When English translation doesn’t quite work

The Last Story was great, and so is Xenoblade Chronicles – although they’re not without their niggles. One quirk is that both games use British voice actors, which makes for a refreshing change from the usual American voices in video games. But having said that, the acting isn’t particularly, well, awe-inspiring, and in Xenoblade particularly the script is filled with repetition and lots of stating the obvious. In fact, I’ve now switched the voices over to Japanese because I just couldn’t take any more of the actors saying the same thing over and over again.

Also, the cut scenes just work better in Japanese. The conversation structure of Japanese doesn’t properly translate to English – often there are enormous pauses in conversation, after which one character will nod and gravely say “hai” (“yes”: but really it can convey all sorts of meanings depending on context, and it’s used more extensively than “yes” in English). In the game translation, you usually end up with someone saying “I agree” after an enormo-pause, which just sounds ridiculous.

The best Japanese to English translations tend to involve the translator reinterpreting the text and, where possible, redoing the lip sync to suit more usual patterns of English conversation. But unfortunately that’s not always possible – there was a fascinating article in EDGE issue 278 (unfortunately not available online, but discussed here and available to buy here) in which translator Alexander O Smith details the difficulty he had in rewriting the script to match the fixed lip syncs in Final Fantasy XII (most agree he did an outstanding job on the translation).

But certainly with Xenoblade, the game just makes more sense in Japanese… if that makes sense.



  1. I enjoyed the English voice acting in Xenoblade and although I was tempted a few times to make the switch, in the end it was comedy value that kept me set on English. Reyn is obviously hilarious, but Shulk is a good Daniel Radcliffe-alike (that’s a contradiction in terms if I ever saw one but Shulk’s VA is not nearly as annoying as Radcliffe) and the rest of the cast are good too for the most part. Sharla’s lines in battle also had me laughing because there’s something so dodgy sounding about “my rifle’s getting hotter”… but when I started playing with her as the main character it stopped being so amusing, since it serves a useful practical function.

    Still, I’ve come across the exact issue you’re talking about with Another Code: R on the Wii, which has an absurd amount of repetition in the script for the same (technical, linguistic) reasons you describe here. It was to the point that it ruined the experience for me. Coming off of Code R, Xenoblade didn’t seem wordy at all 😀

  2. I’m going original JP voices purely because I would kill myself listening to Shulk speak, I beat on him incessantly in Smash Bros as it is for that god awful “british” accent, also known as the hollywood british, the accent according to american TV. Of course this is all moot until I get the game, gonna wait till it pops up on the Wii U Wii games store.

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