“Skies of Arcadia” Localizer Admits to “Ad-Libbing” and Completely Rewriting Dialogue
A 2015 interview with a Skies of Arcadia translator has recently started to gain new life online via social media.
The interview is from a now defunct fan site titled ESOArcadia (archived here), in which Klayton Vorlick, a translator who worked on Skies of Arcadia (aka Eternal Arcadia, SEGA Dreamcast 2000), discusses how the team approached the localization process. To put it simply, Vorlick admits that the localizers took a skeletal outline of the major story beats in each scene, “threw away the Japanese text” and then “ad-libbed what… each character would say, and then rewrote a lot of the dialog completely.”
Here is an excerpt from the interview (via Sankaku Complex):
Nguyen, Tony (webmaster of ESOArcadia)
I played the game in Japanese too and it’s interesting what you guys changed, but it was the meaning that was more important than what’s being translated sometimes after all.
Although, there were some interesting changes, like how Ramirez’s obsession with Galcian was downtoned near the end…
I mean, he’s still obsessed, but he was saying like Galcian’s name like every other sentence in the Japanese version…
Yeah. we basically sat down, I did a rough translation of the text, and then threw away the Japanese text. We mapped out the big story beats in each scene, and then just watched the cutscenes and ad-libbed what we imagined each character would say, and then rewrote a lot of the dialog completely.
Haha, yeah. We thought it might be a little creepy for US audiences.
Vorlick also discussed how the team took liberties naming things in the game, including naming weapons and enemies after themselves:
Skies of Arcadia is my favorite game of all time… I know the Vorlik Blade is named after you after all and you don’t have a particularly common name.
haha there’s a story behind that! I had a cowriter named Chris Lucich (he did the English version of Panzer Dragoon Saga)
He said we should name stuff after ourselves. He recommended Vorlik Blade… and he wanted a creature named after him (Lucich slimes) and then he went around telling everyone I chose the most powerful weapon and gave him the weak monster haha (as a joke, of course)…
A lot of the characters were named after various QA people, etc. Mabel the Raider was an assistant lead (Mabel Chung)…
Timmus the Gunner was named after my friend Tim, who was the guy who got me my first industry job Haha
Yeah, we asked the team and they said go for it. That was just a little bonus for us.
The “Vorlik Blade” in the Japanese version of the game was called the “Ryuukan Kizanken” (roughly translating to “Ryuukan’s Demon-Killing Blade”) and the Lucich was actually called a “Puranina”.
Certainly some game creators and developers have taken liberties over the years to include personal references in their games (Goldeneye’s Klobb gun being named after Ken Lobb and a lead NBA Jam arcade developer including his son in the game as Air Dog come to mind), but in terms of translation, this begs the question of whether the localization team has sufficient “ownership” of a game to make these kinds of changes.
Vorlick also discusses removing tobacco and alcohol references, censoring violence and female costumes, and deliberately trying to “emulate [Joss Whedon’s] style of nonchalant humor.”
*Editorial (opinion!) follows:
While it may be frustrating to read these admissions, I personally find it difficult to be retroactively angry with Vorlick or his localization team. I mean, at least there weren’t any ham-fisted political lectures or George W. Bush jokes in Skies of Arcadia (none that I recall, anyway). Being aware of other localization efforts before this time (i.e. Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest, any SEGA CD title by Working Designs), this approach to localization may very well have been the norm for many years, not the exception.
It’s only been more recently in the interconnected, online era that these practices have been brought to the attention of many western gamers. These audiences have now understandably called for localizers to better respect the intent and vision of the original creators, leading many localizers or game industry professionals to react unprofessionally, to say the least.
In any case, this interview should serve as evidence that game localizers have been entrenched in a particular localization “culture” (for lack of a better word) for decades, one where the translation teams had the leeway to run roughshod over the Japanese original in any way they saw fit. Therefore, the immense pushback that the gaming industry has leveled against its own customers, while not excusable, is at least more understandable.
Yeah, it’s a small consolation, I know, and I’ll probably be accused of having the dreaded “fence-sitting” opinion on the issue. I’m simply not willing to get so angry at the situation that it ruins my happy memories playing Skies of Arcadia.
We highly recommend reading the full breakdown of the interview on Sankaku Complex, which you can find here.
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