or handily defeat” or “to rout”. So although I have “vanquish” up there it could really be translated in a number of different ways.
So, how did that turn out as “knock you all down” in the official release? Well, my translation spidey-senses say it was all a pretty simple mistake, but explaining it is a little tough if you don’t already know Japanese. But here goes:
- First, at this point in Square and Nintendo’s history, they were still using non-native English speakers to translate games. In other words, a Japanese person in Japan translated the original Final Fantasy script. The same happened with the unreleased English sequel and later games released in English, actually.
- Second, the word 蹴散らす is a pretty uncommon one in everyday speech, so the translator was most likely like, “Okay, so 蹴散らす roughly means ‘to defeat’ here. 倒す (taosu) has the same meaning and I know how to translate that word, so I’ll do that!”
Indeed, 倒す is a much more common word and does mean “to defeat” in contexts like this – it’s actually pretty much the default word for “to defeat” in games. The problem is that 倒す has multiple meanings, and the more common meaning is “to knock over” or “to knock down”. In fact, if you look the word up in a dictionary, “to knock down” is the first definition you’ll get most of the time:
…While “to defeat” is usually the last definition given.
So that’s likely what happened – a mix of a non-native English speaker, an uncommon Japanese word, and a synonym with multiple possible translations. Mix it all together and you get a bad guy whose terrifying threat is “to knock you all down!”
Whew! All that explanation for just one line of text!
Actually, it’s been a long time since I played the PlayStation release of Final Fantasy I, so I checked it out again and it looks like they decided to replace the famous mistranslation with, “I shall take on all of you!”
I also briefly played the GBA port/remake when it was released. I forgot what it said, so I checked that out too just now, and apparently the translators decided to edit the script a bit and put the original famous line back:
Interesting – they even included the double-exclamation marks from the original translation.
Actually, there are like five hundred thousand million other versions of Final Fantasy I so I won’t look through them all, but this feels a lot like what I’ve been seeing with my Final Fantasy IV comparison – the translation in various ports vary ever-so-slightly from previous ports. Whenever I get around to a full analysis of FFI maybe I’ll take a look at these re-releases too. It’s a lot of fun seeing how things change over time!
Anyway, hopefully that helps clear things up a little bit! It’s a pretty weird situation and it’s another case where a wacky translation went on to become such a big deal that it’s been deliberately left in despite being a poor translation. It’s an interesting phenomenon, in a way it’s almost like mistranslations or unintended translations sometimes add spice to otherwise bland, conventional parts of games 😛
Actually, while I’m on the subject, here’s a question for you! I’m pretty sure this “knock over” and “defeat” mistake has happened in a handful of other games and such – do you know of any? If so, let me know, I’d love to compile a list of this common mistake!